fiction

Review of ‘Love Letters Home’

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Love Letters Home: Love in a Time of War by Chapman Deering is a tale of love and separation during World War II, based upon a trove of actual letters the author found from a USAAF soldier to his fiancée during the period 1942 to 1945.

Ruth LeBlanc’s life as a freelance commercial artist becomes turbulent when her fiancé enlists in the army air corps as an engineer. They had only been seriously dating for a few months at the time of his enlistment, and with him about to be shipped overseas, they become engaged. During three years of separation, they begin to experience the inevitable changes that occur when one goes off to war and the only bridge connecting them is the letters they exchange. Ruth experiences the same angst that lovers have experienced in war-time as she realizes that both are being changed.

Through their exchanges of letters, the reader is taken inside the ups and downs of their relationship as Ruth must decide between following her heart or sticking to her ideals.

A nicely done first novel that explores the human cost of war from an intensely personal perspective.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘The Undiscovered Country’

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When he buried his abusive father, did his time after being convicted for a crime he didn’t commit, divorced his evil second wife, and made plans to remarry his first, Jack Randle thought he had his family business in order. Then, he gets word that his mother, who had recently communicated an urgent desire to see him, is hospitalized and not expected to live. He’s plunged right back into the muddy pond of a dysfunctional family that he’d really rather not have to deal with—but circumstances leave him on choice.

The Undiscovered Country by Mike Nemeth is an engrossing story of one man’s efforts to set his life on a successful path, despite the efforts of others to divert him. It started a bit slow, as languid as a deep stream, and as soft as a southern summer evening, but picked up the pace when it was obvious that something bad happened or was happening.

This author knows how to hook you and keep your attention. I received a free review copy of this book. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘RoboDocs’

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Dr. T. ‘Gus’ Gustafson’s RoboDocs is a fictionalized take on the use of computers and AI in delivering medical care. The story of a young boy who, after his father dies because of lack of available medical care, decides to become a doctor, it is a futuristic look at medical care. While it attempts to show how AI and technology can improve some delivery, it inadvertently shows how medical care is becoming increasingly impersonal. Depending upon your point of view, this book will either be reassuring or disturbing.

Filled with statistics and technical information, it is an interesting read, though not quite as compelling as it could’ve been. By skipping the many charts and tables, I was able to finish it in one sitting.

Not bad for a first novel. I received a complimentary review copy of this book, and I give it three and a half stars.

How Grump Stole Yuletime

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A little holiday-themed short story that I hope readers will enjoy.

1.

 

Daxon Grump was angry. This was nothing new. He was always angry about something. But, on this occasion, he was angrier than he’d been in a long time. He didn’t like not getting his way, and the dunderheads—his word for them—in his parliament had committed the cardinal sin; they’d refused to give him something he’d wanted from the day he put on the crown of Washuptown.

Formerly the owner and star performer in the Grump Circus of the Stars, Daxon Grump had ascended the throne of Washuptown by happenstance and accident, but after a few days there had accepted it as his due. In other words, he’d become royal, regal, and kingly in all the ways those words are thought of as negative, alienating his parliament, and causing him to doubt the efficacy of a parliamentary monarchy, where he had to share power with a bunch of former tradesmen or royals who hadn’t been high enough in the bloodline to lay claim to the throne.

Because of this unfortunate—fortunate for him—the parliament had thrown the succession open to any citizen who could convince the people he was fit to lead. He, with his many years of experience parting suckers from their coin to see the acts in his circus, had campaigned throughout the kingdom of Washuptown, promising the world, and enthralling the crowds of peasants and merchants who had long labored under the often heavy and uncaring hands of the royals. In the end, he had prevailed. His victory against the other contenders had been narrow, but it was just enough to push him to the head of the list. That some of the votes for him had been purchased with the horde of gold he’d amassed over the years was something he gave little thought to, just hoping that it would never be known.

