Book Review: The Lost Are the Last to Die by Larry D. Sweazy @larrydsweazy @FiveStarCengage

The Lost Are the Last to Die
A Sonny Burton Novel #2
Larry D. Sweazy
Five Star Publishing, November2019
ISBN: 978-1-4328-5723-3
Hardcover

Multiple award-winning author Larry Sweazy couldn’t write a bad book if he tried. This one lives up to his reputation, with the continuing story of former Texas Ranger Sonny Burton.

Sonny, who lost his right arm in a shoot-out with Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrows is still dealing with his clumsy prosthesis when he receives a message that his help is needed. A convict has escaped from Huntsville prison and, having taken the warden’s wife hostage, is on the run.

It was Sonny who put this particular convict in prison, after run-ins with him from the time Billy Bunson was a boy. Sonny had tried to talk with the boy then, but in the years since, Billy has turned into a cold-blooded killer. It begins to look like the reason for Billy’s escape is not so much just getting out of prison and acquiring a large ransom for Dolly, the warden’s wife, but also to draw Sonny in so he can kill him.

Sonny’s son Jesse, following in his father’s footsteps, is also a Texas Ranger, called in to aid in the hunt and for the first time, they work together. Then Billy goes after the landlady of the boarding house where Sonny is staying, and it’s finally time to bring Billy’s death spiral to an end.

The reader gets to see beyond superficial motivation as to why Billy is a killer, and why Sonny wants to help him, in a story that ranges in time from May, 1911, to October, 1934. The historical details of the book are riveting; the action enthralling. While not exactly a mystery, it is an excellent story of criminals and crime fighters and why they do what they do.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, March 2020.
http://www.ckcrigger.com
Author of The Woman Who Built A Bridge (Spur Award Winner), Yester’s Ride,
Hometown Burning and Five Days, Five Dead: A China Bohannon Novel

Book Review: This Story Is A Lie by Tom Pollock—and a Giveaway!

This Story Is A Lie
Tom Pollock
Soho Teen, August 2018
ISBN 978-1-61695-911-1
Hardcover

When a book begins with the protagonist having just dealt with a major panic attack by crushing a porcelain salt shaker with his teeth, you can expect what follows to be a bit strange. And what does ensue exceeds that description in spades. Peter Blankman, age seventeen, is a twin and a mad math genius. He’s also bullied unmercifully by three classmates at his English high school. His only protection is his older, by eight minutes, sister Bel who is no slouch in the brains department herself.

Peter has been dealing with irrational fears and panic attacks for as long as he can remember. His mother is a world famous scientist and his absent father a mystery. All Peter and Bel know is the tidbits their mother drops on occasion, but the overarching message has always been that Dad was utterly evil and the less they know, the better off they’ll be.

A few hours following his attack, he, Bel and Mom are off to the Natural History Museum where Mom’s to receive an award for her work. Peter does his best to hold it together, but as the moment approaches for things to start, he loses it and bolts, running recklessly down one corridor after another. When he runs out of gas, he tries to find his way back, only to stumble on a body leaking copious amounts of blood. It’s his mother and it’s all he can do to stay with her and try to stanch the bleeding.

In short order, Bel vanishes, Peter’s grabbed by Rita, who claims to be a friend of Mom and one of her co-workers. She rushes him out of the museum and into a strange car that follows the ambulance transporting Mom. Peter’s paranoia starts ramping up as the convoy heads away from the two closest hospitals. It spikes even more as he overhears snippets of code-like conversations and senses that something highly suspicious. Little does he know how right he is. He manages to escape, but with Bel missing, where can he go?

What follows is like going in and out of a series of Alice in Wonderland rabbit holes. Every time Peter thinks he has something figured out, reality, or what passes for it, pulls another rug out from him. He’s unsure who to trust, how much of what he’s learned about mathematics can be counted on, he’s unsure who’s real or telling the truth, and as pieces fall into place, he finds himself on ever more fragile ground. Many details are revealed in flashback chapters going back anywhere from five days to seven years prior to the current story line. By the end, Peter, Bel and the reader are all still trying to sort things out. That’s not to say the ending is bad or incomplete, just nicely twisted. If you like industrial strength creepy, this book is for you.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, February 2019.

