Author: Charles Ray

Review of ‘The Descendant’

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Ava Davenport is not your normal human. Unknown to her, she’s the product of a mating between a human and a member of another species from another dimension, possessed of a special ability that makes her the key to the survival of Earth. The Xemlix, a race that thrives on fear, is intent on taking over Earth and all the other dimensions, and only Ava stands between them and total domination.

Just as she’s preparing for her wedding, she receives a strange night visitor who begins to educate her as to her true nature.

The Descendant by Ally Capraro is a humorous and romantic jaunt that takes the reader on Ava’s wild ride among the dimensions as she learns to control her newfound powers. The prose is a bit on the choppy side, and the author head hops from character to character, which makes for a jarring read. Parts of the story are classic science fiction reminiscent of the sci-fi of the forties and fifties, making it a somewhat entertaining read.

It ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, which I will not describe in detail to avoid spoiling it for those who have yet to read it. Not the best book I’ve read so far this year, but it shows some promise as a series.

I give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘Revolt of the Rats’

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Kahle Desireau and  Eli Steiner, two military veterans separated by seventy years and several wars; one acting out of love and the other out of desperation; are men whose lives are heading for a fateful intersection.

Kahle has the ability to see the auras of the dead and dying, and after service in Bosnia leaves the army and takes a dead end factory job to be near the woman he’s obsessed with. Eli, a veteran of World War I, has spent his life after the military helping others, but his family farm is threatened by the Great Depression.

What both men have in common is the will to survive.

Revolt of the Rats by Reed Bitzerman swings back and forth between the two as they struggle to cope with the mind-numbing effect of being part of the legion of ‘factory rats,’ workers consigned to jobs they hate with little future to look forward to.

The story is a bit confusing as it doesn’t make clear the eras the men exist in until very late, and some parts have been poorly edited, with uneven spacing of lines that are disturbing. The ending is also unresolved, leaving the reader to wonder what happens with Kahle and the love of his life.

I give this one three stars. It’s an ambitious effort; showing the individual against the system; but it could use better editing, and the unresolved ending left me a bit cold.


Review of ‘Laying Ghosts’

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Selkie Moon is in a controlling relationship; her husband, Andrew, even has a tracking app on her phone to monitor where she goes when he’s not around, and almost forbids her leaving the house when he’s not with her. But, when she gets a text from a long-lost friend, ‘Help me at Crystal Cottage. Rina’ she ignores Andrew’s instructions. Her parting with Marina Palivanova, after a traumatic social event at Crystal Cottage that ended their long-time friendship, brings back memories of that dreadful evening. At the cottage, a storm leaves her isolated all night. The next morning, when rescuers arrive and assess the storm damage, they find a skeleton under an uprooted tree. Selkie fears that it is Rina, killed by Frank, her abusive lover, but the skeleton is male, which raises some interesting, but macabre, possibilities.

Laying Ghosts by Virginia King is a short prequel to the Selkie Moon mystery series that introduces a character with a trouble past, and stories that combine mystery with the mystic in a way that is sure to grab your attention. This little appetizer certainly whetted my appetite for the main course of the author’s next books.

Five stars.

Relics of the Cold War

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Vint Hill Farm, prior to WWII, was a working farm. But, when the owner informed a friend who was in the army that he could listen to German cab drivers on his shortwave radio, it became the center of our efforts to win WWII, and subsequently the home to our intelligence and reconnaissance efforts, including the NSA and the Army Security Agency. Vint Hill Farm Station was an active army base until the end of the Cold War when it was closed and turned over to local officials for development. While there has been lots of development of the area, some of the original military buildings still stand, though converted to new uses. The Bachelor Officer Quarters (BOQ) is now Vint Hill Inn, a quaint B&B and conference venue. The base theater now has live performances. The original Vint Hill farm barns, were converted to military use, and are now a winery and brewery. The smaller building at the right is a cafe, and the Cold War Museum is between it and the barns. The big white building was where recon film was processed. The Cold War Museum, home to many Cold War relics, is open for public tours on weekends. Some of the exhibits in the Museum.

Source: Relics of the Cold War

Review of ‘Spider Silk’

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Sheriff Henry ‘Bud’ Blair has a cushy job; high-sheriff in a small town in Oregon’s high desert, his main task is to chase down cattle rustlers and deal with domestic disputes. When a local rancher is found dead near his barn, it’s treated as an accident, but when Bud examines the scene, and later sees the autopsy report, he knows it was no accident. Then another local, a man with a known hot temper, is arrested and confesses to the crime, Bud is suspicious. He’s certain that someone other than his prisoner is the actual murderer.

