Book Review: Birthright by Jessica Ruddick

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Title: Birthright
Series: The Legacy Series Book One

Author: Jessica Ruddick
Publication Date: January 26, 2017 (paper)
March 20, 2017 (ebook)

Genres: Dark Fantasy, Young Adult

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Purchase Links:

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Amazon // Indiebound

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Birthright
The Legacy Series Book One
Jessica Ruddick
Jessica Ruddick Books, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-946164-01-8
Trade Paperback

From the author—

How do you live with yourself when you decide who dies?

Ava Parks would have killed for an iPod for her sixteenth birthday. Anything would have been better than coming into her birthright of being a seeker for the Grim Reaper, an arrangement made by her fallen angel ancestor in exchange for his re-admittance to heaven. And she isn’t just any seeker—she finds souls that have the potential for becoming angels and sentences them to death. A year and two souls into her role as a seeker with her conscience overflowing with guilt, Ava comes up with a plan to thwart the system. When it goes awry, she is forced to submit the name of a classmate, Cole Fowler, an ornery, rough around the edges guy who always seems to come to her rescue, whether she likes it or not. Her feelings for Cole prompt her to intervene, and she saves him from death, upsetting the Grim Reaper’s agenda. 

While Ava schemes to find a way to save Cole, she learns he has some secrets of his own. She lets him believe he is protecting her, and not the other way around, until a final showdown with the Grim Reaper forces Ava to make choices Cole may never forgive.

I’ve read quite a few books (and series) that are focused on the Grim Reaper or fallen angels and the like and they’ve run the gamut when it comes to mood. Some are purely black comedy, some are mysteries with a fantastical element, a few have been more romance than anything and others have been a sort of action adventure. Birthright is a little bit of all these types.

It must be hard to cope when you find out your destiny, your “career” if you will, is all about putting the finger on people for the guy who brings death and, indeed, Ava is understandably resentful. Picking out people to become angels sounds like a good thing but….

Ava has learned to protect her own feelings by remaining detached, even from those who aren’t potential targets, but that doesn’t work when it comes to the unpleasant Xavier, the middleman she and her mom report to. Still, a year after finding out the truth, she hasn’t gotten past the lies and the betrayal that have been at the core of her own life and the thing she’s required to do is eating away at her.

Then she comes up with a foolproof plan to make this all a little fairer.

I had fun with this book and I liked Ava a lot, as well as the new hot guy, Cole, and the nerdy but sweet Kaley. The ending is a humdinger so be prepared 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2017.

About the Author

Jessica lives in Virginia with her college-sweetheart husband, two rambunctious sons, and two rowdy but lovable rescue dogs. Since her house is overflowing with testosterone, it’s a good thing she has a healthy appreciation for Marvel movies, Nerf guns, and football.
Author Links:

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Book Review: Keys to Nowhere by Dorothy H. Hayes

Keys to Nowhere
The Carol Rossi Mystery Series #3
Dorothy H. Hayes
CreateSpace, January 2017
ISBN 978-1541242876
Trade Paperback

From the author—

A Tucson vacation morphs into terror when two teenage girls and their aunt vanish. When the girls’ desperate parents beg their friend and Connecticut investigative journalist Carol Rossi for help, Rossi can’t refuse. She leaves her infant daughter, police detective husband, and treasured farm and animal sanctuary to lead the hunt through the desert. It’s 1985, and Rossi is chasing down a new kind of danger: the serial killer. When the Tucson police aren’t interested in her theories, Rossi acts alone before the killer can strike again.

I have a vague memory of the first time I heard of an abductor/killer posing as a police patrolman but what isn’t vague is how it sunk in that this is a trap all too easy for most people to fall into. Ever since, I’ve been prepared to do what the police themselves advise, to never stop at night or in a lonely area when a cop flashes the lights or taps the siren but go directly to a precinct if possible or at least a well-lit spot with people around. The first pages of Keys to Nowhere gave me the creeps as it became obvious how easy it is for a fake cop to overcome one’s natural concern and sense of self-preservation. By the end of the second chapter, I knew I was in for a heck of a story.

Carol Rossi is one smart cookie and has solved crimes before so it’s no surprise that her friend Vera begs her for help when she can’t reach her teenaged daughters and her sister who’ve been vacationing in Arizona. Helping Vera means Carol has to leave her infant daughter and her police detective husband behind in Connecticut so she’s understandably reluctant but a less than satisfactory call to the Tucson police convinces her she has to go.

