Author: Charles Ray

Review of ‘Fade to Black’

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Jeff Grobnagger is a 27-year-old slacker who wants nothing more than to be left alone. His problem, though, is that he keeps blacking out at the most inopportune times and having the same dream; he’s strung upside down in an alley and a hooded man keeps killing him—many times in fact.

Jeff meets mustachioed Glenn whose daughter, who was involved with some arcane cult, is missing, and Louise, a PI who is investigating the various cults interested in astral projection among other things. To further complicate matters, Jeff learns that someone is interested in him because of his dreams, and they just might be trying to kill him for real.

Fade to Black is book one in the Awake in the Dark series by Tim McBain and L.T. Vargus. This is a book that defies genre categorization. It has elements of the paranormal—actually, more the para-abnormal—mystery, and macabre humor. The characters are captivating, and the plot doesn’t unfold; rather it folds and refolds in a most byzantine way, leaving you wondering just what the heck is going on. You reach the end, and you’re still not sure what just happened, only that you thoroughly enjoyed it.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Timeless Moments’

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It’s 2014, and Jack Vine has just moved into an old house in Lynchburg, VA, a house that he’s always coveted. One morning, he spots a young woman crying in his garden. When he confronts her, she accuses him of being an invader in her house, dashes inside, and disappears.

In 1917, Jewel Wiltshire is trapped in marriage to an abusive, controlling husband. She begins to fear for her life, and after she finds that she’s pregnant, she decides to run away, which puts her on a collision course with her murderous husband. Alone in her garden one morning, she is confronted by a strange young man who claims that he lives in her house, and then he disappears.

There then begins a strange communication between Jack and Jewel across time, which brings endangers not only Jewel’s life, but the lives of her unborn child and her devoted servants.

Timeless Moments by Michelle L. Kidd is a first novel that was selected for publication in the Kindle Scout program. The author does a fantastic job of weaving not just two, but three time streams together in a mystery that will capture the reader’s interest from page one and hold it until the stunning finale. Kidd is a storyteller who shows a lot of promise for the future.

A great five-star read!

Review of ‘A Poisonous City’

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When the 81-year-old former head of Amsterdam’s Murder Brigade is found dead, the uncompromising and unconventional DCI Jac Roggeveen and her team are assigned to investigate. When they begin peeling back the murky layers of the victim’s life, they find maggots crawling from the heart of the city, and people in high places who are determined that the truth remain hidden.

A Poisonous City by Markey reveals the dark underbelly of Amsterdam as Jac and her people pursue justice despite overwhelmingly high odds and high-level resistance. This book contains lots of in depth historical information about Amsterdam, and has a fascinating main character, but it is a bit choppy, with more telling than showing. More action and less narration would make it a much better read, as would more back story about Jac, a uniquely intriguing character.

I give it three stars.

Review of ‘Whisper He Might Hear You’

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Manhattan’s finest are puzzled by eight killings. Though the victims are seemingly unrelated victims, chief of detectives, Bill Dacey, is convinced they are the work of a single killer. He seeks the assistance of noted criminologist Kate Berman and her ME husband, Josh, to track down the killer, a wealthy, smart, but vicious killer.

Whisper He Might Hear You by William Appel is a chilling thriller that follows this indomitable trio as they race against time to stop a demented serial killer before the list of victims grows any longer.

Even though the killer’s identity is known from the early chapters, the author still manages to keep the reader guessing until the very end.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘By Virtue Fall’

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By Virtue Fall by Mark Wooden is an action-laden urban fantasy; a dark version of ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer,’ only in this case the vampire is the hero.

Adrianna is a vampire assassin on a quest to avenge the death of her parents and the corruption of her younger sister. In order to achieve her goal, though, she must risk becoming as evil as the evil she seeks to defeat. An interesting story that combines elements of urban fantasy and history, replete with fight scenes that will appeal to cinema lovers, this book makes good escapist reading.

I received a free copy of this book. I give it a shade below four stars, rounded up.

Review of ‘Tiger Beetle at Kendallwood’

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Marcy Hankin lives in a small Oklahoma town where football is king and teen girls worry about makeup and boyfriends—especially her twin sister. Marcy, on the other hand, loves bugs. In fact, she wants to be an entomologist, which has earned her the nickname Bug Brain. When Spence Caldwell, a senior who was a football star in the big city, comes to town to live in the old Kendallwood estate, whose grounds are Marcy’s best bug hunting ground, her world is turned on its ear.

Tiger Beetle at Kendallwood is an e-book reissue of Norma Jean Lutz’s young adult romance novel, the second in a series being put out in e-book format. It follows the developing relationship between Marcy and Spence, two outcasts in a society that demands conformity. It could have been proofread better, especially in the earlier chapters, but was an entertaining read.

