Book Reviews

Review of ‘Bad Karma’

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Trey Campbell, a psych-tech supervisor at Darden State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, is on vacation with his family, when one of his patients, a dangerous psychopath, Agnes Hatcher, escapes, leaving a trail of mutilated bodies in her wake. Her goal—to find him, or rather, to find her true love, a figure from a past life. For Trey, the choices are clear; he must end her if he and his family are to survive.

Bad Karma by Douglas Clegg is a blood-curdling thriller that will keep you awake long after you’ve finished reading it. Incisive prose, and measured tension mark this chilling thriller from start to finish. The author takes you uncomfortably deep inside the mind of tormented characters, grabs you by the throat, and never lets up.

I give it five stars.

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Review of ‘The Book of Five Rings’

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The art of Japanese sword fighting is as much Zen as war, and the principles can be applied to the boardroom as well as the battlefield. The 17th century classic, The Book of Five Rings, by the legendary Japanese swordsman, Miyamoto Musashi, details the techniques that must be mastered if one is not only to master the art of battle, but, one’s self.

Translated, and reissued by XistPublishing in e-book format, this short book offers techniques—albeit not in exhaustive detail—for becoming a master strategist. These techniques can be applied to any endeavor, and, with practice, can lead to a significant change in outlook and outcomes.

As a bonus, the last third of the book is a guide for book clubs, that can be used in evaluating book club presentations. This guide is, believe it or not, also useful for authors, regardless of skill level, as a means of improving their writing.

This version had a number of typos that were missed in proofreading. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Robin Hood Hacker Collection’

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Ronnie is a world-class hacker. She and her assistant, Quirk, specialize in hacking into the financial systems of wealthy, and corrupt, corporations, and redistributing their ill-gotten gains to the needy—after, of course, taking a modest commission. The Robin Hood Hacker is on the FBI’s radar, and FBI Special Agent Zachary Hunt has an obsession with nabbing this cunning criminal. When he finally comes face-to-face with her, and discovers that contrary to the FBI profile, the hacker’s a woman, not a man, and is not working alone, he fails to catch her, but the two establish an emotional connection that leads him to conduct unauthorized communications with her for months.

The Hidden Hand, an ancient, super-secret terrorist organization is planning a replay of the plague pandemic, this time using an engineered version of the bubonic plague, to rid the world of unbelievers. Frustrated by its inability to crack the organization’s communications code, the government turns to Ronnie and Quirk for help, and uses Zachary as a conduit to her. What follows is a stunning tale of adventure, danger, intrigue and betrayal that will keep you feverishly turning pages.

Robin Hood Hacker Collection by Carolyn McCray is a collection of short stories, novellas, and a novel, that introduces Ronnie, Quirk, Zach, and his techno-geek side kick, Warp, and follows them through a series of harrowing adventures as they chase, and are chased by, the Hidden Hand. Though a bit heavy on the global pandemic aspect, this is nonetheless a fascinating tale—or series of tales—that fans of techno-thrillers will enjoy.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘For Hire’

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Retired Denver cop, Pat Ruger, does freelance PI work. When an old friend, weed dealer, Angel, refers a young woman to him, and she asks his help finding her missing sister, suspected of being taken and radicalized by an extremist group, he finds himself up to his waders in drug dealers and terrorists—all out to kill him.
Pat Ruger for Hire by Jack Huber is a fast-paced mystery, laced with humor, spiked with deadly action, and with an explosive climax that will have you on the edge of your chair. While most of the characters are quite believable, I had to strain my brain to believe that Pat was as attractive to every female character he encountered, or that he could keep the pace he did, without eventually needing a pacemaker.
An interesting character, though, and I can imagine he’ll get up to some fascinating adventures in future offerings. I give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘Seashells, Spells, & Caramels’

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Imogen Banks has scrimped and saved to amass enough money to open her own bakery. Just when she’s reached her monetary goal, her dreams go up in flames. But, she has somehow managed to become a contestant in a mysterious baking contest at an island off the coast of France. With nothing to lose—literally, as everything burned up in when her apartment went up in flames—she buys a ticket to France.
Once at the mysterious island, she encounters something she’s never believed in before, magic. Her skills are put to the test as she contends with magical creatures, including a wise cracking cooking flame, and a contestant dropping dead in the middle of the competition, and her humble self being looked at as the prime suspect.
Time is running short for Imogen. She must find the real killer, dig deep to find the baking skills to prevail in a contest she has no hope of winning, and learn to deal with the fact that, despite her inability to cast even the simplest spell, she is herself a creature of magic.
Seashells, Spells & Caramels by Erin Johnson is a delightful cozy mystery, with liberal doses of murder, mayhem, and magic, that will entertain you on every page. This book will delight both mystery fans and those who like the supernatural. It is unnaturally entertaining.
I received a free copy of this author’s first novel, and give it five stars for its sheer entertainment value.