Two days after the coronation, he’d met with Michel Orwell, speaker of parliament, and one of the people who had seen the direction in which the wind of change was blowing and supported him early, and each time he recalled that meeting, his blood boiled, his nostrils flared, and he felt like throwing things.

“But, your majesty,” Orwell had said after he’d presented him with what he felt was a brilliant idea. “I think your desire to protect the kingdom from outsiders is admirable, but the method you propose to accomplish it is not within the ability of the royal treasury to achieve.”

“What?” He reacted in shock and anger, the same way he’d always done whenever one of his circus minions had had the temerity to disagree with one of his ideas. “How much could it cost to build a simple wall around the kingdom? All the gold the royal family amassed during King Odan’s reign has to be sufficient to do that.”

“Hardly, your majesty. We have . . . expenses and obligations that must be met. A wall would deplete the treasury to an extent that we would not be able to do so. Worse, Yuletime is fast approaching, and we must be able to pay the holiday bonuses. It is expected.”

Grump was furious. He was livid. Obligations my foot, he thought. We’re paying hundreds of scribes and counselors to sit around creating mountains of paper that never go anywhere, and that less than half the kingdom could read, and the other half couldn’t understand. And, there were the princely salaries each of the members of the parliament received each month.

This was unacceptable. He would find a way.

“Very well, Speaker Orwell,” he said in a tight voice. “You are dismissed. I will consider this, and when I’ve made a decision, I will get back to you.”

As the obese speaker, his loose jowls flapping bowed and backed out, Grump was having the beginnings of another brilliant idea.

 

2.

 

He thought about it for a full two days. Well, actually, he didn’t do much thinking, for he’d already made up his mind before he’d even dismissed that toady Orwell. Mostly, he sat around two days stewing and doodling on a loose sheet of foolscap. He’d waited for the dramatic effect. His years in the circus had taught him the importance of timing and pacing.

On the third day he was ready.

He had a page summon Orwell.

The fat fool came rushing in twenty minutes later, sweating like a peasant fresh in from the fields. He stopped in front of Grump and bowed deeply.

“You wished to see me, your majesty?”

“I do,” Grump said. “Did you get a chance to read the proposal I sent to your office yesterday?”

Orwell’s head bobbed up and down.

“I did, your majesty, and may I say it is an elegant design, elegant, while at the same time appearing quite sturdy.”

Grump didn’t smile, because, despite the toadying words, he sensed a ‘but’ in there somewhere. That ‘but’ wasn’t long in coming.

“But there is, your majesty, a problem, and I’m unable to get my fellow parliamentarians to agree to supporting it.”

“They refuse to support it,” Grump sputtered. “Do they not know that this is my signature project, that it will be my legacy?”

“Uh, they know all this, but the, ah, problem, you see, is that there is not enough in the treasury to pay for it.”

Grump smiled now, for he’d anticipated that objection.

“I have a plan for dealing with that little problem,” he said. “All we have to do is not pay all the useless hangers-on, like scribes and counselors for, oh, say six months, and there will be more than enough in the treasury to build my wall.”

Orwell, though, was an experienced bureaucrat and a savvy politician. He was not to be outdone.

“That will pay for the materials, sire, but what of the laborers who must build it? That will not be a small expense.”

Again, Grump smiled, which caused Orwell to shudder.

“Ah, the laborers,” Grump said. “I suppose we will have to pay for supervisors. I was thinking I could use the salary paid to you almost-useless parliamentarians for that. As for the common labor, I believe if I ask, enough citizens of Washuptown will volunteer their labor. After all, Washuptonians love me, do they not?”

Orwell knew that was a dangerous question to answer incorrectly, for he’d learned very early that Grump was a man who valued what others thought of him above all but increasing his wealth—as long as they thought well of him. On the other hand, he knew that the citizens looked forward to Yuletime, that week in the spring of each year when they paid homage to the Yule tree, the source of heat, building materials, perfume, tools, and many other necessary items in their daily lives. It was a time they exchanged gifts, planted new Yule trees, and held long parties at which a potent liquor made from the sap of the tree was consumed. What they would definitely not want to do would be spending many, many months constructing a wall around the kingdom which would complicate trade with neighboring kingdoms, and interfere with Yuletime festivities.

