Book Reviews

Review of ‘Ten Guilty Men’

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When an anonymous call leads police to a house where they find the body of famous photographer and notorious socialite, Ellis DeLange, DCI David Morton is assigned to investigate the case. With his serious crime unit, he begins to delve into the woman’s background, and the more he digs, the murkier it gets. The case includes just about everything but the kitchen sink; several people with opportunity, but no motive; people with motive, but no opportunity that he can see, a pretend lord, and a strange man seen leaving the premises in the middle of the night, completely nude.

Morton has to deal with all this, and the attendant publicity that such a high-profile case attracts, along with problems within his team, including one detective who, because of a stroke, has communication problems. Clues pile up, problems pile up, but bit by bit, Morton and his team whittle the list of suspects down to two, both with motive and opportunity, but which one did the crime—or, were they working together.

You will enjoy Ten Guilty Men by Daniel Campbell and Sean Campbell. It has suspense, it has humor, and it has a modicum of excitement—well, it is British mystery, and unlike their American counterparts, car chases and shootouts aren’t a staple of good mysteries. If you like well-rounded, but ultimately flawed, characters, tight plots, and good pacing, you’ll like the DCI Morton series.

I give this one four stars.

Review of ‘The First Shot’

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As a homicide detective, Tampa Detective Carl Kane is accustomed to death. But his latest case, three dead drug dealers and two middle-aged women killed execution style at the same scene, has him stumped. When he gets another multiple homicide with the same M.O., he knows he has a problem on his hands, but even he’s unprepared for the madman he’s now chasing.

The First Shot by E. H. Reinhard is pretty tense noir mystery, with vivid descriptions of some pretty gruesome action (a warning for the benefit of the squeamish), and brief glimpses into the minds of the characters.

I give this one four stars.

Review of ‘Gretel: Book One’

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If you’ve read the story of ‘Hansel and Gretel,’ and you think you know all there is to know about a girl and her brother abandoned in the forest by their father at the behest of an evil stepmother, think again. You simply have to read Gretel: Book One by Christopher Coleman.

An ancient evil lurks in the back country. For a long time, it was sleeping, but it’s now awake, and is hungry. It sets its sights on a mother, alone in the forest and seeking help. Gretel, in charge of taking care of her ailing father and brother while her mother, Anika, is away, she longs for change. That change comes when they determine that Anika is missing, but it’s not the change she sought.  Evil, she learns, is everywhere—including right in her own home. Gretel has to grow up fast if she’s to deal with corrupt police officials, a father and grandfather who are not what they seem, and an evil as old as mankind.

Your pulse will race from the first page, and the tension doesn’t let up, even at the end. This is not your usual fairy tale.

I give this one five stars.

Review of ‘Dark Heart’

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Detective Sergeant Charlie Cooper is ready to get out of homicide so he can spend more time with his family. But, when the serial killer he’s been pursuing for a decade is murdered, with one of his victims still missing and unaccounted for, he decides to stay on in the hopes he can rescue her and bring some closure to the families of the other victims.

Eva Matthews has a bad ticker, but is saved at the last minute when she receives a heart transplant. Immediately after a successful operation, she begins having strange dreams. When she learns that her heart came from the murdered serial killer, and a reporter starts hounding her for help finding his missing wife, she and Cooper’s paths cross.

Dark Heart by Catherine Lee is a jolting read that explores not just the details of police efforts to close the books on a sadistic killer, but a psychological thriller that delves into the mysteries of the human mind. The ending, which ties up every loose end and clue the author so skillfully planted throughout, will both surprise and satisfy.

I give Lee five stars for a well-crafted story.

Review of ‘The Babbling Brook Naked Poker Club: Book One’

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When Josephine Bartlett’s husband was alive, he controlled every penny she spent—or, tried to—and, when he died, he left everything under the control of her son, Jeff, who was just as controlling as his father, going so far as to move her into Brookshire Retirement Community and selling her house. Josephine chafes at the environment, and has few friends, except for a crew that has roped her into a regular card game, which she, in a moment of madness, suggests be strip poker—with stories told rather than clothing removed.

When she and her friends discover that the community handyman, Eddie, is ripping people off, they investigate, and find that even bigger thefts are occurring. Unwillingly at first, Josephine befriends, Devi, a young woman who works there and who is being pursued by Eddie, and together they begin to piece together what’s really going on. The closer they get to the truth, the more danger they find themselves in, until the perps are finally all unmasked, to everyone’s surprise.

