Author: Charles Ray

Review of ‘Death by Bridle’

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When Josiah Reynolds’ friend and lawyer, Shaneika Mary Todd, asks her to help protect her nine-year-old son, Lincoln, who is possibly a witness to a murder, Josiah, still recovering from her near-fatal encounter with rogue cop, O’Nan, agrees reluctantly. The victim, a member of Kentucky’s horse aristocracy, was found strangled, and then hanged in a horse barn. Lincoln, who was found unconscious at the scene, has only a hazy recollection of what he saw before falling and hitting his head.

Death by Bridle by Abigail Keam is the third offering in the Josiah Reynolds mystery series. In addition to being a fairly well-crafted mystery, with tons of clues—many of them red herrings—a long list of potential suspects, and a heroine (Josiah) fearing for her own safety, it has a lot of interesting historical tidbits and social commentary artfully salted into the narrative. No data dumps, these tidbits; they help to move the story forward. History, especially the history of the Old South, where history is never forgotten, and slights always avenged, plays a key role in this tale, which forces Josiah to unearth secrets from the 1960s, secrets that some people are willing to kill to keep hidden.

A divorces, then widowed, beekeeper, who struggles with uncertain finances and a sometimes out of control libido, Josiah Reynolds is a character you can’t help but root for.

I received this book as a gift.

A good story that I liked, but not as exciting as the earlier books in the series. I give this one three and a half stars.

Review of ‘Mortom’

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Craig Moore was a cousin that Andy Crowl barely knew, but when he died he left Andy as the sole beneficiary in his will, which only included an old house and a mountain of debt. When Andy and his sister, Kate, travel to Mortom to settle the estate, they’re caught up in a mysterious puzzle that Craig set up for Andy just before he died. The catch:  Andy only has four days to solve the puzzle or something awful will happen.

Mortom by Erik Therme is a mystery with more than one twist, including a twisted ending that’ll have you gaping in awe at the author’s ability to keep you in suspense for so many pages, and then hit you with a fact that should have been obvious, but which I totally missed.

I like mysteries. I love a well-written mystery that challenges the reader. Mortom does just that, and it’s entertaining.

I received an advance reader copy of this book.

Five stars!

Review of ‘Spreading the American Dream’

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Historian Emily S. Rosenberg’s Spreading the American Dream, traces America’s global expansionism during the first half of the twentieth century. Written in a somewhat dry, textbook style, without footnotes or references, this book looks at the country’s economic and cultural expansion from 1890 to 1945 as it changed from a primarily private endeavor led by American business to one dominated by government.

An interesting book in many ways, but the author gives an unbalanced view, with a bias to the economic aspects and only touching lightly on the cultural. In the introduction the author states that she wants readers to consider if America, in its expansionist mood, fell victim to the same sins as other expansionist powers, but except for slight references to the many contradictions in the American message to the world, she doesn’t offer much to enable a reader to come to any logical conclusion.

For example, when she talks about the great Chicago Exposition of the late 1800s, she points out that America’s prowess in manufacturing agricultural implements was showcased while the over production, land misuse, and crushing debt faced by American family farms was ignored. Nowhere in the book, for example, does she address the stark contradiction between the American cultural message about its exceptionalism and the way it treated women (who make up half the population) or minorities (blacks and Native Americans). While selling the American dream to other countries, it was withholding that dream from a significant percentage of its own citizens. She does point out many of the contradictions in the economic sphere—America pushing for free and open trade while fiercely protecting its own industries—a case of do as I say, not as I do.

Despite these deficiencies, the book is useful to anyone who wants to understand the beginning of American global hegemony. It only needs other material to fill in all the blanks.

I received this book as a gift. For months, I let is gather dust on my book shelf, until the 2016 election and the question of America’s place in the world began to occupy my thoughts more and more. While I was not wildly impressed by it, I’m glad that I read it nonetheless. It gives me a point of departure for further reading and study. I give this book three and a half stars.

