Book Review: Reservations by Gwen Florio

Reservations
A Lola Wicks Mystery #4
Gwen Florio
Midnight Ink, March 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-5042-2
Trade Paperback

Journalist Lola Wicks is finally on a honeymoon/vacation with her husband Charlie Laurendeau and their daughter. It will be her first meeting with Charlie’s brother and his wife, who are big wheels on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. Charlie and his brother Edgar are Blackfoot; Lola is white, which provides a lot of tension.

No welcome awaits them in Arizona. There’s been a bombing outside a large coal mine on the reservation, and an elderly Navajo man killed. Tribal members are protesting the taking and exploitation of the their land. Their water is poisoned, and alcoholism runs rampant. Edgar and his wife, Naomi, a high-powered tribal lawyer, are busy trying to sort out the murder.

But Lola’s journalist tendencies come to the fore, as do Charlie’s, as he’s the top cop on the Blackfoot Reservation. Trouble between them looms, raising an ugly racist head. As rivals, they investigate the bombings and murder, and death lays in wait.

Ms. Florio’s depiction of the waterless heat in desert country is very real. I enjoyed the care the family had for Bub, their three-legged dog. I believe there are previous books and I want to know what happened to the pooch. The little girls in the story, who in less able hands might be overlooked, are also amazingly well-done characters.

All in all, an enjoyable story with a realistic, if sad premise. It might just turn a reader into an Indian Rights activist.

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

Book Review: Close Call by Laura DiSilverio

close-callClose Call
Laura DiSilverio
Midnight Ink Books, September 2016
ISBN:978-0-7387-4920-4
Trade Paperback

Not quite non-stop suspense as some reviewers have suggested, but mostly. The author has firm handles on the story line, the characters and the setting. She manipulates all with a deft hand. If things are a little more complicated than is the usual case in thrillers of this kind, well. It’s up to we readers to pay more than casual attention, right?

The title of the book might have effectively been pluralized. We are with the main character, Sydney Ellison, through most of the book and while she weeps gallons of tears, her determination to see the mystery and the crimes to their righteous conclusions is laudable. That she perseveres in the face of repeated set-backs is testament to her core grit. Sydney’s reconciliation with her sister, Reese, her handling of their slightly insane mother, all play important parts in what is essentially a family drama. The novel is intense, compels persistent page-turning, and introduces us to a multi-dimensioned professional assassin.

In an overcrowded deli, located in Washington, D.C., Sydney encounters her nemesis and main adversary in the story, although she doesn’t know it at the time. Nor does her adversary-to-be, a professional hit man who doesn’t appear to be quite as put-together as he should be, given apparent longevity. Their brief interaction sends both on a long and winding path through mistaken identities, murder, family rollercoaster rides and both keen and fatuous observations on D.C. politicians. Also, lots of tears.

Given the current situation in our nation’s capital, the confirmation hearings going on, the story has exciting real-life resonance. Readers seeking a tension-filled story with real characters should enjoy this novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2017.
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: Cover Me in Darkness by Eileen Rendahl and Dating Death by Randy Rawls

cover-me-in-darknessCover Me in Darkness
Eileen Rendahl
Midnight Ink, December 2016
ISBN: 978-0-7387-5020-0
Trade Paperback

How do you live with yourself when you believe your little brother was murdered by your half-mad mother, apparently with your help? Amanda Sinclair has tried to put her youthful past behind her, has grown into an important job as a lead quality control testing scientist for a new and exciting company.

Out of that past she receives word that her mother has committed suicide. Far from settling her emotions and closing a door on that episode, she slowly begins to realize that the woman’s death may somehow be linked to the upcoming release from prison of the leader of a cult to which her mother once belonged. Beset by emotions, Amanda concentrates on final verifications of a new product in her lab and the results are raising questions about some of the reports already submitted.

Add a wise and sympathetic cop, suspicious but supportive colleagues and the keen observations of a talented author and here is a novel to be remembered.

While I’m not sure about the title, I strongly endorse this dark emotion-filled novel of suspense. It is very well written, insightful, thoughtful and the central character, Amanda Sinclair, comes alive on the page. The pace and the setting are well handled and easily evoke the locale. Although not for the more timid reader of murder mysteries, Cover Me In Darkness, is well worth the time and attention of serious readers.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2017.
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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dating-deathDating Death
Beth Bowman Private Investigator #3
Randy Rawls
White Bird Publications, April 2016
ISBN 978-1-63363-151-9
Trade Paperback

Randy Rawls writes a sort of brawling, booted, western-style detective novel. Except this detective is located in southern Florida. Beth Bowman takes no back seat to anyone and in her third adventure actually accepts an insane assignment from the local chief of police. She’s to bodyguard a flamboyant local pol who is due to spill all about crime in their city. Beth is to try to keep the pol alive until he can testify. It doesn’t go well, naturally and now Beth has to try to locate the killer.