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To enter the drawing for a print copy
of This Story Is A Lie, just leave a
comment below.
The winning name will
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Book Review: Cold Heart by Karen Pullen—and a Giveaway!

cold-heartCold Heart
A Stella Lavender Mystery #2
Karen Pullen
Five Star, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-4328-3257-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Motivated by her mother’s long-ago unsolved abduction, Stella Lavender has joined the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation only to be severely challenged by her first assignment: undercover drug agent. Stella works nights, buying drugs from paranoid drug dealers, gathering evidence to send them to prison or turn them into informants. She’s great at the job because, as her boss says, “you don’t look like a cop.” But the physical danger and the necessary betrayals are getting to her. When she sees a chance to work homicide, she’ll always take it.

One afternoon Stella gives a hitchhiking teenager a ride to her babysitting job in a wealthy neighborhood. Horror awaits them–the father lies dead in a pool of blood, and his toddler is missing. Stella joins the murder investigation as the puzzle quickly grows. Most importantly, where is the toddler? A dizzying array of plausible suspects provides more questions than answers.

At the same time, Stella’s personal life offers plenty of distractions. Her grandmother Fern, a free-spirited artist with male admirers wrapped around every one of her paint-stained fingers, needs Stella’s help with expensive house repairs. And Stella’s attraction to three very different men means her romantic life is, well, complicated.

Cold Heart draws the reader into a darkly delightful page-turner as Stella rummages through every strata of society in her relentless and sometimes unconventional pursuit of a cold-hearted murderer who won’t stop at just one victim.

If you’re not careful, sometimes what you wish for turns out to be much more than you think it’s going to be. Stella Lavender is good at what she does, working Narcotics, but she really wants to get into the Homicide division. When she picks up a hitchhiker, she has no idea that she’s about to walk smack into a murder case but she’s more or less prepared for that. What surprises her are the connections she discovers she has to the case, kind of a six degrees of separation thing.

The fact that Stella made a drug buy just the night before from the man who’s now lying dead is just one of those links and she soon finds that her personal life isn’t as separated from work as she’d like it to be. For instance, could one of the many men who orbit around her charismatic grandmother be somehow involved and is Fern hiding things from Stella? Are other people being attacked because Stella herself is really the target and, if so, why? Most importantly, what has happened to the dead man’s toddler daughter, Paige?

There are a few too many coincidences in the plot but a plethora of leads and suspects kept me guessing for quite a while and the characters, particularly Stella, are interesting. I liked her very much and appreciated her determination and even her occasional rule-bending. Stella Lavender is a cop I could be friends with 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.

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Just by leaving two comments,
you’ll have a chance to win a
print copy of the first book in
the series, Cold Feet. Leave
one comment today and one
on yesterday’s guest blog by
Karen Pullen. The winning name
will be drawn Thursday evening,
January 26th. This drawing is
open to residents of the US.

Book Review: Try Not to Breathe by Holly Seddon

Try Not to BreatheTry Not to Breathe
Holly Seddon
Ballantine Books, February 2016
ISBN No. 978-1-101-88586-4
Hardcover

Alex Dale and Amy Stevenson might be referred to as two lost souls. Alex Dale’s problem is alcohol. Alcohol is the main factor that destroyed Alex’s marriage and destroyed Alex’s career as a journalist. Alex fights her addiction but so far, it is a losing battle. Alex’s ex-husband is remarried and has a child. Alex is surviving as a freelance writer but just barely getting by.

Amy Stevenson was attacked 15 years ago. She is in a coma and has been silent the entire 15 years. Her only visitor is Jacob, her boy friend from 15 years ago. Jacob is married and his wife is pregnant but she is unaware of Jacob’s visits to Amy.

Alex is writing a freelance article about patients that are in a coma and the doctor who is trying to communicate with patients that he feels are functioning on some level. She visits the hospital and recognizes Amy from the story of her abduction fifteen years ago. Alex makes a decision to try to find out the true story behind what happened to Amy. Part of that decision is to make a stronger attempt to curb her desire for alcohol.

Amy as well as Jacob and Alex speak to the reader from the various chapters of Try Not to Breathe. Alex feels that she is reaching Amy and notices little changes in her.

The book is well written and an exciting read. I look forward to more books by Holly Seddon.

Reviewed by Patricia E. Reid, February 2016.

Book Review: After the End by Amy Plum

After the EndAfter The End
After the End #1
Amy Plum
HarperTeen, May 2015
ISBN: 978-0-06-222561-0
Trade Paperback

Juneau is the heir to the role of shaman in her clan. Whit, the current one, has trained her in the ways of connecting to what they call the Yara, a universal force that permeates all things. The adults fled to a remote region beyond Denali in Alaska after what they have told the children was World War III in the early 1980s.

