Book Review: Queen’s Gambit by Bradley Harper @bharperauthor @SeventhStBooks

Queen’s Gambit
A Mystery Featuring Margaret Harkness
Bradley Harper
Seventh Street Books, September 2019
ISBN 978-1-64506-001-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Spring, 1897. London. Margaret Harkness, now in her early forties, must leave England for her health but lacks the funds. A letter arrives from her old friend Professor Bell, her old comrade in the hunt for Jack the Ripper and the real-life inspiration for Sherlock Homes. Bell invites her to join him in Germany on a mysterious mission for the German government involving the loss of state secrets to Anarchists. The resolution of this commission leads to her being stalked through the streets of London by a vengeful man armed with a powerful and nearly silent air rifle who has both Margaret and Queen Victoria in his sights. Margaret finds allies in Inspector James Ethington of Scotland Yard and his fifteen-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, who aspires to follow in Margaret’s cross-dressing footsteps.

The hunt is on, but who is the hunter, and who the hunted as the day approaches for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee when the aged empress will sit in her open carriage at the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral? The entire British Empire holds its breath as the assassin, Margaret, and the Queen herself play for the highest of stakes with the Queen’s Gambit.

I wouldn’t want to have lived in the Victorian era but I really do enjoy reading books set in the period and, with an author’s effective worldbuilding, getting immersed in it. Bradley Harper does that for me very well.¬† Not only can I envision myself settling in for a chat with Margaret and all her friends; I think I would truly like these people should they suddenly become real today (many actually were real more than a hundred years ago).

I did miss having more of Margaret’s interactions with Arthur Conan Doyle and Professor Bell as I had enjoyed those characters so much in the first book but James and Elizabeth were delightful additions to the cast. Also, Queen Victoria comes across as a woman to be reckoned with, perhaps a sort of role model for young women who resist their “place” in the world. Margaret is one of those young women, a journalist and author who dares to overstep the bounds of her time.

After her adventures with Doyle and Bell, I found this latest undertaking a little less engaging which is more than a little ridiculous when you think about it. I mean, Margaret and company are involved in international intrigue and trying to prevent anarchists’ terrorist activities; what more could I possibly want? Let’s just chalk it up to my own fascination with Jack the Ripper and the efforts of the Victorian police ūüėČ

One of my favorite parts of this book is the Afterword in which Mr. Harper provides tidbits of very interesting information regarding the people and events depicted in this novel based on facts. After an ending that made me tear up more than a little, I’m truly anticipating the next book featuring the intrepid Margaret Harkness, should there be one, and I certainly hope there will be.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2019.

Book Review: The Clarity by Keith Thomas

The Clarity
Keith Thomas
Leopoldo & Co./Atria Books, February 2018
ISBN 978-1-5011-5693-9

From the publisher—

Dr. Matilda Deacon is a psychologist researching how memories are made and stored when she meets a strange eleven-year-old girl named Ashanique. Ashanique claims to harbor the memories of the last soldier killed in World War I and Matilda is at first very interested but skeptical. However, when Ashanique starts talking about being chased by the Night Doctors‚ÄĒa term also used by an unstable patient who was later found dead‚ÄĒMatilda can‚Äôt deny that the girl might be telling the truth.

Matilda learns that Ashanique and her mother have been on the run their whole lives from a monstrous assassin named Rade. Rade is after a secret contained solely in memories and has left a bloody trail throughout the world in search of it. Matilda soon realizes Ashanique is in unimaginable danger and that her unique ability comes with a deadly price.

Fast-paced, suspenseful, and a chilling blend of science and danger, The Clarity is a compelling take on the possibilities of reincarnation and life after death.

With splashes of science and history, The Clarity is, at its core, the stuff of a little girl’s nightmares but the nightmares are real. Certainly, past instances of experimentation on humans have turned out to be dark shadows on our psyches no matter what the initial, seemingly well-intended, idea was or where it took place. Then, throw in a good oldfashioned conspiracy and a villain who would frighten even the most unimaginative of us and you have a frantic race to find truth and survival.

For readers who tend to be a little squeamish, be forewarned—Rade is no mildmannered, polite assassin. He literally will kill anyone in his way and do so with a lot of gore and even more gore. At the same time, he’s the most fascinating character (to me, at least) because of his complete lack of morals or compassion. Ashanique is almost as mindgrabbing but its because of what’s happening to her rather than any aspect of her short, inexperienced life.

As thrillers go, this one has its pacing issues and, as mentioned earlier, an abundance of violence, but I enjoyed it and recommend it to anyone interested in stories rooted in the past.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2018.

