Book Review: Dig Two Graves by Kim Powers

Dig Two Graves
Kim Powers
Tyrus Books, December 2015
ISBN 978-1-4405-9192-1
Trade Paperback

Skip Holt’s world as she knew it ended the day her mother died in a car crash [always bringing to her mind a poem she had had to learn in school by Robert Frost].  There is much erudition here, as Skip’s father makes his living “by teaching about the past, the very long ago past.  The Classics, Greece, Rome, Latin.”   Indeed, the novel begins with a quote from Confucius:  “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”  And revenge is what this book is all about.  “The classics were all about it – – getting revenge, declaring enemies, going to war.”

From the publisher:  In his 20’s, Ethan Holt won the Decathlon at the Olympics and was jokingly nicknamed “Hercules;” now, in his late 30’s, he’s returned to his ivy-covered alma mater to teach, and to raise his young daughter Skip as a single father.  After a hushed-up scandal over his Olympics win and the death of his wife in a car accident five years ago, Ethan wants nothing more than to forget his past. Skip is not only the light of Ethan’s life – – she is his life. Then, Skip is kidnapped.  A series of bizarre ransom demands start coming in that stretch Ethan’s athletic prowess to its limits, and he realizes with growing horror that they are modern versions of the Twelve Labors of Hercules, demanded in tricky, rhyming clues by someone who seems to have followed every step of Ethan’s career.  To solve the mystery and get his daughter back, Ethan teams up with a force-of-nature female detective, Aretha Mizell, who carries some secrets of her own.  As Ethan races from Labor to Labor, we enter the mysterious abandoned schoolhouse where Skip is being held captive, and we begin to hear the fantastic and strangely heartbreaking story of the kidnapper and his link to Ethan’s past. The clues begin to point not only to Ethan’s athletic career, but to his childhood, and to a family history as troubled and bizarre as those of any
of the legendary, mythic character he teaches.

The novel opens on a late Fall day in New England, the day Ethan turns 39 and receives tenure at the college where he teaches, and where Skip, now 13, has planned a party for him.  Suddenly things take a decidedly ugly [well, uglier] turn, one as to which the reader has been given a hint, with a glimpse of a stalker, “the man with a plan,” and things escalate beyond anything the reader might expect.  The writing is riveting, with one shocking turn at Chapter 31, and the identity of the kidnapper not known until Chapter 55, with the book ending on a somewhat enigmatic note 50 pages later.  A page-turner of a book, it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2016.

Book Reviews: The Bid by Adrian Magson and Jacqueline by Jackie Minniti

the-bidThe Bid
A Cruxys Solutions Investigation #2
Adrian Magson
Midnight Ink Books, January 2017
ISBN: 978073875043
Trade Paperback

Modern warfare is a featured bit player in this novel of suspense. The story opens a window on a rich theme of warfare and crime in the coming twenty-first century and beyond. Indeed, one of the problems with the novel is the number of possibilities it raises for both criminals and law enforcement.

The target is no less than the President of the United States and the process of funding and carrying out the assassination is a clever idea rooted in very modern financial life. The author, an experienced British crime-novelist, has written over a dozen thrillers, most would be classed as spy or conspiracy thrillers. The action is tension-filled, mostly consistent and relentless. The writing is top-notch, the characters are mostly interesting and/or intriguing and the settings are appropriate.

A business consultant with operations in the US and overseas has a specialized insurance contract on his life. If he goes missing for a short period of time, unusually trained operatives go active, searching for the client and setting up protection for the client’s family. It sounds expensive and I wanted more explanation of the basis for the character, James Chadwick, to buy what must have been an expensive policy. The policy is administered by a company called Cruxys. This interesting security policy allows the writer to introduce a pair of company operatives who soon fly off to the US where most of the action takes place.

Over several chapters we learn that the company seekers, Ruth Gonzales and Andy Vasilk, have unusual and relevant training and employment backgrounds, including the ability to take lives when necessary to protect their employer and themselves. It is easy to see the range of possibilities for this free-wheeling pair to get into trouble and to rescue clients from a wide range of dangerous circumstances.

