Author: Charles Ray

Review of ‘Breakthrough’

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When an anomaly on the floor of the Caribbean causes a US nuclear sub to abort its mission, naval technical investigator John Clay is assigned to the case. He encounters a team of marine biologists, under the leadership of Alison Shaw, who, with the aid of a powerful computer are on the verge of a scientific breakthrough; they have developed the ability to conduct two-way communication with earth’s second most intelligent species, dolphins.

Events take a strange turn when the experimental sub they use to check the sea floor is lost, and during the efforts to locate it, they meet Palin, a strange individual who is apparently able to travel via some unknown portal, and who claims to be from another planet.

This encounter leads to the discovery of a secret on the ocean floor that could spell the end of humanity on two planets, and it’s left to John and Alison to prevent a cataclysm of epic proportions. Breakthrough by Michael C. Grumley is a futuristic novel that, though positing science that does not yet exist, reads as though it could have been ripped from today’s headlines. The futuristic technology, and alien contact, though thrilling, pale beside the story of bureaucratic bumbling and political maneuvering that is so similar to things that happen in our present day.

As a bonus, the author, after wrapping up the story neatly, sets the stage for the next in the series. This is a ‘can’t put it down’ read. I give Grumley five stars for this opening salvo in what appears to be a great series.


Review of ‘The Daemoniac’

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Young Harrison ‘Harry’ Fearing Pell, 19-year-old sister of famed detective, Myrtle Pell, is left alone in New York with her friend, medical student Thomas Weston, while her parents tour Europe and her sister is off to the west coast on a case. A couple show up at the home seeking help finding a missing friend, and Harry, not bothering to tell them that it’s her sister, not she, who is the detective, takes the case.

Soon, bodies start showing up, killed and staged in such a way as to suggest some kind of demonic possession, and causing the press to dub the killer, Mr. Hyde. But, Harry is convinced that the killer is a flesh and blood human with a real mental problem—and, she’s determined to solve the case.

Daemoniac by Kat Ross is a riveting mystery, in a style that’s a fusion of Conan Doyle and Poe, with a determined and skillful ‘Holmes-like’ main character, and the perfect foil in Thomas Weston. The reader is introduced to New York City in the late 1800s, from the grimy slums to the ritzy, often corrupt Fifth Avenue.

Once you start reading this one, you won’t be able to put it down.

Review of ‘Until Sweet Death Arrives’

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Nahum Patterson is an accomplished investigative journalist for a Tel Aviv newspaper, who puts his life on the line to do stories exposing official corruption. His stories resulted in one man having to flee the country, and put another in prison—both have sworn to get revenge. In the meantime, Nahum’s memory slowly begins to fade as Alzheimer’s disease takes hold of his mind.

Until Sweet Death Arrives by Amnon Binyamini is a crime thriller, but mainly it’s a profoundly disturbing tale of the havoc diseases like Alzheimer’s wreaks on individuals and families. It follows the deterioration of Nahum from the onset of the disease, when he begins to find himself in places with no knowledge of how or why he came to be there, through the final stages, when he has to be confined for his own safety, and has no real awareness of his surroundings.

The author does an amazing job of portraying this condition, not to gain sympathy, but to generate understanding of the effect it has on the sufferers and everyone around them.

I give this book four stars.

Review of ‘The Federalist Papers’

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Every American politician, judge, government official and practicing lawyer should be required to read The Federalist Papers. In fact, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for every American to read these 85 essays, written by Founding Fathers Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay in 1787-88 to persuade the American public to ratify the Constitution to replace the weak and ineffective Articles of Confederation. Addressing various aspects of governance, and how they would be dealt with under the new Constitution, even more than two centuries later, they contain a lot of wisdom and food for thought–particularly in our current political climate.

It’s been many years since I read these, so when I received a free copy of this Amazon Classic, it seemed like a good opportunity to refresh my knowledge of the subject. Though written in the infancy of this country, many of the issues they address are appropriate today.

I give this outstanding course in U.S. constitutional history five stars.

Review of ‘Call of the Six’

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Thanks to the machinations of Marcus and his MM army, the Preston Six find themselves separated, Poly alone in a life raft after their plane is shot down on an alternate world, and heading for an island that might not even exist; and Joey and Samantha isolated in a scene generator, where Marcus is slowly sucking the life out of Joey. Harris, the Ghost, calls on the six to tap into their strengths to help him bring Marcus down, but in order to so, they have to survive zombie assaults and take on a high-tech army—and, in the process, get back together again.

