Review of ‘White Out’

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Ex-military special operations soldier, Cole Samson, is a marine salvage operator. He and his team have been hired to explore a lake bed near the Arctic Circle for possible oil deposits. What they find instead is an old Soviet plane crash site, and an artifact that has frightening powers, powers that many in places, high and low, are willing to commit the most heinous crimes to take possession of.

Samson is arrayed against a geologist, who does consulting work for a big oil company, but who has higher aspirations, and a former Soviet army thug, now wildcatter, who is in thrall to a mysterious organization whose payment for failure is death.

White Out by T.N.M. Mykytiuk is a thriller set against the historical backdrop of the post-Cold War period, with futuristic technology too powerful for the barbaric men who seek to control it. The future of the world is in Samson’s hands, as, with the aid of a Russian intelligence operative, he faces almost impossible obstacles. The characters in this book are so real, one wonders if the author had intelligence dossiers at hand as he created them; the harsh and unforgiving environment of the Arctic will chill you, and the action is non-stop.

I received a free copy of this book.

I give this one four stars.

Review of ‘In the Days: A Tale of the Forgotten Continent’

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At one time, the Kingdom of Atlantis, under the rule of Empress Tatho the Immortal, was the most powerful on earth. While the kingdom was occasionally threatened by the Mexicas and other barbarian tribes on its borders, in general, peace prevailed. But, there was a rot at the core of this peaceful appearance, with plotting and intrigue, and moral decay threatening the stability of Tatho’s realm. One man, Deucalion, the Chancellor and confidante of the empress, is given an opportunity to see the future—a future that will see the utter destruction of Atlantis if its people do not mend their ways. As the one chosen to deliver such a message, Deucalion becomes a target of those who would conspire to usurp the throne.

In The Days: a tale of the Forgotten Continent by Andy Peloquin is a finely woven sci-fi/fantasy that offers the reader an alternative version of what happened to the fable continent of Atlantis. Characters are believable, and invested in their quests, making it easy for readers to empathize with them; the world is believably constructed; and magical and scientific elements so well integrated into the narrative, the tale becomes . . . believable.

Peloquin shows great promise, and is an author to keep an eye on.

I received a free copy of this book.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Lucky Catch’

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Lucky O’Toole is the VP of Customer Relations for Babylon, the most over-the-top casino and resort in Vegas, so she’s accustomed to handing problems. Besides, her mother, Mona, formerly the proprietor of a bordello, is now married to Lucky’s boss and father, and is pregnant, which presents its own unique set of problems for her.

With a bunch of chefs with huge egos in town for a competition, and an expensive truffle to be safeguarded, she doesn’t need any more complications. Hah! She should be so lucky.

Her ex, Teddy, shows up wanting a favor, and her current, Jean-Charles Bouclet, is playing games with her. Are you thinking that Lucky’s plate is full? Wrong. A young chef ends up murdered and in one of Jean-Charles’ food trucks, and he’s suddenly incommunicado, and a thousand live turkeys that Mona ordered for Thanksgiving have been delivered and everyone’s looking to Lucky for answers.

Lucky Catch by Deborah Coonts once more takes us into the roiling underbelly of Las Vegas, as Lucky tries to find a killer, retrieve a missing truffle, and keep from strangling her mom. This is Lucky O’Toole at her best; witty, irreverent, and up to her eyeballs in trouble. Coonts knows Vegas, and she has her characters nailed. As usual, you’ll spend as much time laughing as you do cringing. Don’t miss this one.

I received this book as a gift. I give it five stars.

Review of ‘The Chalice of Death’

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The Chalice of Death is an e-book reissue of three of acclaimed sci-fi author Robert Silverberg’s early work. Published originally as pulp fiction in the 1950s, these three novellas showcase Silverberg’s ability to quickly produce action-driven science fiction with complex characters and believable worlds.

