fiction

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 ‘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 ‘Nightmares of Caitlin Lockyer’

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Six months after his sister’s brutal murder, Nathan Miller is obsessed with getting revenge, but when walking on the beach near where his sister was found, he stumbles across the tortured body of a young girl, Caitlin Lockyer, still alive, his nightmares begin. He must unlock Caitlin’s nightmares in order to save himself.

Nightmares of Caitlin Lockyer by Demelza Carlton is a byzantine psychological thriller that takes intense concentration to read. As it weaves back and forth between short snatches of Caitlin’s nightmares and Nathan’s experiences, it can be a bit confusing. Who, for instance, are the shadowy figures with whom Nathan’s having phone conversations, and why are they interested in catching Caitlin’s abusers before the police do?

An interesting story, but a few too many unanswered questions. I give it three stars.

Review of ‘Acceptable Losses’

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Irwin Shaw was a talented American writer who went into self-imposed exile in Europe after being targeted in Senator Joseph McCarthy’s communist witch hunts of the 1950s.  From Europe, Shaw continued to write critically acclaimed works until his death in 1984, works that are now being reissued in e-book format.

Acceptable Losses was Shaw’s final book. It is the story of Roger Damon, a literary agent, who gets a strange phone call. The caller demands that they meet or else sins of Damon’s past will be exposed. He doesn’t take it seriously at first, but as the caller persists, Damon begins to reflect upon his past in an effort to identify his telephonic extortionist.

This story, like most of Shaw’s work, defies characterization. Filled with social commentary and mental journeys, it is also a mystery, as Damon’s caller continues to stalk him, But, typical of Shaw, we never know who or why. The stalker serves merely as a backdrop to Shaw’s views on the culture and social mores of the time.

If you like your fiction formulaic, you might not warm to this book, but if you like a good story that will suck you in and hold your interest for several hundred pages, get this book.

Five stars.

Review of ‘Kissing the Beehive’

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Writer Sam Bayer is suffering from writer’s block. His work in progress—isn’t, so, remembering finding a dead woman floating in the Hudson River when he was 15, he decides to return to his hometown, investigate the case, and then write a book about it. Just before beginning his journey, he meets the enigmatic Veronica, a woman of many personalities, some loveable, some frightening, which adds to his angst as he begins to uncover secrets that have lain hidden for decades.

Kissing the Beehive by Jonathan Carroll weaves from start to finish like a river, languid and lazy on the flat terrain; tumultuous and frightening in the narrows, as Sam moves close and closer to the identity of the true killer. You won’t be able to put this book down, and I promise, the ending will knock you for a loop.

I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Bad War’

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Bad War by Summer Cooper is billed as a military paranormal romance. A soldier in Vietnam is severely wounded, and the story follows his return home where he wonders if he’ll be able to be a whole man again. While the combat scenes weren’t bad, they would have been better with more dialogue and less telling. I’m not sure the graphic love scenes really added anything to the story other than justify the romance label. They could have been left out, or related in less graphic detail and made a stronger story.

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

Review of ‘Out of Latvia’

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Australian, Peter Jirgens, the son of Arnold, a Latvian immigrant, had a somewhat strained relationship with his father. Treated as an outsider, a wog, by the locals in the small Australian community in which the family settled, Arnold never cut his emotional ties with his native Latvia. Raised with stories of the old country, Peter grew up a child of two cultures, fully acculturated in Australia; he nevertheless felt in his heart that he was Latvian.

Finally, as a young adult, Peter decided to achieve two things; he would experience the world outside Australia, which included visits to Canada, the US, England, Western Europe, and Russia, and finally, he would visit his father’s native land. Along the way, he has many adventures, reconnects with members of his family, and gets a firsthand look at the devastation wrought upon Latvia, first by the Germans during World War II, and subsequently the iron-fisted rule of the Soviet Union.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, and Latvia regaining its independence, Peter decides to take his father for a visit, a trip that took place shortly before his father’s death.

Out of Latvia, a first book by David Kerr, is an account of Peter’s journey, physical and emotional, as he experiences the world and achieves a sense of understanding of his father and the psychic turmoil he and other Latvians experienced during the efforts by two totalitarian regimes to stamp out Latvian culture.