Were it not for the author’s penchant for slipping strong critical editorial commentary into the narrative voice from time to time, the pace of the novel would make this book truly a compelling page turner. One wonders if there is anything about American life he finds favor for. In spite of these asides, The Bid is enjoyable, attention-holding and well-worth the readers’ time.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 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.

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jacquelineJacqueline
Jackie Minniti
Anaiah Press, July 2015
ISBN
Trade Paperback

Jacqueline Falna of the title is a French child, twelve years of age, living in Rennes, France. When the story opens, in 1943, she and her mother have just learned that her father, a French aviator, is missing in action. Now they must cope with poverty, the Nazi occupiers, the coming of American forces all while maintaining a semblance of normal chiildhood.

Jacqueline, bright, energetic, with all the attributes one hopes to observe in a daughter or niece, is desolated by the news, but holds to the thread of possibility that her father may have been captured and will one day, after the war return to their home in Rennes. When a nearby family of Jews is abruptly taken away, the boy, David, remains and is hidden by Jacqueline’s family with help from neighbors.

In a simple, straight-forward style, through the eyes of this twelve year old child, we follow her daily challenges to help her mother find food, keep themselves warm in the winter and for Jacqueline, school and church. The novel is written for a middle school audience but the author’s craft does not pander, assuming readers may occasionally have to struggle with the language and some of the more mature considerations.

This is a fine, realistic novel, very well balanced with tragedy, happiness and it will not only engage readers in this age range. It also provides a way for young people to learn something about World War Two on an important personal level. Finally, after reading the novel, you may want to remind yourself of the name of the author.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 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 Reviews: Innocence by Heda Margolius Kovaly and Trap by Robert K. Tanenbaum

innocenceInnocence Or, Murder on Steep Street
Heda Margolius Kovaly
Translated from the Czech by Alex Zucker
Soho Crime, March 2016
ISBN 978-1-6169-5645-5
Trade Paperback

This murder mystery was written to disguise a political tract describing the author’s life in Communist Czechoslovakia during which her husband, an ardent party member and an assistant minister of trade, was falsely arrested, jailed and murdered.  Both had survived Nazi concentration camps.  The form the book takes was to somehow evade the censors and it surreptitiously tells his story as part of the plot, describing one of the characters.

Essentially, the plot revolves around the murder of a detective on a street on which a movie theater is located.  There are seven women who serve as ushers, each with a secret life, complicating the investigation into the death.  The stories of their lives unfold, together with the secrets they share with each other.

The promotional material recounts the author’s fame as a translator, and especially her love of Raymond Chandler.  It is doubtful that this work measures up to his standard of writing, and has to be judged on its own merits.  On that level, the reader has to cope with various obfuscations and, of course, the obscure Czech names and places which divert attention.  The conclusion is somewhat disappointing and really is somewhat ambiguous, whether by design or inadvertence.

The author really is known for her memoir, Under A Cruel Star, in which she describes her time in Auschwitz and the early years of Communism in her native land.  For its historical importance, the present novel deserves to be read.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2016

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trapTrap
A Butch Karp – Marlene Ciampi Thriller #27
Robert K. Tanenbaum
Pocket Books, April 2016
ISBN 978-1-4767-9318-4
Mass Market Paperback

The customary courtroom drama in the Butch Karp series takes up about half of this novel, but it isn’t as dramatic as most of the prior episodes.  Although the legal description is proficient, it is highly technical in nature and less dramatic than many of the previous legal battles, which are always a highlight of a Robert K. Tanenbaum story.  This tale is a mixture of a Karp family saga, hate crimes, deranged arsonist and bomber, religious beliefs combined with Nazi sympathizers and events during the Holocaust and World War II, and the conflict between the public school system, the teachers union as led by corrupt officers and charter schools.  How’s that for a mouthful?

What leads up to the courtroom scene are a series of events and even a murder or two.  The Teacher’s Federation president is attempting to head off a bill in Albany which would result in an audit that would expose him and his cohorts for stealing funds from the union’s coffers.  The author certainly knows better than this premise.  Certainly unions are subject to regular audits.  But for the plot to work, this fact has to be ignored.

