Book Reviews

Review of ‘Reverence’

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

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

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

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

Review of ‘Death Calls’

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

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

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

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

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

Review of ‘Full Moon, Dunes & Macaroons’

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Imogen Banks, a witch who can bake, or a baker with witch’s powers, keeps telling herself that she’s fine with Prince Hank’s engagement to Princess Shaday, but at the engagement dinner in the Fire Kingdom, which she attends with her other royal kitchen colleagues, she’s feeling conflicted. The festivities are only slightly disrupted when one of the guests, a hated prison warden, is found murdered in his tent, but when Imogen’s foul mood affects her cooking, she’s banned from the kitchen and decides to solve the murder. There is a long list of suspects; the journalist the warden was blackmailing, his ambitious assistant, and even his daughter, Eve, Shaday’s best friend. And then, there’s Imogen’s brother, Horace, a rebel and the most wanted man in all the kingdoms. He makes contact, and begins to teach her new magic, but is he up to something else?

Along with Iggy, her trusty, and sometimes crusty, baking flame (that’s right, flame as in fire) Imogen sets out to untangle this knotty problem, almost getting herself eaten by a bat in the process. You’ll have to read the book to figure out that one. What book, you ask? Why, Full Moons, Dunes, & Macaroons by Erin Johnson, of course. The fifth book in her Spells & Caramels series, she keeps the energy flowing and the plots twisting most effectively, giving us another strong, though sometimes ditzy, female main character to cheer for. My seven-year-old granddaughter who, like me, has been reading since she was four, is also, like me, a diehard fan of this series—although the previous volume had a rather adult theme, so I’m holding it back for at least two or three more years. This, though, will give you a clue—this series can be enjoyed by readers of all ages.

I received a free copy of this book. Another five-star performance.

Review of ‘Uninvited Quests’

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Lucan, an aspiring squire, and Manuel, an aspiring knight, are on a mission to slay the Dargonqueen, when Wort, the prickleberry winemaker diverts them on a search for a mythical sword. Brae is a half-human paladin on an apology tour for a once evil god—only, she’s not sure about the formerly part—when she, too, is diverted by Wort. The three come together in a cave of slime, oozy, dangers, and Manuel gets himself killed—twice before the death finally takes—leaving Brae and Lucan to complete the original quest.

Uninvited Quests by Lex Wilson is just what its subtitle suggests, a comedic fantasy adventure that turns fantasy novels on their ears and will have you laughing so hard you’re likely to fall into the slime. I don’t know what hallucinogenic substance the author ingested before sitting down to write this, but if he’ll send me the address of the supplier, I’ll take a couple of pounds.

A really, really enjoyable read. I received a complimentary copy of this book. I give it five stars.

Review of ‘A Town Like Ours’

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Jack Wilcon is a wannabe movie producer; not that he’s interested in making great films, he just wants to get that one mega-hit out there to make himself a ton of money. His problem is that he really knows nothing about movie making. He talks a good game, but depends more on his listeners being even more ignorant than he is. When a shlocky film he’s trying to produce flops, Maybelle, his part-time receptionist, one-time lover, and long-time friend, suggests he apply for a job advertised in Variety for a producer to make a community film in the tiny town of Coddington St. George in Australia. Reluctantly, he does, and through his usual chicanery, gets the job. And, boy, does he get the job – or rather, one might say, he gets jobbed. Jack ends up in the middle of small-town politics and internecine squabbling, and as usual, he’s without a clue.

 

A Town Like Ours by Alexander Cade is a droll look at big-city con men, small town hypocrites, and the fireworks that occur when they intersect. Cade has created an amazing, and amazingly flawed, cast of characters; impossible to love, but hard to turn away from. It’s kind of like the reaction of motorists driving past the scene of an accident—they can’t resist slowing down to see if there’s any gore evident. The author has played expertly on that human tendency. Without feeling a shred of sympathy for Jack, for instance, you can’t help but wonder what will happen to him next.

 

It you’ve ever lived in, or even visited for longer than a day, a small town, you will recognize Coddington St. George, no matter where in the world you’re from. It is like any small town desperately clinging to existence by a frayed gossamer thread, trying to preserve a past that was never all that great, cope with a present that is oppressive, and fearing a future that’s unknown.

 

This is a book that, once you start reading, is hard to put down. The pace varies, which is a good thing, because you’ll need the occasional break to recover from laughing at Jack’s misfortunes. Of course, with this book, bathroom breaks are not optional—yeah, in places it’ll make you laugh that hard.

A final note; in many stories like this, the endings are usually kind of left up in the air. Cade, though, has done a masterful job of lacing up loose ends. Don’t miss this one.

