Book Review: A Bond Undone by Jin Yong @StMartinsPress

A Bond Undone
Legends of the Condor Heroes 2
Jin Yong
St. Martin’s Griffin, March 2020
ISBN 978-1-250-25011-7
Trade Paperback

Lotus Huang is cunning, kind and quite adorable. Her culinary craftiness is unparalleled, her loyalty unmatched. And her kung fu is phenomenal. As would be expected from the daughter of Apothecary Huang, one of The Five Greats.

Instantly, I love her. Almost as much as she favors the hapless, bumbling Guo Jing. Hopelessly smitten, courageous, yet frightfully foolish, he seems to be her quintessential companion. Until family histories have been sorted out.

Lotus was very young when her martial sister, Cyclone Mei, followed a path of dishonesty and deception. First, falling in love with the wrong man, then helping him steal a Martial Manual of such importance that Shifu permanently crippled her and banished the two from Peach Blossom Island forever.

While the Chinese martial-arts world is vast, it is also oddly intimate. It is not an astounding coincidence when Guo Jing traps himself in a cave inhabited by the embittered Cyclone Mei, causing secrets to be spilled; dark intentions revealed.

Initially, I felt a bit like I was reading a mash-up of Dragon BallZ and Avatar, The Last Airbender. I’ve no idea what is happening, but I’m into it. It didn’t take long, however, for me to figure out who’s who and become fully invested in Mr. Yong’s marvelous martial world.

This review was written by jv poore for Buried Under Books, with huge thanks
for the Advance Review Copy to add to my favorite classroom library.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2020.

Book Review: Sacred Games by Gary Corby

Sacred Games
An Athenian Mystery #3
Gary Corby
Soho Crime, May 2013
ISBN 978-1-6195-369-0
TradePaperback

This is the second novel by Corby I’ve read in this series. Set in ancient Greece, the main characters are royal investigator Nicolaos and his incredibly smart wife, the priestess Diotima. Nico’s brother, Socrates–yes, that Socrates–is featured as well, plus a good many other names I’m sure you’ll recognize from your ancient world history classes.

The story takes place at the 80th Olympiad, where competitors play for keeps, as in fight to the death. On the competitive field, if an opponent dies, no one can be tried for murder. The same does not hold true off the field, which draws Nico, under orders from Athen’s top politician and diplomat, Pericles, to find the killer of an elite Spartan pankration athlete named Arakos. The Athenian champion in pankration is the accused, and refuses to provide an alibi for himself. In order to prevent a war between the states of Athens and Sparta, Nico has to figure it all out before the end of the games.

Pankration? you may ask. I’m still not sure but it sounds like a mixture of various martial arts, kick boxing, and plain old street fighting, including kidney punches and the gouging of eyes.

The story contains plenty of suspects, although everyone has a hard time believing anyone but another pankration player could possibly beat a big man like Arakos, and there are so many twists and turns you’re apt to get dizzy. At the same time, it’s going to keep you involved. And what a good way to learn something about ancient history! Mr. Corby’s research is extensive, and is the best way I know of to teach the rest of us a bit of Greek history and culture. Meanwhile, the humor in the Nico and Diotima mysteries always brings a laugh, and Socrates is a hoot. I’m pleased to recommend this one.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, March 2017.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Book Reviews: Hell with the Lid Blown Off by Donis Casey and Battle Not With Monsters by Overton Scott

Hell with the Lid Blown OffHell with the Lid Blown Off
An Alafair Tucker Mystery #7
Donis Casey
Poisoned Pen Press, June 2014
ISBN 9781464202988
Hardcover
Also available in trade paperback

The farming community of Boynton, Oklahoma, in 1916 is like most of small town America, with parents wondering of their sons will be going off to fight in the War. Alafair and Shaw Tucker have ten children and have additional worries—two of their older daughters are about to deliver babies, and daughter Ruth is living in town with the piano teacher, Mrs. MacKenzie.

During a terrifying tornado, the Tucker homestead is damaged. Their son-in-law is seriously hurt, and some of their neighbors are killed, including local troublemaker Jubal Beldon. It’s when the undertaker is preparing Beldon’s body for burial that he discovers that Beldon was dead before the twister hit. Beldon had plenty of enemies, including his own brother. The question is: who didn’t want him dead?

It’s easy to get caught up on the lives of the Tucker family members—Ruth has a budding romance with the deputy sheriff, the Tucker’s take in a young cousin, and they find a baby amidst the debris of the tornado. Seventh in the series, the appeal of a close knit and loving family draws the reader in. If you loved the “Little House” books as a child, you’ll find much to like in this appealing series.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, October 2014.

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

Battle Not With MonstersBattle Not with Monsters
Overton Scott
Good Heart Press, March 2014
ISBN 978-0615989556
Trade Paperback

This author has come up with an interesting and fresh protagonist. Justine Ford, commonly called Neen, comes into the story while going through her lower middle class life as an underpaid security guard working for a Dallas, Texas firm. One discovers she is firmly committed to a healthy body and a rigorous athletic routine. She also teaches children at a local dojo.

