Book Reviews

Review of ‘Malice at the Manor’

Posted on Updated on

Penny Summers accompanies her teacher and mentor to Brantleigh Manor in North Carolina to further her study in garden design. While touring the manor’s gardens, they stumble upon the body of her teacher’s step-father in a stream, an apparent heart attack that they think is anything but. As Penny digs into the case, she discovers the secret past of the victim, as well as of her teacher, which puts their lives in danger. An ex-navy public relations officer and basically a stubborn person who never shirks her duty to friends and justice, she pushes on despite the danger.

Malice at the Manor by J. Marshall Gordon is a finely crafted cozy mystery set in the modern South where the past is not prologue, but an integral part of daily life. With liberal doses of humor and its fair share of spine-tingling, nail-biting moments, it’s a nice rainy-day read.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. A job well done. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘The President is Missing’

Posted on Updated on

Shortly into his first term, President Matt Blake is addressing the nation via live TV from the nuclear submarine, USS Louisiana, when the broadcast is suddenly cut off. It’s followed by an explosion and the appearance of debris in the area where it was last known to be. The nation mourns the loss of its president and one of its nuclear subs, but Dee Blake, the president’s wife, schooled by him to examine all the evidence and then not trust it, is convinced that he’s still alive and the destruction of the submarine is just a gigantic ploy. The newly sworn-in president agrees with her, and assigns her to be his chief of staff with one main duty, find the president.

The President is Missing by Russell Moran is a nail-biter from page one, as it follows two story lines: Dee’s efforts to unearth the truth behind the hijacking of the sub and the kidnapping of the president, and Matt, as he tries to come to grips with his status as a hostage of an enigmatic force made up of Russians and traitorous American naval personnel.

Who is behind this dangerous and insane operation? Is it the new Russian president, a megalomaniacal despot who wants to restore the Soviet empire, or the wannabe American dictator, the president that Matt defeated in a landslide, and who has refused to accept his status as an ex-president?

I won’t spoil the book for you by revealing the outcome, but I will say that, as you read it, you’ll wonder whether this is pure fiction, or perhaps an account of real-world plans. A riveting read.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Serial Homicide: Book 3’

Posted on Updated on

In his third book on serial killers, Serial Homicide, Book 3, R. J. Parker dissects serial killings in Australia. Six of the country’s most notorious murder sprees are discussed in detail, complete with the personal backgrounds of the perpetrators.

Not a book to read if you worry about going out alone, for as his other books show, serial murder, while quite common unfortunately in the U.S., knows no national boundaries. If, though, you’re a fan of true crime books, you just might find this interesting.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Waiting For You’

Posted on Updated on

If you’ve read Lynda McDaniel’s Appalachian Mountain mystery trilogy, you’ll enjoy her prequel, which gives the back stories of Vester Junior ‘Abit’ Bradshaw and Della Kincaid. Waiting For You is a short read, spanning the years 1981 to 1983, giving the background on Abit, resident of the small North Carolina mountain town of Laurel Falls, and Della, a free lance writer from Washington, DC. Abit is a bit slow, so his father takes him out of school because he decides that it’s a ‘waste of time,’ leaving Abit nothing to do but sit in a chair outside his father’s general store and watch the world go by. Della, recently divorced, is tiring of being the ghoul friend, who finds herself writing nothing but stories about the darker side of life, and is coping with the suicide of her best friend.

The two stories proceed side-by-side, independent of each other, but moving inexorably toward an encounter between the two when Della decides to see ‘in the flesh’ an area she’s previously written about through long-distance research.