Review of ‘Mindful Framing’

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Anxiety and stress plague millions, but these bug-bears need not be all negative. In Mindful Framing, Oscar Segurado shows how to use modern meditation and visualization techniques to transform anxiety and stress into effective energy. Accessible to anyone, and requiring as little as 15 minutes per day, these techniques can help anyone deal with the strains of modern life, and emerge a healthier, more mindful person.

While the book is in large part a promotion of the NEO-Chi technique of meditation, this in no wat detracts from its value. It has something for almost everyone, and for the harried person having difficulty coping, is a recommended read.

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

Review of ‘Driven to Death’

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After her husband is killed in an auto accident, Bex Wynter leaves her job as a homicide detective at NYPD and heads to London where she’s been hired to head a new division within the London Metropolitan Police. Even before she can unpack her bags, the day she arrives in fact, she’s assigned the task of determining whether or not an auto fatality involving a young girl and the errant son of an English VIP was an accident or murder. Her life is complicated by the high-profile nature of the case, the mess that is her own life, and a co-worker who resents an American being brought in over him to head a unit which he feels should be his to lead.

Driven to Death by Elleby Harper is a fascinating short novel, novella, that moves with the precision of a Swiss watch and the inexorable force of a hurricane, following the actions of a diverse and interesting cast of characters as they tackle a situation in which the main perpetrator is dead, and thus beyond the law, but in the interests of justice, the case must be resolved. The author sets up the twist ending very well, but it still came as a shocker.

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

Review of ‘Zo (Saint Zoya’s Dance)’

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Andrew Chornavka became a Trappist monk in a secluded monastery in America to put his tortured past behind him, but his past catches up. His late-sister, Zoya, is being considered for sainthood, and the archbishop insists that Andrew tell her story.

In Zo (Saint Zoya’s Dance) by Murray Pura, the narrator recounts his family’s past, the story of a family that tries hard to stay together. His story, a compelling narrative of war and loss, is hardly the story of God and a girl who walked with angels that the archbishop desires.

Weaving the present with the past, the author takes you on a journey of memory and the quest to remake the past that will leave an indelible mark on your soul.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. I give the author four stars for a well-told tale.

Review of ‘Emergence’

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An ordinary 15-year old, Ricky’s life is turned upside down when his parents disappear, leaving him to pick up his life without them. Emergence by Emilia Evans is a strange story, part coming of age, part metaphysical journey. Interesting for the most part, but the author overuses speech tags that in some cases border on the fantastical and unlikely.

A story that has potential that could be vastly improved with more judicious editing. In addition, the cliché ending could be improved upon. I won’t spoil it for future readers by detailing what it is about it that falls short.

This is an author with a fertile mind who just needs a bit more time at the keyboard to make a mark on the fiction world. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased and honest review. To be brutally honest, I can only give it three stars.

Review of ‘Prophecy of Ashes’

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Doing tarot readings to earn extra money, Diane suspects that she has psychic abilities. When her special-needs brother, Josh, tells her that she does not need the tarot cards, she’s loathe to believe him, until she’s visited by the ghost of a young woman who informs her that she comes from a long line of witches. When she’s kidnapped by Jacob, a wraith who has engaged in a cycle of murder and theft of life from a virgin every fifty years for hundreds of years, she must quickly master her new abilities, or die. Her quest is added by the father-son team of Connor and Liam, bounty hunters from an ancient order whose mission is to find and destroy wraiths, her Nana, and a young nursing student who also has psychic powers.

Prophecy of Ashes by John R. Monteith is a gripping paranormal tale of treachery, death, and magic that will captivate you on every page, and hold your interest until the bloody climax.

I received an advance reader copy of this book. A compelling read that I give four stars.

Review of ‘Death in Dulwich’

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The little community of Dulwich, where families strive to get their children into the best schools, and home of Wyatt Academy, is, as its name implies—dull. But, for Beth Haldane, a single mom who has just been hired as assistant archivist at Wyatt, it’s not only a way to supplement her freelance income, but home. Dull becomes deadly, though, when, on her first day at the new job, Beth stumbles across the body of her new boss, stabbed to death in an isolated area of the prestigious school. Now, out of innate curiosity, and to clear her own name—after all, police often suspect the person who found the body—she must discover the real killer. But, the more she pokes the hornet’s nest, the more dust she stirs up, until her own life is in danger.