Carol is an appealing protagonist, determined to find the three women despite a lack of interest from the police, but it’s the killer who really stands out in my mind because he’s so mesmerizing in his looks and smooth talk, very much like Ted Bundy. That’s the thing about really bad people—they frequently are impossible to spot until it’s too late and that’s one of the traits that’s so fascinating about them. The third character who really impressed me is 16-year-old Ginger, a girl in desperate trouble who isn’t the sort to just let things happen to her. I like this girl a lot and she’s the one who lends an atmosphere of hope to a tale of terror.

As for the story, there isn’t much that’s more intriguing than the battle between good and evil and that’s exactly what this is. It’s uncomfortable to be in the killer’s head but, at the same time, this is what makes his actions and behavior so compelling and, from page to page, I wanted, needed to know what would happen next with the tension building to almost unbearable levels.

Keys to Nowhere is one of those thrillers that blends plot and characterization on an equal basis and Ms. Hayes once again has crafted a tale that kept me enthralled from beginning to end. Anyone looking for an exciting, disturbing, highly satisfying read won’t go wrong with this one.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2017.

Book Review: Tangle of Strings by Ashley Farley

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Title: Tangle of Strings
Series: Sweeney Sisters #4
Author: Ashley Farley
Publication Date: December 2016/January 2017
Genres: Southern Fiction, Women’s Fiction

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Other books in the series:

her-sisters-shoes-2     lowcountry-stranger-2     boots-and-bedlam

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tangle-of-stringsTangle of Strings
Sweeney Sisters #4
Ashley Farley
Leisure Time Books
Print December 2016, Ebook January 2017
ISBN 978-0998274119
Trade Paperback

From the author—

A nearly tragic accident leads to a discovery that rocks the Sweeney family’s world.

Some families never resolve conflicts. Not so with the Sweeneys. Their sense of family, their love for one another, and their willingness to forgive have always triumphed and brought them back together. Until now. The latest crisis threatens to tear the family apart and crumble the foundation that has always proved itself rock solid.

At the heart of the matter are sixteen-year-old Annie Bethune and her boyfriend, Cooper. At stake are their dreams for the future. As to these dreams, no one in the family holds back when asserting an opinion.

Annie soon begins to feel like a puppet on strings with all those she loves telling her what to do. When those strings become tangled and a family feud develops, Annie, unable to bear the pressure, runs away. Straight into the arms of danger.

That’s an interesting title, isn’t it? I can see two ways of interpreting it—the tangle of strings represents the tangled web resulting from lies and poor choices or perhaps it’s an allusion to the various threads of life, both everyday and unusual, that so often create chaos at some level. I’ll leave it to you to decide once you’ve had a chance to read Tangle of Strings.

Ms. Farley continues the story of Annie who came to be a part of the extended Sweeney family with all her emotional baggage but who found a haven with this loving group of people. At the center of this family are three sisters—Jackie, Faith and Sam—who are typical siblings with their squabbles, their worries and, ultimately, their love for each other and everyone else in their circle. Annie could not have found a safer or more welcoming home.

Escaping her past is not so easy, especially when her mother, Heidi, comes to town. Heidi, who abandoned Annie as a child to pursue her dream of stardom, is one of those narcissists who see nothing beyond their own perspective. She has no understanding of how badly she hurt her daughter and behaves as though Annie should welcome her back with open arms, something this teen is not willing to do, and fleeing from her mother leads to a very bad car crash.

Emotions run high as one issue mingles with more, leading to what can be considered a real crisis. A troubled young romance, Annie’s accident and resulting injuries, Heidi’s unwanted intrusion into Annie’s life, a pair of criminals and, above all, Annie’s and Cooper’s unplanned pregnancy put so much pressure on this young girl and her surrogate family that it’s almost certain relationships and feelings will change. As in so many family situations, everyone has his or her own opinion about what needs to be done and too many forget that pushing their own agendas doesn’t really help. In fact, they come close to being that stereotypical family that can be really overbearing while the intentions are well-meaning. When all is said and done, though, the story boils down to an exploration of the relationships between parents and their children, biological or not, and the importance of truly listening to one another.

Tangle of Strings is another fine episode in Ms. Farley’s engaging series but I do suggest the series be read in order because each book builds on the one before and it’s the best way to fully understand the Sweeneys and other people in their lives. I’m sorry to say this appears to be the end of the Sweeney family saga but Ms. Farley has at least left us with the possibility of future installments and I’ll be very happy if that happens.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2017.

About the Author

Ashley Farley 2Ashley Farley is the author of the bestselling series, the Sweeney Sisters Series. Ashley writes books about women for women. Her characters are mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives facing real-life issues. Her goal is to keep you turning the pages until the wee hours of the morning. If her story stays with you long after you’ve read the last word, then she’s done her job.

