Month: September 2017

Review of ‘Call of the Wild’

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While many have tried, no one has come close to matching author Jack London’s ability to portray the wild, untamed Yukon. One of his best-known stories, Call of the Wild, first serialized in magazine form and in 1906 published as a short novel, tells the story of Buck, a muscular dog stolen from his home in Santa Clara Valley, California and sold as a sled dog in Canada’s Yukon territory during the gold rush of the 1890s.

Torn from his civilized surroundings, Buck taps into his wild origins to become one of the most feared sled dogs in the territory, wresting leadership from a violent enemy, and learning to deal with humans, kind and unkind, all the while drifting back to his beginnings, a creature of the wild, surviving on his strength and cunning.

While this story is told primarily from the dog’s point of view, it also shows humans and their relationships; with each other, with the animals they can use but not tame, and with the unremitting, merciless wilderness.\If you’ve never read Jack London before, Call of the Wild is a good place to get your first taste of an author who knows how to take nature and those who would vainly try to tame it, and portray it in a way that makes you feel the bite of the wind-blown snow and the oppressive weight of the darkness that surrounds a campfire at night. You can hear the mournful howl of the wolves and the wail of the wind. And, in so doing, you will get a sense of man’s place in a universe that we can never fully comprehend—and, through the eyes of a dog, you will lean what it is to be human.

I give this one five stars — of course.

Review of ‘Rosetta’

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Tony Calanis Palermo had been a member of the clandestine Lunar intelligence service, but his misbehavior had caused his exile, and he found himself consigned to the role of able spaceman first class aboard a merchant starship. Unable to behave, he’s again caught, only now, he’s bound for long-term indenture on a sugar plantation—as much as a death sentence. There is, however, a way out. All he has to do is steal the key to the language of a long-dead race of Galactic aliens, and all will be forgiven. Piece of cake, right? Wrong! It seems that everyone else is also after the key, the Rosetta, that will unlock the technological secrets of the advanced alien race, and that everyone else is better armed, and all of them have Tony in their sights.
Rosetta by Stephen Patterson is space opera at its almost best. Riveting action, on the mark dialogue, and characters that, while you might not like them, you can certainly empathize with them.
A rollicking four-star weekend read.

Review of ‘Ephemeral

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Ephemeral by best-selling author Addison Moore is, well, ephemeral. Laken Stewart remembers being on a road, driving madly, angry at her cheating boyfriend, then, the last thing she remembers is the headlights of the oncoming car, and kissing her windshield as she plows through it. Two months later, she finds herself . . . somewhere else, with a new name, and a new family—people she neither recognizes nor remembers, until Wesley, her long-dead first love, shows up, and tries to convince her that she’s been suffering amnesia as the result of a fall, and being in a medically induced coma for two months. Addison, though, remembers. She died on that highway, and has somehow been resurrected—or, has she?

What follows will keep you flipping pages, trying, along with Addison, to make sense of what’s happening. Is Wesley real, and has he also been resurrected and placed in a strange place, hundreds of miles from their home in Kansas? And, what is she to make of Cooper Flanders, son of the resident shrink, who says he believes her when she recounts her memories, while everyone else continues to maintain what she knows deep down inside is a fiction? Snatches of humor, as post-hormonal teens play out the drama that is the lot of teens everywhere, and stretches of outright horror as Addison contends with the zombies prowling the forest surrounding her new home.

The story ends in a cliffhanger of sorts, as Addison, Wes, and Cooper face off against hosts of warring angels and other mythical creatures, among which they must also count themselves. This is not mere escapist entertainment. Buried within the surrealistic scenes are gems of truth, and ferreting them out makes it worth the read.

I give Moore four stars for this entertaining read.

Review of ‘Targets’

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Many books have been written about the Vietnam War; memoirs from the men and women who experienced the blood and dirt of the war, fictional accounts of the grunts in the boonies, and allegorical novels of things that never were. As a veteran of that conflict, I’ve read most of them, impressed by some, troubled by many, and entertained by a few, but never before have I read a novel about Vietnam that affected me so profoundly as Targets by Don McQuinn.

Marine Major Charles Taylor, a Korean War veteran, about to end his service after being denied promotion to lieutenant colonel, is starting his second tour in Vietnam. Burned out and disaffected, he’s not looking forward to spending his year as a paper-pusher in the headquarters in Saigon, but as a good marine, he goes where he’s ordered. When the gruff, but enigmatic Colonel Winters offers him a job with his top-secret, off-the-books unit, Taylor is not impressed at first, but then decides, ‘what the hell!’ and accepts the assignment. The research unit’s mission is to conduct counterintelligence operations to neutralize or eliminate the enemy—regardless of which side they’re on.

