Author: Charles Ray

Review of ‘Big Numbers’

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Stockbroker Austin Carr is about to be killed in a most unusual way, he’s strapped into a deep-sea fishing rig, trussed and helpless, and about to be dragged to a watery grave by a giant bluefin tuna. In what’s also a somewhat unusual technique, the author, without identifying Carr’s assailant, flashes back three weeks and takes the reader through the events leading up to this in media res opening.

The reader learns that Carr’s wise mouth and often questionable choices during this time has created a rather long list of people who might want him dead, and it’s only as one approaches the last third of the book that the identity of the would-be killer becomes apparent, from which point, the story proceeds to a fairly satisfying conclusion.

Big Numbers by Jack Getze is the premiere offering in a mystery series about a wise-cracking stockbroker who can’t stay out of trouble, and who is just one step away from being a ‘broke’ stockbroker. The main character is flawed, and all too human, thus loveable, and the setting adds to the story.

An entertaining story. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Murder at the Bellamy Mansion’

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Historic preservationist Ashley Wilkes, honeymooning with her husband, Jon, agrees to take on the job of restoring the historic Bellamy Mansion. What should be a routine job turns deadly when a sniper shoots one of her contractors, and later, a body is found in the mansion’s old cistern. Someone’s stalking anyone trying to preserve the old mansion, but can Ashley determine who before she becomes the next victim?

Murder at the Bellamy Mansion by Ellen Elizabeth Hunter is a slow-paced, yet tense mystery, that moves with a southern rhythm, but stings like a yellow jacket. The settings are well limned, and the characters, from my own experience in that region of the country, credible.

This makes for a nice weekend read. I give it four stars.


Review of ‘Transitory’

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Nate Maddox, taking a well-earned holiday on a distant moon, is reliving events from his past, when a stranger with murderous intent interrupts his vacation. With the help of mysterious strangers, he tries to determine the identity and motives of the killer, while evading him, only to learn that his true enemy is closer than he’d ever thought.

Transitory by Ian Williams is fun-to-read, escapist entertainment. Great dialogue and interesting action, and the aliens are intriguing—though their motives are a bit difficult to define. A good way to spend a lazy afternoon.

I give this book four stars.

Review of ‘A Dog’s View of Love, Life and Death’

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A Dog’s View of Love, Life and Death by J.R. Archer is a multi-layered book. On the surface, it’s a collection of stories of man’s best friends and how we relate to our canine companions. Below the surface, though, is a complex dissection of the roles that animals play in our lives and us in theirs, coupled with philosophical and ethical questions that readers must answer for themselves. There is a premise in the book that animals communicate telepathically, not only with each other, but with humans, who might or might not realize it. The author provides the ‘voices’ of the animals in a way that makes sense, and the way they communicate ranges from the seemingly basic and instinctive, to intellectually evolved. These are animals that are at once in our service, but also portrayed as more advanced, and more at peace. The themes in this book are heavy, and the reader should expect to run the full gamut of emotions. Evoking the deepest of existential quandaries through the eyes of our four-legged friends, J.R. Archer has crafted a tale that will be easily relatable while making you ask the tough questions.

The book is well-written and well-edited, and the characters are well-drawn. The humans in the book are at varying stages in their lives, and each is facing a conflict of personal struggle of some kind. The role that dogs play in their lives is different for each, but the dogs often take on the position of empathetic but removed observer, asking spiritual questions and pontificating on the motivations and fears of their ‘masters.’ I put ‘masters’ in quotes because, as previously mentioned, this book will make you ask who the truly evolved life form is. The setting compliments the chaotic nature of the humans’ world, and Archer paints a New York City that is bustling and unforgiving. The stories move along at a quick pace, and it was easy to get through several in a sitting. While the subject matter is tough, the book itself is digestible. This is a book that will grab your attention, but refuses to hold your hand. While each character’s story arc ends in a satisfying conclusion, readers will find that many of the queries raised in the book will have to be answered by the readers themselves. While this is a book that will appeal most to animal lovers, there is something here for everyone. This is easily a five-star read.

I received a free copy of this book.