Reflections

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I love doing photos of bodies of water, especially still or relatively still bodies, that show the reflections of things around them. Reflections are not always literal. Here, the reflection of the rising sun colors the water of the Zambezi River, giving everything but the nearly black foliage a warm, golden glow. The murky water of a water hole in southeastern Zimbabwe. Reflection of an animal getting a drink. A tree reflected in the water; a bit cliche, but beautiful. A lone boatman on the bay in Naples, Italy. Boats in the harbor in Copenhagen, Denmark. Geese in a pond at Ft. Leavenworth, KS. Harbor at Tenerife, Canary Islands.

Source: Reflections

Flowers

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Flowers, beautiful creations, designed to attract insects that help them pollinate and survive. Absorbing CO2 and sending life-giving oxygen back into the atmosphere – not as much as trees, but still they do their part.The thing that flowers do best, however, is they just add so much beauty to what would otherwise be a bland environment. They add a nice odor to the air, and they just make you feel good to be alive. Pink blossoms, so inviting. Kind of brings to mind the holidays. A feast for the eyes. Mysterious. So pristine, so pure.

Source: Flowers

Review of ‘Three Fat Singletons’

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I received a free e-book copy of J.M. Bartholomew’s Three Fat Singletons, a story of three women, unattached, overweight, and pushing 40, as they wrestle with trying to find love in a world that undervalues certain body types. Jesse, Dotty, and Mary, other than age and weight, are as different as three people can be, but they’re drawn inextricably together as they explore London’s fat underground, internet dating, and obsession with dying alone. They’re drawn again and again to Greece where they explore the boundaries of behavior.

I had a hard time getting into this story, although it did have its moments. The relationship among the three women, Jesse the man eater; Mary, the divorced Catholic, and Dotty, the religious virgin, is hard to understand. One has to persevere, though, as it becomes almost clear about the midpoint. Some parts of the book drag on, it seems, forever, while others whiz by at the speed of light.

In the end, it was mildly interesting, even if the characters did come off as a bit vapid and self-absorbed. I give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘Morning in South Africa’

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Despite a history of discrimination and racism and a current government that is lackluster at best, and mired in corruption, South Africa, according to John Campbell, an American diplomat who served in the U.S. Embassy from 1993 to 1996, during the transition from apartheid to a black-led government, believes that the country’s well-established rule of law will enable it to weather its current crises. In Morning in South Africa Campbell discusses the history of the country, its hot button issues of land reform, health care, education reform, and the economic inequality that persists more than 20 years post-apartheid.

Campbell believes that a closer relationship can be forged between the U.S. and South Africa, to the benefit of both countries, but it must wait for a new government to replace that of current president Jacob Zuma, who as president has made many of the country’s problems worse.

Written from the perspective of someone who represented U.S. interests in the country, but at the same time got to know the culture and society well, this Council on Foreign Relations volume should be required reading for every member of the incoming American administration, but in particular, the new political occupants at the Department of State, not just for what it can teach them about South Africa, but for what they can learn about how American diplomats work to support and defend the Constitution, and on behalf of all Americans, regardless of who occupies the White House. It should also be required reading for all Americans; a primer on foreign relations through the lens of relations with one country.

I received this book as a gift.

I give Campbell five stars for this excellent study.

Review of ‘Homecoming’

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Mayflower, Kansas is a small town known for only two things, its corn syrup and the fact that every so often high school girls (the most popular girls in school) turn up murdered. When the school’s cheerleader, Brooke Tanner, is kidnapped, her wealthy uncle, Porter Kilbride, hires down and out PI Alice Parks to investigate. The feat is that Brooke has been taken by the Homecoming Killer, who holds his victims for a month and then kills them. Brooke has been missing for three weeks, and the local cops don’t have a clue.

Alice is reluctant to take the case. She’s originally from Mayflower, and her dad’s the county sheriff. Worse yet, she’s battling her own nightmares from an incident in Mayflower just before she left, intending never to return. Now that she’s back, the nightmare becomes real as she engages in a race against time to find the missing girl before the clock runs out.

Homecoming by Rob Aspinall is an interesting psychological thriller. The narrative switches back and forth from Alice in the third person to a kidnap victim in the first person, building the suspense to fever pitch until the conclusion that comes at you like a Kansas twister during tornado season. In places the dialogue’s a bit trite, and some of the action lacks a bit of realism. But, the author keeps the reader guessing until the very last, when the loose ends are wrapped up in neat little bows. Little hints are dropped throughout the book that lead to the truth, but there’s always a little red herring to throw you off the track unless you’re an uber-attentive reader.