She’s out hunting for caribou when she hears the frightening whump of a helicopter. While she’s been told that civilization has been destroyed, save for a few of what the elders call brigands, she’s heard this scary sound a couple times before and recognizes the threat it poses, so she abandons her kill and drives her sled dogs back to her village as fast as she can.

When she arrives, all clan members are gone and the dogs have been killed. Whit was supposed to be away on a retreat to a cave, but when she arrives there she realizes no one has been there for months. Her ‘reading’, a way she sees distant events and connects with other clan members, tells her that both Whit and the rest of her clan have been abducted, but Whit’s near the sea while her father and the others are much further away in what appears to be a desert location. This realization is the beginning of her odyssey, one where she intends to find and free her clan. When she reaches the sea, she’s stunned by the city and people she finds, forcing her to not only question everything she believes, but adapt quickly while evading pursuers.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Miles has been kicked out of his private school for a third major infraction and is working in the mailroom at his father’s pharmaceutical firm. He was headed to Yale before getting expelled. When he overhears his father talking about a valuable girl who is on her way to Seattle, he decides to go and find her as a way of redeeming himself. That girl is Juneau.

When their paths cross, it’s the start of an uneasy alliance that finds them equally frustrated and disbelieving, but the longer they’re together, the more Miles realizes Juneau’s telling the truth and the stronger their attraction becomes. There’s a lot of action, a need for readers to suspend a bit of belief, a neat budding romance and a cliffhanger ending. It was good enough for me to order the sequel immediately.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, January 2016.

Teeny Reviews: The Sister Pact by Stacie Ramey, Home By Nightfall by Charles Finch, Powerless by Tim Washburn, The Ark by Patrick S. Tomlinson, and Merry Mary by Ashley Farley

The Sister PactThe Sister Pact
Stacie Ramey
Sourcebooks Fire, November 2015
ISBN 978-1-4926-2097-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Who holds your secrets?

Allie is devastated when her sister commits suicide-and it’s not just because she misses her. Allie feels betrayed. The two made a pact that they’d always be together, in life and in death, but Leah broke her promise and Allie needs to know why.

Her parents hover. Her friends try to support her. And Nick, sweet Nick, keeps calling and flirting. Their sympathy only intensifies her grief.

But the more she clings to Leah, the more secrets surface. Allie’s not sure which is more distressing: discovering the truth behind her sister’s death or facing her new reality without her.

I never had a sister and my brother and I were too far apart in age to be close when we were growing up—although that changed later in life—but I think losing a sibling through suicide must be so devastating it’s nearly impossible to recover. What an inordinate amount of pain and confusion the survivor must feel, especially as a teen! Ms. Ramey writes this story with an incredible empathy and understanding that brings it to life for teen readers but also for those of us well past those years.

A major side effect of any death is the discovery of the things you didn’t know about that person’s life and that’s the essence of Allie’s journey through all the pain and betrayal and the questions that go with any death but especially a suicide. Her trauma leads her down some dubious paths and I found myself both sad and appalled as I watched her struggle with truths she might not have wished to learn.

I’ve dealt with, and still am dealing with, a lot of grief this year and The Sister Pact has made it all just a tiny bit easier even though my “events” haven’t been due to suicide. Thank you, Ms. Ramey 🙂

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2015.

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Home By NightfallHome By Nightfall
A Charles Lenox Mystery #9
Charles Finch
Minotaur Books, November 2015
ISBN 978-1-250-07041-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

It’s London in 1876, and the whole city is abuzz with the enigmatic disappearance of a famous foreign pianist. Lenox has an eye on the matter – as a partner in a now-thriving detective agency, he’s a natural choice to investigate. Just when he’s tempted to turn his focus to it entirely, however, his grieving brother asks him to come down to Sussex, and Lenox leaves the metropolis behind for the quieter country life of his boyhood. Or so he thinks. In fact, something strange is afoot in Markethouse: small thefts, books, blankets, animals, and more alarmingly a break-in at the house of a local insurance agent. As he and his brother investigate this small accumulation of mysteries, Lenox realizes that something very strange and serious indeed may be happening, more than just local mischief. Soon, he’s racing to solve two cases at once, one in London and one in the country, before either turns deadly.

