Book Reviews: Give the Devil His Due by Steve Hockensmith with Lisa Falco and Shadow of the Wolf by Tim Hall

Give the Devil his Due
A Tarot Mystery #3
Steve Hockensmith with Lisa Falco
Midnight Ink, April 2017
ISBN 978-0-7387-4224-3
Trade Paperback

Alanis MacLachlan grew up as the daughter of a notorious con artist, who often used the girl as part of her scams. Alanis never went to school, or knew her father, and her mother changed their names every few weeks.  After her mother was murdered, she left her daughter the White Magic Five and Dime, an occult themed tourist trap and fortune telling parlor in Berdoche, Arizona, a low rent version of Sedona. A teenage half sister, Clarice, was also left in Alanis’ care.

Alanis reads the cards of a middle aged man who turns up dead at a hotel the next day. Who could have killed him? She has her suspicions when a man from her mother’s past appears. Biddle, a man who her mother lived with and was as much as a father figure as Alanis ever had in her life, was last seen in an Ohio cornfield being pursued by armed gangsters. It’s no coincidence—as Alanis discover when an eccentric German billionaire shows up in town looking for a Van Gogh painting that was stolen years ago. Did Alanis’ mother have something to do with it?

Readers who have enjoyed Hockensmith’s Holmes on the Range and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies will enjoy this series featuring a con artist gone straight. This is third in the series of Tarot mysteries.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, May 2017.

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Shadow of the Wolf
Sherwood’s Doom #1
Tim Hall
David Fickling Books/Scholastic, Inc., June 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-81664-9
Hardcover

The story of Robin Hood has captivated crowds from Disney fans to lovers of Mel Brooks’ “Men In Tights”.  Mr. Hall breathes fresh, furious berserker air into the fable.  Although this telling is like no other, there are scenes and scenarios that are spot-on similar to my fondest recollections.  Shadow of the Wolf is Robin Hood, maiden Marian, the evil Sheriff of Nottingham; but with back-story that explains so much, yet reveals so little.

Sympathy for Robin comes quickly.  In his own village, and on every encounter, it appears that no one is completely honest with him.  Reactions rage from wary to fearful to furious; nowhere is welcoming to the young boy banished to Summerwoods.   The story of his beloved bow is just one of many secrets shared.  We become painfully privy to how Robin Hood was raised, then, abandoned. Acutely aware of the actions that shaped him as he struggled to survive; alone except for the bewitching young Marian and the half-mad goddess and god of the foreboding forest.

The first blow of finding out he isn’t who he thought—his family origins, even his birth date, are false—paled when compared to the remarkable revelation that he is being actively pursued by both the Sheriff of Nottingham, determined to destroy all Winter-Born, and Sir Bors who claims to be the only haven for those creatures born in the cold months among the terrifying trees.

Mr. Hall teases, doling out morsels of mystery in tiny, tantalizing tastes to thoroughly whet the appetite.  Content to keep us guessing, one part of the puzzle begins to take shape, while a brand new picture appears to emerge.  Enveloped in action, Robin Hood actually fights for his life and tickled by fancy, moved with magic, he learns to acknowledge, accept and adapt.  I believe that fans of fantasy, adventure, mystery and magic (from high school students to senior citizens) will relish this retelling.

Reviewed by jv poore, October 2016.

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Book Review: Frozen Charlotte by Alex Bell

Frozen Charlotte
Alex Bell
Scholastic Press, November 2016
ISBN 978-0-545-94108-2
Hardcover

Everything began innocently enough. Sophie and her best friend Jay sitting in a cafe. He’d downloaded an ouija board app on his smartphone and was insistent they try it. Despite a sense of dread, she goes along reluctantly, but something seems to hijack the app, sending them really scary messages. Then the lights go out and all hell breaks loose. Someone in the cafe kitchen is badly burned and Sophie swears she saw a tall, ghostly figure atop one of the tables. Spooked by the experience, she pleads with Jay to take the towpath home when riding his rickety bike instead of going by way of the heavily traveled streets. The next day, she learns to her horror that he lost the brakes on his bike, slid into a canal and drowned.

