Saturday, December 16, 2017

Say Nothing: A Novel by Brad Parks

Say Nothing. Brad Parks. Penguin Publishing Group. March 2017. 448 pp.  ISBN#: 9781101985595.

Judge Scott Sampson, his wife Alison and their two children, Sam and Emma, are a happy, peacefully content family.  They’ve moved out to a farmhouse in Virginia so that they can maintain that quiet lifestyle without the pressures of urban living, especially with the frenetic atmosphere of government workers in Virginia, Maryland and Washington D.C.  But the Judge’s family life is about to totally unravel with a hair-raising series of events that keeps the reader’s pulse raised to the very last page.

Judges are expected to be the epitome of neutrality, capable of examining the facts and circumstances of a case and apply the objective law to those situations.  But what does a Judge and his wife do when their children are kidnapped and they are told to await each new message, letting no one else know what is happening?  They say and do “nothing.”  For the lives of Sam and Emma are clearly at stake! 

The first case the Judge is asked to rule on is what should be a simple drug seller case.  Obeying the kidnappers means making a decision that immediately opens up Pandora’s box of the legal world.  Judge Sampson is now under the scrutiny of higher Judges and even politicians.  To keep his children alive, the Judge says “nothing.”  Alison’s family know but promise silence although they are so enraged one wonders how long that will hold true.

The second case heading for Judge Sampson’s decision concerns a patent of a drug that will be life-saving for those who get to try it.  Its very nice to see all the details of the case laid out so that one understands the intricacies of such cases and so that one can see how much complication Judge Sampson must wade through to come to a legally acceptable decision.  The plot thickens substantially at this point.  One of the children is freed but the other one is undergoing terrible acts that will probably scar her for life.

The story evolves to a mind-numbing, horrific conclusion which is very realistic and not like your standard crime novel.  This is a story you will never forget, one that will want to make you read more of any writing of Brad Parks!  Well done, Mr. Parks!

City of Sand by Tianxia Bachang

City of Sand. Tianxia Bachang. Random House Children’s Books. November 2017. 256 pp. ISBN#: 9780553524109.

Tianyi is an unusual girl who doesn’t want to do anything that other “good” girls do.  Unknown to her family, her grandfather left her half a book about what westerners would call “grave robbing.” Then she studies the art of feng shui meant to guide her to correct tombs that will provide blessings in wealth rather than curses all too possible in other gravesites. In China, after all, there are ghosts, snakes, and other nefarious creatures that could kill quickly, neatly and without anyone else knowing. 

From the beginning, Tianyi and her friend, Kai, work well together.  Kai may not have the academic skills Tianyi has from her grandfather’s book but he is an adventurer and can be trusted with any sharing.  Their first encounters with ghosts and/or reanimated corpses is hair-raising but fun that readers will love.  After a while, they realize they need to travel with others of like mind and even better skills.  They thereafter join the archeological expedition of a Professor Chen and the American who is financing the project, as well the Professor’s entourage, to find Jingjue City, one spot on the Silk Road sacred tombs may be found with accompanying cultural artifacts.

No spoilers here!  Suffice to say that numerous adventures follow with some truth, some lies, and some betrayals pitching the action forward.  In some ways, the action goes nowhere, with little of importance discovered at first, and this may frustrate some readers.  But for the most part, the this is a Young Adult novel for those who love to read about myths, legends, adventures and foreign locales.  A bit of a vague ramble about life in a different world few of us could imagine yet get the chance to enter in these contemporary legendary pages!

Blindsided by Louise Henry

Blindsided. Louise Henry. Black Ink Romance. December 2017. 192 pp. ASIN#: BO77WRRMYB.

Sophie Campbell is very good at her job of being Chief Communications Officer at City Hall.  She would love to get the job of managing City Hall but that notion disappears when Marcus, a drop-dead-gorgeous guy, gets the position. 

Add to it that Sophie’s mother is heavily into drinking and bugging Sophie about everything under the sun.  Marcus and Sophie are a pleasure to read about as they have a true love (physically) – hate (cutting conversation remarks or responses) relationship.  The dislike actually blinds them to seeing the great qualities each has for the position they occupy. 

Now, the most unlikely of plots ensues.  Marcus had broken off his engagement before he came to City Hall.  Now it turns out that Sophie’s mother is reuniting with her other daughter whom she hasn’t seen in years.  Add Sophie couldn’t care less and wishes she never had to meet her long-lost sister.  Oh, the surprises get better when Marcus realizes that Sophie’s sister, Veronica, is his ex-fiancĂ©.  And Sophie’s Mom couldn’t be more endearing toward all.

Sophie, after enduring all she can, toughens up after one brief fling with Marcus.  The future is highly questionable; However, Sophie manages to handle her mother, Veronica, Marcus and even her best friend so they understand she is in control of her own life and is not surrendering it to them when she does occasionally ask for help. 

A lovely romance develops after some deserved snap and crackle conversations and too many misunderstandings and exposed secrets.  While the coincidence of Veronica strains credibility quite a bit, it still holds and doesn’t really become the mainstay of the conflict.

