Book Reviews

Review of ‘A Date to Die For

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Gaylene B. Corben’s A Date to Die For is a well crafted mystery about two police detectives, Joe Patterson and Tessa Mariani, on the trail of a serial killer who is using a dating site to lure his victims, young, attractive women, to their doom. The killer leaves a taunting note and a white rose with each victim, and our two detectives find themselves racing the clock after three kills and one near kill, while at the same time dealing with the demons in their own lives.

     Corben has crafted a near-perfect mystery, with plenty of red herrings and false trails to keep the reader guessing, but a story line that leads unerringly to the killer in one of those ‘my goodness, why didn’t I think of that’ moments.

     The author sets the perfect tempo in this, her debut book, like a heartbeat, speeding up when the tension level rises and then slowing down when things seem to be getting quiet. With characters you can’t help but empathize with and care about and enough surprises to keep you on the edge of the chair, this is one you don’t want to miss.

     I received a pre-publication copy of this book for review and my advice is go to your nearest book selling site and pre-order it, so you don’t miss out. An author to keep an eye on, I give Corben five stars for her first effort.

Review of ‘Double Indemnity’

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Heartland Insurance Company and its founder, Jared Finch, have a unique business model. They buy the insurance policies of elderly people and in exchange for becoming the beneficiary, pay out money to the insured. The problem is that Finch is one of those people for whom money is everything and no amount he earns is ever enough. He has found a way, a diabolical way, to make sure he is getting more money than he’s paying out. People are dying soon after he buys their policies, sooner than any actuarial tables say they should be dying.

     When three die, including one apparent burglary turned deadly, New Orleans Police detective Jo Crowder is assigned to investigate and she first determines that only the apparent burglary involved foul play and there is no leads to a suspect. When a young man dies of an apparent drug overdose, the case also lands on her desk, but the man’s sister claims that he didn’t use drugs. Jo is leery of all four cases, but the evidence available to her, in abundance, supports the appearances . . . until FBI agent Alex Hill shows up and informs her that the drug OD is not what it appeared because the victim was his informant and he knows for a fact that the man was clean

     Jo and Alex then join forces to look into all cases, and while the bodies continue to pile up, they come to the conclusion that they’ve been led down the primrose path by a sinister cabal of greedy, totally immoral people for whom human life is meaningless.

     Double Indemnity by Richard Zappa is a chilling crime thriller that will keep you on the edge of your chair from start to finish. The subplots are nested like Russian dolls, with red herrings and false trails a-plenty, and an eminently satisfying conclusion. A thrilling roller coaster ride of greed, deceit, and murder; a book that you can’t put down.

It’s scheduled for July publication. Don’t miss it.     I received an advance review copy of this book for review and give it five stars without hesitation.

Review of ‘Grandpa’s Horse and Other Tales

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Grandpa’s Horse and Other Tales by Ed Lehner is an eclectic collection of short stories that combine humor, nostalgia, and profound philosophical thought in one volume that’s a memoir of sorts that could very well be snippets from the author’s life growing up in Iowa.

From ‘Grandpa’s Horse,’ a short-short story about the author’s grandfather and a new horse that needed to be taught who was boss, to ‘Dana’s Story,’ about a woman coming to terms with her sexuality. Each story could stand alone but the collective is a complete treat and advisable if you’re looking for a few hours of pleasant diversion that will be at the same time uplifting.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book and once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down. I give this one five stars without hesitation.

Review of ‘Valley of the Dogs’

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For a writer, getting inside the reader’s mind is the holy grail of the craft. In Valley of the Dogs, a collection of eleven dark short stories, author Jim Musgrave has invaded most of our minds and left an impression that will linger long after we close the book and stick it on our ‘to be read again someday’ shelf.

     These stories satirize the traditional Hollywood endings and poke a little fun at the much-vaunted ‘star power’ that Hollywood loves to flaunt. As topical as the trauma of the COVID-19 pandemic and its disruptions and as classic as the equally traumatic effect the Vietnam War had on our society, Musgrave digs deep into the darkest recesses of the human psyche, exposing our true fears. At the same time, he entertains, and that’s the hallmark of really effective short fiction.

     If you’re looking for a good book to curl up with when the wind’s blowing outside and the sky is gunmetal gray and depressing, this is what I would prescribe.

     I received a complimentary copy of this book for review. I’m not easy to impress, but the author managed to beat the odds. Yes, I was impressed. I give it five stars.

Review of ‘The Mad Days of March’

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Terry March is something of a non-entity. Married to a woman who can’t cook and who also sleeps around, his sex life consists of . . . well, nothing, and their relationship consists of her lambasting him at every opportunity, when she’s not out having fun.

