Book Reviews

Review of ‘Death by Diploma’

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High school can be a traumatic time, but that’s usually for students. But when southern belle, Emma Lovett, after getting a divorce and going back to school to get her teaching degree, at her first job in a Colorado high school, she experiences trauma beyond her wildest imaginings. When she finds Melvin McMannus, the school’s night janitor, with his head bashed in, the seamy doings in the school’s underbelly start crawling into the light, and she finds herself at the epicenter of events that threaten to spiral out of control. With her new bestie, Leslie Parker, another English teacher at the school, she sets out to solve the murder, and in the process gets herself neck-deep in the putrid politics of a small-town school, and even perhaps a bit of romance on the side.

Kelley Kaye’s Death by Diploma is, in a word—well, three words actually—a rollicking read. Generous helpings of humor, a dollop of suspense, and as chaotic a cast of characters as mystery lovers could ever crave. As a cozy mystery fan, especially the excellently crafted British cozies, I have high standards, that many authors just don’t live up to. Kaye, on the other hand, not only met my expectations, she exceeded them.

I received a complimentary review copy of this outstanding book, and am happy to bestow upon it five stars.

Review of ‘The Undiscovered Country’

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When he buried his abusive father, did his time after being convicted for a crime he didn’t commit, divorced his evil second wife, and made plans to remarry his first, Jack Randle thought he had his family business in order. Then, he gets word that his mother, who had recently communicated an urgent desire to see him, is hospitalized and not expected to live. He’s plunged right back into the muddy pond of a dysfunctional family that he’d really rather not have to deal with—but circumstances leave him on choice.

The Undiscovered Country by Mike Nemeth is an engrossing story of one man’s efforts to set his life on a successful path, despite the efforts of others to divert him. It started a bit slow, as languid as a deep stream, and as soft as a southern summer evening, but picked up the pace when it was obvious that something bad happened or was happening.

This author knows how to hook you and keep your attention. I received a free review copy of this book. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Portal Zero’

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When a government experiment goes wrong, a portal is opened to another world, allowing monsters to come to Earth. With the EMP accompanying the disaster knocking out power all over the country, the situation is dire. Can anyone survive?

Portal Zero by Eddie Patin is the first book in the Apocalypse Gate series, and it introduces an extensive roster of characters, each reacting to the alien arrivals in a different way. An ambitious story, but not a totally bad first effort.

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

Review of ‘Frozen Statues: Perdition Games’

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Seven Canadian university freshmen disappear without a trace, but when police later discover two frozen corpses, carefully posed and their eyes replaced by black stones, PI Samantha McNamara knows in her heart that this is a copycat killer restaging murders by the deadly serial killer, Incubus, a man she helped put away for life when she was a member of the police force.

Determined to prove her theory right, she takes it to the police, but is told by her old boss to stay out of it. Never good at taking orders, and convinced that she’s right, she accepts an invitation from Incubus to visit him in prison. That visit sends her on a hunt, not just to find the Frozen Statue Killer and save the lives of the remaining students, but to exorcise her own demons from the fact that one of Incubus’s last victims was her older sister, Joyce. She knows that, somehow, Incubus holds the key to the current case, and she’s determined to track it to the end.

Frozen Statues: Perdition Games by L.E. Fraser is a chilling thriller that takes the reader deep inside the tormented minds of psychopaths who kill for pleasure and the thrill of the chase. A compelling read it shows the circles within circles of mental illness, sometimes merely socially inconvenient, but often, deadly. Not an easy book to read in one sitting, not only because it is long and complicated, but also because you’ll need to get away from it from time to time to remind yourself that, after all, it’s only fiction. But, is it. Studies have shown that the number of psychopaths and sociopaths in any population is far greater than we think, and even in a ‘polite’ society like Canada, darkness lurks around every corner.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘RoboDocs’

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Dr. T. ‘Gus’ Gustafson’s RoboDocs is a fictionalized take on the use of computers and AI in delivering medical care. The story of a young boy who, after his father dies because of lack of available medical care, decides to become a doctor, it is a futuristic look at medical care. While it attempts to show how AI and technology can improve some delivery, it inadvertently shows how medical care is becoming increasingly impersonal. Depending upon your point of view, this book will either be reassuring or disturbing.