Sophie is a spunky, competent gal with just enough lusty femininity to make a romance work well.  Nicely crafted and recommended for a satisfying romance read!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

The Great Alone. Kristin Hannah. St. Martin’s Press. February 2018. 448 pp. ISBN #: 9780312577230. 

Leni Allbright’s father, Ernt, is a Vietnam War veteran who returns from the war with PTSD that gradually threatens Leni and her mother.  He sees everyone as a threat, can’t keep a job, drinks too much and repeats the cycle of paranoia and violence toward his wife, Cora. 

A dream arises for Ernt, to get away from the influence of government and rich people that smothers the lives of those who yearn to live a free, unencumbered life.  Ernt sees Alaska as the land that can enable the family to start a new life.  From this point onward, we see an amazing juxtaposition of what life could be and what life is.  The reader also yearns for the dream to become reality.  It will do so but not until events escalate to a crescendo of beauty and horror. 

For Lena falls in love with Alaska, its gorgeous scenery depicted in descriptions that make the reader want to live there and its feisty, strong residents who support each other in good and hard times. Ernt seems happy for a brief period of time but then succumbs to his fears. 

No spoilers here but suffice to say that after more brutality than one person can bear, Cora commits a startling act that will change their future forever.  Leni will complete, yet change, the cycle of love, forgiveness and honesty, returning to call Alaska “home.” 

Kristin Hannah is a very talented writer who deserves more public acknowledgment and praise.  The pace of this complicated plot is exquisitely crafted, mixing love for one’s environment with the need to deal with veteran post-war issues that shake and threaten the solidarity of a united community.  Stunning historical fiction that is highly recommended.

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Thursday Night Club and Other Stories of Christmas Spirit by Steven Manchester

The Thursday Night Club and Other Stories of Christmas Spirit.  Steven Manchester. Fiction Studio Books. November 2017. 192 pp.  ISBN#: 9781945839160.

Izzy and Ava host a weekly Thursday Night Club get-together with Jessie Cabral, Ava, Randy and Kevin.  They’re College Senior students who work hard at their studies and play just as hard, goofy friends who love nothing better than a good prank on each other, harmless fun that lightens their work load. Some have risen from poverty and are paying their tuition by the skin of their teeth but they don’t focus much on the hardship part of it all.  They are loyal to each other and beyond that focusing on meeting the directions of their various professors.  One professor in particular is a philosophy teacher who is highly demanding but how isn’t specified.  Jessie Cabral is probably the only remarkable student among them, preferring to be out on the streets doing something kind for someone in need but never flaunting it in anyone’s face. 

 “Pay it forward” is a phrase that has been put into action over the last few years, but what this group agrees to do following an awful tragedy they are now living with will far exceed that temporary phase.  They will make another bet to see who can do the greatest good to another human being but they must remain anonymous. 

What follows is inventive, spontaneous, and a true blessing to each recipient of the deeds these students initiate. 

Two other stories are added to what was originally published as a novella that add to the reader’s experience of enjoying a true Christmas Spirit.  In A Christmas Wish, a grandmother teaches Brian and Steph that if they truly wish and envision that wish their dream will come true.  Brian is a miracle that embodies the truth of the Christmas Spirit, a man who was deemed unable to live any kind of meaningful life.  Steph has a newfound realization that she is afraid to see become reality.  Readers will love the outcome of these two situations and admire the true Christmas Spirit.

The Tin Foil Manger is about Nancy, an elderly woman in a nursing home whose children can’t bear to visit her and watch her as Alzheimer’s disease eats away her mind and body.  A caretaker of the home connects both Nancy and her two daughters to a time when Christmas memories were something that united the family with meaning and blessings.  These realities of a past life give Nancy and her daughters the meaning of Christmas that restores living in multiple, fond ways.

The Thursday Night Club… and two other stories is not only a perfect  holiday read but also one for every day of the year and years to follow.  A great read, may it inspire others to live a life with “purpose.”

Right Behind You (Quincy and Rainie #7) by Lisa Gardner

Right Behind You (Quincy and Rainie #7).  Lisa Gardner. Penguin Publishing Group. October 2017. 480 pp.  ISBN#: 9781101984376.

Telly Ray Nash and his sister Sharlah have been brutalized by their father for years.  One night Telly has had enough and takes a baseball bat to his father, killing him and even using the bat on his sister Sharlah.  The siblings are then separated and are trying to put their lives together with families who actually want to adopt them.  One day, however, Telly kills both of his foster parents and wanders off to commit more murder.  Sharlah learns about this from her own foster parents, Quincy and Rainie, who are worried sick that her brother will come after to finish off what he began several years earlier. Quincy and Rainie are former FBI profilers and so they know something of what can be predicted.

The novel then concerns the search for Telly who is on the run.  The author takes the reader into the mind of Telly and Sharlah as the search continues.  The two victims haven’t really pieced together why their violent background unfolded.  Sharlah can’t figure out why her brother turned the bat on her after he finished his rampage on his abusive father.  Both deeply know fear, hate, and love, experiences that don’t make sense, as well as the care their foster parents are unconditionally offering them.  It’s just such a chaotic mental and emotional mess in their minds!

