book review

Review of ‘The Intern’

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Things were going well for DC intern Trent Norris until he became the number one suspect in the murder of two of his colleagues. Soon, he’s also accused of other crimes. He had no choice but to run, but where can he be safe? The answer to that might surprise you.

Read Dale Wiley’s The Intern if you’re curious to know how Trent works himself out of a no-win situation. Written with an acute sense of how Washington, DC works and an astute command of the language. You’ll be on the edge of your chair for this one.

A solid five-star book.

Review of ‘The Necromancer’

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After being brutally attacked in her Las Vegas hotel room, Michelle Montgomery decided to move to Hawaii to make a new start. Having troubles being around men, Michelle, a hotshot property manager, decides she needs to change. She decides to have an affair with a strange tenant of her condo, Omar Sativov. But, Omar turns out to be more than merely strange; he’s into witchcraft and believes he can communicate with the spirits of the dead. Worse, wherever he goes, death seems to follow him.

As the relationship develops, Michelle finds herself and all close to her in grave danger. With the help of Vincent Middleton, a university professor, she determines to bring Omar down—but, can she do it before he gains total control over her?

The Necromancer by Pamela M. Richter is a riveting story of paranormal suspense. There are a few abrupt transitions that disrupt story flow, and a lot of head hopping from one character to another, but it’s still a good read.

I liked the story, but I can only give it three stars as it currently stands.

Review of ‘The Lady Who Sang High’

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Jodie Lundgren, operator of a marijuana store in Denver, hires PI Reed Ferguson to try and find out who is trying to steal a new marijuana growing process being developed by her brother, Jude. She hires Reed to go undercover in the store, but his snooping becomes a matter of life and death when Jude is murdered.

The Lady Who Sang High by Renee Pawlish is another entertaining offering in the Reed Ferguson mystery series. Pawlish takes the reader inside the growing marijuana scene in Colorado since legalization, and once again demonstrates that Reed Ferguson is the new tough-guy detective on the noir scene. You’ll be glued to your seat as Reed, his girlfriend, Willie, computer wizard, Cal, and the inept Goofball Brothers team up to find a murderer before he or she strikes again. Crisp action scenes, retro dialogue, and detailed (but, not too detailed) descriptions of Denver, strike just the right note as Reed quips and fumbles his way to the solution of another mind-blowing case.

The author sets this mystery up nicely, feeding readers a jumble of clues, some false, some just tricky, and keeping readers and Reed guessing until the very end. A total five star book!

Review of ‘Arcene: The Blue Castle

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Arcene is a 22-year old girl in a 15-year old body. She likes nothing better than roaming the wilds with her sword and her dog, Leel. During one of her forays, she discovers a blue castle. The logical part of her mind tells her to avoid it, but Arcene is never one to shy away from adventure.

Arcene: The Blue Castle by Al K. Line is a hilarious romp through a world 300 years in the future, after humanity has been decimated by The Lethargy. Line delights the reader with his deft use of language, sometimes funny, with the occasional snippet of bloodletting as Arcene uses her sword to put bad men in their place—dead. Her interactions with Leel are actually the best parts of the book, but the things she learns about herself as she ventures into the strange blue castle run a close second.

Given the language and semi-graphic discussion of human physical relationships, I’m not sure this book is appropriate for grades 7 – 12 as the author claims, but then again, maybe I’m just old fashioned. I enjoyed it though.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my review. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Prince Charming Must Die’

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On the eve of her 18th birthday, a talking rabbit hops into Alice Goodenough’s life. He tells her that the bad characters from the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales are real, and they’re bringing evil into the world unless they’re found and destroyed.

In Prince Charming Must Die by Isabella Fontaine and Ken Brosky we’re treated to Alice and the rabbit’s search for the bad guys, with the main bad guy being Prince Charming. Prince Charming’s identity comes as a shock to Alice, and she has to choose—love or the fate of the world.

