Book Review: Fields Where They Lay by Timothy Hallinan

fields-where-they-layFields Where They Lay
A Junior Bender Mystery #6
Timothy Hallinan
Soho Crime, October 2016
ISBN: 978-1-6169-5746-9
Hardcover

Junior Bender, burglar extraordinaire and sometime detective to the underworld, serves as the narrator of this unusual Christmas tale.  He is roped in to investigate, on behalf of a Russian mobster and owner of a dying shopping mall in Los Angeles, why there has been a spiking increase in shoplifting in recent months a few days before Christmas Day.  Junior, who hates the Xmas atmosphere, is immersed in the Holiday cheer of shopping, Santas, and piped-in popular songs, much to his chagrin.

While undertaking his task, he becomes involved in a few side ventures, including looking into the death of one of the shopkeepers, witnessing the death of another, and discovering the real problems at the mall, typical of similar establishments fading away all over the nation as shoppers turn to other outlets.  Another involves his burgeoning friendship with one of the two Santas on the premises, helping him to recover a favorite item apparently stolen from his home.  One side benefit, however:  he is able to get his own holiday shopping done despite his procrastination.

This novel probably is the most cerebral in the six-book Junior Bender series, with long passages on the business of shopping malls, their dying days, observations on the Holidays, people in general, and his own life and loves.  In fact, he faces a crisis with his own lover and her reticence to divulge anything of her past.  On the whole, Junior solves a unique problem in his typical fashion, with ingenuity.

This is an excellent series, and one that continues to be recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, November 2016.

Book Review: Hard Latitudes by Baron R. Birtcher

Hard LatitudesHard Latitudes
Mike Tavis #4
Baron R. Birtcher
Permanent Press, May 2015
ISBN: 978-1-57962-390-6
Hardcover

The fourth entry on the Mike Travis series is just as good as the earlier books, and that is high praise indeed.  The novel begins with the protagonist looking back at incidents that began eleven years prior, and an intricate and fascinating tale it is.  It starts in Macau in 1994, with an act of violence whose repercussions are felt in different far-flung parts of the world and do not, initially, involve Mike in any way.

Mike, 6’2” and a retired LAPD homicide detective, since leaving LA has been living in Hawaii, where he runs a chartering service for private scuba and luxury cruises out of Kona, on his 72’ sailing yacht, the Kehau, after running a similar operation off the Southern California coast.  Mike is the son of a very wealthy man, which he tries to forget, mostly with success, nor make others aware of it.  When his brother, heavily involved in the family business, calls from LA and tells Mike that his “indiscretions” have come back to haunt him in a big – and very public – – way, Mike makes immediate arrangements to return to LA to help him out (making his relationship with his significant other, Lani, even more problematical).

Along the way the author reflects on the history of both South Central LA in late April 1992, during the time of the riots, when he was still on the police force, as well as descriptions of the natural beauty of Hawaii, about which he says, e.g., “Twilight is my favorite time of day to walk the Kona waterfront.  The flickering lights of the village begin to cycle on, piercing the encroaching darkness, the heat of the day leeching from the concrete and up through the soles of your sandals while cool wind drifts in off the water.”  He pays tribute to LA as well, describing the sunrise as presenting a sky that is “a purple so deep that it appeared to bruise the sky.”  At the same time, he also says “Every time I come back to this town, it slithers back inside me.  I had never intended to be a cynic, never imagined I would feel such contempt, and especially had never wanted to lose hope.  I wanted to believe in greater things, like grace, like justice, like integrity; I wanted to believe in heroes or a higher purpose.”

The narrative is interspersed from time to time with the events set into motion in Macau over a decade ago.

Mike’s efforts on behalf of his brother as a “reluctant pi” have repercussions that place both him and his brother in jeopardy, as well as Mike’s former partner on the LAPD, Hans Yamaguchi, who assists him in his efforts, which have unexpected and serious consequences.  In addition to this story line, this is a tale of sexual slavery and human trafficking, not for the faint of heart I might add, with fairly frequent violence (happily, for the most part not graphic.)  It is a gripping story, beautifully written, and highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, March 2016.

