Book Reviews

Review of ‘The Deepening: First Contact’

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Kelly Brewer’s First Contact, the first book in The Deepening series, will grab you by . . . well, whatever part of your body you consider most sensitive, and squeeze every drop of laughter out of you possible. Kyle, a former Marine turned mega-rock star, is off for a galactic tour with his band and his soon-to-be wife, Mercy. An oddball combo, they face even more oddball situations as Kyle must decide what to do to save humanity. Do I have your attention?

 

I won’t go into the plot because that would spoil it for you. Just know that this is a wacky mixture of sci-fi, sociopolitical commentary, and odd doings on a galactic scale. If you like to be entertained while you’re inspired to think—that’s right, it is possible, folks—this is a book I would definitely recommend. Told in dramatic scenes like a fast action movie that has a lot of quick cuts from one dramatic scene to another.

 

Kept my attention from beginning to end.

 

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

Review of ‘Murder Mansion’

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Donna is the new owner of the Painted Lady Inn, and she’s determined to get it rehabilitated and make it a success. She hits a snag, though, when a corpse is found in one of the upstairs rooms. What would have stopped others in their tracks only makes her more determined to succeed, so she sets out to solve the murder.

 

Murder Mansion by M. K. Scott is the first book in what promises to be an interesting and entertaining series. Well-developed characters and humor inserted as deftly as strawberries atop a chocolate cake will keep you reading.

 

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

Review of ‘Genecaust’

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When a plot to use genomes and microbiomes to murder specific individuals or groups using genetic markers is discovered, Meret Mather is tasked to use her genomic consulting company to ferret out those behind the plot and prevent its implementation. Special Agent Granger Hawking, point man in the field, tasked with finding the people, is captured, and Meret must help rescue him.

 

An interesting ‘what-if’ techno-thriller that will please fans of the genre. Replete with technical details, it comes across in places as a bit dry, then makes up for that dryness with some decent action scenes.

 

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

Review of ‘Looking for Humboldt & Searching for German Footprints in New Mexico and Beyond’

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In popular media’s representation of the American West, and even in the history books, the contributions of many groups are glossed over, and in some cases, even omitted, and while many of these groups have been people of color, some have not. The Germans are but one example. In her book, Looking for Humboldt & Searching for German Footprints in New Mexico and Beyond, German-American author Erika Schelby fills in some of the blanks. An in-depth look at the contributions of Germans to American development, Schelby’s work goes far beyond the story of Alexander von Humboldt, the man who put New Mexico and the American southwest on the map—an actual map that he presented to Thomas Jefferson—and looks at the intricate and often conflicting relationships among the European powers before the twentieth century and how they impacted the development of the United States.

 

Seen through the eyes of someone who came to age in a different cultural and educational environment, Looking for Humboldt gives a much-needed fresh perspective on the country’s history that will enhance our understanding of past and current events.

 

This is not a dry recitation of events, people, and dates, but a lively look at a most fascinating, but little understood, facet of U.S. history. Highly recommended. I give it five stars.

Review of ‘The Tipping Point’

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When Garth Wainwright and his lawyer girlfriend go skiing in Aspen with Thomas Burke and his wife, Burke is killed in a freak accident, that Garth is convinced was not really an accident. As he delves into the mystery, Garth learns that things at CapVest, the high-end property sales and development company he works for, are not all as they seem. Underhanded corporate dealings are taking place, and when other people start dying, hostile corporate takeover takes on a whole new meaning.

 

The Tipping Point by Walter Danley is a down-and-dirty look at the shady side of the corporate world, where power corrupts everyone and everything, and the quest for power and money makes people do the most incredible things. The author writes about the corporate world with authority, and does a credible job of weaving in the non-corporate factors, although, I found his Israeli hitman a bit off the mark. But that’s just me. I’m sure most readers will find this a great read—I know that, for the most part, I did.

 

I received a complimentary copy of this book.

 

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Paranormal Nonsense’

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Tempest Danger Michaels is a man who not only has an unusual name; he has a most unusual occupation. He’s a paranormal investigator. It’s a field he got into by mistake, when he decided to become a private investigator after getting out of the army, and the newspaper copy editor, looking at the name of his new agency, Blue Moon Investigations, placed it under paranormal investigations instead of private investigations. Even though he does not believe in the paranormal, when this turned out to be a lucrative sideline, he stuck to it.

