Book Review: State of Emergency by Mary Hallberg

State of Emergency
Mary Hallberg
CreateSpace, August 2017
ISBN 978-1548327958
Trade Paperback

From the author—

17-year-old Dallas Langdon is fighting off zombies with a pizza cutter.

Dallas has always loved zombie movies. But when she catches a real live (erm, dead) musician eating a man’s intestines backstage after the show, she knows her movies have become a reality. And what do characters in zombie movies do? Seek shelter. Fortunately, Dallas’s eccentric uncle owns a farmhouse in Chattanooga, an eight hour drive from New Orleans. It’s on top of a steep mountain, surrounded by electric fences, and cut off from the worlds of the living and the dead.

Dallas’s parents, still safe at home, laugh at her idea over the phone. Her friends only agree to join her because it’s fall break and they could use a mini vacation anyway.

But then Dallas’s best friend is killed by a zombie horde when they’re attracted to her ringing cell phone. Civilians think their reanimated loved ones simply have the flu, leaving them alive (well, undead) and rapidly increasing the zombies ranks. And since minors can’t buy guns, Dallas’s only weapon is a giant industrial pizza cutter she swipes from a gas station. George A. Romero never mentioned anything like this. With one friend dead and no zombie survival guides to help her, Dallas and her friends must get to Chattanooga before joining the ranks of the undead themselves.

Be honest…if someone told you a zombie outbreak was going on “out there”, would you believe it? I’m pretty sure at first I’d think somebody had come up with a great prank but, the first time I saw one, I’d believe my own eyes. Or, at least, I hope I would so I’d have enough time to run like hell 😉

Fortunately for her pals—sister Talia and friends Ashleigh, Sam and Pierce—Dallas knows right away that she’s looking at a zombie and, better yet, knows how to deal with it, having grown up with zombie movies. Dallas and Talia have an Uncle Jack who has a fortified compound in Tennessee and they all agree to head there as long as it’s just for the weekend. After all, they might be on fall break but they’ll have to get back to school on Monday. So, off they go on a race to find safety, led by a seventeen-year-old girl armed with an industrial-sized pizza cutter.

This was a fun little story  and I found the characters very appealing in one way or another. The brevity of the story meant that there are plot holes here and there but no matter, it’s still a good tale for zombie lovers 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2018.

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Book Reviews: Ink by Alice Broadway and Back Roads by William Bitner, Daniel Boyd and Jason Pell

Ink
The Skin Books #1
Alice Broadway
Scholastic Press, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-338-19699-3
Hardcover

In Saintstone, the destiny of the soul is determined not by a deity, but by the government. From birth until demise, the body is marked to illustrate the life being lived. At death, the skin is flayed, then bound into a book. If the soul is worthy, the book goes home with the family. If not, it is obliterated by fire and the person is forgotten forever–as if everyone’s collective memories merge with the smoke, dissipate, then disappear.

Leora easily understands this definitive divide and especially embraces it when she loses a loved one. An absence so overwhelming can bring even the staunchest believers to rock bottom. Surfacing secrets shove the bottom away, resulting in a figurative free-fall of uncertainty and doubt.

Hearing something often, particularly from people most admired, certainly makes that thing seem true. Perhaps Leora has been purely parroting the comfort and confidence contrived by her firm trust in her faith. As Obel’s new intern, she is shaken when she attempts to answer his apparently innocuous questions, but finds herself floundering.

His queries feel bold, almost blasphemous. Leora has never had reason to doubt the separation of the despicable blank people from the marked, but when called to support her stance with facts and logic, she is speechless, then stunned. Seeing every single thing in a new light can be disconcerting. No longer knowing who to trust or what to believe, terrifying.

Looking at life through Leora’s eyes is humbling. As she adamantly, albeit ignorantly, explains why the evil White Witch, the first blank, does not deserve to be remembered; it begins to be easier to see what actually is, as opposed to what Leora has always been told. Accepting that real knowledge is indeed power, Leora learns, then she plans. The young girl’s tremendous growth, against all odds is enlightening and empowering.

Reviewed by jv poore, January 2018.