“Of course, the people love you, your majesty,” Orwell said. “But you must remember that Yuletime approaches, and the people might not like anything to interfere with observance of this sacred holiday. Oh, and that reminds me, there is one other expense that the treasury must provide for; each year the palace throws a huge Yuletime feast for the populace. It’s somewhat expensive, but well worth it in the goodwill it generates.

“Oh, did I now tell you, Orwell,” Grump said. “In order to ensure the health of the treasury, so that my wall can be adequately funded, I’ve decided to cancel Yuletime this year.”

Orwell’s eyes went wide. When Grump held up a royal edict written in his own crabby handwriting, that said, ‘Yooltime is cansuled until I get MY wall.  Grump Res,’ followed by the royal seal of Washuptown, his blood ran cold.

This would not go over or down well with the citizens. Never in the history of the kingdom had the holiday been tampered with. He did not know how the people would react.

“Don’t you think that’s bit extreme, sire?”

“Of course not. My people love me. You’ll see. I’m having the population summoned this very afternoon in the forecourt of the palace, where I will announce my great plans. You and your parliamentarian colleagues will be there.”

Orwell shuddered and swallowed hard. He had no choice. He would have to be there, but he had a sinking feeling that bad things were about to happen.

Worse, he thought, the simpleton misspelled ‘Yuletime’ and ‘cancel.’ The people will forgive him the second, as most of them probably can’t spell it either, but as for the first . . . well, that was sacrilege. Oh yes, he thought, bad things are about to happen.

 

3

.

Just before the midday meal hour—not, in Orwell’s opinion a good time to assemble people to listen to a speech, even if the speech was for good news, which this one was not to be—most of Washuptown’s population had assembled in the castle’s forecourt. There were puzzled looks on many faces as people wondered why their new king wanted to speak with them. Some smiled, for they figured, if it was important enough for the king to call the whole kingdom together for it, it would be a great thing to participate in. Orwell and his fellow parliamentarians, though, were most definitely not happy to be there, for they knew that when the king announced his grand plan, there was no telling how the people might react—Orwell had shared Grump’s plan with the others, and it’s safe to say that each and every one of them was quaking in his boots.

After making the people wait for half an hour—Grump had read somewhere that this was a sign of royalty, and showed his importance—Grump appeared on the balcony, beaming down at the crowd and waving his hands. Somewhat nearsighted, he didn’t notice the frowns on some of the faces in the crowd. Not everyone was happy at being made to stand so long in the hot sun, and be force to miss the midday meal.

Grump waited until the murmuring, which he interpreted as murmuring of affection for his royal self, to die down, and then he held up his proclamation, and began explaining why he was doing it.

As those in the front rows read the proclamation, stopping on Yooltime, and being shocked and passing this bit of heresy on to those behind them, the murmuring took up again.

Thus, only the guards on the balcony heard the part about government workers not getting paid for six months. The sergeant of the guard sent one of the guards to carry that message through the castle.

Orwell’s colleagues gasped when they realized that parliamentarians’ salaries were included in the things Grump was not going to pay.

The crowd didn’t hear Grump’s call for free volunteer labor to build his wall. They were so steamed that the king butchered the name of their most sacred holiday, they’d stopped listening to his speech, and were talking among themselves.

It was only the rising volume of his voice that caught their attention.

“Citizens of Washuptown, what say you to my proposal?”

 

4.

 

There was a moment of stunned silence.

Then, from the middle of the crowd, someone shouted, “Off with his head!”

“No, no,” someone else shouted. “That’s too good for him. Let’s boil him alive.”

Grump could not believe at first what he was hearing. This couldn’t be happening. The people loved him, they would not be turning on him like this. Something was amiss. He turned and looked at Orwell.

“What are they saying, Orwell? Why are they not happy?”