Now, a third body with its throat slashed has been found, and the media is calling it the work for a Vampire Killer, a perfect job to enhance his reputation, if he can solve it.

In Paranormal Nonsense by Steve Higgs, Tempest takes on the vampire case pro bono, while concurrently looking into a room-wrecking poltergeist, solving a Big Foot sighting, and juggling a hectic love life—oh, and dealing with a runaway dog.

Funny, frightening, and full of surprises, this is the first book in a series that I predict will be a big hit with mystery fans.

I give Higgs four stars for this fine first effort.

Review of ‘Train Games’

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Rhona Boroff, clad in her red vinyl coat, takes the subway to work at the literary agency, and on the train, plays a game. She identifies a likely male, gets his attention, and then invites him to meet her later that evening at a local watering hole. During the meeting, where she gives a false name, she initiates intimacy, induces the man to pleasure himself manually, and provides him with a lubricant to facilitate such manipulation. There is, however, a problem. The lubricant contains the poison thallium, which is fatal when ingested, and very, very uncomfortable when absorbed through the skin.

 

Unknowingly, Rhona’s therapist, in trying to pull her out of her social isolation, is enabling this activity. When the first victim shows up at the ER, and the poison is luckily diagnosed, the police are on the case. When a second victim shows up and has been poisoned under almost identical circumstances, they know they have a potential killer on their hands.

 

Train Games: The Girl in the Red Vinyl Coat by Claude Brickell is an interesting story. It starts off well, and builds the suspense chapter after chapter, especially after it appears that the police are closing in. The dialogue and situations all fit the mood of the story, but I feel that the author cheats a bit with the inconclusive ending—particularly after the police detective in charge of the case has actually made contact with Rhona, and is pretty sure she’s the perpetrator. Up until the last four or five paragraphs, this was a first-rate story, and while some might not find the ending jarring, I did. For that reason, I can only give this story three and a half stars, but that’s just a personal bias I have against bad guys getting away when all the evidence points at them. Had the cop not laid eyes on her, the ending would’ve been less jarring.

 

Despite my rating, I still recommend the book. Except for that one thing, it’s extremely well done, and worth reading. I received a complimentary copy of this book, with no request for or guarantee of a review.

Review of ‘Child of the Dust’

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An inevitable consequence of American military presence abroad has been liaisons between American GIs and local women, resulting in mixed race children who are often not accepted by their mothers’ cultures, and who find it difficult to adjust to life outside that culture. In no conflict has that phenomenon been more glaring than the decades long Vietnam War. In Child of the Dust, Tom Wascoe gives us the story of Rich, an American soldier, who meets and falls in love with Linh, a young Vietnamese woman who works in the military PX. Linh becomes pregnant, Rich is shipped back to the U.S. before they can marry, the communists win the war, and from the story unfolds slowly as Rich and Linh, though still in love with each other, live their separate lives.

 

This is a poignant story, showing in stark terms the anguish on all sides of this issue; the American wracked with guilt who tries to move on; the foreign woman, alone and often shunned by her culture, trying to survive; and most importantly, the ‘child of the dust,’ the children born to these relationships, torn between two cultures, neither of which ever fully accepts them.

 

The author writes with a sense of ‘having been there,’ that will pull you into the story and hold you in its iron grip until the end. The characters, even those who act badly, come across as real people, and the history is, in as far as I can remember that far back, accurately described.

 

It has been said that those who fail to remember the past are condemned to repeat it. While there are parts of the past that will probably always be repeated, this glance backwards might just point out a few things that we could do differently.

 

A great read which I give four stars.

Review of ‘Project Kickoff’

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Project management expert Hassan Osman, in his book, Project Kick Off: How to Run a Successful Project Kick Off Meeting, offers a three-step method to ensure success of your project initiation. A very short book that covers the actions necessary before, during, and after a project kick off meeting, this book also provides free templates that can be used to keep track of the actions that are essential to keep a project on track and get buy-in from all stakeholders, from members of your internal project team to the customers to whom the project is being pitched.

