A Trio of Teeny Reviews

Ain’t She a Peach
Southern Eclectic #4
Molly Harper
Gallery Books, June 2018
ISBN 978-1-5011-5133-0
Trade Paperback

Once again, the McCready family of Lake Sackett, Georgia, is back in fine fettle with their McCready Family Funeral Home and Bait Shop and, also once again, they’ve captured my heart. This time the focus is on Frankie, the youngish coroner/embalmer who considers herself well past the age of independence but her parents don’t know how to even begin to think of letting their precious only child spread her wings, so to speak. Sure, she sneaks off to Atlanta occasionally for a night of satisfying rowdiness but she can’t make herself move out (although she has disabled the location service they use to track her). There are very good reasons for this helicopter parenting but, really, she needs to grow a pair!

There’s a new Sheriff in town, Erik Linden, and while Frankie has a few, or a lot, of philosophical differences with Erik, including his queasiness around her dead customers, she’s finding it very hard to resist the man. Meanwhile, the rest of the McCready bunch are around and about and the town’s Halloween Trunk-R-Treat festival is coming up while a teenaged desperado has it in for Frankie for some reason.

The whole rambunctious McCready clan is a family I’d love to be part of and this fourth book in Molly Harper‘s series is just as much fun as all the others. Oh, I do hope there will be more!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.

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Jurassic, Florida
Hunter Shea: One Size Eats All #1
Hunter Shea
Lyrical Press/Kensington, June 2018
ISBN 978-1-5161-0793-3
Ebook

LOL, I’m still chuckling over this book and I have only myself to blame for not having indulged in Hunter Shea‘s work before. Polo Springs, Florida, is a quiet little place but people are starting to notice that the lizard population, specifically small iguanas, seems to be popping up everywhere. Not just popping up—slithering and scampering and the little beasts apparently have lost all fear. Not so the humans in this town, folks like Frank who’s running from the mob and Ann Hickok, the very unlikely mayor who’s only 18 years old. Everyone in Polo Springs has stepped into their own Godzilla movie and the future’s looking very, very dim.

Polo Springs is about to get a rude awakening and they’ll wish they had those little iguanas back. In scenes that are alternately grisly and scream-inducing but also high camp, we learn the answer to the question: can anyone save this town from the invasion of giant people-eating critters?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.

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In His Kiss
Neil Plakcy
Featherweight Publishing, March 2018
ISBN 978-1-64122-112-2
Trade Paperback

There’s nothing easy about high school, as most of us know, but senior Michael has it worse than some. First of all, he’s gay. No big secret there but he’s almost painfully shy and definitely insecure when it comes to actually finding “the right one” or even one who will do for right now. He’s also saddled with his younger brother, Robbie, aka the Big Mistake and family life pretty much revolves around Robbie with his multitudes of allergies and other issues. On the positive side, he has an awesome best friend, Brie, and she makes life in Stewart’s Crossing, Pennsylvania, tolerable although Michael is way past ready to get out of Dodge.

And then along comes Daniel Florez and life for Michael will never be the same again. Luckily for him, Daniel has a little more self-confidence—really, he’s almost oblivious to what’s not supposed to work or maybe his home life has just given him a thicker skin so he’s not quite as vulnerable. Whatever it is, Daniel is not afraid to make the first move and the second and the third… Suddenly, things are looking up for these two really nice kids and the future might be bright but there are some side effects, including resentment from Brie, but why are strange things happening to Michael, like awesome SAT scores? And, minor detail, why is the FBI hanging around spying on Daniel?

With a bit of fantasy and a lot of high school angst, not to mention lots of humor and love of all sorts, Neil Plakcy has created a story that had me smiling a lot and cringing just a little (in a good way) and I definitely want to know what Michael and Daniel are going to be up to next 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2018.

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Book Review: The Tribulations of August Barton by Jennifer LeBlanc

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Book Reviews: Denver Moon by Warren Hammond and Joshua Viola

Denver Moon
Metamorphosis
Warren Hammond and Joshua Viola
Hex Publishers, April 2018
ISBN 978-0-9997736-9-7
Ebook

From the publisher—

Denver Moon is Mars’ top private eye. She works the tunnels of Mars City, a struggling colony ravaged by the mysterious red fever. Her latest client, Jard Calder, is demanding results. Someone is dismembering the pimp’s prostitutes and salvaging their body parts. But since the victims are robots instead of humans, is it really murder?

