Book Reviews: A Perfect Manhattan Murder by Tracy Kiely and Closing the Book on Santa Claus by Ron Chandler

A Perfect Manhattan Murder
A Nic and Nigel Mystery #3
Tracy Kiely
Midnight Ink, May 2017
ISBN: 978-0-7387-4524-4
Trade Paperback

If one reads a lot of crime fiction in various sub-genres, categorizing this novel is easy, just read page one. Indeed, the first paragraph will do it. Echoes of the best of the Golden Age mysteries from England, of the sophisticated not-quite-family-fare motion pictures of the late thirties and early forties, are here.

For the lover of the so-called Cozy Mystery, brought cleverly and carefully to the Twenty-first Century, this is a definite winner. For anyone hooked on Michael Connelly, Lee Child, the darker, more explicit often bloodier and more violent modern thrillers and even true mysteries, this novel could be a little disappointing. Still, for a clever plot, sharp, whizzing dialogue among the principals and scene after scene with the moneyed, beautiful people of New York, parading through elegant up-scale venues, I recommend this story.

Nic and Nigel Martini(!) are back in New York. Nic is a former NYPD detective who left the force to join her husband in a private investigator enterprise on the West Coast. They have been invited by a school chum of Nic to the Broadway opening of a play written by another schoolmate of Nic and Harper’s named Peggy McGrath. Readers are introduced to the players and soon, a thorn appears. The thorn is the husband of Harper. He is a prominent, curmudgeonly, popularly disliked, New York theatre critic who doesn’t seem to practice discretion or restraint in his articles. Predictably, he is soon found dead—murdered. His wife, Harper, is of course accused of the deed and Nic and Nigel swing into action to prove Harper innocent.

The pace is upscale, the dialogue is excellent and the author’s descriptions of place and atmosphere greatly enhance the overall feeling. Then, there is Skippy. Skippy is one of the largest and most unusual characters readers are likely to encounter. He is an adorable, lovely giant Bullmastiff. Skippy is three years old and fills up the room when he saunters in and sprawls on the carpet.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 2017.
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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Closing the Book on Santa Claus and Other Holiday Stories
Ron Chandler
CreateSpace, March 2015
ISBN: 9781508434900
Trade Paperback

Author Ron Chandler is a free-lance writer. This collection of nine holiday stories is aimed at people for whom the holiday season can be a bit much. Overwhelming, even. Heavy on the narrative side, the stories are all well-put together with a reasonable cast of varied characters and settings. Readers will find a range of emotional tides, all relating to human relationships and ultimately holiday satisfaction, if not the highest grade of cheer.

Probably the most interesting if bizarre story, is “Inside the Glamorous Life of Lady Plum,” in which the Lady in question experiences a startlingly wide range of life experiences. Like most collections of short fiction, the quality of the writing is a bit uneven, but overall readers should be satisfied. All in all, the slender paperback is a pleasant distraction from the pressures of the season.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2017.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Reviews: Stolen Memories by Mary Miley and Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

Stolen Memories
Mary Miley
CreateSpace, November 2015
ISBN 978-151-8883705
Trade Paperback

If you asked me for a book that you could really sink your teeth into—a murder-mystery with just a hint of romance—one that is a delight to read, but not “light reading”…..you know, something that keeps your eyes glued to the pages you are frantically turning and sneaks into your thoughts at random times; but doesn’t necessarily rip out your heart & run away with it–I’d happily hand you Stolen Memories.

1928 was a fabulous time to be a young woman in Europe.  It was particularly exciting and opportunistic for the intelligent, courageous woman carving a path for her own independence and paving the way for others to follow. Eva Johnson, however, is not that woman.   Rather, she is a self-serving, manipulative, nasty thief who has no problem spilling a bit of blood along her way.

When she awoke under the concerned eyes of a doctor in France, Eva had no idea what landed her in a hospital bed.  She has no memory, at all.  She surely does not remember marrying that angry giant hulking around her bedside.  More importantly, she can’t fathom being married at all.  Even in the absence of her memories, she’s sure there’s been a huge mistake.  This initial unease and uncertainty perfectly set the tone for her tale.