When she observes her partner being bludgeoned to death in the garage of the building they are supposed to be guarding, her first reaction is to run to his aid. It’s an important clue to her view of the world, but her reaction is still deficient, something she recognizes and which plays an important part in the rest of the novel. Because she arrives on the scene too late to save her partner’s life.

The novel develops a clear pro-gun, pro-state’s rights, libertarian stance, when a man shows up to lead Justine away from her roadway of ordinary existence. He is her savior in a number of important ways, but Justine does retain her innate sense of independence and self-awareness. As the story progresses, through several rambling and overly-detailed segments, Justine develops a plan to visit retribution on the killer who has murdered her partner and attacked Justine.

The novel is wordy, rambling and desperately needs a firm editorial hand. I confess I do not make the connection to the title. At the same time, it is an exciting and credible novel to read, beyond a typical frothy beach read, but the pace is uneven while we repeatedly learn about aspects of her physical training. The action scenes are excellent, each time ratcheting up the tension and feeding Justine’s uncertainties as she walks step by step into new and dark violent confrontations.

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

Book Review: Bears With Us by Marilyn Meredith, Murder in the Dojo by Sue Star, and Blind Goddess by Anne Holt

Bears With Us
Marilyn Meredith
Mundania Press, 2011
ISBN 978-1606592649
Trade Paperback

I’m tempted to make puns in regards to the latest Tempe Crabtree mystery by Marilyn Meredith. However, I’ll fight the urge and just be amazed at how much story can be put into 218 pages. Meredith knows how to deliver the fun into reading a mystery. There’s never a dull moment, but how could there be with bears in the mix?

In this latest story, Deputy Crabtree has a full platter. A teenager commits suicide and Tempe cannot quite understand the reaction from his enigmatic family. Another woman wants, nay demands, Tempe do something to keep a young man away from her daughter. A family’s life is repeatedly disrupted by the mother’s dementia. These incidents are on top of the usual drunks and speeders Tempe handles. However, topping the list of problems is an increase of bears rummaging through garbage, breaking into homes and attacking people. When a woman goes missing and later is discovered dead, it is at first thought to be the result of another bear attack. Tempe is on the case, however, and will uncover the truth.

I really enjoyed these characters. Each is so well defined. The action is swift and the writing is tight. Meredith packed so much story into one book I kept turning pages to learn what happened next. She knows how to provide just enough tension and action to move the story. I’m an instant fan. This book is loaded for bear. (Yeah, sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, May 2012.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

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

Murder in the Dojo
Sue Star
D.M. Kreg Publishing
Ebook
Also available in trade paperback

It’s kicking karate action with the first in a new series from Sue Star. Murder in the Dojo brings in the finest of martial arts, betrayal, and of course, a dead body. Karate instructor Nell Letterly is forced to turn detective when faced with the threat of arrest. With a fine cast of characters, this one is sure to get the heart pumping and the punches flying.

On the day Nell Letterly is supposed to meet her new employer, Arlo Callahan, and start as an instructor in his Boulder, Colorado karate studio, she finds the dead body of the former instructor. Within days, evidence and suspicions fall directly upon Nell. With no help from the police, she decides to find the killer herself. There is no shortage of suspects: Callahan’s wife, a jealous instructor, a disruptive student, an ex girlfriend, an enigmatic janitor. With obstacles on all sides, Nell has to use not just her deductive reasoning to fathom out the killer, but her martial arts experience to save her own life.

As a martial artist myself, I must favor anything related to this sport. Weapons, self defense, tournaments, instruction, and philosophy. I think Star delivers a fine tale with all the necessary elements of martial arts to whet the appetite for another round…or would that be round house kick? Either way, Murder in the Dojo is the right combination of mystery and martial arts.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, June 2012.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.

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

Blind Goddess
Anne Holt
Scribner, June 2012
ISBN
Trade Paperback

Anne Holt shows that corruption can run deep in places other than Washington and Moscow. With Blind Goddess, the viewfinder is focused on Oslo where lawyer and police are, once again, at odds with each other and nobody is sure how high up the chain crime will climb.

Investigators Hanne Wilhelmsen and Hakon Sand  take on the case of a murdered drug dealer. They even have the killer in custody and a lawyer as a witness. A few days later, the body of a shady attorney is discovered and evidence quickly connects the two killings. Wilhelmsen and Sand must wade through the murky clues, contend with disappearing files, and endure personal attacks only to discover the conspiracy is more wide spread than expected. After they arrest a suspect, they find themselves in a race against time to put their ducks in order.

No real surprises in this book as it seems nearly every lawyer is dirty. It’s the putting together of the puzzle pieces which keeps the story moving and interesting. Holt holds back on the revelations of a pesky reporter and a series of number codes until the very end. Still, Blind Goddess is excellent escapism fun for mystery readers. I highly recommend the Hanne Wilhelmsen series.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, June 2012.
Author of Night Shadows, Beta and Alpha.