Book Review: Blood and Wisdom by Verlin Darrow

Blood and Wisdom
Verlin Darrow
The Wild Rose Press, June 2018
ISBN: 978-1-5092-2086-1
Trade Paperback

Failed therapist Karl Gatlin, now a California private investigator with a small practice and lots of contacts, is asked to look into threats and a headless body. The request is by a former fellow student. Client Aria Piper, now the leader of a growing spiritual center, is naturally disturbed by the events, apparently aimed at intimidating her. She believes the perpetrator is the leader of a nearby cult and she wants Gatlin to make the threat go away. If he’s unsuccessful, she could lose her property and her livelihood.

Because the author is a psychotherapist, Gatlin’s interview of his client devolves into an exploration of motivations as much as it covers prior activities and leads. The novel is rich in both, plus an impressive cast of characters, on both sides of the law, from gang-bangers to bad cops to suspicious students, clients and business members. They all have to be sorted out and Gatlin and his team of researchers, bodyguards and local cops all have to be vetted, one way or another.

Set in California with widely spaced sites, Gatlin spends a good many pages driving from place to place while admiring the scenery. There is no question the views are rich and varied and Gatlin is loath to drive anywhere without describing it in some detail. The unwinding course of the plot is deliberate, complicated and at times amusing. This is not a fast-paced, slam-bam shoot-em-up scramble. Oh, there are a few gun duels, lots of cogitation, some off-site hacking and it all comes together in the end with a clever resolution. Readers should just be prepared for a fairly long and winding road to trail’s end.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2018.
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: Cult X by Fuminori Nakamura

Cult X
Fuminori Nakamura
Translated by Kalau Almony
Soho Crime, May 2018
ISBN: 978-1-61695-786-5
Hardcover

Ostensibly, this novel begins with a young man who is seeking a woman he has known who apparently had entered the strange world of a cult, which he then joins in an attempt to find her.  As he progresses in his quest, the reader is exposed to a variety of topics, ranging from sex and violence to religion, astrophysics and neuroscience.

This gives the author the opportunity to write about all kinds of subjects, with long discourses ranging from good and evil to Japanese politics, from war criminals to peace.  Perhaps inspired by the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway, the novel is an examination of what attraction extremism has to most people.

The reader has to plow through more than 500 pages of this material, struggling to grasp all the meanings and context in what starts out as a simple love story.  And the task is hardly easy.  It takes a lot of effort and for that reason it is rated lower than one would expect a book written by this author, whose past works received [deservedly] higher ratngs.  Nevertheless, Nakamura pushes us to the limits in his writings, which have made him one of the top Japanese authors.  For this reason, for those willing to stick with it, Cult X is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2018.

Book Reviews: Cover Me in Darkness by Eileen Rendahl and Dating Death by Randy Rawls

cover-me-in-darknessCover Me in Darkness
Eileen Rendahl
Midnight Ink, December 2016
ISBN: 978-0-7387-5020-0
Trade Paperback

How do you live with yourself when you believe your little brother was murdered by your half-mad mother, apparently with your help? Amanda Sinclair has tried to put her youthful past behind her, has grown into an important job as a lead quality control testing scientist for a new and exciting company.

Out of that past she receives word that her mother has committed suicide. Far from settling her emotions and closing a door on that episode, she slowly begins to realize that the woman’s death may somehow be linked to the upcoming release from prison of the leader of a cult to which her mother once belonged. Beset by emotions, Amanda concentrates on final verifications of a new product in her lab and the results are raising questions about some of the reports already submitted.

Add a wise and sympathetic cop, suspicious but supportive colleagues and the keen observations of a talented author and here is a novel to be remembered.

While I’m not sure about the title, I strongly endorse this dark emotion-filled novel of suspense. It is very well written, insightful, thoughtful and the central character, Amanda Sinclair, comes alive on the page. The pace and the setting are well handled and easily evoke the locale. Although not for the more timid reader of murder mysteries, Cover Me In Darkness, is well worth the time and attention of serious readers.