Eva desperately wants to regain her memory to reclaim her true self, nothing about being a part of this eccentric family feels relatable.  Those around her share her goal, but for very different reasons.  Deciding who to trust is a daily challenge.  Information is fed to her intermittently and often, inaccurately.  Her every move is watched and scrutinized.

Under such close inspection, we begin to see some interesting things.  While some may simply want to recover their stolen property, someone wants her dead.  Further muddying the waters, Eva is just not herself.  With seemingly natural inclinations towards kindness, she stuns her family.  It is particularly entertaining to watch a mystery unravel while the participants continue to be puzzled.  The many moving parts make for a quick, compelling read.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2016.

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Counting by 7s
Holly Goldberg Sloan
Puffin Books, September 2014
ISBN 978-0-14-242286-1
Trade Paperback

This is one of those treasures recommended for ages 10 and up that I believe everyone can thoroughly enjoy, not just older elementary and middle-grade people.

I can’t imagine the person who would not be charmed, then completely smitten with young Willow, who at the tender age of 12 has her world shattered.  An admirable and awe-inspiring person Before, her strength, courage and resolve After show the reader what a real-life super-heroine is all about.

Even cooler, we see her spirit, determination and natural kindness pour out and touch so many.  Those touched by Willow intuitively and impulsively stand a little straighter, try a little harder and become more generous.

Few books have the ability to render sobs, then a smile, but this one does.  I would chastise myself for letting this sit on my shelf for so long instead I’m going to consider the timing serendipitous, because now I can pass this jewel on to my son’s middle-grade classroom library.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2016.

Book Review: Beauty of the Beast by Rachel L. Demeter

 

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Book Review: Keys to Nowhere by Dorothy H. Hayes

Keys to Nowhere
The Carol Rossi Mystery Series #3
Dorothy H. Hayes
CreateSpace, January 2017
ISBN 978-1541242876
Trade Paperback

From the author—

A Tucson vacation morphs into terror when two teenage girls and their aunt vanish. When the girls’ desperate parents beg their friend and Connecticut investigative journalist Carol Rossi for help, Rossi can’t refuse. She leaves her infant daughter, police detective husband, and treasured farm and animal sanctuary to lead the hunt through the desert. It’s 1985, and Rossi is chasing down a new kind of danger: the serial killer. When the Tucson police aren’t interested in her theories, Rossi acts alone before the killer can strike again.

I have a vague memory of the first time I heard of an abductor/killer posing as a police patrolman but what isn’t vague is how it sunk in that this is a trap all too easy for most people to fall into. Ever since, I’ve been prepared to do what the police themselves advise, to never stop at night or in a lonely area when a cop flashes the lights or taps the siren but go directly to a precinct if possible or at least a well-lit spot with people around. The first pages of Keys to Nowhere gave me the creeps as it became obvious how easy it is for a fake cop to overcome one’s natural concern and sense of self-preservation. By the end of the second chapter, I knew I was in for a heck of a story.

Carol Rossi is one smart cookie and has solved crimes before so it’s no surprise that her friend Vera begs her for help when she can’t reach her teenaged daughters and her sister who’ve been vacationing in Arizona. Helping Vera means Carol has to leave her infant daughter and her police detective husband behind in Connecticut so she’s understandably reluctant but a less than satisfactory call to the Tucson police convinces her she has to go.

Carol is an appealing protagonist, determined to find the three women despite a lack of interest from the police, but it’s the killer who really stands out in my mind because he’s so mesmerizing in his looks and smooth talk, very much like Ted Bundy. That’s the thing about really bad people—they frequently are impossible to spot until it’s too late and that’s one of the traits that’s so fascinating about them. The third character who really impressed me is 16-year-old Ginger, a girl in desperate trouble who isn’t the sort to just let things happen to her. I like this girl a lot and she’s the one who lends an atmosphere of hope to a tale of terror.

As for the story, there isn’t much that’s more intriguing than the battle between good and evil and that’s exactly what this is. It’s uncomfortable to be in the killer’s head but, at the same time, this is what makes his actions and behavior so compelling and, from page to page, I wanted, needed to know what would happen next with the tension building to almost unbearable levels.

