Book Review: Justice by Joseph Badal—and a Giveaway! @JoeBadal @suspensemag

Justice
The Curtis Chronicles #3
Joseph Badal
Suspense Publishing, November 2019
ISBN 978-0-578-55928-5
Trade Paperback

A lot of action, a lot of characters, a tight story and several clichés. For anyone looking for an action-packed beach-read here’s one that should fill the bill. The story is tight, cleanly presented and nicely resolved. It spans the Western Hemisphere from the United States to Nicaragua and back.

Mathew Curtis and his wife, Renee, travel the globe. He’s a medical man, a former doctor, who travels the world lecturing about his company’s orthotics products. His wife often travels with him, in part because they have been targeted in the past by a smart but deranged human trafficker.

Lonnie Jackson is a wealthy, evil schemer with a world network of drug dealers and smooth-talking recruiters of young women, ostensibly for low-level but honest jobs in western cities. The reality, of course, is quite different. Jackson blames Matt and Renee for his family’s deaths and has waited years for revenge.

Jackson is living and thriving in Nicaragua. Matt Curtis comes to Costa Rica next door for a medical conference. Jackson plans a vicious kidnapping and murder. Meanwhile in Washington and Bulgaria, plans and events crawl toward a vortex of insane violence. The question is always, will Renee and Matt survive and be reunited?

The pace of the novel is relentless, the writing is strong and spare. For some readers, the patterns will be a problem. The bad guys have rotten teeth and terrible breath, the CIA and most of the U.S. government is corrupt to some degree, the good-looking and smartest, most adept, people are the small group of Matt’s friends, former military men, who come together to help in the direst of circumstances, using all their skills and expertise.

There are a couple of interesting twists toward the end of the story which are truly unexpected. They provide an intriguing basis for later novels, grab reader’s attention and remain just out of reach for fans of this novelist.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, January 2020.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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Giveaway

To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Justice by Joseph Badal, leave
a comment below. The winning name
will be drawn on Monday evening,
January 20th. Open to residents
of the US and Canada.

Book Reviews: Colombiano by Rusty Young, Abby in Wonderland by Sarah Mlynowski and Otherwise Known As Possum by Maria D. Laso @SarahMlynowski @Scholastic

Colombiano
Rusty Young
Havelock & Baker, August 2017
ISBN–AU 9780143781547
Havelock & Baker, February 2020
ISBN–US 978-0648445319
Trade Paperback

You can’t truly know what someone else is going through without walking in his shoes. Unless Mr. Young writes about it. In Colombiano, those of us fortunate enough to be far removed from any war zone, see exactly what living amid battles entails; in day-to-day life, as well the overall impact it has on absolutely everything.

Certainly, most people know that the Guerilla evoke evil with their aggressive cocaine manufacturing and distribution. The gross misunderstanding is that the Guerilla are fighting the army and law enforcement; not citizens. Leading to the false conclusion that, if folks go about their business, there’s no real reason for this pesky fighting to bother them. The carefully controlled propaganda supports this theory. Even having the place of worship utterly obliterated by “errant” fire is only an unfortunate consequence.

Pedro has listened to placates until he thought his head may explode. Papi made sure he contained, or at least properly channeled, his rage. There was Camila to consider. Rounding out the small group of people close to Pedro is the somewhat goofy, undeniably adorable, Pallilo. Pedro can push his anger aside for them.

Right up until the Guerilla descended on his father’s farm. In front of his disbelieving eyes, Papi is surrounded as accusations are hurled. The feisty fifteen-year-old cannot watch the depraved tirade and hold his tongue. Boldly, stupidly, Pedro demands an explanation. His father’s crime was revealed with a hint of glee. The farmer had the audacity to allow soldiers from the army to drink water from his well.

The resulting punishment is a defining, dividing moment for Pedro. There are men like Papi. Those who believed, as people of God, it was never right to deny a thirsty man a drink. And there are monsters masquerading as men—the Guerilla.

The situation that Pedro is forced to face is tragic. His retaliatory actions, atrocious. And yet…the author manages to demonstrate how a furious and yes, frightened, adolescent can morph into a ruthless mankiller—all the while reminding the reader that Pedro remains, essentially, a boy.