Spider Silk by Rod Collins is a neatly-done police procedural, with evocative descriptions of the lush countryside, and in-depth portrayals of the characters. The author keeps you in suspense as Bud and his department track down clue after clue until they get to the truth. A modern-day Western/Mystery that ranks among the very best I’ve read in a long time.

I give Collins five stars for this one.

Review of ‘Contract: Snatch’

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Sei, a contract assassin, is living in relative seclusion in Belgium. She’s contemplating giving up her line of work until she’s offered a contract to break another assassin, the Black Wolf, out of a Turkish prison. Her fee for this job is not money, but information leading to the location of a little girl, the baby she thought had died at birth. In the midst of fulfilling her part of the deal, Sei realizes that she’s been set up to take the fall for the prison break, and the Black Wolf disappears through other means. With the help of the enigmatic Kostas, masquerading as a driver for an illegal arms merchant, she escapes from the prison and the two of them engage in a race for their lives, less than one step ahead of a vengeful Turkish prison warden.

Contract: Snatch by Ty Hutchinson introduces a new female main character, an assassin with principles and a strong desire to reunite with the daughter she has never seen. Full of bloody scenes and graphic descriptions of killing, this book is probably not for everyone, but if you like strong characters who never back down, and who always come through in a pinch, you’ll find yourself cheering Sei on as she leaves a trail of bloody bodies from Belgium to Turkey to Greece.

The ending was a mixed bag. On the one hand, the identity of her mysterious boss came as a complete surprise, but the reader is left hanging concerning the fate of her daughter; sort of a semi-cliffhanger.

I received a free copy of this book.

I give this premiere four stars.

Review of ‘The Troubled Air’

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In the 1950s, the U.S. was reeling under the onslaught of Senator Joseph ‘Tail Gunner Joe’ McCarthy’s ‘lists’ of communists and communist sympathizers in government, and the entertainment industry maintained blacklists of artists and executives suspected of being fellow travelers. Many people, on the basis of nothing more than accusations, were deprived of their livelihoods or driven to exile or suicide.

In this troubled time, Clement Archer was the director of a popular radio show. His producer ordered him to fire five of his top performers because of a threat by a right-wing rag to publish the allegations if they were not dismissed. Archer finds himself caught between the practical path—obey and keep his job—and following his core beliefs of fairness and justice.

The Troubled Air by the late Irwin Shaw follows Archer on his torturous journey of self-discovery and confrontation, showing how cowardice can lead to betrayal, and how a determined few can intimidate the multitudes through bullying, lying, and coercion. Though fiction, it contains more than a grain of truth, and is worthwhile reading in our currently polarized political climate.

Shaw writes with the knowledge of someone who experienced the travails of the ‘Red Scare’ years. Falsely accused of being a member of the Communist Party in 1951, Shaw left his native land and lived abroad until his death in the 1980s. Unlike many victims of the witch hunts of the era, he was able at least to rebuild his career, going on to produce many outstanding works.

Anyone who wants to understand the human cost of political intimidation should read this book.

Five stars.

Review of ‘The Burden of Gratitude’

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In The Burden of Gratitude:  The Chronicles of Bayboro Correctional Facility II, Bela Abel writes about life behind bars based upon his own experience as a prisoner. In a series of unusual stories, the author gives an insider’s perspective of the prison system. Each story stands pretty much alone, but when strung together, they reveal the peculiar mindset that develops during incarceration.

Some writing defies genre categorization, and this book falls into that category. While it flows as chaotically as an inmate’s thoughts, it’s not really stream-of-conscious, and even though it uses some unusual structures, it’s not fair to call it experimental. It will, though, pull you in, so let’s just call it fairly good fiction and leave it at that.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘The Little Voice’

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Little Yew Shodkin had always had the little ‘being’ inside his head, but it never spoke to him until he turned six, and then his ‘egot’ encouraged him to act out in ways that those around him viewed as anti-social. Punished for his bad behavior, Yew listened less and less to his egot until, finally, it withered away. He then went on to become a well-adjusted, but not totally happy, member of society until one day, in adulthood, he snapped.

