Sunday, July 15, 2018

Book Review: The Stork (A Shelby McDougall Mystery Book 2) by Nancy Wood

Enjoy a Satisfying ‘Whew’ When Its All Over

The Stork is a well-crafted mystery with a tense, action-filled finale.  The story starts fast, with a middle-of-the-night, hysterical call for help.  A child has been kidnapped.  But not just any child – one that Shelby McDougall, the series heroine, gave birth to as a surrogate mother (in Book 1 of the series).  The pace then moderates.  Minor details like the sequence of California roads taken between point A and point B get perhaps too much coverage, but the discoveries sprinkled throughout the midsection will hold your interest.  Then, things heat up again for the finale, allowing the reader a satisfying ‘whew’ when it’s all over.

There are a couple of factors a potential reader should know in advance.  First, although part of a series, this book is standalone.  However, if you read this one first, you may have little motivation to return to book 1 (Due Date).  That’s because there are fairly extensive flashbacks in this book and you end up knowing the characters, the plot, and even the outcome of book 1 (beyond the obvious that the heroine of the series survives).  So, I’ll make the highly surprising and completely radical suggestion that you start at the beginning…or plan on reading only this one.

Second, if you are a fan of hard-boiled, procedurally detailed crime mysteries, you may not get your fill.  Shelby is a PI-in-training, and so, some of her extremely ill-advised choices of what to investigate and what to let slide and what to tell colleagues and what to omit are frustrating.  But they are also undoubtedly by design; I expect that Shelby will mature with the series.  But some are also a bit too convenient – why isn’t anyone looking at the children’s miraculous capabilities as a way to solve the crime?   And there are a few errors, like expecting an outdoor motion detector to be activated by throwing a stick in front of it.  But overall, these are minor.

I particularly enjoyed the author’s imaginative turns of a phrase, often related to a character’s emotions.  Where many authors might write the first five words of this sentence to show surprise, Wood’s take is:  “My jaw dropped in surprise and I snapped it shut, feeling like it’d been opened and closed by some external force. As if I were the dummy and the universe was the ventriloquist.”  It would be easy to get carried away with this kind of ‘cuteness’, but to her credit, Wood doesn’t.

Overall, The Stork is a well-crafted book that starts strong, sprinkles a few discoveries in the middle to keep you hooked, then ends with a bang.  And while tense in places, it’s cozy feel makes for a comfortable, summer-afternoon read.

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Sunday, July 8, 2018

Book Review: The Soldier’s Return (The Heaven's Pond Trilogy Book 2) by Laura Libricz

Historical Fiction Where Everyday Life is a Test of Survival 

Historical fiction can entertain with a look at everyday life, especially when that life is much different than our own.  The Soldier’s Return by Laura Libricz is a good example of that approach.

The book provides an unflinching look at life during the Thirty Years’ War (1618 to 1648), one of the longest and deadliest conflicts in Europe.  But the wounds the novel depicts aren’t from the battlefield, but from the mercenaries who live off the land.  Life of those in their path is hard, as the soldiers take what they want – food, drink, valuables, women – and destroy much of the what’s left.  Herr Tucher, master of Sichardtshof farm, and Katarina, his maid and mistress accept this life fatalistically, doing what’s necessary to survive.  “Children had to be fed, animals had to be tended. Life had to go on.”  Famine and disease follow the troops.  Then, if that wasn’t enough, the region is also embroiled in witch hunts, with the fanatical Ralf driving “…the devil from those fallen souls. With force. With fire.

By today’s standards, the characters are difficult to like.  For example, Herr Tucher does little to protect his family, servants, and farm, while expecting them to make the best of it.  And in the eyes of the public, he’s the devoted husband while ignoring his true love, the maid Katerina.  Pieter, on the other hand, is a self-centered, drunken, ill-tempered womanizer.  But these characterizations serve the story well by conveying some of the norms of the time.  Outside the nobility, women are little more than property.  Religion is politics, with superstition and intolerance its operating principles.  Survival is for the brutal or the unscrupulous.

Clearly, author Libricz has chosen a time and place overflowing with story-telling potential, and generally, she uses that potential well.  She weaves scenes of vivid clarity and descriptions that evoke images.  “Traveling with the troops is like riding on the top of a wave. We can see where it’s going instead of just waiting for the wave to drown us.”  But at other points, the prose is terse, artificial, and detached even in action scenes.  “A quick visual survey showed Katarina the soldier had a dagger on his belt, close to her detained arm.”  Repetition of words in a sentence and thoughts and actions across sections is also a minor distraction.  For example, Pieter, the returning soldier for whom the book is named, seems to operate in cycles.  Do something foolish due to drink or his temper, get arrested, escape, repeat.  And finally, although this is book 2 of a trilogy, I expected some issues to be closed, some secondary milestone in the series to be reached.  The Soldier’s Return just seems to end.

