Book Reviews: Bad to the Bone by Linda O. Johnston and SALT by Daniel Boyd

Bad to the Bone
A Barkery & Biscuits Mystery #3
Linda O. Johnston
Midnight Ink, May 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-4628-9
Trade Paperback

Everyone in Linda Johnston’s latest cozy mystery owns a dog, and they all want to feed their furry friends treats. That’s a good thing for Carrie Kennersly, a veterinary technician who owns Barkery & Biscuits, a bakery that sells healthy snacks for pets. The store is next to her people bakery, Icing on the Cake. A large pet food company, VimPets, wants to buy some of Carrie’s recipes to add to their line of products. Jack Loroco, the local sales representative for VimPets, has been trying to convince her that it would be a win/win situation for her.

Enter Wanda Addler, a VimPets employee who is trying to woo Carrie to deal with her. She’s attractive, brash, and not above manipulating people to get her way. Wanda has discovered that Jack is dating local city councilwoman Billi Matlock, and threatens his job security. When Wanda is found stabbed to  death in the parking lot behind the Knobcone Heights Resort, both Jack and Billi are suspects.

An  entertaining mystery set in a resort town in southern California. Two recipes are included—one for people and one for dogs.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, June 2017.

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SALT
The World After CARBON
Daniel Boyd & Predrag Ivanovic (Illustrator)
Caliber Comics, November 2016
ISBN 978-1-9423516-9-6
Trade Paperback

I open a new Daniel Boyd graphic novel feeling the same anticipation-tingle-of-excitement that I get pulling off the top of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream.  Diving into SALT: The World After CARBON was like my first taste of Boom Chocolatta! Cookie Core.  Immersed in fond familiarity, awaiting the unexpected ingredient, it was so easy to indulge and just enjoy.

Until the caffeine kicked me into the adventure and the ferociously fast-paced action invaded my mind, capturing my focus.  Art erupts from the pages.  Adrenaline-inducing drama, cliff-dangling suspense and baseball are accounted for and in full force.  Corrupt politicians ignore the environmental impact of hydro-fracturing, causing conflict with the folks that want clean water; a right-here-right-now-relevance.  The Cookie Core is an unlikely combination of West Virginians that dismiss and destroy stereotypes by performing super-heroic actions, otherwise known as doing exactly what they’ve always done—sticking together to fight the good fight.  Nature Ned is a delightful addition, definitely a deeply desired, chocolate cookie crumb.  The River Rat reprise is the caramel that is not like the other things and shouldn’t belong, but inexplicably works perfectly.  And serves as a reminder of this author’s ornery streak.

I thoroughly enjoyed Mr. Boyd’s recent release.  It pleased me tremendously and gave me plenty to think about, but…..without the ice-cream headache.

Reviewed by jv poore, February 2017.

Book Reviews: Carbon by Daniel Boyd, The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, and The Equalizer by Midge Brubany

CarbonCarbon
Daniel Boyd
Illustrated by Edi Guedes
Caliber Comics, August 2014
ISBN 978-0-9857493-3-0
Trade Paperback

There is a shared admiration for super-heroes. Respect, fondness, amazement, perhaps a twinge of jealousy; all are valid emotions upon consideration of caped crusaders. On the other side of the coin, genuine heroes tend to slip under the radar. Self-effacing members of society lead their lives without creating adverse effects for their community. These people seem to always be the first to react in a situation by lending a hand, even when putting themselves into precarious places. Why? It is not a cognizant decision; rather a natural inclination to do the right thing.

Carbon, like all good graphic novels, is packed with heroes and villains (and yes; a few hot, scantily clad females). Initially, coal-miners painted with a heroic brush may seem peculiar. On second thought though, living in coal counties means bearing witness to endless sepia tones created by coal dust coating every surface and embedding in each crevice. Social gatherings revolve around funerals for those ripped away far too soon and support for the families suddenly without a cherished loved one; robbed of the much needed income. Dismal, yes; but abominable because it doesn’t have to be this way.