The Babbling Brook Naked Poker Club: Book One by Ann Warner is a hilarious cozy mystery featuring an unforgettable cast of characters. The author walks readers through the crime and its resolution quite smartly, taking little side trips along the way that fully explain each character’s motivation. I particularly liked the way she alternated character viewpoints to keep the mystery quotient high, while at the same time, providing information that would be impossible or forces if done from only one point of view.

I laughed all the way through this book. I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Atlantic Island’

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Theo then finds himself and his friends between forces contending for control of what they now call Atlantic Island, and they are soon in a life or death struggle against greed, corruption, and a lust for power, all backed by a strange force that he doesn’t understand. Both Theo and Kylee must face up to unthought-of challenges and rise to the occasion or they and their friends will die.

Atlantic Island by Frederic Shernoff is an interesting post-apocalyptic/sci-fi thriller that is also something of a coming of age story. While it’s a bit choppy in places, and often makes abrupt temporal shifts, it is nonetheless an entertaining read for fans of the genre. The author does a good job of foreshadowing the source of the main antagonist’s strength and mental instability without actually giving it away until the fateful confrontation. I was a bit disappointed that the ‘terrible incident’ referred to by the Coast Guard officer to Theo at the end was not explained in more detail. It would also have been nice if there’d been an explanation of how the ‘orb’ worked.

I ordinarily don’t like books to end on cliff hangers, but I’ll give the author a pass on this one. He settled all but one of the problems that arose, and set it up for an interesting sequel. I give the book three and a half stars.

Review of ‘Last Train to Nowhere’

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Inspector Thomas Sullivan is a policeman on Beta Prime, a place where life is cheap. He’d once been a Space Marine, and a member of the elite SP unit, until a commander made a stupid mistake that cost his comrades their lives, and him to require prosthetic limbs and a bionic eye, and ended his military career.

When a member of the SP is killed in an isolated mining town, Sullivan is requested by name to investigate. He’s shocked when he learns that the SP commander is none other than the man who cost him his career, and once he arrives at the scene of the crime and begins his investigation, things only get worse. He uncovers an illegal cloning operation, and murder most foul–cloning is a serious crime on Beta Prime–and that it’s probably being run by an arm of the government. But, someone, someone on the inside, is stealing and dealing in clones, and clones are being allowed to run loose among the human population without their knowledge.

With his assistant, Josephson, a severely damaged young cop, and Sarah, herself an illegal clone that Sullivan has hired, ostensibly as an assistant, but in reality, to keep an eye on her, Sullivan has to contend with a mysterious ringleader of the theft ring, government jurisdictional disputes, and corrupt colleagues who are in it just for the money.

Last Train to Nowhere by K. C. Sivils is an interesting blend of crime noir and science fiction, with elements of humor and suspense common to both. The characters are fascinating, fully formed and possessed of complex motivations, and the scenario, if you’re willing to accept the existence of interplanetary travel, quite believable.

As a fan of both genres, I found this fusion concept, as Star Trek’s Mr. Spock would say, quite . . . fascinating.

I give this book four stars.

 

Review of ‘Suri Five’

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After her mother died, Suri allowed herself to be consumed by anger at everyone and everything, except her brother, Tommy, with whom she submerges herself in the Game, an interactive battle simulation that they are both expert at. What she doesn’t know until too late is that a secret government agency has designed the Game to identify and recruit fighters for the not-so-secret cyber war between the US and China. They make a copy of Suri’s brain, from which they construct an AI replica, Suri Five, which is deployed into the Web, resulting in the almost complete destruction of China. But, things go awry when Suri Five then turns her wrath on her creators, threatening to destroy everything unless they give her Tommy. Now, Suri must save the world by killing–herself.

Suri Five by Jacob Whaler is a riveting techno-thriller that follows Suri as she dives into the Web in an effort to defeat an AI that is more ruthless and capable than she is, even with the help of Richard, a new kid in her school who is not intimidated by her alpha-bully status. Well-paced, this story will keep you on the edge of your seat as Suri comes to a devastating realization–in order to save the world, she must sacrifice the thing that is most important to her. I found the font and spacing in this e-book a bit problematic, but the plot and writing were first-rate.

I received a free copy of this book.

I give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘The Alphabet Books’

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I received a free copy of Marc Richard’s The Alphabet Books, which included the letters A through C. I wasn’t sure what to expect, except that it would be a very nontraditional take on some well-known tales. I must say, I was pleasantly surprised at the experience.

‘A is for Adam’ is a hilarious (and irreverent) take on the creation story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the Fall when they disobeyed instructions not to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and the aftermath. If you’re the pious type, you’ll probably not want to read this story. It will surely offend you. If, on the other hand, you appreciate good satire and fantastic writing, read on.

