Book Reviews: Solving Cadence Moore by Gregory Sterner and 19 Souls by J.D. Allen @SternerGregory @aperturepress @JDAllenBooks @midnightinkbook

Solving Cadence Moore
Gregory Sterner
Aperture Press, November 2017
ISBN 978-0-9973020-8-0
Trade Paperback

An intense novel fashioned in a very creative and unusual way, Solving Cadence Moore struggles to match its creative vision. It is rooted in the modern radio podcast phenomenon. Charlie Marx, successful radio podcast creator and star has a fine and lasting career in a fairly volatile professional area. He’s progressed through solid talent and the support of a major broadcasting executive, but he wants more. He thinks he’s found a vehicle, a ten-year old mystery.

Young talented and striking-looking (cliché?) Candace Moore is at the beginning of her career as a star vocalist and song creator. When she disappears and no trace has ever been found of her, the mystery endures and grows. Marx believes he can solve the murder and he exaggerates his proof to his boss in order to gain permission to create a star series of podcasts.

Things begin to fall apart when production time is squeezed down and witnesses become reluctant. Marx endures long and tense confrontations with his boss, with members of his production team and with some witnesses he turned up.

The novel, frequently written as a radio script, is long, tedious at times and is shot full of disagreeable language, confrontation after confrontation, and little consideration for the reader. Nine chapters divide a 362-page story. Long involved arguments detailing strengths and weaknesses of character’s positions, often with little or no descriptive language tend to give the narrative a slow and steady progression. Readers will assume, perhaps correctly, that the profession of radio broadcasting, especially when focused on the dramatization of true events, is replete with the kind of competition and repetitive tests of wills fostered by strongly opinionated, testosterone supplied males.

In sum an excellent idea burdened by a limited exposition, resulting in relief that the novel is done, rather than disappointment for the final period.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 2020.
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.


19 Souls
A Sin City Investigation #1
J.D. Allen
Midnight Ink Books, February 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5403-1
Trade Paperback

An interesting if troublesome book about the search for a deteriorating psychopathic serial killer. The story has several things going for it, an unusual killer, a raft of police and FBI characters, and at least three sort-of-legal private searchers. The least likeable of the three, a shambling, bumbling private investigator named Jim Bean works alone, except when he needs help, which is frequently. The other two, O, a bounty-hunter, and Bean’s obligatory cyber/research expert add a little to the narrative, although O adds the least.

The setup is excellent and would have been even better if Bean wasn’t portrayed as so constantly second-guessing himself. A woman hires him to find her long-lost brother. She promptly drugs and seduces Bean which interferes with Bean’s thoughts and emotions, often at crucial junctures.

The story takes place in Texas, Nevada, California and Indiana. As the target descends gradually, logically, and cleverly into madness, the tension rises and more bodies litter the ground. Largely well-written and edited there are a few point-of-view shifts that are momentarily confusing but taking it all together, the novel is worth its price.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, March 2019.
Traces, Grand Lac, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Starblind by D.T. Dyllin

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Book Reviews: Sorrow’s Knot by Erin Bow, The Passion of the Purple Plumeria by Lauren Willig, and The Last Condo Board of the Apocalypse by Nina Post

Sorrow's KnotSorrow’s Knot
Erin Bow
Arthur A. Levine Books, November 2013
ISBN 978-0-545-16666-9

How many times have you asked “Why?” only to be told (with a bit of exasperation) “Because, we’ve always done it this way!”  From the outside looking in, this can be frustrating, a non-answer.  It doesn’t explain a thing and it seems somewhat defensive and stubborn.  Of course, if you have “always done it this way”, and there are no obvious repercussions, the old “if it ain’t broke…..” adage may seem more than adequate.  With that philosophy, there would be no progress, no improvements, we would become stagnant.  The devil’s advocate may wonder, what is wrong with that?  Well, Sorrow’s Knot shows us.

I finished this book awhile ago, but writing this review has been challenging. I could almost write two different reviews—both hugely in favour of the book.  It is truly fantastic.  The unique and subtle life lessons were spot-on and welcome.  As an adult (chronologically), a mom, a short-time former educator and self-proclaimed promoter of the written word; I find this to be a stand-out book.  On the other hand, the book loving, adolescent inside of me just thinks it is a kick-ass story.

First, the appeal to the intended Middle-Grade audience: allow me to gush about the Rock-Star-Quality characters.    Otter, Cricket and Kestrel are unique and likeable, individually; but as the tightly knit trio, they are outstanding! I want to hang out with Kestrel, be her BFF.  She is my new heroine.  I could spend days completing menial tasks if Cricket was there to tell me stories.  The friendship among them surpasses all, including the laws that their people have forever lived by.  Together, they face mystery, intrigue, love and death.

