Book Reviews

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.

Review of ’21 Steps of Courage’

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Anyone who has ever visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers at Arlington Cemetery, Virginia, can’t help but have been impressed at the lone sentinel who marches a vigil before the tombs, taking 21 precise steps in each direction, movements crisp and definite, regardless of the time of day or night or the weather. 21 Steps of Courage by Sarah Bates is a fictionalized account of a young soldier, Ramrod ‘Rod’ Strong, who is determined to follow in the footsteps of his warrior father and become one of the Sentinels of the Old Guard, the unit based at Fort Myer, Virginia, who mount the 24/7 guard duty at the site.

The story begins with Rod on a deployment in Afghanistan where he learns that his older brother, Mike, also a soldier, is missing and thought to be in his area. Too impatient to wait for rescue forces to arrive, Rod and some of his comrades go out on their own. In a harrowing operation, Mike is rescued, but Rod is severely injured. We than flash back to his journey to become a sentinel, which is successful, but like every other soldier, he must do his part in the country’s longest war.

Mike doesn’t survive his wounds, and Rod’s injuries are so severe one of his legs must be amputated below the knee, and that is when the story actually begins. The author takes you on an emotional journey as Rod struggles with his handicap and then determines not only to recover, but to regain his position as a sentinel.

A well written and meticulously researched story—except for a couple of passages where the Purple Heart, an award for wounds received in combat action, not for heroism, is mentioned as being awarded to Rod for his heroic actions in his brother’s rescue. Except for this one small glitch, this story rings true, and I say this as a 20—year army veteran with two wartime tours of my own and having served both as enlisted an officer in my career.

Kudos to the author for presenting soldiers and war in such a realistic manner. This is a book well worth reading. I received an advance review copy of this book.

I give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘Suitcase Girl’

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When a young girl is left in a suitcase outside the FBI building in San Francisco, FBI agent Abby Kane is intrigued—not just at the unusual way the girl was delivered, but because she is a carbon copy of Abby at that age, almost a clone. Even though there’s no clear FBI interest in the case, Abby arranges to get custody of the girl in order to find out what’s going on, and what she finds has chilling implications, for national security, and for Abby’s own survival.

Suitcase Girl by Ty Hutchinson is a continuation of the Abby Kane mystery series, and also book one of a trilogy that promises even more exciting adventures. Follow Abby as she turns over rock after rock, finding slimy, frightening things under each one.

This one will cause you sleepless nights, and not just from the fact that it’s hard to put down once you start reading. The cliffhanger ending is a bit of a turn-off, but as disappointing as it is, I’m still curious to find out what happens next.

I give it four stars. It would have been five if not for the cliffhanger ending.

Review of ‘The Whisperer’

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Meredith Potts wants to end her life, so she jumps in front of Stan’s train. But, rather than ending things, she finds that for her, life has just begun. Her spirit leaves her broken body and meets the enigmatic Michael who tells her she has become a whisperer in training, a spirit whose role is to gently and subconsciously nudge the living to keep them on the proper path. Meredith finally has the opportunity to take some of the kinks out of the path of life for some who have survived; but is she up to it?

The Whisperer by A. Ireland King is a hard book to categorize. It has elements of the supernatural but is primarily a story about a distressed woman coming to terms with the path her life took, and unravelling knots of her past. A bit slow in places, it is nevertheless entertaining.

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

Review of ‘Mayhem, Murder and Marijuana’

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Mayhem, Murder and Marijuana by Arik Kaplan is a thinly disguised work of fiction based on fact about the evolution of the legalized marijuana industry in California. A fast-paced account of a controversial industry that, while not inherently violent, did attract a violent element.

It follows the activities of a number of personalities involved in the trade, from innovative entrepreneurs looking to make their fortunes to drug dealers trying to balance their illegal trade with an entry into the legal market. This tale has murder and mayhem aplenty, and an eclectic cast of characters, and is quite entertaining.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I found it interesting, if not profound or surprising. It’s a good look at human greed and avarice, and shows that money is, if not the root of all evil, it certainly plants the seeds.

I give it three stars

Review of ‘Death by a Dead Man’s Hand’

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Released after serving 17 years for the murder of his brother after a gold heist gone awry—from which half the loot was never recovered—Ethan Mitchel is killed in a church, and the evidence initially indicates that his murderer is his dead brother. DCI Keith Tremayne is not fooled. He knows that dead men don’t kill. The problem, though, is that he has too many possible suspects, and no real evidence against any of them.

Death by a Dead Man’s Hand by Phillip Strang is another offering in the DCI Tremayne series, and it continues the tradition of good British mysteries. Good descriptions of police procedure without burdening the reader with excessive detail, and well-developed characters with whom we can relate. Oh, and a well-plotted, tightly paced story that holds your interest for page after page.

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

Review of ‘Chasing Hindy’

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Addeline ‘Addy’ Verges is an up and coming patent attorney who dreams of bringing a groundbreaking energy technology to the world. She has just become the youngest partner at her prestigious patent law firm, when the wheels start to come off her world. First, she and her hydrogen-powered Mustang, Hindy, are attacked as she’s towing a hydrogen balloon advertising her firm and highlighting her commitment to green technology, and then she’s sent by her firm to Vietnam where she meets Quinn Moon, a Korean scientist who claims to have invented a new technology that allows cars to be powered by water.

There are many who wish to see that Quinn’s technology is never realized and are prepared to do anything to achieve their desires, including killing Addy and Quinn if necessary. Chasing Hindy by Darin Gibby is an ambitious novel that explores the lengths to which governments and other organizations will go to protect their privileged positions, and the power of dedicated individuals to stand against them. A pulse-pounding story, it sucks the reader in from the first page, and never lets up until the stunning climax.

I give it four stars.