The Little Voice by Joss Sheldon, like its main character, Yew, refuses to be pigeon-holed. For want of a better term, perhaps it’s okay to describe it as experimental fiction. Actually, though, it’s whatever the reader wants it to be. It’s a story about conformity, about how society and its demands can suck the creativity right out of an individual until there’s nothing left but a dried out husk, or, like the egot, we wither away and die.

The story doesn’t seem to be going anywhere at first; just a series of incidents where Yew engages in increasingly bizarre behavior and ends up in therapy. We’re then treated to scenes of Yew learning to adapt to keep the pressure off, and the angst he endures because of his adaptation.

In the end, after Yew finally snaps, he takes a completely unexpected turn—I won’t spoil the book by telling you what—but, the reader is left to wonder if he recovered what he lost.

An interesting voice in the forest of today’s fiction, and a recommended read.

I received a free copy of this book.

I give it four stars.

Review of ’21 Dares’

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When Abbie Reed was five, a killer broke into her house and killed her older sister. Sixteen years later, Abbie is a college student approaching her 21st birthday, and still bearing the scars of that encounter.

Her friends come up with a unique way to celebrate her birthday; she’s given 21 dares to accomplish. What starts as a silly prank, however, turns deadly, as Abbie’s past comes back to haunt her.

21 Dares by J.C. Gatlin is an intense story. A reader can quickly become invested in the story and sympathetic with the main character as Abbie tries to determine the identity of the person taunting her with texts on her phone. The only thing keeping this book from a five star rating is the absence of a more careful job of proofreading—some of the grammatical errors were not only glaring, but distracting. It was also a little choppy in places.

As much as I would like to give it top marks, I have to give it three stars for execution.

Review of ‘In the Name of a Killer’

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When Ann Harris, an economics officer at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, is murdered, it complicates life for People’s Militia Colonel Dimitri Danilov, because her killing matches one he’s already investigating. When the Americans insist on providing ‘assistance,’ in the form of FBI Agent William Cowley of their Russia Desk, things get complicated for both men.

While tracking a serial killer, Cowley and Danilov must also navigate the murky waters of official corruption that is rampant in Moscow and political and bureaucratic machinations that is typical in Washington.

In the Name of a Killer is a fascinating look at US-Russian cooperation post-Cold War by acclaimed spy novelist Brian Freemantle. This riveting thriller bears the marks of detailed research and authenticity that are typical of Freemantle’s novels—except for his description of the U.S. State Department’s personnel and assignments system, which is way off the mark. That one small imperfection aside, this is a mesmerizing story that you won’t want to stop reading until the explosive, and totally unexpected conclusion.

Five stars!

Review of ‘Dark Sky’

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Aging ex-CIA desk jockey Max Bowman left the agency disillusioned, but he’s so good at what he does, finding people and information, he is still given the occasional freelance job. When he’s asked to look into the case of First Lieutenant Robert Davidson, supposedly killed by a sniper in Afghanistan, but whose father, a retired war hero, believes is not really dead, he finds himself up to his neck in a conspiracy that reaches high in the defense and intelligence hierarchy.

The more he investigates, the more convinced Max is that the dying old general is right; if for no other reason, someone is trying very hard to turn him off the investigation, to the point of murdering the people who could shed light on the situation. Behind it all is an enigmatic, shadowy organization, Dark Sky, a private paramilitary organization that receives significant government funding, but manages to keep its activities under secure wraps.

Dark Sky by Joel Canfield is the first offering in the ‘Misadventures of Max Bowman’ series, and it’s a fantastic kickoff to stories featuring an unconventional non-hero and peers deeply into the machinations of the military-industrial complex and the byzantine activities of power-hungry officials. Action and humor, and down-to-earth dialogue provide a thoroughly entertaining read for a cold winter’s day, or a hot summer’s day for that matter. Warning for the sensitive reader, the dialogue is real, meaning that you’re likely to encounter words and phrases your mother wouldn’t approve of. But then, your mother was probably never in the military, right. That’s the way real people talk.

I give Canfield five stars for this solid offering.

Review of ‘Aphrodite: Desperate Mission’

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In 1944 German V-1 and V-2 rockets were raining death and destruction upon London and other English cities. Allied intelligence received information indicating that the Nazis were developing a more powerful rocket, capable of destroying a city block and even possibly reaching New York City. This news inspired a desperate mission; a secret project that involved flying drone B-17 bombers into hardened German sites near the coast of France to destroy the new menace. Volunteer pilots were to get the drone planes aloft and then parachute out over friendly territory. The drones would then be guided to their targets by operators in ‘mother’ planes using a guidance system that had been developed for smaller rockets.