As a matter of fact, this is actually a serious felony on Mars and Denver finds herself literally staring at body parts although these parts are plastic and plasma-gel rather than flesh and blood. This is not the first victim she’s seen with these nasty damages but, even in the rotten underbelly of Mars, a prostitute deserves better treatment. Are these attacks directed at the bots themselves or at the man who runs this prostitution enterprise, Jard Calder?

This is a private eye with a few interesting characteristics. First, she’s colorblind and that serves her very well on this planet with a madness-inducing disease called Red Fever that has something to do with all the red on Mars. Also, she carries an artificial intelligence named Smith on her belt and he doesn’t hesitate to call her out when he sees fit.

Murder or not, Denver has a job to do and she’s going to have to go into the Red Tunnel. There, she runs into Rafe Ranchard, a man with a grudge, and a most unlikely pair of lovers. This is not going to end well but I really enjoyed this short story introduction to a very unusual detective.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2018.

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Denver Moon
The Minds of Mars
Warren Hammond and Joshua Viola
Hex Publishers, June 2018
ISBN 978-0-9997736-6-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Earth is dying. Luna is uninhabitable. Mars is our last chance.

Once considered humanity’s future home, Mars hasn’t worked out like anybody hoped. Plagued by crime and a terraforming project that’s centuries from completion, Mars is a red hell.

Denver Moon, P.I., works the dark underbelly of Mars City. While investigating a series of violent crimes linked to red fever–a Martian disorder that turns its victims into bloodthirsty killers–Denver discovers a cryptic message left by Tatsuo Moon, Mars City co-founder and Denver’s grandfather. The same grandfather who died two decades ago.

Twenty-year-old revelations force Denver on a quest for truth, but Tatsuo’s former friend, Cole Hennessy, leader of the Church of Mars, has other plans and will stop at nothing to keep Denver from disclosing Tatsuo’s secrets to the world.

Hell-bent on reclaiming her grandfather’s legacy, Denver–along with her AI implant, Smith, companion android, Nigel, and shuttle pilot, Navya–set out on a quest to find the answers they hope will shed light on the church’s true agenda, the origin of red fever, and the mysteries surrounding Tatsuo’s tragic death.

Red Fever is a terrible disease that causes its victims to become murderous madmen but Denver is the ideal detective to investigate the fever because it attacks through color and she is colorblind. In the course of her work, she begins to get hints that her long-dead grandfather Tatsuo (whose personality is built into Denver’s AI, Smith) may not be dead after all. That, of course, sets her off on a new path, one that propels her into the heart of danger, including a church that’s as malevolent as they come. Denver and Smith—who, brilliantly, is actually a Smith & Wesson—delve futher and further in search of the truth that is full of surprises, both good and bad.

Worldbuilding is a bit lacking in that we know Earth is becoming uninhabitable but not why. That’s a pretty significant omission because humans have elected to move to a planet that is not exactly user-friendly and I’d like to understand why and how Mars is the better choice. On the other hand, I think having Denver be colorblind is a masterly decision and gives her so much more flexibility than other investigators and the relationship between her and Smith is really appealing and frequently funny. All in all, Denver’s story is a nice blend of science fiction and mystery with a good deal of adventure thrown in.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2018.

Book Review: A Reflection of Evil by William Todd

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Title: A Reflection of Evil
Series: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery
Author: William Todd
Narrator: Ben Werling
Publication Date: January 5, 2018

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Purchase Links:

Audible // iTunes // Amazon

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A Reflection of Evil
A Sherlock Holmes Mystery
William Todd
Narrated by Ben Werling
William Robert Todd, January 2018
Downloaded Unabridged Audiobook

From the author—

After months of inactivity, Holmes and Watson have two cases thrust in their lap in a single day. First, a mysterious woman from Swansea, Wales, seeks Holmes’ help finding her husband who has disappeared in the middle of the night. As soon as she leaves, Holmes receives word that there has been a prison riot with several dead and a few inmates missing. Lestrade is asking for his services.

