Book Review: The Punch Escrow by Tal M. Klein

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Title: The Punch Escrow
Author: Tal M. Klein
Narrator: Matthew Mercer
Publication Date: July 25, 2017

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Purchase Links:

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The Punch Escrow
Tal M. Klein
Narrated by Matthew Mercer
Audible Studios, July 2017
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the publisher—

It’s the year 2147. Advancements in nanotechnology have enabled us to control aging. We’ve genetically engineered mosquitoes to feast on carbon fumes instead of blood, ending air pollution. And teleportation has become the ideal mode of transportation, offered exclusively by International Transport—a secretive firm headquartered in New York City. Their slogan: Departure… Arrival… Delight!

Joel Byram, our smartass protagonist, is an everyday twenty-second century guy. He spends his days training artificial intelligence engines to act more human, jamming out to 1980’s new wave—an extremely obscure genre, and trying to salvage his deteriorating marriage. Joel is pretty much an everyday guy with everyday problems—until he’s accidentally duplicated while teleporting.

Now Joel must outsmart the shadowy organization that controls teleportation, outrun the religious sect out to destroy it, and find a way to get back to the woman he loves in a world that now has two of him.

If you like a blend of science fiction and mystery, The Punch Escrow just might be for you. I do happen to like these crossgenres and, although there were a few blips along the way, I think both the author and the narrator had great fun with it which meant I did, too.

While the year is 2147 and there have been many scientific discoveries, you and I would feel perfectly comfortable in this future world. People are much the same and society hasn’t changed all that much either what with marital issues, video games, vacations, love of pop culture from the old times (remember Culture Club and Boy George?) and the occasional terrorist act. On the other hand, those mosquitoes mentioned above poop pollution on everybody willynilly.

Joel and his wife, Sylvia, have planned a vacation, a re-do of their honeymoon, in Costa Rica in hopes of jumpstarting their marriage but through a series of mishaps and a terrorist bomb, Sylvia has successfully teleported from New York City to Costa Rica but Joel did not and a decision she made has caused a problem…a real problem. Before too long, it becomes obvious that Joel is going to have to solve that problem and a few others to reunite with Sylvia.

This book is a lot of fun and Matthew Mercer, the narrator, is a big reason for my enjoyment. He has a voice that’s perfectly suited to the quirky Joel and he really did make the guy three-dimensional, if  you will. Mr. Klein has created a world that  is most unusual and, yet, familiar in many ways and Mr. Mercer brought it to life. I want more!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2017.

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About the Author

Tal M. Klein was born in Israel, grew up in New York, and currently lives in Detroit with his wife and two daughters. When she was five years old, his daughter Iris wrote a book called I’m a Bunch of Dinosaurs that went on to become one of the most successful children’s book projects on Kickstarter ―something that Tal explained to Iris by telling her, “your book made lots of kids happy.” Iris then asked Tal, “Daddy, why don’t you write a book that makes lots of grownups happy?” Tal mulled this over for a few years, and eventually wrote his first book, The Punch Escrow. It won the Inkshares Geek & Sundry Hard Science Fiction publishing contest, and is the first book published on the Geek & Sundry imprint.

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About the Narrator

Matthew Christopher Miller, known professionally as Matthew Mercer or Matt Mercer, is an American voice actor involved in English dubs of Japanese anime as well as cartoons, films and video games. In anime shows, he voiced Levi in “Attack on Titan”, Kiritsugu Emiya in “Fate/Zero”, Kanji Tatsumi for episodes 13-26 in “Persona 4: The Animation” and Trafalgar Law in the “Funimation dub of One Piece”. In video games, he voices Leon S. Kennedy in the “Resident Evil” series, Jack Cooper in “Titanfall 2”, Chrom in “Fire Emblem Awakening”, McCree in “Overwatch”, MacCready in “Fallout 4” and Yusuke Kitagawa in “Persona 5”. In addition to voice-over, Mercer has developed some live-action web series including a Nintendo character parody called “There Will Be Brawl” and the famous Geek & Sundry and Alpha Dungeons & Dragons gaming session show “Critical Role.” The Punch Escrow is his first audiobook.