Don’t quit reading because the story enfolds in ways that are imagined by the reader.  Resist the temptation to stereotypically categorize Telly as a wounded killer gone berserk.  There’s far more to this story worth the telling.  Lisa Gardner is a wonderful storyteller who knows how to pace action and tension that keeps the reader riveted to the plot and caring about the characters involved in this nightmarish search and its aftermath.  Well-plotted with multiple characters worth rooting for to come out of their nightmarish experience!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak

Seven Days of Us. Francesca Hornak. Penguin Publishing Group. October 2017, 368 pp.; ISBN#: 9780451488756.

Olivia Birch and Sean, her new romance, have been working in Monrovia, Liberia, treating a deadly virus, Haag, which seems to resemble the volatile, dangerous Ebola virus.  The tensions and risks seem to have drawn them together.  When they return to England, Olivia and her family are forced into seven days of a quarantine to make sure she doesn’t have the disease or can spread it.  Unfortunately, Sean does have it and is immediately hospitalized and quarantined as well.

Emma and Andrew Birch decide the quarantine will be fine as it’s Christmas time and a great time to have a close family celebration.  Not surprisingly, it’s a week of shocking revelations and conversations that seem to do nothing but clash and then converge due to some measure of self-control and respect for the family.  Dealing with a cancer diagnosis, discovering a son and half-brother, watching a “supposed” romance gradually disappear, acknowledging the sacrifices made for dreams deferred, and so much more fill these pages with alternating tension and fear.  These are not loveable characters except for Emma whose background enables her to gracefully calm almost-explosive moments.  Olivia is having counter-culture shock on return to British life, Phoebe is snarky and jealous of her sister Olivia, George the lover is cold and aloof, and Andrew is having a hard time dealing with the Pandora’s box that’s opened with past secrets.

Still there are many rather sweet moments where the better sides of this family come to the fore, especially in moments of crisis.  Seven days together as a family would probably be a challenge for most families, but this is a story that gives some hints about how to deal with the outrageous and minor idiosyncrasies that emerge when human beings are forced to live in such close proximity with very little to distract them from each other. 

Ironically, this is a lovely, somewhat contrived, contemporary fiction story which this reviewer recommends as an interesting, compelling read!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Future She Left Behind: A Novel by Marin Thomas

The Future She Left Behind. Marin Thomas. Penguin Publishing Group. September 2017. 336 pp. ISBN #: 9780451476302. 

Katelyn Pratt’s life moves from sedate satisfaction into a whirlwind question mark when her husband, after twenty years of marriage, has divorce papers served on Katelyn.  He’s found a new, young love and left his wife with his mother, who is probably the most annoying woman in the world of St. Louis.  Shirley Pratt is a snob who is constantly mocking or correcting her daughter-in-law.  But her husband has decided the house will go up for sale and his mother will move into a senior apartment complex that Shirley decides isn’t ready yet for the way she wants it.  Result: she has to stay with her daughter-in-law until the apartment is ready.  Katelyn decides to take a trip back to her hometown in Little Springs, Texas.  The only problem is that Shirley has to go with her because her son is too busy with his new girlfriend.

This is the crux of this funny but frustrating novel.  However, Shirley is about to meet her match with Katelyn’s mother, Birdie.  Although Birdie gave up her dreams, like Katelyn did, she’s no shrinking violet.  She puts up with Shirley’s comments to a point but then is an expert at shifting the topic.  At the same time, Katelyn meets an old love, Jack, and other events happen to make her take a long look at what works and what doesn’t work in a good life.

This is a novel about transformation, leaving behind loneliness and embracing the fact that connections with other people is not fraught with fear and rejection. Instead Katelyn and Shirley will evolve with new experiences and reflection on attitudes and errors from the past. 

Despite the frustration, this is a delightful story that this reader found very enjoyable and recommends as a contemporary, very real story that speaks to families anywhere in the world!  

The Life We Bury: A Novel by Allen Eskens

The Life We Bury: A Novel. Allen Eskens. Prometheus Books. October 2017. 303 pp. ISBN #: 9781616149987. 

Joe Talbot, college student, has his hands full.  His mother is an alcoholic who is probably bipolar and his brother is autistic and being forced to undergo too much change for his vulnerable psyche.  Joe’s got an English assignment in which he must interview a subject and write a biography, including beginning chapters, an outline, and a finale.  He chooses Carl Iverson, a man convicted of raping and murdering a teenage girl, Crystal Hagen.  As his interviews begin, he meets several people who will change the course of his interview into an investigation.  Those people are Lili, a neighbor in his apartment building; Virgil who served with Carl in Vietnam and a former law clerk who was present during the trial of Carl.

The first question to be answered is why Carl pressed for an early and quick trial.  And why is he desiring this “dying declaration” when he’s previously been silent on the whole matter? 

