Review of ‘Banana Hammock’

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Until I got Banana Hammock: A ‘Write Your Own Damn Story’ Adventure by J.A. Konrath and Jack Kilborn, I’d never read an interactive e-book. To their credit, the authors warn readers to read the description before reading the book, because you just might ‘hate it.’

Well, I read the description, where they mention up front that there a lot of gored oxen and disrespected sacred cows in this book, and it goes where the reader decides to go rather than in a straight line. Wow, was that an understatement!

The story starts with hapless PI Harry McGlade being hired by an Amish woman who suspects her husband of cheating on her. From that point (which, by the way, is the beginning of the ox-goring) this book definitely does not go in a straight line, but in lopsided circles, depending upon the link you chose at the end of the chapter. Like a mountain trail, it has switchbacks, loops, and detours all over the place. Even if you take notes, if you’re not careful, you’ll get lost, which I did around chapter 4—or was it 3—I really don’t remember, and my notes make absolutely no sense.

I finally gave up after ten or twelve forays to the pages denoted by the links, and decided to just read it straight through. Did it come to a satisfactory conclusion? Well, to be honest, I’m not sure. It sort of depends upon why you read. Since this was billed from the start as NOT a straight forward mystery, I just assumed the authors wanted you to enjoy your haphazard journey into their warped minds and twisted senses of humor.

Well, I did that, so I guess, in the end, it was a worthwhile journey. Sort of like a roller coaster ride; you go up, you do down, you loop a few times, and you end up back where you started, a bit breathless, and wondering why you got on the darn thing in the first place, all the time, itching to get back in line for another ride.

If you’re the prissy type who feels that certain types of humor are off limits, then you definitely should NOT read this book. If you like to be amazed, entertained, and tickled, then by all means, do what I did, and read it TODAY!

Heck, I give the authors five stars just for the entertainment.

Review of ‘At the Mountains of Mucus’

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Sophie is a cheese-loving chocolate lab puppy and Doug is a happy newborn. The two of them have a rip-roaring time adjusting to sharing the spotlight in the family, toys, and the affections of mom and dad, while coping with invasive squirrels and exploring their world.

If you like the ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ comic strip, you’ll love At the Mountains of Mucus: Dog Eat Doug, Volume 3 by cartoonist, Brian Anderson. In addition to having a talented pen, Anderson has a deliciously wicked sense of humor. These cartoons are probably a bit too intense, and definitely too sophisticated, for the younger set, but if they don’t make you laugh, you need to see a doctor about your missing funny bone.

Five stars, oh yes!

Review of ‘Dancing With Air’

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Lenny Kasminsky is a young Marine serving in England during WWII. His mind and heart, however, are with his only love, Natasha, waiting for him in New York. Lenny is recruited by the high command to write a series of bogus love letters designed to mislead the Nazis as to the actual site of the Allied invasion of Germany. When Natasha comes to London to be with him, he has to write the letters to another woman in order to maintain their credibility. After he’s injured in an explosion, and Natasha is tending him, she discovers one of the letters, setting their relationship back—but, only temporarily.

Dancing with Air by Uvi Poznansky is the fourth volume in her Still Life with Memories series, which tells the story of love in war through the various eyes of a unique family. This war romance, however, can be read as a stand-alone book, a story that deals with the vagaries of personal relationships in time of war and beyond as Lenny tells his story up to the present day, when he has to face an even greater challenge; his Natasha is slowly losing her memory and touch with reality, forcing him to remember his life and all the opportunities he missed.

A heart-warming story that moves from interpersonal relationships and traumas to the horror and uncertainty of war in a seamless manner. This is not your typical romance novel.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Those Who Dare’

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Those Who Dare by Phil Ward is the first book in a series of novels about British raiding forces in World War II. Led by Lt. John Randall, an American officer who joined the UK forces early in the war, these brave volunteers engaged in dangerous hit-and-run attacks against German installations in occupied France. A former cavalry officer, Randall brought guerilla tactics and an American can-do attitude to the buttoned British forces, in the process learning to lead in combat, while at the same time, dealing with his growing affections for the hard core British baroness, herself trained in clandestine warfare, and who is working to elevate the position of women in the hide-bound British system.

This novel is meticulously researched, and the author does a masterful job of weaving actual historical personalities into his fictional narrative. Military details are on the money, and used in such a way that they don’t disrupt the narrative or flow of the book. Characters are fully fleshed out, and the reader comes away from the book with a sense that you ‘know’ them.

If you like military fiction, you’ll love this book. While there are some oddities in formatting in the e-book version, they do not detract from the pleasure of reading well-crafted military fiction.

I give this opening salvo four stars.