Death in Dulwich by Alice Castle is British cozy mystery at its absolute best. An amateur detective who fumbles and stumbles, often interfering with the official investigation, in a search for the truth. It’s also one of the funniest cozies I’ve read so far this year, and one that you won’t regret having read.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘The Viper Amulet’

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After evading Emperor Nero’s agents, disgraced and impoverished, Theodosia Varros flees Rome with her lover, Alexander, a young slave, Lycos, and her childhood friend, Stefan. They end up in Greece, a strange culture, where she finds an enemy she did not expect, Alexander’s son, Nikos.

Even in Greece, though, Theodosia and her friends are not safe from Nero’s search for her, and she must continue to hide from his agents, while at the same time dealing with the new threats.

The Viper Amulet by Martha Marks continues to harrowing journey begun in Rubies of the Viper, with even more daring adventures, close escapes, and betrayals. A captivating heroine, and an in-depth exploration of ancient Rome and the surrounding lands and their turbulent histories.

A real page-turner. I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Louisiana Catch’

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A wealthy New Delhi socialite, Ahana has just gotten out of an abusive marriage, and on the eve of a planned trip to the U.S. has to deal with the sudden death of her mother. In an effort to get away from it all, she accepts the assignment to go to New Orleans to coordinate a major international conference on women, where she must work with a PR man, Rohan Brady, who, based upon his on-line persona, she’s convinced is an irredeemable womanizer. For comfort, she turns to Jay, a participant in her on-line support group for people who have lost loved ones, who also claims to have recently lost his mother. As her relationships deepen, she begins to learn that things are not always as they seem.

Louisiana Catch by Sweta Srivastava Vikram is a compelling novel about dealing with abuse and self-image, and how one person, through perseverance and the help of true friends is able to overcome a horrible past and forge a brighter path to the future. The author makes the innermost feelings of an eclectic cast of characters come alive as she walks the reader patiently through the trauma and turmoil of dealing with physical and emotional abuse.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I found the subject disturbing, but instructive, and the portrayal of various personalities most enlightening. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Box Office Philosophy’

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Most people watch movies or TV shows merely for the entertainment, but editors, Robert Woolston and Tom Bowers have dissected top-rated movies and TV series for their philosophical content. In Box Office Philosophy they look at the underlying philosophical concepts of several well-known and popular movies and TV shows, such as The Godfather and Seinfeld, showing how the authors or directors incorporated the philosophical tenets of such greats as Ayn Rand and many of the Greek philosophers.

You don’t have to be an intellectual to enjoy, or learn, from this book. Not only does it help you better understand such concepts as stoicism or consequentialism, but it will give you a better appreciation of the movie or show. How, for instance, does The Shawshank Redemption illustrate ancient stoicism, or Pulp Fiction showcase Aristotelian ethics? The editors do not go into whether or not the intent of any of these shows was to highlight philosophical principles, but just knowing that they were more than mindless entertainment is uplifting.

I received a complimentary review copy of this book, and I strongly recommend it.

Review of ‘The Plant Lady Grows a Pear’

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Eden Tywyn, plant lady at Packard Falls’ Cambridge Mall, hopes she can finally get some rest. Her back-from-the-dead husband, Calib, after assaulting her, is finally behind bars, facing a long prison sentence on federal fraud counts, and she and her friend, Veronique, have survived being kidnapped and nearly killed. But, along with a hangover, she is depressed, because her vindictive mother-in-law, Camille Thorne, continues to be a thorn in her side. Camille is determined to develop the mall for profit and blames Eden and Veronique for blocking her. In addition, she seems to be engaged in a personal vendetta against Eden.

The Plant Lady Grows a Pear by Gwen Pankhurst is the third book in the Plant Lady series, following the misadventures of Eden and her eclectic set of friends as they face off against unbridled greed backed by great wealth. Action, introspection, and evil deeds are woven in a tapestry of entertaining reading—and, for dog lovers, a valiant dog who saves Eden’s life in more way than one.

This series just keeps getting better. I particularly like how the author wraps up most of the loose ends of the story; yet leaves an opening for further adventure. I received and advance reader copy of this book.

Another five-star presentation by Pankhurst.

Review of ‘Murder in 346’

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When a 73-year-old moral crusader and a 32-year-old woman are found shot execution style in a cheap, by-the-hour hotel room, DCI Isaac Cook and his team find themselves with a case that could make or break them.

In addition to having to deal with a high-profile case, Cook must also contend with an incompetent chief superintendent who is protected by an equally incompetent, but politically connected police commissioner. As the bodies start piling up, the pressure increases. They must dig into the backgrounds and current lives of influential and wealthy families, while fending off the machinations of enemies within the police bureaucracy in order ro solve the cases and prevent further murders.