Filled with statistics and technical information, it is an interesting read, though not quite as compelling as it could’ve been. By skipping the many charts and tables, I was able to finish it in one sitting.

Not bad for a first novel. I received a complimentary review copy of this book, and I give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘Famous Assassinations’

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From the brutal and bloody ‘changes of power’ during the Roman Empire, including the mass attack on Julius Caesar, to the senseless killings of JFK, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert Kennedy, assassination has been a tool of the greedy, angry, and dispossessed. Sarah Herman, in her seminal work, Famous Assassinations, tracks the history of this particularly brutal method of political expression down through the ages, and how these killings have changed history.

While most Americans are somewhat familiar with political killings—from Lincoln to JFK—there have been other such heinous acts throughout the world, and throughout history. This is a fascinating look at some of the darker chapters of human history that history buffs will find enlightening.

I received a complimentary copy of this book and couldn’t put it down. I give it four and a half stars.

Review of ‘Yoga for Beginners’

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Yoga can reduce stress, increase flexibility, and, in general, improve your physical and emotional health. Many eschew it, though, because of the perceived need to sign up for expensive classes and have special equipment. Ntathu Allen, in her book, Yoga For Beginners, shows this not to be the case.

The author, a yoga instructor, shows a series of simple exercises that don’t require an instructor or a mat, and can be performed in your home. Though intended for busy women, these exercises can be performed by anyone.

Looking for your next self-improvement project? Get this book. I received a complimentary review copy. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Three Embassies, Four Wars’

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Like many retired American diplomats, Ambassador (ret) Ronald E. Neumann did an oral history interview with the Association of Diplomatic Studies and Training (ADST), in which he detailed his upbringing, his military service, and more importantly, his three decades of service as an American Foreign Service Officer, and his decision to specialize in the Islamic world.

His book, Three Embassies, Four Wars: A Personal Memoir is an excellent introduction to the life of a diplomat and is recommended reading for anyone interested in pursuing a diplomatic career. The author gives rich details of his life as a Foreign Service brat, his decision to become a combat arms officer in the army and serve in Vietnam, and his subsequent entry into the Foreign Service. He goes into even more detail describing his diplomatic career, with some profound insights into the route to success in this field.

I’ve known the author for some time as a colleague in the American Academy of Diplomacy, the organization for which he currently serves as president, but it was only after reading his book that I learned that our careers, unknowing to either of us, ran parallel from the time he came to Fort Benning as an officer candidate, to jungle warfare school in Panama, and then subsequently in Vietnam shortly after the 1968 Tet Offensive.
This is an instructive, and at the same time, entertaining volume that offers useful information, not just to those interested in diplomacy as a career, but to anyone who really wants to know just what diplomats do.

I give this book five stars.

Review of ‘Harm’s Way’

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Ben arranges a weekend outing to his family cabin in the woods of Vermont, involving several of his friends from school. An eclectic—nay, weird, group if there ever was one. The nerd with a catalogue of allergies, the gay kid, the token African-American, promiscuous twins, a goth with suicidal tendencies, a fat southern boy who finds it hard to adjust to life in the rural northeast, and a high school jock who is a closet gay, just to name a few.

Ben has neglected to tell his friends that the neighboring cabins are deserted because in each there has been an unsolved slaughter of eleven people, but when they find, upon arrival, the corpse of a young woman impaled on a newel on the front porch, he has to come clean. Now, rational people would’ve immediately turned around and headed back to civilization, but then we wouldn’t have a story, would we? They stay, and predictably, they begin dropping like flies, dispatched in bizarre and creative ways, one-by-one.