So the battle between proponents of the charter school legislation, who want a mandatory audit of the Teacher’s Federation, and the corrupt union and public officials, ultimately sets the stage for the dramatic trial.  As side issues, we have a scraggly group of Nazi sympathizers who conveniently serves as a red herring in the lead-up to murder charges, and Karp’s twin sons’ wishy-washy approach to their religious beliefs and late (by several years) Bar Mitzvah.

All in all, however, this was an enjoyable read, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2016.

Book Review: Little Girl Gone by Gerry Schmitt—and a Giveaway!

Little Girl GoneLittle Girl Gone
An Afton Tangler Thriller #1
Gerry Schmitt
Berkley Books, July 2016
ISBN 978-0-425-28176-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

In the first Afton Tangler thriller, the unforgiving cold of a Minnesota winter hides the truth behind an even more chilling crime…

On a frozen night in an affluent neighborhood of Minneapolis, a baby is abducted from her home after her teenage babysitter is violently assaulted. The parents are frantic, the police are baffled, and, with the perpetrator already in the wind, the trail is getting colder by the second.

As family liaison officer with the Minneapolis P.D., it’s Afton Tangler’s job to deal with the emotional aftermath of terrible crimes—but she’s never faced a case quite as brutal as this. Each development is more heartbreaking than the last and the only lead is a collection of seemingly unrelated clues.

But, most disturbing of all, Afton begins to suspect that this case is not isolated. Whoever did this has taken babies before—and if Afton doesn’t solve this crime soon, more children are sure to go missing .

A year ago, I would never have expected this novel from this author and the reason is simple….Gerry Schmitt is Laura Childs and, if there has ever been a Queen of the Cozies, it’s Laura Childs. I really like her various series so, when I heard this book was coming, I was intrigued. For the most part, I think this new direction is successful and quite promising.

One minor quibble is in the label “thriller”. Since we know from the beginning who the bad guys are, I tend to think of this as suspense, not so much thriller. It’s really just semantics, though, and the book world has been debating how to apply labels, subgenres, categories and so forth almost for as long as I can remember so it doesn’t truly matter. In this case, calling it a thriller probably won’t matter to anyone but me 😉

Afton Tangler (nifty name) is a woman who, like many of us, has accomplished part of her dream but isn’t quite all the way there yet. As a liaison between the police and the victims of crime and their families, she has her job with the police but what she really wants is to be a detective and she does whatever she can to connect with the people who can help. That’s not to say she uses them, far from it. Afton is a woman who’s easy to like and her boss, Deputy Chief Gerald Thacker, does recognize her value as liaison and encourages her up to a point. Another supporter, with some reluctance, is veteran detective Max Montgomery and he is the lead on the baby kidnapping case. Since Afton needs to work with the Dardens, parents of the missing Elizabeth Ann, Max includes her in much of his investigation even though Thacker has reminded both that she is not to do any detecting. That right there was enough to make me like Max.

Twists and turns, not to mention the creepy idea of reborn babies, send Afton and Max in more than a few directions and going along with them as they work to find the baby before it’s too late kept me engaged. There were a few spots where Afton’s behavior was out of touch with what a “real” detective would do and where the story dragged just a mite but I really liked that the story is told from multiple points of view including that of the very unsavory bad guys.

Besides being a compassionate, intelligent person, Afton is also a bit of a kickass as an ice climber and the physical and mental qualities, as well as sheer courage, needed to be successful at climbing carry over to her work. She bumbles occasionally, especially with this being such a sensitive and high profile case, but Afton is the kind of person who could make a most excellent professional sleuth given the opportunity. I can’t wait to find out what happens next with this aspiring police detective when Shadow Girl comes out next July.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2016.

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To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Little Girl Gone by
Gerry Schmitt,
just leave a comment below. The winning

name will be drawn on Monday night,
November 28th. This drawing
is open
to residents of the US and Canada.