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.

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dating-deathDating Death
Beth Bowman Private Investigator #3
Randy Rawls
White Bird Publications, April 2016
ISBN 978-1-63363-151-9
Trade Paperback

Randy Rawls writes a sort of brawling, booted, western-style detective novel. Except this detective is located in southern Florida. Beth Bowman takes no back seat to anyone and in her third adventure actually accepts an insane assignment from the local chief of police. She’s to bodyguard a flamboyant local pol who is due to spill all about crime in their city. Beth is to try to keep the pol alive until he can testify. It doesn’t go well, naturally and now Beth has to try to locate the killer.

That investigation doesn’t go well, either and after a number of fairly exciting adventures, Beth falls in with a homeless shelter operation wherein the street folks domiciled there happen to be the best undercover operatives in the city. So Beth, unable to get necessary help from officialdom, goes to the amateur league. You already guessed it. After stumbling over some pretty obvious clues and missing some others, everybody ends up on the same page and justice prevails, but not before a few dead bodies show up.

Well written and perfectly organized, Dating Death is a good weekend confection.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 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 (Audio): Anomalies by Sadie Turner and Colette Freedman

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Title: Anomalies
Authors: Sadie Turner & Colette Freedman
Publisher Print and Ebook: Select Books
  Print/Ebook Book Release Date: February 9, 2016
Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult

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Purchase Links:

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Select Books
| Audible

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anomalies-audioAnomalies
Sadie Turner & Colette Freedman
Read by Lucinda Clare
Punch Audio/Sadie Turner & Colette Freedman, October 2016
Downloaded Unabridged Audio Book

From the authors—

In the future there is no disease. There is no war. There is no discontent. All citizens are complacent members of the Global Governance. But one summer is about to change everything.

Keeva Tee just turned 15. She’s about to make the trip to Monarch Camp to be imprinted with her intended life partner. But in her happy, carefree life in the Ocean Community, she hears whispers about “anomalies” – citizens who can’t be imprinted. When Keeva arrives at Monarch Camp, her worst nightmare becomes a reality – she is an anomaly. She begins to doubt everything she’s ever believed. What if freedom and individuality have been sacrificed for security?

When Keeva finds a warning carved under a bunk bed she begins to understand: nonconformity will be punished, dissent is not an option, insurgents will be destroyed.

I reviewed the print edition of this book in April 2016 {https://cncbooksblog.wordpress.com/2016/04/20/book-review-anomalies-by-sadie-turner-and-colette-freedman/} so I won’t go into the story again but, rather, focus this time on the audio aspects of the book. In case I really need to say so 😉 I wouldn’t have listened to the audio book if I didn’t really like the tale already.

An audio version of a book adds an element not present in other versions because the narrator is equally as important as the story. A terrific story can save a mediocre or poor narrator but, on the other hand, can be ruined by the wrong narrator or brought to new heights of appeal by the right one. I’ve listened (briefly) to some less than wonderful readers as well as a few I consider the tops and Lucinda Clare is very, very close to that level.

Ms. Clare has a pleasing tone with inflections that ease the listener into understanding the mood and personality of each character and she has clearly distinct voices for those characters. If I have any quibble at all, it’s that her voice is a little too mature to portray a 15-year-old girl but that’s truly minor. Keeva’s intelligence and curiosity, Calix’s confusion and Sobek’s callousness all come through easily but Ms. Clare doesn’t put all her efforts into evoking the characters.

As the story evolves, she ratchets up the tension and, as a result, my own senses were heightened beyond what I experienced when reading the print version. I felt the impact of each revelation as much as Keeva and Calix did and shared their emotions. In short, the audio edition of Anomalies is well worth the time (and cost) and I can’t imagine anyone not enjoying Ms. Turner’s and Ms. Freedman’s exciting story and Lucinda Clare’s narration.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.