If you like your fiction dark, you’ll like Harm’s Way by Marc Richard. It reads like a parody of the movie parody of teen slasher flicks. The characters are credible, if not loveable, and the action, even that taking place in the characters’ minds, is somehow believable. This book takes a strong stomach to complete, but in the end, it was worth it.

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

Review of ‘City of Saints’

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Robert Woolston’s City of Saints, an exploration of stoicism and how it facilitated the development of the Christian religion, primarily Catholicism, is an ambitious book, perhaps a bit too ambitious. The author delves deeply into ancient Greek philosophy with discussions of the main stoic philosophers, moves on to show the link with the develop of Christianity, and then attempts to show how this philosophy can be applied to the 21st century.

An interesting look at a somewhat obscure, but nevertheless interesting subject, but a lot of rather dense prose with maybe more detail in the beginning than really needed, and not enough detail in the latter part of the book. Students of Greek philosophy probably won’t find anything new are startling in this book, and those unfamiliar with the topic will struggle to absorb the deluge of information the author provides.

Bottom line; this is a book that will appeal to some and not to others. I found it mildly interesting. I received a complimentary copy of the book. I give it three stars.

Review of ‘The Coven Murders’

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The skeleton of a young woman, stabbed to death by a single blow to the abdomen some twenty-plus years earlier, is found in a shallow grave near an old abandoned church in Northern Ireland. Then, assistant pathologist Andrew Jones meets a mysterious young woman in a café, and later her wealthy industrialist father and his wife are found dead in their home, single stab wounds to the abdomen. Can murders more than twenty years apart be related or is it just a coincidence. Chief Inspector Jim Sheehan doesn’t believe in coincidences. He also doesn’t believe in the actual existence of evil spirits, but as the case unfolds, his beliefs are shaken to the core.

The Coven Murders by Brian O’Hare is a chilling mystery/thriller, featuring good solid police work, exciting confrontations, and a bit of the supernatural that will keep you flipping pages until the stunning surprise ending. I’ve read other Inspector Sheehan mysteries, and enjoyed them, but this one leaves its predecessors in the dust.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. Loved it. I give it four and a half stars.

Review of ‘Fireplay’

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On patrol with the US Marines, Aussie reporter, Jack Emery, encounters a lone jihadist who attacks their convoy. Before he’s taken out, he talks of issues at a prison camp run by a marine unit. When Jack and his buddies arrive at the base, he uncovers a secret that many dangerous people are willing to go to any lengths—including killing him—to keep hidden.

Fireplay is a novella in the Jack Emery thriller series by Steve P. Vincent that moves at light speed from an explosive opening to an equally explosive conclusion. It explores official corruption and double-dealing but doesn’t scrimp on the hot action. I received a free copy of this book. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Sean Wants to be Messi’

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Sean loves soccer as much as he hates math, and it seems that nothing his mother can do will change that. She enrolls him in a soccer course, and he eventually overcomes his shyness and plays, scoring several goals. His dreams of becoming like his hero, Leo Messi, cause him to figure out how much money he would have to make in order to buy his mother an expensive house, and voila, he learns that math has a role to play even in an athlete’s life.

Sean Wants to be Messi by Tanya Preminger is a great book for youngsters, using fantastic art and a compelling story that will not only entertain young readers, but provide a lesson on the importance of education. I received a complimentary copy of this book which I give five stars. A stunning addition to your young reader’s library.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Cat Killed a Rat’

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Luther Plunkett is a slightly bent construction contractor who, along with his even more crooked brother, Evan, is trying to get the town council of Ponderosa Pines to merge with a neighboring town. Lined up against him are Emmaline (EV) Valentino, one of the town’s elders, and Chloe LaRue, the anonymous author of the town’s gossip column, When Luther dies after falling (being pushed) from a ladder in a church where he was working on a job, because he and EV had had a very public spat just hours before his untimely demise, she is the prime suspect. Homicide detective, Nate Harper, back in his home town recuperating from an on-the-job injury, is tasked with finding the killer. The problem is, though, he has a history with Chloe.