A taut, riveting thriller, a perfect balance of scientific
speculation and storytelling.—
James Rollins

About the Author

Keith Thomas worked as a lead clinical researcher at the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine and National Jewish Health before writing for film and television. He has developed projects for studios and production companies and collaborated with writers like James Patterson and filmmakers like Paul Haggis. He lives in Denver and works in Los Angeles.



“Chilling speculative thriller. Tautly plotted and well researched,
this book is a riveting take on the possibility of afterlife
and reincarnation.”‚ÄĒBook Riot

Book Review: Close Call by Laura DiSilverio

close-callClose Call
Laura DiSilverio
Midnight Ink Books, September 2016
Trade Paperback

Not quite non-stop suspense as some reviewers have suggested, but mostly. The author has firm handles on the story line, the characters and the setting. She manipulates all with a deft hand. If things are a little more complicated than is the usual case in thrillers of this kind, well. It’s up to we readers to pay more than casual attention, right?

The title of the book might have effectively been pluralized. We are with the main character, Sydney Ellison, through most of the book and while she weeps gallons of tears, her determination to see the mystery and the crimes to their righteous conclusions is laudable. That she perseveres in the face of repeated set-backs is testament to her core grit. Sydney’s reconciliation with her sister, Reese, her handling of their slightly insane mother, all play important parts in what is essentially a family drama. The novel is intense, compels persistent page-turning, and introduces us to a multi-dimensioned professional assassin.

In an overcrowded deli, located in Washington, D.C., Sydney encounters her nemesis and main adversary in the story, although she doesn’t know it at the time. Nor does her adversary-to-be, a professional hit man who doesn’t appear to be quite as put-together as he should be, given apparent longevity. Their brief interaction sends both on a long and winding path through mistaken identities, murder, family rollercoaster rides and both keen and fatuous observations on D.C. politicians. Also, lots of tears.

Given the current situation in our nation’s capital, the confirmation hearings going on, the story has exciting real-life resonance. Readers seeking a tension-filled story with real characters should enjoy this novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2017.
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: The Distance by Helen Giltrow

the-distanceThe Distance
Helen Giltrow
Anchor Books, July 2015
ISBN: 978-0-345-80435-8
Trade Paperback

In an ambitious debut novel, a former bookseller has written a dark novel, one which mystified this reader.  Is it a crime novel?  A mystery? A Le Carre-type story involving the intelligence community?  Or a mixture of all these genres?

The Distance would seem to contain all the elements of the three characteristics, and therein lies the ambition of the author.  Some simplification would appear to be in order.  The plot is too complicated, the reading too slow and the story unwieldy.  Too bad.  Because it is an interesting tale, and deserves to be read.

The gist of the novel is a tale of a woman, alternatively identified as a London Socialite, Charlotte Alton, and Karla, the head of an enterprise that specializes in, among other things, erasing identities and covering a criminal‚Äôs tracks.¬† One such person is Simon Johanssen, who surfaces after being hidden for years, asking for her help on an assignment to murder a woman held in ‚ÄúThe Program,‚ÄĚ a prison-like compound where he eventually becomes involved with the victim while hiding from a criminal boss also incarcerated there.

It all comes together at the finale in a perfunctory short wrap-up.  There are few if any clues before the end to establish these conclusions as if they are included merely to end a laborious effort.  A good re-write might have helped, certainly better editing.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2016.

Book Review: Resist by Tracey Martin

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Title: Resist 
Series: Redzone #2
 Author: Tracey Martin 
Publisher: Samhain Publishing
Publication date: November 17th, 2015
Genres: New Adult, Science Fiction, Thriller



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RedZone #2
Tracey Martin
Samhain Publishing, November 2015
ISBN 978-1-61923-234-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Truth is a powerful weapon…but explosives never hurt.

Sophia can run but she can’t hide. RedZone is on her tail and those of the six tech-augmented soldiers who escaped its clutches with her. If she could only focus on fighting her way to safety, she might live long enough to disappear. But it’s not just her own backside she needs to watch out for.

At her side is her boyfriend, Kyle. He’s the reason she found the courage to escape, and she’ll do anything to keep him and his secrets out of RedZone’s hands. Only problem is, since she was once sent to capture him, he has good reason not to trust her.

In fact, there’s not much trust to go around. RedZone keeps finding them, suggesting someone is a traitor. And if that’s not enough to recapture the group, the organization has a backup plan. One that will force Sophia and Kyle to choose between safety and risking everything one more time.

Warning: Contains killer robots, mutant college students, and dangerous super soldiers. And those are the good guys. It’s enough to make a rogue assassin wish she were taking her philosophy final instead.

When we first meet Sophia, she’s on a sort of black ops mission, infiltrating a business during a Christmas party. Using some quite special skills, she sneaks into one of the bank’s offices in search of information demanded by RedZone, the organization she works for.