There’s no mystery here—after all, it’s a prequel, right—but it will still grab and hold your interest. If you’ve not read the trilogy, Waiting For You will only make your introduction to the trilogy all the more pleasurable.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. Like the trilogy, it is masterfully written, and despite being short, packed with profound insights into the human condition. Don’t miss it. Oh, and I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Dakota Burn’

Posted on Updated on

Jerked away from sunny L.A. to the bitter cold of North Dakota, Leine Basso, former assassin, and now fighting human trafficking for SHEN, joins Derek van der Haar, former poacher, now also on the hunt for those who traffic in children, in an operation to bring down a notorious child sex trafficker in one of the oil boom towns of the Dakotas. The closer they get to their prey, the more dangerous it becomes, as they learn that high-powered men all over the country are behind the heinous happenings, and they will stop at nothing to continue raking in their dirty dollars.

Dakota Burn by best-selling author D.V. Berkom is without doubt the best, and most gut-wrenching Basso thriller yet. Bodies fall along with criminal empires, as Leine and Derek face almost insurmountable odds in their quest to bring justice—of the final kind—to men who have zero respect for life.

If you’re a Leine Basso fan, as I am, you’ll love this book. A strong, determined female heroine who not only competes in a man’s world, but prevails. This penetrating look at the problem of human trafficking in the United States, where most of the population seems unaware of its existence, will open your eyes and leave you breathless in awe.

I received a complimentary copy of this latest Basso magnum opus, and once I started reading, time stopped, but I didn’t until I’d read every last thrilling word. Do yourself a favor—don’t let this one get away.

Review of ‘A Knight to Remember’

Posted on Updated on

Lucy Merriweather thinks she’s met the man of her dreams. Simon Grey is an English lord, and he owns an old castle, so despite the doubts beginning to creep into her mind, Lucy allows herself to be talked into a trip to England. From their arrival, though, the doubts begin to grow stronger, and she finally decides that marrying him is a bad idea, and she tells him so. That’s when the wheels come off her rather predictable life. Pretending to accept her rejection, Simon gets her drunk and talks her into a ‘fake’ wedding, just for old times sake. The ‘fake’ wedding turns out to be real, and Lucy learns, to her dismay, that ‘until death do us part,’ has a literal meaning, when Simon announces that he plans to kill her to lift the curse from his castle so he can get rid of it and enjoy his wealth. As they struggle, Lucy finds herself falling, and she wakes up surrounded by armed knights and under the bloody body of a dead man. The leader of the knights, a rough, tarnished knight, William Brandon, takes her under his protection, and from there, her problems multiply like rabbits. She has to deal with being 700 years in the past, being thought a witch because of her alien dress, speech, and manners, a traitor within William’s household, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Simon, and the unfortunate fact that she finds herself falling for the roughshod William

A Knight to Remember by Cynthia Luhrs is a time-travel romance with generous dashes of medieval violence and stink, but also with a more than generous helping of humor as Lucy and the past come to grips with each other.

An enjoyable read. While it has a five-star theme, there are a few glitches (mostly typos) that cause me to give it four stars.

Review of ‘Altered Destinies’

Posted on

Bain, the bastard son of a lord and a healer, is acknowledged by his father and set up a path to make him the eventual inheritor of his father’s estate. Even though he has no desire to rule in his father’s place, he is determined not to let his father, his mother, or his people down. In the domain of Lord Danza, Bain meets Phaera, Danza’s feisty only child, who is more interested in pursuing her calling as a healer than immersing herself in the inanity of court life. When the two meet, sparks fly, but their mutual interest in healing brings them closer. Phaera’s father has promised her that he will never force her to marry, but when the ambitious and unscrupulous young Mathune, who, in addition to his plans to take over all the kingdoms, sets his eyes on her, Danza feels that he has no choice but to betroth her. From here, the plot thickens. Bain, despite his humble, and questionable, origins, is seen as a s suitable alternative to the cruel Mathune. With the help of a young lord whose sexual preferences are tolerated, but not welcomed in the kingdoms, and the indomitable Phaera, Bain organizes a force to confront Mathune.

 

Altered Destinies by Yvonne Hertzberger is a riveting novel that is hard to assign a genre classification to. Part epic adventure, part dystopian future-earth, it nonetheless will grab your imagination, and keep you entertained for page after exciting page. Hertzberger is a master at creating alternate, but realistic environments and characters that you can love—or hate—with equal measure.