I received an advance reader copy of this book.

I give this one four stars.

Review of ‘So Damn Lucky’

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For Lucky O’Toole, head of customer relations for Babylon, a mega-casino in Las Vegas, things could be going better. A magician she’s booked for an act in the casino apparently dies during his act, and the body disappears. Her boyfriend, Teddie, is on tour with a rock star, and becoming increasingly distant. She’s having issues with the Big Boss, owner of the Babylon, who also happens to be her dad. And, all of this is before lunch.

In Deborah Coonts’ So Damn Lucky, the sometimes hapless, always overworked, Lucky O’Toole is hell bent on finding the missing magician, settling her increasingly distant relationship with the peripatetic Teddie, and resolving her daddy issues. Of course, the latter is complicated by her mother, Mona, who has moved in with the Big Boss and is now expecting his child. The Big Boss, on the other hand, is pressing Lucky for advice on how to propose to Mona so he can finally make an honest woman out of her—something that Lucky knows is impossible.

If you think these challenges are enough for one mortal to bear, you don’t know Lucky . . . or Vegas. She also has two men sniffing around her, and is tempted to sniff back. Paxton Dane, the hunky Texan who works for the gaming commission and the new French chef are both making moves, and to complicate matters, Teddie returns to Vegas. While balancing all this, Lucky has to deal with UFO nuts, a couple experimenting to add excitement to their lives, and a group of magicians trying to solve a decades-old murder connected with the secretive Area 51, located in the desert near Las Vegas.

If you’ve never read a Lucky O’Toole novel before, I can promise you that you’ll be hooked after reading this one, which is the third in the series, and you’ll be scrambling to get the first two to get to know our hero (one would never use the feminine version of a title to describe Lucky) a bit better. Coonts has a magical way with dialogue and description (yeah, the pun was intended) as she describes the denizens and dives of the glitter capital of the world.

I received this book as a gift.  I give it five stars!

The Cowgirls of Color: Black Women’s Team is Bucking Rodeo Trends

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article by Annalies Winny via theguardian.com The Cowgirls of Color are frustrated. It’s the final stop of Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo and the only all-female team has had a difficult first rid…

Source: The Cowgirls of Color: Black Women’s Team is Bucking Rodeo Trends

The Cowgirls of Color: Black Women’s Team is Bucking Rodeo Trends

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Outstanding article!

GOOD BLACK NEWS

Pinky, Pennie (in background) and KB calm their horses before riding in the grand entry. (Photograph: M Holden Warren)

article by Annalies Winny via theguardian.com

The Cowgirls of Color are frustrated. It’s the final stop of Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo and the only all-female team has had a difficult first ride, making their chances at a victory very unlikely. “The whole point was to win, not just to be in [the event] because we’re girls,” says KB, a 39-year-old legal administrator who has been riding with the team for a year and a half.

In a sport dominated by white men, the all-female, all-black team is a rarity. At the Bill Pickett rodeo, the only black rodeo in the country, high-octane events such as bull riding and steer wrestling remain almost exclusively male. But every year brings more female contestants than the last.

Since the team formed two years ago…

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Review of ‘Expired Listings’

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Dana Black is a realtor with a lot of secrets—and, even bigger problems. She has blackouts, so she can’t always account for her activities; she’s having kinky sessions with Dare in empty real estate listings; and, she has an intense desire to get even with her mother and older sister—both realtors—for abandoning her when she was a child.

When local realtors in Rock Canyon start turning up dead, Dana has a problem; she’s not sure she’s innocent of their demise. Other realtors see the deaths as an edge on the competition, the public doesn’t mourn their loss, and the police aren’t too interested since they’ve been victims of publicity ploys by the realtors in the past. Only, Aidan Cummings, a sexy, but non-kinky, detective who is investigating the murders, seems to care as much as Dana does, and when she becomes a ‘person of interest’ he pulls out all the stops to help prove her innocence.