Murder in Room 346 by Phillip Strang is book 7 in the DCI Isaac Cook mystery series, and in my humble opinion is the best one so far. Police procedure, bureaucratic maneuverings, and dirty deeds aplenty will keep you flipping pages until you reach a most satisfying, and somewhat surprising conclusion. Kudos to Strang for an extremely well-crafted, exquisitely paced story.

I received an advance review copy od this book. A resounding five stars!

Review of ‘The Men and the Medium’

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Lily Bancroft was a woman born way ahead of her time. Head strong and intellectually curious, she also has the psychic powers of communication with the spirits of the dead and the ability to heal. But, she lives in a time when women are only expected to marry and make a home for her husband and children.

Unbeknownst to her over-protective and domineering father, she takes part in seances at the home of Leslie, a budding inventor who allows a medium to use his home. Leslie, though unable to express his feelings, has loved her since he first laid eyes on her, but then, Percy, clerk in a brokerage house, sees her on the street, and he, too, immediately falls in love with her. The problem for Leslie is that Lily, at the first sight of Percy, falls for him.

It is at this point that the story really begins, leading to a series of failed relationships, betrayals, and deaths that shake Lily’s world to its foundations.

The Men and the Medium by Lyn Behan follows Lily’s tumultuous life through the backdrop of two world wars, the social and political transformation of post-Victorian England, and the turmoil of individual and family lives caught up in a whirl wind of social change.

The author does an excellent job of presenting the arc of Lily’s life as she drifts, often aimlessly, from one disaster to another. A well-thought-out narrative of turn of the century England and the impact that the drastic economic, social, and political changes had on individual lives.

I give the author five stars for a well-crafted first novel.

Review of ‘The Mashego File’

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When a charred and mutilated corpse is found in the remains of a smoldering fire in a small community in Kwazulu-Natal, Detective Captain Nights Mashego, assigned to Durban North Police Agency is put on the case. Soon, another burned corpse is found in the same community, similarly abused. Mashego begins to suspect that he is seeking the same perpetrators but is unsure of their motives until he discovers a link between the victims and the step-son of a high-placed police official.

Mashego is then faced with a dilemma. With evidence of high-placed police corruption, can he identify with the vigilante justice being meted out, especially considering his own actions after his daughter was raped and murdered just a few years earlier. Torn between keeping his oath to enforce the law and his understanding of the frustration of people who feel they have no other recourse, he plows ahead.

The Mashego File by Ian Patrick is a chilling narrative of crime, punishment, and corruption at the highest levels, and the responses of people who have decided to draw a fiery line in the sand. The author has created a compelling story with flawed heroes and irredeemable villains that will keep you reading and wondering until the somewhat anticlimactic ending. Most of all, you will wonder—what next for Mashego?

This is a not-to-be-missed story. I give this one five stars!

Review of ‘Rubies of the Viper’

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When her brother is murdered in Rome, Theodosia Varros inherits the family properties. An independent-minded Roman woman of Greek ancestry, she finds herself at odds with the stultifying society and the many people who wish to manipulate her. Her unlikely allies are her slave steward, Alexander, an enigmatic Greek, and Stefan, another slave who had been her friend in childhood. When she finds her own life in danger, she realizes that she must solve her brother’s murder if she is to survive. But, her enemies are many, and powerful.

Rubies of the Viper by Martha Marks is a riveting historical mystery set in the Rome of Nero, and it explores the dark underbelly of the so-called Roman civilization.

I guarantee that you won’t be able to put this one down. I give the author five stars for this great read.

Review of ‘Be Careful What You Joust For’

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House Hornbolt, a prominent family of Pentavia, is hosting the annual jousting tournament, where the most capable knights in the realm come to compete for the coveted Arwin’s Lance. The eldest Hornbolt son is favored to win, but his younger brother and sisters are not happy with what fate has in store for them. His mother, Lady Isolda, worries about all of her children, but, just days before the tournament starts, she uncovers a secret that threatens not only the peace of the kingdom, but her relationship with her husband, Garrion.

Be Careful What You Joust For by Ryan Hauge and Ivy Smoak is a riveting tale of chivalry and chicanery, with an eclectic cast of characters, each given his or her own chapter, where their lives and dreams are well told. An excellent job of world-building with interpersonal (and inner) conflicts woven in with spine-tingling action that will keep you reading until the semi-cliffhanger ending. I won’t spoil the story by revealing that ending, let’s just say, it both disappoints and entices. Disappointing because it kind of leaves you hanging, but enticing, because you’ll really want to know what happens next.

I received a free copy of this book. A very good story. I give it four stars.