Strengths exhibited by Kestrel, a female ranger, are more real, and therefore way cooler, than the modern-day vampire.  Sweeter romance will not be easily found.  In their world, okishae, said to mean mate, pair, knot.  It is the exception, not the rule.  Okishae lasts a lifetime.  Two humans choosing to love each other, exclusively and forever, is not just rare, it is strange.  That which is feared, The White Hand, is a brand-new (or newly introduced) creepy, eerie and scary entity.  The vagueness surrounding it adds to the mystique and makes for a bone-chilling tale.  As their sheltered life begins to unravel, Otter and Kestrel are faced with decisions that will impact, not just them, but the entire population of Westmost and potentially beyond.  Unceremoniously joined up with a complete stranger in Orca; the ladies will be forced to choose where to place their trust.  Should they accept Orca’s wild tales or continue believing what they’ve always been told?  The many twists and turns are thought-provoking and entertaining, making this one of the grooviest books I’ve read this year.

Now—a quick adult-themed note: I love that the village is mostly women, that a monogamous relationship is an oddity, that a Story-Teller plays such a vital role in the community and that the adolescents are so strong, smart and capable.  Most of all, I loved the purity and loyalty that came with their friendship.  These might not leap out as attributes to the intended audience, but the strength and solidarity that they lend to the story will not be missed.

Coming out in November, just in time to kick off your holiday shopping, this would be a welcome gift to any reader.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2013.


The Passion of the Purple PlumeriaThe Passion of the Purple Plumeria   
A Pink Carnation Novel  
Lauren Willig
New American Library, August 2013
ISBN 978-0-451-41472-4
Trade Paperback

The story opens in Paris with Gwendolyn Meadows, part of the intrepid Pink Carnation spy team, crouched on a balcony outside a room occupied by opera singer, Aurelia Fiorila, and the notorious Tallyrand, Napoleon’s foreign minister. They are hatching a plot whereupon Aurelia will play the spy in Britain. Gwen, of course, carries the news back to her employer and friend, Miss Jane Wooliston, who is known in certain circles as the Pink Carnation.

Meanwhile, Colonel William Reid, late of the East India Company, has just arrived in England with plans to build a home for himself and his two daughters, whom he sent to England ten years previously when his wife died.

Gwen and William meet on the doorstep of the girl’s school attended by Jane’s younger sister and William’s youngest daughter, only to discover the two girls have disappeared. Have they been kidnapped? Has someone taken Agnes Wooliston in order to flush out the Pink Carnation? Or is something else at work here? Why is Lizzy gone too?

The set-up sends Gwen and William on a wild chase seeking the girls. A sultan’s treasure is involved, stolen by one of William’s sons. The plot carries forward with non-stop action, fine-tuned characterizations, and excellent descriptions. And that’s just for starters.

Author Willig’s builds her two main characters with snappy, laugh-out-loud dialogue. The situations are both madcap and serious. Yes, I know. Both. The story building reminds me of some of Georgette Heyer’s lighter and more amusing farces, only Willig is funnier. I’ll certainly be reading more of Lauren Willig’s spy series. The only thing I found not to love was the insertion of some chapters that take place in the present day. Those chapters seemed to me to break the spell set up for William and Gwen.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, October 2013.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.


The Last Condo Board of the ApocalypseThe Last Condo Board of the Apocalpyse
Nina Post
Curiosity Quills Press, February 2012
ISBN: 978-1-62007-016-1
Trade Paperback

Kelly Driscoll is a bounty hunter for hire tasked with finding one suspect within a 500-apartment condominium. Finding him within two days will be pretty spectacular but that’s her job and she’s gonna do it. But there are more to these residents than meets the eye. Will she find her suspect in time and claim all her expenses?

To be honest, I couldn’t really get into this book at all. Even writing the short synopsis above took an age because quite simply, I didn’t care about the story, mainly because it was so manic throughout that I don’t know if I got it in the end. Ask me what it was about and I’ll struggle to tell you accurately because there are a myriad of characters all running about acting strangely and seemingly without purpose and certainly without sense. The only thing this achieved was to confuse and add unnecessary complexity to the story that made me want to just give up. Reading page after page about condo meetings is agonising and boring. I guess it was meant to highlight how this weird group of characters get distracted from their original purpose but I could have easily done without it, or at least had a very edited, shortened version. It felt like filler, just very, very boring filler.

Put it this way, the story is too haphazard and convoluted to actually work. It lacks direction and purpose and lurches from thread to thread with too many stops and starts. 61 chapters in a 250 page book is too many in my opinion and only add to the manic atmosphere of the story. While I understand that the book is supposed to be detailing the advent of the apocalypse, having to cling to the plot with a death grip does not make for pleasant reading and in the end, the story wasn’t strong enough for me to even care. It ends very abruptly as well which in this instance was a blessing for me when I realised that I didn’t actually have another 25 pages to read. But, abrupt endings are never a good idea anyway. Teasing and tantalising the reader with an open ending or cliffhanger is good, dropping the story like a hot potato is bad. Since the book contained a preview of the next book titled The Last Donut Shop of the Apocalypse, I’m pretty sure this is aiming to be a series. However, I didn’t even bother to read the sample chapter so indifferent was I to the first title and I certainly didn’t dip into the other sample chapter of One Ghost Per Serving either. This book needs a darn good editor and extensive rewriting before it will hit any bestseller lists. As it is, I won’t be recommending it to others.