The pudgy parliamentarian bowed, keeping his eyes averted from the confused king.

“They are angry, your majesty. I warned you that it would be a mistake to muck with Yuletime.”

“But they should be happy that I’m bringing security and safety to the kingdom. When I made speeches about it before I won the crown, they cheered wildly. Why have they changed?”

      “Well, your majesty, it’s like this. They did not feel insecure until you started making speeches about it. They still do not really insecure. Washuptonians simply like good speeches, and you are adept at giving them what they like. Now, though, you have given them something they do not like, or rather, you are threatening to take something they like away from them. I fear that you have pushed them to anger, and I cannot say what they might do.”

“They’re threatening to boil me alive. They can’t do that to their king. They should love me.”

“Sire, they loved you when you were making speeches. If you had left it at that, they might’ve continued to love you. Now you are proposing to do things they do not like or want to do. If I might be so bold as to venture an opinion, I think they just might boil you alive.”

Grump’s ruddy complexion turned gray.

“No, that cannot be allowed.” He turned to the captain of the guard. “Captain, have your men drive these people away from here. Any who resist, throw them into the dungeons.”

The guard captain didn’t move.

“Captain, did you hear me?”

“Aye, your majesty. I heard you. But you just announced that royal employees are not being paid. We guards are royal employees. If we are not being paid, we cannot work. It’s in our contracts. We are not allowed to work for free.”

Grump looked confused. He turned to Orwell.

“Is that true?”

“Yes, your majesty. Employees such as guards have an iron-clad contract. No pay, no work.”

“Okay, okay, I’ll pay you from my personal funds. Now, move those people.”

“Uh, I’m afraid they are not allowed to accept pay other than from the royal treasury, your majesty,” Orwell said. “That is to ensure their loyalty.”

Grump had a sudden revelation. His own petard, his explosive idea that would bind everyone in the kingdom to him and have them bend to his will forever, was now affixed firmly to his nether regions. He had painted himself into a corner on a precipice, with no handholds, and was about to be pushed into the abyss. Being king was suddenly not such a glorious prospect. He wished he’d stayed in his circus.

“W-what am I to do, Orwell. I do not wish to be boiled, dead or alive.”

“Well, your majesty, there is one thing that you might consider. I cannot guarantee that it will work, but it just might placate them, and they just might spare you.”

To a man in a hole, a rope is preferred, but if a string is all that is dropped down, he will grasp it.

“Anything, Orwell, I’m willing to do anything to stay alive.”

“If you publicly relinquish the crown, and put the power in the hands of the parliament, temporarily, mind you, until we can select another to be king. I am confident that the people will be merciful.”

Grump thought about it for all of ten seconds. He’d wanted to be king, but most of all he just wanted to continue to be. Running a circus wasn’t all that bad. At least, he had total control over the clowns, acrobats, and other performers.

“Very well then, I resign effective immediately.”

“Repeat so the people hear, your majesty.”

Grump walked to the railing and leaned forward. “I, King Grump, do hereby relinquish the throne. I am no longer your king. Yuletime is still on.”

The murmuring stopped. People stared up at him.

“You really gonna quit?” some asked.

“Yes, I quit.”

Orwell stepped forward.

“The king has abdicated. The parliament is now in control, and Yuletime is not cancelled. Oh, and there will be no wall built, and all royal employees are to report to work immediately. Yuletime bonuses will be paid on the morrow.”  He turned to the captain of the guard. “Captain, please escort Daxon Grump to the gate and see that he leaves the royal premises.” He then turned back to Grump and not so gently removed the crown from his head.

With a broad smile on face, the captain ordered two guards to seize the commoner. The two burly young men grabbed Grump by his arms and unceremoniously lifted him so that his toes dragged across the cobblestones. At the gate, they heaved him through the opening like a sack of waste and slammed the gate shut.

He picked himself up, dusted himself off, looked around to see if anyone had seen what had happened. Elated to see that his humiliation was unwitnessed by any but the perpetrators, he walked away, whistling.