Though ultimately unsuccessful, and designed for a target that did not in fact exist, this highly secret project set the stage for the kind of guided munitions that featured so significantly in wars of this century. But, the cost was high, including the untimely death of Joe Kennedy, Jr., elder brother of John F. Kennedy.

Aphrodite: Desperate Mission by Jack Olsen is a riveting account of the men and the mission. Based upon previously classified Defense Department documents, it reads like fiction, but is an historical account of a heretofore unknown operation in the late stages of World War II. The author cites documents obtained from military archives, and while the conversations are recreations, they have a ring of authenticity and truth, and paint a grittily realistic picture of the horrors of war.

For fans of books about this era, this is a must-read. It gives another look at historical figures, such as James Rand, a major during the war, who later founded Rand Corporation, and James Doolittle, an acclaimed flyer.

This is a book that is just waiting to be made into a movie

Four stars, only because of the unfortunate number of typos in the e-book edition.

You can change the driver, but it’s the same destination

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The Tea Party has been taking the GOP in some weird directions. They have a new driver now, and he seems headed in the same direction, only faster and without regard to traffic signs. Here’s another of my pen and ink responses to the current political situation. I truly worry about the collateral damage when this vehicle finally crashes and burns.

Source: You can change the driver, but it’s the same destination

Review of ‘Maui Widow Waltz’

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When rich and spoiled mainland socialite, Lisa Marie Prescott, walked into Pali Moon’s ‘Let’s Get Maui’d’ wedding shop and asked Pali to plan a wedding, despite the fact that the groom-to-be had been missing at sea for over a week, Pali’s first inclination was to decline. But, with the unrelenting rain putting a damper on business, Pali’s having trouble paying her bills, and an unscrupulous real estate dealer has his eyes on her business. Principles are fine, but a person has to eat, so Pali takes the job.

Things get hinky when she learns that the bride’s father is a gangster who owns a lucrative trash business, and that trash is not the only thing he disposes of, and then the stand-in for the missing groom, his business partner, is found dead, washed up on the beach. Pali is a wedding planner, not a detective, but it looks like the cops aren’t making any headway in solving either case. Pali is left holding the bag, and a lot of unpaid bills. What’s a wedding planner to do? Why, solve the case and help put the bad guys—or gals—away.

Maui Widow Waltz by JoAnn Bassett is the first book in the Islands of Aloha mystery series. I’d previously read one of the later books in the series, and was thoroughly amused and entertained by it, so I opened this one with the expectation to be similarly engaged. I was not disappointed. Pali and her weird assortment of friends are just engaging in the premiere issue as in later issues, and as a bonus I got to learn more about our heroine. The author writes about Hawaii like someone who knows the islands well, and makes the people and place come alive.

A really good mystery is one that can be read in one sitting, because once you start, you can’t put it down until it’s finished. This one fits the bill.

I give this one five stars.

Post-election blues

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My artistic interpretation of some Trump voters now that we’re beginning to get a glimpse of what’s in store for the next four years. A cabinet dominated by mega-millionaires who will be more beholden to Wall Street and the companies that have been shipping jobs overseas (the Foreclosure King will be in charge of the Treasury), a President-elect who is now floating the idea that we’ll use US tax dollars to build his wall between the US and Mexico and get the Mexicans to pay later (this is the guy who is famous for not paying his own bills), and looming crises brought on by tweeting, ranting, and otherwise being a not-so-nice member of the world community.The image of someone sitting around naked, but pretending to be clothed in finery, was too much to resist. And, of course, we must not overlook the possible reaction from the man who started it all. “The evil, unfair media misquoted me.”

Source: Post-election blues

This Month In Black American History – Rev. Abraham Lincoln DeMond

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A predecessor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

We Hold These Truths To Be Self-Evident


On January 1, 1900 The Rev. Dr. A. L. DeMond welcomed the new year and the new century with a speech which he delivered at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church (later to become pastored by Dr. Martin Luther King) in Montgomery, Alabama. Were it not for the Emancipation Proclamation Association publishing his speech pamphlet form, we might never have learned of Rev. DeMond or of his speech titled “The Negro Element in American Life, An Oration.”