Keys to Nowhere is one of those thrillers that blends plot and characterization on an equal basis and Ms. Hayes once again has crafted a tale that kept me enthralled from beginning to end. Anyone looking for an exciting, disturbing, highly satisfying read won’t go wrong with this one.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2017.

Book Review: The Arrow Catcher by Jim Mather

the-arrow-catcherThe Arrow Catcher
Jim Mather
CreateSpace, September 2013
ISBN: 978-0-615-94538-5
Trade Paperback

Boston, summer, 1948. A celebration and fund raiser for the new state of Israel attended by teen Jonathan Lusk with his parents. It is a day filled with tragedy and death. Before long, Jonathan is living in Japan with his grandfather, called to sit as a judge in the war crimes trials against Japanese criminals. He too, along with his Japanese wife, is soon murdered, Jonathan is sent to a military school and the real story begins.

The prospect of an American teenaged boy, regardless of his connections to important Japanese society, alone in a military training camp shortly after the conclusion of World War II is likely to be short-lived. Yet, against almost monumental odds, the plucky youth survives and readers will be treated to an enthralling inside look at Japanese culture, mores, and many ancient rituals and traditions.

Lusk endures all of the cultural and social strains, plus immense language difficulties, not to mention the normal flow of growing early teen-aged angst. Yet he determines to persevere and survive. He not only survives the real dangers of resentment by fellow students, but evil forces swirl around him when he is drawn into kidnapping and assassination plots by evil forces operating outside the schools.

The novel is not without its problems. It needed a sharp and careful editing of grammar and typography. Yet the relentless and constant push of the author’s style tends to overcome the difficulties. It was a fascinating and worthwhile experience.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 2016.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: Meritropolis by Joel Ohman

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Title: Meritropolis
Series: Meritropolis #1
Author: Joel Ohman
Publication Date: September 8, 2014
Genres: Science Fiction, Dystopian, Young Adult

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MeritropolisMeritropolis
Meritropolis #1
Joel Ohman
CreateSpace, September 2014
ISBN 978-1-5001-8960-0
Trade Paperback

From the author—

In Meritropolis everyone is assigned a numerical Score that decides their worth to society and whether they live or die. After a young boy is killed because of a low Score, his brother plots to take down the System.

The year is AE3, 3 years after the Event. Within the walls of Meritropolis, 50,000 inhabitants live in fear, ruled by the brutal System that assigns each citizen a merit score that dictates whether they live or die. Those with the highest scores thrive, while those with the lowest are subject to the most unforgiving punishment–to be thrust outside the city gates, thrown to the terrifying hybrid creatures that exist beyond.

But for one High Score, conforming to the System just isn’t an option. Seventeen-year-old Charley has a brother to avenge. And nothing–not even a totalitarian military or dangerous science–is going to stop him.

Where humankind has pushed nature and morals to the extreme, Charley is amongst the chosen few tasked with exploring the boundaries, forcing him to look deep into his very being to discern right from wrong. But as he and his friends learn more about the frightening forces that threaten destruction both without and within the gates, Meritropolis reveals complexities they couldn’t possibly have bargained for…

Meritropolis starts off well with our introduction to an angry Charley and, within just a few pages, we come to clearly understand why he harbors so much ill will towards the powers-that-be in his society in which survival of the fitest has new meaning. Shortly after, we meet Elena, a young woman who knows what’s about to happen and is devastated by it, aware she can do absolutely nothing to keep the promise she made to her parents, so she does what’s next best, making her sister’s final day last as long as possible. To the citizens of Meritropolis, it’s all about the score, the measure of one’s worth.

“This is our first time to watch someone being put out of the gates, and it’s a little girl. We know what happens to her, but what happens to us? What happens to us if we just watch?”

And then a crime lord named Chappy comes on the scene and shares a few harsh truths with Charley. Not long after, Charley will have a life-changing encounter with the scared but brave little Bree, one that is about to bring him a future he certainly didn’t plan for.