     Life begins to change when Terry helps an old man dump a blood-stained carpet into the recycling bin, then he meets a women at the pub who can’t get her electric lights to work and when he shows her how easy it is, she offers to ‘reward’ him but he turns her down.

     If this sounds like a crazy story, that’s because it is. Philip Catshill’s The Mad Days of March is a murder mystery, madcap romp, and a mind-boggling tale of one man’s miserable, messed-up life during a maniacal month of March. Told almost tongue in cheek, this story will grab you by the curiosity and squeeze until you moan, and then make you explode with mad mirth.  Catshill knows how to give the reader a roller coaster ride on anticipation and keep that reader interested until the ride comes to a gliding stop.

     A fun read that should not be missed. I was provided with a complimentary copy for review. I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Irma’

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Hurricane Irma hit Naples, Florida in 2017, causing immense damage, especially to beachside condos. But the true damage didn’t surface until two years later when a woman whose husband had recently died confessed to the police that he had stolen some jewels from one of the damaged condos. Detective Sam Randazzo calls on his friend Frankie Armstrong to do a little unofficial investigating to look into the woman’s story. Frankie very quickly finds himself up to his chin in more criminal activity and dangerous characters than he can handle.

Irma by Kerry Costello is an interesting mystery that follows Frankie as he dives into the labyrinthine pathways of theft, fraud, and murder. A bit choppy in places with a confusing cast of characters, but still a nice story.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book. I give it three stars.  

Review of ‘Arrival of Evil’

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A young boy runs miles into the town of Sabine Valley with frightening news. He has seen a large group of men wearing strange uniforms viciously assaulting two young girls outside town. The sheriff suspects something sinister but is unprepared for the evil that is about to be unleashed on an otherwise peaceful town.

         Fred Staff’s Arrival of Evil combines horror with the classic western tale in a story that pegs the fear meter at maximum. A relatively short tail that grabs  you by the throat from page one and squeezes until the last drop of blood oozes out. This fusion of two genres is masterfully done. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘A Plague of Traitors’

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Leine Basso, former government assassin, who left the business to work for S.H.E.N., an organization devoted to ending the trafficking of humans, is approached by the director of national intelligence with a proposal; train a team of Kurdish assassins to travel to Libya and prevent the transfer of a newly-developed Russian bio-weapon to Syria’s strong man.

The team’s training and the potential success of the mission is compromised by one member, Amiri, a Yazidi, who had been a captive and victim of the depredations of the Izz al-Din, a notorious Libyan terrorist group. Leine is faced with a dilemma. Amiri is one of the best, but can she be trusted to keep her anger and hunger for revenge in check? As if this isn’t a big enough problem, she has to work with an American agent, the number two in the operation, who was reassigned to the operation after an assignment in Syria, and he has a real blind spot where Syria’s madman leader is concerned, which could also jeopardize the mission.

D.V. Berkom’s A Plague of Traitors is, in my humble opinion, the best Leine Basso thriller yet. I know I’ve said that about previous books in this series, but it’s just a plain statement of fact, Berkom just keeps getting better with each offering. Like all other Leine Basso stories, this one is fast paced and filled with tension from start to finish. Do yourself a favor and get this book as soon as it’s released. I received an advance review copy of the book and give it five stars.

Review of ‘Bodacious Creed and the Jade Lake

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James ‘Bodacious’ Creed, a former U.S. marshal turned vigilante turned private investigator, was killed and then brought back to life thanks to the scientific skills of his daughter, Anna. One night he hears screams and the sound of shots and finds a young Chinese woman dying next to the bodies of two dead men. After the woman dies, Creed discovers that she has strength augmentations like his and later that she was an enslaved prostitute who had tried to escape her bondage. The authorities, overtaxed with other cases, don’t give her case the attention Creed believes it deserves, so he takes it own himself, and soon finds himself at odds with a slavery ring run by the tong, and learns that an old nemesis he thought dead is in fact still alive.

Bodacious Creed and the Jade Lake by Jonathan Fesmire is a follow-on to Bodacious Creed and continues the steampunk zombie western style that Fesmire did so well. His creation of an alternate history, with slightly altered physical laws is shockingly realistic, and there’s enough shoot-em-up action to satisfy the most rabid action junkie. Non-stop action from first page to last will keep you turning pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book and give it an easy five stars.

Review of ‘This is the Fire’

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In This is the Fire, CNN Tonight anchor Don Lemon takes an unvarnished look at how pervasive racism is in the United States and discusses some creative ways to deal with it. A gay, black man originally from Louisiana, who is engaged to a white man, Lemon looks at racism, transphobia, and many of the other biases that infect American society in his own unique way. He concludes that this is inherent in our culture’s messaging and the only way to begin the process of uprooting and eradicating it is to acknowledge rather than deny it.