The private detective I’ve come to know and love so well is back and in fine fettle as he balances his life between the occasionally seedy world of criminal activity and the aristocratic society he and his wife, Lady Jane, are part of. In this latest adventure, Charles Lenox is pulled in two directions, intrigued by the case of a missing celebrity but also needing to help his recently widowed brother in his grief and get to the bottom of a series of odd events in his childhood home.

Charles Finch is one of a handful of authors who, quite simply, never let me down and that holds true here. Lenox is a man who believes he can make a difference in people’s lives and he has great compassion in addition to intelligence and a perceptive mind. That’s the core of a truly good detective, don’t you think?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2015.

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PowerlessPowerless
Tim Washburn
Pinnacle, October 2015
ISBN 978-0-7860-3653-0
Mass Market Paperback

From the publisher—

Nothing Can Prepare You. . .

It strikes without warning. A massive geomagnetic solar storm that destroys every power grid in the northern hemisphere. North America is without lights, electricity, phones, and navigation systems. In one week, the human race is flung back to the Dark Ages.

Nothing Can Save You. . .

In Boulder, Colorado, weather technicians watch in horror as civilization collapses around them. Planes are falling out of the skies. Cars are dead. Pandemonium and terror grip the Northern Hemisphere. As nuclear reactors across North America face inevitable meltdowns, the U.S. President remains powerless in a heavily guarded White House. From London to Boston to Anchorage, there is no food, no water, no hope. It’s every man for himself. . .and it will only get worse.

Survival Is Everything.

Only one man–army veteran Zeke Marshall–is prepared to handle a nightmare like this. But when he tries to reunite with his family in Dallas–across a lawless terrain as deadly as any battlefield–he discovers there are worse things in life than war. And there are terrible and unthinkable things he’ll have to do to survive. . .

I really do wish this hadn’t been written in present tense because it was an annoying distraction, not an enhancement to a story premise that I usually look forward to. I enjoyed this, in spite of the choice of tense, and in spite of the hyperbole in the book’s description (only one man is prepared to handle a nightmare like this? seriously?). Zeke is a character I came to respect and like very much and the depiction of the devastation is evocative and realistic.

I’m not a particular fan of the Department of Homeland Security but I can’t help but wonder…has any author presented them in a positive light? In Powerless, as in every other thriller I’ve read that features them, incompetence and obstructionism seem to be their strong suits and, to be honest, I’m tired of it. With all their failings, I just don’t believe that this agency is so completely wrong.

All in all, while I felt this was rather simplistic in spots, lessening the tension too much, I do recommend Powerless to anyone who appreciates a good disaster novel.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2015.

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The Ark 2The Ark
Children of a Dead Earth #1
Patrick S. Tomlinson
Angry Robot, November 2015
ISBN 978-0857664846
Mass Market Paperback

From the publisher—

Humankind has escaped a dying Earth and set out to find a new home among the stars aboard an immense generation spaceship, affectionately named the Ark. Bryan Benson is the Ark’s greatest living sports hero, enjoying retirement working as a detective in Avalon, his home module. The hours are good, the work is easy, and the perks can’t be beat.

But when a crew member goes missing, Benson is thrust into the centre of an ever-expanding web of deception, secrets, and violence that overturns everything he knows about living on the Ark and threatens everyone aboard. As the last remnants of humanity hurtle towards their salvation, Benson finds himself in a desperate race to unravel the conspiracy before a madman turns mankind’s home into its tomb.

Oh my goodness, I SO enjoyed this book! It’s got so many of the elements I look for in a good crossgenre—a nifty mystery with the ultimate locked room (can’t get any more locked room than a spaceship racing towards humanity’s hope of a new home), a man who loves his job as a detective (largely because it’s really, really easy), a dark scenario and yet some light humor and a potential end to our species. What more could a girl want?

These people have been floating around out there for something like 200 years and Mr. Tomlinson does an excellent job creating a believable but also intriguing setting which really is a character in itself. Benson is a likeable man and his detecting skills are on high alert now that he has a murder to work with. Can he solve the crime before his fellow travelers meet an untimely end? Well, yes, we know he’ll have at least some success because there’s a second book coming but his detecting is entertaining all the way.

The second book in this duology, Trident’s Forge, will be out in April 2016 and I can barely stand to wait. Time needs to move faster 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2015.