Dystopian stories can be much of the same in the wrong hands but Mr. Ohman did two things that I think give this one a lift. First is his choice to have the focus be on a young man when so many of these novels have young women stars. The other is in having the usual terrible thing that the society does be so immediate and without hope. So often, there’s a bit of a gray area that allows the heroes and heroines to intervene in some way but, in this city, the decisions are carried out very quickly and with no pushback from the people.

This is not the perfect story, by any means, with too many coincidences and Charley’s supposed intelligence doesn’t seem to help him out as much as you might expect plus we don’t learn enough about day-to-day life in Meritropolis, but it’s emotional and thought-provoking with characters I came to appreciate in different ways. Altogether, it works and the ending is full of questions and surprises leading, of course to the second book, Meritorium, which is already available. I’ll be picking it up as soon as I can.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2016.

About the Author

Joel OhmanJoel Ohman is the author of the Meritropolis series –“The Hunger Games meets The Village with a young Jack Reacher as a protagonist”. He lives in Tampa, FL with his wife Angela and their three kids. His writing companion is Caesar, a slightly overweight Bull Mastiff who loves to eat the tops off of strawberries.

Learn more about Joel: JoelOhman.com
Get notified of new books here: Meritropolis.com
Follow Joel on Twitter: Twitter.com/JoelOhman
Connect with Joel on Facebook: Facebook.com/joeljonathan

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Book Review: Poison by Lan Chan

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Title: Poison
Series: Wind Dancer #1

Author: Lan Chan
Publication Date: September 1, 2015
Genres: Science Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic,
Dystopian, Young Adult

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Purchase Links:

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PoisonPoison
Wind Dancer #1
Lan Chan
CreateSpace, September 2015
ISBN 978-1516807376
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Since the night her mother was murdered, sixteen-year-old Rory Gray has known one truth: There are no good Seeders.

In post-apocalyptic Australia, the scientists known as Seeders have built a Citadel surrounded by food-producing regions and populated with refugees from the wars and famine. To maintain their control, the Seeders poisoned the land and outlawed the saving of seeds.

It’s been six years since Rory graced the Seeders’ circus stage as the Wind Dancer and still the scars on her body haven’t healed. Even worse are the scars on her heart, left by a Seeder boy who promised to protect her.

Now the Seeders are withholding supplies from Rory’s region for perceived disobedience. Utilising the Wanderer knowledge she received from her mother, Rory must journey to the Citadel through uninhabitable terrain to plead for mercy.

However, the Citadel isn’t as Rory remembered. The chief plant geneticist is dying and rumours fly that the store of viable seed is dwindling. The Seeders are desperate to find a seed bank they believe Rory can locate, and they will stop at nothing to get it.

To defy the Seeders means death. But Rory has been close to death before–this time she’s learned the value of poison.

Recommended for fans of The Hunger Games, Divergent, strong protagonists, minority characters, circuses and nature!

In the first few pages of Poison, I knew I was in for a treat when I discovered that Ms. Chan has added elements to what could have been a just-like-all-the-rest dystopian story, elements that lift it above the pack. The Reapers are certainly intriguing but the blood furies really caught my attention. The author doesn’t shoot her wad, so to speak, in those first pages, though; surprises are to be found from one scene to the next. (Glider suits? How cool!)

Ms. Chan is equally adept with plot and character development. The tale of a world that comes into being following devastating famine is unusual with her special touches, leading to pathos as well as resistance against the controlling Seeders, and the near-constant twists and turns left me breathless at times. Rory’s own evolution into a young woman who overcomes her fears and rises above what seems to be neverending adversity is compelling and it’s impossible to be sure who is friend, who is foe.

Australia makes a wonderful setting especially with its native fauna that becomes just a little odder as a result of genetic manipulation. This country’s natural and spectacular beauty lends itself well to a story focused on the environment and, for me, heightened the impact of the disaster that could very well arise from genetic manipulation of our agriculture. Perhaps we should take heed.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2016.

About the Author

Lan ChanLan Chan is a writer, gardener and professional procrastinator based in Melbourne, Australia. She is still waiting for her super powers to manifest but until then she writes young adult novels featuring strong female protagonists, minority characters and has a particular interest in dystopias and urban fantasy. Lan’s debut novel POISON, the first in her WIND DANCER series was released in September 2015.

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