While certain themes, such as Peter’s desire to visit Latvia and his need for money, are repeated throughout the book, more actually than necessary, the book is a fascinating read. Implicitly it addresses the difficulty immigrants have assimilating into a culture that is often less than hospitable to them because of their foreignness, and the schisms that develop between the generations in immigrant families. But, in the end, it shows the value of close family ties and the binding effect shared culture has in helping people come to terms with the difficult task of maintaining their cultural identity while at the same time adopting their new land.

Despite the repetitions, without which the book would be better, it is an engaging read; an emotional travelogue and coming-of-age tale that offers the reader a look at significant world events through the unique lens of one family.

I give the author four stars for his first book

Review of ‘Motown’

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In the 1960s, Detroit was in transition. The auto industry was raking in big bucks, but was threatened by a consumer advocate who was calling GM cars ‘death traps,’ and the city’s black population was chafing at the discrimination they suffered, reflecting the mood throughout the United States at the time. To add fuel to the flame, organized crime was moving to displace the black criminals from their traditional turf. Into all of this was thrust Rick Amery, a former cop who had been forced off the force by trumped-up corruption charges. Rick is hired by another former cop, now working as security chief for GM to find dirt on the consumer activist, while Quincy, a boss in the black numbers racket, is facing off against the son of the former Italian mob boss who was deported back to Italy. In the background of this swirling storm of chaos is Lew Canada, head of a special police task force that reports directly to Motown’s mayor who has national political ambitions.

Motown is the second book in the Detroit Novels series by Loren D. Estleman. While the main human characters carry the story well, the true main character in this drama is the city itself, and how it fares in a time of tumultuous change. The roles played by the recalcitrant auto industry, and its blind adherence to an outmoded business model, politicians reluctant to embrace the changes that are inevitable, and the dying social mores of a society that kept certain people on the lower rungs because of race chronicle the death and partial rebirth of one of America’s most vibrant cities.

This story moves with the pace of a super-charged engine running on high-octane fuel, and will keep your interest from beginning to end.

Five stars!

Review of ‘Heirs (Book One): Secrets and Lies’

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Heirs (Book One): Secrets and Lies by Elleby Harper is book one of a trilogy that follows the lives of the members of two dynasties; Maizent, heir to a glamorous European throne, and Charley, daughter of the President. Set mainly in 1985, and switching frequently among the many characters, it follows Maizent and Charley in their love affair that is threatened by secrets from their mothers’ pasts.

The prose is okay, and the colorful history and setting are described well. The cliff hanger ending, though, is a bit disappointing. It’s as if the author is using book one to prime readers for the following books, but it leaves too much unanswered to really pique my interest.

I give it good marks for the author’s ability with prose, but can only give it three stars for the weak ending.

Review of ‘Carrie’s Gift’

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Award-winning author Michael Lister is best known for his John Jordan mystery novels, evocative stories about a chaplain in the Florida prison system. In Carrie’s Gift Lister demonstrates clearly that his talents transcend the mystery genre. Ethan is back home twenty years after his high school graduation to deliver the eulogy at a classmate’s funeral. The only thing he really wants, though, is to be alone with Carrie, the lost love of his life.

Lister writes this sad romance with the deft touch of a poet and the skill of a master mystery writer, taking the reader on a profound journey into the human heart and mind. This story will bring tears to your eyes.

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

Review of ‘White Jaguar’

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Herpetologist, Ava Rush, living and working with the Indians of the Amazon, looking for medicinal cures from cocoa and snake venom, stumbles across the drug operation run by the vicious drug lord known as the White Jaguar. When she is killed, her brother, Richard, a stock broker, travels to the Amazon to avenge her death. With the help Nicole, an American Olympian whose severe arthritis Ava cured, he and the tribes who adored his sister wage war on the White Jaguar.

White Jaguar by William Appel is a strong story, contrasting the endangered life of the indigenous people with the greedy lifestyle of Westerners; some come to bring civilization to the savages, and others merely looking for profit. The Indians are, unlike many stories of this ilk, not shown as innocents, but fully-fleshed cultural entities willing to risk all to preserve their way of life, and the non-Indian characters span the spectrum, making for full-bodied fiction that will keep you flipping pages.

I give this book four stars.