Very quickly, Taylor finds himself mired in intrigue, deceit, and betrayal—and, at the same time, he finds love, only to have it snatched away. He’s forced to decide just how far he’s willing to go, and whether he can do his job and still retain his honor.

Though fictional, this book tells the story of Vietnam in a way that few before it have been able to accomplish. The reader is taken into the minds and hearts of the people on both side of the battle lines, but more importantly, those who inhabit the middle ground, and those who fight in the shadows, where success is not rewarded with medals and adulations, and failure is met only with contempt.

f you think you understand the war, after reading this book, you’ll realize that you didn’t know jack. This one will keep you up at night, long after you stop reading.

A resounding five stars.

Review of ‘The Moonglow Cafe’

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Paige MacKenzie, a reporter for The Manhattan Post, is assigned to do a feature story on the famous Yogo sapphires, found in Timberton, Montana. While doing the story, she hopes to reconnect with her (maybe) boyfriend, the cowboy, Jake Norris. In Timberton, Paige stumbles across a mystery involving a western artist that overshadows her research into the sapphire trade, and her curiosity almost gets her killed.
The Moonglow Café by Deborah Garner is a cozy mystery with a fascinating cast of characters, and a convoluted plot that the author neatly wraps up in the end. There is romance, but, thankfully, it’s kept well enough in the background and doesn’t interfere with the flow of a compelling mystery story with more twists and turns than a champion rodeo horse. Paige is an intriguing main character; strong-willed and tenacious, she puts herself in a position requiring rescue, but is not painted as a damsel in distress—more an imp who bites off more than she can chew, but, even in distress, she’s key to solving the mystery.
A ’can’t-put-down’ read that you will thoroughly enjoy. I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Money. Power. Love.’

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Money. Power. Love by Joss Sheldon is a tale of three men; born seconds apart, but divided by tragedy, Mayer, Hugo, and Archibald share thoughts and desires, and fall in love with the same woman, at the same time, but, though united by nature, they are divided by their different upbringings.
Written in Sheldon’s somewhat disjointed style, this is a historical tale; the story of how bankers controlled the world’s economy in the 19th century, forcing the government and military to do their bidding in the quest for even greater profits; and a love story; of how three men, alike, but at the same time, vastly different, deal with their desire for the same woman.
Flowing back and forth in their disparate lives, the reader is taken on a ‘fantabulous’ journey into the past through the eyes of characters right out of a Dickens’ tale. A unique take on world history that will delight.
I received a free copy of this book, and I give it four stars. If you like your fiction light, but at the same time, profound, get a copy as soon as it’s released.

Review of ‘White Fang’

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Part dog and part wolf, White Fang is, along with his mother Kiche, the sole survivor of his pack. When he and Kiche are taken in by an Indian tribe, White Fang begins a journey from Wild to Domesticated that is long, arduous, and painful.
White Fang by Jack London is a companion to London’s Call of the Wild, told mostly from the animal’s point of view. This reissue of a London classic has some editorial revisions, according to the publishers, but retains the author’s voice and ability to portray the untamed frontier of his day. For a reader who wants to be introduced, or as in my case, reintroduced, to a classical American literary figure, this book is an excellent jumping off point. The characters, though animal, are portrayed in terms that humans can understand, but without ‘humanizing’ them.
This book shows why Jack London was one of the most regarded authors of his time. I received a free copy of this book, and without hesitation, give it five stars. It has not been released on Amazon yet, but when it is, I strongly recommend it.