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

Review of ‘Ash’

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Asher Benson, a veteran of the war in Iraq, after being injured by an IED developed the ability to ‘read’ minds. Far from being a gift, his ability is a curse, and forces him to withdraw from human contact and need to deaden his senses with alcohol to make it through the day.

When a high-level politician kills himself on national TV, and a group of government employees all commit suicide, Asher finds himself hunted by a host of government agencies. With the aid of his ex-army buddy turned police detective, Asher goes on the run. While the government chases him, he is chasing a demented proxy killer who invades others’ minds.

Ash by Jason Brant is a really fast-paced thriller that, along with providing lots of bloody action, explores the impact of extended combat tours, PTSD, and traumatic brain injury in our veterans. All in all, not a bad read if a bit predictable.

I received this book as a gift.

I give it three stars.

Review of ‘Aim True, My Brothers’

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When a rogue Hamas terrorist sets out to assassinate the U.S. President, no one believes it possible. Unconventional FBI counterterrorism agent, Eddie Barnett, acting on information from his friend, Moustapha Khalid, chief of security at the Egyptian Embassy in Washington, must race against time to stop this deadly plot. As unlikely as these two are as allies, when a Mossad agent shows up to join them, Barnett must fight as hard to keep his team together as to find and stop the terrorist.

Aim True, My Brothers by William F. Brown is a no-holds-barred action thriller that could very well have been ripped from the headlines as it follows the action from the Mideast to Virginia’s Tidewater region. Brown builds the action like a master architect or choreographer and sends his characters on stage for a danse macabre that will set your heart pounding and keep your interest from the first page.

I only have one criticism of the book—well, actually, not the book itself, but the book description. It’s billed as an ‘Eddie Rankin’ FBI counter terror thriller, and the description mentions Eddie Rankin as the main character, but we’re introduced to Eddie ‘Barnett’ in the first chapter. A minor flaw, but it did have me flummoxed for several pages.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Murder at the Jolly Jester’

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As the live-in manager of the Jolly Jester, Roland Rowntree lives an almost normal life. Normal, that is, until his barman, Sam, interrupts his morning routine to inform that there’s a dead body in the bar. Old Pete, one of the Jolly Jester’s regulars, is sitting in a back booth with a machete in his head, and the only viable suspect is Roland. Now, he knows he’s innocent, but no one else seems to believe him, so he’s left with nothing to do but solve the crime himself. He plunges his somewhat overweight body into the case, and with the help of the mysterious Miriam begins to uncover age-old secrets of the small village of Duckley that some rather dangerous people want to keep hidden.

Murder at the Jolly Jester by Ian Thompson is a droll mystery, the first in what promises to be an interesting series featuring the hapless Roland Rowntree. British writers excel in the cozy mystery, and Thompson has added a new wrinkle—humor. A nice fireside read.

I received a free copy of this book.

I give this opening salvo in the series four stars.

Review of ‘Thy Killer’s Keeper’

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When a brutal and senseless murder takes place in a small California coastal town, the FBI sends two of its agents to help local authorities investigate what they think is a serial killer. FBI Agent John Salton, though, is wrestling demons that threaten to derail the investigation. He’s convinced that his wife’s death wasn’t a freak accident, but a proxy killing, using his autistic son as the murder weapon. When his son is transferred to a treatment facility not far from the scene of the current crime, things begin to heat up.

Thy Killer’s Keeper by Edita Petrick is a blood-curdling thriller that explores a world of mind-control with a freakish twist not often found in this genre. As Salton and his partner close in on the killer, the reader is taken on a roller coaster ride of emotion, and is treated to a surprise ending that makes this a nice read for people who like their stories to really scare.

I received a free copy of this book.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Precious Paws’

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If you have pets you’ve probably taken lots of pictures of them, and you will no doubt like pictures of pets—I mean, who doesn’t, right? Debra George’s little book of pet photos, Precious Paws is kind of cute, but too many of the photos are poorly lit, and look like they were hastily shot with a phone’s camera. The captions, too, are cute, but so random. It’s as if she threw a bunch of photos into a scrapbook and then just randomly wrote whatever came to mind.

Not a bad idea, but would have been much better if the photos were more professionally done, and if the captions told some kind of story.

Doesn’t really make it as a book of photography, and not enough narrative to qualify for anything else.

I give it three stars.

Review of ‘The Past That Would Not Die’

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In 1962, when Air Force veteran James Meredith entered the University of Mississippi at Oxford, over the strenuous objections of the state’s white power structure, led by Governor Ross Barnett, who stood against the weight of the United States government, it led to several days of rioting and bloodshed. This was not, however, an isolated incident in the turbulent Civil Rights era of the 1960s, but a continuation of a struggle that had plagued the nation’s poorest state since the Civil War and before, as whites in Mississippi fought to retain their ‘privileged’ status vis a vis black citizens of the state; a struggle that infected much of the rest of the country while it came to terms with how to deal with its minority populations.