After her brother died in 1999 of an accidental overdose, she turned to writing as a way of releasing her pent-up emotions. She wrote SAVING BEN in honor of Neal, the boy she worshiped, the man she could not save.

Ashley is a wife and mother of two college-aged children. She grew up in the salty marshes of South Carolina, but now lives in Richmond, Virginia, a city she loves for its history and traditions.

Ashley loves to hear from her readers. Feel free to visit her on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ashleywfarley or twitter.com/ashleywfarley.

Catch up with Ashley

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Follow the tour:

January 21st: Launch

January 22: Reading Is My SuperPower & Katie’s Clean Book Collection

January 23: Christy’s Cozy CornersMel’s Shelves, & Zerina Blossom’s Books

January 24: Mythical Books & Falling Leaves

January 25: The Silver Dagger Scriptorium & Nicole’s Book Musings

January 26: Buried Under Books

January 27: Grand Finale

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Book Review: Confessions of a Celebrity Bodyguard by Thomas Fitzsimmons

confessions-of-a-celebrity-bodyguardConfessions of a Celebrity Bodyguard
Thomas Fitzsimmons
Thomas Fitzsimmons Inc., March 2016
ISBN: 978-0-9789-7626-2
Trade Paperback

As with the earlier novel by Thomas Fitzsimmons, Confessions of a Catholic Cop, which introduced readers to Police Officer Michael Beckett, and its sequel, Confessions of a Suicidal Policewoman, the current book’s authenticity is immediately apparent.  With good reason:  Following his service in the Navy during the Vietnam War, the author was an NYC cop for a decade in the notorious section of the South Bronx known as Fort Apache.  Not surprisingly, Michael Beckett has a similar background, which also includes acting on tv, the fictional aspect having Beckett portray – what else? – a cop, on the show “Law & Order.”  (His creator did work on NBC TV shows as well.  So he definitely knows whereof he speaks.)

Beckett is still dealing with the emotional aftermath of his sister’s death, of a drug overdose, at the age of 18, with all the attendant guilt and desire for revenge against the drug dealers who’d sold her the poison that had ultimately killed her.  That desire for revenge is perhaps what led Beckett to become involved with some former and current members of the NYPD known as “rockers” – a group of vigilantes who, for a price, do what the “legitimate” cops can’t do – among other things, rid houses of the drug dealers who inhabit them, “evicting” them by whatever means necessary, violent or otherwise.  The history of that group, who became known as “Beckett’s Rockers,” leads to a current investigation by the Feds, who seem determined to take over the NYPD altogether.

The more prominent investigation here revolves around the search for a serial celebrity stalker known as The Angel of Death.  Some of the celebrities he stalked have died from tainted heroin.  The first of these was six years ago, when a 21-year-old superstar was found dead by her bodyguards, then off-duty police officer [and moonlighting] Michael Beckett and his father, a retired NYPD police lieutenant.

The book opens with the current client of Lisi & Beckett Protective Services Inc. [owned by “Sweet Tommy” Lisi, mob-connected and his father’s business partner before his father’s death], a 19-year-old D-list reality TV star Francine “Tata” Andolini.  Beckett is working with his former lover, Destiny Jones, with whom he has a they-still-love-each-other relationship, complicated by all his former lovers who are still in the picture from time to time.  Tata is described as a “barely literate whack-a-doodle on an inane reality TV show.”  (That speaks for itself with no further commentary needed from me.)

There are several other tragic deaths in the background here, and some other horrific criminal acts, e.g., the night Destiny was gunned down in the line of duty, Beckett killing the perpetrator.  Also prominent is the death by apparent suicide of the fiancée of Tommy McKee, one of the Rockers, McKee still traumatized by her death years later.

Beckett is recently retired from the NYPD, after 18 years in the 41st Precinct, and doesn’t quite know what to do with himself, feeling like a “dinosaur” who didn’t fit in any more.  His father had been a cop for 35 years, as had two of his uncles. The author certainly brings to life the Yorkville section of Manhattan and its denizens, and other areas of the tri-State area, and has the patois – well, down pat!  He brings the book to an exciting conclusion, and I found the pages turning more and more quickly, reading it in less than 72 hours.  As with its predecessors in the series, this newest entry is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, August 2016.

Book Review: The Third Knife by Pamela Boles Eglinski

the-third-knifeThe Third Knife
Catalina & Bonhomme Series #1
Pamela Boles Eglinski
LWF Publishing, October 2015
ISBN 978-0692549087
Trade Paperback

Catalina’s parents send her away from their vineyard farmhouse into the night with a guide to escape the advance of the Germans into Italy. She is sent to find her mother’s relatives in France who can help hide the family’s fortune, a blue diamond necklace that’s been in the family since the French Revolution. Germans are on the trails, however, and the journey doesn’t go as planned. Catalina ends up as a young maquis, a French Resistance fighter.