Holmes believes the two cases are not a coincidence, but he has no idea who is behind it and to what end. They go to Swansea in what could be either a wild goose chase or a setup. Will Holmes unravel the mystery before they get to Swansea? If not what will be in store for them when they step off the train?

Sherlock Holmes is one of the most famous and best-loved fictional detectives and his companion, Dr. John Watson, is a most worthy sounding board for the great man. Actually, he’s not so much a sounding board as a receptacle for Sherlock’s musings and conclusions. Watson is, in fact, his ghostwriter and, to me, much the more accessible of the two.

A Reflection of Evil fits quite nicely into the Sherlock Holmes pastiche and Mr. Todd has a good eye for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s style and his characterizations. The woman who first engages Holmes and whom he sees through instantly is as negligible as Doyle’s female characters usually are but you can’t take umbrage when that’s precisely the way females were nearly always depicted in his work. She’s a raisond’etre, if you will, and a request for assistance from LeStrade when convicts escape a prison, serendipitously near the town in Wales where the woman asked him to go, gives Holmes and Watson good reason to board a train for Swansea. It soon becomes apparent that one of the escapees has it in for Holmes.

With a good balance of introspection and action, including a need for Watson to put his doctorly skills to work, Holmes soon knows the truth and a new criminal opponent has been discovered albeit in somewhat predictable fashion. We clearly will encounter this villain in future stories and of that I’m very glad.

Ben Werling is an almost ideal voice for this story and I say almost only because of one flaw. Mr. Werling’s tone and pacing are ideal but he’s not quite as good at differentiating all characters as I would like him to be. Still, I will happily listen to him again.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2018.

About the Author

I have been writing online since the early 2000’s, primarily writing horror stories in the style of Poe and Lovecraft. I was the 2nd most popular author on the website storiesbyemail.com for two years before moving on. I had my first book, a Victorian era horror compilation called Bumps in the Night, published by Mystic Moon Press just a week before they closed their website and never saw my hard work pay off. Afterwards I took publishing into my own hands, became an Indie author and haven’t looked back. My first self-published book was Dead of Night, another compilation of Victorian horror stories, published September 2016 by Createspace and on Kindle by KDP. After its publication I left my comfort zone for mystery and wrote a short story about Sherlock Holmes in the Conan Doyle style. I loved it so much I then did a longer story A Reflection of Evil, both published in 2017 through Createspace and KDP. I have just release Beyond the Gossamer Veil, another compilation of both Victorian and modern supernatural/horror stories and am in the beginning stages of my third Sherlock Holmes installment.

Goodreads

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About the Narrator

Ben is an award winning actor and voice over professional, who has performed all across the United States. From Shakespeare to Neil Simon, he has displayed a versatility and diversity in the characters and dialects he has portrayed. Ben received the Joseph Jefferson Award for Leading Actor as abusive talk show host Barry Champlain in Eric Bogosian’s TALK RADIO, and was nominated for Best Supporting Actor as Prosecutor Villeforte in Alexander Dumas’ THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO, also in Chicago. He has worked with an extensive list of theaters in Chicago over the last three decades: Steppenwolf, Bailiwick, Famous Door, Next, A Red Orchid, Raven Theater, First Folio, Writer’s Theater, Buffalo Theater Ensemble, as well as Utah Shakespeare Festival, Illinois Shakespeare Festival, Indiana Repertory, Madison Repertory, and Allenberry Playhouse in Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania. He is an Ensemble member of Shattered Globe Theater in Chicago. For almost a decade he was the voice of the Adler Planetarium, hosting live shows and pointing out the stars, planets and constellations on the big dome. Ben has an eponymous weekly vlog on YouTube, that he films, produces, edits and narrates. He lives in Chicago with his wife Amy, two dogs and three cats.

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Follow the tour here.