Review of ‘Cleaver Square’

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On a bleak winter day, the body of a child is found near the Old River Lea. As DCI David Morton struggles to identify the dead child, he finds himself torn between doing what’s right and what’s legal.

Cleaver Square by Daniel Campbell and Sean Campbell is the second book in the DCI Morton series, and it continues the great storytelling that was the hallmark of the first book. Intense drama and thought-provoking situations will keep you reading, and will make you think.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Blank’

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Lincoln Delabar was born without a face; quite literally, a smooth expanse on the front of his head, with only two holes where his nostrils would be, through which he breathes and takes sustenance, liquids which he cannot taste. But, as with all things, when a door closes, a window opens. Lincoln, or Blank, as his father dubbed him, has other abilities. He can sense electrical energy, enabling him to ‘see’ things around him, and he can ‘connect’ with people who touch his face, an action which enables a two-way sharing of memories.

As Linc, his favored name, reaches puberty, he develops friends and contacts beyond his mother and sister—his father having deserted the family because of his inability to cope with both Linc’s deformity and his power—including his uncle, Joey, who is hiding some dark secret, Tuck, a neighborhood boy with whom he develops a close and enduring friendship, and a girl who is able to look past his lack of a face and see the real him.

But, he has enemies, too. People who hate him for what he is, and those who fear him for his ability to ‘see’ them.

Blank by Richard C. Hale is not your usual novel. While all its main characters are teens, the theme is decidedly adult, as they struggle with a serial rapist/killer, drug dealers, and high school bullies who sometimes go way too far. It’s tempting to call it a coming-of-age novel, but it’s not that either. What it is; a darn interesting and intriguing read, handled in such a way that you find yourself believing that such a creature could actually exist.

A five-star premiere to what I predict will be a series that will acquire a cult following.

Review of ‘Sons of My Fathers’

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With General Sherman’s Union forces closing on Atlanta, 19-year-old Ulysses Simpson and his father, Bayliss, on leave from their Confederate units, set out to avenge the death of a younger member of their family slain by a band of deserters, an action that sets the Simpson clan on a course that will have a significant impact on future generations.

A hundred years later, Ron Simpson, having enlisted in the army during the Vietnam War, and trained as a helicopter pilot, traumatized by news of the massacre by US forces at My Lai, is faced with a decision—does he honor his oath to serve his country, no matter what, or does he follow his own conscience, and his desire not to kill.

Sons of My Fathers by Michael A. Simpson is a mostly true, multi-generation, family saga that explores the stress that can be put on a family when personal values conflict with the expectations of society or the organization to which a person belongs. Using the backdrop of the Civil War, a conflict that pitted brother against brother, and threatened to fracture the nation, the author contrasts that period with the Vietnam War at the height of the anti-war movement, when citizens began to question the wisdom and integrity of those elected to lead the nation. Using historical sources and family recollections, Simpson takes the reader inside the internal conflicts that rage when the decisions and orders from those in leadership veer from the personal moral codes of individuals, and show the need of individuals to take personal responsibility for their decisions and actions.

In today’s climate of moral ambiguity and political uncertainty, this book is food for thought. In addition, it’s a highly compelling read that shows the personal anguish of war and its impact on those called upon to fight; providing lessons that can help navigate the treacherous waters that we face, not just in war, but in every facet of life.

I received a free copy of this book, and found that, once I started reading, I was unable to put it down. This is not just a war story, nor is it your typical coming-of-age novel. It’s a blueprint for living a life that has meaning, and being able to respect the one person who really matters in life—yourself.

Without hesitation, I give it five stars.

Review of ‘The Bucket List’

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Leah Clarke thought she had her life finally in order. Then, a new neighbor moves into the house next door, and it turns out to be her old childhood friend, Damon Holling, who she hasn’t seen for five years. When she learns that he’s terminally ill, with just a year left to live, the two of them set out to complete a bucket list of all the things they’ve ever wanted to do. In their pursuit, Leah discovers that their friendship is much more than she’d ever realized, and learns some valuable things about herself in the process.