         Lemon takes the reader on an emotional journey through history, with a discussion of a slave uprising near where he grew up that was put down with a degree of depraved violence that was out of proportion to the violence the rebelling slaves committed that one has to wonder what kind of society breeds people who can behead the rebels and display their heads on stakes for months as a ‘warning’ to anyone else who might want freedom. This is one of those untaught parts of our history that so many still try to keep hidden, but until we expose the warts we cannot cure them.

         Regardless of what category you fall into, this is a book worth reading. Some will be made intensely uncomfortable, while others will become angry. I think I fall into that latter category, having grown up in East Texas, not far from where Lemon grew up a decade later, and having experienced the type of mindless prejudice that was not only socially accepted at the time, but was part of the law of the land.

         This is a book that can be read in a couple of hours that will change your life forever. Don’t miss it.

         I give it a resounding five stars.

Review of ‘Democracy: A User’s Guide’

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Is it enough for us to simply elect our leaders and sit back, doing nothing, while they rule over us like autocrats? What good is it to select our politicians, if we have no control over media, police, or military? These penetrating questions are asked in Joss Sheldon’s Democracy: A User’s Guide as he explores democracy in action in a number of institutions and places around the world. Sheldon’s thesis is that we can have a greater say in how we’re governed, we just have to inform ourselves and act.

  An insightful look at how democracy is supposed to work and is recommended reading for anyone who truly cares about living in a truly representative society.

  I received a complimentary copy of this book, and I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Priestess of Ishanna’

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Tesha, a priestess of the goddess Ishanna, must try and save her city from demonic forces. When King Hattu, younger brother of the Great King, comes to her city on a secret mission, he’s accused of being in league with the demons and sentenced to die. With his fate in the hands of the grand Votary, Tesha’s father, who is a strict and unyielding man, things look dire. In order to save him, Tesha must destroy her own father, using her wits and forbidden magic.

  Priestess of Ishanna by Judith Starkston is an intriguing story with magic and mayhem aplenty. The author keeps the reader on tenterhooks from the first page. A very entertaining read.

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

Review of ‘Noam’s Monsters

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Shavi Levinger’s Noam’s Monsters is about a little boy suffering emotional trauma from being bullied. He can’t tell anyone, but he has monsters in his tummy. A very good lesson about helping children cope with anxiety and shyness, with nice illustrations, although the rhyming left a bit to be desired. I still recommend this book for parents and teachers who have to deal with children’s issues. I received a complimentary copy of this book, and give it three stars.

Review of ‘The Hard Side of the River’

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When abolitionists Dana Curbstone and Reverend Cal Fenton assist slave Jacob Pingram escape across the Maysville River to freedom, Pingram’s owner hires retired slave catcher Dan Basken to find and return his ‘property. But in 1833 Maysville, Kentucky, Basken is preoccupied with finding the slave girl Abejide, with whom he had a brief liaison before she was taken away to be sold. Basken is conflicted—he has begun to question the institution of slavery. When he catches up with the fugitives at the river, he must come to a decision that will change his life forever.

The Hard Side of the River by Johnny Payne is a gut-wrenching look at life in the South a few decades before the Civil War, told with a keen appreciation, not just of history, but the personal impact on the people who lived under a system that treated some people as property. This is a book that will change the way a reader looks at freedom and the rights of people to be free to determine their own destiny.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. As an amateur historian and author, I was both emotionally and intellectually impacted by the author’s deft handling of this extremely sensitive, and for some, controversial issue. I give it five stars, and look forward to the author’s next offering.

Review of ‘Healthy Diet for Men over 50’

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Michael Smith’s Healthy Diet for Men Over 50 contains some good ideas for men past 50 that if followed intelligently will enhance quality of life. In addition to life-style changes designed to make the most of the body’s ability to mend itself, the book also has recipes for a healthier diet. Like any other health book, though, it’s a good idea to consult your medical practitioner before making changes in your exercise routine or diet.

There’s really not that much new here, but the author has presented it in an easy-to-understand and apply way that is within reach of everyone.

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

Review of ‘Montagnard’

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J.D. Cordell’s father, also J.D., was saved by a Montagnard named Dish during the Vietnam War. When the war ended, Dish continued the fight against the communists, running weapons from Thailand into the Vietnamese highlands. When J.D.’s mother, an ethnic Vietnamese who was adopted by Dish, goes to Vietnam to find him, she’s captured by his former enemy. J.D. and Dish team up to rescue her in one of the most interesting novels of the post-Vietnam period I’ve read in a long time.