About the Authors

Sadie TurnerSADIE TURNER is a Los Angeles-based producer and writer originally from Brighton, England, who works in business development with several Hollywood entrepreneurs. She has various projects in development, and also teaches yoga.

Author Links:

WebsiteGoodreadsTwitterInstagram

 

Colette FreedmanCOLETTE FREEDMAN– An internationally produced playwright with over 25 produced plays, Colette was voted “One of 50 to Watch” by The Dramatist’s Guild. Her hit musical “Serial Killer Barbie” can be heard here.

Her play Sister Cities was the hit of the 2008 Edinburgh Fringe and earned five star reviews:  It has been produced around the country and internationally, fifteen times including Paris (“Une Ville, Une Soeur”), Rome (“Le Quattro Sorelle”) and Australia.  It is next up in  Chicago August 2016. She wrote the film which is currently in post-production and stars Jacki Weaver, Alfred Molina, Jess Weixler, Stana Katic, Michelle Trachtenberg, Amy Smart, Troian Bellisario, Tom Everett Scott and Kathy Baker. She  has co-written, with international bestselling novelist Jackie Collins, the play “Jackie Collins’ Hollywood Lies”, which is gearing up for a National Tour.

In collaboration with The New York Times best selling author Michael Scott,  she wrote the thriller The Thirteen Hallows  (Tor/Macmillan). Her novel The Affair (Kensington) came out January 29, 2013. The play of the novel earned both critical and commercial success as it toured Italy February through May 2013. Her sequel novel The Consequences (Kensington) came out January 28, 2014. Her YA novel Anomalies (Select Books) came out February 9, 2016. She also co-wrote the film “And Then There Was Eve” which is currently in pre-production and begins principal photography May 2016.

Author Links:

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Book Review: Anomalies by Sadie Turner and Colette Freedman

Anomalies Tour Banner

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Title: Anomalies
Authors: Sadie Turner & Colette Freedman
Publisher: Select Books
Release Date: February 9, 2016
Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult

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Goodreads

Purchase Links:

Barnes & NobleAmazonBooks A MillionSelect Books

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AnomaliesAnomalies
Sadie Turner & Colette Freedman
Select Books, February 2016
ISBN 978-1-59079-361-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

In the future there is no disease. There is no war. There is no discontent. All citizens are complacent members of the Global Governance. But one summer is about to change everything.

Keeva Tee just turned fifteen. All of her dreams are about to come true. She’s about to make the trip to Monarch Camp to be imprinted with her intended life partner. One day they’ll have perfect kids and a perfect life. But in her happy, carefree life in the Ocean Community, something weighs on her mind. She hears whispers about “anomalies”―citizens who can’t be imprinted. No one knows what happens to them, but they never seem to come back.

When Keeva arrives at Monarch Camp, her worst nightmare becomes a reality―she is an anomaly. After imprinting, the people she loves change, and she starts to doubt everything she’s ever believed. What if freedom and individuality have been sacrificed for security? And what if the man who solves all the problems is the very man who’s created them―and what if he isn’t a man at all?

When Keeva finds a warning carved under a bunk bed she begins to understand: nonconformity will be punished, dissent is not an option, insurgents will be destroyed.

Yesterday, I saw a post on Facebook from someone asking if the wave of young adult dystopian fiction is over, has run its course. It isn’t surprising that the question would be raised since the dystopian subgenre of science fiction, often blended with post-apocalyptic, has been extremely popular for quite some time, especially in the young adult field. As we know, very popular trends in fiction often wear themselves out, becoming sort of faddish and trendy, and we readers get tired of them in direct proportion to how many authors and publishers jump on a particular bandwagon.

Having thoroughly enjoyed Anomalies by Sadie Turner and Colette Freedman, I can comfortably say there are still very good YA dystopian tales to be read.