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Book Reviews: Booke of the Hidden by Jeri Westerson, Gone Gull by Donna Andrews and The End We Start From by Megan Hunter

Booke of the Hidden
Booke of the Hidden #1
Jeri Westerson
Diversion Books, October 2017
ISBN 978-1-63576-050-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

To get a fresh start away from a bad relationship, Kylie Strange moves across the country to open a shop in a seemingly quiet town in rural Maine. During renovations on Strange Herbs & Teas, she discovers a peculiar and ancient codex, The Booke of the Hidden, bricked into the wall. Every small town has its legends and unusual histories, and this artifact sends Kylie right into the center of Moody Bog’s biggest secret.

While puzzling over the tome’s oddly blank pages, Kylie gets an unexpected visitor―Erasmus Dark, an inscrutable stranger who claims to be a demon, knows she has the book, and warns her that she has opened a portal to the netherworld. Kylie brushes off this nonsense, until a series of bizarre murders put her, the newcomer, at the center. With the help of the demon and a coven of witches she befriends while dodging the handsome but sharp-eyed sheriff, Kylie hunts for a killer―that might not be human.

Generally speaking, I don’t gravitate towards witchy books but this one had a couple of things going for it before I even started—the description sounds awesome and I already knew I’d enjoy this because it’s written by Jeri Westerson. If you ask me, Ms. Westerson is one of those authors who is way under-recognized and I’ve been happy with everything by her I’ve ever read.

When Kylie finds that book, she does what anybody would do, she opens it. What follows—a coven of witches, a possible demon, murder and a bit of romance—turn this find into something quite out of the ordinary but Kylie keeps her cool, for the most part, and her interactions with Erasmus are often laugh out loud funny. Even the name of the town, Moody Bog, draws out a smile and, while the pacing is a little on the slow side, I chalk that up mostly to setting things up for the books to come. I came to feel really attached to the kind of creepy but appealing Moody Bog and its inhabitants and to the story that leads Kylie and her new “friends” down a most unlikely path on the way to solving the murder.

So, did Booke of the Hidden live up to its description? Yes, it certainly did and its essential differences from Ms. Westerson‘s other work make this a really fun departure from her  straightforward historical mysteries. Despite my slight aversion to witch-related stories, I’ll definitely be back for the next book in the series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

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Gone Gull
A Meg Langslow Mystery #21
Donna Andrews
Minotaur Books, August 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-07856-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Meg is spending the summer at the Biscuit Mountain Craft Center, helping her grandmother Cordelia run the studios. But someone is committing acts of vandalism, threatening to ruin the newly-opened center’s reputation. Is it the work of a rival center? Have the developers who want to build a resort atop Biscuit Mountain found a new tactic to pressure Cordelia into selling? Or is the real target Meg’s grandfather, who points out that any number of environmentally irresponsible people and organizations could have it in for him?

While Meg is trying to track down the vandal, her grandfather is more interested in locating a rare gull. Their missions collide when a body is found in one of the classrooms. Can Meg identify the vandal and the murderer in time to save the center’s name―while helping her grandfather track down and rescue his beloved gulls?

You would think that this series would have begun to show signs of becoming stale and tired by now but that hasn’t happened. Donna Andrews has the magic touch and always seems to come up with fresh ideas and new things to laugh about but the early books still stick with me, especially particular characters beyond Meg.

This time, we have to get along without some of the old regulars (although two of my favorites, Spike the Small Evil One and Meg’s dad, are here) because Meg has gone out of town but her grandparents do a lot to make up for the missing. Meg’s blacksmithing has taken something of a back seat over the course of the series but it’s central to the story in Gone Gull as she’s agreed to teach classes for a few weeks at her grandmother’s new craft studio. Unfortunately, someone seems to have it in for the center, perpetrating small acts of sabotage, and no one is sure who’s doing it. Then Meg discovers a body and the real sleuthing begins.

I have to say the mystery to be solved isn’t as much in the forefront as the wild and quirky activities of the characters but it’s still a good one with some twists and turns to keep the reader occupied while chuckling at what’s going on. Oh, and the gull referred to in the title? That bird and Meg’s grandfather are the source of more than a few laugh out loud moments and, for me, was the icing on the cake. Having said that, I’ll be glad if we have Meg back in her usual surroundings next time.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

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The End We Start From
Megan Hunter
Grove Atlantic, November 2017
ISBN 978-0-8021-2689-4
Hardcover

From the publisher—

As London is submerged below floodwaters, a woman gives birth to her first child, Z. Days later, she and her baby are forced to leave their home in search of safety. They head north through a newly dangerous country seeking refuge from place to place. The story traces fear and wonder as the baby grows, thriving and content against all the odds.