Review of ‘Business Plan Bible’

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Whether you’re a small business needing a loan to start up or expand, or a non-profit looking to interest investors or donors, the one thing that is absolutely to your success is an effective business plan.

Robert Lawrence’s Business Plan Bible is a short guide to preparing business plans that work. From a one-page plan that is in reality a vision statement to a more detailed plan, including goals and objectives and financial projections, this book will assist you in building a plan with a minimum of hassle and wasted time.

This is a must-read book for the entrepreneur preparing his or her first plan, and a good refresher even for those who’ve done it before.

I received a free copy of this book.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Roam’

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A date gone wrong on her 21st birthday, Sarah Cate finds herself stranded on a lonely highway after a confrontation with her manipulative, abusive boyfriend. She’s given a ride by Kevin, a high school student who wants to be a writer, and who has vowed to do at least one good deed a day. After a confrontation with her mother, who is also locked into an abusive relationship, she turns again to Kevin for help in getting to the home of her old friend, Scotty, a man haunted by his own devils.

Roam by Erik Therme is a haunting tale about dysfunctional or barely functional people dealing with demons, real and imagined, and a chance meeting that has deadly consequences. It moves slowly and inexorably toward confrontation and discovery with dips into the psyches of people struggling to survive in a world they don’t understand.

The ending will stay in your mind long after you’ve finished reading.

I received a free copy of this book, which is a solid five-star work.

Review of ‘Death on Demand’

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Edwin Murphy, editor of The Impartial, is a driven man who devotes more time to his career than his family. When his wife files for divorce and threatens to take their daughter to New York, and his American editor fires him because of declining ad revenue, Edwin decides it’s time to rid himself of at least one of his problems. He concocts a convoluted plan involving the dark web to have his wife killed. That murder, however, leads to the necessity of others in order to effectively cover his tracks, so he orchestrates a series of killings that have Inspector David Morton, head of London’s Murder Investigation Unit puzzled. Everyone who has a motive for any of the killings has an iron-clad alibi, and none of the victims are related.

Dead on Demand, by Sean Campbell and Daniel Campbell is book one in the DCI Morton series, with a most convoluted plot as Edwin matches with David, London’s top cop when it comes to solving crimes. As the bodies pile up, though, and David faces the reality that his age is beginning to pose a handicap to his desire to avoid desk duty, the stakes get higher.

The authors, even though, the brains behind the killings is known from the beginning, do a good job of keeping the reader in suspense. The ending, I promise you, will come as a complete surprise.

I give the authors four stars for this one.

Review of ‘The Wisdom of Father Brown’

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Father Brown, a rustic, English, Catholic priest, is hardly a heroic looking character, but his sharpness of mind and ability to get at the truth make him one of the most adept of fiction’s amateur sleuths. In a series of short stories first published in 1914, Father Brown’s creator, G. K. Chesterton pioneered the cozy mystery genre, mysteries where the protagonist is an often bumbling, well-meaning civilian who out-flanks the police in solving crimes.

In The Wisdom of Father Brown the reader is treated to Chesterton’s poetic use of language as was the mode in that era, and we meet Father Brown as he works his mental legerdemain to unmask a series of intriguing mysteries.

If you’ve ever watched any of the BBC’s ‘Father Brown’ shows, you’ll immediately recognize the cherubic priest with the rapier-sharp mind and often bumbling manner of stumbling upon the truth.

This is an entertaining trip back in time to a period when mysteries didn’t need four-letter words, gun battles, and car chases to be enjoyed. The language of the period will seem archaic and stiff to many modern readers, but the author was there, so one must assume that this is the way people actually talked.

I give this volume four stars.

Review of ‘The American Sweeney Todd’

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In the mid-1930s, the Cleveland, Ohio was the scene of some of the grisliest murders in American history. The dismembered bodies of prostitutes and hobos were fund around the city, but mostly concentrated in the areas populated mainly by the homeless. Eliot Ness, famous for his capture of Al Capone in Chicago, had been brought in to clean up the city’s corrupt police force, and became consumed by this case.

The killer was never publicly identified, despite the suspicion of some that it was Dr. Frank Sweeney, a man who had clawed his way out of poverty and become a skilled and wealthy surgeon.

The American Sweeney Todd: Eliot Ness’s Toughest Case by Marilyn Bardsley is a fictionalized account of these crimes, based on interviews with the families of Ness and Sweeney, police who investigated the murders, and the few documents still in existence. She shows that Ness knew Sweeney’s identity and guilt, but kept it hidden for more than four decades, for a variety of unknown reasons—some political—and, that Sweeney ended his life sealed in a mental institution, from which he continued to taunt Ness.

This book reads like the fine fiction it is, but is even more chilling given that it’s based on fact. The author, who is the best-selling author of After Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, shows that she richly deserves kudos as one of the best writers of fact-based crime books in America today.