Review of ‘Men With a Mission’

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With the introduction of conscription in 1960, and the increasing possibility of its involvement in the conflict in Indo-China along with its ally, the United States, the Australian Defence Ministry recognized the need of a special unit within its armed forces to conduct ‘off the books’ missions to support national interests and security. Major Jack Roberts, who had served as an observer during the partition of Vietnam following World War II, was selected to command and train this special unit.
Roberts chose as the first members of his team, a group of diverse young men and a beautiful and patriotic young Vietnamese woman, and trained them on an isolated island.
Men With a Mission by Gordon Smith is the story of Roberts’ activities from the beginning of what we know as the Vietnam War through the immediate post-war period. It addressed the increasing American involvement and the problems faced by the Western allies as they struggled to deal with a culture and war they failed to understand. Incidents of misbehavior of US-backed forces in Vietnam, the actions leading up to the Khmer Rouge takeover of Cambodia, and the ‘secret’ war in Laos are all presented with rich detail. Against this backdrop of cultural misunderstanding, political corruption, and the long war, the team’s activities, and their subsequent history unfold.
While the theme of the book is somewhat epic, and extremely educational, the fact that it’s presented as semi-fictional (I found it hard to distinguish fact from fiction), it suffers from the ‘telling’ of the story rather than ‘showing’ the reader what happened through the dialogue and actions of the protagonists. Some of the most moving incidents, for example, lose a lot of their impact due to the lack of a ‘personal’ focus that would come from them being portrayed through the eyes of those involved.
Done in a more action-oriented style, this book could easily be transformed into a movie in the style of ‘Full Metal Jacket,’ or ‘Apocalypse Now.’ The author has a good command of the language, and has obviously done a lot of research—having served as a soldier in the war during the 60s and 70s, and a diplomat in China, Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia from 1983 to 2005, I can attest to the accuracy of many of the incidents portrayed. Changing the style of presentation would make this not just an interesting book, but one that would fill many of the gaps in the history of the region and its conflicts that currently exist.
I received a free copy of this book. While I give it high marks for the theme and research that went into it, the excessive ‘telling,’ forces me to give it three stars. I hasten to add, however, that this is an author with great promise, and look forward to reading future offerings.

Review of ‘Picture Miss Seeton’

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Miss Seeton, a retired art teacher, after seeing a performance of ‘Carmen,’ witnesses a real-life stabbing. When she jabs the assailant with her umbrella, he turns and pushes her down, but in that instant flash of sight, she sees enough to enable her to do a very realistic sketch which helps the police establish his identity. It also puts Miss Seeton in the killer’s sights.

Picture Miss Seeton by the late Heron Carvic is a dry-British-humor cozy mystery a la “Miss Marple,’ with a very proper British spinster who, with her umbrella and sketch pad, is able to solve the crimes that puzzle Scotland Yard. The dialogue and observations of very proper upper-class English manners will keep you chuckling from start to finish. Miss Seeton is a heroine to keep an eye out for.

Five stars.

Review of ‘The Crime Gene’

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Jeannie Gee is a Vegas wedding photographer with a dysfunctional family—a forensics-obsessed mother and over-large older brothers who are always in trouble with the police. Against her better judgment, she accepts a last-minute request to videotape a wedding in a hotel room. Her better judgment proves right, when she arrives and finds a room that’s empty except for the bloodstains all over the place. When the corpse turns up later at her place of residence, she and the police know that this is no coincidence. Jeannie is being targeted by people from her family’s New Jersey past.

The Crime Gene by Joyce Nance is funny, tongue-in-cheek mystery with an eclectic—though somewhat loopy—cast of characters. A delightful, somewhat flawed, female main character, and a smorgasbord of supporting characters. It’ll keep you laughing.

I received a free copy of this book.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Afterburn’

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Five years after a massive solar storm has destroyed human civilization and spawned a race of mutants, called Zaps, Rachel Wheeler, herself half-mutant, and her mismatched family, barely clinging to existence in an abandoned military bunker, are faced with a fateful choice. Do they continue hiding out, or do they seek other humans in an effort to rebuild some semblance of human society.

The problems they face are tremendous. The Zaps have concentrated in major cities, and seem to have evolved into a society of sorts, radiation has created monsters on land, sea, and in the air, whose only aim is to feed, and the remnants of the American government have coalesced into a force bent on eliminating the Zaps and retaking earth for humans.

Rachel is faced with a dilemma; should she continue to honor her human side, or become fully mutant?

Afterburn is the first in the post-apocalyptic Next series, which follows Rachel as she fights for survival—of what, she is not certain. The author has created a stunning cast of characters, focusing primarily on the humans, Rachel’s family and the soldiers of the rump government. The Zaps, the principal antagonists in this compelling thriller, are less fully developed, leaving the reader to guess at their motives and abilities—but in such a way as to send chills through your body as you read.

The book ends on a chilling cliff hanger, and the frightening thought—what next?