Reviewed by Laura McLaughlin, August 2013.

Book Review: Midnight City by J. Barton Mitchell

Midnight CityMidnight City
A Conquered Earth Novel

J. Barton Mitchell
St. Martin’s Griffin, October 2012
ISBN 978-1-250-00907-4

From the publisher—

Earth has been conquered by an alien race known as the Assembly. The human adult population is gone, having succumbed to the Tone—-a powerful, telepathic super-signal broadcast across the planet that reduces them to a state of complete subservience. But the Tone has one critical flaw. It only affects the population once they reach their early twenties, which means that there is one group left to resist: Children.

Holt Hawkins is a bounty hunter, and his current target is Mira Toombs, an infamous treasure seeker with a price on her head. It’s not long before Holt bags his prey, but their instant connection isn’t something he bargained for. Neither is the Assembly ship that crash-lands near them shortly after. Venturing inside, Holt finds a young girl who remembers nothing except her name: Zoey.

As the three make their way to the cavernous metropolis of Midnight City, they encounter young freedom fighters, mutants, otherworldly artifacts, pirates, feuding alien armies, and the amazing powers that Zoey is beginning to exhibit. Powers that suggest she, as impossible as it seems, may just be the key to stopping the Assembly once and for all.

And a little child shall lead them.

I love this book. What can I say to show you why? Perhaps “show” is the operative word because J. Barton Mitchell clearly has a talent for showing as well as telling. In short, he’s a very good storyteller and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to read this, his first novel (of many, I hope).

I very much appreciated the third person past tense points of view, not being a big fan of first person present tense. Most of the story is told from Holt’s perspective but occasionally seeing other points of view is a good way to add more depth to the story and, since the three main characters have such different issues, it helps the reader understand them better. I’m also eternally grateful that we don’t have to suffer through insta-love. Whether Holt and Mira will eventually become a romantic item is pretty much a given from the moment they meet but their progression towards mutual attraction is a natural one. Slowly growing feelings are what should be expected when these two start out in such adversarial circumstances.

I found the four main characters—Holt, Mira, Zoey and Max—to be completely engaging and believable, especially Holt. Here is a young man who has seen the worst life has to offer and, yes, he’s cynical, but  a piece of him still wants to believe that things can be better. Growing up fast was a necessity and he has become a teen who could very well be a survivor in such a nightmare future. Mira, on the other hand, is a girl we don’t see often enough in young adult fiction. She’s a bit more than cynical, too, but she’s brave, intelligent and very clever but also has a wistful side that’s very appealing.

Zoey is that child who often shows up in this type of book, the one who may just be the savior of the world, but Mr. Mitchell manages to keep her from becoming trite. Zoey is a likeable 8-year-old and, most of the time, behaves just as you would expect her to. I really enjoyed her attachment to Max and her mix of vulnerability and calm dependence on her companions, not to mention her touches of humor.  Oh, and by the way, I adore the four-footed Max, best companion to have on a perilous journey.

If anything made the story sometimes drag for me, it’s in the descriptions of the artifacts and how they work. I don’t quite get it any way so less attention on them would have been fine with me. It would be enough to know that certain items have special properties—and at some point, I’ll want to find out why they do—but I don’t really need to have such details as that one coin is turned heads out and another tails out.

Some reviewers are disconcerted by questions left with no clear answers but, to me, full knowledge of what’s going on works only if the book is a standalone. This is the first in a series (trilogy?) so why would the reader want to know everything by the end of the first book? Mitchell‘s worldbuilding is imaginative and detailed and, yet, there are still many things to find out in upcoming volumes, not only about this frightening future but about the people and the aliens that inhabit it. In some ways, Midnight City reminds me of a Stephen King novel in it’s detailed yet very broad storyline but the difference is that King tells it all in one book of 1,000+ pages.

Speaking of worldbuilding, this author has the magic touch. I easily saw through the eyes of this small band when they encountered such awful places as Clinton Station with its Fallout Swarms but Midnight City itself is the real gem and Mr. Mitchell‘s meticulous attention to detail made for a strong picture in my imagination. He has a background in comics and screenplays so his ability to create such strong visual images comes as no surprise.

I’m very glad I hadn’t yet compiled my list of best books read in 2012 before reading this because Midnight City will certainly be on it. Now I just have to cope with the endless wait till next fall for the second book in the series, The Severed Tower.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2012.