Overall, The Soldier’s Return is a vivid account of life in Germany during the Thirty Years’ War, focusing on the destruction wrought by the warring forces, the resulting fame and disease, and the accompanying witch hunts.   A bit of artificiality in the prose, some repetition, and the lack of a book-2-specific theme, however, slightly dilute the book’s overall appeal.

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Thursday, July 5, 2018

Continue the 4th of July Celebration...

With a few good books at some great prices!

Now through July 11, In the Space of an Atom is only 99 cents.  You save 66%.

Pick up a copy today for 99c:
Or in the UK, only 99p:

Sorry, but you'll need a little patience for the others.

On Amazon Prime Day (Monday, July 16 at 3pm ET through Wednesday, July 18 at 3am ET), all three books from the World's On Fire series by Lincoln Cole will be on sale.  His website promises a savings of over 60%.  And yes, I've enjoyed them all.

Raven’s Peak
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Raven’s Fall
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Raven’s Rise
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My review:


Starting July 27, Whiskey Kills by Lolli Powell is only 99 cents.

When bar owner, Ricki Fontaine’s friend, Ruby Fogarty, is charged with murdering her boyfriend by clubbing him to death with a bottle of whiskey, the police consider the case closed. But Ricki is convinced Ruby is innocent and sets out to find the real murderer. Although Waterton police detective Gabriel Russell is crazy about Ricki, he isn’t too crazy about her trying to do his job.  The killer’s not too happy about it either.

My review:  (spoiler - it cracked me up)
Get your copy on July 27:

(Check all prices before purchasing)

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Book Review: Miro by A.E. Nasr

A Powerful Story, An Elegant Style…And Some Discord Between Them 

Miro boasts a compelling plot.  An occupying army brutalizes a nation, some of the conquered trying to become invisible to their oppressors to make a living…or even joining with them.  Some resist in secret, hoping to eventually throw off the bonds of tyranny.  Still others just try to survive.  Miro and his companions – the Captain, Alex, Aidan, and Markus – are part of the latter group, imprisoned and tortured for nine years until events give them a second chance at freedom.  And be forewarned – some of this action is intense and brutal.

But even as powerful as this storyline is, it is the prose that sets Miro apart.  The book is elegantly written, the scenes evocative, the characters nuanced.  It explores some of the extremes of human existence that can only be found in the hostile and unforgiving setting of war – courage, betrayal, brotherhood, hope.  Clearly, words are the friend of author A.E. Nasr.

In places, there is some discord between style and story.  With such evocative prose, the transitions from thought to reality can blur easily.  More than once I found myself returning to an earlier paragraph, realizing that what was being recounted was not a dream, not the demon of a former battle or the fantasy of an earlier time, but events in the here and now.  Some of that intertwining of real and imagined may have been intentional – a character’s past influences how he reactions.  But at other times, it seemed that a transition was missing, resulting in my pause.

Overall, melding the ‘nuts and bolts’ of action and the elegance of literary fiction is not an easy task.  With only few exceptions, Miro does it extremely well.

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Monday, June 25, 2018

Book Review: With Face Aflame by A.E. Walnofer

A Perilous Journey of Self-Discovery in 17-Century England

Madge, the seventeen-year-old protagonist of With Face Aflame, lived in humiliation, ashamed of the red birthmark that covered one side of her face.  Working in her father’s inn in 17-century England, she received little to shape her self-image beyond the stares, the gasps, and in some cases, the ridicule of their customers.  But when circumstances forced her hand, she joins a minstrel she just met and his crass friend, tagging along in search of a miracle.  The rest of the tale is one of discovery…and danger.

The story is told from Madge’s perspective, a large portion of it being her inner thoughts.  Walnofer uses the technique well, as the reader hears Madge’s inner voice as she debates some of life’s greatest mysteries, as well as the meaning of even the simplest of acts – the look of a stranger, the feel of a hand on her back, the kiss of a child.  Those inner struggles and reversals perhaps become a bit overused toward the end, but overall, we come to know Madge quite well.  And she’s a worthwhile person to know – intelligent, caring, funny, growing.