It’s almost ironic that Joe is incapable of using some tough love on his own mother who has no problem taking Joe’s last monies to pay her bail rather than get sober while he becomes insistent on following the course of his investigation to its completion for a man who a few weeks ago was a stranger.

Readers will be shocked by the turns in this plot as accounts from Vietnam and a diary, as well as detailed questions completely turn this case around.  The course of this tale puts Joe’s safety into a perilous scene indeed.

Readers need to hold judgment as the beginning of this novel seems to tie up a story into a seamless tale.  The best is yet to come, and Allen Eskens provides an riveting tale that is sure to please readers who love good criminal fiction/thriller novels.  Nicely crafted and highly recommended!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

The Rules of Magic. Alice Hoffman. Simon & Schuster. October 2017. 384 pp.  ISBN #: 9781501137471. 

The Rules of Magic is a prequel to the well-known novel and film, Practical Magic.  It doesn’t matter if one hasn’t read the other novel; this is a stand-alone story in which Susanna Owens trains her two daughters and son not to do things that would allow the public to know both their horrendous family history or their present strange powers.  Yes, in 1620 their ancestor was charged with witchery.  Such a heritage is indeed hard to live with!

There are many rules that Susanna makes her children obey but they go ahead and do all those things anyway.  Franny, Jet and Vincent have their own unpredictable ways and support each other in when to and when not to use their powers.  Foretelling the future, reading the thoughts of other people, and other skills all are minor talents. The one that really matters to them is their mother’s warning not to fall in love.  This then is the heart of this novel.  For how can one stop oneself from falling in love?  But they also know that the one they fall in love with will die if they marry.  No spoilers here but at times the reader holds one’s breath because we come to believe that falling in love will turn tragic. 

Aunt Isabella is a wonderful character whose wisdom shared with these three young but inexperienced characters saves the day.  Her dry sense of humor and blunt advice delights the reader as well.

Franny, Jet and Vincent figure out how to live with their curse or blessing, depending on how one looks at it, and maneuver around it eventually.  Many will die or get hurt, charming connections are found, and many surprises are in store regarding love.  Through it all, the siblings maintain a very special connection and sense of humor about it all. 

In between their escapades is a delightful look at the 1960s where one smells wonderful flowers, herbs and food; hears memorable hippie music of that era; and more.

The Rules of Magic is one more example of Alice Hoffman’s exquisitely skilled writing which is superb and must reading!

Eden's Gates by Charles Roberts

Eden’s Gates. Charles Roberts. Strategic Book Group, LLC. January 2014. 722 pp. ISBN #: 9781609118044.  

Lavinia Williamson, raised in an Abolitionist family, marries a Virginia plantation owner who owns slaves.  For the most part, the slaves are treated well who work in the house, but those who work in the fields suffer from the harsh work and the treatment of overseers.  Lavinia thus becomes a careful slave runner, helping slaves to escape to the North.  But this is an extremely dangerous enterprise for the cost of escape is huge and death is the likely outcome of being captured. 

Lavinia and her husband have lost a daughter to death, and their marriage has become shattered, aggravated by Lionel’s affairs with other women and the slave women.  Now, she discovers Henny, a young slave, whose eyes are a perfect replica of her dead daughter’s eyes and Lavinia knows that Lionel has fathered her.  When looking at Henny, Lavinia knows she can find peace and some comfort in raising this young girl as her own daughter. But the cost of doing this is more estrangement from Lionel.

This then is the essence of this novel which focuses not only on raising Henny to read and write and be a cultured lady but the tension of more slaves escaping and Lavinia’s part in their freedom through the Underground Railroad (as it was then called, a journey from house to house all the way to the North of America).  It covers the effects of one woman’s arrest after aiding over two hundred slaves to escape. 

Many of the scenes in between these highlights allow the reader to observe the Southern belle mentality that often sets the standards of behavior but also exposes the hypocrisy and unchristian behavior toward those who believed in the equality of all men and women despite color. 

Eden’s Gates is an intriguing, engaging read reflective of a time in American history when animosity and division failed to stop the Abolition movement from effectively growing and freeing thousands of slaves.  Commendable and highly recommended historical fiction!

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The Deep Dark Descending by Allen Eskens

The Deep Dark Descending. Allen Eskens. Prometheus Books. October 2017. 272 pp. ISBN #: 9781633883550. 

Max Rupert is a detective tormented by the death of his wife and child she was carrying.  After a certain amount of time passes, Max is not allowed to have anything to do with the investigation of his wife’s passing.  However, Max discovers that she didn’t die in an accident but was deliberately murdered!  It doesn’t take much to imagine his fury and resultant reaction! 

Max has it on tape, a voice clearly indicating his wife was deliberately murdered.  Now he has to figure out who the Planner, the Henchman  and the Boss are!  The remainder of the story proceeds with Max figuring out the identity of the men responsible for Jenni’s death.  Somehow she discovered facts that could materially indict certain people over a crime involving Russian woman brought to America to serve as prostitutes.

