Author: Charles Ray

Review of ‘Stop the Slip’

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Interesting facts: falls are the number one cause of ER visits in the US, and you’re three times more likely to die from a fall injury than a firearm injury. While this doesn’t mean that we should stop our efforts to prevent firearm injuries, it does call for more attention to preventing needless injury and death from falls—mostly in the home.

Stop the Slip: Reducing Slips, Trips and Falls by Thom Disch addresses this pervasive, but little discussed, problem, with statistics and preventive measures that anyone can understand and apply. Everything from addressing clutter around your home to more intelligent selection of footwear is covered in this chilling book. Fall-proof yourself today with this handy guide.

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

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Video Trailer for ‘Vixen’

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Review of ‘Death and the Lucky Man’

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Alan Winters came from a not-so-lucky family, with a neglectful mother, and brothers in prison. His luck seemed to turn, though, when he won 68 million pounds in the lottery—but, not for long. Alan ended up naked, with his throat slashed, on the Altar Stone at Stonehenge. DCI Keith Tremayne and his partner, DS Clare Yarwood investigate the strange death, each having also to face pasts that in some ways were best forgotten.

Death and the Lucky Man by Phillip Strang is another fascinating adventure with Tremayne and Yarwood and the denizens of their working-class English environment. The author takes you effectively behind the curtain in a story that will delight.

I received a free copy of this book. I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Murder in the Painted Lady’

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Peyton Brooks and her partner, Marco D’Angelo, are two of SFPD’s top detectives. No case is too hard for them to solve, until a real estate agent is murdered in a high-end SF property, a painted lady, and there’s no motive, no useful evidence, and no real suspects. Peyton and Marco are working against the clock, trying to catch the killer before he or she strikes again.

Murder in the Painted Lady by M.L. Hamilton is a real nail-biter. Down-to-earth characters in the well-limned setting of San Francisco—from Knob Hill to Fisherman’s Wharf—this is one you won’t be able to put down. A novella, this is a prequel to the Peyton Brooks mystery series, introducing a quirky, but strong female character.

I give this one four stars.

Review of ‘Track Down Iraq’

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When a former comrade is captured and put on display by an ISIS terrorist group, Brad Jacobs and his old marine vets set out to rescue him. Working against the odds, and against US Government inaction and, in some cases, perfidy, they save the day.

Track Down Iraq by Scott Conrad is pure escapist reading, primarily for action junkies who like the good guys to be super good—and, guys is the operative word here, since the female characters seem to be primarily arm candy—and the bad guys to be totally irredeemable. A lot of snide side comments about anything that’s not in uniform, and a bit of uninformed speculation about the civilian agencies of government.

If you like your action uncomplicated, it’s probably a read you’d enjoy. I found occasional snippets of entertainment in it. I give it three stars.

In Memoriam – Ursula K. Le Guin: 1929 – 2018

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Chief Writing Wolf

“The way to make something good is to make it well.  If the ingredients are extra good (truffles, vivid prose, fascinating characters) that’s a help. But it’s what you do with them that counts. With the most ordinary ingredients (potatoes, everyday language, commonplace characters) – and care and skill in using them – you can make something extremely good.”

“If your manuscript doesn’t follow the rules of what’s currently trendy, the rules of what’s supposed to be salable, the rule some great authority laid down, you’re supposed to make it do so. Most such rules are hogwash, and even sound ones may not apply to your story. What’s the use of a great recipe for soufflé if you’re making blintzes? The important thing is to know what it is you’re making, where your story is going, so that you use only the advice that genuinely helps you get there. The hell…

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Review of ‘Mark of the Loon’

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When Madison Boone buys an old cottage in Sonoma that belonged to a reclusive ornithologist and his wife, her plans are just to fix it up and flip it for profit. The property has a secret, though, and some people are willing to go to extraordinary lengths to uncover it—unfortunately, they have to get Madison off the property first. With the help of her friend, lawyer, Gen Delacourt, Madison begins to peel away the layers of the mystery of the Blackburne family’s estate, and what she learns could be deadly.

Mark of the Loon by Molly Greene is a delightful cozy mystery with a wacky, but loveable cast of characters—a group of witty, independent women who operate according to their own rules, and a colorful locale that is lovingly described, without becoming boring. I loved the pacing; slow and measured until you feel comfortable, and then a burst of frenetic action to get your blood pounding, and just enough budding romance to make it all interesting.

