fiction

Review of ‘Excalibur Rising: Book One’

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At one time, Marcus Ryan was a rising star, the host of his own treasure exploration show. Now, though, in his mid-forties, his show has been cancelled, he’s lost his family, and is reduced to being the curator for rare relics for a Vegas Mafioso. When an old friend arrives at his hotel with an improbable tale of the fabled King Arthur’s sword, Excalibur, and is later poisoned in front of Marcus, his boss makes him an offer he can’t refuse—find that sword. They rush off to Florida to consult with Violet Chambray, a con woman who just happens to have the ‘gift’ of being able to find things.

Pushed into an unwilling alliance, Marcus and Violet go off to England, where in the mist-shrouded moors, they uncover a secret that can change their lives forever; provided they can survive the encounter.

Excalibur Rising: Book One by Eileen Enwright Hodgetts is an amusing mix of Medieval history, paranormal, humor, and violence, in a story that spans centuries and across dimensions, adding a new twist to the mythical tales of Camelot and the Round Table. The author pulls you into the story and holds you fast as she takes you on a whirlwind ride through fantastic settings and improbable events. I can only describe this book as ‘not-put-downable.’

I received a free copy. A nice rainy-day read. I give this book four stars.

Review of ‘Bittersweet Memories’

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When Anne Barnes’ childhood friend, Martha, dies, and shortly afterwards, she learns that her estranged younger brother, Ned, has also died, she’s plagued by family memories; in particular, a family tragedy involving Ned that caused rifts in the family that after 50 years still haven’t healed. As a bequest, Ned has left her his last invention, a Memory Enhancer (ME); a machine that enables the user to plug into past events and remember them in vivid, accurate detail. He’s leaving it to her to decide what to do with it.

As Anne uses the ME to relive moments from her past, she discovers just how unreliable unaided memory can be, and how events from the past, remembered differently by the participants, can have long-lasting impacts on human relationships.

Bittersweet Memories by Lynn Osterkamp is a compelling novel of human relationships and memory that once you start reading you’ll be unable to put down. As Anne struggles with her decision, contending with her own demons, she’s besieged by her family, and by others who, having learned about the ME, want it for their own purposes. The author has created unforgettable characters, and a story that will catch your attention and hold it like a vice. While the ME is a fictional device, the idea that assistance in resolving memory conflicts is a mixed blessing is imminently credible.

This is a solid five-star read!

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 ‘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 ‘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 ‘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 ‘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.