Book Review: Valley of Shadows by Steven Cooper—and a Giveaway! @TheStevenCooper @SeventhStBooks

Valley of Shadows
A Gus Parker and Alex Mills Novel #3
Steven Cooper
Seventh Street Books, September 2019
ISBN 978-1-64506-000-0
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

A cop. A psychic. And a dead socialite. Who killed Viveca Canning and where is the Dali masterpiece that hung on the walls of her estate? So many people had a motive. Phoenix Detective Alex Mills is on the case with the help of his sometimes-psychic buddy Gus Parker. You won’t find another duo like them. And once you hop on the wild ride, you won’t want to get off. Who will survive a doomed flight over the Pacific? Who tried to blow up an art gallery? Who saw Viveca Canning as a threat and shot her twice in the head? Those questions hound Gus and Alex as the case unravels. It’s an art caper wrapped in a murder mystery. The Valley of the Sun becomes a Valley of Shadows, where everyone has something to hide and the truth lies beneath Phoenix in a labyrinth of tunnels and dungeons.

There’s a lot at stake for Gus and Alex. With the case swirling all around them, the future of Gus and his rock n’ roll girlfriend hangs in the balance. For Alex, it’s a test of family loyalties as a health scare for his wife brings him to the breaking point.

A really good crime novel is dependent on two major components, vivid characters and intriguing plot, and there’s no doubt that Steven Cooper‘s Valley of Shadows has both, in spades. I have to say, though, that Mr. Cooper also has given his readers a setting that has to be considered the third and, perhaps most unforgettable, element.

At first glance, Alex Mills is a typical police detective but his friendship with Gus takes things to another level. After all, most of law enforcement looks at psychics with jaundiced eyes, but these two men have moved well beyond any distrust and, in fact, value each other’s contributions to crime solving. In this story, we’re also treated to in-depth looks at their personal lives, adding much to our understanding of them.

As for this particular case, the various threads lead Alex and Gus in a myriad of directions, largely because they uncover so many potential motives for Viveca Canning’s murder. From a simple art heist to greedy children to a cult and everything in-between, all must be considered and proven invalid before they land on the truth. Along the way, the tension continues to rise and I had to keep turning those pages as fast as I could while also wanting to savor the author’s wonderful wordcraft.

I’ve spent just a few days in Arizona but I was struck by how much Mr. Cooper immersed me in the surroundings, the desert sun and sand, the beautiful scenery. Somehow, I feel that this is where Alex and Gus belong and I definitely want to visit with them again.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2019.



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of Valley of Shadows by Steven Cooper,
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Book Review: Neptune’s Tears by Susan Waggoner

Neptune's TearsNeptune’s Tears
Timedance #1
Susan Waggoner
Henry Holt and Company, June 2013
ISBN 978-0-8050-9677-4

From the publisher—

London, 2218 A.D. Seventeen-year-old Zee is an intern empath. She’s focused on her job, poised for a great career—until one day an attractive patient undoes her hard-earned calm. As an empath, she cannot afford such distractions, but neither can she stay away from David, even when she discovers he’s one of a mysterious alien race. As London comes under attack by anarchist bombings, and as Zee struggles to get a handle on her unusually strong psychic abilities, David starts pulling away. Although Zee’s sure he’s attracted to her, David has secrets he cannot share. But it’s too late for Zee. She’s losing her heart to the gray-eyed alien boy, and she’s determined to follow him—no matter how far it may take her.

Authors work hard to find ways to make their novels a bit different from others of the same genre/subgenre so I give Susan Waggoner credit for coming up with the empath idea. Unfortunately, I think she may have tried a little too hard because I felt as though there were just too many elements and it began to seem like one of those times when you “throw it against the wall to see if it will stick”.

I kind of liked both Zee and David but this particular book suffers from the insta-love syndrome I have come to heartily dislike and, although I don’t have a real reason to doubt David’s sincerity, his objection to his own planet’s marriage requirements reminded me of the old plot device of falling for a girl just because she is forbidden. I also wonder how he could have lived on earth for several years without learning that there are Earthlings with red hair—that was a pretty dumb shortcoming in his powers of observation. When all is said and done, two secondary characters, Rani and Mrs. Hart, were my favorites and they were the source of the only true emotions I felt about these people.

I also felt that the romance took over the story to its detriment. Because of the somewhat overbearing love story, the rest of the plot fell pretty flat and the whole theme about the bombings didn’t ever take on the importance you might expect. I also thought that a girl like Zee who is seen by others as mature and in control turned into a rather childish teen who was blinded by love even though she knows emotional attachment will interfere with her dream profession. Likely to happen? Maybe, but that doesn’t make for a very strong story, does it? Also, one more plot element that could have been of real interest and could have formed the basis for a more engaging tale was thrown out there without any real development. No spoiler here but I’m talking about the reason these aliens are spending time on earth. Perhaps we’ll learn much more about that in the next book.

In the end, I did find Neptune’s Tears to be a pleasant read but it  just didn’t quite grab me although it hints of possibilities. I think Ms. Waggoner has some good ideas here and I’ll read the next book, Starlight’s Edge, to see where she takes Zee and David next.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2013.