Residents of Ponderosa Pines begin to take sides on the issue, depending upon whether or not they like or dislike EV, and when Evan, who also had a very public spat with EV, is found dead in his home, the heat on EV is ratcheted up several degrees. She and Chloe then realize that if her reputation is to be salvaged, and her freedom assured, they must solve the crime.

Cat Killed a Rat by mother-daughter writing team Erin Lynn and ReGina Welling is a cozy mystery that has all you need to pass the time on a cold winter day sitting in front of a cozy fire. Clues and red herrings pile up as high as your chin, and the authors keep you guessing until the killer is found—and, you’ll be surprised when this happens, but it comes at you completely unexpected. Not that there aren’t clues, it’s just that they’ve done such a fantastic job of masking them.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my review. I loved it. I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Not Normal’

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I am a frequent participant in Internet polls, especially those on political issues, which in the past year seem to be more frequent than usual. One of the questions, ‘Do you think things in this country are on the wrong or right track?’, I always answer ‘The wrong track,’ because, despite lower unemployment figures and the occasional uptick in the stock market, I am convinced that things in the United States are heading in the wrong direction. Call me a pessimist, but now I have at least one intellectual who has publicly agreed with me.

In Not Normal: A Progressives Diary of the Year After Trump’s Election, progressive writer Stuart Shapiro has gifted us his Facebook postings beginning the night of Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the 2016 presidential election. Shapiro reacts in real-time to the many gaffes and missteps of candidate, and then President Trump, as he’s tweeted and lied his way from one crisis to another, all actions taking the country down a dangerous path of being isolated in an increasingly dangerous world.

Shapiro takes on Republicans in congress, voters who vote their anger rather than a careful analysis of t heir true self-interest, and mainly, a man who occupies the nation’s highest office, but who lacks even the most basic intellectual and emotional qualifications for that office. His conclusion that the situation in the US is clearly not normal, and regardless of the eventual disposition of the current administration, will be a long time (if ever) getting back to normal is chilling, and regardless of your political inclination or persuasion, should give you pause.

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

Review of ‘Murder Has No Guilt’

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A gunman walks into a high-end London hair salon and opens fire, killing the owner, two staff members, and five customers. For DCI Isaac Cook and his team, the race is on to find the killer, but they must start with a relatively blank slate. At first, there’s no motive, but as they begin to look under the rug, they find much trash: a ruthless Romanian gangster and his henchmen, a Russian oligarch with an impeccable reputation in England, but who heads one of Russia’s top mobs, and assorted other bits of flotsam and jetsam of England’s criminal underworld, all come together in a maze that foreshadows a possible gang war, and more blood on the streets.

Cook and his crew not only have to deal with the criminal bad guys, but with the bureaucratic and sneaky weasels in their own organization, who are more interested in making points than solving crimes.

Murder Has No Guilt by Phillip Strang is another outstanding chapter in the adventures and misadventures of the indomitable DCI and his band of merry men and women, as they face danger and duplicity with their usual dogged persistence until the guilty—or most of the guilty—are brought to justice.

I’m a fan of this series, which never disappoints, nor does it become boring, with each story building on the last and keeping you reading until the end.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. I give it five stars without hesitation.

Review of ‘Kinky Bones’

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Wizards and witches don’t mix very well. Arthur ‘The Hat’ Salzman, wizard enforcer and all-around gangster, knows this, and usually avoids them. But, when Selma (aka Mrs. Pink), a young witch, impersonates Ivan, brother of his sidekick, Vicky, and head of the vampires, and hacks their bank accounts, and then impersonates his daughter, George, Arthur finds himself up to his fabled hat in witches. Mabel, queen of the witches, is up to something that’s definitely not good, and wants Arthur’s help, but, being witches, she and her coven go about it in all the wrong ways until the appearance of the kinky bones, the skeletal remnants of an all-powerful witch, complicates things beyond imagining. As if this wasn’t confusing enough, Arthur meets Penelope, a citizen who has never seen magic, wizards, or dead bodies, and falls in love with her. From that point, things just go downhill.