A great start to what I predict will be an even greater series. Don’t miss it. I give it five stars.

How to find stats for your blog

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WordDreams...

I don’t pay much attention to these except in passing. I’ll notice that I’m getting about the same number of viewers or that a post has climbed to the top of my most-commented-on list. Let’s say, if I spend ten minutes a week on this, I’d be exaggerating.

But, it’s nice to know where I can look for quantitative feedback. One of my wonderful readers, Jill Weatherholt, asked where I found them. I don’t use anything beyond what WordPress offers. There are fancier options (like through Google) but this gives me everything I want. To that end, here’s where I found the stats I posted as a summary of my 2017:

First: Access the backend of your WordPress blog:

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Review of ‘Honor Bound’

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Arthur, the Wildcat Wizard, is back and as brash as ever. With his life approaching something like normalcy, and in new digs, he’s offered a job he can’t refuse from the vampire First. Honor bound to complete his new mission, but as usual, things go from bad to worse, and the bodies quickly start piling up.

Honor Bound by Al K. Line is the fifth book in the Wildcat Wizard series, and Arthur and his hat are mired in the usual controversy, with enough action to get your blood pumping and the heat flowing on a cold winter’s day.

Lots of supernatural hanky-panky to jazz up your reading. I received a free copy of this one, and it doesn’t disappoint.

I give it five stars – what else!

Review of ‘Bloody Mary’

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Jacqueline ‘Jack’ Daniels is a tough Chicago cop, she has to be, as the highest ranking female detective on the force. When body parts start showing up in the morgue, she and her partner get on the chase of a deadly serial killer, who, for some reason, has Jack in his sights. The case is complicated by Jack’s personal life—in shambles, and a homicidal cat.

Bloody Mary, book 2 in the Jack Daniel’s series by J. A. Konrath, is a fascinating read. A strong, but nearly fatally flawed, female lead, tons of clues, most leading down blind alleys, and spot-on dialogue, will keep you flipping pages, your head spinning, and will completely surprise you when you learn the identity of the killer. I particular like the way the author takes you on a roller coaster ride when the killer is caught, gets off on a technicality, about three-quarters through the book, and then takes our hero on another bloody journey for the rest of it.

Trust me; you won’t be able to put this one down. I give it a resounding five stars.

How I Write: Roll with the Flow

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We humans love to label things. Writers are no exception, either. Take writing habits, for example, we label writers as either those who diligently map out their stories, plotters, or those who just start writing and go with whatever comes, sort of writing by the ‘seat of the pants, or, pantsers.
The problem with this is that a lot of writers don’t fall neatly into either category. Take me, for instance. I usually start my books in one of the following ways:
1. I list the chapters, and the main action in each, knowing generally how I want the story to end. As I write, though, I will often change action, or add chapters as some interesting action or event is suggested by the flow of the story.
2. I know generally how I want the story to end, and I plan the first chapter or two, and then start writing, going with the flow.
You will notice a common thread here; I always go with the natural flow of the story. Certain things just seem to logically follow other things.
Take, for example, my current work in progress, another in my Al Pennyback mystery series, featuring a retired army officer turned private detective in the Washington, DC area. Al is on retainer to a law firm, but the work they give him doesn’t take up too much of his time, so he takes cases involving people who are being put upon by the system, or who have no one else to turn to. Al is something of a knight errant, or a samurai without a master—otherwise known as a Ronin—and, he is always on the side of the downtrodden. In the current story, A Deal to Die For, his client is a spoiled rich girl, who he dislikes at first, but takes the case because she’s being falsely accused of murder.
Generally, my plan for this one was for him to prove her innocence after several false starts and a lot of time spent following red herrings. I decided that this one would be really complex, with several of the things that push Al’s buttons, like the presence of militia, and some play on 9/11, with a possible terrorist in the mix for interest. I mapped out the first nineteen chapters and began writing. The murder has already happened two days before the story begins, and Al’s task is to find the killer.
He begins working his way through the initial list of potential suspects, eliminating them one by one through diligent detective work, until he’s left with what he thinks is the most likely bad guy—only, I decided that he would really hit a wall when he learns that the most likely suspect is not what he first thought he was, and his nemeses, the militia bad guys start to crank up the heat and put his life in danger.
Now, if the militia guys are the real killers, the story’s about over, so I decided that this was too pat. In chapter 19, I have Al’s client fearing she’s about to be arrested, and unidentified bad buys tailing Al all over town. The clock’s ticking, and the stakes are cranked up to the max. I’ve kind of decided who the real murder is already, and now I’m just sending Al down a few false trails, so that when the killer is finally unveiled, readers will be surprised.
I’m now in the home stretch, and I’m planning a few confrontation scenes and some real nail-biting action just before Al finally finds the key clue that tells him where to look.
That, in a nutshell, is how I write. I go with the flow, and if the flow seems to be veering away from the rough sketch map I started with, I simply draw a new map. That is neither plotting, nor pantsing, but a combination of the two, which, being human, I will call plantsing.
So, having shared that bit of trivia with you, I will go back to my plantsing, and see what sprouts. Happy reading, and a glorious New Year to one and all.

