Book Reviews

Review of ‘Motown’

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In the 1960s, Detroit was in transition. The auto industry was raking in big bucks, but was threatened by a consumer advocate who was calling GM cars ‘death traps,’ and the city’s black population was chafing at the discrimination they suffered, reflecting the mood throughout the United States at the time. To add fuel to the flame, organized crime was moving to displace the black criminals from their traditional turf. Into all of this was thrust Rick Amery, a former cop who had been forced off the force by trumped-up corruption charges. Rick is hired by another former cop, now working as security chief for GM to find dirt on the consumer activist, while Quincy, a boss in the black numbers racket, is facing off against the son of the former Italian mob boss who was deported back to Italy. In the background of this swirling storm of chaos is Lew Canada, head of a special police task force that reports directly to Motown’s mayor who has national political ambitions.

Motown is the second book in the Detroit Novels series by Loren D. Estleman. While the main human characters carry the story well, the true main character in this drama is the city itself, and how it fares in a time of tumultuous change. The roles played by the recalcitrant auto industry, and its blind adherence to an outmoded business model, politicians reluctant to embrace the changes that are inevitable, and the dying social mores of a society that kept certain people on the lower rungs because of race chronicle the death and partial rebirth of one of America’s most vibrant cities.

This story moves with the pace of a super-charged engine running on high-octane fuel, and will keep your interest from beginning to end.

Five stars!

Review of ‘A Million to One’

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In One in a Million by Tony Faggioli, Kyle Fasano is given a chance at redemption. He is the millionth, which means that by sacrificing himself, he creates the opportunity for a million souls to be called to repent. Some will answer the call, but some will not.

In A Million to One, the journey continues. In hell, Kyle struggles to learn what his true mission is, while Detective Napoleon Villa, a man who believes in heaven and hell, has volunteered to accompany the Gray Man to hell to find him. In the meantime, back on earth, Villa’s partner finds a case that is somehow tied to Fasano; a serial killer who heeds the voice of the Other, and Fasano’s wife is fighting off demons who seem determined to destroy what’s left of her family.

The reader is taken on a whipsaw journey between hell and hell on earth as the forces of Good and Evil battle for dominance, a journey that will leave your blood chilled and have you shrinking from every shadow.

I received a free copy of this book.

I give this one four stars.

Review of ‘Faery Dust’

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Arthur ‘The Hat’ Salzman, the gangster wizard, is back and as bad as ever. When the elf, Elion, breaks the wards to his house and offers him a job; steal the Raeth Naeg, Beowulf’s legendary belt, for which he’s willing to pay the princely sum of a million dollars, Arthur’s reluctant, but you don’t say no to an elf, who also happens to be one of the Fallen, an elf who has been exiled to the land of the humans.

In Faery Dust by Al K. Line, the second book in the Wildcat Wizard series, Arthur has to deal with an enigmatic, but extremely powerful, elf, said elf’s jealous siblings, a teenage daughter who is a witch in training, and Vicki, his new, untrained sidekick. Like the first book in this series, the reader is treated to a  hero who is often anything but heroic—he kills a thug who abused his daughter and feels no real guilt about it, does some pretty gruesome things to other beings who get in the way of the completion of his mission, and worries when his favorite hat is vandalized.

If you like your paranormal story to be bloody and bloody funny, you’ll love this book. For readers who like their hero to be flawed, but still principled, it’s all there in Faery Dust.

I received an advanced reader copy of this book.

Another five-star offering.

Review of ‘Dead Lemons’

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After losing the use of his legs in an auto accident, Finn moves to the far south of New Zealand, as far south as you can go without ending up in Antarctica. In the smuggler’s cottage, he meets his strange neighbors, the Zoyl brothers, and learns of a young girl and her father, missing and presumed dead for decades—and, it’s all somehow connected to the Zoyls. In therapy to come to grips with his disability, Finn becomes obsessed with unearthing the mysteries of the past, a search that puts his life in danger.