Kinky Bones by Al K. Line is number 7 in the Wildcat Wizard series, and if you’ve read and liked the first six, you will be totally captivated by this one. The Hat at his best (or worse, depending upon your point of view) as he deals with batty witches, devilish plots, and murderous bones. Just as the bones get Arthur around the throat, and other sensitive, but unmentionable parts of his body, this book will grab your attention and not let go until you reach the end.

I received a complimentary copy of Kinky Bones in exchange for my unbiased, honest review, and honestly, what can I say; it’s one heck of a great read. Don’t let this one get away.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘No Place to Hide’

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The president of the United States authorized a bio attack on Ft. Lauderdale, FL, and now, as he’s about to leave office he decides that he must eliminate everyone who has knowledge of his action. One of those people, ex-navy SEAL Trace Austin, accidentally stumbled across the plans for the attack while he was in Florida with his wife and son and has created a fail-safe plan; he will keep the president’s secret as long as he and his wife are left alone. But now, someone is threatening their lives, so all bets are off. Trace must act to forestall the actions against him or die trying.

No Place to Hide by Steven M. Roth is a story that moves at a machine-gun pace, as shadowy groups act against Trace legally and financially. Action is non-stop, and the author spares no details in this byzantine tale of high-level corruption and evil.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. A solid four-star thriller.

Review of ‘Reverence’

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The USA has undergone a revolution and is now the United Nation Republic (UNR), with the mission of bringing utopia to the earth, whether or not the other residents of the planet want it. Enforcing this tyrannical scheme is a corps of super soldiers, cyborgs with massive power, and an almost obsessive drive to accomplish their missions. Will Marconi, one of these super soldiers, begins, though, to question his mission, and himself, and rebels against his masters.

Reverence by Joshua Landeros is a fast-paced dystopian future novel with tons of blood and gore that will more than satisfy fans of this genre—a bit too much gore for those with delicate sensibilities, however, and lacking the tight editing that would make it palatable. The plot hangs up in places due to the poor proofreading, but the author shows promise. So, if you like your stories with nonstop action, and a body on almost every page, you just might get into this series.

I received a complimentary copy of this book, and even though I am a tepid fan of military fiction and an avid science fiction fan, I just couldn’t really get into it. Except for Will, the characters are never really fully developed, and the ‘how’ of the transformation of the US into a world tyrant, even though it does somewhat mirror current political trends, is never adequately explained.

I give the author four stars for effort, but my rating of three stars is due to the execution.

Review of ‘Death Calls’

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Arthur ‘The hat’ Salzman, thief, gambler, and wizard, has always been able to revive when he dies. But, when he dies for the 50th time, the Grim Reaper, old man Death, informs that it’s time for him to fulfill a deal he made when the power was granted—he must become the Grim Reaper.

For Arthur, it doesn’t sound like such a good deal, and he’s determined to find his way from the endless void in which he’s imprisoned, and back to the land of the living. When his trusty sidekick commits suicide to come and rescue him, things just get even more complicated.

What follows when she arrives in the void is quintessential Wildcat Wizard fare, as Arthur pulls every trick he has out of his sleeves to beat the odds. As usual, along with the gore is a good dash of humor, grim humor, and a puzzle that it seems at first that even the smartest wizard on the planet can’t solve.

If you’re a fan of this series, this one won’t disappoint, and I can promise you, you’ll be surprised at the ending.

I received an advance reader copy of this book, and what can I say – it’s another five-star story.