Book Review: Fortune’s Fool by Albert A. Bell, Jr.

Fortune’s Fool
A Sixth Case from the Notebooks of Pliny the Younger
Albert A. Bell, Jr.
Perseverance Press, April 2017
ISBN 978-1-56474-587-3
Trade Paperback

In this mystery set in the first century AD, Pliny the Younger stumbles upon a mystery in his own villa at Lake Comum, at the foot of the Alps, in Italy.

Pliny has a long term relationship with his slave, Aurora. His wife suspects that there is something between them and demands that he marry Aurora off. He chooses a slave, Felix, who is older and served the same role in covering up a relationship between Pliny’s uncle and a slave, the union produced a son. Felix was castrated by a former master at age 16, a fact which is not known throughout the household. But Pliny neglects to inform Aurora until just before the wedding, and she is not pleased.

His wife Livia, was married before. Her first husband drowned in the lake, but his body was never found. Livia is displeased with the size of the rooms in this villa, so Pliny sets about to have a work crew demolish one of the walls, to add on two rooms. While the workers are breaking down the wall, they discover a skeleton. Who was this person and how did he or she die?

This is the sixth book in the series, and will fascinate mystery lovers with curiosity about the Roman Empire. The combination of history and culture is irresistible, and don’t let a lack of knowledge about the ancients deter you.  There is a glossary of terms in the back; also a cast of characters, both historical and fictional characters.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, June 2017.

Some Teeny Reviews

The First LieThe First Lie
Diane Chamberlain
St. Martin’s Press, June 2013
ISBN 9781466839403
Ebook Short Story

From the publisher—

An e-original short story that sets the stage for bestselling author Diane Chamberlain’s novel Necessary Lies (September 2013).

The First Lie gives readers an early glimpse into the life of thirteen-year-old Ivy Hart. It’s 1958 in rural North Carolina, where Ivy lives with her grandmother and sister on a tobacco farm. As tenant farmers, Ivy and her family don’t have much freedom, though she and her best friend, Henry, often sneak away in search of adventure…and their truest selves. But life on the farm takes a turn when Ivy’s teenage sister gives birth—all the while maintaining her silence about the baby’s father. Soon Ivy finds herself navigating the space between adolescence and adulthood as she tries to unravel a dark web of family secrets and make sense of her ever-evolving life in the segregated South. 

First, I want to point out that this is a short story intended as a lead-in to Necessary Lies, the author’s new full-length novel coming out in September . I’m sorry to say that Ms. Chamberlain has received quite a few “reviews” castigating her for it’s length and cost (99 cents) despite the fact the description very clearly labels it as a short story which, in the publisher’s words, sets the stage for the new book. It could not have been stated any more plainly.

Set in the rural South, this tale introduces us to a young teen and her very limited world. It’s easy to imagine what Ivy’s life is like amid the societal issues of the day including teen unwed pregnancy and the possibility of forbidden interracial relations at a time such a thing was potentially dangerous and certainly life-altering. The first lie might be the identity of the baby’s father but an even greater lie festers and reminds us of one of the most shameful episodes in our collective past. I have never read anything by this author until now but these few pages have really engaged me in Ivy’s story and make me want to see what her future will be.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2013.

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How to Talk to Girls at PartiesHow to Talk to Girls at Parties
Neil Gaiman
William Morrow, June 2013
ISBN 9780062293572
Ebook Short Story

I’ve read a lot of Neil Gaiman‘s work but not Fragile Things, his short story collection that includes this story, so it’s new to me. As much as I love pretty much anything Gaiman-esque, I have to say “Huh?” about this one.

A shy, geeky teenager and his more socially experienced buddy head out to a party where they expect to meet lots of girls and, hopefully, manage a kiss or two but they somehow end up at the wrong party—a VERY wrong party.  Enn and Vic soon discover that girls are, indeed, a most alien species and it’s no wonder they’re so hard to understand.  Gaiman‘s usual weirdness is in full flow here with moments of tension (are the boys in danger of being eaten?) and humor (one of the girls informs Enn that she loves being a tourist) but all seems to be going well when Vic suddenly drags Enn away and the two boys race to escape.  Escape from what? Well, let your imagination do the walking, dear readers.

Reading anything by Neil Gaiman is worthwhile but, to be honest, I can’t figure out why this story was chosen to introduce a teaser for his new book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane rather than another one or even a new one. In the end, though, it doesn’t matter. This little ebook is no longer available so, to get your Gaiman fix, go buy the new book!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2013.

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Black CabBlack Cab
David Bain
A/A Productions, 2010
ISBN 9781458043252
Ebook Short Story

From the author—

The black cabs kidnapping citizens off the streets of Chicago were thought to be just another urban legend – until the day Benny decided to hail one.