The Bucket List by Emily Ruben is sort of chick-lit, but with a difference. Instead of a light, frothy story of young love, it’s a story about discovery and coping with loss. The author takes the reader inside the minds of the characters, making you cheer for Damon’s recovery—despite the fact that it’s made clear that it won’t happen—and sad when the inevitable happens. At the same time, it leaves you with a feeling of hope as Leah learns to love herself in the process of falling in love with Damon.

A sad subject written about in hopeful, though very direct and hard-hitting terms, this story will stick in your mind long after you’ve closed the book.

I received an advance review copy of this book.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Killer Music’

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PI Cooper Harrington met record company exec Grayson Taylor less than a day before he—Taylor—is found brutally murdered. Taylor’s widow hires Cooper to investigate in tandem with the Nashville police, and working with his friend, Chief of Detectives Ben Mason, he uncovers dirty dealings in the record industry, political corruption, and a murder who, if not caught, will kill again.

Killer Music by Tammy L. Grace is an interesting mystery that explores the sordid underbelly of the recording industry, and despite being a bit choppy in places, will keep you entertained from start to finish. There are plenty of red herrings and useless clues, until Cooper finds the crucial clue that holds the answers to the crime. His problem: he has little time to unmask the killer before someone else dies.

I received a free copy of this book, the author’s first in this series. I give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘It’s About Time’

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A small fishing boat with two occupants disappears in Japan’s Devil’s Triangle. Years later, a famous quantum physicist is assassinated just before making an important speech. His bodyguard and fiancée, Angela Mercy, failed to protect him, and while pursuing his killers is caught up in a strange cloud of fireflies and is mysteriously transported to . . . the future. There, she’s enlisted to stop a merciless tyrant on a quest for immortality and world domination.

It’s About Time by Lyle Howard is a time travel mystery, that’s actually more about the mystery than the phenomenon of time travel. Filled with gory action scenes and snarky dialogue, it will almost make you ignore, if not miss, the sci-fi elements. The book is also full of surprises and twists that sneaks up on you like a green mamba dropping from a banana tree.

A fun read. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Ketogenic Diet’

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Ketogenic Diet for Beginners by Emily Mayr is a step-by-step guide to weight loss through adopting a low-carb, high-fat diet designed to reset the body’s mechanisms to burn fat and help reduce weight.

The author takes readers through the process, explaining the scientific background of the diet regime, and offering recipes and meal schedule suggestions.

As with most changes in diet or other health-related routines, this method should not be undertaken before consulting your health professional.

An interesting book that will add to your knowledge of nutrition and health.

I give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘Digital Velocity’

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Police Detective Ethan McAllister is getting tips from an anonymous source that have helped him solve a number of crimes. He gets a tip, warning that an elderly lady is in danger, and when he and his partner arrive on the scene, they find her dead, and are confronted by the perpetrators who have not made their escape.

McAllister, who comes from a family of cops, is injured, and in addition to having to endure continued razzing from his older brothers, must decide what to do about his anonymous source, cyber expert Lexi Donovan, who discloses her identity when she visits him in the hospital, and protect her from his police colleagues aa well as a determined killer who seems to be stalking him.

Digital Velocity by Reily Garrett is an interesting book. Part police procedural, part mystery, it explores the outcome of criminals employing cyber techniques in their dastardly pursuits. Some interesting interpersonal and family dynamics, and lively dialogue. The cat-and-mouse play between the killer and the team of Ethan and Lexi makes this a worthwhile read all on its own.

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

Review of ‘Learning My Letters’

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Learning My Letters: Writing Skills A – Z is the third book in Piaras O. Cionnaoith’s picture books for teaching writing and drawing skills to early readers. An interesting little book that shows both upper- and lowercase letters, how to construct them, along with pictures of things that begin with that letter.

A useful book for introducing children to writing the alphabet and learning new words. My only complaint is that in the Kindle version, the labels of the photos are in a very light type that was a challenge for my elderly eyes.