Book Review: King Maybe by Timothy Hallinan

King MaybeKing Maybe
A Junior Bender Mystery #5
Timothy Hallinan
Soho Crime, April 2016
IBSN: 978-1-61695-432-1
Hardcover

A large, sprawling text. By turns, funny, intriguing, self-indulgent, long, meandering, plot-centric but character driven. The story is clever and overloaded with odd, interesting and often out-of control characters. As such, the book provides an interesting if skewed insider look at Hollywood and some of its more popular if lesser-known residents. First we have the principal driving force. Here, readers have a choice between Ronnie Bigelow, sexy, enigmatic, passionate, she of mysterious logically criminal past, and Junior Bender, a burglar of some reputation in Los Angeles. Junior is usually a contract thief, targeting homes and businesses for specific objects at the request of other criminals.

Fine. The project becomes dangerous almost from the start when a meticulously timed foray dumps Junior into a tag team aimed at deleting him with the aid of baseball bats. Junior escapes with the help of the aforementioned Bigelow, ivy covered walls and a crotchety neighbor. But the adventure isn’t over. A rollicking car chase involving one aging Toyota (Bender’s) against a fleet of modern high-powered vehicles (the bad guy) rolls over the Hollywood hills, endangering, at least momentarily, a high percentage of local and possibly innocent citizens.

Suffice it to say, everything works out in the end after a number of additional violent confrontations, some intense interpersonal connection and a lot of words, sarcastic, funny and largely enjoyable.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 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: The Girl’s Guide to the Apocalypse by Daphne Lamb

The Girls Guide To The Apocalypse Tour Banner

************

Title: The Girl’s Guide to the Apocalypse 
Author: Daphne Lamb 
Publisher: Booktrope Publishing
Publication date: August 11, 2015
Genres: Science Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic, New Adult

************

Goodreads

Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble Buy Button        Amazon Buy Button

************

The Girl's Guide to the ApocalypseThe Girl’s Guide to the Apocalypse
Daphne Lamb
Booktrope Editions, August 2015
ISBN 978-1-5137-0118-9
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Welcome to the Apocalypse. Your forecast includes acid rain, roving gangs and misplaced priorities, in this comedic take on the end of the world as we know it, from debut author Daphne Lamb. As a self-entitled, self-involved, and ill equipped millennial, Verdell probably wouldn’t have ranked very high on the list of those most likely to survive the end of the world, but here she is anyway. Add in travelling with her work addicted boss, her boyfriend who she has “meh” feelings for, and a handful of others who had no businesses surviving as long as they have, and things aren’t exactly going as planned. But despite threats of cannibalism, infected water supplies, and possibly even mutants, Verdell is willing to put in as little effort as she can get away with to survive.

The word “apocalypse” generally denotes horrible travail, the end of the world as we know it, loss of civilization, deaths in the millions, maybe even a zombie horde. That’s the kind of apocalyptic book I sincerely love and, quite obviously, so does Daphne Lamb…except her end of the world tale takes a decided turn to the left and upside down and we readers are taken on a wild and crazy ride. You might say this is “The Three Stooges Meet The Apocalypse” and I cackled my way right through to the finis.

Ms. Lamb has filled her story with every hilarious, satirical trope and cliché she could come up with and I loved every minute of it. Sure, there are some very serious scenes, as there must be, but then we have:

“We’re getting grilled cheese?” I asked. “What if I’m lactose-intolerant?”

when there’s been no steady supply of food. Then there’s this:

She pulled a small bottle of nail polish out of her skirt pocket. “Did you hear about my makeup party I’m having next week?”
I shook my head. “Now where on earth would you be having that?”
“Originally, it was going to be at my home, but now it looks like it’ll be in the break room,” she said. “Unless they get all this,” she motioned to the carnage lying on the freeway below us, “cleaned up. I’ll keep you posted, though.”

The central character, Verdell, isn’t the brightest person in the world nor the bravest by a long shot but she’s head and shoulders above some of her companions. Sort-of-boyfriend, Bruce, is determined to further his acting career now that he can actually meet an occasional entertainment celebrity and her boss, Robert, is oblivious to the new realities around him and finds solace in the pages of his tattered copy of Secrets to Risk Management. Meanwhile, Debra is tottering around on her platform heels and obsessing over the lack of healthy food choices. Verdell herself continually makes promises to God if He’ll just get her out of the crisis of the moment.