 

The author takes advantages of his many years of experience in managing projects, his failures as well as his successes, to take the mystery and confusion out of running a complex, multi-dimensional project.

 

Written in plain language that is easy to understand, it outlines relatively simple steps that can be mastered by neophyte project managers and serves as a handy guide for more experienced individuals.

 

I give it four stars for its usefulness.

Review of “Grimoires, Spas, & Chocolate Straws’

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After exposing the perfidy to the king, Imogen Banks, her boyfriend, the former Prince Hank, and their friends have been banished to Badlands Island, a place that is infected with monsters that the king also banished there. Out on a monster patrol with the local defenders, Imogen falls in a raging river and is swept downstream, where she’s saved by a member of her brother Horace’s Badlands Army. She implores her savior to take her to her brother, who, despite his enigmatic and sometimes violent nature, she still wants to find. He shows her the Badlands Army encampment, but reneges on taking her to see Horace.

Later, when friends suggest a spa vacation, Imogen is all to ready for the diversion. But, as often happens with our heroine, when they arrive at the spa, a dead body appears, and Imogen, Hank, and the crew set about solving the murder.

Grimoires, Spas & Chocolate Straws by Erin Johnson is book 8 in the Spells & Caramels series, and not so surprisingly, given the fantastic job the author has done with this improbably plot, it does not disappoint. You’ll be delighted as Imogen, her flame—yes, literally a fire—Iggy, Hank, and a whole host of believably unbelievable characters, including a vampire in love with a sorceress, frolic, fumble, and finesse their way from the frying pan to the fire to the baker’s shelf.

Kudos to Johnson for keeping the interest going for eight books. Looking forward to number 9. I received a complimentary copy of this book. I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Mythicals’

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When Jack March, an out-of-work, alcoholic journalist attends a diplomatic function, he stumbles into Deborah Bright, who has had an accident that threatens to expose her for what she really is, a fairy wearing a body suit to make her look human. Jack just happens to see her as he removes the suit, exposing her wings before she flies away. He’s not sure he’s not suffering a drink-induced hallucination, but he responds by shouting out what he’s seen to the assembled crowd.

 

This drunken incident plunges Jack into a world he could never in his wildest moments have imagined. He learns that there are literally thousands of mythical creatures living among them, disguised as humans, prisoners from other worlds, sent to the planet to atone for their crimes. With the threat of exposure, the Mythicals, as they call themselves, set out to neutralize him. He’s given a choice, become an Ally and work with them, or be exiled to another world where others like him who wish not to be allies are kept.

 

Things get even harrier when Jack learns of a plan by one group of Mythicals to eliminate most of the population of the planet because they are viewed as a ‘terminal’ species. To add to the peril, another group, knows as the Pilgrims, are planning to take over the planet and make it their home.

 

Mythicals by Dennis Meredith is a fascinating blend of fantasy and science fiction that will grab your attention and hold it until the exciting conclusion. In addition to the science fiction elements, the author skillfully explains the existence of many mythical creatures, including leprechauns, pixies, ogres, and vampires. A story with humor, mystery, action, and danger, it’s a great winter read; the perfect book to settle down with in front of a blazing fire.

 

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

Review of ‘The Water’s Fine’

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Excerpt from The Water’s Fine
“Polo likes to tell stories about the Sea of Cortez. His favorite is about El Lavadero, Las Animas. Las
Animas is named after the church bells which ring to summon the lost souls, and El Lavadero means the
washing machine. The dive site is oftn referred to as the washing machine of lost souls.
Before we dove at El Lavadero one morning, I overheard Polo telling Bertie that the thousands of silver
jacks schooling in the water are the lost souls. She twisted her ring and looked spooked while our group
waited its turn to descend at the site. I thought maybe she wouldn’t come, but she did. Afterwards, she
told me that when she saw the mass of circling jacks and thought of them as lost souls, she felt more sad
than scared. I knew what she meant. I always say a prayer when I see the swirling fish, the sun glinting
on their silver scales
My Review

Catalina Rodriguez and Bertie Clark have nothing in common but a love of scuba diving when they meet on the Calypso for a diving trip in the Sea of Cortez, but a tragedy during the trip, when another member of the party, Gordon Baker, on the trip with his wife and two daughters, dies during their last dive. As the dive master, Catalina feels responsible for his death, even though she learns later that he was suffering from a terminal disease, and chose to die. A certified rescue diver, Bertie also feels a sense of guilt for not doing something to prevent the tragedy. The two women have bonded during the trip, and even after Catalina gives up diving and returns to her home in San Diego, they stay in touch by phone.