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Merry MaryMerry Mary
Ashley Farley
Leisure Time Books, September 2015
ISBN 978-0-9861672-3-2
Trade Paperback

From the author—

A young woman longing for a child stumbles upon a Christmas miracle. Investigative journalist Scottie Darden is photographing the homeless for her Lost Souls series when she makes a discovery that could change her life forever. Under a makeshift tent in subzero temperatures in a downtown city park, she finds a woman’s dead body with her infant child. Without her cell phone to call for help, Scottie makes the split-second decision to take the baby home. Her initial instinct is to provide the baby with food and shelter until her family can be located. But as her fondness for the baby grows, she finds herself facing a life on the run or worse—prison time for abduction. Curl up with Merry Mary this holiday season. A heartwarming story of the powerful connection between a caring soul and an innocent child in need.

I’ve been a fan of Ms. Farley‘s work for quite a while now but, for the first time, I have to say this one doesn’t work for me. I won’t go into a lot of detail because I think Merry Mary will appeal to others; suffice it to say I didn’t like Scottie and that’s pretty important when it comes to connecting with a story. Scottie seems to be unusually clueless and her behavior is senseless, particularly when she decides to take the baby home with her for some very thin reasons. There are also some noticeable plot holes.

At any rate, I think this is just a misstep for me personally and it certainly won’t put me off Ms. Farley‘s future books. In fact, the author is working on a full-length novel featuring Scottie and I’m looking forward to getting to know her better and, perhaps, understand her.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2015.

Book Review: Ruthless by Carolyn Lee Adams

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Title: Ruthless
Author: Carolyn Lee Adams
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Release Date: July 14, 2015
Genre: Mystery, Thriller

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RuthlessRuthless
Carolyn Lee Adams
Simon Pulse, July 2015
ISBN 978-1481422628
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Ruth Carver has always competed like her life depends on it. Ambitious. Tough. Maybe even mean. It’s no wonder people call her Ruthless.

When she wakes up with a concussion in the bed of a moving pickup trick, she realizes she has been entered into a contest she can’t afford to lose.

At a remote, rotting cabin deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Ruth’s blindfold comes off and she comes face-to-face with her captor. A man who believes his mission is to punish bad girls like Ruth. A man who has done this six times before.

The other girls were never heard from again, but Ruth won’t go down easy. She escapes into the wilderness, but her hunter is close at her heels. That’s when the real battle begins. That’s when Ruth must decides just how far she’ll go in order to survive.

Back home, they called her Ruthless. They had no idea just how right they were.

When you read a book description saying it’s about a young woman being held against her will by a serial—what, killer?—you kind of know what to expect, right? Wrong, oh so very wrong. Ruthless is a book that has all the chills and thrills you could possibly want. Cozy-only readers need to avoid this one but you can’t go wrong if you love a really intense psychological thriller.

It’s one thing to find yourself in a terrible situation like this but Ruth Carver truly is a unique young woman, one who has no intention of going to her death quietly or of allowing her captor to be in complete control. She’s the woman I would hope to be in such circumstances while I know quite well I wouldn’t be. She’s not Superwoman, though, and has those moments when she just doesn’t think she can go on; it’s what she does with those moments that makes her so remarkable.

The brute that nabbed Ruth is vividly drawn and as menacing and evil as can be but I have to say the character that had the most effect on me, other than Ruth, is the ambience, the atmosphere, if you will, that creates the overall feeling of the darkness that is at the core of this man and of Ruth’s surroundings. Ms. Adams knows how to bring the reader into the scene with her words and, much like the intense cold in another wonderful book (Jenny Milchman’s Cover of Snow), this is what kept me riveted to Ruth’s battle with the evil that wants to consume her.

Looking for a nice peaceful read to while away a few hours? Not this one, not by any means, but if you want a story that might keep you up at night racing through the pages, you’ll want to read Ruthless.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2015.

About the Author

Carolyn Lee AdamsCarolyn Lee Adams is originally from the Seattle area, breeding ground of serial killers and those who write about them. She attended USC Film School and graduated with a BFA in screenwriting. RUTHLESS (Simon Pulse, Summer 2015) is her first novel. When she isn’t exploring the dark side of human nature in her writing, you’ll find her on stage as a stand-up comedian. Because those things go together.

AUTHOR LINKS:

Website: http://carolynleeadams.com/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7391569.Carolyn_Lee_Adams

Twitter: https://twitter.com/carolynleeadams

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Carolyn-Lee-Adams/1411876522442530

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