A worthwhile addition to your child’s book shelves.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘The Snow Globe’

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When Maggie Kincaid started having strange dreams, she broke her engagement with Michael, a man she thought she loved, but discovered that she didn’t really know. Obsessed with her, he begins a relentless pursuit that causes her to flee from city to city in a vain effort to escape him. When Michael turns his attention to her sister, Julie, Maggie decides that it’s time to stop running. Law enforcement, despite a number of restraining orders, has not been able to help her, and the dreams featuring her deceased grandmother, and her effort to get a message to Maggie, get worse. After Michael kidnaps Julie and tells Maggie that if she doesn’t return to him Julie will die, she takes matters into her own hands, becoming the pursuer instead of the victim, following him from New York City to Washington, DC, in the hopes that she can finally bring her nightmare to an end.

The Snow Globe by Tony Faggioli is a riveting thriller that deals with the issue of stalking, the limitations of the legal system to curb this life-shattering crime, and how one person, with determination and persistence, can take control of her own life.

Overlaying the human aspects of the story is a bit of paranormal activity that is only partially explained—but, this is not a deal killer. Characters bring to mind real-life people, despite the paranormal aspect, and are easy, if a bit uncomfortable, to relate to.

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

Review of ‘I Know Your Every Move’

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Trying to put her dark past behind her, Sophie is working for a women’s crisis center in Manchester. But, one day, the sinister text messages start. Has someone from her past finally found her? The messages are strange, and troubling, but Sophie is determined to no longer be a victim.
I Know Your Every Move by Diane Ezzard is a troubling story of predatory stalking, and how it can up end a person’s life.
An interesting story, that’s unfortunately far too cluttered with the mundane details of Sophie’s day – from what she eats to what she wears. I was also unable to completely sympathize with the main character, who has a history of making bad decisions about the men in her life, and a seeming inability to learn from her mistakes. In the end, it was a bit disappointing.
I received a free copy of this book, and even though I read it to the end, I was left feeling that even with all the details that had been provided, some important points were left out. I give it three and a half stars, because the author shows promise, and with more experience will write a story that will capture not only my imagination, but my interest.

Review of ‘Offenbunker’

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The time is the 1960s, and America is still recovering from WWII, the Korean War, and waking up in 1946 to discover that its WWII ally, the Soviet Union, is actually its enemy. The CIA, formed partly out of the wartime OSS, is locked in a deadly struggle with the KGB in now-divided Berlin, and is losing the battle as its agents keep getting burned. A group of intrepid spies, some of them veterans of recent wars, are brought together to find out why the CIA is always on the losing side, and learn that there is a high-level mole within the CIA itself.

Against this backdrop of cold war intelligence skullduggery, a military hero is asked to oversee security of a super-secret facility designed to ensure government continuity in the event of nuclear war, a facility nicknamed Offenbunker. The Soviets, of course, want all the details of this facility, and they order their CIA mole, not just to get the details, but to sabotage it.

Offenbunker by A. G. Russo is a novel of Cold War intrigue and betrayal, as agents of both sides lock horns in battles, personal and professional. The narrative is a bit choppy in places, almost like stage directions, and some of the characters are a bit cliché, a lot like the depictions in movies filmed during the 1960s, given to a bit of hyperbole when they speak. Historical information is also dumped in large quantities, often at the beginning of a chapter, and I found this disrupted the flow of reading. It would’ve been preferable to have this data given out more naturally as the chapter progressed.

While this is not a bad book; it’s certainly an interesting subject; it’s not the author’s best work.

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

Review of ‘Eric Olafson: Captain Black Velvet’

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Eric Olafson has been assigned an important mission, rid Freespace, a buffer zone between the Big Four Allies and their minions, and those who want to remain independent, of pirates. He’s undercover as a female pirate known as Captain Black Velvet, which, when added to the danger he faces should his cover be blown, causes him some personal anxiety and problems with his self-image.

The main enemies he must vanquish are the Kermac, a race with a voracious appetite for conquest. For Olafson, this is a do or die mission – quite literally. Little does he know, though, that his mission is not quite so simple. He finds himself in the middle of a battle that spans the cosmos, and it will take all of his wiles to survive.