Dead Lemons by Finn Bell is an intricate mystery that opens with Finn fighting for his life as the Zoyls endeavor to kill him, and then switches back and forth as it details how he unfolds the intricate puzzle of the former whaling town’s deadly past. The tension is palpable, and the details of history and culture the author skillfully weaves into the plot put you in the middle of the action from start to finish.

The denouement caught even this avid mystery reader completely by surprise. This one will give you chills.

I give this book four stars.

Review of ‘Heirs (Book One): Secrets and Lies’

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Heirs (Book One): Secrets and Lies by Elleby Harper is book one of a trilogy that follows the lives of the members of two dynasties; Maizent, heir to a glamorous European throne, and Charley, daughter of the President. Set mainly in 1985, and switching frequently among the many characters, it follows Maizent and Charley in their love affair that is threatened by secrets from their mothers’ pasts.

The prose is okay, and the colorful history and setting are described well. The cliff hanger ending, though, is a bit disappointing. It’s as if the author is using book one to prime readers for the following books, but it leaves too much unanswered to really pique my interest.

I give it good marks for the author’s ability with prose, but can only give it three stars for the weak ending.

Review of ‘Gun for Hire’

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Denver PI Reed Ferguson is asked by his friend Darcy Cranston to talk to her boyfriend who she suspects is cheating on her. When he meets the man, Reed gets the feeling that something is amiss, so he stakes his apartment out to get to the bottom of it, and finds that there is definitely something afoot.

Gun for Hire by Renee Pawlish is a short story about a PI who has a thing for old noir movies and classic rock. It follows Reed as he and his not-too-bright friends, Ace and Deuce, trail the errant boyfriend who has gone out of town with his ex-girlfriend. What they discover, though, is more than just a little action on the side, and is classic Reed Ferguson.

Action, suspense, and humor are the hallmarks of this series, and it’s all in this story. It doesn’t add anything new to a fan’s knowledge of the hero, but makes for entertaining light reading.

This one is good, but not one of the author’s best. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Pursuit’

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Doc is a professional hit man for the Organization. He has a contract to find and kill renegade politician Paul Bradley, but he has a problem; half the Organization wants Bradley dead, but half, led by his brother Jimmy want him interrogated. As Doc struggles with his confusing mission, the bodies start piling up. As if he doesn’t have enough problems, Doc has to deal with the women in his life. One is his ex-wife, and the other is Connie, a tough gal who is withholding information about Bradley from him. His solution would be to kill them, but Doc has never even hit a woman, much less killed one. In the meantime, Bradley has taken up dog racing and he leads everyone on a merry chase until the big race of the season when everyone comes together in an explosive and bloody encounter.

Pursuit by John McAllister is a complex novel. It gives us a look at events as they unfold through the eyes of a number of characters. The main two characters, though, are Doc and Jimmy who struggle with their positions within the Organization and issues of mutual trust. Seldom have I liked a story where the principal characters are bad guys, but these two are a notable exception. They demonstrate that even the bad guys can sometimes have redeeming character traits.

If you like British mystery, even though this story is set in Ireland, you’ll like Pursuit.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Fountaincorp Security’

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Dorothea Ohmie is a decorated Marine and a paroled war criminal. She’s starting a new job as a provisional recruit with Fountaincorp Security’s special operations unit. Her first mission, though, goes off the rails when the space station her unit is assigned to secure is infested by people turned to zombies by illegal nano-tech experiments. They rescue the one survivor, and find themselves hip-deep in corporate espionage, high-level corruption, and human trafficking on a galactic scale. While Dorothea struggles to save the young girl, she is also consumed with the desire to get answers surrounding her own kidnapping and abuse when she was a teenager.

Fountaincorp Security by Watson Davis is a star-busting romp through space, as she and her buddies go up against the Family behind the trafficking operations, while having to contend with bureaucratic and political maneuvering by their own organization.

Think Rambo meets Darth Vader and you’ll have an idea what this story’s like. The hero is flawed, but indomitable, and you wouldn’t want to be on her bad side, believe me.

I received a free copy of this book.

I give Watson four stars for this one.