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Play an excerpt here.

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“One part adventure journal, one part letter from the future… It’s
a clever way to explore this brave new world. Darting between
The Bourne Identity and Blade Runner , The Punch Escrow travels
through time to unwind the global conspiracy theory. Klein has
written a quick-witted, self-aware thriller that is addictive and fun.”
—Foreword Reviews (starred review)

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Book Review: A Face to Die For by Andrea Kane

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Title: A Face to Die For
Series: A Forensics Instincts Novel #6
Author: Andrea Kane
Publisher: Bonnie Meadow Publishing
Publication Date: September 19, 2017
Genres: Mystery, Psychological Thriller

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Purchase Links:

         

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A Face to Die For
A Forensics Instincts Novel #6
Andrea Kane
Bonnie Meadow Publishing, September 2017
ISBN 978-1-68232-010-5
Hardcover

From the author—

Urban legend says that everyone has a double, or exact look-alike. Would you search for yours? And if you found them, would you risk your life for theirs?

When a chance encounter outside the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan results in mistaken identity, wedding planner Gia Russo is curious to find the person whose cell phone picture has been shown her—veterinarian Dr. Danielle Murano, her exact look-alike. A Facebook private message blossoms into a budding, long-distance friendship, and the two women agree to meet in New York and see the truth for their own eyes.

Shocked at the sight of one another, they quickly bond over drinks, childhood pictures and an uncanny feeling that they share more than just a visual resemblance. Together they decide to end the speculation and undergo DNA testing for siblingship. But when the tests confirm they’re identical twins, more questions are raised than answered.

And with good reason. The same mysterious forces that separated the sisters years ago are still at large, frantic to keep the two women apart. Their attempts to do so become more violent once it becomes clear that the two sisters have found each other. But when the danger escalates and the sisters fear for their lives, Gia turns to a former client of her wedding planning company, Marc Devereraux of Forensic Instincts, for help.

Despite being embroiled in another case, Forensic Instincts agrees to help Gia and Danielle discover who has been threatening them. And when Forensic Instincts discovers that this case is linked to the Mafia, Organized Crime, they must dig up skeletons better left buried, and get at the frightening truth without destroying the sisters and the families they have grown to love.

Based on the prologue (shown below as the excerpt), it’s easy to conclude that this is a case involving separated twins who have discovered each other and so it is but, in a coincidence to top them all, these twins are about to learn some things that will really rock their world. First and foremost, Gia and Dani need to know who seems to want to keep them separated and why. For that, they enlist the aid of the Forensics Instincts crew.

The FI company is an interesting hodgepodge of people who have individual strengths they bring to bear in solving crimes, sort of private investigators on steroids. I like these people (although they’re not all people and I like the non-people even more) and the way they interact with each other. At the time we first encounter them, they’re working a stalking case in which a college student is being relentlessly pursued by a professor and, once they resolve this situation, the team is ready to take on the investigation into what’s happening to Gia and Dani and, just as importantly, what happened in the past. Surprises at nearly every turn and questions leading to more questions take the team and the young women down a twisty road and what develops is alarming and malevolent past comprehension.

This is my first encounter with the Forensics Instincts group and I found them credible with just a touch of wow-ness to their individual strengths. Clearly, they’re closeknit, a kind of family, and they rely on each other unreservedly. In some ways, they remind me of the geniuses in the TV show, “Scorpion”, and, with all their strong points, they’re also touchingly vulnerable. I’m eager to spend more time with Casey, Hutch and all the rest; fortunately, I have five previous books to keep me going till the next one comes out.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2017.