Funny in places and scary as the dickens in others, this is a charming tale that you will thoroughly enjoy. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘A Review of Dr. Phil McGraw’s The 20/20 Diet Book’

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TV’s Dr. Phil McGraw’s book The 20/20 Diet is a guide to dieting for people who haven’t been successful taking weight off and keeping it off. It offers solutions to the seven most common reasons diets fail by combining longstanding strategies with the results of recent research. An easy-to-follow diet plan in three phases over a 30-day period, it offers no quick fixes; instead, it stresses that good weight management is based on developing proper habits and achieving balance in eating and exercise.  Though McGraw is not a diet specialist, and the book is written in layman’s terms, he uses his own experience with weight control problems to illustrate how to achieve success. For those who have seen ‘Dr Phil’ on TV, the tone of the book, humorous in places, scathing in others, will be familiar.

A Review of Dr. Phil McGraw’s The 20/20 Diet by Eureka Books is an excellent summary of the book, and makes it sound like one that is well worth reading. I give this summary five stars.

Review of ’15-Minute Summary & Analysis of Andy Weir’s The Martian’

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A 15-minute Summary & Analysis of Andy Weir’s The Martian by Instareads is an excellent review of the novel that tells the story of the abandonment and subsequent rescue of astronaut Mark Watney from the planet Mars.

Watney, believed killed in a freak Martian dust storm, was left behind by the rest of his crew. Later, it is discovered that he survived and has found a way to communicate with NASA. The story is both a science fiction thriller and a profound tale of human perseverance in the face of adversity. The author tells the story by way of Watney’s log, which he keeps as a record in case he dies on Mars. It contrasts bureaucrats who assess risks and keep an eye on the bottom line with those who are willing to risk all in order to save a comrade.

If you’ve seen the movie you owe it to yourself to read the book that inspired it. If  you’re in doubt about it, read this great summary and I can promise you, you’ll change  your mind.

A solid five-star summary.

Review of ‘The Sky Between Two Worlds: Part 1’

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When two students, Kantak Johnson and Harvey Jamison, discover how to make a truly stealth aircraft, they become the target of two hostile blocs, both willing to go to any lengths to control this new technology.

As events unfold, Johnson, an Alaska native, must use his skills as a pilot to defend his country and his people from an invasion force.

The Sky Between Two Worlds: Part 1 – Apocalypse Denied by Glen E. Books is a thriller that you’ll find hard to put down. Exciting action scenes written with a degree of authenticity that makes you ready to believe the technology is real. Books also takes you inside the characters’ minds in a way that makes the plot totally believable. Part techno-thriller, part science fiction, it’s a must-read book for action-thriller fans. Some of the historical background could have been better melded into the dialogue or doled out in smaller chunks, but since it’s the first in a series, I’m prepared to cut the author some slack.

An almost 4-stars, but I’m only able to give it three. Hopefully the next will move up a notch.

Review of ‘CXVI: The Beginning of the End’

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An assumed natural death, accidents, and an apparent suicide; the victims seemingly not related, and widely separated geographically, begin to take on ominous undertones when Detective Superintendent Greg Woods, aided by a newly assigned Detective Sergeant Maria Barnes team up and notice an odd similarity—in each case, Roman numerals are found on or near the victims. One of the accident victims is a police colleague, with no apparent connection at first to any of the other victims. Through exemplary detective work, though, Woods and Barnes discover that the victims are, in fact, related, and the mysterious killer has connections to Britain’s SIS.

CXVI: The Beginning of the End by Angie Smith is a chilling crime thriller that takes the reader deep into the labyrinth of spying and government corruption, threatening their lives in the process. At the same time, Woods has to deal with his own personality quirks, which make it difficult for him to work with people who don’t meet his exacting standards, and Barnes must overcome her own baggage, including a secret from her past that could threaten the growing rapport between her and her boss, Woods.

A fast-paced and gripping thriller in the quintessential British style, the author paints sometimes overly detailed—but, in the end, necessary, pictures of the characters as the reader is sucked into the murky world of politics, secret intelligence, and human perfidy. In a few places, more background detail than is absolutely necessary is provided, thereby slowing the pace of a story that is compelling in the view it gives of the lengths some people will go to in the name of national security.

You will, however, be drawn to the characters, in particular the two main protagonists, as they use skill, determination, and sometimes, sheer luck, to elude the powerful forces that are set out to block—or kill—them, while at the same time, relentlessly trying to fulfill their oath to uphold the law.

There are enough clues given that a sharp-eyed reader, if paying careful attention, will see where it’s going. Or, think they have. The ending, a perfect cliffhanger, will leave you gasping—I promise you, you won’t have seen it coming. It’ll leave you wanting to read the second book in this trilogy, and that’s an iron-clad guarantee.