Review of ‘Carrie’s Gift’

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Award-winning author Michael Lister is best known for his John Jordan mystery novels, evocative stories about a chaplain in the Florida prison system. In Carrie’s Gift Lister demonstrates clearly that his talents transcend the mystery genre. Ethan is back home twenty years after his high school graduation to deliver the eulogy at a classmate’s funeral. The only thing he really wants, though, is to be alone with Carrie, the lost love of his life.

Lister writes this sad romance with the deft touch of a poet and the skill of a master mystery writer, taking the reader on a profound journey into the human heart and mind. This story will bring tears to your eyes.

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

Review of ‘Promise You Won’t Tell’

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PI Dani Ripper has a crazy list of clients, which is okay because Dani’s a bit on the wacky side herself. She’s just waiting for the perfect case, when 17-year-old high school student, Wiley Freeman comes to her office claiming that something might have happened to her at a sleepover she attended at a friend’s house.

Dani takes the case pro bono, and finds herself up to her eyeballs in the strangest case she’s ever had.

Promise You Won’t Tell by John Locke is a wacky mystery that follows along as Dani turns over rock after rock, uncovering dirty laundry and secrets aplenty, with an ending that will smack you between the eyes like a Louisville slugger.

I give this book four stars.

Review of ‘Burke’s War’

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On his way back home to Chicago from Washington, DC, as his plane is landing, telecom CEO Bob Burke sees a man strangle a woman on a rooftop near O’Hare Airport. The problem is, no one believes him. Burke, already in a struggle with his soon-to-be ex-wife for control of his company, finds himself having to fight the Chicago mob, crooked local cops, an over-zealous U.S. attorney, and a psychopathic doctor to put things right. The average guy would give up in the face of such odds, but the former Ranger and Delta Force commander is not the average guy, and he never gives up. When people he cares about are threatened, it becomes personal, and the bad guys find out just how stupid it is to mess with Bob Burke, especially when he calls on his old special ops buddies for help.

Some people might find it hard to believe that a passenger on an airplane could see someone on the ground clearly enough to identify them. Having made many landings at the old Hong Kong airport, where planes wove between high-rise buildings on the final approach, I can assure you it is possible, and for someone trained as a special operations observer, credible. I can recall landings in Hong Kong where I was able to see the buttons on laundry hanging on balconies, or what people were eating for supper. You don’t see it for long, but if you’re trained, you can see long enough.

Burke’s War by William F. Brown is a knuckle duster of the first order, with bad guys falling like ten pens at a championship, and enough knock-down action to satisfy the most hardcore action addict. If you like thrillers where the good guy goes up against impossible odds, you’ll love this book.

I give Williams four stars for this first book in the series.

Review of ‘White Jaguar’

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Herpetologist, Ava Rush, living and working with the Indians of the Amazon, looking for medicinal cures from cocoa and snake venom, stumbles across the drug operation run by the vicious drug lord known as the White Jaguar. When she is killed, her brother, Richard, a stock broker, travels to the Amazon to avenge her death. With the help Nicole, an American Olympian whose severe arthritis Ava cured, he and the tribes who adored his sister wage war on the White Jaguar.

White Jaguar by William Appel is a strong story, contrasting the endangered life of the indigenous people with the greedy lifestyle of Westerners; some come to bring civilization to the savages, and others merely looking for profit. The Indians are, unlike many stories of this ilk, not shown as innocents, but fully-fleshed cultural entities willing to risk all to preserve their way of life, and the non-Indian characters span the spectrum, making for full-bodied fiction that will keep you flipping pages.

I give this book four stars.

Review of ‘An Empty Tree’

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Life is like people tossing pebbles into streams; the pebbles cause ripples that spread, and as they intersect with other ripples each life is changed. The ripples are neither good nor bad, the people might be good or bad, and how each life is changed depends upon the person.

An Empty Tree by Glenn Trust, book one in the Blue Eyes series, is a thriller that follows the lives of several people as their ripples intersect. A strange blue-eyed girl who meets a killer on the run, a divorced man from Georgia leaving his broken life behind to start anew in the west, and an Iowa highway patrolman who takes his job seriously; along with a diverse cast of supporting characters, their lives intersect in fateful ways that will leave the reader wondering about the nature of good and bad, and with the realization that nothing is ever what it seems at first glance.