Shortly after returning home, Catalina begins to suffer a string of seemingly unrelated catastrophes, but attributes them at first to stress as she tries to cope with the Calypso incident. But Bertie thinks otherwise, and is determined to help her get to the bottom of what’s going on.

The Water’s Fine by Janice Coy is a subtle, but intriguing story that defies neat categorization. The author moves readers slowly through a chain of events that become more deadly with each occurrence, weaving a deft mystery that will keep the reader guessing until the startling climax. I was put off at first by the switch from first person point of view (Catalina) to second person (Bertie), but as I continued to read, I discovered that this only heightened the tension, as I tried to solve the mystery ahead of the author’s disclosure. I failed, and the author succeeded. The answer to Catalina’s problems came as a surprise—a delightful, and skillfully-done surprise.

I received an advance review copy of this book, and I recommend it highly, even if you’re not a mystery fan. A true page-turner, it will grab your attention and hold it until the end.

I give Coy four stars for an entertaining read.

 

Review of ‘Becoming Human’

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Ken Turner and his friends, after initially thwarting the government’s efforts to find and exploit the offspring of a Russian experiment in human-chimpanzee cross-breeding, find themselves still in a fight, not just for their careers, but their lives, as the power-hungry government agent continues his efforts to capture one or more of the hybrids.

Becoming Human by Kenneth L. Decroo continues the pulse-pounding action begun in Almost Human, moving back and forth between the deceptively serene environment of a politically charged college campus to the steamy dangers of the African jungle. While this one can be read as a stand-alone, I really recommend you read the first one . . . well, first, so that you’re fully in the picture. The author explores some sensitive and controversial subjects, but in a manner that provoked reflection rather than rage.

I received a complimentary copy of this book, and like the first, it did not disappoint. It’s science fiction, but it reads like facts in today’s turbulent world. I give it five stars without hesitation.

Review of ‘The Awakening of Russell Henderson’

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Russell Henderson grew up on a farm with a dysfunctional family in Iowa, got his MBA from the University of Iowa, married his college sweetheart, and established himself as a wunderkind of the banking world in Chicago. He became so immersed in making money and becoming successful, though, he neglected his wife—until she walked out on him suddenly for another woman. Devastated, Russell returns home, finds it still unsatisfying, moves in with his sister and her family, still at a loss, then buys a van, and, in an uncharacteristic move for him, decides to go on a road trip. During the trip, he encounters a girl hitchhiking who introduces him to a world he never knew existed, leading to tectonic changes in his point of view.

The Awakening of Russell Henderson by Ed Lehner is a sedately paced story of one man’s journey of discovery, not just of a broader and more interesting America than he knew existed, but of himself. The author slips interesting tidbits of history and geography in a compelling story that keeps its main focus on the principal character and his evolution. Despite the sedate, almost leisurely pace of the story, there is nothing boring or mundane about it.

Definitely a book to add to your library.

I give it four-point-seven-five stars, and only because it got a bit confusing after Russell had a confrontation with the hitchhiker, and she faded from view for a few pages. A small glitch in what is otherwise a book that will rival Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book.

Review of ‘Hidden in the Shadows

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When the hidden village, shelter for Dutch Jews hiding from the Nazis, is attacked, Woulter, whose task was to guide everyone to safety, runs away in panic, leaving not only the survivors to fend for themselves, but abandoning Laura, a young Jewish girl he loves dearly. Laura barely escapes with her life, and has to go from place to place to stay out of German clutches.

Hidden in the Shadows by Imogen Matthews is a love story set in World War II, based on historical events and stories told to her by her relatives who survived.