Call of the Six by Matt Ryan is book two in the Preston Six series, and while it lacks the smoother copy editing of book one, makes up for it with spine-tingling action and profound interpersonal conflict.

This one ends on something of a cliff hanger, in some ways, similar to book one, which sets a reader up nicely for the next in the series. While I’m not ordinarily a fan of cliff hangers, I give the author a pass on this one.

I received a free copy of this book. I give this one three and a half stars, mostly because of the number of grammatical and typographical glitches.

Review of ‘Caribbean Shuffle’

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Retired police detective, turned private eye, Pat Ruger joins his ex-partner, Jimmy Stewart, and his wife, on a Caribbean cruise. A widower with an FBI-agent girlfriend who has moved from Denver to NYC to take a plum job, Pat finds himself being pursued by multiple women, and unsure how to deal with it. When he’s seduced and robbed by a beautiful young woman on the cruise ship almost before it leaves port, and she later turns up murdered, his life takes a dramatic, and decidedly odd, turn. Pat and Jimmy are asked by the ship’s captain to try and identify the murderer before they reach their next port of call. What should be a relatively simple investigation, however, becomes immensely more complicated by a pirate raid and a tense naval standoff, with Pat and Jimmy sitting squarely on ground zero.

Caribbean Shuffle by Jack Huber is the second book in the Pat Ruger mystery series. While this one contains a lot more action than the first, in my humble opinion, the author overloaded it, sacrificing some character development in the process. Don’t get me wrong, it was still a thoroughly entertaining read, and there was some character development, but the plot complications could’ve stopped when the naval standoff was settled. The little secret agent shuffle near the end, with the wild ride from Colombia to Venezuela, while interesting, could have probably been left out.

I’m still a fan of the series, though, and look forward to Pat and Jimmy’s future adventures.

I give Huber three and a half stars for this one.

Review of ‘The Bootlegger’s Legacy’

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When an old-time bootlegger dies, he leaves his son, Mike, a cryptic letter and a key, hinting at a secret stash of millions of dollars that he hopes his son is smart enough to find. With his best friend, Joe, he sets off on an adventure that covers three states and fifty years of a family history that sets the two friends’ minds reeling.

The Bootlegger’s Legacy by Ted Clifton is a rollicking and heartwarming tale of love, loss, and redemption that traces the lives of several people over a fifty-year period, as they come to terms with their past and present, and forge new futures. Once you start reading this book, you’ll be pulled into their lives as if they’re old friends with whom you’ve lost contact, and are now discovering things about them that you never knew.

The author does an amazing job of introducing characters, and then leaving you wondering what will happen to them next, and then, in the end, tying up every loose end in a wonderful package that will leave you completely satisfied.

A solid five-star read!

Review of ‘Hush, Child’

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With his life in shambles, Judah Greer is an alcoholic who has no desire for sobriety. But, when his estranged daughter, Mara, reenters his life, he finds hope. Then, Mara becomes the 25th victim of a serial kidnapper, and Judah is determined to save her. With the help of Anna, a mysterious young girl who might or might not even exist, and an NYPD detective on her own vendetta, he sets out to redeem himself.

Hush, Child by David Halvorsen is a supernatural thriller that explores the dimensions of spirituality and the supernatural, addiction, and love, as Judah stumbles his way into the shadow world between reality and tortured dreams. Although the prose tends to the purple in many places, the pacing and occasional digressions into the characters’ backgrounds keeps the interest level high.

I give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘The Emotion Thesaurus’

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Experienced writers know, after tedious trial and error, that it is compelling characters that hook readers on what you write. One of the best ways to get readers to invest in your characters is to be able to show their emotional state. The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Expression by Angela Ackermann and Becca Publisi is a handy list of ways to ‘show’ what your character is feeling, without having to expressly ‘tell’ your reader. Whether you’re a beginning wordsmith or a grizzled veteran, this book is a must-have for your writer’s reference library.

I purchased this book about four years ago from Amazon and made it part of my library. I’ve lately been going through these books and selecting those that I think would be of interest to those readers who are also writers. This one is a great time-saver that will give you loads of ideas to improve your writing.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Digital Photography: Complete Course’

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Digital Photography: Complete Course is a comprehensive and detailed guide to digital photography that tells you just about everything you need to know to bring your photography to the next level. Clear, illustrated examples, and practical exercises take you through the steps to improving your photographic skills in 20 weeks.