Benny noticed there was something strange about the cab he almost got into that night but he was tired and cranky, he and Maria had had another argument and he’d been living in the flower truck for two days so hailing a cab seemed like a good idea. It wasn’t.

Benny should have listened to his barmate, Ty. Ty knew things because he was a cop and he tried to tell Benny and Luckey, the bar owner, that black cabs were involved in some strange doings all over the world and that it had all happened once before, years ago.

So why is the black cab following Benny?

Black Cab is a delicious little story, only a few pages, that will leave you creeped out and wondering…

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2013.

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Spartan FrostSpartan Frost
A Mythos Academy Novella
Jennifer Estep
K-Teen Books, June 2013
ISBN 978-0-7582-9477-7
Ebook Novella

From the publisher—

I’m Logan Quinn, the deadliest Spartan warrior at Mythos Academy. At least I was–until the day I almost killed Gwen Frost.

Professor Metis and Nickamedes say that I’m fine, that Loki and the Reapers don’t have a hold on me anymore, but I can’t risk it. I can’t risk hurting Gwen again. So I’m leaving Mythos and going somewhere far, far away.

I know Gwen wonders what’s happening to me, whether I’m safe. I can’t tell her, but this is my story. . .

Before anybody jumps to the mistaken conclusion that they’ve gotten ripped off when they buy this book, please note this is a novella, not a full-length novel. Yes, it says “Novel” on the cover but I don’t think there is any intent on the publisher’s part to trick anyone; using that word is just a carryover from the rest of the series. I also want to warn you about one other thing—I jump into the middle of a series all the time because, as a reviewer, I rarely have a choice. I can do it without feeling completely lost because I’ve become accustomed to it but I’m pretty sure many other readers will not want Spartan Frost to be their introduction to the series because there’s so much that’s unknown to the initiate. Having said that, I enjoyed this a lot.

One other warning—the review section on bn.com has been highjacked by an RPG group. I reported it but Barnes & Noble almost certainly will do nothing about it. As a result, you should be aware that a number of the so-called reviews have nothing to do with this book.

Considering the fact that I’m an initiate to the Mythos Academy series, what did I learn from this particular title?

A guy named Logan tried to kill a girl named Gwen
Logan is riddled with guilt, so much so that he can’t bear to be around Gwen or his other friends
Logan has left North Carolina and gone to live with his dad in upstate New York
Logan and his dad, Linus, are uncomfortable with each other because of animosities that developed after Logan’s mom and sister were murdered
Gwen knew something had “possessed” Logan, driving him to try to kill her
Logan was possessed by Loki, the unruly Norse god
Logan’s stepmother is a royal beyotch with a mean streak that won’t quit and you might say Cinderella’s stepmom could take lessons from this one
Linus is the head of the Protectorate and has a pair of very cool warrior buddies
The four guys head out on a mission to destroy a sleeper cell of Reapers
There are two opposing groups, Reapers and Spartans, and they seem to be fighting about gods and goddesses among other things
Reapers are bad
Spartans are good
Reapers have been stealing museum artifacts but the Protectorate doesn’t know why
Linus has a cool table with gargoyle legs

You see, even though I’m new to the series, I learned a lot from this brief introduction. Some longtime fans may feel there’s nothing new here but it was perfect for me, just a small taste. It’s enough to make me want to go find First Frost and Touch of Frost so I can start to catch up with everyone else.

One thing confuses me—this is Logan’s POV and all about him so why is there a girl (Gwen?) on the cover?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2013.

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The Secrets of the SibylThe Secrets of the Sibyl
Nancy Adams
Green Fern Press, May 2012
Ebook

From the author—

A decaying villa filled with secrets… A mysterious box that belonged to a dead girl… A spectral woman in white… All of them hold the Secrets of the Sibyl.

A short Gothic tale set in the Roman world of 382 A.D.

When her father buys a dilapidated villa on the wild, rocky coast of Cumae, city of the ancient Sibyline oracle, fourteen-year-old Cellina encounters mysteries at every turn. Following the trail of a mysterious silver box, Cellina uncovers the secret of a decades-old crime committed within the villa’s crumbling walls.

Fans of historical fiction and/or historical mystery will appreciate this little tale that revolves around a silver box and the secrets it contains. Cellina is a young girl I’d like to know more about and an unspoken mystery to me is why her father would spend his money on a summer home that is mostly in quite shabby condition. The desire to own property is understandable but he seems to be really enamored with this particular place despite its serious shortcomings and his wife’s objections.

Cellina and her family are interesting characters and I hope the author will be able to share her novels with us soon so we can spend more time with these ancient Romans—I enjoyed them too much to want to let go.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2013.