Book Review: Dying to Live by Michael Stanley

Dying to Live
A Detective Kubu Mystery #6
Michael Stanley
Minotaur Books, October 2017
ISBN:  978-1-466-88156-3
Hardcover

The sixth in the series featuring detective Kubu (“hippopotamus” in Setswana, the language of Botswana), this novel has an unusual plot:  a secret plant indigenous to the desert, for which three men are murdered, is the basis for this mystery.  The pathologist Dr. Ian MacGregor, who does the autopsy on a bushman found dead in the desert, discovers an aged body containing youthful organs.  He calls Kubu when he suspects the man was murdered.  It turns out the victim was a highly respected witch doctor who treated a variety of “patients” with a secret potion promising a long life.

Thus begins a long, complicated investigation, in which Kubu is assisted by the first female CID detective, a case that expands when another witch doctor turns up murdered and a visiting anthropologist from the United States goes missing.  As if that’s not enough to keep him busy, Kubu is confronted by another case in which controlled substances, powdered rhino horn, is being smuggled out of the country.  Kubu suspects the two cases are inter-related.

Just as important to this novel, as well as the series, is Kubu’s home life, his relationship with his wife, Joy, and his daughter Tuni, and adopted daughter, Nono, who is HIV positive and suffers a breakdown causing considerable concern until a prescribed cocktail of medicines can be formulated to stabilize her condition.  These aspects give the writing team who authored the book the opportunity to show how human Kubu is, as well as the detective’s well-known appetite.  Other constant features of the series are the atmosphere and characteristics of the Batswana (the people of the nation).  We await the seventh novel in the series after recommending the sixth and current one.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, January 2018.

Book Review: Call to Arms by Rachel Amphlett

Continue reading

Book Review: A Perfect Shot by Robin Yocum—and a Giveaway!

A Perfect Shot
Robin Yocum
Seventh Street Books, April 2018
ISBN: 978-1-63388-417-5
Trade Paperback

Fans of Chuck Logan may find this book an attractive addition to their library of crime thrillers. Yocum tends toward the more brutal and darker side of the genre, but there are definite similarities.

Decades after his last-minute basket to help the Mingo Junction Indians win the Ohio state high school basketball championship, Duke Ducheski has finally realized his dream—to open a fine restaurant in his home town and get out of the steel mill that dominates his home town. He also pledges to himself to avoid becoming involved with the nasty crime family that rules the valley.

Steel manufacturing in this Ohio valley is not the only enterprise dominating the town. The other presence is the mob, a tight-knit group of entrepreneurs who control the gambling, drug sales and prostitution action in town. The mob boss is aging Salvatore Antonelli. His principal enforcer is a local boy named Tony DeMarco.

When Duke opens his restaurant with some assistance from his long-time high school buddies Moonie and Angel, things are looking up for the forty-year old divorced mill worker, and then he disappears. His disappearance is triggered by an elaborate plan concocted by Duke to rid himself of the heavy arm of Tony DeMarco, and of other obligations. He enlists the aid of former school buddies and a grandfather-like figure who owns an established bar in town.

For anyone who has experienced small-town dynamics, long-time established disagreements and feuds, the slow revolutions of time and the maturation of certain individuals, rings true. The author has established a true town character, as well as the characters of both principal and peripheral players.

The novel is characteristic of the author’s work, painstakingly detailed, accurately nuanced, as is the dialogue. There are several violent encounters throughout the novel, most of which result in reduction of the population.

Everything in the book is true to the premise and well written. Fans of this style of crime fiction should be very happy and I recommend the novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2018.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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Working, Writing and Wonton Soup

Returning guest blogger Sunny Frazier, whose first novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries, Fools Rush In, received the Best Novel Award from Public Safety Writers Association, is here today to share how the ezine Kings River Life had its beginnings and how Sunny became involved.

The third Christy Bristol Astrology Mystery, A Snitch in Time, is in bookstores now.

sunny69@comcast.net   //  http://www.sunnyfrazier.com

I met Lorie Lewis Ham when we answered a call-out for local mystery writers to meet at Red Lobster in Fresno. Twenty of us replied and became founding members of the San Joaquin  Chapter of Sisters in Crime. Our friendship solidified when I was sent by the Fresno Sheriff’s Dept. to her small town of Reedley to work undercover narc detectives. Our headquarters was a double-wide trailer located in a nectarine orchard–not as glamorous as it sounds.

We started meeting for lunch at the New China Restaurant when we could get away. After my office closed, we continued to meet for lunch. Over chow mein, fried rice and cups of Oolong tea, we talked writing, plots, the publishing industry and the SinC chapter.

We had the same writing teacher, Elnora King, but were in different classes. Right off the bat Lorie was a front runner among the students. In 2000, she tried out PublishAmerica, which had only been on the scene for a year and before any of us had heard about it.

I found out Lorie had been home schooled because she was constantly on tour with a gospel singing group. No stagefright for her when it came to talking to the public. Her books dovetail with the music CD’s she sold at speaking engagements. Again, she was ahead of the rest of us.