5.

 

That should have been the end of it for Daxon Grump. Unfortunately, his stars were not so aligned. Some of the people he’d paid to vote for him were heard complaining in a local inn that the coins he’d used to pay them were iron, painted to look like gold sovereigns, and when they’d tried using them to buy things, they’d had them flung back in their faces and themselves flung from the establishments.

When word of this reached Orwell at the parliament, he and his colleagues conferred and came to the decision that such malfeasance could not go unpunished. An example had to be made so that in the upcoming elections the candidates would be motivated to campaign honestly.

A guard was dispatched to Grump’s circus, and he was again unceremoniously hosted between two guards, and thrown into an iron-barred cage and transported to the castle dungeon. The parliament held a speedy trial at which those who had received his counterfeit coins confessed that they’d sold their votes to one Daxon Grump. Each of them received a token two lashes on the back and warned never to commit such a grave offense again. Grump, found guilty of fraud and counterfeiting, was spared the lash. He was sentenced to ten years in the dungeon, allowed to leave his cell once a day only to clean the castle stables and pig sty.

No one would speak to him, and it was forbidden to utter his name. Only the pigs, grunting when he fed them scraps from the castle kitchen, not unlike the swill he received each morning and evening in his cell, seemed to call his name, uttering, ‘grump, grump’ continuously as the plunged their snouts into the gray, mushy mess he fed them.

Grump had always dreamed of a captive audience shouting his name over and over, and adoring him. He finally had realized his dream, and they were his to rule over for ten years.

Review of ‘Zo (Saint Zoya’s Dance)’

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Andrew Chornavka became a Trappist monk in a secluded monastery in America to put his tortured past behind him, but his past catches up. His late-sister, Zoya, is being considered for sainthood, and the archbishop insists that Andrew tell her story.

In Zo (Saint Zoya’s Dance) by Murray Pura, the narrator recounts his family’s past, the story of a family that tries hard to stay together. His story, a compelling narrative of war and loss, is hardly the story of God and a girl who walked with angels that the archbishop desires.

Weaving the present with the past, the author takes you on a journey of memory and the quest to remake the past that will leave an indelible mark on your soul.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. I give the author four stars for a well-told tale.

Review of ‘Emergence’

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An ordinary 15-year old, Ricky’s life is turned upside down when his parents disappear, leaving him to pick up his life without them. Emergence by Emilia Evans is a strange story, part coming of age, part metaphysical journey. Interesting for the most part, but the author overuses speech tags that in some cases border on the fantastical and unlikely.

A story that has potential that could be vastly improved with more judicious editing. In addition, the cliché ending could be improved upon. I won’t spoil it for future readers by detailing what it is about it that falls short.

This is an author with a fertile mind who just needs a bit more time at the keyboard to make a mark on the fiction world. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased and honest review. To be brutally honest, I can only give it three stars.

Review of ‘Louisiana Catch’

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A wealthy New Delhi socialite, Ahana has just gotten out of an abusive marriage, and on the eve of a planned trip to the U.S. has to deal with the sudden death of her mother. In an effort to get away from it all, she accepts the assignment to go to New Orleans to coordinate a major international conference on women, where she must work with a PR man, Rohan Brady, who, based upon his on-line persona, she’s convinced is an irredeemable womanizer. For comfort, she turns to Jay, a participant in her on-line support group for people who have lost loved ones, who also claims to have recently lost his mother. As her relationships deepen, she begins to learn that things are not always as they seem.

Louisiana Catch by Sweta Srivastava Vikram is a compelling novel about dealing with abuse and self-image, and how one person, through perseverance and the help of true friends is able to overcome a horrible past and forge a brighter path to the future. The author makes the innermost feelings of an eclectic cast of characters come alive as she walks the reader patiently through the trauma and turmoil of dealing with physical and emotional abuse.

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I found the subject disturbing, but instructive, and the portrayal of various personalities most enlightening. I give it four stars.