In ‘Chalice of Death,’ Hallam Navarre, the Earth advisor to an alien monarch, is sent to find and retrieve a fabled weapon that is thought to convey immortality upon he who possesses it. In order to find this mythical weapon, Navarre must find the planet Earth from which his ancestors sprang, and which once controlled a vast interstellar empire. What he finds when he finally does find Earth is that he must make a choice; the ‘chalice’ does exist, but it’s not what he thought. Instead, it is a capability that will determine the fate of two worlds, only one of which can survive, and he must choose which that will be.

‘Starhaven’ is an artificial world controlled by criminals. Johnny Mantel is a fugitive who has travelled there to find safe haven, but upon arrival he learns that even sanctuary comes with a price. Is it, however, one that he is willing to pay?

The final story in this series is ‘Shadow on the Stars.’ Band Ewing is on a mission to Earth to save his colony from marauding aliens. Upon arrival, he finds himself in the middle of a much wider war, one that spans time as well as space.

Silverberg is a multi-genre author who got his start writing for the sci-fi pulp magazines that were widespread during the 1950s. Each of the stories in this volume was originally published, sometimes under different titles, either in one of the pulp magazines or a pulp paperback. They demonstrate his ability to turn out highly entertaining stories almost on demand, while at the same time breaking with some of the traditions of the era, such as bug-eyed aliens and never-ending space battles. His characters have depth, and their situations are much more complex than the standard story of the period.

Sci-fi fans, especially those who are old enough to remember having read some of the popular magazines and paperbacks from sci-fi’s golden age, will thoroughly enjoy this collection.

Even though Silverberg is a Nebula Award winner, these are early stories, written while he was developing his craft. I give this book four stars.

Review of ‘Self Esteem’

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Most people fail because they lack the degree of self-confidence to succeed. Developing self-confidence and self-esteem is a matter of desire and practice.

Self Esteem by Freed Jeremy is a short workbook designed to help individuals develop the self-esteem needed to succeed at just about anything. While this book contains some gems of wisdom, poor grammar and excessive repetition detract from its value. With a better job of editing and proofreading this is a book that I would recommend for anyone’s reference shelf. If you can ignore the editing problems, there are a few helpful hints here.

I can, however, only give the book three stars as it currently stands.

Review of ‘Reaper’s Run’

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US Marine Sergeant Jill ‘Reaper’ Repeth’s legs were blown off below the knee in combat. Recuperating aboard a luxury liner, courtesy of the ‘Wounded Warriors,’ she notices that they have begun to regenerate. Furthermore, others on the ship are experiencing miracle cures. Rather than being welcomed, however, their government has quarantined the ship off shore, under the guard of warships. Reaper knows something is amiss, so she plans her escape, leaving the ship just before it’s blown out of the water, killing all left on board.

She finds herself on the run, from a government that is determined to stop the so-called plague, and in the process is transformed from a wounded Marine to a freedom fighter.

Reaper’s Run by David VanDyke with Ryan King is an action-filled apocalyptic thriller that pits the indomitable will of an individual determined to survive against the ignorance and fear of a government dominated by those who desire to gain power over the masses. This is the first full-length offering in the Plague Wars series, and it has enough action and thrills to satisfy even the most hard-core action junkie.

The ending will leaving the reader hungry for more.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Then She Was Born’

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In a little Tanzanian village a child is born, but her parents’ joy quickly turns to horror when they see that she’s different in a way that brings bad luck to the entire village, for she’s an albino. In many African cultures, albinos are objects of scorn and hatred, neither human nor animal. The father rejects her, refusing even to give her a name, and the villagers want her taken to the forest and left to die. But, her grandmother, remembering her own terrible experience when she gave birth to an albino child that was left to die, begs to be allowed to take the child and raise it.

Through a rare stroke of luck, the grandmother, Nkamba, convinces the village chief and the shaman and is allowed to take the child, which she names Adimu. Adimu grows up suffering the scorn of the village until she meets Charles and Sarah Fielding, a wealthy white couple who own a mine near the village. A bond develops between them, but Charles, a man consumed by the desire for wealth, suffers financial loss and falls sway to the village shaman, who covets power, leading him to make a decision that imperils Adimu’s life, his relationship with his wife, and his sanity.