Expired Listings by D.M. Barr is a hard novel to classify. It has mystery, what with all the dead bodies cropping up in Rock Canyon, and it has elements of erotica—some of the scenes of Dana’s encounters with Dare might be a bit too graphic for some readers. Changes in point of view character can also be a bit confusing as Dana’s back story is revealed to the reader. The author does a masterful job of concealing the identity of the killer until the very end, and I found the denouement a bit too pat, although the characters, except Dana’s mother, Cassandra, fairly well developed.

The mystery element is four-star quality. The erotica is just so-so. I’d have to rate this story as only mildly interesting.

I received an advance reader copy of this book.

I give it three stars.

Review of ‘Death by Drowning’

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After almost dying during her confrontation with the rogue cop, O’nan, who tried to frame her for the murder of a competitor, Josiah Reynold’s daughter, Asa, spirited her to Key West for treatment and rehabilitation. Nine months later, accompanied by Jake, a bodyguard/physical therapist, Josiah is back at her home in Lexington, KY, and trying to pick up the pieces of her tattered life. When a friend asks her help in finding out what actually happened to her nephew who drowned under mysterious circumstances, she has more added to her efforts to recover. To add to her troubles, there is the distinct possibility that O’nan didn’t drown when he fell into the river, and that he’s still obsessed with getting revenge against her.

Death by Drowning by Abigail Keam is the second in the Josiah Reynolds cozy mystery series. It picks up with Josiah’s efforts to find out what really happened to her friend’s nephew. Along the way, we learn more about her enigmatic daughter and Josiah’s past, and there’s a little added love interest as Josiah and Jake’s relationship develops.

If you haven’t read the first book in the series, parts of this story are hard to follow, but it is still a compelling mystery. It ends of a cliffhanger that’s a bit unfair. Josiah learns that O’nan is still alive and after her—but, if you didn’t read book one, you’ll probably be wondering why. It would’ve helped to repeat that bit of information.

I received this book as a gift. I give this one four stars.

Review of ‘Inspired Writer’

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Bryan Hutchinson is a freelance writer who shares his views on writing in a blunt, no-holds-barred manner. In Inspired Writer: How to Create Magic With Your Words, he takes the gloves off with some down and dirty advice on everything from overcoming writer’s block to finding  your muse (or perhaps it’s better to say, letting your muse find you).

This isn’t a how-to book. It’s a think piece for anyone who wants to write better. Hutchinson’s focus is on YOU the writer, and how to unlock your ability to get your thoughts across in the most effective manner.

If you want to write better, you’re the key, and this book can help you find the right keyhole. It is not the magic bullet that will guarantee your next book will be a best seller; just some no-nonsense advice on how to write what’s inside you in a way that will resonate with readers.

Four stars.

Review of ‘Turn the Ship Around’

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The best leaders, according to retired navy captain, David Marquet, work hard to turn their followers into leaders. Using his experience as commander of the nuclear sub, USS Santa Fe, a vessel that was rated at the bottom of the heap in the command to which it was assigned, Marquet shows how the traditional leader-follower style of leadership is counterproductive, and needs to be replaced with a leader-leader style.

In Turn the Ship Around: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders, Marquet details his realization that the leadership style he’d been taught in the navy was not getting maximum productivity out of his subordinates, or himself. He offers details on how he came to the conclusion that developing subordinates into leaders best serves in the present day when organizations are mainly involved in handling information.

His step-by-step transformation into a more effective leader, while shown from the perspective of a military commander in a unique situation, nevertheless offers universal truths and principles that can be applied, with appropriate modification, in any leadership situation.

Whether you’re embarking upon your first leadership job, or you’re an old hand at being ‘in charge,’ this is a book that should be in your reference library. Each chapter is followed by a series of questions you can ask yourself to aid in developing your leadership.

I received this book as a gift. I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Breath of Scandal’

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Jade Sperry left Palmetto, SC under a cloud. Gang-raped by the town bully, Neal Patchett and two of his pals, and pregnant and rejected by her own mother, she’s determined to make something of her life and return for her revenge. Dillon Burke, orphaned early when his parents died in an accident, and in trouble afterwards, he finally got his life together and had a beautiful wife and child. Then, they die in an accident, and he decides to check out of the world.