 

Book Review: Aftermath by Clara Kensie

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Title: Aftermath
Author: Clara Kensie
Publisher: Merit Press
Release Date: November 15, 2016
Genre:  Mystery, Young Adult

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aftermath-kensieAftermath
Clara Kensie
Merit Press, November 2016
ISBN 978-1-4405-9870-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Charlotte survived four long years as a prisoner in the attic of her kidnapper, sustained only by dreams of her loving family. The chance to escape suddenly arrives, and Charlotte fights her way to freedom. But an answered prayer turns into heartbreak. Losing her has torn her family apart. Her parents have divorced: Dad’s a glutton for fame, Mom drinks too much, and Charlotte’s twin is a zoned-out druggie. Her father wants Charlotte write a book and go on a lecture tour, and her mom wants to keep her safe, a virtual prisoner in her own home. But Charlotte is obsessed with the other girl who was kidnapped, who never got a second chance at life–the girl who nobody but Charlotte believes really existed. Until she can get justice for that girl, even if she has to do it on her own, whatever the danger, Charlotte will never be free.

When occasionally a child (or adult, for that matter) is found after having been abducted and held in captivity for a long time, it’s a top news story, as well it should be. The very rarity of such a case makes it even more frightening and we’re completely fascinated along with being horrified and can’t help feeling thankful it’s happening to someone else. That’s not a callous reaction, just human nature.

Ms. Kensie has done a really good job of tapping into the feelings of the abducted girl, Charlotte, and those of the people in her world and outside it. It didn’t take long for me to connect with this teen, with her lingering fear, her confusion, her determination to make things right—or, as right as they could be—for that other girl. Charlotte is an intelligent girl, severely hampered by her isolation for so many years, but she manages to find her way and I liked her attitude and personality very much.

No thanks to her parents or her sister, Charlotte comes across as healthier, mentally and emotionally, than the people who were left behind when she was taken. It’s important to note that this isn’t the author’s way of making light of such an abduction; rather, Ms. Kensie opens a window onto the damage that’s done to all parties when horrible things happen. After all, there isn’t much that’s worse than being snatched from everything and everyone you know but losing a loved one to the unknown and having no answers ranks a very close second.

Aftermath is not Ms. Kensie’s first book but it’s the first I’ve read and, if this one is any indication, I think I’m going to like her other work as much as I did this. At the very least, I’ll enjoy finding out if I’m right.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2016.

About the Author

clara-kensieWinner of the 2015 RITA Award for Best First Book

Clara Kensie grew up near Chicago, reading every book she could find and using her diary to write stories about a girl with psychic powers who solved mysteries. She purposely did not hide her diary, hoping someone would read it and assume she was writing about herself. Since then, she’s swapped her diary for a computer and admits her characters are fictional, but otherwise she hasn’t changed one bit.

Today, Clara is the author of dark fiction for young adults. Her debut, the super-romantic thriller RUN TO YOU BOOK ONE: DECEPTION SO DEADLY is the winner of the prestigious RITA Award for Best First Book.

The RUN TO YOU series was named to several Best Books of 2014 lists, including RT Magazine Editors’ Pick. The two-book series was originally published as a six-part serial by Harlequin Teen in 2014 (First Sight, Second Glance, Third Charm, Fourth Shadow, Fifth Touch, and Sixth Sense). By popular demand, the six-part serial is now available as two full-length books: DECEPTION SO DEADLY and DECEPTION SO DARK.

Her next book is AFTERMATH, a dark, ripped-from-the-headlines contemporary about a girl who returns home four years after being kidnapped, only to find her family has fallen apart in her absence. To fix her broken family–and help find the body of her captor’s first victim–the girl must first heal herself. AFTERMATH is a story of hope, healing, and triumph over tragedy, perfect for fans of ROOM and THE LOVELY BONES. Available November 15th 2016 from Merit Press.

Clara’s favorite foods are guacamole and cookie dough. But not together. That would be gross.

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Book Review: Stitching Snow by R.C. Lewis and A Hunter’s Moon by Alan Osi

Stitching SnowStitching Snow
R.C. Lewis
Disney-Hyperion, October 2015
ISBN 978-1423194682
Trade Paperback

Essie’s as content as one can be, living on a harsh world, earning money in cage fights to buy more parts for her drones which are far superior to any built by others. They not only keep her company, but fix the dumber ones that are used in the mines which are why the planet, Thanda, is colonized. She’s hiding from pretty much everyone, but also from herself and who she was nine years ago when her mother was killed and she barely escaped with her own life from the ruling planet, one of four in the small solar system.