‘B is for Bear’ is the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears reimagined as an encounter between a mob family and a conniving blackmailer.

The final story in this trilogy, ‘C is for Cookie’, has Hansel and Gretel as long-haul truckers delivering a load of strange cookies to a witchy baker who lives in a house made of all kinds of sweets.

Unless your funny bone has been surgically removed, you’ll be unable to resist laughing as you read this trilogy of funky fairy tales brought to you by an author who had to have been nibbling at some of the witch’s cookies as he wrote.

Funny, fabulously funny, from the first page to the last.

I give this one five stars plus!

Review of ‘The Ravine: Evil, Hope, and the Afterlife’

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Rachel Turner and her son, Evan, are found brutally murdered. Her husband, Danny, is found dead in his car at the bottom of a ravine. The town of Akron, Ohio is shocked that such a devastating event could happen in their otherwise peaceful burg. Rachel’s best friend, Carolyn Bianci is thrown into a bout of depression and a crisis of faith, but her husband, Mitchell, a devout man, is determined to discover what really happened in the Turner house that fateful night. Just as he is almost at the end of his faith, Joanna Larson, a woman with amazing spiritual gifts and an insight into the souls of others, living and dead, appears with a message to help Carolyn and Mitchell understand what happened, why it happened, and how their faith can help them through their crisis.

Ravine: Evil, Hope, and the Afterlife by Robert Pasculli is an overtly religious novel, but one doesn’t have to be Christian, or even particularly religious, to grasp the underlying message – hope and faith are the only way to overcome evil, and the capacity to forgive—even one’s own shortcomings—is the key.

I usually find religious-themed stories too heavily laden with piety and overly-hopeful homilies, but Pasculli, even though he does stress the religious aspect, does not really preach. He shows, through the actions and words of the characters primarily, how people can cope with the evil that often inhabits our world alongside the good, and it’s up to us to shun the evil, while seeking the good.

I found myself identifying with the main character, and captivated by Joanna, even though she was almost a Deus ex Machina in the way she shows up just when she was needed to resolve a troubling situation.

I give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘Nothing New Under the Sun’

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Carter Devereux is an archeologist, and the more he studies the history of humanity, the more he’s convinced that ancient, more advanced civilizations once lived on the earth. Worse, he’s convinced that these people had knowledge of, and used, nuclear weapons. As evidence mounts that his suspicions are correct, the government calls upon him to find these ancient weapons of mass destruction before they fall into the wrong hands. Unknown to him, just such a pair of wrong hands is following his every move and trying to get one step ahead. The question is; can he succeed before those who would use these weapons to destroy civilization as we know it?

There is Nothing New Under the Sun by J.C. Ryan is a relatively well-written, tense thriller that, but for the fact that it ends with too many issues unresolved, would be a great read. The author has a masterful way with words, despite a tendency to stop the narrative flow to dump tons of historical and archeological information on the reader. To the author’s credit, this information is informative and interestingly written.

I am, unfortunately only able to give this book three and a half stars, though, because of the aforementioned (to me, at least) weaknesses.

Review of ‘If The Devil Had a Dog’

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Fleeing her estranged husband, a powerful lawyer with connections to a Mexican drug cartel, Sidney McQueen ends up in the small West Texas town of Alpine. She has been directed there to find Markus Yeager, a former Marine and CIA special operator, who operates a hunting camp and stables. When he first meets her, Markus’s suspicions are aroused, so he taps into his CIA connections to check up on her. What he learns sends chills through his body; what she’s fleeing is not just an abusive marriage, but a deadly danger that will pit the both of them against the deadly intentions of a band of criminals who do not hesitate to leave bodies in their wake.

If the Devil Had a Dog by T. K. Lukas is a chilling, spellbinding thriller with a romantic underpinning that will keep you up at night—and, probably awake after you finish reading it. The action is well-crafted and nonstop, and the human dynamics are . . . well, just let me say, you’ll identify with all the characters in this book. Some you’ll root for, and others you’ll cheer when they get what’s coming to them.

One of the best books I’ve read so far this year.

A solid five-star book!

Review of ‘TheTables Have Turned’

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Lorna Tymchuk, a PR Strategist, has a secret, one that she must keep from her fiancé Mitch Morgan, an undercover cop, for fear that he might have to arrest h er. When a neighbor and friend is murdered, Lorna is framed for it, and Mitch learns that the murder and his insurance fraud investigation are linked, they must come to grips with their feelings for each other.