An Excerpt from A Face to Die For

Prologue

Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, New York

March 1990

Anthony slid behind the wheel of his Ford Taurus and started it up, cranking up the heat the instant the engine turned over. It was friggin’ freezing outside. Even in the five minutes it had taken him to walk the babysitter to her front door, the temperature outside felt like it had dropped ten degrees, and his car was an icebox.

Shivering, he zipped his parka up as far as it would go and gripped the steering wheel, maneuvering the car away from the curb. He’d finally shared an evening out with his wife. It should have eased the knot in his gut. After all, it had been the first time that he and Carla had left their infants with a sitter since the babies had been born a month ago. And Judy was the perfect babysitter—a good girl from a good family, one who studied rather than doing drugs and screwing horny guys.

Still, dinner had been strained.

Anthony had only picked at his manicotti, his favorite dish at Raimo’s. His mind was far away, and acid kept building up in his stomach.

Carla couldn’t stop worrying and talking about the babies. She’d checked her watch a dozen times, intermittently giving Anthony puzzled looks and asking if he was okay.

Each time she asked, he’d assure her that he was fine, just exhausted from work and midnight feedings.

As if to contradict his words, some new waiter had dropped a tray of dishes on the floor, and Anthony had nearly jumped out of his skin at the crash.

Carla rose, asking him to order her another drink and to get one for himself to calm his nerves. Giving in to her new-mother concerns, she went to the pay phone in the back to call Judy for an update. So far, so good, Judy had reported. But that didn’t totally erase Carla’s fretting. She tried her best to be bright and chatty, but the truth was that, as this point, she was ready to go. She’d fiddled with her napkin and sipped at her drink, making small talk and glancing at the door.

Getting the hell out of there had worked for Anthony. He was more than ready to be home with his family and not out in the open. He’d use his fatigue as an excuse. He had to continue keeping the inevitable from Carla, until he had no choice but to tell her. He’d soften the blow as best he could. But the important thing was that his family would be protected at all costs.

Now, the heat in his car roared to life, warming his body but doing nothing to extinguish his inner chill. He knew the rules. No transgression went unpunished.

Why the hell had he been so preoccupied with new fatherhood that he’d forgotten to make his collections from the designated list of construction foremen these past two weeks? That in itself was a huge black mark against him—one he’d be punished for. But the outcome of his stupidity opened the door to a far more lethal punishment. Someone else had been sent to handle his route, and his money. They would have collected and turned over twice the amount he’d been handing over. And that meant he’d better be able to explain the discrepancy—assuming he’d even be asked before he was killed.

Please God, let him have that chance. He was just on the verge of buying that gas station he’d been single-mindedly building his bank account for, just about to provide for his family’s future.

And now this.

With shaking hands, Anthony switched on the radio, gritting his teeth as Madonna’s voice blasted off the windows, followed by Michael Jackson’s. He turned the dial until finally the soothing tones of Frank Sinatra’s voice filled the car. Sinatra. Perfect. The Chairman of the Board’s crooning was just the right medicine to ease his clawing anxiety.

He reached his street and turned down the line of small brick row houses, all identical in their flat lines, gated fronts, and tiny gardens. There was a certain comfort and peace about the sameness of it all; it made it feel like a neighborhood.

Would he ever feel that sense of comfort and peace again?

He pulled into his narrow driveway and spotted Carla standing at the front door with a broad smile, giving him a thumbs-up. That meant the infants had come through their first babysitting experience with flying colors.

He forced himself to smile back, but even as he did, his gaze swept the area around the house to see if he was alone. It appeared so. Quickly, he turned off the car and then made the frigid dash to his house.

He couldn’t shut and lock the door behind him fast enough.

The soothing warmth from the heating system enveloped him when he stepped inside. Comfort in yet another form. He was home. Carla and the babies were safe. And for the moment, so was he.

With a wave of relief—however temporary—he let the tension in his body ease. He shrugged out of his jacket and hung it on the coatrack.