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.

Review of ‘You Dear Sweet Man’

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Advertising is propaganda. Not propaganda as in the message spread by the Church in the olden days, but that of Lenin and his ilk; the shaping of a message—often based upon a lie—to move people in a desired direction.

When Charles Hamilton, CEO of BurgerBlast, Inc., wants a new ad campaign to reverse his companies declining revenue he encourages his board to come up with a campaign, Energized, they enlist the help of two computer animators to create a ‘thinker’ ad, an animation that draws the viewer in to concentrate on their ‘new’ message. Now, Fast’n’Fit, Inc., formerly known as BurgerBlast, Inc., has a new ad on the subway featuring the seductive but sophisticated Samantha, a sex film star with a deadly secret ability to control minds, one person at a time. Her target is Bobby Fastow, an overweight, depressed supervisor in a newspaper print shop who is seduced into the ‘world’ of her ad.

You Dear Sweet Man by Thomas Nevaiser is a short, but enticing, story of how ads can pull viewers in all the wrong directions. A compelling read that, though fantasy, is all too real in its description of how companies use advertising to push an agenda that’s not always good for you.
I received a free copy of this book. Once I started reading, I was pulled into the story, unable to extricate myself until the end.

I give this one five stars for a captivating story.

Review of ‘Quilting for Beginners’

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If you’re looking for a new hobby, you might consider quilting. I know it’s old school, but it can be relaxing and does allow creative expression. Quilting for beginners by Kevin Durant, which I received a complimentary copy of in exchange for an unbiased review, purports to be the ultimate step-by-step guide to this retro art. While it does provide some interesting historical information about quilting, and introduces the craft (art?), the title is a bit over the top. In addition, the book is sorely in need of a good copy editor.

If you’ve never done quilting, you’ll at least pick up a few good tips. I sense, though, that not all the information in this book is accurate. The advice on cutting fabric, for instance, is impractical. If you only cut on the bias of a fabric, how do you cut the squares used in quilting. That piece of advice alone blew my mind.

I give it three stars.

Review of ‘Courage Lost’

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Retired college professor turned PI Ray Courage is hired by an attorney to find the son of a billionaire couple who’s been missing for twenty years. As he begins to dig, and eventually discovers that the missing heir is dead, Ray unearths an even murkier mystery, one that, if he’s not careful could end up with him being dead.

Courage Lost by R. Scott Mackey is yet another offering in the Ray Courage mystery series, and it’s just as good, if not better than the previous stories. Follow Ray as he burrows into a devious plot that twists and turns from central California to Honduras and back, and he has to deal with skeptical cops, murderous street gangs, and greedy grifters—all the while trying to make sense of his arid love life. This one’s a page-turner that you won’t want to miss.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. It’s a five-star one for sure.

Review of ‘Dark Application: ONE’

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While working at a DOD research facility, college student, Luke Jeffers, downloads some games from the facility’s servers to his phone. Unknown to him, the Defense Application for Remote Kinetics (DARK) is also installed on his phone, and he can’t delete it. It’s not long before DARK has taken control of Luke’s life and set him on a path of self-destruction.

Dark Application: ONE by Brian Krogstad and Lindsey Waterman is a chilling techno-thriller. Well plotted and well-written. The cliff-hanger ending, though a bit of a cheat, does set the interested reader up nicely for a sequel as DARK continues to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting world. My main complaint about the book, though, is that the prologue and the ending don’t match up. I won’t spoil the book by stating why, but there was clearly a situation set up in the prologue that needed resolving, and it never was.

I give the authors three and a half stars for a valiant effort, and a mostly enjoyable read.

Review of ‘Meltdown’

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Trace Crane, one of four control-room supervisors at the Bear Mountain Nuclear Energy Center in Buchanan, NY, just miles from NYC, is an overweight office drone who is daydreaming about an upcoming vacation with his wife, Avi, and daughter, Brooklyn, when the proverbial ‘it’ hits the fan. A massive earthquake disrupts a nearby fault line, causing a potential meltdown at the center. Trace is then faced with a choice, do all that he can to save the reactor, or get out and find his family. In the meantime, Avi, caught shopping when the quake hits, begins a frantic search for her daughter.

Meltdown by GP James is a riveting story of what happens when things get out of control at a nuclear power plant, threatening the environment and lives for miles around. The author doesn’t walk the reader through events, but runs at a break-neck pace, switching back and forth between Trace and Avi as he explores human reactions to a cataclysmic event.

This is a book that you won’t be able to put down once you start reading, and at the end, you’ll sigh, not from relief, but exhaustion. It has the technical details expertly woven in with the human dimension and will leave you wondering just how close to disaster we really are.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review, and honestly, I give it five stars for the sheer chutzpah.

Review of ‘Succubus

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An international thriller works when real events are seamlessly woven into the fictional narrative. In Succubus, former diplomatic security service agent Regis P. Sheehan does that.

Michael Medved, code name ‘Bear’, is tasked by the Org to exfiltrate a nuclear scientist who wants to defect out of North Korea. He teams up with a mixed force of South Korean agents and other specialists from the Org for what is an almost impossible task. All of this takes place in the tense post-9/11 atmosphere and the invasion of Iraq which resulted in the toppling and subsequent execution of Saddam Hussein, the machinations of North Korean diplomats in the smuggling of ‘super notes,’ exquisitely crafted counterfeit US one-hundred-dollar notes, and the cumbersome Washington bureaucracy.

Swiftly moving back and forth in time, and crossing two oceans, the story follows the team and its supporters as the dangerous mission unfolds.

A chilling story that reads like it was ripped from the day’s headlines, it is, in short, the kind of page-turner that international thriller fans will love. I received a complimentary copy of this book, and I give it four stars for a darned good first novel.