This novel is harrowing as Max confronts the chief perpetrator and plans to kill him.  This is the essence of this story.  It raises questions of moral integrity.  When is it okay to wreak revenge on a killer?  Why should the law be the one to punish a murderer or murderers?  The laying out of these questions becomes clear when we see how Max begins to distance himself from everyone he knows, including a partner Niki, who cares for Max more than she should

The reader will be shocked by the end of this story and will certainly wonder what lies ahead in Max’s future.  This reader has the feeling that this will become clear in future novels.  For now, The Deep Dark Descending is nail-biting, tension-filled reading that lovers of crime thrillers, adventure tales and mysteries will thoroughly enjoy! Well done, Allen Eskens!

The Genius Plague by David Walton

The Genius Plague. David Walton. Prometheus Books. October 2017. 384 pp. ISBN #: 9781633883437.

Neil Johns is about to grasp the fulfillment of his dreams, to be a code breaker for NASA.  His brother is a mycologist who works with and is obsessed with the life of fungus, yes that’s right – fungus!  It turns out that biologically fungus is everywhere and duplicates faster than the mind can conceive.  The brother, Paul, and his friend Melanie escape from a brutal attack in the waters of the Amazon jungle.  He survives an infection that almost kills him, but he is not the same man he was before he contracted this brutal infection.  Instead he finds that if he doesn’t take his antifungal medication, he has phenomenal mental powers. 

At the same time Paul is recovering from his almost fatal illness, events are taking a turn for the worse in South America.  Coups are violently accomplished but unlike other changes in that part of the world, brutal dictators are uniting in purpose.

At first Paul sees the brilliance of fungus which even duplicates in the body and changes the mind, including the mind of his aged father who had been on the cusp of despair with Alzheimer’s disease but is now transformed and refreshed as an elderly man with purpose!

It sounds dangerous and frightening and so it is!  But the danger lies beyond what can be seen for what will happen when even humans cannot control the power of the transformative fungus that seems out to change and control the world?  The plot is simple but events move faster than the reader can imagine!  This is a science fiction novel that could become reality as microbial elements in the world are becoming stronger and resistant to all drugs and experiments.  Interesting read that this reviewer recommends as not only sci fi but also a great novel of international intrigue and mystery!

Osiris: A Novel by Eric C. Anderson

Osiris: A Novel. Eric C. Anderson. Adam Dunn Inc. September 2017. 212 pp. hb ISBN #: 9780996235235.  

ISIS drives a bevy of trucks into the American compound in Baghdad in the year 2019.  Within minutes, everyone who is not dead is the “walking dead,” carrying enough radiation to guarantee the end is near.  Who is involved in this attack?  Yes, ISIS but other powers have their eyes on this disastrous event and is trying to figure out how it will help their own power position in the Middle East.  Is this a winning disaster?  How? Why?

Turkey has spies in place, their objective to rid the area of Kurds and to bring back the Ottoman Empire.  A man named Odin is hired by Qatar leaders to make cyberspace attacks and even Israel is watching very carefully so that they may destroy the power that could mean their own eventual demise.

This novel is a pressure cooker military novel in which every nation is racing to enter Baghdad to claim the spoils (and that they literally are) of victory.  Enter a United States Marine who corrals material and supporting staff who will help him rescue those left in Baghdad.  He’s answerable to no one and toughly plans a rescue that seems all but impossible.  One officer higher in rank dares to question but knows he will get no more and is glad to be along for the challenge instead of sitting behind in offices waiting for the siege to end.

The novel is full of acronyms and a complex layer of characters that the reader must work hard to figure out.  A glossary at the end of the novel helps readers to figure out the weapons and technobabble on every page.

This is an international thriller that seems all too real to be completely comfortable.  Its modern warfare run amok!!!  Terrific read with shades of Ken Follett’s and Tom Clancy’s older novels! Enjoy the race for survival!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Dunstan by Conn Iggulden

Dunstan. Conn Iggulden. Michael Joseph. June 2017. 544 pp. pb. ISBN#: 9780718181451.

Dunstan, a fatherless child, is raised by monks on Glastonbury Tor.  Intrigued by the mechanics of building towers, cathedrals and palaces, he quickly decides that knowing how to accomplish great deeds and pleasing those in power are just as important as one’s faith in God and devotional practices.  So, he quickly rises in the Church and becomes the acquaintance and friend of many Kings and Princes.

It is the year 937 and the Wessex King Aethelstan, grandson of King Alfred the Great, is trying to unite England into one kingdom.  However, there are Danes and Vikings who periodically attack England and the King spends more time away in these momentous battles than at his court.  Dunstan is no saint but realizes to attain his dream he must find favor with the King.  Highly perceptive, King Aethelstan does not totally trust Dunstan, but his son who will be King after him does trust Dunstan.  Indeed, Dunstan will become the friend of Kings who will support Dunstan’s dream of building the greatest Abbey in England.

Glastonbury Abbey and Canterbury Cathedral will indeed be built from Dunstan’s direction, but what Dunstan must do to accomplish these formidable feats is less divine and more in line with temporal machinations.  For Dunstan will murder, torture, lie, cheat, steal, betray and manipulate his way to glory!  The fascinating part of this life story is that he truly believes God will not hold these deeds against them since his goal of bringing glory to God is higher than anything else that occurs. At the same time, he also tries to bring his Order of Benedictines more in line with the plan of the founder of this well-known Order of priests and brothers.