What makes this so much fun is not only the adventure element but the human engineering that we encounter. For instance, Sophia can plug herself into a computer, much like a flash drive, and Kyle is able to heal himself. Sophia’s meant to be the perfect killing machine but, in fact, she does make mistakes and she has doubts about her purpose and that’s why she’s appealing.

Not all is entirely futuristic, though. The 9-1-1 system is still in place as are government agencies such as the CIA and these familiar elements help to keep the story grounded. This is a spy story and Sophia is a trained assassin but that is most definitely too simple an explanation; this girl wants badly to be normal, starting with college.¬† First, she and her team, led by Cole, have much to do if they’re going to put an end to RedZone and save their own lives as well as others.

Although I now wish I had read the first book before this one, that’s mainly because I’d like to know more about how Sophia, Cole and Kyle, not to mention their friends, came to be such integral parts of this world of espionage and worse. That’s my own preference, though, and Resist does actually work on its own.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2015.

About the Author

Tracey Martin 2Tracey Martin grew up outside of Philadelphia, the lucky recipient of¬†a drama-free childhood, which is why she spent so much time reading¬†about other¬†people‚Äôs lives. It was while she was working on her¬†doctorate in psychology that she had an epiphany‚Äďimaginary people are¬†way more fun than real¬†ones. And so she began writing. Never able to¬†choose just one of anything, she currently writes both urban fantasy for¬†adults and contemporary stories¬†for teens.

She likes her coffee simple, her music epic, and her movies to contain explosions. A city girl at heart, she doesn’t understand how she and her husband ended up living in New Hampshire, but writing keeps her off the mean, small town streets. You can find her online at

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Book Review: Intermix Nation by M.P. Attardo

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Title: Intermix Nation
Author: M.P. Attardo
Publication date: March 5th 2013
Genres: Dystopia, New Adult



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Intermix NationIntermix Nation
M.P. Attardo
M.P. Attardo, March 2013
Ebook Only

From the author—

Intermix: to mix together, blend

North America, paragon of diversity, is gone. From its ashes, a new nation has arisen ‚Äď Renatus ‚Äď where the government segregates the surviving population into races, forbidding interracial marriage, mating, and love.

Eighteen-year-old Nazirah Nation is a pariah, an intermix, born of people from different races. When her parents are murdered in the name of justice, Nazirah grudgingly joins the growing rebellion fighting against the despotic government.

Overwhelmed with grief, consumed by guilt, Nazirah craves vengeance as a substitute for absolution. But on her journey to find the girl she once was, Nazirah must learn the hard way that nothing … no one … is purely black or white. Like her, every human is intermix, shades and hues of complex emotions. And those who can take everything away are also the ones who can give everything back.

It must be difficult for any author who wants to write young adult dystopian fiction to do so without being accused of derivative storylines and concepts that are weak shadows of the books that have come before and gained great popularity, books such as The Hunger Games and Divergent. Such comments could be made about Intermix Nation, with some justification, but I think the key to creativity with these later books depends on what is done with common ideas.

Yes, it’s true that society has been fractured into a central government and surrounding dependent provinces and rebellion is fomenting in the outliers but there the similarities begin to morph into something different.¬† The dissolution of the country you and I know came about when the people “in charge” after the Final War decided that America’s biggest flaw was its diversity and that, with so many cultural, religious and racial differences, failure of the system was inevitable. Nearly everything of importance in Ms. Attardo’s novel stems from this belief that the only way to resolve this is by a brutal purification and separation of the races. In essence, this is a study of racism, the great harm that comes from such thinking, and the potential for redemption.

Nikolaus and his sister, Nazirah, were born from the illicit union of two people from different provinces and, because of that, are “intermix” and, thus, impure and excluded from society. Despite that, they were brought up to be proud, well-educated and ready to fight for what is right. Nazirah, though, rebels against what is expected of her with tragic consequences. What will be asked of her next will prove to be nearly impossible and will ultimately change her future forever. Perhaps most difficult of all are the changes that will happen to Nazirah herself.

There are a number of characters in this story who play important roles and one of the author’s talents lies in her character development. Whether I liked them or not—and some I liked very much indeed—most were so distinctly drawn that I could almost see and hear them in my mind. The overlying plot might be considered just a bit weak because of the unavoidable comparisons to earlier dystopians but there is no doubting the vitality and strength of the core story, the task that Nazirah must undertake.

One other thing I’ll mention is that, although there are occasional flaws, the author quite obviously took care in the construction and final production of this book. Such attention to detail and editing added a level of pleasure in reading that I truly appreciated and elevate this book above many self-published novels. I don’t think Ms. Attardo plans a sequel to Intermix Nation (and it is a comfortably complete story) but I’ll look forward to whatever this author writes next.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2013.