Review of ‘Abduction: The Minivan Murders’

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Abduction: The Minivan Murders by R.J. Parker is the true story of James Daveggio and Michelle Michaud, a couple of meth-heads who kidnapped and sexually assaulted a number of young women from Sacramento, California to Reno, Nevada, even killing one and dumping her body.

A chilling story of serial rapists and murderers, the book fails, however, to live up to the hype or the cover. There is too much repetition, going over points repeatedly that could well be addressed once and done—and a lot of it is devoted to the killing spree of two other serial rapist-killers, who apparently were the motivation for Daveggio and Michaud.

An interesting book, that with less repetition, and without the hype—for example, the two were only convicted of one murder, and while they might, if not caught, have killed others, there is no evidence that they killed more than the one for whose death they were convicted.

I give this one three stars. Interesting subject, just not as well executed as I would expect from this author.

Review of ‘P.I. Penguin and the Case of the Christmas Lights’

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P.I. Penguin takes a break from decorating his house for Christmas to find out how to improve his decorations. During his journey, he discovers that the secret to a truly decorative holiday is the sharing.

P.I. Penguin and the Case of the Christmas Lights by Bec J. Smith is a delightful children’s reader, with illustrations by Indonesian artist, Adit Galih. Though in Australian English, it nonetheless is still a great way to introduce young American readers to the beauty of language.

I give this one five stars.

Review of ‘Fly Like an Eagle’

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In Philadelphia, in 1824, Samantha Ronaldson’s father wants her to marry his older business partner in order to keep his industrial secrets in the family. Samantha, on the other hand, only wants the freedom to explore science, and she allies herself with the partner’s half-Indian son, Eagle, and accompanies him on a journey through the Flow, back and forth through time on an amazing journey of discovery.

Fly Like an Eagle by S.B.K. Burns is a difficult book to categorize. A steam punk, sci-fi novel, it has elements of the paranormal, as well as steamy romance, that offers a bit of everything for lovers of a variety of genres. A tantalizing romp that challenges historical and scientific truths, it explores the boundaries between science and spirituality in a thoroughly entertaining story that will grab and hold your attention from the first page to the last.

I give this one four stars.

Review of ‘Declaration of Liberty’

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When police detective Brad Hamilton finds an old letter at a murder scene, he has to call on history professor, Connie Cobb, and her sister, Rebecca, for help. The letter, which refers to the famous Mecklenburg Declaration, a declaration of independence from England by the government of Mecklenburg, NC, supposedly dated two years before the Declaration of Independence, suspicion falls on historical document validators in the area who might have wanted to take it from the victim.

Declaration of Liberty by Lisa Walker is the second novel in the Cobb Sisters mystery series, that follows Connie, Rebecca, and Brad as they undertake two lines of investigation; one to try to determine the identity of the killer, and the other to determine the authenticity of the letter. While it contains interesting historical information, including historical flashbacks relating to the individuals mentioned in the letter, and police procedure as Brad and his fellow officers trace the victim’s movements in the days before his murder, the pacing of the narrative is rather monotonous, and the flashbacks misleading—and, called into question by the final test of the document’s authenticity.

Although an interesting story with an interesting cast of characters, and not too bad, it could have been much better without the flashbacks.

I give the author three stars for the promise shown.

Review of ‘Flapjack’

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Roger Murphy and Dan Galveston decide to chuck their mind-numbing cubicle jobs and start their own investigation agency. Using often questionable tactics, they succeed in getting ever higher-paying jobs, until a computer hack on behalf of a toy company plunges them into a job that threatens not only their livelihoods, but their lives. A seemingly simple computer break-and-enter job turns up a connection to a shady security company that Galveston once worked for, and a plot to manipulate the world’s energy supplies, taking our erstwhile heroes on a chaotic journey to the far corners of the globe as they struggle to stay one step ahead of forces that threaten to eliminate them.