An interesting beginning to a depressing and frightening look at what could be. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Third Breath’

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FBI Special Agent Shawn Cleary is trying to convince her superiors that a series of assumed suicides are actually acts of murder by some vast conspiracy. In the meantime, a deadly and often fatal disease breaks out in widely separated locations around the country. The FBI taps Shawn’s best friend, medical researcher Jaimie Carpenter to identify the super bug behind the outbreak.

Working together, the two women become involved in a conspiracy beyond anything they’d imagined. A drug company CEO who puts profit and position above anything, a serial killer with an ambitious agenda, and a shadowy organization, ‘The Protectors,’ that is taking the law into its own hands and eliminating terrorist and criminal threats extrajudicially. To further complicate matters, Jaimie is paired with a handsome FBI agent in an undercover operation, and the sparks that fly between them threaten not only to derail the mission, but puts them in jeopardy.

Third Breath by Patricia Clark is an exquisitely-written medical thriller, and the author uses her medical knowledge to add to the suspense—but, it’s not the technical aspects of this story that truly entertain. Ms. Clark uses the interpersonal dynamics, whether it’s sexual tension between Jaimie and her partner, or a wife’s reaction to being beaten by her abusive husband, to advance the story, and explain character motivation and action, and it’s these moments of conflict between characters that is the strong point of the book. In fact, about midway through, the search for an antidote to the superbug becomes secondary to catching the bad guys and eluding the deadly tentacles of The Protectors.

This is a book that, once you start reading, you won’t be able to put down. I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Adored by the Alpha Bear’

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Alice Lenore is a popular romance writer, but she’s unable to deal with the real thing. She hires a housekeeper to help out around her house, but when it turns out to be Luka Oxendine, a hunk of a man, who also happens to be a bear shape shifter, her life is turned upside down and inside out.
Adored by the Alpha Bear by K.T. Stryker is a paranormal romance mystery comedy farce, and if you think that’s a mouthful, you have to read the story. Alice is adorable as a slightly klutzy, dysfunctional protagonist, while Luka is conflicted in his role as alpha male who finds himself in love with the apparently (but not really) weak heroine. The rest of the characters are not quite as fully developed, and their fates are left undetermined for the most part, but the story’s worth reading for Alice and Lukas’s parts.
I received a free copy of this book. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘The Hessians and the Other German Auxiliaries of Great Britain in the Revolutionary War’

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Edward J. Lowell, an American lawyer and historian with an interest in German participation as mercenaries in the American Revolution, published a book on that involvement in 1884. He outlined the practice, common during the period, of the princes of the German principalities of supplying fighting men to the other European powers—among them, England, which was one of the main customers for such services. The Hessians and the Other German Auxiliaries of Great Britain in the Revolutionary War by Edward J. Lowell, has been reprinted in e-book format, making it accessible to today’s readers.

Originally a series of letters, this book explores the historical background, beginning with the fact that Germany at the time was not a unified nation, but rather a loose collection of independent entities, and exploring in detail the German participation in America’s war for independence from Britain.
Written in the linguist style of the period, Lowell’s book gives the previously untold story of the dreaded Hessians, and their failures and successes in the war. An interesting bit of trivia, for example; while the term Hessian was applied to all German auxiliaries, only a portion of the foreign troops were from Hesse-Cassel, but the Landgrave of Hesse-Cassel, was one of the most formidable of the suppliers of mercenary troops, and thus, the name was applied to all, regardless of their true origin.

For readers interested in the Revolutionary period, this book puts a human face on the war, providing details that are often lacking in standard histories of the period. It should be required reading for any student of history, and is highly recommended to anyone who wants to know more about the evolution of current American-European relations.

I received a free copy of the book. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Yes! I Said No!’

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For the individual who feels overwhelmed by life, who finds things spiraling out of control, the cure is simple; learn to say NO. Yes! I Said No! by Barbra E. Russell is a very short book—as short, in fact, as the word ‘no,’ that can help you learn to set appropriate boundaries and increase your sense of self-worth and self-esteem. The author, a licensed professional counselor, outlines a series of simple steps that can be followed that will allow you to regain control of your own life, without necessarily alienating those around you.

Unlike many books on the subject of self-improvement and time management, there are no complicated procedures or exercises here. Instead, the author offers a few simple exercises that involve self-exploration, and learning how to say ‘no’ without being unnecessarily negative.