A fascinating tale that will grab your attention from the first page, told mainly from the point of view of Woulter (in third person) and Laura (in first person), this story shows how love and determination can endure and survive even the horrors of war.

I received a complimentary copy of this book, the sequel to The Hidden Village. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘The Reunion in Time’

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Rick Bellamy, a 37-year-old FBI agent goes to visit his old school regarding an upcoming class reunion. He steps on a grate, and finds himself transported 20 years into his past; a 37-year-old mind in a 17-year-old body. Think that’s complicated? What if it was a few days before 9/11, and he had problems convincing people that there would soon be a catastrophic terror attack. Then, a famous journalist shows up as a 14-year-old, and Rick’s wife, is not far behind him. The three teen/adult time travelers work to convince people they are not crazy, and discover an even greater threat to their own time, making it essential that they go back-forward to 2021 to prevent hundreds of thousands of deaths.

A Reunion in Time by Russell F. Moran is not your usual time travel story. Well, it is sort of usual, but with some unusual elements. He addresses the questions of time travelers and changed history, the paradox of meeting one’s self, etc., in a most logical manner, does a masterful job of portraying the clumsiness of adult understanding of teenagers, and keeps the reader guessing from page one.

A well-written, well-thought out book. I give it four and a half stars.

Review of ‘Against Her Will’

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After working late one night, Donna, an attractive young woman, is brutally raped in the subway. Psychologically traumatized, she seeks help. In therapy, she meets a male nurse who seems to be what she needs to overcome her fears, and a romance blooms. But, on their honeymoon, she discovers that he might be the person who raped her. Against Her Will by Peter Martin is a tense story of the trauma of sexual assault and the way various people react to it. An interesting story, it is in places a bit too predictable. The author did, however, do a fairly good job of keeping the suspense high.

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

Review of ‘The Spirit of Prophecy’

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Rosetta Barrett is a psychic detective, but she can’t tell her family or the public. Then, when a young girl and a horse are brutally killed by an aggressive driver, and it looks like it was a deliberate assassination attempt, her skills are tested to their limits. The Spirit of Prophecy by J. J. Hughes is a mystery with a bit of a paranormal and sci-fi twist—well, actually, more than just a bit. It involves a centuries-old atrocity that took place across the ocean from England, in New Mexico during the 1870s, has alien visitors with unknown agendas, and pits Rosetta against her husband who, after divorcing her, arranged to keep her away from her children.

I suppose I’d call this a piece of experimental fiction, given the fusion of genres. The author takes the reader through the story from multiple perspectives, and keeps one guessing until all—or, almost all—is revealed.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. It was an enjoyable read that engaged me from the start. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Mad Mischief’

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Mad Mischief by Susan St. John is an interesting story; Sarah and her husband decide to go on an African safari, and she convinces him to go with the madcap guide, Max, instead of a more staid, predictable East Africa guided tour. They are already having relationship problems, and the trip does nothing to improve them. This is actually two stories, woven together in a unique way. The longer story tells the reader about the trip and their misadventures, with a shorter version, detailing Sarah’s actions when Max is arrested by Kenyan authorities for not having a work permit.

I found the author’s descriptions of the geography, customs, and people of East Africa on point, especially the actions of government bureaucrats. As I read those passages, I was reminded of my own encounters with these worthy personages when I lived in southern Africa, and had to travel to Kenya and Tanzania on business.

A delightful story that is hard to put down once you start reading, so make sure you have several uninterrupted hours before you tackle it.

I received a complimentary copy of this book.

I give St. John four stars for this entertaining read.

Review of ‘Death in the Village’

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Most small communities hide big secrets, and the village of Compton is no exception. When village gossip, Gloria Wiggins, is found hanging in her garage, DI Keith Tremayne must peel away the layers of deceit, hatred, and intrigue that has infected the village, in order to find a murderer. But, even as he investigates, more bodies start to appear, and he fears that he might have a serial killer on his hands. The reality, though, is even more bizarre.

If you want to know what that means, you’ll have to read Phillip Strang’s Death in the Village. A captivating story that I promise you, you’ll love.

I received a complimentary copy of this book.

Another great DI Tremayne thriller. I give it five stars.