I purchased this book from Amazon several years ago, and have used it intermittently to enhance my ability, and thought I would share it with other budding photogs. It’s well worth the investment.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘To Be Had’

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Boris Wade worked hard to become a lawyer, but in his small town, the only legal job open to him is as a legal assistant. When that job ends, he faces a quandary; how can he provide for his wife and daughter without a job that pays him what he thinks he deserves. His quest for money and position lead him to leave his family, and soon, he finds himself involved in shady deals in pursuit of wealth. With his reputation ruined, he leaves law and tries everything from dishwashing to male prostitution—in the process, becoming alienated from his daughter, and with only one friend left, a woman who is willing to accept him for what he is.

To Be Had by Sava Buncic is Boris’ story, as he finally comes to term with himself, and learns to get off the treadmill of seeking wealth for its own sake, and make an effort to mend his broken relationships. Boris is, for most of the story, a character the reader will find it hard to sympathize with, and it’s only at the end, when he finds the capacity to sacrifice for someone else that one sees any hope.

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

Review of ‘Dark Paradise’

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When a contestant on a popular reality show is found dead on an isolated island off Australia’s coast, Detective Charlie Cooper and his partner, Joe Quinn, are sent to investigate. The victim, not popular with anyone associated with the show, was suffocated in her bed, and Cooper and Quinn learn that everyone is a suspect. The popularity of the show has drawn attention from their higher-ups and the media, and the pressure is on them to solve the case quickly.

Dark Paradise by Catherine Lee is a novella that follows their investigation as they painstakingly piece together clues and eliminate suspects, one-by-one, until they focus on the one most likely. The problem; they have no proof, and the clock is ticking.

While there is some focus on police procedure, the main focus in this entertaining little tale is the mental processes the two heroes follow as they zero in on the main suspect.

Review of ‘Terminal Secret’

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A government attorney is murdered on her doorstep in a wealthy DC neighborhood. A senator’s wife approaches a private detective to find out who killed her ex-husband, a disabled army veteran. Two seemingly unrelated cases, the first assigned to DC detective Earl Wallace and his new partner, both by-the-books cops; and the second to lawyer/private eye Dan Lord, a man who makes his own rules in his pursuit of justice. They soon learn that their cases are related and portend even more dead bodies, perhaps their own, if they don’t find the mastermind behind a series of crimes being committed by people who are terminally ill with cancer. The key, Dan discovers, is an old case involving a now-dead drug dealer, but the time to solve it is quickly running out.

Terminal Secret by Mark Gilleo is a high-octane mystery-thriller that uncovers the raw underbelly of our nation’s capital in ways that other novels set in Washington, DC often fail to do. It swings effortlessly from wealthy Georgetown enclaves to the wasteland of Anacostia’s neighborhoods, introducing the reader to the variety of colorful, and sometimes dangerous, denizens of DC’s asphalt jungle.

I give Gilleo four and a half stars for this one.

Review of ‘Ariana’s Pride’

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Young Lady Ariana, the daughter of an earl, is willful and headstrong. Betrothed to an elderly baron, she accepts it as the fate of a highborn woman. But, when she loses her family in an attack upon the earl’s castle, she must flee for her life. As her destination, she choses the estate of the Baron Frederick, her betrothed, but must rely upon the assistance of the irreverent, but dashing Jeremy, a common stable hand.

During their journey together, the two learn about each other and themselves, and develop a relationship that threatens both.

Ariana’s Pride by Margaret Lake is the first book in a trilogy that is part historical thriller, part medieval romance, with a fascinating cast of characters and, for someone like me, who knows little about England during medieval times, credible sounding.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Regan O’Reilly: Private Investigator’

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Although she comes from a family of cops, in 1942, the only police job open to Regan O’Reilly, or any other woman, is a desk job. So, instead, she becomes a private investigator. As a PI with her own agency, she’s pretty much free to live life on her own terms, until she meets an insurance adjudicator, Mark Harris, a widower with a young son, Patrick, both of whom stir feelings in Regan that she’d rather not have to deal with.

Regan O’Reilly: Private Investigator by Margaret Lake is an interesting novella, although, it’s a bit misnamed. Written in the noir mystery style of the 1940s, it’s an intriguing story, but, it’s a romance story, not really a mystery. Interesting characters, and relatively fast-paced action, it follows Regan as she strives to reconcile her work with her growing feelings for Mark and Patrick, ending on a somewhat unsettled note as she prepares to go off on a hazardous undercover assignment just as she’s about to come to terms with the growing personal relationship.

I’m still unsure about this series, but curious to see what’s next for the heroine. I’ll give this one a provisional four stars.