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Back Roads
William Bitner, Daniel Boyd & Jason Pell
CreateSpace, March 2017
ISBN 978-1544194806
Trade Paperback

Definitely distinct, yet stitched with a common dark thread, these short stories flow with an inexplicably familiar feel while featuring fresh frights.  Each author seems to settle back and spin yarns with a natural knack for story-telling that evokes an avalanche of emotions. A strong, soft, somber voice speaks.  Instinctively, I am in.  I felt the crisp cold of the mountain air instantly freeze the inside of my nose, heard the ripples and rush of the rivers and felt my heart in my throat and my body tense as turning the page felt like taking a hairpin curve at high speed on a steep mountain road.

Creatures creep from the dark, formative…to spark a spooky image, while monsters mangle with brilliantly bold detail that may make you squeeze your eyes shut.   Substance makes these shorts stand out, as if the writer has wrung a bit of his soul into the words to sneakily seep into the reader.  In some instances, real-life-right-now social, environmental and health issues blur the line between sci-fi and reality, bringing a chilling sense of foreboding along with the ugly, unfiltered view of cruelty and corruption.

I love that these stories show scenic, wild, West Virginia and portray the people honestly; quietly quashing inaccurate stereotypes; humbly highlighting the genuine good.  To me, this book is a treasure chest filled with rare, remarkable jewels that will bring me pleasure every single time I open it.  I enthusiastically recommend it to voracious readers, as well as reluctant ones.  In merely minutes, engage in a tumultuous, terrifying escape….and I mean that in the best way possible.

Reviewed by jv poore, May 2017.

Book Review: Murder in Little Shendon by A.H. Richardson

Murder in Little Shendon
A Haxlitt-Brandon Mystery #1
A.H. Richardson
CreateSpace, August 2015
ISBN 978-1515283973
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Picture, if you will, a picturesque village called Little Shendon, suddenly caught up in dealing with a murder of one of its citizens — not a particularly well-liked one at that. Which makes it all the more intriguing because the list of suspects becomes very long. This tantalizing tale unfolds with twists and turns to find out whodunit to Mr. Bartholomew Fynche, the murdered shopkeeper.

Fear grips the community as the investigation slowly progresses. Everyone is interviewed; everyone is suspect! From his housekeeper to Lady Armstrong and her household staff. Or could it be the shy librarian new in town? Or the defiant retired army major and his ladyfriend, the post mistress? Or perhaps the weird sisters who live on the edge of town? Then there is the couple who own the local inn and pub, along with the two Americans who are staying there? Even the vicar and his wife fall under the gloom of suspicion.

Uncertainty, wariness, and terror reign as neighbors watch neighbors to discover the evil that permeates their upturned lives. No one feels safe in this charming little village. Who is the murderer? And why was this strange uncivil man dispatched in such a seemingly civil community?

A murder mystery that will keep you reading until you learn the details, uncovered by Police Inspector Stanley Burgess and his two amateur detectives, Sir Victor Hazlitt and Beresford Brandon. The three sift methodically through the Alibis and life stories of the suspects until they uncover…

You are challenged to discover the culprit before the last few pages. And no fair looking ahead — it’s the journey that proves the most enticing.

When I was first offered the opportunity to read and, perhaps, review Murder in Little Shendon, I had never heard of the book, although it came out two years ago, or of the author but I’m drawn to English village mysteries so I thought I’d give it a go and I’m glad I did.

The premise of a village police inspector tackling a murder case is, of course, not new but Ms. Richardson added in two elements that aren’t so common. The murdered man has a connection from the past to MI5, which is certainly not typical of the usual village murder victim, and that leads Inspector Burgess to enlist the aid of Sir Victor Hazlitt and his sidekick (his Watson, if you will), stage actor Beresford Brandon. Sir Victor was active in MI5 and had known the victim, thus the request from Stanley Burgess, and he invites Berry to go along because of his side interest in criminology. The next morning, off they go for a 10-day sojourn in Little Shendon and an adventurous patch of sleuthing with more than one murder and a multitude of suspects and possible motives.

There were a few noticeable construction flaws in this book and the pace is leisurely, almost too much so at times but, on the whole, I spent a very pleasant few hours with this trio trying to get to the bottom of this crime and the village itself was a step back in time. Sir Victor and Berry return in 2016’s Act One, Scene One…Murder and I’m going to make time to check it out.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

Book Review: Temptation Trials by B. Truly

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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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