It doesn’t happen often but, every once in a while, I encounter a book that just leaves me cold and this is one of them. On the surface, I should have loved it because it’s apocalyptic (one of my preferred subgenres) and follows the physical as well as mental/emotional journey of a young family trying to cope with a world gone sour. To my dismay, I couldn’t connect with this in any way.

Characters, worldbuilding and plot are the three main components of any work of fiction and there is an interesting plot here in that the protagonist and her husband and baby are forced to find a way to escape the floodwaters and the devastation that has crushed London and the English countryside. Unfortunately, there is absolutely no worldbuilding; we know the water has risen to submerge much of England but that’s all we know. What caused this? A meteor strike, global warming, some dastardly act of a mad scientist, an alien attack of some sort? It’s hard to really feel what the survivors have to deal with when we know so little.

Worst of all, the characters are close to being cardboard cutouts when no one even has a name, just an initial. To me, this is a writing style that is almost pretentious and, coupled with the first person present tense that I so dislike, well, I just didn’t care very much. I find this happens fairly frequently when I read what’s called “literary fiction”.

The one thing that helps to lift this above the abyss is the author’s attention to the bonds between mother and child and she does that extremely well. I think perhaps that was intended to be the core theme and the apocalyptic elements just got in the way. Certainly, a lot of readers and inhabitants of the publishing world have a much more favorable reaction and, although I didn’t care much for this story, I think Megan Hunter is an author to watch..

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

Book Reviews: Gin and Panic by Maia Chance and The Burning by J.P. Seewald

Gin and Panic
Discreet Retrieval Agency Mysteries #3
Maia Chance
Minotaur Books, October 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-10905-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Former socialite Lola Woodby is now struggling to make ends meet as a not-so-discreet private eye in Prohibtion-era New York City, along with her stern Swedish sidekick, Berta. When they’re offered a piece-of-cake job―retrieving a rhinoceros trophy from the Connecticut mansion of big game hunter Rudy Montgomery―it seems like a no-brainer. After all, their client, Lord Sudley, promises them a handsome paycheck, and the gin and tonics will be plentiful and free. But no sooner do they arrive at Montgomery Hall than Rudy is shot dead.

When the police arrive to examine the scene, they conclude that Rudy had actually committed suicide. But Lord Sudley can’t believe his friend would have done that, and there’s a houseful of suspicious characters standing by. So Lord Sudley ups the ante for Lola and Berta, and suddenly, their easy retrieval job has turned into a murder investigation. Armed with handbags stuffed with emergency chocolate, gin flasks, and a Colt .25, Lola and Berta are swiftly embroiled in a madcap puzzle of stolen diamonds, family secrets, a clutch of gangsters, and plenty of suspects who know their way around a safari rifle.

When I think back on this book, the first word that comes to mind is “charming” followed very shortly by “fun”. This is a pair of sleuths I loved spending time with and the plot and setting did a lot to hold my attention; overall, I was reminded of those lighthearted mysteries that take us back to the more innocent-seeming time of 1923.

Lola isn’t really the brains of the duo but she’s learning to adapt to her altered circumstances and her previous position in society opens doors to them while Berta has a knack for figuring things out while keeping the Lola ship steered in the right direction, so to speak. They have an unlikely friendship for their time but it really works for them and lays the groundwork for a successful detecting business. Lola’s constant companion, the furry Cedric, adds to the ambience.

The whole idea of someone asking them to “retrieve” a rhinoceros head trophy seems a bit outrageous in today’s world but it had me chuckling early on, imagining these two women having to smuggle such an item out of its current place of honor just to settle a grievance. Still, Lola and Berta are game, pun intended ;-), having no idea they’re about to land smackdab in the middle of a locked room mystery complete with dead body. A cache of diamonds and the bumbling efforts of our sleuths lead to enough adventure and madcappery to while away a very pleasant afternoon.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

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The Burning
J.P. Seewald
Annorlunda Books, October 2017
ISBN 978-1-944354-26-8
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

George Ferris has worked hard to make a good life for himself and his family without going into the coal mines that shortened his father’s life. Now, a slow-moving catastrophe is threatening to take it all away. How far will he go to protect everything he has worked for? And will he realize what really matters before it is too late?