Those members of the Dexter Avenue Baptist congregation in attendance on New Year’s Day in 1900 were treated to an oration which honored past and contemporary African Americans who championed freedom for slaves and civil rights for freedmen, as well as those African Americans who served in the U.S. Congress and in state legislatures, who advanced the education of African Americans, and who were great lawyers, doctors, military officers, writers…

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Review of ‘Code Name: Kawaii’

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Kiki Claymore, granddaughter of a famous spy, is recruited to join Task Force 10, a group of female secret agents who are sent on the most dangerous missions. Resistant to authority, and lousy with weapons, she’s an unlikely recruit, and worse, there’s a mole in the organization exposing the task force’s operations to terrorist, and the other members of the team aren’t too thrilled with her presence.
Code Name: Kawaii by Shane O’Brien MacDonald is a pretty fast-paced action novel with not one, but ten strong female characters. A bit one-dimensional in many ways, but for fans of the action genre, they do what action heroes are supposed to do—they kick butt.
An interesting novel, with an interesting theme, but technically a bit flawed. First, the characters, Ridley, Kiki’s boyfriend, and Digby, her boss, are introduced in the same chapter by last name only, and not clearly differentiated, which caused me to have to turn back a few pages to sort them out. There are a few grammatical glitches: just one example, ‘only her and Ethel were,’ instead of only ‘she and Ethel were.’ Finally, while choppy prose is okay for fight and action scenes because it conveys action, the entire book is a bit choppy. There are places, for instance, when Kiki is meeting with her grandfather just before he’s killed, when a slower pace would have increased the impact of part where he’s killed.
I give the author high marks for coming up with an interesting theme, but I can only give him three stars for execution.

Review of ‘Doom Murders’

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When the nude and mutilated body of the Bishop of the Diocese of Down and Conner is found in his office, DCI Jim Sheehan is puzzled. Except for what appears to be stage props and a strange carving of a letter and a string of numbers carved into the victim’s desk, there are no clues, and no evidence linking the crime to anyone. As more bodies start appearing, all posed in grotesque positions and each with another letter/numbers nearby, Sheehan begins to suspect there is a link among the victims—he’s just not able to determine what it is. With the help of a monsignor, a colleague of the first victim, he learns that the numbers relate to biblical passages, and are somehow tied to a famous doom painting of the Last Judgment in a Paris museum. Now, the clock is ticking, and Sheehan must identify and apprehend the killer before more people die.

Doom Murders by Brian O’Hare is a well-crafted mystery; the locked-room genre that British authors do so well, set in the religious and political atmosphere of Northern Ireland. The author keeps the tension level high, and invests the characters with personal goals beyond the mere solving of a mystery, that will keep the reader guessing until the unexpected end. Sharp-witted readers will probably guess the identity of the killer just before the author reveals it—I did, but was still unsure until the name was dropped.

A fascinating story that weaves history, culture, and personal angst in with the mechanics of the crime very well, and that will keep you turning pages and guessing throughout.

I received a free copy of this book.

I give O’Hare four stars for this first book in a promising series.

An old abandoned barn

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When my wife and I collaborate, it’s not always the case that she does the preliminary sketch. Sometimes, she gives me an idea and then disappears into the innards of a shopping mall to let me create. ‘An old abandoned barn,’ grew out of her suggestion that I do a winter scene (I did a lighthouse on a snow-covered bluff that she liked, but that was the only winter scene I’ve done in years). I played around with the idea for weeks, and then decided that an old abandoned barn in the forest behind our house (the subject of many of my photographs) would make a good starting point. I also decided that it would be a good way to talk her through the technique of building a painting, so I photographed it in its various phases to use in my explanations to her. I thought I’d share it here to show how I ‘build’ a painting. This is the final painting. Phase 1: I didn’t do a preliminary sketch. Instead, I coated a canvas panel with liquid white, did an orange circle for a sun in a hazy sky, and then fluffed in dark clouds, trees in the far background, and a large, open, snow-covered field. Next the foliage and middle ground trees were sort of roughed in. And, finally, I roughed in the faded red barn. The white sparkles aren’t part of the painting. I work in my garage, and those are reflections from the overhead light off the wet paint. Details are added to the barn. More details added, in the clouds, on the barn and the middle- and fore- ground foliage, and indications of a trail beside the barn.

Source: An old abandoned barn