Plot? Nah, not really, but that’s quite all right with me. I still relish the serious sorts of post-apocalyptic stories but The Girl’s Guide to the Apocalypse was a most welcome diversion from the darkest side of doom 😉

“We’re all dead!” Jake screamed. “We’re all going to die!”
I frantically looked around. “What was all that talk about staying calm—“

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2016.

About the Author

Daphne LambDaphne Lamb was raised in the wilds of Colorado and now resides in a very different wilderness known as Los Angeles. She is a comedian and award winning writer who has worked in television, film and video games. In her spare time, she enjoys collecting comic books, discussing awesomely bad movies and thinks about what it would be like to own a cat.

She loves connecting to fans and readers, so feel free to connect!

Author links:
Website Button     Twitter Button     Facebook Button

************

Follow the tour here.

************

Xpresso Book Tours Button 2

Book Review: After the End by Amy Plum

After the EndAfter The End
After the End #1
Amy Plum
HarperTeen, May 2015
ISBN: 978-0-06-222561-0
Trade Paperback

Juneau is the heir to the role of shaman in her clan. Whit, the current one, has trained her in the ways of connecting to what they call the Yara, a universal force that permeates all things. The adults fled to a remote region beyond Denali in Alaska after what they have told the children was World War III in the early 1980s.

She’s out hunting for caribou when she hears the frightening whump of a helicopter. While she’s been told that civilization has been destroyed, save for a few of what the elders call brigands, she’s heard this scary sound a couple times before and recognizes the threat it poses, so she abandons her kill and drives her sled dogs back to her village as fast as she can.

When she arrives, all clan members are gone and the dogs have been killed. Whit was supposed to be away on a retreat to a cave, but when she arrives there she realizes no one has been there for months. Her ‘reading’, a way she sees distant events and connects with other clan members, tells her that both Whit and the rest of her clan have been abducted, but Whit’s near the sea while her father and the others are much further away in what appears to be a desert location. This realization is the beginning of her odyssey, one where she intends to find and free her clan. When she reaches the sea, she’s stunned by the city and people she finds, forcing her to not only question everything she believes, but adapt quickly while evading pursuers.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Miles has been kicked out of his private school for a third major infraction and is working in the mailroom at his father’s pharmaceutical firm. He was headed to Yale before getting expelled. When he overhears his father talking about a valuable girl who is on her way to Seattle, he decides to go and find her as a way of redeeming himself. That girl is Juneau.

When their paths cross, it’s the start of an uneasy alliance that finds them equally frustrated and disbelieving, but the longer they’re together, the more Miles realizes Juneau’s telling the truth and the stronger their attraction becomes. There’s a lot of action, a need for readers to suspend a bit of belief, a neat budding romance and a cliffhanger ending. It was good enough for me to order the sequel immediately.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, January 2016.

Book Reviews: Sister Eve, Private Eye by Lynne Hinton, Speak of the Devil by Allison Leotta, and The Black Stiletto: Endings and Beginnings by Raymond Benson

Sister Eve, Private EyeSister Eve, Private Eye
A Divine Private Detective Agency Mystery #1
Lynne Hinton
Thomas Nelson, December 2014
ISBN 978-1-4016-9145-5
Trade Paperback

Sister Eve has been a Benedictine nun for twenty years, but changes in Church policy are making her question her vocation.  When she learns that the Captain, her detective father, is about to lose a leg to diabetes, she takes a leave to nurse him, whether he likes it or not.  The irascible Captain–a retired police officer–was hunting for a missing movie producer when his illness spiraled out of control.  The discovery of the man’s body and Sister Eve‘s conviction that his client, the producer’s mistress, did not kill him, leads her to join in the investigation.

I like Sister Eve, the Captain, Meg Finch, his client–all of the characters feel real to me.  I love the Southwest setting.  The plot twists around nicely, and I didn’t spot the killer.  I spotted the clues after I finished the book.

I can see no easy answer to Sister Eve‘s spiritual dilemma.  Her talent for and love of detecting call her one way, her Community calls her another.  Her family needs her, but so does her Church. The situation isn’t resolved in this book, so I’m really glad that it’s the first in a series.   I hope there will be many more.