Then She Was Born by Cristiano Gentili is a profound, thought-provoking novel that highlights the plight of albinos in Africa through the life of one such individual. The characters are brought to life on the pages, as is the physical and cultural environment and its impact on the people inhabiting it. The author could have preached about the terrible treatment inflicted upon albinos, but instead does a masterful job of ‘showing’ the reader through Adimu’s encounters with other villagers, with the gangs who hunt albinos for their supposed magical powers, and the relationships between black and white Africans, people who are united by a common culture while at the same time divided by race and class. Character motivations are also shown by their reactions to events; for instance, the shaman’s obsession with power as he puts his traditional beliefs up against the lure of Christianity, brought to Africa by the white missionaries, but carried on by local converts. At the same time, the way locals carry two belief systems and reconcile them in their daily lives, and the conflicts this causes, is highlighted. Throughout the book, the strength of the human spirit, and its ability to redeem is abundantly apparent.

The cover, a simple graphic showing hands of different colors clasped, highlights both the conflict and cooperation that exists in the story.

Without preaching, the author highlights the plight of Africa’s albinos more effectively than all the UN pamphlets or political speeches.

Another great strength of this book is that, though it was written originally in Italian, the English translation is so smooth, it’s not at all apparent that this is a translation.

Most westerners are unaware of the problems faced by albinos in traditional African societies, but after reading this book, can not only become aware, but might just be called to action to help do something about it.

I give this book five stars for theme and execution. A compelling read that you should not miss.

Review of ‘Deadly Love’

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Killed during a theater audition in Beijing five years ago, Jasmine Huang is determined to know just who killed her. Everyone thinks it was her lover, Chris, but Jasmine’s not sure, and as a ‘spirit,’ she seeks the help of her dead father, Liang’s, spirit to find the truth. Jasmine travels from Beijing to Vancouver’s Chinatown in her search and slowly, the truth emerges; but it wasn’t what she expected.

Deadly Love by Wesley Robert Lowe is paranormal urban fantasy that takes the reader through time, beginning with Jasmine’s grandfather, Guy Wong, and then follows the family’s history from Canada to China and back in a madcap romp that explores the history of Chinese culture and myth and its intersection with the West.

This was an enjoyable read, but there were a number of proofreading issues that in places disrupted the reading experience. Reflecting the author’s screenwriting background, it was very visual in its impact, and as I said, enjoyable—glitches and all. I give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘Nightscream’

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FBI Agent Cody Thomas takes a week off to return to his hometown of Big Bear to decompress. Jilly Reid left her high-pressure job as a homicide detective in San Bernadino to get away from death and her cheating husband. She returned to Big Bear and became a deputy sheriff, happy in a small town where nothing really bad ever happens. Then, a fisherman makes a frantic 911 call, excitedly explaining that he’s found several women’s bodies attached to cinder blocks at the bottom of the lake.

Suddenly, life in Big Bear takes a turn for the worse as they realize that there’s a serial killer on the loose, and to complicate matters even more, when Cody and Jilly begin investigating the case, the killer puts them in the crosshairs. In the meantime, Cody’s brother and his girlfriend join him in Big Bear, and the girlfriend’s sister is reported to be in the clutches of a suspected pedophile who is angling to get his hands on the sister’s young daughters.

Both cases are time-sensitive, with lives hanging in the balance.

Nightscream by Morgan Hannah MacDonald is the second book in the Thomas Family mystery series. The action is non-stop, and the stakes couldn’t be higher as more women end up dead or mutilated and serious attempts are made on Jilly’s life. The reader is kept in suspense as both perpetrators unfold their fiendish schemes. The ending hits you like a haymaker out of the dark, making this a worthwhile read.

I received a free copy of this book.

Four stars.

Review of ‘The Order of St. Michael’

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Bud Hutchins, an eccentric genius, has invented a machine that allows people to teleport. Now, someone has stolen it, and the key to its recovery is the grisly murder of a monk who belonged to an order formed to keep evil spirits at bay.