About the Author

M.P. AttardoM.P. Attardo is a twenty-something, part-time writer, full-time daydreamer. She has a college degree … is still trying to figure out what ever to do with it. She loves amateur baseball commentating, heckling, and overindulging. And putting her bizarre, gritty thoughts into words for all to read.

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Book Review: Mind Games by Kiersten White and Pivot Point by Kasie West

Mind GamesMind Games
Kiersten White
HarperTeen, February 2013
ISBN 978-0-06-213531-5

From the publisher—

Fia was born with flawless instincts. Her first impulse, her gut feeling, is always exactly right. Her sister, Annie, is blind to the world around her-except when her mind is gripped by strange visions of the future.

Trapped in a school that uses girls with extraordinary powers as tools for corporate espionage, Annie and Fia are forced to choose over and over between using their abilities in twisted, unthinkable ways‚Ķor risking each other’s lives by refusing to obey.

Looking for a kickbutt teen heroine? Look no further, Fia is here. Fia can literally beat just about anybody in hand-to-hand combat and she also has the ability to make snap decisions that are never wrong. Fia is also extremely damaged because of the things that she’s required to do by the man who controls her life. He can do that simply by letting Fia know her sister Annie is completely at his mercy.

Annie, two years older than Fia, is blind and Fia has always taken responsibility for her, especially since they were orphaned. Annie is also a Seer and when she has visions, she actually does see. Despite her blindness, she will do anything for her sister.

Except…except when she wants something that will be to her own benefit. Annie really is not such a likeable person. Fia certainly has her flaws, major ones, but she has character and she wants badly to not do the things Keane demands of her. Annie seems to be just as caring as Fia but, in fact, she’s far more self-absorbed.

Mind Games is told by the alternating POVs of Fia and Annie and also shifts time from today to years ago and between. That keeps the reader engaged but could cause some to flounder a bit although I do recommend pushing on. The time shifts fill in the backstory that is so necessary to one’s understanding of these girls and their circumstances but also raises more questions. When Fia finally tries to step outside the rules, will she succeed or will Keane take control again?

There are flaws in this story: the weak character development of Annie and Adam while more attention is paid to Fia and James, there is simply not enough explanation of Keane’s intentions and the source of his power, there seem to be no real consequences to any of the bad things that happen, Adam doesn’t seem anywhere near smart enough to be a doctor at 19 (that’s just not credible at all considering how long it takes to become a doctor), the callousness of the girls’ aunt is unexplained. On the whole, though, I enjoyed Mind Games very much, especially after what can only be described as a stunning ending. Kiersten White is an author worth reading and I’m hopeful that many of the questions will be answered in the next book, coming next winter.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2013.


Pivot PointPivot Point
Kasie West
HarperTeen, February 2013
ISBN 978-0-06-211737-3

From the publisher—

Addison Coleman’s life is one big “What if?” As a Searcher, a special type of clairvoyant, whenever Addie is faced with a choice, she can look into the future and see both outcomes. When Addie’s parents tell her they are getting a divorce and she has to pick who she wants to live with-her father, who is leaving the paranormal compound to live among the “Norms,” or her mother, who is staying in the life Addie has always known-the answer should be easy. One six-week Search proves it’s not. With love and loss in both lives, it all comes down to which reality she’s willing to live through…and who she can’t live without.

I always read blurbs, descriptions, synopses, anything that might be available to help me decide if I want to read a book before I ask for an ARC. Then, when the time comes for me to read it, I refresh my memory before starting so I have some idea of the story. This time, on a whim, I did not do that and, since I’d had the ARC since mid-November, I remembered precisely nothing about it other than it was YA and I’d requested it so it must have appealed to me for some reason.

And what a roller coaster of a story this is. I’m glad I went into it cold because one of the author’s strengths is in letting the reader experience what the character is experiencing and that meant I didn’t know any more than she did what was going on. From one chapter to the next, Addie (and I) lived one future or another—sometimes not being sure which future it was—and it became more and more apparent that her ability to see the consequences of her actions does not mean that it’s easy to choose the right path. When Addie finds herself loving two boys, one in each future, and sees her deepest friendship in jeopardy, which future will she decide is appropriate—and what will that decision cost her and those she cares about?

The author has done something that I find quite interesting. With all its seemingly futuristic trappings, this tale is actually contemporary and set in familiar surroundings. There’s nothing particularly different about these people except that they have learned to enhance their mental abilities but they’re not being used for nefarious purposes and there are no tyrannical leaders involved. This could be you or me.

I really love this book—a lot—and it was a quick, intriguing read. Addie is a girl I want to spend more time with and¬†Kasie West is an author who knows how to craft an engaging story, one that makes you wonder “what if?”. I’m looking forward very much to the sequel to Pivot Point next winter.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2013.