Conn Iggulden is a Master Storyteller who knows how to wrap the reader in his plot, characters and multilayered conflicts and mesmerize him and her.  One is always sorry when a Conn Iggulden novel ends, and Dunstan is no different than the other historical novels Conn Iggulden has crafted.  This is a highly readable, magnificent work of historical fiction and is highly recommended for those who love a great story that is accurately and skillfully told!  Wonder-full!

Snow by Mike Bond

Snow. Mike Bond. Mandevilla Press. September 2017. 250 pp. ISBN#: 9781627040372.

Meet three successful men who are off in the Montana wilderness, free to hunt, drink and bond. They have no cares other than their high-stress lives, a stress none would give up except Curt, a half-Cheyenne mountain guide anxious to save his ranch from a takeover by a well-known energy company. Zack used to be an NFL football star and is now a TV sports newscaster. He loves his job but knows his football years have taken their toll on his body and even his mind. He owes a couple of million dollars to some high rollers in Las Vegas. Steve is a rabid Wall Street investor/broker whose confidence in investing money has gone much too far and he is now faced with the fact that he has lost not only his own money but also Zack’s money – millions! The “high life” is a capricious creature that can turn on a dime, making one bankrupt in seconds.

Miraculously or not, depending on one’s point of view, Zack and Steve find a crashed airplane inside of which they find a load of cocaine. Steve wants to turn “most” of it over to the police, but Zack’s having none of that. Curt really doesn’t know what’s happened until it’s too late.

For Maria Christina, a brilliant businesswoman, runs a cocaine cartel and has not taken well to her stolen cargo. She sets the executioner Diego onto the trio and at the same time the Feds get involved. It’s not very long before everyone knows where everyone else is and the race is on for very high stakes! There’s much more to this frenetic tale, including that Curt must make a choice to play criminal or snitcher!

“Lady Cocaine” is a costly habit as Steve and Zack discover but that doesn’t stop them from being enamored by her physical embrace. Readers won’t be able to put this book down as Mike Bond again makes them embrace the plot to the point it’s as if they were involved in the hunt of all hunts.

The plot is rather simple but Bond’s talent is as a Master of Suspense for sure!

Fast-paced mystery, adventure, and frenetic crime thriller!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Law and Vengeance: A Legal Thriller by Mike Papantonio

Law and Vengeance: A Legal Thriller. Mike Papantonio. Select Books (NY). September 2017. 256 pp. ISBN #: 9781590794364.

Gina Romano works for a high-powered lawyer firm, Bergman Deketomis.  They take only the toughest cases that involve large corporations and invariably involve government departments.  Their most famous cases involve corporations dumping chemical waste into rivers and causing, sadly, devastating cases of cancer for years to come.  Of course, taking on such cases involves attracting danger in different forms and also requires the best legal minds to not only take on but also win such cases.  These lawyers, including Gina, love the danger and the daily challenges of each case. 

The case Gina and her firm are presently focused on involves the design and production of a gun, the Sight-Clops, which has a definite problem when used in high humidity conditions.  Investigating this “mistake” winds up with Gina’s boss, Angus, dead and Gina almost dead from an automobile accident.  The description of the accident immediately notifies the reader that some big guns are after Gina, Angus and their law firm, opposition that will do whatever is required to get Gina and Angus to back off.  Of course, no surprise here as it doesn’t work; if anything, as Gina begins her long, long recover, she is determined to use the time to intensify her search for Angus’s killer.  A whistleblower is the source of the leak about the failed product but what are the chances for such a snitcher to survive?

Mike Papantonio is a lawyer and so the plot of this crime thriller is credible, fast-moving but not unrealistically so, and demonstrates a passion for justice that still exists for those legal minds who have not become too jaded from experience.  Law and Vengeance is a quick read because of its constant action-packed pages and interesting characters and issues.  Enjoy the read and you’ll want to Mike Papantonio’s other novels!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Strange Scottish Shore: Emmaline Truelove #2 by Juliana Gray

A Strange Scottish Shore: Emmaline Truelove #2. Juliana Gray. Penguin Publishing Group. September 2017. 400 pp. ISBN#: 9780425277089.

To begin with, note that there is a selection from an old tome, The Book of Time, before each chapter, telling the tale of a Scottish selkie, who rose from the sea in ancient times and married the Lord of a Castle, had two lovely children but who was swayed to return to her former marine life. Each section parallels the unfolding action in this tale in which it is 1906 which begins with a selkie suit being found. Maximilian Haywood and Emmeline Truelove have traveled to the past to solve other mysteries. Now they discover that their friend, Lord Silverton, has disappeared as well as another mysterious, very suspicious character.

The majority of the action in this novel takes place in the 1300s in a small Scottish country town with a man named Max and of course, Lord Silverton and Emmeline who are transported to that error. It turns out that Silverton has already been there for three years. Emmeline, on the other hand, has quite a period of adjustment to the language, dress, food, and Silverton’s acceptance that he will never return to his former 20th Century life.