The author has provided two endings to this chilling story; one as dark as a moonless night, and one that, while less dark, still leaves unanswered the question of the meaning of good or bad.

Each ending is satisfying in its own way, and which you prefer depends upon your unique view of life. Whether you stop reading after the first ending, or, if curiosity impels you to read the alternate ending, I can guarantee that you will enjoy this story.

Five stars!

Review of ‘How to Meditate’

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How to Meditate by Tahlia Newland is a brief, but comprehensive book on the value of meditation. It includes a history of meditation and its benefits, and has a thorough set of guidelines for achieving the most from meditation. The author dispels many of the myths that Westerners have about meditation and gives complete guidelines for incorporating meditation in your daily life.

If you’re already meditating, or considering starting, this book will set you on the right path to get the most from it. Its easy-to-read style makes it a must-have for beginners and a good jolt to the brain cells of veterans as well.

I received a complimentary e-file of this book, and have already found several extremely useful nuggets of wisdom to incorporate in my own daily meditation routine.

Five stars.

Review of ‘Russian Hill’

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FBI Agent Abby Kane works civil cases in the San Francisco field office, and is happy to no longer have to track down serial killers, her specialty when she worked in Hong Kong. But, when a fellow agent stumbles across the body of a young woman in Muir Woods with an axe in her chest, her boss assigns her to look into it. Then, SFPD gets a case that also looks like it could be the work of a serial killer, and she’s asked to consult with them and lend them the benefit of her expertise. Working with SFPD Detective Kyle Kang, Abby begins to realize that the cases might be connected.

She and Kyle find themselves on the trail of a duo of killers who not only kill for the thrill of it, but also seem to be playing some kind of macabre game. Their probing leads them to a network that appears to be orchestrating killings on a global scale.

Russian Hill by Ty Hutchinson is a thriller and police procedural combined in chilling action that pits the two against a cunning and deadly situation that could cost them their lives. The action is nonstop and will keep you on the edge of your chair from the beginning to the startling and bloody conclusion.

I received a free copy of this book.

This one is five stars!

Review of ‘The 11:05 Murders’

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Chief Inspector Jim Sheehan has just welcomed a new detective to his major crimes unit, Woman Police Sergeant Denise Stewart. The first case Stewart has to work on is a banker, murdered and mutilated at 11:05 on a Tuesday evening. The victim wasn’t popular, so there’s a long list of possible suspects. When a second victim dies later under identical circumstances, the list of suspects grows. Sheehan and Stewart, as they winnow through the list, find a possible link of a 12-year-old case of a female student who committed suicide, and with a third identical murder their situation becomes not just confusing, but perilous.

The 11:05 Murders by Brian O’Hare is mystery-thriller at its best. The reader is given tons of clues, some valid, some red herrings, and enough tension and threat to satisfy the most voracious action junkie. Step-by-plodding step, Sheehan and Steward uncover a vicious and cunning psychopath in a most satisfying conclusion.

I received a free copy of this book.

This one’s a slam-dunk five stars.

Review of ‘Loss of Reason’

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When a nuclear explosion destroys most of Manhattan, trapping their step-sister, Cynthia, and her family in the city, two step-brothers, Everon Student and Franklin Reveal set out on the impossible mission of getting into the city to rescue her.

Loss of Reason by Miles A. Maxwell chronicles their desperate efforts to overcome fear and the obstructionism of a frustrated and frustrating bureaucracy as they take unbelievable risks to get to Cynthia before it’s too late. The point of view changes often, as the author shows how people react to the destruction and terror, and struggle to survive against insurmountable odds.

The action is non-stop, and the tension (and terror) begins on a high-note, and continues to rise throughout this story of ‘what could happen.’ This is book one in a series, and it ends on, for me, a disappointing cliff hanger, which is about the only serious criticism I have about it. At the end, the author notes that the opening scenes in book two were originally the ending of Loss of Reason. I honestly think it would have been better to leave those last two chapters in, and then open the second book at the end of chapter two, but that’s just a personal view.