You can finish this book in under an hour, and it will be an hour well spent. I received a free paperback copy of the book, and highly recommend it.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Stem’

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When the people of their community of New Hanoi are massacred, Rome and Mae escape to the Kingdom to spread the word and get revenge. They are working against the clock, though, because the pollen the controllers use on the workers, when it wears off, causes them to die. With two weeks left to live, they must find allies to help them liberate their home, and save those who are left.

Stem by Aaron ‘A.D.’ Lamb is a dystopian post-apocalyptic novel that takes a different spin than others in the genre. First, the setting, rather than the industrialized world, is Southeast Asia, where the locals have survived the apocalypse, and are having to deal with Western refugees. The characters and setting possess colorful credibility, and the theme is just plausible. An enjoyable book, despite the gloomy theme.

The book had some serious formatting problems, especially in the last half. I give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘A Scone to Die For’

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Gemma Rose’s tearoom, in a little village near Oxford University, is doing well, until an American tourist is found in it, choked to death by a scone. With her establishment shut down as a crime scene, and the police suspecting members of her staff—among others—as possible murderers, Gemma must find the real killer, or face ruin. With the help of the Old Biddies, a cabal of elderly ladies addicted to snooping in police investigations, an old college love who is now a CID detective, and a peripatetic cat named Muesli, Gemma pulls out all the stops, exposing herself to the killer in the process.
A Scone to Die For by H. Y. Hanna is a light cozy done in traditional British style, with dashes of humor, that is a delightfully entertaining read. Plenty of false clues and daring escapades will keep you turning pages.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Secrets of the Asylum’

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After the disappearance of her two-year-old son, Elizabeth is committed by her husband to an asylum. Fifteen years later, her daughter, Meg, returns to Traverse City, MI from Chicago, after a breakup with her fiancé, hoping to discover if her mother is really insane, and what happened to her brother. She finds an unlikely ally, Abby, a Chippewa spirit woman, and begins a journey that will change her life, and the lives of those around her, forever.

Secrets of the Asylum by Linda Hughes is a slow-paced, but chilling, tale of life in the age of the Flapper. Like the peeling of an onion, it lays bare family secrets and lies in the context of an era when women had no identity separate from their husbands or fathers, and when the line between sanity and insanity was exceptionally thin, and social mores were in transition.

This book reads like a cross between a generational saga and a finely tuned mystery, as Meg slowly discovers family secrets that have been kept hidden far too long. The author does an amazing job of providing just enough information to cause a reader to begin to see the truth behind the murky veil that circumstances have thrown up, and will be shocked at the denouement.

A disturbing, but entertaining and enlightening, read. I received a free copy of this book.

I give this book four stars.

Review of ‘The Solid-State Shuffle’

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A global seismic event has reshaped earth’s coastlines; whole cities and even some countries are underwater. When authorities ban salvage of the sunken cities, a new profession arises, underwater reclamation specialists—scavengers.

When Isa Schmidt and her crew, on their first major job in the Seattle area, find an item in a sunken bank vault, they know they have something valuable and important, they just don’t know what it is. Moreover, the item belongs to Seattle’s crime boss, and he wants it back, along with the head of whoever took it. Isa must figure a way to return the stolen item without being identified as the thief, a quest complicated by the fact that there are people who want to depose the crime boss, and use her as the patsy in the process.

The Solid-State Shuffle by Jeffrey A. Ballard is a hilarious piece of post-apocalyptic fiction that will have you in stitches as you follow Isa and her team in their sometimes bumbling efforts to return a stolen article, unmask the true villains, and stay alive. There are bits of violence, and the language is salty, but mostly, it’s just a pleasant, and rib-tickling read.

I give this one five stars.

Review of ‘The Savannah Project’

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When NTSB investigator Jake Pendleton is sent from Atlanta to investigate an air crash, what looked at first like a run-of-the-mill mishap turns out to be anything but. When more people start turning up dead, Jake realizes that there is a vicious killer on the loose, and Jake just might be his next target. When he suggests boss that the crash might not have been an accident after all, he’s rebuffed. With the help of an unconventional air traffic controller, Jake undertakes his own investigation, uncovering deception and intrigue on an international level, and putting himself and those around him in mortal danger.

The Savannah Project by Chuck Barrett is a thriller that will keep you intrigued from start to finish. Light, thankfully, on the technical aspects, it focuses on the personal motivations of the characters, and the action when opposing forces meet. The ending will take your breath away.

This is the first book in a planned series, and I’ll be watching for sequels.

I give it five stars.