 

Although this is billed as perhaps her final novel, one can only hope she’ll relent and thrill us with further adventures of Bain and Phaera.

 

I received a complimentary advanced review copy of this book, and I give it five stars without hesitation. You’ll be doing yourself a great service by snatching it up as soon as it’s released.

Review of ‘Shadow File’

Posted on Updated on

Alex Vane’s friend was killed by private contractors working for an intelligence-corporate conglomerate. Alex exposed the killers, but the system survived, as did the man directly responsible for his friend’s murder. Now, his friend’s widow, an expert hacker, is threatening to bring down the entire government private security contractor system if they do not comply with her demands. She asks Alex to come to Cuba to help her, where he finds himself conflicted. While he knows that some in the system are corrupt, he doubts the wisdom or rightness of destroying the entire system to punish them.

Shadow File by A. C. Fuller is a compelling read that, while fictional, is all too close to how some of the private government contractors work in real life. Heart-pounding action on almost every page. A worthwhile read.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Blame the Devil’

Posted on Updated on

DI Julian Fleetwood is assigned the case when the blood-drained corpse of a schoolgirl is found in London. In the course of his investigation, he meets Varya Dean, the daughter of a slain police officer, who has a brilliant mind, but troubled emotions. Working together, they discover a dangerous cult which threatens not just their lives, but their sanity.

Blame the Devil by L. K. Moore is a riveting mystery with more than a slight touch of the paranormal that will hook you from the opening paragraphs, and not let go until you reach the surprising ending.

For either mystery or paranormal fans, this is a must read.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Precious Bones’

Posted on Updated on

Cassandra is a best-selling novelist who is having trouble starting her next book, when she sees a TV news report about the skeletal remains of a young woman and a baby that have been found in an old Tudor mansion. She feels—knows—that she knows the victims, despite the fact that they died over 500 years earlier. To the dismay of her boyfriend, she buys the house and, after getting rebuffed by the new head of her publishing company, starts to write a story about the bones. Her writing leads her to the Thorne family, who lived in England in the 1500s, and the more she writes, the more she realizes that she has an unbelievable connection to them.

Precious Bones by Irina Shapiro is part fantasy, part historical fiction. The author does an amazing job of bringing the distant past alive as she describes the abuses in the name of religion of the era, and traces a family’s roots from past to present. She puts the reader fully in the picture, and an initially gruesome picture it is. This one, I guarantee you, you will not be able to put down once you start reading.

Review of ‘Fluency’

Posted on Updated on

In the 1960s, NASA discovered a strange alien ship lurking in the asteroid belt. For years, they kept the ship under surveillance until they finally developed the technology to visit it for an on-site investigation. Language expert, Dr. Jane Holloway, is chosen to be part of the team going to the ship in the hopes that she will be able to decipher any communications they find. But, when they arrive, they discover that the ship isn’t vacant, and the alien residing there needs their help. But, only Jane can understand it.

Fluency by Jennifer Foehner Wells is a riveting sci-fi tale of first contact. A great read for sci-fi fans.

I give it five stars

Review of ‘Shadows in the Water’

Posted on Updated on

When Louie Thorn was just a child, her parents, DEA agent Jack Thorne and his wife, were killed by the Martinelli family, a gang of drug lords. Only Louie’s ability to ‘slip’ through the shadows saved her from sharing their fate. Now, an adult, she has only one purpose in life; to avenge the murder of her parents. Using her ability, she eliminates the Martinelli gang one-by-one, along with all those who worked for them. Her aunt, Lucy, who shares her special ability, turns to ex-DEA agent Robert King to help Louie learn to live a ‘normal’ life. King, though, is working on a case as a favor to his former DEA colleagues that, while it appears routine, is connected to Louie’s past in a way that threatens both of them, and everyone they care about. Added to this deadly mix, Louie learns that she hasn’t eliminated every Martinelli. One remains, Konstantina, the bastard of the head of the Martinelli clan, has inherited his father’s position. The two of them share a long relationship that began shortly after her parents were killed, when, while sleeping, Louie would sometimes ‘slip’ to his bedroom in Italy. He is obsessed with her, and conflicted over his inheritance. While he knows that if she learns his identity, she will likely kill him, he’s driven by this obsession, and the desire to put things right.