In J. B. Michaels’, The Order of St. Michael, Hutchins travels Salem’s forests to Louisiana’s bayous to the Welsh countryside, fighting witches, zombies, and monsters along the way, in his quest to retrieve his machine before it’s used to create total chaos.

An entertaining supernatural mystery, and though the prose is a bit choppy and monotonous in places, was an enjoyable read.

I give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘The Protector’

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When a social worker is found dead at the bottom of the stairs at her office building with Scrabble letters stuffed in her mouth, Detective Sydney Valentine gets on the case, and the Scrabble letters tell her this is not a normal case. Soon, there are more bodies, a juvenile court judge and a single mother, indicate a sinister tie to child protective services. The case gets even stickier when Sydney and her sister become targets for the killer.

The Protector by Danielle Lenee Davis is the first book in the Sydney Valentine mystery series. A well-plotted story, the narrative is a bit monotonous in places. The characters, though, are extremely well-developed, especially the irreverent Sydney.

I received a free copy of this book.

I give this one three and a half stars.

Review of ‘One Plus One’

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The battle between the forces of light and dark continues. For Kyle Fasano, a millionth, and Napoleon Vila, a police detective who voluntarily went to hell in an effort to save Fasano, it’s a time for making the choice between love and heaven—the choice that each makes will surprise you. While these two men struggle through hell with the Gray Man, Vila’s partner, Detective Evan Parker, must fight against the forces of evil who have come through the thin veil that separates this world from the next; a struggle that is complicated by the fact that he’s one of a few mortals aware of the opening rift.

One Plus One by Tony Faggioli is the concluding book in a fascinating trilogy that explores the meaning of theology, belief, and love. A chilling read that will make you question the premise of unquestioning faith like no other.

I received a free copy of this book.

Four stars.

Review of ‘Eric Olafson: Space Pirate’

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Eric Olafson, from the traditional Viking world of Nilfeheim, left his home world to fulfill his dream of becoming a space ship captain. He joined the space fleet of the United Stars of the Planets and began an adventure that took him to some of the farthest stars. When he’s kidnapped and taken to a lawless planet, he finds himself embroiled in an ancient conflict that will test him to his very limits.

Eric Olafson: Space Pirate by Vanessa Ravencroft is a young adult space adventure a la ‘Space Cadets,’ packed with interesting and esoteric characters and taking place in worlds that could only be created by an author who has dreamed of venturing into universes unknown. The action is non-stop. The only criticism of this book is the complexity of the situations Olafson finds himself in—sometimes switches are so abrupt, I had to go back and re-read several paragraphs to reorient myself. That having been said, it was still an entertaining read; perfect for teen and young adult sci-fi fans, or fans-to-be.

I give this one four stars.

Review of ‘Nobel Peace Prize’

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A completely undistinguished employee of a green startup company, William Wright gets a call informing him that he has been selected to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He thinks that this is a prank set up by his friend, and that it will not change his life, but what follows is a complicated journey through the past, with commentary on politics, capitalism, music, and a host of other things, with Wright and his family central to each tale.

Nobel Peace Prize by D. Otter is a piece of experimental fiction that explores life, politics, and just about everything else one can imagine.

If you like fiction that challenges your thinking, you just might like this book. I had some problems with the e-book version due to spacing issues and confusion in dialogue, with more than one character speaking in the same paragraph. The author has a handy way with words, and this is adequate experimental fiction, if a bit unfocused. With some editing attention to the e-book version, which is what most readers will probably choose nowadays, it would be four stars. I, though, can only give it three.

Review of ‘Unexpected Rewards’

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Olivia Davenport wants nothing more than to continue her training as a knight. So enamored is she of her martial pursuits, she even disguised herself as a boy to join in a campaign against the king’s enemies, during which time she distinguished herself in battle, and added a new love—she and Prince Liam fell for each other. Her reward, though, was unexpected, and unwelcome; the king has assigned her to be a lady in waiting for the queen. Doubtful that she’ll be able to comport herself properly in the protocol regime of the palace, Olivia nonetheless endeavors to fit in. But, intrigue awaits her. When Niobe, the king’s seer, predicts that an attempt will be made on his life when spring comes, Olivia finds herself deep into a deadly conspiracy.