I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for my review, and, even though it has a few issues of description and narrative not uncommon in first novels, I give it four stars without a heartbeat of hesitation.

Review of ‘L. Ron Hubbard presents Writers of the Future: Volume 31’

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L. Ron Hubbard presents Writers of the Future: Volume 31 edited by David Farland presents 13 of the best science fiction stories from the Writers of the Future International Program, along with illustrations from the best of the Illustrators of the Future International Program from 2015. In addition, it contains three short stories by established sci-fi writers, and essays on writing by Hubbard, Orson Scott Card, and Bob Eggleton.

Science fiction fans will be fascinated by stories that span the universe of the genre, from fantastic futurism to the antics of mythological creatures lost in a modern setting. The illustrations, from outstanding graphic artists from around the world, harken to a time when pulp fiction reigned, and we were seduced to buy by the colorful covers screaming at us from the shelves in the local bookstore.

The stories in this volume, celebrating the 31st anniversary of a competition founded by L. Ron Hubbard as a way to attract more authors, showcase the immense reservoir of talent that exists for short fiction. Indeed, the universe of sci-fi stars is not, like our own, shrinking. New stars are being born before our very eyes.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Long Time Dying’

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Dan Bradley and Eva Roberts are private investigators. Partners and lovers, theirs is a troubled relationship on both fronts. Dan, an impetuous man who has trained as a boxer, has good instincts but poor emotional control, while Eva is the quintessential thought-driven person. Both, however, are driven by a desire to see the weak protected and the evil punished.

Long Time Dying: Books 1 – 3 by Solomon Carter follows their adventures and misadventures as they take on cases that even the police find impossible. In ‘Out With A Bang, Dan’s nemesis, DI Gary Rowntree, asks their help in finding his missing brother. They take the case with some misgivings only to find themselves up to their hips in a human and drug trafficking scheme that could leave them both bleeding in an alley. In the second story, ‘One Mile Deep,’ a young eastern European woman needs their help to escape another human trafficking ring, but as they learn more, they find that the young woman is more than she first appears, and yet again find themselves at the wrong end of gangsters’ guns. In the final story of this series, ‘Long Time Dying,’ Dan is just out of prison after being convicted of falsifying evidence against a notorious Russian mobster, and is on a hit list. Eva is asked by their old mentor to look into it, and yet again, Dan and Eva find themselves on the wrong side of gangsters who will snuff them out without batting an eye.

The author has a way with words that not only describe action scenes with a bloody accurate sense of timing and tension, but takes the reader inside the protagonists’ minds, showing their strengths and weaknesses, and their fears in an uncannily profound way. Don’t even think of starting this book if you don’t have a spare three or four hours, because I promise you, once you start reading it, only an earthquake will shake you loose from it.

Each story ends with a cliffhanger. This is a bit unfair to the reader in the third story, as it leaves the reader wondering what happens to the protagonists. On the other hand, it’s probably a good gimmick, because it left me wanting to read book 4.

I’ll be generous and give this trilogy four stars, in the hope that the next book will clear up my questions.

Review of ‘Devoured’

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A series of terrorist attacks in major US cities infects people, destroying higher brain functions and turning people into flesh-eating monsters. By the third day, the infected are disappearing into the shadows because of their sensitivity to light.

Lance York, an out of work IT type, has all the trouble he thinks he can handle. He can’t find a job and then learns that his wife is having an affair with an old friend—just before she announces she’s leaving him. His day becomes darker when he finds himself at the epi-center of the zombie outbreak, and he has to go on the run in order to survive in a city that is slowly being devoured. He’s all alone until he encounters Cassandra, an eccentric artist with an axe and a skill for survival.

In Devoured, book one of the Hunger series, by Jason Brant, the reader is sucked into a surreal world of monsters, both those infected by the mysterious gas, and some of those who claim to be fighting them. Graphic descriptions of violence and mayhem will probably be too much for those of a sensitive disposition. On the other hand, like people who slow down when they approach a car accident on the road—craning their necks for a sight of blood or dismembered limbs—once you start reading this book, you’ll not be able to put it down.