Much of the book involves the daily life of an inn keeper or that of a minstrel, traveling town to town, singing for supper.  And while that may sound slow, the pacing of events and the novelty of the lifestyles easily held my interest.  Additionally, there is an underling tension to her story.  Her world is one built on superstition and religious intolerance, where women are wenches, little more than a man’s possession.  Would her father’s warnings about the ways of men and some simple self-defense see her through?

Overall, With Face Aflame boasts a heroine well worth knowing in a finely crafted story of self-discovery.  It’s well worth the read.

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Sunday, June 17, 2018

Book Review: Rafferty Lincoln Loves… by Emily Williams

If You’re Male, You’ll Probably See Some of Yourself in Raff Lincoln

Rafferty Lincoln Loves… is a fanciful, young-adult book about four teenagers who scarcely knew each other at school, but who bond to care for a horse they find.  The main character, Rafferty (Raff) Lincoln cares nothing about horses, but he’s idolized Liberty Ashburn for years.  So, when she becomes involved, so does he.  Much of the rest of the story is Raff trying to catch her eye, with more than one of his hapless attempts making me laugh aloud…like seeing if he can impress her with how fast he can ride his bike.  Other actions, however, made me cringe at his impulsiveness and ineptitude.  Liberty, on the other hand, is not easily swayed.  As the most popular girl in school, she wants everyone’s adoration, including Raff’s, but nothing more.  It might hurt her image.

The author sprinkles in several serious topics – the price of popularity (as I mentioned), the effect of confidences betrayed, bullying, and even child abuse.  At such times, one or more of the figures would come out of character and speak with wisdom beyond their years, making the story feel a bit artificial at that point.  But it is mostly light and humorous…until it gives way to a rather dramatic ending that will stay with you for a while.

It’s difficult to say who is the appropriate audience for this book.  The synopsis says, “…older young adults,” which is probably due to the language; Liberty’s use of profanity helps sell her image as the queen bee and Rafferty’s helps convey the heat of the moment.  But while the language says older, much of the action seems aimed at the younger end of the scale, like suggesting graffiti that says, “Rafferty Lincoln Loves…” would teach him a lesson.  Would young adults say anything to that beyond, ‘whatever?’  And several of Raff’s inner thoughts hardly seemed like they came from the mind of a sixteen-year-old boy, e.g., “She smelt of summer flowers and linen, probably just her washing powder fragrance. Heavenly.”

Finally, not to be overlooked – the proceeds from the book go to the British Thoroughbred Retraining Centre, a very worthy cause.  So, you can feel good about your purchase, as you chuckle about Raff’s misfortunes and watch him grow as the pages turn.

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Monday, June 11, 2018

Book Review: Nomad: A Thriller (The New Earth Series Book 1) by Matthew Mather

When you’re reading and you have to stop to catch your breath….

Nomad by Matthew Mather has plenty of action.  At the center of the whirlwind is the Earth, being threatened by something invisible, massive, and moving extremely fast toward us from the other side of the sun.  It threatens to rip through our solar system, pulling the sun behind it in its gravitational wake and leaving the Earth a frozen wasteland, ejected into deep space.  And like many of the best science thrillers, the story has the ring of solid research and the latest theory.  But for those not sure or who just want more (like me), Mather provides an Afterword that details recent findings.  They parallel the story to an amazing degree, providing some fascinating food for thought.  They’d even be cause for concern, except no similar events are expected in the next million years.  (Whew)

Although I thought the science was the star of the book, if suspense born of astrophysics is not your ‘cup of tea,’ don’t worry.  Dealing with awaking volcanos, kidnappings, earthquakes, being trapped in a cave-in, robbery, and tsunamis all make an appearance in the story.  The action is intense and nearly nonstop.

With the focus on pace, one might expect character development to suffer, but it didn’t.  One of the primary figures in Nomad is Jessica Rollins.  Even in the first scenes, it’s clear that she’s headstrong and doesn’t hesitate to speak her mind – perhaps to a fault.  As a result, she seems spoiled and arrogant, especially early in the book.  But as the story unfolds, we get views into her history, resulting in a more textured picture of a woman fighting for survival while coming to grips with her past.  At times, Jessica’s backstory seemed a bit excessive.  But if she is to be one of the main protagonists throughout the series, which I suspect, the development is appropriate.  Romance also made its way into the book, but it was the trite, ‘what do you do when you only have hours to live’ type.  It was a throwaway scene, one of the very few.

Overall, Nomad lives up to the name of its genre – it’s a thriller with fascinating science and decent characters.  And the pace?  Well, you may even need to take a break from reading just to catch your breath.

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