Book Reviews: A Killing at Cotton Hill by Terry Shames and Live and Let Fly by Karina L. Fabian

A Killing at Cotton HillA Killing at Cotton Hill
A Samuel Craddock Mystery
Terry Shames
Seventh Street Books, July 2013
ISBN 978-1-61614-799-0
Trade Paperback

Retired police chief Samuel Craddock is forced to step in when his friend Dora Lee Parjeter is murdered. Rodell, the present police chief of the small Texas town isn’t good for much except drinking and womanizing–mostly with the wrong woman–and is fond of taking the easy way out. In this case, he arrests the dead woman’s grandson, Greg, who lives on the farm with her. Why? Because he’s there. The evidence, let alone any  kind of motive, is lacking.

Samuel is still working through the loss of his dearly beloved wife, and finally taking an interest in outside things. This includes a casual friendship with Loretta, and a renewed passion for art. While trying not to let Rodell know what he’s up to, when he begins investigating Dora Lee’s death, he soon discovers her grandson is an extremely talented artist. It’s this talent, in part, that makes Samuel decide to take the case on. During the investigation, he becomes friends with attorney Jenny Sandstone, whom I feel certain we’ll see more of in the next Samuel Craddock mystery.

Samuel’s investigation places him right in the murderer’s headlights. His house, and his art collection, amassed with his dead wife, is nearly destroyed via an arsonist’s fire. Instead of discouraging the former policeman, the damage only makes him more determined to find the killer.

The plot moves right along. We get to know Samuel as a determined, dutiful man who isn’t quite ready to hang up his lawman’s hat, after all. All the characters are well-drawn, both the small-town folks, and the potential killers. A fine line to walk, that author Terry Shames manages very well indeed.

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

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Live and Let FlyLive and Let Fly
Karina L. Fabian
MuseItUp Publishing, April 2012
Ebook

Vern wasn’t your ordinary PI. For a start he was a dragon…and has a nun for a sidekick…and he lives in Los Lagos, Colorado. These days, he tries to solve crime rather than eating optimistic knights who really should have known better. But something’s come up. There’s a damsel in distress, a cataclysmic disaster about to unfold and Vern and Sister Grace are the only ones who can stop it. Will they save the world and prevent the next Ragnarok? Will they rescue the damsel and make it out alive? And most importantly, who’s going to sign off on their expenses?

I confess that the idea of a dragon being a successful PI is not an idea I thought I would have readily accepted. I was even more sceptical when I continually heard Vern talking like Jimmy Stewart in a ‘now look here see?’ kind of way. It reads like the old film noir classics where characters explained themselves to the camera and jazz music plinked in the background. But I guess that says more about me than it does about the book.

This is a decent enough title if you’re not averse to cliché filled prose and ridiculous setups. It is essentially a crime novel with an added element of fantasy thrown in but I felt that the book was too long winded to be truly enjoyable. I found myself willing pages to turn not because I wanted to know what happened, but more to just get to the end of the thing. It felt like it took me a fortnight to read and in fact, it did take a fortnight before I got through it all. If this were heavily edited, with most of the unnecessary scenes taken out, it would make for a much faster paced title. As it is however, it rather becomes an exercise in ‘goodness, what now?’ exasperation as you lurch from one disaster to another. While there are many humorous parts and some tongue-in-cheek references to religion, the book ended up being too cumbersome for my liking. A brave effort but unfortunately, this is one title that will not survive the dragon’s gaze.

Reviewed by Laura McLaughlin, June 2013.

Book Review: Defiance by C. J. Redwine

DefianceDefiance
C. J. Redwine
Balzer + Bray, August 2012
ISBN 978-0-06-211718-2
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Within the walls of Baalboden, beneath the shadow of the city’s brutal leader, Rachel Adams has a secret. While other girls sew dresses and obey their male Protectors, Rachel knows how to survive in the wilderness and deftly wield a sword. When her father, Jared, fails to return from a courier mission and is declared dead, the Commander assigns Rachel a new Protector, her father’s apprentice, Logan—the same boy Rachel declared her love for two years ago, and the same one who handed her heart right back to her. Left with nothing but a fierce belief in her father’s survival, Rachel decides to escape and find him herself. But treason against the Commander carries a heavy price, and what awaits her in the Wasteland could destroy her.

At nineteen, Logan McEntire is many things. Orphan. Outcast. Inventor. As apprentice to the city’s top courier, Logan is focused on learning his trade so he can escape the tyranny of Baalboden. But his plan never included being responsible for his mentor’s impulsive daughter. Logan is determined to protect her, but when his escape plan goes wrong and Rachel pays the price, he realizes he has more at stake than disappointing Jared.

As Rachel and Logan battle their way through the Wasteland, stalked by a monster that can’t be killed and an army of assassins out for blood, they discover romance, heartbreak, and a truth that will incite a war decades in the making.

Sometimes, it’s a little difficult to separate our expectations of fictional characters versus real people and that had some effect on me as I was reading Defiance. Rachel, the heroine of the story, is brave, smart, purpose-driven and, well, defiant. Rachel is also foolhardy, overly impulsive, overly dramatic and frequently irrational.There were many times when I wanted to scream at her and shake her till she’d go cross-eyed and then something would happen to remind me.

Rachel is a teenager. She lives in a terrible world and has suffered unimaginable losses yet still wants to fight the good fight…but she is still a teenager.  A girl who is a few months shy of her 17th birthday cannot fairly be required to always act with reason and forethought, even in a fictional world.

Then there’s Logan, only two years older than Rachel but her polar opposite in personality and demeanour. Logan actually verges on being way too perfect but his redeeming quality, if you can call it that, is that he becomes so focused that he’s oblivious to what’s going on around him. That makes him human and likeable even while the reader wants to tell him, “Hey, dimwit, pay attention to what she’s about to do!”

So, yes, these two are often annoying past description and yet their story draws the reader in and it’s impossible to just walk away, at least it was for me. I needed to know more about them and about Jared and his secret. The secondary characters are just as compelling, especially Melkin, Commander Chase and the brother and sister team of Quinn and Willow and how could anyone not want to find out the truth about the Cursed One?

If there is a shortfall, it’s in Ms. Redwine‘s worldbuilding. Baalboden appears to be very medieval but is it really or has humanity regressed to that period? Why are there separate city-states? What happened to throw society into such disarray? Is the Protector system and the related Claiming ceremony based on current treatment of women in certain parts of our world or something else entirely? Is the Cursed One rooted in magic, related to dragons, or something much more horrific?

Alas, we’ll have to wait for the next book to see if some of these questions will be answered. I thoroughly enjoyed Defiance and will look forward to the continuation of Rachel’s and Logan’s tale.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2012.