“You look happy,” he teased Carla. “What’s the final report?”

Carla’s eyes twinkled. “They were perfect. Judy said they’d only woken up once for their bottles and a diaper change. Now they’re sleeping like little angels.”

“Good.” Anthony looped an arm around his wife’s shoulders and led her toward the living room. “How about a nightcap before bed—to celebrate the success of our first night out?”

“That sounds wonderful.” Carla walked beside him, making a left into their comfortable living room.

They’d barely taken half a dozen steps when a tall masked man dressed in black rose from behind the large armchair, his .22 caliber pistol raised.

“Hello, Anthony.”

Anthony knew that voice only too well, and it elicited the chilling knowledge that there was no way out. No threats. Just death. “Welcome home.”

The man’s finger tightened around the trigger.

“No!” Carla screamed.

She threw herself in front of her husband just as the pistol fired.

The bullet pierced her skull, and with a shattering cry, she crumpled to the floor.

“Carla… no… Carla!” Anthony shouted. He dropped to his knees beside his wife’s lifeless body, grabbing her into his arms and openly weeping. “God forgive me. Oh, God forgive me.”

He looked up in dazed anguish, just as a second shot was fired.

The bullet struck Anthony between the eyes. His head jerked backward, and he fell over his wife, dead.

Upstairs, the babies started to cry.

The gunman shoved his pistol back in his waistband. He knew the mob code like he knew his own name. No women. No children. Omertà.

A woman lay dead before him, the taunting evidence of a fuckup.

He took the steps two at a time.

Tucked in their cribs, the babies were still crying as their parents’ killer entered the nursery and hovered over them.

Not even the nightlight could eradicate the darkness.

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Excerpt from A Face to Die For by Andrea Kane. Copyright © 2017 by Andrea Kane. Reproduced with permission from Bonnie Meadow Publishing LLC. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Andrea Kane is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of twenty-eight novels, including fourteen psychological thrillers and fourteen historical romantic suspense titles. With her signature style, Kane creates unforgettable characters and confronts them with life-threatening danger. As a master of suspense, she weaves them into exciting, carefully-researched stories, pushing them to the edge—and keeping her readers up all night.

Kane’s first contemporary suspense thriller, Run for Your Life, became an instant New York Times bestseller. She followed with a string of bestselling psychological thrillers including No Way Out, Twisted, and Drawn in Blood.

Her latest storytelling triumph, A Face To Die For, extends the Forensic Instincts legacy where a dynamic, eclectic team of maverick investigators continue to solve seemingly impossible cases while walking a fine line between assisting and enraging law enforcement. The first showcase of their talents came with the New York Times bestseller, The Girl Who Disappeared Twice, followed by The Line Between Here and Gone, The Stranger You Know, The Silence that Speaks and The Murder That Never Was.

Kane’s beloved historical romantic suspense novels include My Heart’s Desire, Samantha, The Last Duke, and Wishes in the Wind.

With a worldwide following of passionate readers, her books have been published in more than twenty languages.

Kane lives in New Jersey with her husband and family. She’s an avid crossword puzzle solver and a diehard Yankees fan. Otherwise, she’s either writing or playing with her Pomeranian, Mischief, who does his best to keep her from writing.

              

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Book Reviews: Drag Teen by Jeffrey Self and The Arrow Shooter by James Mather

Drag Teen
Jeffery Self
Push, May 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-82993-9
Hardcover

Remember the first time you released your inner-most self?  Knowing you, to your very core; adoring and admiring that person so much it had to be celebrated—the joyful, buoyant feeling had to be released, good vibes to everyone.  Imagine being in that moment when a hate-filled, bitter person brings contempt so tangible that the light is smothered; the joy stolen.  Because most of us have experienced that, it is almost intuitive to empathize with JT’s predicament.