Reviewed by jv poore, November 2019.

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Abby in Wonderland
Whatever After Special Edition #1
Sarah Mlynowski
Scholastic, Inc., October 2018
ISBN 978-0-545-74667-0
Trade Paperback

Sustaining a series is no simple task. Inserting a special edition story that is somehow as fresh and fun as the very first book seems insurmountable. Except to Ms. Mlynowski.

This fairy-tale-esque fantasy adds adventure and humor absolutely appropriate for younger readers, while maintaining a subtle, something-more; making it compelling and quirky enough for older audiences as well.

I enjoyed being the proverbial parrot-on-the-shoulder as four friends share a day off from school. Per usual, Penny’s parents are not around, but her house is huge and her nanny is happy to host. Penny has planned the entire day and she is not going to let a little cold air or a brisk breeze ruin the card game on the patio.

But when the wind whipped a card across the yard and into the neighboring golf-course, Abby abruptly abandoned the game to give chase. The other three follow until Frankie falls into a hole. Penny’s agenda is pushed aside. The girls have a real problem to solve.

Reviewed by jv poore, March 2019.

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Otherwise Known As Possum
Maria D. Laso
Scholastic Press, August 2018
ISBN 978-0-545-93196-0
Trade Paperback

Possum, to me, is kind of a country Pippi Longstocking. Both young girls are wise to the ways of the world, if not properly educated. Tough, fiercely independent with lasting loyalty and a heart bigger than her small body should be able to hold, Possum is another exemplary young lady.

Certainly a smile-through-tears kind of story combining spunk, mischief and intuitive, undeniable kindness, I thoroughly enjoyed the bitter-sweet reflections from the late 20th century in this captivating Juvenile Fiction from Ms. Laso.

Reviewed by jv poore, December 2018.

Book Review: Oasis by Katya de Becerra @KatyaDeBecerra @MacmillanUSA @FierceReads @The_FFBC

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Title: Oasis
Author: Katya de Becerra
Publisher: Imprint/Macmillan
Publication Date: January 7, 2020
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // iBooks
Google Play // Amazon // Indiebound

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Oasis
Katya de Becerra
Imprint, January 2020
ISBN 978-1-250-12426-5
Hardcover

From the publisher—

The oasis saved them. But who will save them from the oasis?

Alif had exciting summer plans: working on her father’s archaeological dig site in the desert with four close friends . . . and a very cute research assistant. Then the sandstorm hit.

With their camp wiped away, Alif and the others find themselves lost on the sands, seemingly doomed . . . until they find the oasis. It has everything they need: food, water, shade—and mysterious ruins that hide a deadly secret. As reality begins to shift around them, they question what’s real and what’s a mirage.

The answers turn Alif and her friends against one another, and they begin to wonder if they’ve truly been saved. And while it was easy to walk into the oasis, it may be impossible to leave . . .

Katya de Becerra’s new supernatural thriller hides a mystery in plain sight, and will keep you guessing right up to its terrifying conclusion.

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The first thing that caught my eye about this book was the absolutely beautiful and brilliant cover. Elynn Cohen is listed as the book designer and I assume this also means she designed the cover but can’t be sure. Whoever the artist is, brava!

The second thing that got my attention about this book was the synopsis—there is nothing I like better than an archaeology setting in a crossgenre science fiction and mystery story and this one offers hints of horror and supernatural goings on.

The third thing that struck me about this book was the statement shown above, found on the copyright page, hilarious and very much to the point 😁

So, did Oasis and its author come through for me after so much promise? You betcha, but with a tiny bit of disappointment because I was hoping for a creepy horror show and this doesn’t quite get there. Having said that, I was intrigued by the author’s continual introduction of one strange thing after another, such as a desperate man who walks out of the desert, a mindblowing sandstorm (no pun intended), equipment that doesn’t work, an oasis that seems to mean survival but, hmm, perhaps not…

The oasis has a weird and frightening effect on the six people who have reached it and I enjoyed seeing their darker sides and how Alif, in particular, copes with unexpected personality changes in herself and others. In fact, it was refreshing to have characters whose friendships are not all sunshine and lollipops for a change.