Shadows in the Water by Kory M. Shrum is a mind-boggling paranormal thriller that, with its many twists and turns, will grab your imagination and not let go until the startling conclusion. Warning: this is not a book you’ll want to read on the cliché ‘dark and stormy night.’

I give this one four stars.

Review of ‘Ash Addict’

Posted on Updated on

Arthur ‘The Hat’ Salzman can’t get a break. He’s practicing summoning demons—out of curiosity, mind you—when an unwanted guest arrives at his little hideaway. As if he doesn’t have enough problems, his guest wants his help finding the ashes of the First Vampire, and Arthur suspects his motives are nefarious. How right he is! Vampires addicted to ashes want to acquire the First’s ashes to usher in a new vampire era, a quest that pits vampire against vampire, and involves a whole host of other beings with powers; and greet. And, right in the middle of this battle that could destroy the world as they know is no one but Arthur himself.

Ash Addict by Al K. Line is book eight in the Wildcat Wizard series, and it doesn’t disappoint. Lots of action, magical and otherwise, as Arthur tries to bring a chaotic situation under control with the minimum amount of damage. Of course, where Arthur’s involved, degree of damage is a malleable concept, especially when he feels his family threatened.

I received a complimentary copy of this book, and, what can I say, I loved it as usual. Don’t let this one slip away.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘The Legend of Ron Anejo’

Posted on Updated on

In The Legend of Ron Anejo by Ed Teja, we really don’t know who the narrator is until he meets the title character, vagabond sailor, Ron Anejo. After buying a boat and setting sail for the sunny Caribbean, the narrator, begins running into all sorts of trouble. He ends up on a small island, forced to sell his boat and find another way to sustain himself. It’s there he meets Anejo, who immediately pulls him into his erratic orbit, setting off a series of adventures that could be a long-running TV series, a kind of buccaneering version of ‘Gilligan’s Island.’

Punchy dialogue, graphic descriptions of just about everything, and escapades coming out the ying-yang, this is a book that will have you chuckling almost from the first page. From hapless day charters to a clumsy attempt at smuggling, our heroes (or, perhaps better, anti-heroes) never miss an opportunity to snatch defeat from the snapping jaws of victory, and entertain the heck out of you in the process.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. Thank you for the opportunity, Ed Teja. Oh, yes, and I give it five stars.

Review of ‘The Joy of Recovery’

Posted on Updated on

When people think of addiction, they most often think of drugs or alcohol. But, there other addictions, such as low-self-esteem, anger, bullying, that can be just as devastating to the individual and his or her relationships as drugs or alcohol, and depending upon the position of the addict, even more so.

Dr. Michael McGee, in his book The Joy of Recovery, offers a 12-step self-help program to help people break free of addiction, and what is more, helps them journey into a life that is more joyful and fulfilling.

Though this book contains some medical terms, and, despite its shortness is chocked full of information, readers who pay attention and apply the author’s 12 steps will experience a seismic change in personality and interpersonal relationships.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book and recommend it without hesitation. I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Crime: A Small Town With Big Secrets’

Posted on Updated on

Crime: A Small Town With Big Secrets by Michael Ace Smith starts with a fascinating premise: an English family, the Kings, with deadly secrets they wish to conceal, relocate from the UK to a small town in the US. Soon after they arrive, there is a strange murder, and somehow, they are linked to it, and their lives begin to unravel.