Review of ‘The Men and the Medium’

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Lily Bancroft was a woman born way ahead of her time. Head strong and intellectually curious, she also has the psychic powers of communication with the spirits of the dead and the ability to heal. But, she lives in a time when women are only expected to marry and make a home for her husband and children.

Unbeknownst to her over-protective and domineering father, she takes part in seances at the home of Leslie, a budding inventor who allows a medium to use his home. Leslie, though unable to express his feelings, has loved her since he first laid eyes on her, but then, Percy, clerk in a brokerage house, sees her on the street, and he, too, immediately falls in love with her. The problem for Leslie is that Lily, at the first sight of Percy, falls for him.

It is at this point that the story really begins, leading to a series of failed relationships, betrayals, and deaths that shake Lily’s world to its foundations.

The Men and the Medium by Lyn Behan follows Lily’s tumultuous life through the backdrop of two world wars, the social and political transformation of post-Victorian England, and the turmoil of individual and family lives caught up in a whirl wind of social change.

The author does an excellent job of presenting the arc of Lily’s life as she drifts, often aimlessly, from one disaster to another. A well-thought-out narrative of turn of the century England and the impact that the drastic economic, social, and political changes had on individual lives.

I give the author five stars for a well-crafted first novel.

Review of ‘The Whisperer’

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Meredith Potts wants to end her life, so she jumps in front of Stan’s train. But, rather than ending things, she finds that for her, life has just begun. Her spirit leaves her broken body and meets the enigmatic Michael who tells her she has become a whisperer in training, a spirit whose role is to gently and subconsciously nudge the living to keep them on the proper path. Meredith finally has the opportunity to take some of the kinks out of the path of life for some who have survived; but is she up to it?

The Whisperer by A. Ireland King is a hard book to categorize. It has elements of the supernatural but is primarily a story about a distressed woman coming to terms with the path her life took, and unravelling knots of her past. A bit slow in places, it is nevertheless entertaining.

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

Review of ‘Chasing Hindy’

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Addeline ‘Addy’ Verges is an up and coming patent attorney who dreams of bringing a groundbreaking energy technology to the world. She has just become the youngest partner at her prestigious patent law firm, when the wheels start to come off her world. First, she and her hydrogen-powered Mustang, Hindy, are attacked as she’s towing a hydrogen balloon advertising her firm and highlighting her commitment to green technology, and then she’s sent by her firm to Vietnam where she meets Quinn Moon, a Korean scientist who claims to have invented a new technology that allows cars to be powered by water.

There are many who wish to see that Quinn’s technology is never realized and are prepared to do anything to achieve their desires, including killing Addy and Quinn if necessary. Chasing Hindy by Darin Gibby is an ambitious novel that explores the lengths to which governments and other organizations will go to protect their privileged positions, and the power of dedicated individuals to stand against them. A pulse-pounding story, it sucks the reader in from the first page, and never lets up until the stunning climax.

I give it four stars.

Review of ‘Factor Man’

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When I review a book, I usually do one of two things; if I’m not captivated by the first chapter I stop reading and give it, at best a tepid review or I don’t review it at all, or I skim through the rest, and give it my best shot at an honest review. With Matt Ginsberg’s Factor Man, though, my technique was turned on its ear. I was thoroughly hooked on the book from the first few paragraphs but found that skimming was not an option. I had to read it slowly and carefully, absorbing every word, lest I miss some crucial piece of information. For the first time since I started reviewing books regularly (again, after a long hiatus) I found myself reading every word.

The cast of characters in this book is a long one, and each character is given full play. The reader is not only shown their actions and words, but their motivations, desires, and fears. From William Burkett, a savvy tech journalist who introduces Factor Man (FM) to the world; the Chinese spy, Janet Liu, who wants to destroy FM in order to save h er beloved country; as well as an eclectic assortment of characters, major and minor. But, the most intriguing character, the one from whom the title is derived, is FM himself. A scientist with a strong sense of integrity, caught up in a complex politically motivated world, his only wish is to do the right thing, and survive the experience.