Thus begins a series of scary and inexplicable events for Sophie. Her parents have a long anticipated anniversary trip to San Francisco, but are willing to cancel it because of what happened to Jay. Knowing that they’ll lose a bunch of money if this happens, stiffens her resolve to go stay with her strange relatives in an old girl’s school on the Isle of Skye they converted into a super menacing mansion.

Once there, things alternate between creepy and creepier. (Imagine highlights from “The Shining” if the cast were ripped from “The Munsters” minus any comedy and you’d be off to a good beginning.) Her uncle is an artist and essentially clueless about what’s happening, one of her cousins, Rebecca, died years ago under mysterious circumstances, but her ghost keeps reappearing (is she coming back to warn Sophie, or scare the heck out of her?) Then there’s her slightly older cousin Cameron, a brilliant pianist who suffered a terrible injury to one hand, severely hampering his dreams of becoming a world famous musician. Sophie can’t decide if he hates her or everyone in general. Next comes Piper, who is insanely beautiful and the same age as Sophie. At first, she seems like a breath of fresh air, but the longer Sophie’s around her, the more confused she is about who the real Piper is. Then there’s Lilias, the youngest girl who once tried to remove her own collarbone with a butcher knife. She’s hostile toward Sophie in the beginning, but the longer they’re around each other, the more they need to trust and rely on each other.

Add in that her aunt is locked up in a mental hospital, that there is an army of super creepy dolls remaining from when the school was in operation, coupled with a trash-talking parrot and generally gloomy weather and you have a grand recipe for a top notch YA horror story. Even if you start figuring out who was responsible for what nastiness before the end, it won’t matter because reading this makes for a grand and scary ride. Let’s hope the power doesn’t go out while you’re doing so.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, February 2017.

Book Review: Unlocked by Margo Kelly

Unlocked Tour Banner

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Title: Unlocked
Author: Margo Kelly
Publisher: Merit Press

Publication Date: October 1, 2016
Genres: Mystery, Thriller, Young Adult

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Purchase Links:

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unlockedUnlocked
Margo Kelly
Merit Press, October 2016
ISBN 978-1-4405-9359-8
Hardcover

From the publisher—

A provocative thriller involving hypnosis, mystery, love, and friendship!

Someone has been moving the stuffed pink elephant in Hannah’s room. She thinks. And ants crawl over her hands, across the steering wheel, all the time. Don’t they? They’re what made her crash the car on the way home from the fair, and she wouldn’t have freaked out, wouldn’t have caused her friend’s death, for no reason. But she doesn’t know if a person is messing with her, if the paranormal is messing with her–or if she’s just going psychotic like her dad before her.

When her friends bail, Hannah is left floundering. Not even her boyfriend Manny believes her, and new girl Chelsea is practically replacing her at school. Only artsy outsider and self-proclaimed occult expert, Plug, agrees to help Hannah find out the truth about hypnosis and demons, and even he can’t help Hannah reclaim her mind from whatever’s taking over. She’ll have to do that herself if she wants to save her friends, her mom and herself.

Some reviews are more difficult to write than others for a variety of reasons. In this case, I was affected by the premise of Hannah’s story.

I’m not speaking from personal experience, thank heavens, but I think it must be so very hard to believe you’re losing your mind, especially when you’ve sen it in your family, giving the possibility a lot of credence. Imagine, then, how much worse it must be when Hannah has to cope with the fact that she has killed a friend when in the grip of one of these episodes.

Knowing that there might be other explanations for what’s happening to her isn’t exactly comforting and the way her classmates distance themselves from her doesn’t help. It seems there are very few people in Hannah’s court but she at least has Plug, a guy who’s far more reliable and caring than she could have expected. With his help, Hannah will soon find that the demons are far worse than she feared but that she has an inner strength that just might save her.

Hannah is a girl I can like, very vulnerable but resilient, but it’s her new friends who really captured me. Plug, Nick and Kyla are refreshing and loyal and, above all, they have faith in Hannah.

Although Ms. Kelly has done a fine job with an emotionally wrenching topic, I do have to say I wasn’t crazy about the structure of the book, specifically the very lengthy chapters. I prefer being able to come to a natural stop more often (I hate putting a book down in the middle of a chapter) and that’s especially true with such an intense story; I need a break sometimes. Still, Ms. Kelly has caught my attention with Unlocked and I’m looking forward to seeing more from her.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2016.