I give this book five stars.

Review of ‘Darkness Haunts’

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During her six years in the army, Melena Sanders faced her share of insurgents trying to kill her. But, out of the army and back in California as a student, she faces even greater dangers. When her best friend, Aniya, disappears while visiting Fairbanks, Alaska, Melena follows in an attempt to rescue her. Her problem; she is a human (or part-human) with a special gift, she’s a Sensor, a being with the ability to detect the supernaturals who walk among us, and is mostly impervious to their spells. Fairbanks is a supernatural haven, now under the control of a dangerous, power-hungry witch who follows her own rules, and who has Aniya under her control.

Darkness Haunts by Susan Illene is the author’s first book of supernatural, urban fantasy; introducing a strong, but ultimately flawed main character who has a strong sense of personal duty, the fighting skills of an Army Ranger, with her own personal angel of death, Lucas, a Nephilim, who dogs her every step. Although Lucas killed her guardian, Wanda, who was teaching her how to use her skills as a sensor, and has promised to kill her some day, he has an annoying tendency to show up and save her life at crucial moments, which leaves her dazed and confused.

Tight dialogue and riveting action greet the reader on almost every page, and the ending will leave you breathless. This is an author to watch for.

I give this debut novel five stars.

Review of ‘Don’t Mess with Mrs. Sedgewick’

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Roberta Sedgewick is a widow, living with her late husband’s dog in a house that rattles. She decides that she and her three best friends and golfing buddies, also widows, should sell their houses and buy adjoining condos. Then, she talks them all into hiring the same maid—who turns around and blackmails them for their past crimes. In some cases, these crimes aren’t minor. One of them could go to jail. When criminals from the past start showing up, and their real estate agent turns up dead, the heat is on. But, widows they might be, they are not helpless. Roberta still has her husband’s gun collection, and some of her friends are willing to consider using them.

Don’t Mess with Mrs. Sedgewick by Marie F. Martin is a humorous, while at the same time a bit scary, mystery with four septuagenarian characters who you can’t help but love. An entertaining read, totally worth the effort.

It made me laugh. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Condemned’

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When Julian Mercer’s wife was brutally murdered, he became emotionally unbalanced and was forced to retire from the SAS. Now, working with his old SAS team, he’s a recovery specialist, tasked with retrieving kidnap victims safely.

In Chicago for a job that fell through, Mercer hears a woman’s scream. In an alley, he finds a young woman holding the body of a man who has been shot. Before he can explain his presence, the police arrive and arrest him because he’s armed. It gets sorted out, and later, a media magnate contacts him for a job—he’s the father of the young woman, and he wants to hire Mercer and his team to protect her. Mercer has concerns about the job, but takes it anyway.

The more he’s associated with the case, the more he knows that his client, the daughter, and just about everyone connected with the case, are withholding important information.

Plots, counterplots, and intrigue inhabit every page of Condemned by G.K. Parks. Well-plotted and full of action, this is a good read for a slow weekend.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Dion: A Tale of the Highway’

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After a really weird dream, a man wakes up naked on a road in the middle of nowhere. There’s a car there with a note; drive straight along the road until the end, and then drive some more. Failure to do so will have harsh consequences.  He begins to drive, and when he makes an unscheduled stop, he learns that the consequences are indeed harsh.

Dion doesn’t know if he’s crazy or just having a crazy hallucination, and as he meets people along the way, things just get stranger.

Dion: A Tale of the Highway by Jonathan Maas is, well, I guess you have to call it experimental fiction. It’s a journey into the human mind, exploring the borders between good and evil, and between heaven and hell. It’s hard to follow in places, moves quite fast in others, and the author keeps you guessing until near the end when he finally identifies Dion—trust me, if you’re not paying real close attention, you’ll be surprised.

It’s an interesting read, but not a book you should expect to just zip through. I give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘Push Not the River’

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Push Not the River by James Conroyd Martin is an epic tale of Poland in the late 1700s, based on the diaries of Lady Anna Maria Berezowska, a member of Polish aristocracy.

When both of her parents die within a short span of time, Anna must leave the only home she’s ever known. With Russian Empress Catherine’s armies poised to dismember the Polish state, Anna’s only protection is her Aunt Stella. When her ailing aunt is unable to provide the protection she needs, especially when she is maneuvered into marriage with a dissolute and abusive man, she turns to Jan, also a member of the aristocracy, but a supporter of more democracy and freedom for the peasantry, which puts him at odds with a large segment of his fellow aristocrats.