Review of ‘Lucifer Eve and Adam’

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God is mostly pleased with her creation, except for one small snag. Eve and Adam, who were put upon the earth to be the parents of humankind, don’t exactly see eye to eye. Eve is a gatherer of words and knowledge, while Adam is . . . just Adam; totally self-absorbed and not in a mood for ‘talking.’ God puts the angel Lucifer in charge of setting things right—or else. Lucifer has 11 hours and 11 minutes to get things back on track. But, he has a handicap, or a blind spot, he doesn’t want ‘his’ children to know love, which is essential if they are to procreate, because if they know love, they will also know hate and despair. Because he loves them so much, he wants to spare them the misery of such knowledge. He has a devil of a dilemma.

If you’re one of those people who are sold on the traditional, patriarchal, vengeful god of the Old Testament, and the belief that mankind was born in ‘sin,’ and Eve’s betrayal by the Serpent in the Garden of Eden, you’ll find Lucifer Eve and Adam: the absolutely true and completely honest story of Creation by Peter Wilkes and Catherine Dickey Wilson disturbing. This little story, inspired by Mark Twain’s Eve’s Diary, told in cinematic form, gives an alternate version of the Garden of Eden story that is far from the version you learned in Sunday school.

A thoroughly entertaining, and provocative tale that nails the difference between the genders square on the head of the nail upon which an uncounted number of angels—led by the dapper Lucifer—dance. It might challenge your beliefs, and depending upon those beliefs, might even upset you. On the other hand, if you have an open mind, it might just give you food for thought. Whatever, it will surely entertain you.

A five-star concept executed in five-star style.

Review of ‘Elixir’

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Elixir is Ted Galdi’s first book. The story of child prodigy, Sean Malone, who won over a  million bucks on Jeopardy and has an IQ of 250, and while in college at age 14 solved a mathematical problem that brought him to the attention of high-level government agencies who want to control him.

The story follows Sean from childhood to adulthood in a somewhat choppy fashion, and while it’s interesting, it could use a bit of line editing to make it read more smoothly.

The theme of the book is good, but I give it three stars for the writing.

Review of ‘The Descendant’

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Ava Davenport is not your normal human. Unknown to her, she’s the product of a mating between a human and a member of another species from another dimension, possessed of a special ability that makes her the key to the survival of Earth. The Xemlix, a race that thrives on fear, is intent on taking over Earth and all the other dimensions, and only Ava stands between them and total domination.

Just as she’s preparing for her wedding, she receives a strange night visitor who begins to educate her as to her true nature.

The Descendant by Ally Capraro is a humorous and romantic jaunt that takes the reader on Ava’s wild ride among the dimensions as she learns to control her newfound powers. The prose is a bit on the choppy side, and the author head hops from character to character, which makes for a jarring read. Parts of the story are classic science fiction reminiscent of the sci-fi of the forties and fifties, making it a somewhat entertaining read.

It ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, which I will not describe in detail to avoid spoiling it for those who have yet to read it. Not the best book I’ve read so far this year, but it shows some promise as a series.

I give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘Revolt of the Rats’

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Kahle Desireau and  Eli Steiner, two military veterans separated by seventy years and several wars; one acting out of love and the other out of desperation; are men whose lives are heading for a fateful intersection.

Kahle has the ability to see the auras of the dead and dying, and after service in Bosnia leaves the army and takes a dead end factory job to be near the woman he’s obsessed with. Eli, a veteran of World War I, has spent his life after the military helping others, but his family farm is threatened by the Great Depression.

What both men have in common is the will to survive.

Revolt of the Rats by Reed Bitzerman swings back and forth between the two as they struggle to cope with the mind-numbing effect of being part of the legion of ‘factory rats,’ workers consigned to jobs they hate with little future to look forward to.

The story is a bit confusing as it doesn’t make clear the eras the men exist in until very late, and some parts have been poorly edited, with uneven spacing of lines that are disturbing. The ending is also unresolved, leaving the reader to wonder what happens with Kahle and the love of his life.

I give this one three stars. It’s an ambitious effort; showing the individual against the system; but it could use better editing, and the unresolved ending left me a bit cold.

 

Review of ‘The Troubled Air’

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In the 1950s, the U.S. was reeling under the onslaught of Senator Joseph ‘Tail Gunner Joe’ McCarthy’s ‘lists’ of communists and communist sympathizers in government, and the entertainment industry maintained blacklists of artists and executives suspected of being fellow travelers. Many people, on the basis of nothing more than accusations, were deprived of their livelihoods or driven to exile or suicide.