Review of ‘Mated by the Alpha Dragon’

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Two centuries after nuclear war has destroyed human civilization, the few survivors live in isolated settlements in a kind of servile condition. The effects of radiation have affected a few, causing them to transform into dragons, while the rest exist as serfs. Theo lives with his mother in a village under the dominion of the cruel King Harold. When Elise, whose mother has been taken away by Harold’s men, comes to live with them, Theo’s life changes. He discovers that he is one of the few with the ability to become a dragon. Worse, he falls in love with Elise, who is also a dragon-shifter. When, fearing for the safety of those around her, Elise runs away, Theo is determined to find her.
Mated by the Alpha Dragon by K. T. Stryker follows Theo and Elise, as they struggle against Harold’s tyranny and learn to control the changes in themselves. One series of adventures and misadventures after another until the final confrontation in Harold’s castle—a bit predictable, and a touch of deus et machina at the end. Despite the predictability of the story line, it is still an entertaining story that delves deeply into the internal motivations of the two main characters.
I received a free copy of this book, and I give it three and a half stars. High marks for a compelling theme, but subtracting a few for the predictability.

Review of ‘The Meek’

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Something of a loner, and an under-achiever, Harlan is visiting his friend in Los Angeles when the people around him start dying from some mysterious ailment. For reasons he doesn’t understand, Harlan survives. He thinks he’s alone until he meets a man who takes him captive and uses him as a slave, while at the same time, abusing the girl he also holds captive. They finally manage to escape, and encounter other survivors, and a situation that forces Harlan to explore his own ethical boundaries in order to ensure their survival.
The Meek by J. D. Palmer is a dystopian novel that blurs the line between science fiction and intrigue. The story moves at a measured pace, with brief spurts of action, as Harlan learns just how far he is willing to go—how far he is able to go—in order to survive in a world gone mad.
I received a free copy of this book. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Summary of Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’

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Six million years ago, the ancestors of modern man were little more than common apes, but over the millennia, Homo sapiens has evolved to the top of the food chain, becoming like gods in the ability to manipulate the environment and to assume mastery over other species. This amazing evolution, the result of biological accidents, myths, and self-interested actions, has placed Homo sapiens at a point in its history that could lead either to further elevation–or extinction.

Summary of Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: a Brief History of Humankind from SumoReads books is a detailed analysis and summary of a book that traces mankind’s evolution over the past 200,000 years. This brief summary, which can be read in less than 30 minutes, not only discusses the key takeaways of the book, but offers an editorial review and a description of the author’s credentials.

This summary gives a good overview of the book and will help the reader decide if it’s worth the investment of time and money to procure.

While I don’t usually review book summaries, this summary is of a book that I believe is appealing, and worthy of reading. The summary, although it contained a few typos, is comprehensive and worth reading in itself. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Death Unholy’

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There was little left of the body other than two legs still in shoes, and greasy ash on the chair. The coroner’s conclusion was that death was the result of spontaneous combustion, cause unknown. But, DI Keith Tremayne and his partner, Sgt. Clare Yarwood, suspected foul play. As they begin their investigation, other deaths occur, one definitely a murder, another an unexplained suicide, and a missing man, presumed dead. Somehow, they know, all are connected to a strange, isolated village, cut off from the rest of the region and occupied by unfriendly people who apparently believe in pagan myths and sacrifice. Under the iron control of a mad man, the villagers are willing to kill without guilt, and act out of both belief and fear. Tremayne and Yarwood find themselves facing death at the hands of a mob, with no apparent help in sight.
Death Unholy by Phillip Strang is the first book in the DC Tremayne series, and it introduces an aging police officer in rural England who refuses to allow himself to be distracted by esoteric beliefs and superstition in the pursuit of justice. Riveting action and tense drama, and a cast of unusual characters, typical of Strang’s books, will chill and entertain you from start to finish.
I received a free copy of this book. An intriguing start to what promises to be a fascinating series. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Roll the Dice’