This is a non-stop read. Don’t even start it if you’re not prepared to hang in till the end, even with the cliff hanger.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Sandman’

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Homicide detective J. J. Thomas is called to the scene of a homicide; a mutilated body is found buried in the sand on a beach. Just another routine killing is the way his bosses look at it, but Thomas suspects that this case is related to another similar killing, and is sure that there’s a serial killer on the loose.

Meagan McInnis is a hairdresser who lives alone with her dog. She has a bad track record with men, seeming to attract nothing but louses. Then, she begins to get strange phone calls. When she answers, she’s met with silence until a bloody present is left in her backyard, and the caller is no longer silent. Her best friend’s severed head is left for her, and she gets a strange call asking if she likes her ‘present.’

Thomas knows that somehow Meagan is the key to catching the killer, but how is he to do it before she becomes the next victim?

Sandman by Morgan Hannah MacDonald is a chilling thriller that follows Thomas in his desperate mission to nab The Sandman before he leaves even more bodies buried in shallow sandy graves. The tension begins with the first page of this well-crafted story, and doesn’t let up until the explosive ending. This author puts you, the reader, in the middle of the action and takes you on one hell of a scary ride. Don’t even think about reading this book if you don’t have time to finish it in one sitting. Oh, and you might want to make sure that if you’re home alone when you read it, all your doors and windows are locked.

This is a five-star idea, but because of a few weak passages here and there, I’ll be harsh and give it only four stars.

Review of ‘The Sleeping Spy’

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Eddie Mancuso formerly worked for the CIA and Vasily Borgneff for the KGB. The two were specialists in creating unusual killing devices (UKDs), which were used by their agencies for ‘special’ missions. Tired of their talents being used for murder, they decided to retire, but their agencies refused, so they decided to kill their way out. In the process, they had a falling out and Eddie left Vasily for dead—he thought.

Now, Eddie lives in his native New York under an assumed name and has fund a woman he can love, but his past catches up with him when the CIA gets word that there is a KGB sleeper agent in the U.S., and he’s part of a major planned Soviet propaganda operation. Eddie’s problem; the agent is his girlfriend’s father, and the man, after 35 years living as an American, he loves his adopted country and wants no part of the operation. That, of course, makes him a target of both country’s spy agencies, and only Eddie can save him and his family. Then, Eddie learns that Vasily survived and is after him for revenge.

The Sleeping Spy by Clifford Irving and Herbert Burkholz is a fascinating international thriller written in the 1960s style, before the breakup of the USSR, when the KGB was America’s number one enemy. Chocked full of double dealing and death dealing, this book will thrill fans of espionage novels a la Le Carre. The ending will hit you like a blow to the solar plexus and leave you breathless.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Deadly Gamble’

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Charlie Parker is an accountant and partner in a PI firm with her elder brother. When an old friend, shows up at her firm asking her help to retrieve an expensive watch that was stolen from her by a man with whom she was having an affair, Charlie is conflicted. The friend ran off with Charlie’s fiancé, causing much heartbreak, and she’s reluctant to become involved. But, her natural curiosity and desire to help someone who is clearly troubled, causes her to take on the case. She quickly retrieves the watch, and thinks that’s the end of it, until the miscreant, a shady con man with a checkered past, is found shot to death in his driveway, and her old friend is the prime suspect.

Charlie is convinced the friend, despite their past troubled relationship, is innocent, and over her brother’s objections, begins to investigate. She’s no investigator, though, and makes many a false start, making herself the target of a mysterious assailant, as she pries into the dead man’s background, in the process disturbing a number of people who would rather not become involved.

Deadly Gamble by Connie Shelton is an e-book release of the author’s first novel in the Charlie Parker cozy series, which was published before the advent of electronic books, and has been reissued unchanged from the original. This is a well-plotted cozy mystery, with lots of red herrings and false clues that also has many of the faults of first novels. The few gaffes notwithstanding, the author’s skill shines through as she takes the heroine on a fast-paced journey to the resolution, which comes like a bolt out of the blue that will trip up even the most devoted mystery fans.

If you’ve never read Shelton before, this book is a good gamble, and is likely to whet your appetite for more of her work. I give this one four stars.