The Past That Would Not Die by Walter Lord was written originally in 1965, and has been reissued in e-Book format. The result of extensive research and interviews with participants in this epic struggle, it offers a rare insight into America’s struggle with race and class that has some bearing on current populist movements in that it shows how economic upheaval can cause people to look for ‘others’ to blame for their misfortunes, and how politicians can manipulate feelings of dispossession to unfortunate ends.

This book will aid those interested in history to better understand a dark chapter in American history, but also help in understanding some of the undercurrents in today’s society. It is disturbing and enlightening at the same time, and a must-read for anyone wanting to get behind the headlines.

A five-star read!

Review of ‘Nightmares of Caitlin Lockyer’

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Six months after his sister’s brutal murder, Nathan Miller is obsessed with getting revenge, but when walking on the beach near where his sister was found, he stumbles across the tortured body of a young girl, Caitlin Lockyer, still alive, his nightmares begin. He must unlock Caitlin’s nightmares in order to save himself.

Nightmares of Caitlin Lockyer by Demelza Carlton is a byzantine psychological thriller that takes intense concentration to read. As it weaves back and forth between short snatches of Caitlin’s nightmares and Nathan’s experiences, it can be a bit confusing. Who, for instance, are the shadowy figures with whom Nathan’s having phone conversations, and why are they interested in catching Caitlin’s abusers before the police do?

An interesting story, but a few too many unanswered questions. I give it three stars.

Review of ‘Wild Spark’

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Faz Pound, the Dark Magic Enforcer, has decided to settle down. He’s married his live-in vampire girlfriend, Kate, and their off to Paris for a peaceful honeymoon. Of course, for Faz, peaceful is always relative. In Paris, he and Kate receive a ‘command’ invitation to the 600th birthday party of the powerful and quite evil witch, Morag, where he’s offered a job. Since he and Kate want to have children, Morag is willing to help achieve that, provided Faz does her one little favor: retrieve her soul from a powerful wizard, and, oh by the way, take away all his magic at the same time.

Wild Spark by Al K. Line is the eighth in the Dark Magic Enforcer series, and it does not disappoint. Faz has to face off against trolls, vampires, and wizards, and in the process, come to terms with his new-found magical powers. This is quintessential Black Spark, with a lot of humorous asides and pulse-pounding magical encounters of the ‘blast ‘em to bits’ kind.

I received an advance review copy of this book, and I highly recommend it.

I give it five stars.

Sunset and white flowers

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How to paint flowers

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Review of ‘The Healer’

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Hope is an 18-year-old high school student with a secret. She can heal people, not everyone, but some. She and her father struggle to keep her ability secret; but it’s far from the only problem she has. She learns that she is actually the incarnation of an ancient princess, Princess Mikomi, who is the love interest of two warring gods, and that a fallen deity wants to control her for his own evil purposes She is forced to make a choice, surrender to her fate, or fight.

The Healer by C. J. Anaya is a young-adult, paranormal romance story that has so many elements woven into the narrative one is almost forced to write notes to keep track of them. An interesting and somewhat entertaining story if you like this genre.

I received a free copy of this book. I give it three and a half stars

On the road

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I like doing candid photos of people going about their daily lives, unaware of the camera. If you’re on foot, though, that’s often hard to achieve, so I usually shoot from a vehicle as I travel. When I was in Zimbabwe, with a driver at my disposal, this was easy to do. During my three years in southern Africa, I documented a lot of the ‘life along the roadways.’ Zimbabwe under Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party is one of southern Africa’s poorest countries, but has a higher per capita number of luxury cars than the richest countries of Europe, saying something about the degree of official corruption. Members of the African Apostolic Church on the way to services. Everything with wheels becomes a form of public transportation. On the open road. Schoolboys in Arusha, Tanzania. Passengers at Nairobi’s airport. An abandoned factory in Zimbabwe.

Source: On the road

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Review of ‘Acceptable Losses’

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Irwin Shaw was a talented American writer who went into self-imposed exile in Europe after being targeted in Senator Joseph McCarthy’s communist witch hunts of the 1950s.  From Europe, Shaw continued to write critically acclaimed works until his death in 1984, works that are now being reissued in e-book format.

Acceptable Losses was Shaw’s final book. It is the story of Roger Damon, a literary agent, who gets a strange phone call. The caller demands that they meet or else sins of Damon’s past will be exposed. He doesn’t take it seriously at first, but as the caller persists, Damon begins to reflect upon his past in an effort to identify his telephonic extortionist.

This story, like most of Shaw’s work, defies characterization. Filled with social commentary and mental journeys, it is also a mystery, as Damon’s caller continues to stalk him, But, typical of Shaw, we never know who or why. The stalker serves merely as a backdrop to Shaw’s views on the culture and social mores of the time.

If you like your fiction formulaic, you might not warm to this book, but if you like a good story that will suck you in and hold your interest for several hundred pages, get this book.

Five stars.