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Rock star and celebrity mogul Tyler Sloan decides to leave the entertainment world and run for one of Nevada’s senate seat in the US Congress. Sloan is no stranger to politics; his father, Mike, former governor, is vice president, but as he enters the fray, he learns that success in politics and success in entertainment are measured by different standards. Running as an independent, he finds himself pitted against two opponents who will do anything to defeat him, his own checkered past coming back to haunt him, and unresolved family issues plaguing him. Undaunted, though, he decides to ‘roll the dice,’ and stick it out.
Roll the Dice by Wayne Avrashow is a compelling political satire that lays bare the seamy underbelly of American politics in a series of intriguing scenarios, following Sloan’s up-and-down ride during a hard-fought campaign. Though fiction, this story could very well have been ripped from the headlines of recent actual political campaigns. After reading this book, you’ll never view politics the same again.
I received a free copy of this book. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Army of Stone’

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Gabriel Stone, Angel Enforcer and card shark extraordinaire, is back, and he’s badder than ever. In charge of the Angel Guild, he’s snowed under a mountain of paperwork, and the werewolf cabals and vampire triads have marked him for execution. Then, he learns that gargoyles from some unknown world are systematically exterminating the half-angel bounty hunters. With the help of Aurora, a dark elf, and Zane, a magician, Gabriel has to find the source of the gargoyles and close the portal to keep them from invading Earth in force. These three hardy adventurers organize an army, including the fabled flying horse, Pegasus, to combat and defeat the stone army, or the world as they know it will cease to exist.

Army of Stone by Leo Romero is the second book in the Fallen Angel series, and it’s just as wacky and full of adventure as the first. Improbably creatures engaged in impossible actions, but told in such a way that it’s almost believable, this story will have you alternating between chuckles and chills.

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

Review of ‘Hunting Nora Stone’

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Eddie Conrad is an ex-Navy SEAL, still recuperating after a year’s captivity in Syria as the only survivor of an operation gone horribly wrong. On desk duty, he is just marking time until he can retire and put the death and destruction behind him.

Nora Stone, a street urchin, nearly killed in an accident, was given a new lease on life. With many of her damaged limbs replace with enhanced cyber implants, she has been trained as a skilled assassin. But, Nora has gone off the grid, and a tactical team sent to retrieve her is mutilated in a most gruesome way. But, Nora, though she is eluding capture, is not really hiding. She seems to be sending her former masters a message – come and get me!

Eddie is strong-armed into taking the mission to find and neutralize Nora, but when he finally encounters her, rather than killing him as she did the previous teams sent to capture her, she lets him live, and gives him a message, ‘I’m coming for her.’ Eddie is puzzled. Who is Nora after, and why. His life is complicated when he learns of a plot by an unknown, shadowy group of powerful men to assassinate the president of the U.S., and plunge the world into chaos, and of the existence of a powerful cyborg, Tarsis, who has been sent, not to capture Nora, but to kill her.

Now, with Nora as an unlikely ally, Eddie must avert an international disaster.

Hunting Nora Stone by Colin Weldon is a riveting tale of international intrigue with overtones of high-tech science fiction that, despite a number of typographical and grammatical gaffes, will thoroughly entertain action junkies.

I received a free copy of the book. The typos notwithstanding, I was impressed with the pacing and plot, and give it four stars (with a slight minus grade because of the proofreading problems).

Review of ‘Life Among the Piutes’

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The Piute Indians (also known as the Paiutes) lived in what is now Nevada before their first contact with whites. According to Piute legend, Indians and whites were once brothers and sisters, but were separated because they could not get along. So, when they had first contact with whites, Winnemucca, the main chief, saw it as a sign that the siblings were to once again be united. That relationship, however, took a bad turn when it transpired that the white expansion to the west was to displace, and in some instances, destroy, the indigenous culture.