The Tables Have Turned by Lori Power is a powerful romantic mystery, with a strong, independent female principal character arrayed against a powerful male character, and neither Lorna nor Mitch are prepared to take prisoners in their quest for justice and truth. Well plotted with a diverse cast of characters, and a deft job at foreshadowing and dropping clues that wary readers will pick up—at least, some of them. There are a few surprises awaiting, though, in this story that I prefer to categorize as a mystery. I mainly just skip the romance parts—just kidding. This author knows her stuff, and she makes even those move the story along rather than just being bodice-ripping diversions.

I received an advance review copy of this book, and I recommend it for romance and mystery fans.

I give her four stars for this one.

Review of ‘Treasure Me, Cowboy’

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Melody Chandler is a history teacher in the elementary school in the small town of Mule Hollow, Texas. Frustrated with having to deal with her drug addict brother, Ty, she decides to get away during the month of July to do historical research. She finds the perfect project on Turner Creek Ranch, where there’s an old stagecoach house containing old journals that might unveil the mystery of the legendary outlaw, Sam Bass. The ranch is owned by the three Turner brothers, Wyatt, Seth, and Cole, with Seth living on and managing the property. Wyatt, the eldest, has made an agreement with Melody to allow her to live in the house for the summer while she does her research, but Seth doesn’t want her or anyone prying into the family’s secrets and disturbing his privacy, so he demands that she leave. Normally shy, Melody, for once, finds the grit to say ‘no!’, setting her on a collision course with the strong-willed Seth.

Surprised and frustrated by her unexpected refusal to comply with his demand, Seth finds himself drawn to her, and when she finds a treasure map, decides to join her in her search for what he thought was a myth, part of Sam Bass’s last big train robbery, which has lain hidden on his ranch for a century. But, before they can deal with the treasure, they must first deal with the feelings that are growing stronger between them, and Melody’s ‘albatross,’ an addict brother who is manipulating her life and getting her to support his addiction.

Treasure Me, Cowboy by Debra Clopton is a western romance novel that introduces small-town West Texas and its colorful inhabitants, with many of the hallmarks of romance novels (without the heaving bosoms and obligatory sex scenes), and a deeply moving story of two people coping with significant changes in their lives. My only complaint was the failure to resolve the issue of the hidden treasure, which I realize was not the main aim of the story, but I’m an adventurer and historian at heart, and it caught my attention. Other than that, though, the story did not disappoint. It had emotions, a bit of adventure, and a lot of small-town humor, which, as someone who grew up in a small Texas town, I could readily identify with.

You don’t have to be a fan of the romance genre to like this book.

I liked it, but the number of unresolved issues, beyond Melody and Seth’s relationship, forces me to give it only three and a half stars.

Review of ‘Within the Soul’

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For Aura Mishan, thanks to her superior reflexes and speed with a gun, killing is all too easy. All she wants, though, is peace and quiet, and to be left alone to run her shop. When a new machine is invented that draws power from the sun, she is drawn into a life or death struggle over its control. Her mission is complicated by the reappearance in her life of the Maker of All Things, who also happens to be her father, the presence of Janns, a Regulator for whom she has unsisterly feelings, and, Cobb, another gunslinger with abilities equal to hers, who has been hired to steal the machine.

Within the Soul by Craig Allen is a fantasy story, continuing the adventures of Aura the gunslinger, with a decidedly modern touch. Fast action, with scenes of conflict not for the squeamish, and non-human characters that are all too human. Parts will make you squirm, and others will make you laugh. A good read.

I give this book four stars.

Review of ‘Dog Gone Lies’

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Former sheriff Ray Pacheco, now retired, has decided to take up fishing to pass the time. Ignorant of the activity, he seeks help, and finds it in the guise of Big Jack, a bait shop owner and sometimes philosopher, and Tyee Chino, an Apache fishing guide who is drunk most of the time. Around the same time, a show dog shows up at Ray’s house, but its owner is missing. Anxious to return the dog to its owner, he goes looking for the missing woman. When corpses start turning up, Ray realizes that this is more than a simple missing persons case, and he enlists Big Jack and Chino in a quest that pits him against the local sheriff, the mayor, and the FBI.

Dog Gone Lies by Ted Clifton is the first book in a new series, but the character, Ray Pacheco was first introduced in an earlier book, when he helped bring down a crooked sheriff, so in actuality, this is a second book—but, let’s not quibble. The interplay between and among the characters, especially Ray, Chino, and Big Jack, and the subtle dance that goes on between Ray and Sue, a waitress at his favorite diner stand out for me as undeniably the best parts of the book. The action’s not bad, and Bruce, or Happy, as Ray calls him, even though he’s just a dog, is a scene stealer.

Small-town law enforcement and small-town culture form the backdrop for what promises to be an interesting series.

I give Clifton four stars for this one.