That investigation doesn’t go well, either and after a number of fairly exciting adventures, Beth falls in with a homeless shelter operation wherein the street folks domiciled there happen to be the best undercover operatives in the city. So Beth, unable to get necessary help from officialdom, goes to the amateur league. You already guessed it. After stumbling over some pretty obvious clues and missing some others, everybody ends up on the same page and justice prevails, but not before a few dead bodies show up.

Well written and perfectly organized, Dating Death is a good weekend confection.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 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: 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 Review: The Question of the Felonious Friend by E.J. Copperman/Jeff Cohen—and a Giveaway!

the-question-of-the-felonious-friendThe Question of the Felonious Friend
An Asperger’s Mystery #3
E.J. Copperman/Jeff Cohen
Midnight Ink Books, September 2016
ISBN: 978-0-7387-4351-6
Trade Paperback

Samuel Hoenig has opened a business where he, along with his partner, Ms. Washburn, find answers to questions their clients are not able to discover on their own. A young man named Tyler Clayton, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, has come to him with a question, and now Samuel is faced with a moral question of his own. Can he report back to his client with an objective answer? Tyler, unsure of his own perceptions, wants to know if a store clerk in a convenience store is his friend. Samuel, himself contending with Asperger’s, is intrigued with the question and resolves to find out. Unfortunately, before he can bring the case to a satisfactory close, the store clerk is murdered and, according to Tyler himself,Tyler is the killer. Why?

The story is a mystery as to motive. It also explores friendship and loyalty. Most interesting to me, however, is the depiction of Asperger’s Syndrome. As one who didn’t know much about it, the story opened this reader’s eyes and I enjoyed the bit of information I gained.

In the previous books I’ve read by the author, Jeff Cohen/E.J.Copperman, there’s been a major element of humor. This book lacks that, although there are moments that drift toward being funny, seemingly by accident. In accounting for the crime, Samuel’s challenge is understanding the personalities of the characters, even as his total objectivity leads him through a difficult maze.

I won’t say this is a great book, but it did prove interesting, not only in the exploration of Asperger’s, but in the mystery. Mr. Cohen is a very good writer who knows how to entertain.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, October 2016.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

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To enter the drawing for a print
copy of The Question of the
Felonious Friend, leave a
comment
below. The winning name will
be
drawn Tuesday evening, November 8th.

Open to residents of the US and Canada.

Book Review: Dying for the Past by TJ O’Connor and The Egyptian File by Janis Susan May

Dying for the PastDying for the Past
A Gumshoe Ghost Mystery #2
TJ O’Connor
Midnight Ink, January 2015
ISBN 978-0-7387-4206-9
Trade Paperback

First of all, the detective is dead. He’s the ghost of a cop, shot in the previous book, which I am about to read because I really enjoyed this one.

Oliver “Tuck” Tucker attends the charity ball organized by his widow at Vincent House, during which someone shoots a mysterious guest dead. Chaos ensues, of course, as wealthy guests panic and someone steals the donations. Tuck’s old partner and his troops fight to bring order. No one saw the shooter. No one even knows if the corpse was the target, as his wife received two threatening letters–or said she did. Tuck’s investigating when he’s pulled into a time-warp by Vincent Calabrese, the dead gangster who previously owned the house. “Bring me the book, or else,” Vincent says, and the chase is on.

What is the book? Who has it. Does it have anything to do with the murder? Tuck needs to find out.

Tuck doesn’t know why he’s a ghost, or why his widow Angel and his big black lab, Hercule, can hear him. So can Bear, his old partner, though he won’t admit it. Tuck does know that if he must, he’s willing to die again to protect his wife and his friends. With threats both normal and paranormal, with old family secrets exploding and old crimes coming to light, this book careens from surprise to surprise. It’s suspenseful, it’s funny, it’s well worth reading.

Reviewed by Marilyn Nulman, October 2015.

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The Egyptian FileThe Egyptian File
Janis Susan May
Sefkhat-Awbi Books, August 2014
ISBN 978-1-941520-08-6
Trade Paperback

An exotic locale, a desperate art expert and a handsome Egyptologist star in this story of romantic suspense from Janis Susan May. Melissa Warrender was estranged from her father for years, so when he offered her a partnership in his Manhattan art gallery, she leapt at the chance to work with him. He was a specialist in antiquities, she in seventeenth and eighteenth century European paintings.

Melissa receives a phone call which sounds like her father, telling her to retrieve a mysterious file in Cairo. But how can this be—she buried her father months ago. Is he alive, or is someone playing a trick on her? She does not realize that she is targeted both by her father’s rival in the antiquities business and an international task force set up to catch smugglers.