In this troubled time, Clement Archer was the director of a popular radio show. His producer ordered him to fire five of his top performers because of a threat by a right-wing rag to publish the allegations if they were not dismissed. Archer finds himself caught between the practical path—obey and keep his job—and following his core beliefs of fairness and justice.

The Troubled Air by the late Irwin Shaw follows Archer on his torturous journey of self-discovery and confrontation, showing how cowardice can lead to betrayal, and how a determined few can intimidate the multitudes through bullying, lying, and coercion. Though fiction, it contains more than a grain of truth, and is worthwhile reading in our currently polarized political climate.

Shaw writes with the knowledge of someone who experienced the travails of the ‘Red Scare’ years. Falsely accused of being a member of the Communist Party in 1951, Shaw left his native land and lived abroad until his death in the 1980s. Unlike many victims of the witch hunts of the era, he was able at least to rebuild his career, going on to produce many outstanding works.

Anyone who wants to understand the human cost of political intimidation should read this book.

Five stars.

Review of ‘The Burden of Gratitude’

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In The Burden of Gratitude:  The Chronicles of Bayboro Correctional Facility II, Bela Abel writes about life behind bars based upon his own experience as a prisoner. In a series of unusual stories, the author gives an insider’s perspective of the prison system. Each story stands pretty much alone, but when strung together, they reveal the peculiar mindset that develops during incarceration.

Some writing defies genre categorization, and this book falls into that category. While it flows as chaotically as an inmate’s thoughts, it’s not really stream-of-conscious, and even though it uses some unusual structures, it’s not fair to call it experimental. It will, though, pull you in, so let’s just call it fairly good fiction and leave it at that.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘The Little Voice’

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Little Yew Shodkin had always had the little ‘being’ inside his head, but it never spoke to him until he turned six, and then his ‘egot’ encouraged him to act out in ways that those around him viewed as anti-social. Punished for his bad behavior, Yew listened less and less to his egot until, finally, it withered away. He then went on to become a well-adjusted, but not totally happy, member of society until one day, in adulthood, he snapped.

The Little Voice by Joss Sheldon, like its main character, Yew, refuses to be pigeon-holed. For want of a better term, perhaps it’s okay to describe it as experimental fiction. Actually, though, it’s whatever the reader wants it to be. It’s a story about conformity, about how society and its demands can suck the creativity right out of an individual until there’s nothing left but a dried out husk, or, like the egot, we wither away and die.

The story doesn’t seem to be going anywhere at first; just a series of incidents where Yew engages in increasingly bizarre behavior and ends up in therapy. We’re then treated to scenes of Yew learning to adapt to keep the pressure off, and the angst he endures because of his adaptation.

In the end, after Yew finally snaps, he takes a completely unexpected turn—I won’t spoil the book by telling you what—but, the reader is left to wonder if he recovered what he lost.

An interesting voice in the forest of today’s fiction, and a recommended read.

I received a free copy of this book.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Give it Back’

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Ella Jensen, at 33, is a strong and independent woman who tends to shy away from emotional entanglements. But, when her older sister, Lorraine, calls and informs her that she has terminal cancer and needs her, the wall she’s built to keep people out begins to crumble. She leaves her job as a forensic pathologist in San Diego and travels to Seattle to help her sister, and in short order finds herself enmeshed in the lives of many people. First, there’s Lorraine, whose brain tumor has affected her memory to the point that her stories of events change from day to day, and she can no longer read a newspaper. Then, there’s Lexy, the British au pair, who has traveled from London to Seattle to help Lorraine care for her youngest son, Sam, but who is, in fact, looking for something, or someone, else.

When Lexy, and Lorraine’s oldest son, Logan, disappear, the stakes are raised, and Ella is thrust into the role of solving this mystery, while at the same time taking care of Lorraine and Sam.

Give it Back by Danielle Esplin is a mystery, but it’s also a story of coming to terms with dysfunctional family relationships, of facing death, and of learning to love. The author switches point of view among three characters, Ella, Lorraine, and Lexy, as she constructs a tense drama, leading to a conclusion that will shock you. Nothing in this story is what it seems at first glance. The characters are so fully formed, you’re likely to recognize someone you know, or think you know. Esplin is an author to keep an eye out for.

I received a free copy of this book.

An excellent first novel. I give it four stars.