Unexpected Rewards by Jane McGarry is a fast-paced read as the author takes us on a perilous journey into palace intrigue, both deadly and petty. Olivia is a strong female character who refuses to compromise her principles for the pampered life of a princess. An interesting story, but for the switching between past and present tense in the early chapters, which is a bit jarring and disruptive. The supporting characters, heroes as well as villains, are interesting and well-developed.

This author shows promise. I give this second book in the series three and a half stars.

Review of ‘Fade to Black’

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Jeff Grobnagger is a 27-year-old slacker who wants nothing more than to be left alone. His problem, though, is that he keeps blacking out at the most inopportune times and having the same dream; he’s strung upside down in an alley and a hooded man keeps killing him—many times in fact.

Jeff meets mustachioed Glenn whose daughter, who was involved with some arcane cult, is missing, and Louise, a PI who is investigating the various cults interested in astral projection among other things. To further complicate matters, Jeff learns that someone is interested in him because of his dreams, and they just might be trying to kill him for real.

Fade to Black is book one in the Awake in the Dark series by Tim McBain and L.T. Vargus. This is a book that defies genre categorization. It has elements of the paranormal—actually, more the para-abnormal—mystery, and macabre humor. The characters are captivating, and the plot doesn’t unfold; rather it folds and refolds in a most byzantine way, leaving you wondering just what the heck is going on. You reach the end, and you’re still not sure what just happened, only that you thoroughly enjoyed it.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Timeless Moments’

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It’s 2014, and Jack Vine has just moved into an old house in Lynchburg, VA, a house that he’s always coveted. One morning, he spots a young woman crying in his garden. When he confronts her, she accuses him of being an invader in her house, dashes inside, and disappears.

In 1917, Jewel Wiltshire is trapped in marriage to an abusive, controlling husband. She begins to fear for her life, and after she finds that she’s pregnant, she decides to run away, which puts her on a collision course with her murderous husband. Alone in her garden one morning, she is confronted by a strange young man who claims that he lives in her house, and then he disappears.

There then begins a strange communication between Jack and Jewel across time, which brings endangers not only Jewel’s life, but the lives of her unborn child and her devoted servants.

Timeless Moments by Michelle L. Kidd is a first novel that was selected for publication in the Kindle Scout program. The author does a fantastic job of weaving not just two, but three time streams together in a mystery that will capture the reader’s interest from page one and hold it until the stunning finale. Kidd is a storyteller who shows a lot of promise for the future.

A great five-star read!

Review of ‘A Poisonous City’

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When the 81-year-old former head of Amsterdam’s Murder Brigade is found dead, the uncompromising and unconventional DCI Jac Roggeveen and her team are assigned to investigate. When they begin peeling back the murky layers of the victim’s life, they find maggots crawling from the heart of the city, and people in high places who are determined that the truth remain hidden.

A Poisonous City by Markey reveals the dark underbelly of Amsterdam as Jac and her people pursue justice despite overwhelmingly high odds and high-level resistance. This book contains lots of in depth historical information about Amsterdam, and has a fascinating main character, but it is a bit choppy, with more telling than showing. More action and less narration would make it a much better read, as would more back story about Jac, a uniquely intriguing character.

I give it three stars.

Review of ‘Whisper He Might Hear You’

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Manhattan’s finest are puzzled by eight killings. Though the victims are seemingly unrelated victims, chief of detectives, Bill Dacey, is convinced they are the work of a single killer. He seeks the assistance of noted criminologist Kate Berman and her ME husband, Josh, to track down the killer, a wealthy, smart, but vicious killer.

Whisper He Might Hear You by William Appel is a chilling thriller that follows this indomitable trio as they race against time to stop a demented serial killer before the list of victims grows any longer.

Even though the killer’s identity is known from the early chapters, the author still manages to keep the reader guessing until the very end.

I give it five stars.