The concept of one omnipotent world leader is certainly not a new one—the Bible’s Antichrist has been pictured in such a role many times as have other characters that usually have very nefarious intent—but it’s always interesting to me to see how authors will develop such antagonists. Ms. Turner and Ms. Freedman did a fine job of bringing Sobek Vesely to life with all his hidden menace and he definitely caused the creepy crawlies for me. Sobek is a cult leader of the future.

Keeva is a young teen who finds herself strangely at odds with the way things are supposed to be and her growth as a resister to conformity comes naturally. I loved watching this girl grow up almost overnight because she had no choice and some of her companions are equally as engaging

Worldbuilding is as strong in this novel as I’ve seen in quite a while and I had a comfortable grasp on how humanity came to be in such a situation, the divisions of work communities (labor), the arranged partnerships that come about through Monarch Camp and the devolvement into a Stepford-like mentality once the people reach the age of citizenship.

There are threads of religion mixed in with science fiction but the message that comes across most strongly without being too heavily intrusive is the need for people to recognize when conformity has gone too far. Certainly that can be said to apply to teens coping with rampant conformity in high school but adults can easily fall into the same traps and it’s our tendency towards conforming that makes Anomalies such a compelling read.  The second book can’t come fast enough 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2016.

About the Authors

Sadie TurnerSADIE TURNER is a Los Angeles-based producer and writer originally from Brighton, England, who works in business development with several Hollywood entrepreneurs. She has various projects in development, and also teaches yoga.

Author Links:

WebsiteGoodreadsTwitterInstagram

 

 

Colette FreedmanCOLETTE FREEDMAN is an internationally produced playwright, screenwriter, and novelist who was recently named one of the Dramatist Guild’s “50 to Watch”. Her play “Sister Cities” (NYTE, 2009) was the hit of the 2008 Edinburgh Fringe and earned five star reviews. It has been produced around the country and internationally, including Paris (“Une Ville, Une Soeur”) and Rome (“Le Quattro Sorelle”). She has authored fifteen produced plays including “Serial Killer Barbie” (Brooklyn Publishers, 2004), “First to the Egg” (Grand prize shorts urban shorts festival), “Bridesmaid # 3” (Louisville finalist 2008), and “Ellipses…” (Dezart Festival winner 2010), as well as a modern adaptation of “Iphigenia in Aulis” written in iambic pentameter. She was commissioned to write a modern adaptation of “Uncle Vanya” which is in preproduction and has co-written, with International bestselling novelist Jackie Collins, the play “Jackie Collins Hollywood Lies”, which is gearing up for National Tour. In collaboration with The New York Times best selling author Michael Scott, she sold the thriller The Thirteen Hallows, to Tor/Macmillan, which came out Dec 6, 2011. She sold the novel The Affair to Kensington and is shopping her YA series The A+ Girls.

Author Links:

WebsiteGoodreadsTwitter

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“This book makes spirituality exciting and vibrant.
I predict it will be so successful that we’ll all have to
learn how to pronounce ‘anomaly’ correctly.”
—Russell Brand, comedian, author, actor

“Anomalies leaves you thinking about human
nature and what makes us who we are. Bravo.”
—Jason Segel, actor, author, producer

“[Anomalies is] a fast-paced story which champions
individuality and truth. Keeva is a compelling
heroine who is relatable and strong.”
—Pamela Anderson, actor, author, producer, activist

“A compelling read which confirms we must
fight for what makes us each special and unique.”
—Randy Jackson, music producer, American Idol host

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Book Review: Seed by Lisa Heathfield

SeedSeed
Lisa Heathfield
Running Press Teens, March 2015
ISBN 978-0-7624-5634-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

All that Pearl knows can be encapsulated in one word: Seed. It is the isolated community that she was born into. It is the land that she sows and reaps. It is the center of her family and everything that means home. And it is all kept under the watchful eye of Papa S.