When a mysterious young man named Dane crashes his vessel not far from her home, she and a couple of her drones are first to reach the site and pull him free. She’s intrigued when he asks her to help him repair the ship, even though she’s suspicious of his story that he’s landed on Thanda to seek the most valuable treasure in the system. During the repair process, she starts experiencing feelings that are both frightening and exciting as she begins to thaw emotionally and realize that she just might like him.

When he kidnaps her and she realizes he knows she’s the missing Princess Snow, things are set in motion that take them on dual journeys, one emotional, the other physical, as she begins to understand that Dane has lost as much as she has and that together, they might be able to fix the horrible mess that has become the hostility between the two factions they represent. Neither journey is easy or smooth, but reading about how Dane and Essie navigate uncharted emotional and spatial territory is extremely satisfying.

Teens who like a love story that has lots of action and intrigue mixed in will really enjoy this book.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, October 2015.

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The Moondust Sonatas A Hunter's MoonThe Moondust Sonatas
Movement No. 1: A Hunter’s Moon
Alan Osi
Smoke & Shadow Books/Cleveland Writers Press, December 2015
IBSN 978-1943052-02-8
Trade Paperback

Moondust, a new drug to hit the streets, has set the drug culture of New York City on edge.

Not only because it’s free, or that you “take” it by dropping a small amount of the gray powder in your eye, but that you can see God and experience different lives while on it.

When Maxwell, a budding journalist, is given a sample of the drug and hears of its effects, he’s impressed and takes a sample to Peter, a chemist friend, for analysis. Peter can’t break the drug down or even accurately weigh it and declares it an impossible substance, ergo it can’t be illegal because it doesn’t exist.

Popular Brooklyn DJ Percival tries it, along with a cocktail of other drugs, and wakes to realize he’s been given the formula for making moondust…a substance that isn’t illegal, can’t be traced, is cheap and easy to make and allows the user to experience the divine. He quietly sells and gives it away to artist friends and acquaintances, until a group of drug dealers catch wind of it and begins to muscle in.

Percival decides his only choice is to go public about the drug and recruits Maxell, who believes this will become a world-wide phenomenon, a story that will make his fortune.

Told in first-person snippets from the point of view of some 25 characters, the story winds through groups of interrelated friends, all of whom experience revelations while under the influence.

Moondust Sonatas is an interesting story of the search for universal consciousness and understanding of the cosmos.

Reviewed by Michele Drier, February 2016.
Author of Delta for Death and SNAP: All That Jazz.

Book Review: A Fatal Family Secret by Samantha Marks

A Fatal Family SecretA Fatal Family Secret
The Morphosis.me Files Book One
Samantha Marks
Samantha Marks, May 2015
ISBN 978-1943406012
Trade Paperback

From the author—

If you could change anything about yourself, what would it be? On the first day of high school, Kayleigh wishes she could be taller, curvier, and cooler. But when she discovers she’s a shape-shifter, she bites off more than she can chew. Overnight, she becomes a target, and surviving the school-year means defending herself against cyber-bullies, learning to control her new-found powers, and hiding from the ancient secret society that kidnapped her mother. Morphing has consequences, and Kayleigh begins to realize that being able to change into anything can mean losing herself in the process.

High school bullying is a fairly common topic these days, rightfully so, but we don’t often see it woven into a dark fantasy tale. At first, I wasn’t sure how this was going to work but it didn’t take long for me to get invested.

Kayleigh is just starting high school, at a time in her life when she’s suffered more tragedy than most since her mother was abducted a couple of years earlier. All young teens go through major life changes during puberty and this girl is no different; she makes the perfect victim for bullies. Sometimes, she’s a little too much of a victim but I never felt her reactions were abnormal especially given her circumstances. If anything, she’s searching for comfort and security and it was a pleasure going on this journey with her.

A Fatal Family Secret is an entertaining jaunt through the fantasy world with a dose of mystery thrown in and those aspects of the story shine a much-needed light on how kids have to cope with the loss of a parent. In this case, there are causes and effects we’ll never have to confront but the whole shapeshifting thing really sort of emphasizes the normal challenges that life brings us. Ms. Marks has done a really nice job of presenting teen issues in a very readable way and I’m looking forward to the second book, A Treacherous Social Game, already available.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.