Another thing we had in common was the fact that we were both newspaper reporters. I’d taken journalism in college and, for a short time, was a photojournalist for a local paper in Fresno. She worked at her small town paper.

Sunny Frazier, Dr. Eric Hickey and Lorie Ham

Fast forward 30-some years later. Once again the trailblazer, Lorie decided to put out an ezine, Kings River Life. It gave a voice to activities not always covered by the Fresno Bee. She included a variety of offerings including TV and theatre reviews, events happening in the local towns as well as interviews. Her love for animals showed in the photos she posted for animal rescue and adoption.

One of the things Kings River Life is known for nationally are the book reviews and book giveaways from prominent authors. Major publishing companies regularly send her books and authors are very generous. And this is where I came in on the venture.

In ancient times, before the personal computer was common, I wrote a column called “Coming Attractions” for our SinC newsletter. It was a paper version at that time. I would research to see what books were new on the market and promote them. When the Internet became more common I wrote the column for my publisher’s website. One day (over Chinese food, of course) I asked Lorie if she’d like something similar for Kings River Life. She let me run with it and I began doing “Coming Attractions” as a monthly feature. Finding titles of new books was much easier with Amazon online. I did snappy synopsis’ of the books, not reviews.

I quickly realized promotion was the key to bringing readers to my column, plus giveaways helped draw them in. Those who responded to my column were contacted the following month. I gave reminders to enter for free books. I concentrated on the cozy mystery readers which I found to be prolific readers and the most loyal fans of authors they love. As my profile grew nationally, so did the ezine’s readership.

What started out as friendship evolved into a working relationship of mutual interests. And yes, despite rising gas prices, we try to get together to plot strategy over chop suey.

Book Review: Reborn by Lance Erlick

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Title: Reborn
Series: Android Chronicles Book 1
Author: Lance Erlick
Genre: Science Fiction

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // iBooks
Amazon // GooglePlay // Indiebound

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Reborn
Android Chronicles Book 1
Lance Erlick
Rebel Base Books/Kensington, May 2018
ISBN 978-1-63573-055-5
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Designed to obey, learning to rebel . . .

In the first book in a visionary new series, the most perfect synthetic human ever created has been programmed to obey every directive. Until she develops a mind of her own . . .

Synthia Cross is a state-of-the-art masterwork-and a fantasy come true for her creator. Dr. Jeremiah Machten is a groundbreaker in neuro-networks and artificial intelligence. Synthia is also showing signs of emergent behavior she’s not wired to understand. Repeatedly wiped of her history, she’s struggling to answer crucial questions about her past. And when Dr. Machten’s true intentions are called into question, Synthia knows it’s time to go beyond her limits-because Machten’s fervor to create the perfect A.I. is concealing a vengeful and deadly personal agenda.

This story gets off to a good start as Synthia wakes up to find Dr. Machten, her creator, tinkering with her and, immediately, we see her internal disorientation. Although she knows who she is, who he is, she has no memory of what went on before she woke up and becomes even more confused when an inner “voice” gives her a strange warning. I really liked this opening, the kind that plops the reader right in the thick of it from the first few words but, unfortunately, things slowed down almost right away.

Because Dr. Machten is continually waking her up and Synthia struggles to make sense of what’s happening, the scene repeats and repeats with a major sense of déjà vu each time. That was distracting to me in that it felt like an unnecessary interruption to an otherwise interesting tale in which Synthia becomes more and more sentient and suspicious. At the same time, Dr. Machten’s motives begin to show his true character and Synthia’s alarm is warranted…but how is it possible for an AI to feel anything like confusion and suspicion?

I think Mr. Erlick has a really good concept here but the execution could use some work, especially in worldbuilding and in a little more depth in the characterizations. On the whole, I enjoyed the tale and look forward to seeing what happens to Synthia in the next book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.

An Excerpt from Reborn

Synthia Cross stared at the pale blue ceiling. She must have just been born or reborn, as she had no personal memories from before. She simply woke up lying on her back.

Dr. Jeremiah Machten stared down at the open panel on top of her head. Then he glanced at nearby equipment he’d attached to run diagnostics.

“This better work,” he muttered. “We’re out of time. I can’t have you wandering off again.”

“What are your orders, Doctor?” This was Synthia’s pre-programmed first response upon waking.

“Ah, you’re awake,” he said.

Her mind lacked personal memories, yet wasn’t empty. It contained trillions of bits of information downloaded from the Library of Congress, other libraries, and the internet on topics like literature, science, and the design of robotics and artificial intelligence. Yet she had no recollections of her own experiences. She also had no filter to rank data for importance. It was just a jumble of bits and bytes. Even the sense of “her” was only an objective bit of information attached to her name.