Jade and Dillon’s lives come together when she finally gets the chance to return to Palmetto to get her revenge on her attackers and she needs a top-flight construction engineer, which Dillon happens to be.

Breath of Scandal by Sandra Brown is an amazing story of revenge and redemption. Brown makes the story come alive as she shows a society where people are related to based on custom and expectations rather than fact, where status counts for everything, and old injustices are never forgotten. For anyone who has ever lived in a small town dominated by one industry or family, this will seem like a reading of history instead of fiction. You’ll be rooting for Jade and hissing at the bad guys from start to finish, and at the end, you’ll breathe a sigh of relief that, finally, all is right with the world.

I received this book as a gift. I give Brown four stars for this one.

Review of ‘Guns of the Temple’

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New recruit, Taki, is sent out to help capture a deserter from his unit. After successfully retrieving the man, the entire unit is put on potato peeling duty as punishment. This is the opening salvo in Guns of the Temple by Bryan Choi and Erica Carson.

The story follows the adventures of Taki and his comrades as they fight a determined, vicious, and capable enemy, while at the same time having to fight their own chain of command. The authors combine barracks humor, historical parody, and paranormal adventure in a tale that is fun to read, even if it is a bit confusing at times with the switches in point of view and the epic cast of characters.

I received an advance reader copy of this book. I give it three stars.

Review of ‘Beckoning Darkness’

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For centuries, God has left humanity in the hands of the Angels. Now, they’re preparing for His return. The Angel, Ariel, imprisoned for centuries for her misdeeds—which she can’t remember, is freed and given a chance to redeem herself. She’s sent to Earth, to the city of Chicago, to prepare the way for the Coming. In Chicago, she encounters the demon, Caelum, whose taste for the ways of mortals sets him apart from the rest of his demon colleagues. When he hears, though, that Hell has special plans for the mortal world his curiosity compels him to take part. When he meets Ariel, faint memories of his mortal life begin to intrude, and the two of them find themselves in an unlikely alliance against a Fallen Angel who has plans of his own.

Beckoning Darkness by J. D. Stonebridge is a supernatural thriller that’s all over the map. An epic cast of characters engaged in plot and counterplot in ways that will boggle your mind. This story moves so fast from incident to incident, you almost have to make notes to know where you are, or who is doing what to whom. A serious subject that uses humor in a way that makes you laugh—sometimes nervously.

Not for the very religious reader; it challenges everything you thought you knew about angels and devils, heaven and hell. But, if you have an open mind, and like a twisted story, you just might like it.

I received an advance reader copy of this book.

An interesting story, but frequent and unheralded changes in point of view character make it a tough slog at times. I give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘Oliver and Jumpy – Stories 58-62’

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Oliver and Jumpy – the Cat Series, Stories 58 – 62 by Werner Stejskal is the 20th book in the Oliver and Jumpy series. Unlike the first 19, which each have three stories, with illustrations and brief text, this one is a series of five stories, with fewer illustrations, that has Oliver the elegant tomcat telling how he creates stories. These books are designed for early readers. Like the early books, this one contains lessons of value for young readers, but in addition, talks about the creative process of writing stories.

This one might be a bit of a challenge for beginning readers, but with adult help, they will come away from the experience of reading it with an enriched vocabulary, and who knows, this might be just the thing to inspire the literary gene in your child.

I give this one five stars.

Review of ‘Aaron in Sinland’

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Aaron Chasin, a failed musician in his thirties, is unemployed and addicted to drink. Consumed by anger and childhood trauma, his dream of becoming a famous A&R Rep for a music company seems out of reach until he meets the enigmatic tantric guru, Shankar Govinda, who initiates him into the arcane world of tantric yoga. Now, all his dreams seem within his reach, but will his dreams turn out to be nightmares? Only time will tell.

Aaron in Sinland by Antara Mann follows Aaron on his troubled journey, as he comes to believe in Govinda and his magical abilities. The reader is taken deep into Aaron’s psyche in this first person account of his adventure. The character of Govinda is also well-developed. Other characters, however, are somewhat one-dimensional, and the ending, while not precisely a cliff hanger, seems to leave the story unfinished.

I received an advance reader copy of this book. I give it three and a half stars.