With a cliffhanger ending, it’ll have you wondering when the author’s coming out with the next one.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Written in the Blood’

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In prison there are no secrets. This is something ex-cop turned prison chaplain John Jordan discovers, as he wrestles with his personal demons—a broken marriage, a drinking problem, and the haunting memories of a case he worked when he was a cop in Atlanta. Now the chaplain of a prison in a small Florida town, he has to deal with the blood that always seems to be around him.

Written in the Blood: Volume 1 by Michael Lister is a completely different kind of mystery, one that is not defined by others in the genre; it is, in fact, in a category of its own. Lister, himself a former prison chaplain, writes with authenticity and with a level of detail, both in the physical descriptions and the peeks into the psyches of the characters that is unmatched. You can smell the blood and desperation, and feel the tension from the opening sentence until the final word. This volume contains two full-length novels and a series of short stories that give the back stories of Jordan’s life. The author states up front that the short stories can be skipped, but I strongly encourage reading this book from start to finish.

Lister is a voice to watch on the mystery scene. Five stars to Lister, and a plea to keep ’em coming!

Review of ‘Courage Stolen’

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When Jerry Langford, the security chief at Granderson University, hires Ray Courage after someone steals the files of a PhD student working on a project that could lead to a way to reduce greenhouse gas and revolutionize the energy industry, it seems a fairly routine case. Ray is dragooned into being the bagman when the thief demands a $20 million payment for return of the files.

What appeared to be a simple case, though, quickly becomes complicated when two murders occur, and Ray finds himself dealing with crooked corporate executives and a band of criminals who would just as soon see him dead. He and his sidekick, Rubia, must unravel the mystery of the Monarch Project before they become the next victims.

Courage Stolen by R. Scott Mackey is book four in the Ray Courage Private Investigator series, and continues the excitement of the first three. The author is a master wordsmith who knows how to meld wry humor, pathos, and action into a story that grabs you by the hair and twists until you submit. Pithy dialogue and incisive narrative give readers a picture full of soot, blood and gore, with touches of hilarity that seem to fit the world that the protagonist inhabits. This is a book that you simply cannot put down until the closing scene.

I received an advance copy of Courage Stolen in exchange for my unbiased review. If you’re a mystery fan, particularly noir mysteries with a liberal dose of humor, this is a book you absolutely must read.

One of the easiest five star ratings I’ve given all year!

Review of ‘Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson | Key Takeaways, Analysis & Review’

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Furiously Happy is a funny book about horrible things. The author, Jenny Lawson suffers from clinical depression and a number of other emotional and physical ills, and after a serious bout of depression decided to combat it by being furiously happy. She tweeted about her experience, which started an immediate trend and won her a worldwide audience.

Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson/Key Takeaways, Analysis & Review by Instaread dissects Lawson’s book for the reader, summarizing the genesis of the book, and the stream-of-conscious style she uses that creates a book that is funny and poignant at the same time. This summary, which highlights the fact that Lawson’s technique of focusing on the high points in life can help raise the low points, and shows her celebrating her zaniness, will certainly make most readers want to know more.

A comprehensive list of references at the end of the summary is like icing on a tasty cake—it adds greatly to the value of an already valuable resource. I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Killing Reagan: The Violent Assault That Changed a Presidency by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard | Summary & Analysis’

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Conservative TV personality Bill O’Reilly and author Martin Dugard collaborated to write Killing Reagan: The Violent Assault That Changed a Presidency, an account of Ronald Reagan’s rise from movie actor to the U.S. presidency. The book chronicles Reagan’s entry into acting, his World War II military service, and his involvement in politics when his movie career began to stagnate, beginning with his election to the post of president of the Screen Actors’ Guild.

According to the authors, Reagan was originally a democrat, but when he married his second wife, actress Nancy Davis, he fell under her sway, became a Republican and an ultra-conservative. Reagan was well known for his anti-communist views, though, even before he became governor of California or entered the White House.

Killing Reagan: The Violent Assault That Changed a Presidency by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard/Summary & Analysis by Instaread is an unauthorized, unofficial review of the book. It gives an in-depth summary of the book, chapter by chapter. The book, much to the consternation of many conservatives and Reagan fans, does not shrink from discussing his failures and weaknesses, including Nancy’s degree of control of events and use of an astrologer during his time in the White House. If there’s a weakness in the book—the original book, not the summary—it’s that the authors don’t seem to provide concrete evidence to support every claim they make about Reagan, positive or negative. The original book also seems to get into the minds of characters, stating their motives, but without proving that the authors had sufficient access to know this.