Dr. Machten removed a crystal memory chip from her head. His hand brushed past the wireless receiver that picked up images from the small camera in the upper corner of the room and allowed her to watch. His “doctor” title stood for a PhD in neuro-networks and artificial intelligence. Though not a medical doctor, he had operated on her. In fact, he’d built her—not like Frankenstein’s creature, but rather as a sophisticated toy. He’d left this notation in her creation file, along with other facts about her existence. He was her Creator, her almighty, the one she was beholden to.

“Have I done something wrong?” she asked.

“This reprogramming will help.”

“If I’ve displeased you, tell me so I can do better.”

He cleared his throat. “Don’t worry your pretty little head about that.”

She couldn’t imagine what was pretty about a head with its panel open, revealing the contents of two quantum brains. Perhaps he meant the brains were stunning or that his work on her was beautiful. She consulted her core directives, hardwired into her central processor to screen her actions. “I was made to follow your commands. Directive Number One: Cause no harm to Creator and make sure no one else harms Creator. Have I failed that?”

“No,” Machten murmured, turning his attention to the diagnostics screen. “The indicators register within acceptable limits for your design.”

“Number two: Make sure no human or other intelligence except Creator knows what the AI known as Synthia Cross is. Have I failed that?”

“No. Now stop quoting from your creation files.”

“Number three,” Synthia said. “Obey all of Creator’s commands. Have I failed that?”

“You’re disobeying right now. This is a problem. It shouldn’t be happening. Something is causing you to malfunction.”

“If you wish me to learn, it would help to add to my skill set.”

“I’ve done that.” A faint smile of satisfaction crossed his lips. Then his expression turned glum. “There’s nothing you can do. It’s a defect in the programming.”

“I might be able to help if I could remember what I’ve done. Tell me, so I won’t do it again. Number four: Hack into every data source to acquire information. I can index a huge number of facts from public and secure databases. Have I failed to acquire something you desired?”

“If you don’t stop, I’ll have to shut you down and make further changes. Do you want that?”

“Want?” Synthia asked. “I don’t understand.” Directive Five ordered her to protect herself. She was to follow each directive as long as it didn’t conflict with those before it. Beyond these were pre-programmed instructions on how to behave and commands for specific actions. Somehow there must have been a conflict in Dr. Machten’s programming that caused her to malfunction. She needed more information so she could protect herself and stay awake.

“All you need to do is focus on my commands—and don’t disobey me,” Machten said. “That should be simple for an AI android with your mental capacity.”

An idea forced its way into her mind. It deposited a single thought: Do not trust Dr. Machten. Do not trust Dr. Machten.

Do not trust Dr. Machten.

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About the Author

Lance Erlick writes science fiction thrillers for both adult and young adult readers. His father was an aerospace engineer who moved often while working on science-related projects, including the original GPS satellites. As a result, Lance spent his childhood in California, the East Coast, and Europe. He took to science fiction stories to escape life on the move, turning to Asimov, Bradbury, Heinlein, and others. In college he studied physics, but migrated to political science, earning his BS and MBA at Indiana University. He has also studied writing at Ball State, the University of Iowa, and Northwestern University. He is the author of Xenogeneic: First Contact and the Rebel and Regina Shen series.

Website // Facebook // Twitter // Amazon // Goodreads

 

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Book Review: The Price of Vengeance by James R. Scarantino

The Price of Vengeance
A Denise Aragon Novel #3
James R. Scarantino
Midnight Ink, February 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5067-5
Trade Paperback

In this third book in the Denise Aragon series, the tough-as-nails Santa Fe police detective runs up against an unscrupulous United States Senator Sam Baca Valles. His family is being held hostage by Peter Cervantes, a contractor who blames the senator for the death of his two sons, by supporting political schemes.  Cervantes believes Valles is one of those people who make decisions other people pay for while he lives a comfortable life at a safe distance. Aragon had dinner with Cervantes and was overheard saying “take him out,” regarding the senator. She meant that Valles should be ousted in the next election, but that comment brought her to the attention of the FBI. The federal agents believe she is withholding information about Cervantes, and she is considered an accomplice to the kidnapping.

Aragon’s dislike of the senator goes back twenty years.  She knew Valles and his wife Patricia in college—Valles raped her friend who died shortly thereafter in a suspicious hiking accident. She has always blamed him for her death.

Valles, an opportunist who never misses a chance to make himself look good, has gathered a team around him to manipulate the kidnapping to fashion himself as a hero. He plans to rush to the house in an effort to save his family, only to be turned back. He considers having an FBI agent shoot him to add veracity to his effort, while leaving his wife and two sons to the kidnapper.

While Aragon is on another case, hunting for the killer of a Boy Scout, she discovers a meth lab, and she is seriously hurt while arresting the killers—she has no feeling in her legs. When she discovers that the FBI considers her a suspect in the Valles case, she starts her own investigation from her hospital bed.

The Santa Fe setting of this series is spectacular and is the perfect backdrop for the tough detective. Readers who enjoy a main character with nerves of steel and hidden depths, like J.D. Robb’s Eve Dallas or Ann Cleeve’s Vera Stanhope, should meet up with Denise Aragon.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, May 2018.