David El-Baradi is a professor of Egyptology in London, currently in Cairo to help the task force. He goes undercover as a taxi driver to help Melissa evade the murderous son of her father’s rival. Melissa’s file turns out to be a message written in hieroglyphs, and David convinces her that he is an underemployed scholar who can help her. But on their trail is Gerard Thenardier, son of her father’s rival and her former lover.

It’s an Indiana Jones-type adventure, with a steamy romance thrown in. The author dedicates the book to Barbara Mertz (aka Elizabeth Peters), author of the Amelia Peabody series.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, January 2016.

Book Reviews: A Killer Retreat by Tracy Weber and Vendetta by Catherine Doyle

A Killer RetreatA Killer Retreat
A Downward Dog Mystery #2
Tracy Weber
Midnight Ink, January 2015
ISBN 978-0-7387-4209-0
Trade Paperback

We forgive the faults of those we love, a theme throughout this humorous amateur sleuth mystery, becomes clear as the cast of characters evolve through a ton of conflicts. The murderer could be any one of a number of them.

Kate, a Seattle yoga instructor, is invited to teach classes at a Canadian vegan retreat for a week. Her students will be guests of the owners, a couple about to be married. Kate’s German Shepard with an autoimmune disease requiring a disgusting special diet, her wants-to-get-too-close boyfriend, and her secretive best friend and husband join her at the beautiful, secluded site. From the start, incredible clashes and mishaps plague the trip. The one-hundred-pound dog drags Kate through mud, rain, and animal doo, among other places, and into a fight with the owner of a yappy terrier. Kate forgives the dog all. He is her main squeeze and the one she rushes to be with when excuse time comes.

It’s Kate’s hot temper and smart tongue, though, that make her the primary suspect for the murder of the unruly terrier owner, a woman everyone dislikes. It’s the kind of behavior Kate displays over and over in the story. (And it might be a little beyond this reviewer’s ability to suspend disbelief about a boyfriend who would put up so long with the way she treats him. It’s  a lot even for a loved one.)

If you enjoy nonstop action, funny lines, tons of suspects, and a surprise twist during the revelation of the murderer, you’ll like this story. There are references to the first book in the series, but A Killer Retreat works as a stand-alone.

Reviewed by Joyce Ann Brown, October 2015.
http://www.joyceannbrown.com
Author of cozy mysteries: Catastrophic Connections and Furtive Investigation, the first two Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mysteries.

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VendettaVendetta
Catherine Doyle
Chicken House, March 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-69982-2
Hardcover

Combining enthralling elements from Greek mythology to the mafia, including a mysterious abandoned mansion haunted by a WWII ghost story, while touching on friendship, loyalty, roofies and perspective along the way seems a daunting, laborious chore….that probably won’t end with something super-fun to read. And yet, Ms. Doyle tossed all of these captivating, compelling themes into a hat, waved a magic wand and viola! Vendetta!

I love this book so very much, that writing this review has been a bit of a challenge. So, instead of fighting my urge to chatter excitedly like a ten-year-old-boy that hit his first out-of-the-park home-run, I’m just going to have to gush.

Weaving a bit of the story around the name Persephone pleased me immensely. Enough of the Greek myth seeped through for subtle suggestions, yet Sophie’s story is completely her own. Perfectly paced unraveling of back-story made this a page-turner….so much so that I wished I had blocked out time to read it straight from cover to cover.

Sophie’s foundation has been rocked by the removal of her father from the family home. With walls crumbling all around her, watching her mom silently shrink into herself, rumors swirling and only one friend left, this chick should be jaded, pissed and out for vengeance. She is no ordinary almost-seventeen year old. She has a super-power: her determinedly stubborn faith in mankind. Sophie’s genuine and utmost conviction that, basically people are good, and absolutely everyone should behave well in society, is so strong, unyielding and uncontrollable that Sophie absolutely, always speaks her mind. Written any other way, this character could seem confrontational….a disingenuous bitch. Ms. Doyle reveals Sophie’s heart and soul with crystal clarity, making her the scrappy underdog that the reader just has to cheer for.

Sophie fights….furiously. Not for herself, but for her mom…who’s barely holding it together now, and for Millie, the one friend that stuck by Sophie when no one else would. For those two people, solely so that they weren’t faced with losing absolutely everything….Sophie would fight.

When five brothers move into the aforementioned abandoned dwelling, Sophie’s vehement dislike of Luca, the very person that seems to strike fear in all other living beings, along with her willingness to call him out and remind him that she “has no respect for his authority” is such a fun and honest twist. It is a groovy way to remind the reader of Sophie’s toughness and determinedness for that which is good and right, while providing a bit of comic relief and a sneaky glimpse that Luca may have a soul after all.

Vendetta is packed with fabulous dialogue; colorfully complete and embraceable characters and a simply beautiful story. I’ll happily recommend this to most readers, Middle Grade and beyond and I’ll most certainly grab anything and everything I can find that Ms. Doyle has written.

Reviewed by jv poore, August 2015.