Much of what is in the book is known, or has been suspected, and much of it is probably true. The problem is, we’ll probably never know for sure. That said, the Instaread summary gives a good description of a book that is bound to spark much controversy, so my advice is read this first before you plunk down a significant sum for the original.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert | Key Takeaways, Analysis & Review’

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Creativity is natural in humans, but we often suppress it. Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, tries through quotes, anecdotes, and motivational passages to inspire everyone to embrace creativity in whatever form is natural, and to have the courage to lead a creative life. The author’s exploration of creativity through real life experiences, and her common sense approach to the topic, makes this an essential book for anyone even remotely interested in pursuing creative endeavors.

Whether you’re an aspiring full time artist or writer, or just interested in a more serious pursuit of some creative avocation, this is a book that just might help you overcome the feelings of trepidation that often prevent people from plunging ahead.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert/Key Takeaways, Analysis & Review by Instaread is a summary of Gilbert’s book, with discussions of the key points that readers should take away from it, an analysis of the author’s style, and an overall summary of the book’s themes and objectives. An interesting book to read, and a good place to start would be with this summary.

I give this book four stars.

Review of ‘Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown | Key Takeaways, Analysis & Review ‘

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The modern world’s focus on multi-tasking and a near obsession with getting more done with less has led many people to lead lives of frustration and lack of meaningful achievement. Greg McKeown’s book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, advises a minimalist approach to tasks and obligations by focusing on the things that are truly important. To individuals and leaders of teams and organizations, McKeown offers some sage advice; have a clear focus on the things that really matter so that you can know when goals are reached, have clearly defined roles, and learn when to say NO or to stop pursuing things that do not contribute to your ultimate goal.

Instaread’s Key Takeaways, Analysis & Review of Greg McKeown’s Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less gives an in-depth summary of the book that is useful in itself. Each chapter is analyzed, with brief descriptions of the author’s main points. After reading this summary, a reader will have a good idea of the content and importance of the work being reviewed, and confidence that this is an unbiased opinion; given that Instaread reviews are not commissioned or authorized by the author or publisher of a work. In a busy world, where we’re often required to attempt multitasking, finding ourselves short of an unrenewable resource—time—having a tool like this is fantastic.

This, by the way, is highly recommended, and if you agree with me, read the full book as well. I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Stark Warning’

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A deranged killer is out to destroy Jessica Lee’s career. Lee, host of a popular British confessional TV talk show, receives a warning; ‘Every time you appear on screen someone will die.’ To show that he’s serious, he brutally murders a young woman, and then calls the police to tell them where to find the body.

DCI Sam Quinn, chief of Scotland Yard’s Celebrity Crime Squad, is immediately assigned the case. Quinn has a personal reason to take it seriously; his wife, a well-known actress, was killed by another celebrity stalker. Quinn has a problem, though. He’s in debt to a bookie who is determined to collect, even if he has to break Quinn’s legs to do it.

Stark Warning by James Raven is British mystery at its best. Raven gets inside the head of Quinn as he struggles with his own demons while trying to stop the killer before the corpses pile too high. The tension starts on a high note, and builds to a chilling conclusion that will leave you absolutely breathless. At the same time, he gives you a look inside the cutthroat world of network television. For readers on the U.S. side of the Atlantic, it’s nice to know that the quest for ratings is just as vicious in England as it is here.

If you like a good mystery, don’t miss this book. Five stars for a great book.

Review of ‘Torch Scene’

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While he’s between cases, PI Reed Ferguson is spending time with his girlfriend, Willie. When Willie’s apartment house burns, and it turns out to be arson, and worse, the body of one of her tenants is found in the ashes, Reed finds himself with what could be the most important case of his life—he has to find the killer in order to prove that it’s not Willie, and stay alive while he does it.

Torch Scene by Renee Pawlish is the sixth in her Reed Ferguson mystery series, and is another well-constructed whodunit, complete with wry humor and blood-chilling conflict. Pawlish is generous with clues throughout this tight tale, but they’re offered in a way that only the truly sharp-eyed will get them. She keeps the reader guessing until the very end. A truly hot story. I give it four stars!