Review of ‘Mermaid Fins, Winds & Rolling Pins’

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Murder and mayhem follow Imogen Banks everywhere she goes. Still trying to learn to control her witch powers, under the tutelage of Prince Hank, and worrying about Horace and his minions of the Badlands Army, she sees a trip to the Mermaid Kingdom to cater the wedding party of the Mermaid queen and the Pirate king as a welcome diversion. But, when a member of the mermaid court is found murdered and entangled in a pirate’s net, and a confection from their kitchen is thought to be the murder weapon, Imogen must find the real murderer before she and her friends become fish food.

Mermaid Fins, Winds & Rolling Pins by Erin Johnson is book three in the Spells and Caramels series, and it builds on the previous two books, but with a refreshing difference. As Imogen and her cohort has to deal with the licentious behavior and secret scandals of the mermaid court, smuggling of illicit substances, and a deadly octopus; while Imogen struggles with her romantic feelings for Hank, who is betrothed to another, and their susceptibility to an intoxicating monster’s brew, this story will hook you from the opening pages until you get to the startling conclusion, when Imogen discovers more secrets from her own past.

This story makes a shift from the relative innocence of the first two volumes, as intimate relationships are explored in a more explicit manner, raising the series from one that appeals to fantasy lovers of all ages to one that is aimed at a more mature audience.

I was attracted to this series from the beginning, but am now irrevocably hooked. I received a free copy of this book.

It promises a lot from the opening, and delivers on every page.

Review of ‘Loving Laykin’

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Loving Lakyn by Charlotte Reagan is a profoundly disturbing story—but, in a negative way, only if you have a mind that’s closed to the realities of life. The story of teen, Lakyn James, struggling with his sexual orientation with parents who are unable to accept it, a victim of abuse and bullying who attempts suicide, is addicted to drugs, and is struggling to find his own identity. While this story is an example of extremes, it is probably not far off the mark in its depiction of what young people go through in a society that has yet to come to terms with the definitions of sexuality, in which bureaucracies often allow those who are ‘different’ to fall through the cracks or become invisible.

As you read this story, though, one things rings through loud and clear, one must learn to love oneself before the love of others can be recognized. Yes, it is a disturbing book, but in a way that we all need to be disturbed. It is a wake-up call, reminding us that everyone matters.

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

Review of ‘The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy-Volume Three’

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Writing is hard work. But, getting published, and getting your book read is even harder. The Complete Guide to Writing Fantasy, Volume Three: The Author’s Grimoire edited by Valerie Griswold-Ford and Lai Zhang is a comprehensive guide to the networking and self-promotion practices that will help writers, from tyro to experienced, gain maximum exposure. Detailed guidance on approaching publishers and agents is useful for those deciding to go the traditional publishing route, but most helpful in today’s publishing world, are the hints on generating buzz for your work, which is quite useful to independent authors.

I purchased this book from Amazon several years ago, and still refer to it from time to time when I’ve just published a new book, as a reminder of the work that needs to be done to attract readers.

I give this book four stars.

Review of ‘Ghost Gathering’

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The MP-5 Team, a group of special operations specialists unconnected with any government bureaucracy, and working out of a corporate headquarters in Houston, Texas, get word of a ghost gathering, a group of unknown terrorists operating undetected on U.S. soil and planning an operation that will generate thousands of casualties, they pull out all the stops to find the terrorists and foil them. Their only lead is a Christian monastery in northern Iraq, but when they arrive, the abbot is killed, and their only chance to stop the deadly plot lies in the hands of a six-year-old orphan boy, who is also being sought by ISIS for its own nefarious purposes.

Ghost Gathering by M. H. Sargent is a spine tingling thriller that moves with lightning speed from event to event, as the team races the clock against a determined group of terrorists and an international assassin in a high-stakes game which they cannot afford to lose.

A stunning cast of characters, chilling scenarios, and high-tech plots will keep you flipping pages, pulse racing, until the end. While I’m not usually a fan of cliff hanger endings, I was struck at how the author managed to tie up loose ends, give a satisfying conclusion to the main plot, and still leave a question mark hanging over our heroes at the end, setting things up for an equally thrilling sequel.

I give this one four stars.

Review of ‘Brutal Bedtime Stories’

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If you like your horror raw and uncensored, you’ll love Brutal Bedtime Stores: A Supernatural Horror Story Collection. An anthology of dozens of cutting-edge, macabre stories by David Maloney, Tobias Wade, Ha-yong Bak, and Kyle Alexander that will curl the hairs on your arm and send chills up and down your spine. These are stories of psychopaths, ghosts, and ghouls, the work of some really twisted minds; not for the sensitive or faint-hearted—you’ll love it.

I give this collection five stars.