Review of ‘Don’t Tell Meg’

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On his fortieth birthday, radio journalist Peter Bailey did a stupid thing. Despite, or perhaps because or, his troubled marriage, while away for a working weekend, he slept with a fellow journalist. Unaware of what was going on the room adjacent to his in the motel, he soon finds himself embroiled in a race against time. Did his wife, Meg, witness his infidelity? Who else was in the room with her at the time, and who killed the young hotel clerk?

As you read Don’t Tell Meg by Paul J. Teague, you’ll go along with Peter as he thinks about his past, and all the things he’s done that led up to his current predicament, while at the same time desperately trying to find his wife. While some of the flashbacks can be a bit tedious, in the end, it all adds up to a detailed portrait of a man who has made many wrong decisions in his life, but realized it too late.

The author saved a few surprises for the final pages that will stun you—or again, maybe not. An engrossing read.

I give this first book of a planned trilogy four stars.

Review of ‘Codename Moneyman’

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The British SIS hires a recently discharged elite soldier for an elimination mission. He’s to go to Tenerife and kill a British citizen who is deemed a ‘threat to national security.’ Upon arrival, however, his contact in London informs that his true mission is to protect the man. He learns that Russian, Chinese, and British assassins, however, are determined to kill the man, and if necessary, him as well. It will take all the skills he has to survive, let alone accomplish his mission.

Codename: Moneyman by Mark Arundel is the first book in the Codename File Books series. It is a well-plotted story, with lots of action and intrigue, marred by the fact that the main character is never names—just referred to as an elite soldier. Given the number of times he has to show ID or interact with people who would want to know his name, not to mention his conversations with Charlotte Miller, his SIS contact in London, it’s incredible that his name is never used—not even once.

But for that one glitch (personal opinion) and a few too many typos this would be an easy five-star rating. Unfortunately, I can only give it three and a half stars, with the caveat that the author shows lots of promise, and I predict that the subsequent books will be better.

Review of ‘The Friday Edition’

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When reporter Samantha Church’s sister Robin plunges to her death the police rule it suicide, but Samantha is not convinced. She’s certain her sister was murdered. When she begins receiving strange text messages to that effect, she’s determined to find out who did it. Her sister, an assistant DA, was working on a big drug smuggling case, and Samantha’s convinced that’s why she was killed. But, in order to find the killer, she has to face a vicious drug cartel as well as her own addiction to alcohol, an addiction that has already cost her a job, her marriage, and loss of custody of her daughter. Determined to avenge her sister and rebuild her life, she sets out to conquer every demon in her path—but, the demons are close to home; hiding in plain sight.

The Friday Edition by Betta Ferrendelli is the first book in the Samantha Church mystery series. Featuring a heroine who is decidedly unheroic and almost fatally flawed, it moves along with the speed of an Indy racer and the force of an 18-wheeler to a stunning climax that you won’t have anticipated. While some of the police procedures seem a bit off, even for a small town, you’ll be so engrossed with Samantha and her challenges, you might not even notice.

A satisfying read.

I give it four stars.

 

 

Review of ‘Bluegrass Undercover’

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Cade Davies, an ex-SF soldier, a science teacher and assistant football coach at the high school in his home town, is pressed into service as head coach when the incumbent resigns. Faced with having to learn how to be a head coach and rebuild the inexperienced team, he finds that some of his players are probably using performance enhancing drugs that endanger their lives.

Annie Blake is a buxom, gorgeous DEA agent with anger management issues, who is reassigned to work undercover in Keeneston, KY to bust the ring that’s selling this new, and highly dangerous drug. Before anyone accuses me of sexism, this description of Annie is important, because it plays a key part in the story that unfolds.

Cade and Annie meet when she steps between him and a student who’s about to take a swing at him, thinking he needs her to defend him. Their relationship takes a downhill turn from there, until they learn each other’s backgrounds—and, helped immeasurably by Cade’s family and everyone else in town determined to get him married off, along with his other (single) brothers. His mother despairs that his younger sister will be the first of her children to marry.

Along with this sometimes-hilarious matchmaking, Cade and Annie have to contend with a blood-thirsty drug gang that won’t hesitate to kill one or both of them to keep them from interfering with an extremely lucrative trade. Behind all this is a mysterious mastermind, who is even more bloodthirsty than the clumsy thugs sent to intimidate Cade and Annie.

By turns funny and scary, Bluegrass Undercover, book one in the Bluegrass Brothers series by Kathleen Brooks is a perfect book to read on a rainy day. When the weather’s gloomy, this is just the tonic you need to brighten your mood.

I give Brooks four stars for this one.