With Poland’s fate hanging in the balance, and a new-born son to protect, Anna must make decisions. The decisions she makes transform her into a major player in Poland’s quest for freedom. At the same time, she must deal with the machinations of her fiery cousin, Zofia, who is not sure where she stands on any issue but living a life filled with fun, wealth and frivolity.

With its main focus on Anna, this semi-autobiographical bit of historical fiction is populated with characters who, while sometimes larger than life, are limned in such a way to be relatable. Some you’ll love and admire; others you’ll want to see drawn and quartered; but you won’t forget any of them.

I give this opening volume of the trilogy five stars.

Review of ‘Snapped’

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After completing FBI training, former sheriff’s deputy, Jade Monroe, is assigned to a Midwestern office of the bureau. When a series of murders in Houston, TX cause local authorities to think they have a serial killer stalking their streets, Jade and her partner, J.T. Harper are dispatched to assist them in apprehending the person responsible for some really gruesome crimes.

The list of victims continues to grow as Jade and J.T. work tirelessly to identify the perpetrator. Jade goes against the common wisdom—that the killer is male—and insists that they are looking for a woman. When she identifies a potential suspect, she makes herself a target, and is taken hostage. The clock, at that point, really starts ticking as J.T. and the bureau pull out all the stops to recover her. But, Jade has her own cards to play.

Snapped by C.M. Sutter is book one in the Agent Jade Monroe FBI thriller series. It is fast-paced, with all the hallmarks of good mystery writing. The reader is given all the information up front, the mystery being, can Jade stop the killer before she herself becomes a victim. The action in this story takes place against the backdrop of Jade’s search for the man who killed her father, a highly respected policeman himself.

This a series to keep an eye on. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Not What She Seems’

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Steven Ashton is a billionaire from New York, looking for a place to get away from it all. Emily Grant is a single mother on the run from the law. A chance meeting in Nevada, and again in a small midwestern town is fateful for both. Steven finds himself falling for her, unaware that her traveling companion, Richard, is controlling her and planning to set him up for a scam.

At their paths continue to cross, Steven finally learns that Emily thinks she killed her abusive husband, and is, with Richard’s help, trying to elude the law. The more he learns, though, the more he’s convinced that she’s a victim, not a killer, and that Richard is a dangerous man.

Not What She Seems by Victorine E. Lieske is a chilling thriller about victimhood, and the danger of falling for first impressions. As Steven wrestles with his feelings for Emily and her son, Conner, and Richard falls ever deeper into the dark recesses of his tortured mind. A final, fateful encounter is being set up, that will shake their beliefs to the very core of their being.

Lieske plots a tricky story that will hit you between the eyes with its surprise ending like a cinder block. She lives up to her bestseller billing.

I give this book five stars.

Review of ‘First Strike’

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The only son of a famous admiral, Second Lieutenant Michael Sheridan finds himself, along with a group of untried Marines, fighting for survival on a distant planet in Earth’s war with the Kurgans. Worried about the noncombatants caught in the crossfire, Sheridan quickly finds that nothing is as he has been led to believe.

First Strike by Richard Turner, although a science fiction story set in another galaxy, is a tale of man-to-man combat that will get your pulse racing. It deals with the human dimension of warfare in a most provocative way. All in all, a nice read.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Alexander Hamilton’

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Alexander Hamilton, born out of wedlock in the West indies, came to the U.S. when it was still a colony. Handsome, intelligent, and possessed of a fiery temper, he quickly became caught up in the dispute between those in the colonies demanding greater freedom and the English crown.

Hamilton kept his brutal childhood walled off from public scrutiny, so most of what we know of it is conjecture based upon the few existing documents. His role in the war for independence, and the subsequent creation of an effective, strong central government has been more extensively documented, as has been his untimely death in his forties after a duel with the fiery vice president, Aaron Burr.

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow is an extensively-researched volume that traced Hamilton’s life from his birth to his death, with commentary on his contributions to America, including a central bank and his push for a strong central government. Ever a polarizing figure, he was loved by some, abhorred by many, including Thomas Jefferson, who was a strong proponent of a weak central government, with most of the power vested in the agrarian sectors of the country.

Hamilton was alone among the Founding Fathers in his vocal and public opposition to slavery, due perhaps to having witnessed the evils of the institution on the sugar plantations in the West Indies as he was growing up. This book goes into his duel with Burr in great detail, positing that, despite his fiery temper and support of dueling as a young man, his religious convictions had turned him against it, and he deliberately did not shoot at Burr, allowing his opponent to fire—Burr, as fiery tempered as Hamilton, obviously had no objection to going for a kill shot.

After reading this book, only the most jaded reader and confirmed anti-Hamilton person will fail to appreciate the contributions this man made to the nation we live in today. If you want to enhance your understanding of American history, this book is a must-read.

I received this book as a gift.

I give it five stars.