Emmeline is quickly accepted and her initial balking at Silverton’s declaration of undying love is slowly eroded and their fiery romance takes off like a rocket. Emmeline, however, believes she has been sent here to complete a mission and that is what gradually evolves. It’s a grand tale indeed (no spoilers here) involving a past legend resembling one of the many selkie legends floating in Scottish folklore. The tension and surprising scenes of violence are inserted in all of the right places, and Silverton, Emmeline and Max the new Lord, conspire to prevent a travesty occurring that would make a past legend fleshed out in the present turn disastrous. The care and concern these characters share is what solidifies a unpredictable, quick-paced plot.

This is a stand-alone novel but there is a prequel to this tale which this reviewer knows readers will want to read after finishing this exciting, romantic, mysterious, adventurous work of historical fiction mixed with paranormal qualities. Nicely done, Juliana Gray!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Scarred Woman: A Department Q Novel Series #7 by Jussie Adler Olsen

The Scarred Woman: A Department Q Novel Series #7. Jussie Adler Olsen. Penguin Random House Publishing Group. September 2017. ISBN #: 9781524702489.  

Get ready for a thriller rollercoaster ride!  Carl Marck, the head of Copenhagen’s Department Q dealing with cold cases, becomes interested in parallel details of two cases, one the murder of an elder woman years ago and a similar present murder.  Department Q is in trouble and in competition with upstairs Divisions, as the politicians and police brass are interested in the number of cases completed and reported on and those begun but never finished. The outcome could be financial cuts. That is until Carl enters the scene.

In a Social Services office in Copenhagen, a social worker, Anneli, is sick and tired of young woman dressed quite fashionably who show up for their unemployment benefits. They can’t or won’t get jobs.  Anneli wishes she could do something about it but doesn’t do anything.  But then disaster strikes when she is diagnosed with breast cancer and decides to not only fight for her life but to make her job meaningful by taking care of these leeches on Dutch society.  From that decisive moment, her portion of the story becomes non-stop riveting, pulse-pushing horror!  Denise, Michelle and Jazmine, predators on society, love their lives but are now the hunted rather than hunters.

Rose, the main character in this novel, starts the ball rolling by being yelled out in Department Q for not completing her reports.  There’s something about one of these cases that completely unravels Rose’s sanity, and the eventual involvement of Carl and Assad turns up Rose’s nightmare past, including twists and turns with murders and familial hatred beyond one’s imagination.

These stories eventually coalesce, with a balanced amount of humor and serious investigation, that is pleasing.  Although many of the actions in these scenes are quite wrong, this author makes the reader root for all the characters involved herein.

This reviewer hasn’t read the other novels in this series but intends to do so soon.  Fans of Stieg Larsson will love this novel as the desire for revenge wreaks its path across the city of Copenhagen.  The Scarred Woman is a remarkable crime thriller highly recommended for all readers!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Bloody Black Flag - A Spider John Mystery by Steve Goble

The Bloody Black Flag: A Spider John Mystery. Steve Goble. Prometheus/ Seventh Street Books. September 2017.  237 pp.  ISBN #: 9781633883598.

What child has read a book about pirates or seen pirate movies and imagined living such an adventurous, constantly thrilling life.  Well, that hunger can be sated again with Steve Goble’s novel about Spider John, a man who feels safer as a pirate at sea than a landlubber always having to watch his back for fear of the hangman or jailkeeper because of past deeds.  The time is 1722 and the place is the Colonial Coast of America.  Spider John and his good friend, Ezra, have escaped capture ashore and are now part of the crew of the Plymouth Dream, with a captain who would not think twice about killing any crew member if his rules are broken.

Early on, a young, bitter looking “bloke” keeps eying Ezra and it turns out he believes Ezra is the descendant of witches and therefore to be burned at the stake or hanged.  This is an area of Massachusetts still carrying shadows of the earlier “witches” frenzy that wound up with rash charges made and confirmed, followed by death.  Imagine Spider John’s devastation when Ezra is found dead in his room.

Spider John is determined to find the murderer, but in between his investigation steps are battles to be fought against attackers of their ship.  These are the swashbuckling battles that are expected by the reader and do not fail to satisfy with their minute descriptions of hand-to-hand combat as well as sword-fighting duels that are life and death matters.

There is no law on a pirate ship and Spider John has no intention of capturing Ezra’s killer but instead will kill him.  Surprises aplenty will thrill the reader as this search continues!  Nicely done and hopefully the first of many more Spider John stories to follow!

The Border by Steve Schafer

The Border. Steve Schafer. Sourcebooks. September 2017. 360 pp. ISBN#: 9781492646839.

Imagine going to a “quincinera,” a 15th birthday party in a small Mexican town, which turns into a mass murder scene!  When it’s all over, three young men and a young woman are the remaining survivors who know that drug gang members or narcos have wiped out their entire family!