His parents do not support his desire to attend college after high school.  They appear offended by his plan, as if his ambition is as an affront to the lives they lead.  Rather than seeing and hearing their son, they seem to have created a persona of an ungrateful, arrogant brat that is easy to dismiss.  But JT has Seth, and Seth has a plan.

A Drag Teen pageant is being held for high school seniors needing financial aid for college; the prize—a full scholarship.  The idea of being a Drag Teen doesn’t bother JT; the terror of doing it again, with the same results is paralyzing.  With the support of his boyfriend, their best friend Heather and an assortment of souls along the way, JT tackles the terror.

I was amused, delighted and entirely invested in this story.  The combination of blue-collar parents, an over-the-top, former country music sensation, teen-agers and Drag Queens is quirky in the best possible ways and works wonderfully for JT’s journey to New York City and self discovery.

Reviewed by jv poore, December 2016.

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The Arrow Shooter
Jim Mather
CreateSpace, September 2015
ISBN: 978-0-692-46617-9
Trade Paperback

The novel has enormous unrealized potential to provide a long look into what is sometimes referred to as the inscrutable East. Yakuza target Jonathan Lusk leaves Japan and his professional activities as a special undercover operative and enrolls at Stanford University. He is following his father’s trail and seeking the murderer of his father.

Of course his life is complicated by his growing infatuation, a forbidden love for Princess Nanami Yoritomo. A non-Japanese and a commoner, the love between the couple is overladen with difficulties. The campus atmosphere in the 1960s, the threat of a killer stalking Lusk, the efforts of the romantic couple to develop their relationship, all offer great opportunity for emotional soaring narrative.

Alas, the writing is competent, straight forward, efficient and flat. Although we are surely meant to identify with the young couple, the lack of emotion tends to set barriers so we never fully empathize with Jonathan or his princess. On the other hand, the narrative passages that reveal much about Japanese culture are quite interesting. In sum, an interesting read for those who wish to look more closely at a specific cultural element of the East.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, April 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 Review: The Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes by David Handler

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Book Review: Weave a Murderous Web by Anne Rothman-Hicks and Ken Hicks

Weave a Murderous Web
Anne Rothman-Hicks and Ken Hicks
Melange Books, June 2016
ISBN 978-1-68046-252-4
Trade Paperback

Jane Larson, a high powered litigator with Adams & Ridge, a big New York law firm, takes on a domestic case as a favor to a friend. The friend is a legal assistant at the firm, Francine, who has a friend with a troublesome divorce. Gail is model-beautiful but seems more interested in extracting cash from her lawyer husband than the welfare of her daughter. There is a suitcase full of cash that Larry Hawkins, the ex-husband, is hiding from her, and she wants Jane to find it.

After attending a Young Lawyers dinner, Jane is shot and wounded by Larry . Although this attempt on her life failed, will someone try again? Carmen Ruiz, a cable news reporter, is investigating a story about another local attorney who was believed to die of a drug overdose. Carmen, who knew that the dead attorney had dealings with Larry, thinks he was killed.  A tip from Carmen leads to the discovery of a safe deposit box with cash and two insurance policies. But Gail claims that the there’s still that suitcase out there, and she is desperate for the cash.

Unfortunately, the author telegraphed the killer early on, in a bit of back story that was out of place. It was difficult to find something sympathetic about any of the characters in this tale of lies, drugs, and murder.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, June 2017.

Book Review: Murder Between the Lines by Radha Vatsal—and a Giveaway!

Murder Between the Lines
A Kitty Weeks Mystery #2
Radha Vatsal
Sourcebooks Landmark, May 2017
ISBN 978-1-4926-3892-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Intrepid journalist Kitty Weeks returns in the second book in this acclaimed WW1-era historical mystery series to investigate the death of a boarding school student.

When Kitty’s latest assignment for the New York Sentinel Ladies’ Page takes her to Westfield Hall, she expects to find an orderly establishment teaching French and dancing-but there’s more going on at the school than initially meets the eye.