This World War II tale is three narratives in one. First, it’s the story of a young Italian signorina who escapes from the Germans to France with her family’s fortune around her waist and finds her first love in the process. Next is a passionate story about a group of young French resistance members, the maquis, and their dangerous campaigns against the Nazis. Finally, there’s a tale of French and Italian wines and the vintners who produce the grapes.

We are educated about the period, the land, and the war even as the story pulls at our heartstrings, horrifies us, pulls us into the plot, and leaves us with a lasting impression of characters we learn to love and admire. There are maps and explanations at the end of the book and an introduction to the book, Return of the French Blue, to which The Third Knife is the prequel.

Reviewed by Joyce Ann Brown, September 2016.
http://www.joyceannbrown.com
Author of cozy mysteries: Catastrophic Connections, Furtive Investigation and Nine LiFelines, the first three Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mysteries.

Book Review: The Arrow Catcher by Jim Mather

the-arrow-catcherThe Arrow Catcher
Jim Mather
CreateSpace, September 2013
ISBN: 978-0-615-94538-5
Trade Paperback

Boston, summer, 1948. A celebration and fund raiser for the new state of Israel attended by teen Jonathan Lusk with his parents. It is a day filled with tragedy and death. Before long, Jonathan is living in Japan with his grandfather, called to sit as a judge in the war crimes trials against Japanese criminals. He too, along with his Japanese wife, is soon murdered, Jonathan is sent to a military school and the real story begins.

The prospect of an American teenaged boy, regardless of his connections to important Japanese society, alone in a military training camp shortly after the conclusion of World War II is likely to be short-lived. Yet, against almost monumental odds, the plucky youth survives and readers will be treated to an enthralling inside look at Japanese culture, mores, and many ancient rituals and traditions.

Lusk endures all of the cultural and social strains, plus immense language difficulties, not to mention the normal flow of growing early teen-aged angst. Yet he determines to persevere and survive. He not only survives the real dangers of resentment by fellow students, but evil forces swirl around him when he is drawn into kidnapping and assassination plots by evil forces operating outside the schools.

The novel is not without its problems. It needed a sharp and careful editing of grammar and typography. Yet the relentless and constant push of the author’s style tends to overcome the difficulties. It was a fascinating and worthwhile experience.

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 Inside Passage by Carl Brookins

The Inside PassageThe Inside Passage
Carl Brookins
Brookins Books, February 2016
ISBN 978-0-9853906-7-9
Trade Paperback

From the author—

Murder, mystery and adventure on the restless ocean waters off the rugged coast of British Columbia. Seattle PR executive Michael Tanner sails to Desolation Sound with his wife and their close friend. It’s a relaxing, shakedown cruise for three amateur sailors. On a foggy morning disaster strikes and Tanner stands accused of negligence. With no help from the authorities, Tanner sets out to find the people who murdered his wife and her friend.

Back in 2000, Carl Brookins launched the first entry in his Michael Tanner series which focused on a Seattle-based public relations executive who sailed as a hobby. Inner Passages was published by Top Publications and was followed by 4 more books. Now, the author has re-released a revised, updated edition under the title The Inside Passage and I’m very glad he did; in the ensuing 16 years, there is no doubt he has become a more accomplished writer and this new edition is all the better for it.

When a much larger boat runs down his sailboat, killing his wife and their friend, Michael Tanner becomes nearly obsessed with tracking it down, believing it to have been a deliberate attack. The authorities insist it was an accident and Michael’s friends and colleagues watch worriedly as he puts his life and career aside to search for the yacht and answers. Some people believe Michael was at fault and, while he knows in his heart the deaths of Beth and Alice were intentional, he can’t help the feelings of inadequacy and guilt. He isn’t alone, though—his partners, Jeremiah and Perry, stand beside him in his quest.

The beauty of this book lies in the author’s clear love and knowledge of sailing, evoking the lure of nautical experiences that simply can’t be fully understood by those, like me, who have limited exposure to life on the water. His descriptions of the fog…the loneliness and isolation as well as the creepiness that comes naturally with not being able to see your surroundings…put me right on that doomed boat. Another element of the story that I found unusual and really sensible is the passing of time. This is no mystery solved in two days or a week; months, even years, go by and that, to me, is really logical when it comes to an amateur investigation. This also allows for the introduction of a new love interest, Mary Whitney, without it seeming as though things were rushed.

Mr. Brookins drew me into Michael’s world and his need to find the answers that will bring justice for Beth and Alice and, perhaps, peace for himself. I like this new and improved Michael Tanner and hope to see much more of him in the future.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2016.