At fifteen years old, Pearl is finally old enough to be chosen as Papa S.’s companion. She feels excitement . . . and surprising trepidation that she cannot explain. The arrival of a new family into the Seed community—particularly the teenage son, Ellis—only complicates the life and lifestyle that Pearl has depended upon as safe and constant. Ellis is compelling, charming, and worldly, and he seems to have a lot of answers to questions Pearl has never thought to ask. But as Pearl digs to the roots of the truth, only she can decide what she will allow to come to the surface.

Sometimes those of us on the outside of a cult have a hard time understanding how the leader can grasp such total control and we feel sorry and fearful for his (or her) followers. We recognize that these members generally have such a strong vulnerability, for a variety of reasons, that they are easy prey and, while we have great sympathy for them, we also can’t help feeling a little superior, a little like we can’t believe anyone could fall for such evil disguised by so-called love.

Such feelings we might have for the victims don’t work in Pearl’s case. Certainly, we’re afraid for her and have to hope that she will open her eyes and see the truth but we can’t really pity her for being under Papa S.’s thumb so completely because she has never known any other life and doesn’t even have the possible protection of blood family. Pearl is so naive that she truly believes “no one is unhappy at Seed”. Only when the Outsider, Ellis, comes does Pearl begin to glimpse fragments of the truth behind the cult and the man who personifies the term narcissist.

At times, I had a little trouble staying with the story because so much of it moves along at a glacial pace but the occasional narrative from an unidentified woman added just enough complication to the general creepiness to keep me engaged…and then came the last few chapters, a somewhat predictable yet still horrifying culmination to all the lies and the attempts at freedom. All in all, I think this is a story that should be read, especially by those who might become susceptible to the machinations of potential cult leaders.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2015.

Book Reviews: Books 1 and 2 of the New World Series by G. Michael Hopf

The EndThe End
 Book 1 of the New World Series
A Postapocalyptic Novel
G. Michael Hopf
Plume, January 2014
ISBN 978-0-14-218149-2
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

What would you do to survive?

Young Gordon Van Zandt valued duty and loyalty to country above all, so after 9/11, he dropped out of college and joined the Marine Corps. This idealism vanished one fateful day in a war-torn city in Iraq. Ten years later, he is still struggling with the ghosts of his past when a new reality is thrust upon him and his family: North America, Europe and the Far East have all suffered a devastating Super-EMP attack, which causes catastrophic damage to the nation’s power grid and essential infrastructures. Everything from cell phones to cars to computers cease to function, putting society at a standstill.

With civilization in chaos, Gordon must fight for the limited and fast dwindling resources. He knows survival requires action and cooperation with his neighbors, but as the days wear on, so does all sense of civility within his community—and so he must make some of the most difficult decisions of his life in order to ensure his family’s safety. 

Rarely have I been so conflicted about a book and I fear it won’t get any better with the second novel. At its core, this is a strong post-apocalyptic story with tension running higher and higher with every day that passes after the EMP attack but, sadly, the plot can’t make up for the flaws in most of the characters.

Put simply, the women are useless unless overrun with power madness and the men are overbearing bullies, manly men who always know best. There are exceptions, of course, Sebastian and Jimmy being the most obvious, but Gordon, as likeable and dependable as he can be, knows no boundaries to his superior knowledge. Then there’s the President of the United States who is an uncontrollable hothead and, like Gordon, will listen to no one else’s opinion. And the women? Apparently, not one is capable of lifting a finger for her own survival, much less anyone else’s, unless someone dares to threaten her child and then Mama Bear comes out. Where are all the women we see around us every day who are perfectly capable of going on supply runs, wielding a weapon with accuracy, coming to the defense of others, driving a vehicle, for heaven’s sake?? Samantha’s only roles, apparently, are to look after Hunter and Haley (perfectly understandable) and whisper sweet nothings into Gordon’s ear while Mindy is the stereotypical HOA witch. Only Simone seems as though she could be somewhat useful but her role is very limited.