Tragedy strikes when a student named Elspeth is found frozen to death in Central Park. The doctor’s proclaim that the girl’s sleepwalking was the cause, but Kitty isn’t so sure.

Determined to uncover the truth, Kitty must investigate a more chilling scenario-a murder that may involve Elspeth’s scientist father and a new invention by a man named Thomas Edison.

The early 1900’s have always been a favorite historical period for me with its blend of innocence and the beginnings of the fights for social justice, whether it be the push for women’s rights or perhaps the protection of workers, adults and children. Murder Between the Lines has all the charm and interesting setting I look for in this type of historical.

Kitty Weeks is a natural if unintended sleuth in her zeal to be a “real” reporter and perhaps find justice for those in need and her editor has agreed to let her do more than cover society. A country with high-flying ideals on the precipice of war and coping with suffragettes and the like presents plenty of opportunity for Kitty, herself a wealthy member of society, but she’s drawn to the death of a young lady, a death she finds quite suspicious even after it’s ruled accidental. Kitty had met Elspeth while doing a piece on her boarding school and found her focus on scientific matters most interesting but wonders if that could have led to her death.

With an easy pace and an appealing protagonist determined to solve an engaging puzzle, Ms. Vatsal kept me entertained and following Kitty down several paths before  finally reaching a solution. I thoroughly enjoyed my first adventure with this intrepid young woman and really appreciated the author’s attention to the details of the period. While she’s perhaps not as well-developed a character as I would like, Kitty’s intelligence and her own reactions to the issues of her day make her a young woman I want to meet again.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2017.

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copies of both Murder Between
the Lines and A Front Page Affair,
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Book Review: The Inheritance by Jacqueline Seewald—and a Giveaway!

The Inheritance
Jacqueline Seewald
Intrigue Publishing, December 2016
ISBN 978-1-940758-50-3
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Jennifer Stoddard is a 35-year-old widow who has just found out she is the sole heir of her grandmother’s estate, located in the midwest town she grew up in. But there is a catch; she must live in the house for two years before she can claim the estate and someone doesn’t want her there. The threats begin soon after her return. A rifle shot whizzes through her car window, her brakes are tampered with, and her tires are slashed. Police Chief, Grant Coleman, is called upon to investigate. Unfortunately, the history between Jen and Grant from high school causes them to mistrust each other. However, Grant is a professional and intends to do his job. Together they explore who might want to drive Jen out of the house, while trying to understand their feelings of anger, mistrust and desire for each other. With Jen’s life on the line, will they be able to put the past behind them to work together and save her and her son’s lives?

We’ve seen this premise before, that of someone having to fulfill usually difficult conditions in order to receive an inheritance. The differences with this particular story lie in the questions that immediately arise in the reader’s mind, starting with wondering why Jen had to learn through an attorney that her grandmother had passed a month earlier. That in itself isn’t the puzzle—that sort of thing isn’t unheard of—but, in this case, the attorney got Jen’s address from her mother so why didn’t the woman tell her? And, if her grandmother played such a large role in her youth, why did Jen essentially cut her out of her life?

Those questions and more are just the tip of the proverbial iceberg when Jen returns to her hometown and accepts the challenge of the will. The mansion is in dire need of repair and she hires a contractor, Rob Coleman, who turns out to be the brother of Grant Coleman who broke her heart in high school. Unfortunately, Grant is the police chief and has a distinctly hostile attitude towards her. When it starts to look like someone really doesn’t want her in town, that attitude is going to cause problems of its own.

Along with the mounting tension of the attacks, there’s an enjoyable sidestory involving Jen’s visiting friend, Maryann, and Rob. These are two likeable characters I couldn’t help rooting for and they helped lighten the suspense. That suspense builds and builds until a dramatic ending that held even more surprises. All in all, The Inheritance is a finely-crafted story that held my attention from the very first page to the last.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2017.

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