Flapjack by Daniel Ganninger is the first book in the Icarus Case Files series. The madcap adventures of two sometimes bumbling detectives who go up against a determined band of bad guys, relying on their wits—and a lot of luck—to prevail. There are a few rough spots, like the main character’s name being changed momentarily early in the book—a problem often encountered in a story with a large list of characters—but, despite a few proofreading glitches, it’ll keep you entertained until the end.

I give this premiere story three and a half stars, with the feeling that it’ll only get better with time.

Review of ‘Illegal’

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September 11, 2001 saw a resurgence in the United States of nationalism (the belief that one’s country is better than all others), thinly disguised as patriotism (love of one’s country), which has, since the 2016 elections, only grown worse. Illegal by John Dennehy is a memoir by a young American, following the author’s journey of discovery, beginning with the reelection of George Bush to his second term, when Dennehy decided to leave his home country to find true meaning in his life.

In Ecuador, a country in the throes of profound political change, Dennehy meets Lucia, an activist, and begins to discover the meaning of national and personal identity; a journey that begins and ends at the same place. Along the way, the author offers insights into the inconsistencies that exist in an increasingly globalized world that recognizes the free flow of money, goods, and ideas, while at the same time, restricting the movement of people.

A compelling story of the meaning of culture and nationality, and how one person learns to cope with them. A must-read for anyone who wants to begin to make sense of a world that sometimes seems to be going mad.

I give Dennehy five stars for this one.

Reveiw of ‘Family Matters’

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After her aunt’s funeral, Gracie Andersen’s alcoholic uncle gives her an odd gift—a collection of old books that includes the diary of her cousin who had been killed in a hit and run accident 20 years earlier. It is clear to her that he wants her to find the truth of the ‘accident,’ but before she can get more details from him, he’s killed in a suspicious ‘accident.’ To add to her troubles, her dog kennel is suffering one tragedy after another, and someone wants her to stop prying into the past; chief among them, her annoying cousin, Isabel.

Family Matters by Laurinda Wallace is an interesting cozy mystery that follows Gracie as she begins to uncover family secrets that Isabel wants to keep hidden. She and Isabel have never gotten along, but she’s shocked to learn that, not only is Isabel somehow involved in the 20-year-old death, but the death of her uncle as well. The closer she gets to the truth, the more dangerous her life becomes, until the case reaches a conclusion that will come as a complete surprise.

A well plotted mystery, but the author could have done a better job of pacing, rather than the rather monotonous rhythm throughout. Not a bad first book, that I give three and a half stars. The author shows promise.

Happy holidays to everyone.

Review of ‘Death and the Assassin’s Blade’

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DI Keith Tremayne and his partner, DS Clare Yarwood are attending a local theatrical group’s performance of Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar,’ When the actor portraying Caesar is stabbed in Act 3, and the body is removed from the stage, little do the two cops know that they have just witnessed an actual murder. There were seven actors on the stage, and Tremayne soon realizes that two of them are killers, but which two? When more members of the troupe die, the stakes are pushed up, and he and Yarwood have to work overtime to nab the killers before even more people die.

Death and the Assassin’s Blade by Phillip Strang is a tense thriller. Clues abound, as do suspects, but it takes some dogged police work, and lots of luck to catch the killers. As you follow along, you’ll be subject to the same misdirection as our protagonists, and, in the end, be just as surprised as they are.

A great read for a cold winter’s day. I received a free copy of this book. I give this one four stars.

Review of ‘They Came With the Snow’

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A strange blast in a small college town triggers a blizzard, which is followed by an infestation of ‘crabs,’ Curious at first, they soon turn deadly. College professor, Dominic Daniels, and a small group of survivors must decide whether to try to stick it out in their tenuous safe havens, or make a run for it and contend with the ‘monsters,’ who came with the snow.

They Came With the Snow by Christopher Coleman is a short horror story that stretches the limits of the imagination. Leaving much to the reader’s imagination, it is a shocking judgment of government overreach gone too far. A book that can, mercifully, be read in about half an hour, and one that you will long remember. No pun intended, but this one will chill you to your core.

I give it four stars.