In Life Among the Piutes, Sarah Winnemucca Parker, granddaughter of Winnemucca, tells the history of this first contact, through the forced removal of the Piutes from their ancestral home to reservations along with other tribes, and the many injustices visited upon the peaceful Piutes by greedy Indian agents and unscrupulous land grabbers.

First published in 1883, this was the first known publication by a Native American woman, and it details Sarah’s life and activities, leading her to become an activist on the East Coast for an enlightened Indian policy. Edited by Mrs. Horace Mann, it retains Sarah’s words and speech patterns, making it all the more profound. Rich in detail and unsparing in its descriptions of the privations suffered by Indian tribes in the face of the inexorable onslaught of westward expansion, it is a must-read for anyone who wants to know the true story of our country’s development.

I received a free copy of this recently published e-book version of this ground-breaking work.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘George Washington: Man and Monument’

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George Washington, the first president of the United States, had been written about perhaps more than any other person in American history. Despite this, much of what we know about the man is, in fact, pure myth. The stories we were raised on; the cherry tree incident, Washington praying at Valley Forge; were fictions created by historians long after his death, writers like Parson Weems in the 1800s, who created not Washington the man, but Washington the monument.

In George Washington: Man and Monument, Marcus Cunliffe offers a nuanced of Washington’s life and history that lays bare many of the myths, and attempts to reach the real man who lies beneath. The history of the Washington family, from its origins in England to its establishment of a planter society in Virginia, Washington’s early years, living in the shadow of his older half-brothers, his early military adventures, his command of the continental forces in the revolution, and his taxing years as president.

After reading this book, I can’t say that my understanding of Washington the man is improved, but, I did come away with a better understanding of the milieu that shaped that man.

An extremely well-written and exhaustively researched tome, this should be required reading for every American. Not only will it give a better understanding of where we as a nation have come from, but will aid in understanding some of the confusing political events of the present day.

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

Review of ‘Vegas Tabloid’

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Vegas Tabloid by P. Moss is an engagingly odd thriller with an even odder cast of characters. Jimmy Dot, a master con man, is the ringmaster for a circus of former criminals who make up one of Las Vegas’s most popular casino acts. Forced by an unscrupulous casino boss into a lucrative contract that he wants out of, Jimmy meets a disgraced scientist who once worked for a giant pharmaceutical company that’s about to release a drug to market that will kill thousands. Momentarily shelving his plan to con his way out of his contract, Jimmy decides that he will con the big pharma boss into revealing his duplicity in public. In the process, he finds himself in the crosshairs of a man who has no compunction about killing.

Each chapter in this book is like a scene in a retro movie, sometimes seemingly unconnected to what has gone before, but in the end, all the twisted pieces come together in a finale that the reader will find satisfying, in a bloody sort of way.

Not for the faint of heart, or readers who are offended by outrageous language and even more outrageous behavior. In this book, the bad guys are really bad, and the good guys are sort of bad as well. But, in the end, good wins out.

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

Review of ‘The Last Deception’

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Former assassin Leine Basso left the world of lies and deception and went to work for the organization, Stop Human Enslavement Now (SHEN). But, when she gets a call from a friend working in a refugee camp in a war zone, she’s plunged into a world that’s even more deadly and devious—she uncovers a plan that could plunge the world into war. When her friend is killed, the mission becomes personal, and she will spare nothing to avenge her, and stop a dastardly plot.

The Last Deception by D V Berkom is a different Leine Basso thriller. Leine is not called upon to find and eliminate individual enemies, but is up against a cabal of powerful people for whom no act is too low, and who will do anything to advance their plans. If you’ve ever read Berkom’s Leine Basso books, this one will come as a surprise, but a pleasant one, as it shows our heroine in a decidedly more humane light as she goes to war to protect the innocent. If this is your first one, you’ll be hooked for life on the toughest main character in thriller fiction today. Everything from dialogue to descriptions works to move a compelling story at a breakneck pace that will leave you breathless.

I received an advance reader copy of this book. I give the author five stars for this one – no surprise there, because it’s all good.

Review of ‘Siphoners’

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Four strangers, Avanti, Donovan, Frederick, and Seth, all with the power to siphon the life from others, but with no knowledge of how they attained such powers, are drawn together when their powers start to spiral out of control, and bodies start piling up. When they meet, and begin to compare stories, they realize that some other-worldly power is pulling their strings, manipulating them like marionettes.