Reviewed by Marilyn Nulman, October 2015.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Speak of the DevilSpeak of the Devil
Anna Curtis #3
Allison Leotta
Touchstone, August 2013
ISBN 978-1-4516-4485-2
Hardcover

Anna Curtis, a tough sex-crimes prosecutor in Washington D.C., is in the process of asking her lover to marry her when she’s notified of a horrific murder and mutilation case. Assigned the investigation, she soon finds even the victims who lived through the attack are unwilling to testify. Why? Because “the Devil,” leader of the wicked MS-13 street gang, will retaliate, and he is brutal beyond compare.

The story sweeps the reader along with Anna as she builds her case, finds her witnesses and, as the gang leaders come to trial, almost becomes another of the Devil’s victims. I thought Ms. Leotta did a particularly good job of showing the reader how certain gang members became murderers and rapists, among their other crimes, whether that was their nature or not.

Even as all of this is going on, Jack, who first turns down Anna’s proposal, turns the tables and asks her to marry him. She says yes, but troubles are on the horizon, partially because Jack is African-American with a young daughter from a previous marriage.

The rest of the tale gets messy (in a good way) and I’m not giving out any spoilers here. The twist at the end is quite emotional. The plot, pacing, and characterization in the story are excellent. There is one rather graphic sex scene that would’ve been better omitted, in my opinion. Otherwise, this is a most satisfying book.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, December 2015.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Black Stiletto Endings and BeginningsThe Black Stiletto: Endings and Beginnings
The Black Stiletto #5
Raymond Benson
Oceanview Publishing, November 2014
ISBN: 978-1-60809-103-4
Hardcover

Prolific crime writer Raymond Benson has a genuine flare for the use of words. He demonstrates that talent many times in this overlong tale. He also is talented in his ability to translate narrative and dialogue into the flavor of words and phrases that might be used by a young troubled girl growing up in Texas in the latter half of the Twentieth Century

A lot of girls grew up in Texas during that era but none of them had the kind of family represented by the mystery woman known as the Black Stiletto. She was a woman who traveled fast and quietly, associated with gangsters and cops and carried a very sharp knife. She embodied the legend of Lilith, the first woman. A woman who could take a life when necessary.

This novel moves effectively back and forth between time periods, delineates characters precisely and often wittily, and drives the twisted complicated plot and its many intertwined relationships to final fruition with multi-generational windings. It’s a fascinating novel, well-done in nearly every aspect and will undoubtedly expand the legion of followers.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, December 2015.
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: Aftermath by Tom Lewis

AftermathAftermath
After the Fall #1
Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis, March 2015
Ebook

From the author—

Between the time the warning had sounded on the TV, till when 16-year-old Paige O’Connor awakened sometime later, civilization had been crushed.

The attacks had come by “them” – those things in the ships in the sky that had appeared suddenly, and without warning.

And as Paige would soon discover, the attacks had only been the beginning.

Aftermath is the first book in the new After the Fall dystopian action series, which follows a young girl’s struggle for survival in the post-apocalyptic wake of an alien invasion.

Sometimes a book resonates with you for reasons that shouldn’t quite work, you know? In this case, I was particularly pulled in by two things, action that rarely slows down enough to take a breath and Paige herself, along with a little girl named Trish.

Mr. Lewis has crammed about three books’ worth of story into this novella so the pacing necessarily is rapidfire. That’s detrimental in some ways—we hardly have time to think about what just happened because the next scene is upon us and character development is a bit hampered—but it’s also what kept me flying through as fast as I could swipe the screen and I really liked that. There’s no bogging down in a sea of details but I still saw what Paige and the others saw and heard those ominous sounds.

As for Paige, this is an interesting girl. By turns rebellious and caring, she’s got just the personality needed to defy the aliens and try to survive if not get the better of them. Paige is roiling with fear and heartbreak and determination but perhaps the most intriguing thing about her is her willingness (at times) to let others into her heart. She’s exactly the kind of human being who has the best chance to find a way out of terrible adversity. And Trish, ahh, Trish—now here’s a girl, really a child, who has answers way beyond her age and I truly adored her.

All in all, Mr. Lewis has crafted a tale well worth reading, especially if you want something quick and exciting mixed with a good deal of pathos. He doesn’t leave Aftermath with a true cliffhanger but there’s definitely more to come and I’m ready for it PDQ 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2015.