This book has it all—in spades! A hero who has the world arrayed against him, he has to learn spy tradecraft, while preparing the world for his discovery of ‘God’s algorithm’, a code that will make obsolete all efforts at keeping electronic files secret. Can he survive long enough to attend his ‘coming-out party’, or will his secret die with him? If you want to know the answer to that question, I strongly recommend that you get a copy of this book and do what I did—read it carefully. It will change your views on Internet privacy and government’s concern for the welfare of its citizens in fundamental ways.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. I give it a resounding five stars!

Review of ‘Origin of Legends and the Secrets of the North’

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Brothers Baldr and Thor lived relatively happy lives as orphans after their parents drowned in a frozen lake. But, their world was torn asunder when they noticed strange green lights flashing on a mountain top near their sleepy little town. With their friends, they set out to solve the mystery of the flashing lights but are soon in too deep as they must contend with the freezing arctic weather and an ancient power. In order to survive, they must solve the secret of what lives within the mountain.

Origins of Legends and the Secrets of the North by Adison Runberg is a thrilling tale of adventure, mystery, and magic, that follows the brothers, their friends, Sophia and Nala, and a loyal canine they encounter along the way, as they penetrate ancient secrets and uncover the basis of legends that had been, until that time, only stories.

An interesting story that offers an unusual take on the Nordic legends, and a worthwhile read for a cold spring day.

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

Review of ‘Taemane – Daimonds’

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When the owner of a South African diamond mine dies, his two daughters, Kate and Claire, vie for control. The tension between the two women is ratcheted up, because of their personality differences, complicated by the racial tensions of the time.

Kate’s childhood sweetheart, Alex, is son of the native cook, and is determined to rid the mine of diamond thieves who have infiltrated the work crew. He is led to an inevitable confrontation with the leader of the gang, who has insinuated himself into Claire’s life. Bit by bit, with mounting tension, Kevin Farran introduces the reader to the reality and brutality of life in a society built on caste and race differences, and the power of love to persevere against almost insurmountable odds, in Taemane: Diamond, an uncompromising story of love, greed, and violence.

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

Review of ‘The Bench’

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Jenny is the office mouse, closeted in her cubicle in a large publishing house, she lives in a world only of her literary aspirations. Then, she stumbles across a love poem by an unknown author that changes her world—not necessarily for the better.

The Bench by Kevin Farran is an enigmatic romantic novel that explores the delusions that can engulf a life, fanning flames of hope and desire in ways beyond imagining. The story follows a measured journey through one woman’s tortured mind in a way that will keep you enthralled from beginning to end.

I received a free copy of this book. I give the author four stars for a good effort to entertain and enlighten.

Review of ‘Open Primary: Ameritocracy’

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Disillusioned with the state of the American political process, and somewhat traumatized by her estranged father’s failed attempt to run for president, Mia Rhodes decides to upend the system. She creates a presidential primary process that is truly open—a social media engine that allows any qualified person to declare candidacy, and then lets the People decide. Her project founders until she attracts the attention of eccentric tech billionaire, Peter Colton, who bankrolls her. Once her system is up and running, though, Mia discovers that in order to change the American political quagmire, she had to undergo significant personal change.

Open Primary: Ameritocracy by A. C. Fuller takes the political system that causes all of us so much anguish head on. Humor and pathos, hope and despair, exist side by side as Mia learns that changing a dirty system often requires getting down into the mud.

If you’re still reeling from the outcome of the 2016 joke that was the presidential election, you’ll find a lot in this book to relate to, cheer for, and gnash your teeth over. This is the first book in a series that will change your view of politics forever.

This book is the Primary Colors of the 2016 election. I give it five stars.