Mr. Boyd would be the first to say that he writes to entertain and that Carbon is no exception. To that end, it is a masterpiece of action and adventure. This graphic novel provides unique perspectives on all things; beginning at the true beginning: creation. Compelling, genuine characters are relatable and unattainable. This cast includes a bad-ass baseball player; the gruff, grizzled, yet essentially kind mine workers, my personal favorite: the River Rat (aka as White Water River Guide), and The Man (He Who Gets Rich From The Fruit of Their Labors). His greed endangers the lives of his producers, yet he has no qualms. There aren’t many career opportunities in these areas. The Human Resources pool is large, rendering individuals expendable. For all of his brilliance in cutting corners to grotesquely increase his wealth, he makes an integral mistake.

He underestimates the miners. The Man, focused only on monetary values, is willfully oblivious to the reasons these men work under such dire conditions. Love, family, friendship and community create a strong, unbreakable bond, thus turning apparently ordinary folks into true, awe-inspiring heroes.

So much happens in this volume that I’ve carried it around with me for months now. There are some (who shall remain nameless) that only refer to me as “Comic-Con Girl”. I’m good with that. I want to be seen with this publication. I hope to generate curiosity, and I aspire to pique curiosity for what will be a fascinating trilogy. My fellow readers, if you seek something absolutely unlike anything you’ve read, this is it.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2014.

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The Iron TrialThe Iron Trial
Magisterium #1
Holly Black and Cassandra Clare
Scholastic Press, September 2014
ISBN 978-0-545-52225-0
Hardcover

I am sure this series will be compared to Harry Potter and yes, there are similarities to that series as well as moments that made me remember the beginning of The Hunger Games and Divergent. But The Iron Trial really has its own story and Callum Hunt does not turn out to be the next Harry Potter.

The Iron Trial refers to the entrance exam into the Magisterium, a five-year school of magic: Iron, Copper, Bronze, Silver and Gold. First year students are in their Iron year. Callum does not want to attend the Magisterium and tries to fail. Still, he is selected and forced to go over the objections of his only living parent, his father.

Where The Iron Trial really excels, I think, is in its wonderful descriptions of the imaginative surroundings at the Magisterium. It’s exciting to picture the place and watch the characters discover its many delights. The Iron Trial drags a little, I think, when boring tedious tasks are assigned to be mastered by our group and it takes so long that this reader felt the tedium right along with the characters.

I hope that as the series develops, so will the main characters. There is little Callum knows about himself, about who he is and so we are kept in the dark as well, for most of the book. I knew it is the first book in a five-book series and I liked the twists and turnabouts sprinkled throughout the plot. I particularly enjoyed the ending. It’s satisfying as a novel on its own as well as an inviting set up for the series. If you’re unsure whether or not you want to keep reading, I strongly suggest that you do. People and things are not as they appear.

Reviewed by Constance Reader, September 2014.

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The EqualizerThe Equalizer
Midge Bubany
North Star Press of St. Cloud, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-87839-737-2
Trade Paperback

Young County Deputy Sheriff Cal Sheehan is reveling in his recent ascension to the title of deputy investigator. Now he needs a serious crime to work on. Alas, his day does not begin well. While responding to the call to investigate the discovery of a body at a local park, he is rear-ended at a stoplight in town. The impact puts his small vehicle directly in the path of a heavier auto which proceeds to T-bone Cal, putting his transportation in wrecking candidacy. The acquisition of a new vehicle, plays a useful element in the novel.

This is Ms. Brubany’s debut novel and if it is successful, as this reviewer hopes it will be, this cast of small-town characters and mystery readers will be in for some fraught and enjoyable times.

Central to the story is Cal Sheehan, young, horny, attractive, bright and alert to nuances of mannerism during suspect and witness interviews. His efforts to find the truth and the necessary evidence to solve this interesting multiple-murder are worth watching. The writing is first rate and characters and settings are well developed. If a sojourn to Las Vegas seems a bit beyond the pale, well, those scenes are nicely handled and the conclusion of the tale is logical and satisfying.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 2014.
Author of Red Sky, Devils Island, Hard Cheese, Reunion.