Siphoners by Evan Bollinger is a disturbing story, told in a series of seemingly disconnected scenes, that come together as muddy streams coalesce in a swiftly flowing river, they begin to get answers to their strangeness, only to discover that things are even stranger than they could ever have imagined.
A fascinating story, although it has a bit too much dialect for easy reading, and leaves out information that would aid the reader to get a clearer picture of the ‘alien’ menace lurking behind the scenes. If you like other-worldly horror, and the fusion of science fiction and paranormal phenomena, you’ll enjoy reading it.

I received a free copy of this book. An intriguing story, but for technical reasons (mainly the overuse of dialect in the dialogue), I give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘Pianist in a Bordello’

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Are American voters ready for completely honesty from politicians? The outcome of the 2016 presidential election would indicate that the answer is, NO!

In Pianist in a Bordello, author Mike C. Erickson explores this premise in a rollicking adventure featuring Richard Milhous Nixon Youngblood, a man who was born in a commune to a hippie mother and an absentee father who was also an enigmatic revolutionary. After his tumultuous childhood, including being kicked out of college for a political prank, Youngblood decides to enter politics. Unlike his fellow politicians, though, he decides to publish a ‘tell-all’ autobiography prior to the election. His campaign advisors are against it, and his mission is complicated by all the Amandas in his life, including a peripatetic journalist who gets herself kidnapped by terrorists, and a determined stalker who considers herself and Youngblood to be reincarnations of the real Pat and Tricky Dick Nixon, who are destined to be linked together in death.

Fictional, it offers a unique take on real-life historical and political events of our time that will make a reader pause and reflect. Sometimes, fiction is closer to the truth than most of us are comfortable admitting. After reading this book, some of the more bizarre events of current-day politics will actually make more sense.

I received a free copy of this book.

This one gets an easy five stars.

Review of ‘Andrea The Martian Robot’

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HWR-001-046-QF Andrea, one of the most advanced robots from Harrowgate & Webster, a small robotics firm, was selected to implement the first of three phases for the colonization of Mars by humans. Her job was to prepare the way for her human master, Adam, to arrive for phase two, and her main directive, ‘Human safety is a primary concern.’

When, three years after her arrival on Mars, Adam’s spacecraft is approaching, things begin to go wrong, and Andrea has to surpass her programming to save his life. The question for everyone, from Adam to Patricia Vicarro, director of the Mar’s Mission, is, just how far will Andrea go to fulfill her prime directive?

Andrea: The Martian Robot is a novelette by Anthony J. Deeney, author of Robots Love Blue. A stand-alone story, it nonetheless continues the theme of Blue, and explores the psychology of self-aware robots and human-robot interactions in a most compelling way. For fans of Isaac Asimov and his ‘Three Laws of Robotics,’ this story will resonate deeply. In a very short space, it explores profound issues that will leave the reader thinking about the future of mankind and technology in completely new ways.

I give this brilliant novelette five stars.

Review of ‘Awaken’

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Chloe Kowalski lives in Kansas, but she has an obsession with the ocean which she can’t explain. To complicate matters, her parents have an almost insane aversion to water, and won’t even let her learn to swim. One summer, she runs away—although, it’s not her intent to run away, she just wants to see the ocean, so she sneaks off with her best friend to her blended family’s home on the coast.

Once there, though, strange things begin to happen. Her attraction to the ocean grows stronger, and one day, while out for a boat ride, the ocean acts up and the vessel capsizes. Underwater, Chloe sees a strange boy, and finds that she can talk to him; underwater. Then, she’s attacked in a bookstore by a clerk acting mad, and soon she learns that a band of killers are after her. Her only way to survive is to come to grips with what she really is, a mixture of human and mermaid.

Awaken by Skye Malone is a riveting paranormal tale that explores the intersection of the human world and the world of the inhabitants under the sea, and the conflicts that plague both. The characters, human and nonhuman, are rich in detail and motivation, and the action is nonstop. I only had one gripe about the story, a point of logic; while Chloe’s parents have gone to great lengths to conceal her heritage by keeping her away from water, it’s not explained how they dealt with bathing, drinking, or mundane tasks like washing dishes. This small point notwithstanding, it was still an entertaining story.

I give it four stars.