D.C. Gilbert’s Montagnard is a riveting read that will hold your interest from first to last page. I received a complimentary copy of this book. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘I am not a Traitor’

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Henry Stein is a 50-year-old master chef for the Israeli submarine force. When he’s laid off after a long career, he’s too ashamed to tell his wife or the other residents of his kibbutz. But, when he’s arrested and charged with passing classified information to a beautiful Korean-American CIA agent, his past begins to unravel.

 

I Am Not a Traitor by Y. I. Latz is a bizarre tale of a man who owes allegiance to two nations, Israel and Britain. He is also smitten by the lovely doctor, a neophyte spy for the CIA, who manipulates him in exchange for the information he picks up in his dining room at the submarine base. The story moves back and forth through Henry’s life, from his life as a young man in England, and the suspicious death of his grandmother, to Colombia, where his daughter is arrested and threatened with a trial for a routine traffic accident, to his experiences with the sometimes-brutal interrogators in the secret Israeli prison where he’s being held.

 

While the facts of Henry’s life are not in dispute almost from the beginning of the tale, where his true loyalties lie—the core theme—does not become clear until very near the end. The author’s judicious dispensation of facts is done in such a way as to keep the reader guessing. Henry is presented as a complex character, one with whom the reader will find it hard to sympathize until the stunning truth is revealed.

 

If you like your spy thrillers packed with false leads, byzantine plots, and plenty of intrigue, you’ll love this book. I received a free copy.

Review of ‘Heir of Ra’

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While on a dig in Peru, working for her dad, who got a call to hurry back to Egypt to continue his search for the fabled Hall of Records, Alyssa is attacked. Using her wiles and a ton of grit, she manages to get away only to learn that her father has been struck down by some mysterious element just as he was about to enter the hall. Against the advice of everyone, Alyssa, who is not quite recovered from injuries suffered when she tried to fly a plane and ended up with it in a tree, goes to Egypt to see if she can save her father’s life.

What follows is a fantastic tale of shared consciousness, the mythical continent of Atlantis, love, death, war, and betrayal that will keep you on the edge of your chair. Alyssa uncovers long-buried secrets, about the world—and, about herself. I won’t spoil the story for you by telling you what. You should go out and get a copy of M.Sasinowski’s Heir of Ra and see for yourself. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed. The author melds actual history (with all its myths and belief in magic) with a created world that in many ways seems more real than its real-life counterpart.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. Without hesitation, I give it five stars

Review of ‘Condo’

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Frankie Armstrong, and expat Brit owner of a UK-based security company, is living in a rented second-floor condo in Naples, Florida with his dog, Charlie. He/s in Florida partly because the warm Gulf Coast weather is preferable to England’s wet fog, and mainly to get some distance from his estranged wife. Things are going well for him until one night he witnesses what appears to be an argument between a man and a woman near the condo’s dock, resulting in the woman falling, or being pushed, into the bay; He rushes down when he hears screams, but finds no one. Later, when police find a severed arm in the bay, it’s identified as belonging to Ava Ledinsky, a beautiful resident of the condo who teaches piano. Further investigation indicates it’s a possible homicide, and that Ava has a sketchy history, possibly of blackmailing married men with whom she’s having affairs. When Ava’s sister, Lisa, comes to settle her affairs and find out what happened to her sister, she too is killed, and Frankie becomes a prime suspect.

 

Condo by Kerry Costello is a fast-paced murder mystery with no shortage of suspects—in addition to Frankie, every man in the Condo is a potential suspect—and more red herrings than a London fish market. The killer, though not identified, is introduced early on, and the reader is kept guessing as to who he is. This story has more twists and turns than a Coney Island roller coaster, and will keep you guessing, probably wrongly, until all the gators have been wrestled into submission.

 

I received a complimentary copy of Condo, and found it quite entertaining. I give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘Nefer Blue Phoenix’

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Nefer Blue Phoenix by Micah Patton is a mythical tale of a young princess who is from a race of super-powerful beings; robbed of her inheritance by a band of rebels who kill her mother and father. Haunted by dreams in which her mother appears, demanding that she kill those responsible for this travesty, she will go to any lengths to reclaim her rightful place.

An interesting story, that is unfortunately marred by too many typos and grammatical irregularities. The flow of the story is good, and character development adequate, as Anuaka goes to extremes to achieve her goals. With a better job of proofreading and structural enhancement, it could achieve a level of literary merit that accords with the author’s vision.

I received a complimentary copy of this book which I give two and a half stars to. Not a bad first novel.