It’s a quick, brutal beginning and the reader would think that anything that follows is anticlimactic but the journey these youths are about to undertake “to the north” is anything but sedate.  Marcos and Gladys are siblings, and Pato and Arbo are cousins.  Marcos is a strong but shady character.  He’s obviously not always telling the truth but he knows more about the dangerous situation they are attempting to escape.  Gladys is a vulnerable young girl whose brother is very protective of her.  Pato and Arbo are simple guys who seem to be having the hardest time dealing with the memories.  One of the guys wonders over and over if he could have prevented the disaster if he had spoken about the suspicious looking car parked outside of the party. 

The journey begins with a phenomenal car chase in which Marcos’s ability to use a gun saves them from immediate capture.  But then they must deal with serious physical problems from a cactus plant, rattlesnakes, and the devastating effect of being dehydrated.  The desert is a brutal, merciless place where the furnace-like heat parches them all to exhaustion.

Snippets of memories fill the moments while they travel, juxtaposing the life-threatening present situation in which they now find themselves.  When it’s all done, they know they will have each other’s backs forever!

The Border is a starkly realistic story about immigrants seeking asylum in America, Mexicans who are not criminals or evil people.  Indeed, this scenario is probably true for the majority of those escaping brutal regimes or criminals in many countries.  It certainly forces the reader to rethink the reality that so contrasts with political statements presently being touted and certainly forms a laudatory background for those fighting the effort to stop immigration with a blanket law that ignores life and death decisions calling for phenomenal courage and action!

Recommended reading, indeed! Food for soul-searching thought!

Sunday, September 10, 2017

The Address: A Novel by Fiona Davis

The Address: A Novel. Fiona Davis. Penguin Publishing Group. August 2017. 368 pp. ISBN#: 9781524741990.

Millions of readers might recognize the name of the Dakota Hotel as the place where John Lennon was killed, but lovers of Manhattan and its history will know this same hotel as one of the first most glamorous buildings built to house and entertain the rich and famous of the business, entertainment and political world in 1884. Our story begins in London but quickly moves to New York City where Sara Smythe has been hired as the new “Managarette” of the hotel by architect Theodore Camden. Both have very difficult jobs, trying to please aristocratic residents used to being pampered and coddled at any time of day or night.

The story quickly shifts to the same place in 1985. Bailey Camden is trying to recover from alcoholism. She’s just returned from rehab and found out her job is gone as the last drunken scene she put on gave her too much of a reputation and one that the owners didn’t want to smear the Dakota Hotel. Her cousin, Melinda, hires Bailey to do architectural work but that doesn’t last long with the appearance of someone who turns out to be a real friend.

It also turns out a mysterious object is about to be found that might lead to Bailey finding out more about her history than she’d ever imagined. But not without threats and trouble galore!

The Address is a plot-driven account of a lovely Manhattan Hotel, its founders, designers, interior decorators, and more. Even famous places have their notorious, as well as lovely, sides and Fiona Davis does a grand job of providing the reader with a mystery that brings the Camden family full circle, perhaps contrived but well done all the same.

More than that, Sara Smythe and Bailey Camden discover they are valuable human beings with and without fancy names, places and connections! THAT is the magical part of this highly recommended story!

Monday, September 4, 2017

The Plague Diaries: Keeper of Tales Trilogy #3 by Ronlyn Domingue

The Plague Diaries: Keeper of Tales Trilogy #3. Ronlyn Domingue. Atria Books. August 2017. 432 pp. ISBN#: 9781476774282.

Secret Riven is no longer advertising her magical powers.  Instead she has become somewhat of a self-educated scholar who works as an archivist in the magnate Fewmany’s offices.  This is not your local library, but rooms and rooms of books in every possible subject, including books and objects to do with magic, sorcery, legends, myths, etc.  The formerly very close relationship between Secret and Nicholas the Prince has changed with their separation, something Secret doesn’t realize until they meet again well into the novel. 

The story herein grows at a sedate pace in which the reader grows to share Secret’s love for animals, plants, and nature wherever they are found.   Little by little, the reader finds that Fewmany has a purpose in befriending Secret, although she doesn’t really figure that out until much later.  Meanwhile, Fewmany seems to be trying to broaden Secret’s horizons, inviting her to dinners, etc. at which some guests and scenes frighten Secret.  These pages are replete with weird costumes, animals and figures with strange powers, and strange events.  One gets to know many of the main characters in the government.  The author does a marvelous job in stretching all of this out in an intriguing way so that the reader doesn’t really mind that the crux of the quest isn’t revealed immediately.

The Old Woman who was introduced in the first novel of this series, a new character Harmyn, Nicholas and Secret eventually will try to discover the connection between a certain symbol in an ancient manuscript and other symbols available elsewhere.  No spoilers here, but it all ties together eventually.  In the process, Secret Riven becomes aware that her repressed gifts of connection to nature and languages can be used maturely when appropriate.

This reviewer appreciates this final version of the Keeper of the Tales Trilogy as well-written, even though it is a stand-alone novel, and highly recommended to readers who love a good mystery with paranormal features, friendship, loyalty and engaging quests.