The first time I heard about coal fires burning under a town, years ago, I was horrified and I still am. It seems almost like science fiction and the idea that people would either have to live with such a never-ending threat or leave the homes and neighbors they had known for so long is little short of overwhelming.

George is a man who’s easy to understand because his whole way of life is undergoing a major transformation, beginning with the huge divide between him and his brother, Larry, a man who chose to leave his blue collar background behind. George takes pride in his life and it’s painful watching him have to make choices that he never wanted or expected to have to make. He’s watching his very existence, everything that makes him who he is, turn to ashes and not only because of the fire burning under his gas station. The frustrations that come with dealing with the bureaucracy that is more obstructive than helpful make George and the people around him begin to think they’ve been abandoned; as one catastrophe piles on another and another, it’s easy to see the despair George feels and his desperation to find solutions. Unfortunately, fear and a lingering denial, even self-pity, lead to some very wrong choices.

In the midst of devastation, the unbreakable but shaky bonds between George and Larry come to the fore and just may be the saving grace that the brothers need. The Burning is a short but intense story and, once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down; knowing it’s based on true events makes this a truly compelling read.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2017.

Book Reviews: The Highwayman by Craig Johnson and Fallout by Sara Paretsky

The Highwayman
A Longmire Story
Craig Johnson
Penguin  Books, May 2017
ISBN: 978-0-7352-2090-4
Trade Paperback

The author prefaces this Longmire novel by stating he always wanted to write a ghost story.  And now he has, thrusting Walt Longmire and his friend, Henry Standing Bear, into the middle of an enigma.  At the request of the head of the Highway Patrol, Walt and the Bear seek to determine what is happening to Rosie Wayman, who patrols a stretch of highway in the Wind River Canyon, an area where radio communication is almost nonexistent.

On the other hand, Rosie begins receiving calls from Bobby Womack saying “officer needs assistance.”  The problem is that Womack, a respected highwayman who patrolled the same route, died 35 years previously.  Walt and the Bear have to determine whether Rosie really is hearing the signal, or is in need of psychiatric evaluation.  What follows during the investigation is a series of events which might be ethereal, or explained by logic in the real world.  It is up to the two men (along with the reader) to determine which.

It is a clever plot and, while it is a deviation from the 11 prior entries in the series, The Highwayman is a welcome addition to the earlier books, and it is recommended.

The 13th novel in the series, The Western Star, will be published by Penguin on September 5th!

Reviewed by Ted Feit, May 2017.

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Fallout
A V.I. Warshawski Novel
Sara Paretsky
William Morrow, April 2017
ISBN: 978-0-0662-584-2
Hardcover

It all begins in Chicago, and ends up in Kansas, but VI Warhawski needs more than ruby read slippers to return home.  Apparently, a black retired movie star decided on a moment’s notice to leave the Windy City, ostensibly to visit the town where she grew up, dragging a young man man along to film her reminiscences with stops along the way to Lawrence, KS.  When the two seem to disappear, VI is retained by the woman’s concerned neighbors to find them.  The young man also is a person of interest in a drug theft at his place of employment, and Vicky becomes more wary when she discovers his apartment ransacked.

So off goes VI on the long drive to Kansas, tracing the woman’s journey and attempting to pick up a trace of the pair.  She visits Fort Riley, where she learns they stopped, but little else.  So Vicky continues on to Lawrence, where she encounters all kinds of obstructions, and becomes involved in all kinds of side issues, other than her original purpose to locate the actress and her photographer.

The reader has to plow through a rather dry start to the novel, about one-third the length of the book, before the plot begins to develop.  Then it turns into a complicated story that probably could have served as the basis for one or more novels.    All in all, Fallout is an interesting work and can be recommended despite these reservations because the author and the series are so deservedly popular.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2017.