And this is the source of my conflict—I think the plot is really good and gives a good picture of how society would fall apart in such a situation but the characters are SO hard to care about. I understand that someone like Gordon who has a military background and experience with hostilities might be best suited to lead others in the quest for survival but it’s difficult to overlook his trigger-happiness and his inability to EVER admit he might be wrong. President Conner is easier to understand because he’s been thrust into a frightening situation he never thought could happen but it’s even more terrifying to contemplate how unwilling those surrounding him are to confront him when he insists on action that will bring our destruction even faster. Perhaps Lt. Colonel Barone is the easiest of the main characters to understand as I have no doubt some military leader somewhere would mutiny and attempt to “rule”.

When all is said and done, the story is interesting enough to keep me reading so I’ll move on to the next book, The Long Road. Maybe these people will start to grow on me. At the very least, I want to see what will happen with Sebastian, Gordon’s brother, who’s trying desperately to get back to his only family.

 

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2014.

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The Long RoadThe Long Road
Book 2 of the New World Series
A Postapocalyptic Novel
G. Michael Hopf
Plume, January 2014
ISBN 978-0-14-218150-8Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

The End was just the beginning of the new world…

Only six weeks have passed since a super-EMP attack devastated the United States, but already, life has changed dramatically. Most of America has become  a wasteland filled with starving bands of people, mobs and gangs. Millions are dead and millions more are suffering, with no end in sight.

For Gordon, Samantha, Sebastian, Cruz and Barone, the turmoil and chaos they dealt with in the early weeks after the attack will seem trivial in comparison to the collapse of society that plays out before their eyes. Uncertainty abounds as they all travel different paths in search of a safe place to call home. The only thing that is definite is that The Long Road will take its toll on all of them.

In The End, the EMP attack happens on December 5, 2014, and the small band under Gordon’s leadership leaves San Diego on January 6, 2015 . How is it possible that both the author and the publisher could fail to notice that the dates in this second novel are wrong all the way through? The first one concludes in January 2015; the story continues in January 2014 (after the introductory chapter with Haley) and it is not a flashback. I could understand an error getting past all eyes one time but this was previously self-published so it’s had more than just the publisher/author round of proofing. Chapter after chapter, the error goes on and that pulled me out of the story more than anything else could. It’s just sloppy and makes me feel that neither the author nor the publisher cared enough to correct it which is certainly easy enough to do in the digital editions if not the paperback and surely I’m not the first reader to notice this. (Note: I didn’t just get an uncorrected copy—the sample on Amazon is the same.)

Another dating issue occurs on January 16th when a mention is made that one of the groups has been camped out for eleven days but they had just reached that spot on January 8th.

Faction leaders—Lt. Col. Barone, Bishop Sorenson, Rahab, Cruz, Pablo Jaurez, Gordon—all must be in control and all are victims of madness to varying degrees except for Cruz, who is just very weak, and Bishop Sorenson. He is a kindly man, too kindly for the circumstances, but it was a relief to find one person in a position of leadership who truly cared for other people.

The one person who is consistently an honorable man is Sebastian and perhaps he and the bishop represent the minority that would be trying to survive with decency while all the others are the types we would most likely encounter in a post-apocalyptic world. Rahab is the scary monster living under the bed but Barone and Jaurez are the men truly to be feared. Gordon, the supposed hero of the story, is frightening if only because he is so deadly and can’t control himself. His impulses, as often as not, lead to terrible consequences.

This part of the story covers just 10 days which I also found disappointing and, quite honestly, far too many pages are devoted to those 10 days. Still, with all my negative feelings about this book and its predecessor, I am completely caught up and need to know what will happen next; despite everything else, this is the hallmark of a good story, to be compelled to read on. I’ll be picking up Sanctuary as soon as I can.

 

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2014.