Review of ‘Swarm’

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John’s in a dead-end job, only staying because of his devotion to his wife and son. When a sick man enters his shop, life takes a distinct downward turn, not just for John, but for the whole world. What’s causing people to turn into flesh-eating zombies? John goes on the run with other survivors, but can he really do anything?
Swarm by Alex South is a zombie apocalypse novel set in London. Despite being a bit choppy, it’s an interesting take on the subgenre, with its focus on the individuals impacted by the ‘plague.’ Chillingly graphic descriptions of zombie attacks might be a bit much for the fainthearted, but zombie fans will eat it up—no pun intended.
I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. Because of the choppy prose, I give it three and a half stars.

Review of ‘Fall of the Six’

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After harrowing adventures on a variety of dysfunctional worlds, and epic battles with Marcus’s MM army, the Preston Six find themselves separated; three trapped in an alternate Los Angeles overrun by zombies, while the remaining three valiantly struggle to find and rescue them. In the meantime, Harris has left them behind as he makes a last-ditch effort to bring Marcus down. While the three endure immense hardships on their journey to LA, Harris finds desolation at every stop.

Fall of the Six by Matt Ryan, the third book in the Preston Six series, continues the adventures of six children, part of a bizarre experiment, born on the same day, and bound together by secrets that they struggle in vain to learn. While the battles are the same as in the first two books, readers will learn of the changes in the six as they learn more about each other, and themselves.

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

Review of ‘Until Sweet Death Arrives’

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Nahum Patterson is an accomplished investigative journalist for a Tel Aviv newspaper, who puts his life on the line to do stories exposing official corruption. His stories resulted in one man having to flee the country, and put another in prison—both have sworn to get revenge. In the meantime, Nahum’s memory slowly begins to fade as Alzheimer’s disease takes hold of his mind.

Until Sweet Death Arrives by Amnon Binyamini is a crime thriller, but mainly it’s a profoundly disturbing tale of the havoc diseases like Alzheimer’s wreaks on individuals and families. It follows the deterioration of Nahum from the onset of the disease, when he begins to find himself in places with no knowledge of how or why he came to be there, through the final stages, when he has to be confined for his own safety, and has no real awareness of his surroundings.

The author does an amazing job of portraying this condition, not to gain sympathy, but to generate understanding of the effect it has on the sufferers and everyone around them.

I give this book four stars.

Review of ‘Call of the Six’

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Thanks to the machinations of Marcus and his MM army, the Preston Six find themselves separated, Poly alone in a life raft after their plane is shot down on an alternate world, and heading for an island that might not even exist; and Joey and Samantha isolated in a scene generator, where Marcus is slowly sucking the life out of Joey. Harris, the Ghost, calls on the six to tap into their strengths to help him bring Marcus down, but in order to so, they have to survive zombie assaults and take on a high-tech army—and, in the process, get back together again.

Call of the Six by Matt Ryan is book two in the Preston Six series, and while it lacks the smoother copy editing of book one, makes up for it with spine-tingling action and profound interpersonal conflict.

This one ends on something of a cliff hanger, in some ways, similar to book one, which sets a reader up nicely for the next in the series. While I’m not ordinarily a fan of cliff hangers, I give the author a pass on this one.

I received a free copy of this book. I give this one three and a half stars, mostly because of the number of grammatical and typographical glitches.

Review of ‘The Bootlegger’s Legacy’

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When an old-time bootlegger dies, he leaves his son, Mike, a cryptic letter and a key, hinting at a secret stash of millions of dollars that he hopes his son is smart enough to find. With his best friend, Joe, he sets off on an adventure that covers three states and fifty years of a family history that sets the two friends’ minds reeling.

The Bootlegger’s Legacy by Ted Clifton is a rollicking and heartwarming tale of love, loss, and redemption that traces the lives of several people over a fifty-year period, as they come to terms with their past and present, and forge new futures. Once you start reading this book, you’ll be pulled into their lives as if they’re old friends with whom you’ve lost contact, and are now discovering things about them that you never knew.

The author does an amazing job of introducing characters, and then leaving you wondering what will happen to them next, and then, in the end, tying up every loose end in a wonderful package that will leave you completely satisfied.

A solid five-star read!