Like I said, a fascinating premise. Unfortunately, there was entirely too much telling and not enough action and showing to really hold my interest. I found it difficult to keep reading, but kept hoping things would perk up somewhere, anywhere, in the book. Alas, they never did. And, even though there was a good surprise ending, it would’ve been so much better if I hadn’t had to wade through the heather to get to it.

I give this one three stars, with a prediction that this author will improve with experience and one day will surprise us.

Review of ‘Forbidden Cure’

Posted on Updated on

Chris Ravello, an ex-NYPD cop, has a supposedly incurable and debilitating disease, and nothing the doctors have tried seems to work. He learns of a radical new treatment being developed by an eccentric researcher, and decides to give it a try, even though it could kill him if it fails. Against the advice of his friends, he signs up, and after receiving the treatment finds himself changing. He’s not sure who—or what—he’s changing into.  To complicate matters, his former partner is assigned a medical crimes case that is way beyond his capability to deal with, and he calls on Chris for help. Coincidentally, it seems that there have been several unexplained deaths of patients who underwent the same treatment as Chris.

Forbidden Cure by William Rubio is a medical thriller that explores the ethical dimensions of unlicensed medical research, but there are also elements of pure thriller with the introduction of a jailed serial killer who is obsessed with Chris and who claims to have information that Chris’s wife did not die as he thought, but is still alive.

This book has the makings of a hit, but the author never seems to be sure which story he’s telling. Worse, the book ends without resolution of any of the issues raised, leaving me frustrated and feeling a bit cheated. We don’t know the outcome, or even the potential outcome of the questionable procedure performed on Chris, we don’t know what happened to his wife, and the crime is not solved.

The author writes well insofar as his grasp of the language is concerned, but needs to understand that thriller fans want resolution. When a book ends and you’re left scratching your head and wondering what just happened, it’s unlikely you’ll be interested in reading a sequel.

I give this one three stars for the quality of writing only. Story structure, though, is unfortunately sub-par.

Review of ‘El Pombero’

Posted on Updated on

El Pombero by Jackie Goldman is hard to categorize; it’s kind of a romance novel, kind of a come-to-terms with life story, and kind of an adventure. Heather, the narrator, is talked into going to Venezuela by her friend, Jay, whose brother died there in a freak accident. In addition to visiting the site, Jay wants to meet the Venezuelan woman who alleges that his brother fathered her child. As Heather tells the reader all this, we learn that she, too, has a brother she’s never met.

The story moves at a measured pace as Heather discovers more and more about herself and comes to terms with her life.

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

Review of ‘The Collapsing Kingdom’

Posted on Updated on

Raised on stories of his grandfather and great-grandfather’s heroism, Brandon never thought that one day he’d be called upon to be brave and fearless. But, one day, the kingdom starts turning gray, and certain spots are disappearing. Brandon’s in trouble at his school for questioning the teacher’s lectures, and when he plays hooky to find proof that he’s right, he’s chased by the school security guard.

The Collapsing Kingdom by Benjamin Ellefson is book three in the Land Without Color series, and it continues to grand tradition of its predecessors. Really neat illustrations support a fascinating story that has subtle lessons on the importance of self-confidence and a good diet. Great reading for young and old alike.

My kudos to the author for a great series.

I give this one five stars.

Review of ‘The Great Sugar War’

Posted on Updated on

Young Otto is lost at sea. When he comes ashore, he finds himself in the middle of a great conflict, in a strange land where everything is gray. The two sides, the Kingdom of Color and the Kingdom of Shapes, each accuse the other of starting the war, but Brandon finds that a third party, aided by legions of sugar soldiers, is manipulating events. He must defeat the sugar soldiers, outsmart the war inspectors, and stay out of the gnome jail.

The Great Sugar War by Brian Ellefson is book two in the Land Without Color series. Great illustrations and a compelling story that, along with the action, has subtle lessons on the importance of a proper diet. The author knows how to keep a reader interested in what’s happening and anxious for what’s to come.

I give this book five stars.