About the Author

margo-kellyMargo Kelly is a native of the Northwest and currently resides in Idaho. A veteran public speaker, Margo is now actively pursuing her love of writing. Her critically acclaimed debut, Who R U Really?, was published by Merit Press (an imprint of F+W Media) in 2014. Her second novel, Unlocked, will be published by Merit Press in October 2016. Margo welcomes opportunities to speak to youth groups, library groups, and book clubs.

Margo Kelly loves to be scared … when she’s reading a good book, watching a good movie, or suffering from the hiccups. She loves writing thrillers for young adults and hopes her stories give you the goose bumps or the itchies or the desire to rethink everyday things. Margo is represented by the not-so-scary, but totally awesome, Brianne Johnson of Writers House.

Author Links:

WebsiteGoodreadsTwitterFacebookInstagram

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Book Review: Evil Turns by Jane Tesh

Evil TurnsEvil Turns
A Madeline Maclin Mystery #5
Jane Tesh
Poisoned Pen Press, May 2016
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0521-7
Hardcover

Madeline Maclin and Jerry Fairweather are a power couple to be sure. Based in the (fictional) town of Celosia, North Carolina, although Jerry comes from “old” money, they make their living via Madeline’s detective agency and Jerry’s job as a breakfast cook in a restaurant. Sounds mundane, except that she is a former beauty queen, and he is a former con man. At least she trusts he’s a “former” con man.

The story begins with the discovery of a young man’s naked body, found in the woods with symbols written over it. The symbols seem to point to witchcraft. The question is, is it connected with a coven from twenty-five years ago, or a present one that is based on a popular movie and book series?

Meanwhile, a wealthy woman has demanded the town’s backing as she bulls her way forward with plans to celebrate Celosia’s centennial. This includes a musical play written by and starring herself, with the other residents compelled to contribute talent, time and money. And if they don’t, look out, or they may just be murdered. At least that’s what happened to city councilman Harold Stover who adamantly protested against the play because the town can’t afford it. Who else wanted to kill him except Amanda Price, in a hurry to get all opposition out of the way?

That’s what Madeline has to find out, with a lot of help from her husband.

This is book five of the series. I’ve read one or two others, and I’m always up for a visit with this pair. I love the setting, the small town, and Madeline and Jerry as well as Denisha and Austin, who are a couple of neighbor kids who look on Jerry as a willing playmate.

I did have one problem with the story, and that concerns the number of characters introduced. Perhaps they expanded the pool from which to select the murderer, but with so many, it was a little hard to keep track. The whole town was involved!

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

Book Review: Known Devil by Justin Gustainis—and a Giveaway!

Known DevilKnown Devil
An Occult Crimes Unit Investigation
Justin Gustainis
Angry Robot, January 2014
ISBN 978-0-85766-166-1
Mass Market Paperback

From the publisher—

My name’s Markowski. I carry a badge. Also, a crucifix, some wooden stakes, a big vial of holy water, and a 9mm Beretta loaded with silver bullets.

A new supernatural gang is intent on invading Scranton – as if I didn’t have enough to contend with!

Supernatural gang warfare? Not on my watch!

Mix some elves, vampires, goblins and werewolves; add turf wars among the vampire fangsters, sleazy politics and drug-addicted supes (supernaturals); toss with a human police detective and his vamp partner and what do you get? Why, impending chaos in the streets of Scranton, of course!

Stan Markowski and his partner, Karl Renfer, have been my favorite pair of crossgenre detectives since I read Hard Spell, first in the Occult Crimes Unit series, in 2011. My enjoyment continued with the second book, Evil Dark, and I’m just as happy now with Known Devil. Stan and Karl fight crime just as police detectives everywhere do but it just so happens that many of the bad guys they have to deal with are supes. Some of those—elves, for instance—are just annoyances compared to the vampire gang run by the vampfather, Don Pietro Calabrese, so the guys are caught by surprise when they run  into a pair of clearly high elves in an armed robbery because everyone knows no supes are susceptible to drugs except goblins.