Eric Olafson: Captain Black Velvet by Vanessa Ravencroft continues the adventures of Eric Olafson, a freebooter and adventurer with a Viking heritage, and a Viking mentality. An eclectic cast of characters of all species are melded together into a starship crew that makes Star Trek look like a commuter ride on the Washington, DC Metro system.

I received an advanced review copy of this book, and thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

I give it five stars.


Review of ‘Heart of Stone’

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A fallen angel, clipped of his wings, Gabriel Stone has been banished to Earth, where his job is to defend against invading demons. When his former Siren associate is killed, he goes in search of a replacement. He learns of a Siren being offered as a prize in a poker game, he disguises himself and joins the game. Through a bit of trickery, he wins her, and Aurora, a Siren with special powers not possessed by other Sirens, becomes a part of his life.

Together, they must defend Earth against a renewed assault by Beelzebub, as a fire demon, and treachery within the guild of Fallen Angels.

Heart of Stone by Leo Romero is the first book in the Fallen Angel series, and if it’s any guide, this is a series worth following. Despite the serious-sounding theme, this story was a laugh riot. Gabriel is a hoot as an angel, with a teenage daughter to contend with, and emotions that are all-too human. Aurora makes a perfect foil for his slightly rakish nature, as the two of them develop a relationship that is more partnership than his usual master-acolyte situation with Sirens. All of the characters, even the demons, are good for comic relief as well as devilish action.

Trust me when I say, you’ll enjoy this book. I received a free copy.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘The 13th Codex’

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Nicolai Keeper works for a shadowy government agency as an assassin for hire. His only contact is ‘Mother,’ a matronly voice who feeds him instructions and provides help when he’s in trouble. Sent to kill a German double agent, Nicolai runs into a mob of Russian agents who also want the German dead. As he’s making his escape, he grabs a US diplomatic bag that was in the German’s possession, and that simple act marks him as a dead man. Only, it’s Mother who wants him dead.

Nicolai realizes that the contents of the pouch he’s taken are important, but when he opens it and reads the documents within, they are Greek to him—actually, Greek—and are in some strange code that he cannot decipher. When he contacts mother, he learns that he possesses the 13th Codex, a mysterious document that’s apparently so important, anyone with knowledge of it must die.

The 13th Codex by Liam North follows Nicolai from German to an isolated Greek tourist town to the Yucatan Peninsula, and finally, to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, where he somehow loses three years of his life, and his memory. A fast-paced thriller, this book will keep you on the edge of your chair as it whipsaws you from one exotic locale to another, with non-stop action, leavened slightly with the on-again, off-again romance Nicolai has with an aggressive Greek woman who has her own agenda.

The story ends on a speculative note, with many loose ends untied. Somewhat disappointing, given the expectations that the narrative has built up to that point. Despite this, I’m interested in what happens next, so I suppose the author knew what he was doing to end it this way.

The author gets high marks for his characterizations, larger-than-life people in unbelievable circumstances that still seem credible, and crisp, no-nonsense dialogue that pulls no punches. If the sequel to this story is as well done as this one, it’ll probably be worth the wait.

I received a free copy of this book.

I give this book four stars.

Review of ‘The Other’

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Cora Frost is a PhD, studying UFO phenomena and their impact on cults. Jade Whitaker is a social worker; adopted, she is trying to find her birth mother. The paths of these two women cross in New Mexico where Cora has gone with a colleague to study The Astral Plane cult, a group of UFO enthusiasts living on in a secluded compound.

Upon arrival, Cora learns that one of the cult members has murdered her two infants, and the compound is surrounded by heavily-armed police and military forces. She manages to sneak in, where she’s introduced to two green-skinned creatures who are not aliens, but time travelers. She’s asked to secrete them away to keep the authorities from getting their hands on them. One of them, Paloma, has a special affinity to Cora.

The Other by Marilyn Peake follows these three women as they get to know each other and try to avoid the authorities.

An interesting story, it ends on a depressingly inconclusive note, and, while it provides ample background on the three characters, leaves many questions unanswered. I was a bit disappointed in the ending, which wasn’t exactly a cliff hanger, but more or less just an end to a story that was just getting interesting. The author writes extremely well—the prose is enjoyable in itself, but in this story, she ended far too soon.

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