The questions about this mysterious drug known as Slide soon lead to more disturbing events and then shootings and other attacks on the vamps begin to escalate. Much to everyone’s discomfort, it becomes apparent that the evil the Scranton cops know may not be nearly as alarming as what’s come to town.

Any reader who is bothered by vulgar language should be prepared to see a lot of it in this book. Personally, I don’t much like it but I do feel it’s pretty appropriate in a noir tale such as this. Let’s face it, gangsters and cops don’t sugarcoat their language and the story would be weak if such word choices weren’t included. That aside, there’s really nothing about Known Devil that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy and it was a real pleasure to spend time with Stan and Karl and their colleagues and even some of the bad guys. Mr. Gustainis ties off the ending with a hint of things to come and I wish I didn’t have to wait so long for the next book.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2014.

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One lucky reader will win a copy of Known Devil
by Justin Gustainis and you have two chances

to enter the drawing. For the first entry, leave a
comment here on today’s review. For the second
entry, come back tomorrow, February 7th, and
leave a comment on Justin’s guest post. The
winning name will be chosen at random on the
evening of Monday, February 10th. This drawing
is open internationally and the winner
can choose print, Epub or Mobi.

A Contest Winner and Book Review: Hard Spell by Justin Gustainis

 

Congratulations to Terry Parrish,

winner of a signed copy of Under the Dog Star

by Sandra Parshall!

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Hard SpellHard Spell
Justin Gustainis
Angry Robot Books, July 2011
ISBN 9780857661159
Mass Market Paperback

Detective Stan Markowski and his partner, Karl Renfer, have been called out to a crime scene but it’s not your run of the mill crime scene. These cops are part of the Scranton, PA, Occult Crimes Unit which was set up to handle crimes involving the local supernatural community, folks known to Stan and Karl as “supes”. In this case, a wizard has been tortured to death to make him give up a crucial artifact and then vampires begin to be murdered—yes, the undead can be murdered. They discover that these crimes are not limited to Scranton and that a very, very bad wizard with evil intentions may be involved.

Amongst all this are meth head goblins, white and black and gray witches and assorted demons of the hungry sort.

Adding to the problem is the fact that Stan has a personal attachment to the supernatural world, an attachment caused by a deliberate and extremely difficult choice he made in the past, and the wrong move could prove to be devastating. Stan and Karl (who has a penchant for all things James Bond), with a little help from some friends and more than a bit of hindrance from a pair of distinctly unpleasant witchfinders, have to pull out their usual weapons—crosses, silver bullets, wooden stakes and holy water—and get into some heavyduty detecting. The final outcome will almost certainly be deadly but to whom?

There was one thing I didn’t particularly care for in this story and that’s the fairly lightweight roles given to the females (although they don’t need to be kickbutt, a little more self-reliance would be nice) . Having said that, Hard Spell was really enjoyable for its blend of humor and horror. I also appreciated the characterization of the supes as being generally badass with an occasional sense of honor, none of this cutesy stuff so prevalent these days in urban fantasy. Gustainis also has developed the characters of Stan and Karl enough so I really liked them and cared what happened to them but he hasn’t overdone it—there is more to be learned in the next book.

There is some strong language and the violence is not for the faint of heart but neither of those elements bothered me, probably because I expect them in a noirish novel. When all is said and done, I strongly recommend Hard Spell and I’m looking forward to the next book. After all, who can resist a SWAT (Sacred Weapons and Tactics) team hellhound named Daisy?

By the way, don’t call 911 for a supe emergency—dial 666.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2011.

Book Reviews: Gloria Feit X 3

Trick of the Dark
Val McDermid
Little, Brown, 2010
ISBN 978-1-4087-0201-7
Hardcover

[This book is presently available only in/through the UK and Canada, not available in the US at this time]

As the book opens, Dr. Charlotte [“Charlie”] Flint finds her professional life as a forensic psychiatrist in tatters, her reputation destroyed, and awaiting a hearing by the General Medical Council to will decide whether or not she can be reinstated as an expert in her field.

Magdalene [“Magda”] Newsam, a pediatric oncologist, is a 28-year-old woman whose husband was killed on their wedding night, attending the trial of her husband’s partners for his murder.  One of the two hubs of this book is Magda’s mother, Corinna Newsam, who was Charlie’s tutor while an undergraduate at St. Scholastika’s College, Oxford University, which is the other point around which all else revolves. Each of the characters’ ties to Corinna and Oxford have shaped their lives to this point.  As is the case also with Jay Stewart, wildly successful businesswoman in the throes of writing her second memoir following her first bestseller, the point of view throughout the book variously that of the three younger women.

Corinna asks Charlie to investigate whether, as she suspects, Jay Stewart had something to do with her son-in-law’s death, mostly due to the fact that Jay is now romantically involved with Magda.  Seeking redemption, Charlie agrees. As the solution drew near, the feeling that I knew what lay ahead didn’t diminish the suspense or the intricacy of the plot.  And, of course, I was completely wrong in my expectations.

Few of the characters in the book are male; few of the romantic relationships/entanglements are heterosexual, a fact noteworthy only in the prejudices thereby aroused in others which are essential to the plot.  The novel, though somewhat lengthy, is an absorbing and worthy addition to Ms. McDermid’s past novels, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2010.

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Thirteen Hours
Deon Meyer
Translated by K. L. Seegers
Atlantic Monthly Press, 2010
ISBN 978-0-8021-1958-2
Hardcover

Post-Apartheid South Africa has undergone many traumatic changes.  But for homicide detective Benny Griessel, nothing much changes except for the murder victims, the politics, unsettled race relations and his own personal problems.  Benny is saddled with “mentoring” newly promoted black or “colored” detectives.  Of course, he is the only experienced white.

The plot involves two murders and a kidnapping, each a potential PR disaster for the SA government.  It is up to Benny and his untested troops to save a captive American girl who witnessed the murder of her fellow tourist. Meanwhile, a well-known music executive is found shot in his home with his pistol lying at his feet, his alcoholic wife
asleep in a chair.

Deon Meyer has written six novels and Thirteen Hours is probably the best (not taking anything away from its predecessors).  It is taut, moving and deeply memorable, and is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2010.

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The Immortals
J.T. Ellison
MIRA Books, 2010
ISBN 978-0-7783-2763-9
Mass Market Paperback

This newest entry in the Taylor Jackson series could be termed a procedural with a twist.  It includes elements of the occult: Goth, Wicca, Satanic and Pagan rituals and beliefs.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit that in general, “woo woo” is not my favorite genre.  This novel, however, does not ask readers to believe in the occult, merely to accept that there are those that do.  And on that basis, I had no problem with it at all.  More to the point, I found it equally as enjoyable as the earlier books in this series, of which this is the fifth.

All events transpire over a four-day period, beginning, significantly, on October 31st [usually known as Halloween or, if one follows the occult, Samhain, which is the Wiccan New Year.]  As the book opens, Taylor Jackson has just been reinstated as a Lieutenant in the Nashville Metro Police Department, heading up the Murder Squad.  The squad assembles hurriedly when there are reports of multiple victims and multiple crime scenes, at least seven dead in five different houses, all victims between fourteen and eighteen years of age.  The persons responsible seem to be the eponymous, if self-styled, Immortals.  Is this, as it starts to appear, a case of vampires and witches running amok in Nashville, Tennessee?

Paralleling this investigation in the novel is one that revolves around events which began in June of 2004 with the discovery of the fifth victim of what the media dubs The Clockwork Killer, which involved Dr. John Baldwin, Supervisory Special Agent and Taylor’s fiancé, and which he must revisit when a hearing into the matter is being held at FBI headquarters at Quantico.  In each case, the present and the past, there is an inherent threat of further loss of young lives, both aspects of the book equally suspenseful.  [I couldn’t help but note that Dr. Baldwin displays good taste in writers, reading a copy of a John Connolly book in one scene.]  The occult aspect becomes just another part of the background and not a deterrent to this reader’s enjoyment of the book.  As is pointed out to Taylor, “Everyone needs something to believe in.  Pagans just look to things that are a bit more tangible than what you and I are aware of.”  The Immortals, as were the other books in the series, is recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2010.