When all is said and done, what’s real, what’s hallucination? Or is there maybe something out there?

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, January 2020.

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An Excerpt from Oasis

You don’t really know heat until you come to a place like Dubai. The air was so humid it was like being in a sauna with your clothes on. Every inhale burned and tickled my throat. I tried breathing through my mouth to see if that was any better, but it made it worse. The second we stepped outside, Tommy produced a baseball cap from his pocket and put it on. Watching him, I felt irresponsible for packing all my headgear in my checked-in luggage and not in my carry-on, where it’d be easily accessible. During our short walk to the airport parking lot, the top of my head got so hot I was surely headed for heatstroke. Luke mimicked Tommy and put a cap on, pulling the brim as low as he could to shade his pale, freckled face. Lori unfurled the tasteful silky gauze scarf she had wrapped around her neck and spread it over her head in a casual but stylish way. Only Minh, Rowen, and I remained at the sun’s mercy until we reached Tommy’s monstrous four-wheel drive.

Tommy and Rowen secured some of our luggage to the top of the car, while the rest of our stuff was pushed into the spacious trunk. At last, I climbed inside the blissfully cool car, grateful for air-conditioning.

“Well, this is Dubai, kids,” Tommy said, eyeing our oddball group in the rearview mirror. “I hope you’re ready for the experience of your lives.”

“Yeah, that didn’t come off cheesy at all.” Minh snorted, and I caught a glimpse of Tommy grinning at her. I promptly looked out the window, focusing on the view instead of wondering whether Minh’s exchange with Tommy counted as mutual flirting.

As we drove farther and farther away the airport, the city of Dubai rose from the desert. A mirage of modernity, complete with skyscrapers glistering in the sunlight. The excitement that was pummeling blood against my ears dwindled when we didn’t enter the limits of the city proper, instead veering left and setting course for Tell Abrar, where Dad and the endless sea of dust awaited us. That was the reason we were here—the dig site. I could always check out Dubai with my friends on one of the weekends.

My eyes were glued to the car window, busy taking in the desert’s Mars-like scenery, alternating with modest houses and gas stations. A deafening roar of engines preceded a small group of motorcyclists speeding past us. The riders were wrapped in leather and the spirit of adventure, and I recalled a period of my childhood spent obsessing over Lawrence of Arabia. I imagined T. E. Lawrence himself standing on a dune somewhere, lungs filling with the clean hot air of the limitless desert. Or, perhaps, he was surrounded by the bedouin in the hinterland, or riding his motorcycle through the ocean of sand, leaving it forever haunted by his dagger-wielding white-clad ghost.

I exchanged an excited look with Minh and then with Lori, their eyes equally bright. The three of us had trouble suppressing our burbling anticipation. This was it. We’d made it.

After about an hour on the road, we arrived. Here at Tell Abrar the sand-swept landscape unfolded as far as the eye could see.

Tainting my excitement with unfounded worry, Tommy’s post on Dig It came back to me all of a sudden. Being here, away from modernity and surrounded by sand on all sides, the unforgiving sun over my head, it was easy to surrender to the idea of meteors crashing into the sands, their fiery spirits lingering to haunt the land to this day. I was about to ask Tommy about his strange blog post, but he finished parking our car and it was time to get out and get going.

Let the adventure begin.

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About the Author

Katya de Becerra was born in Russia, studied in California, lived in Peru, and then stayed in Australia long enough to become a local. She was going to be an Egyptologist when she grew up, but instead she earned a PhD in Anthropology and now works as a university lecturer and a researcher. Katya is a short version of her real name, which is very long and gets mispronounced a lot. What The Woods Keep was her first novel (out now), which is followed by another standalone Oasis in 2020. She has also authored and co-authored academic articles, book chapters, guest posts and opinion pieces.

Website // Twitter // Goodreads // Instagram

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Follow the tour here.

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Giveaway

Finished copy of OASIS by Katya de Becerra (US Only)
Starts: January 1st 2020
Ends: January 15th 2020

Enter here.

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Book Review: How the Dead Speak by Val McDermid @valmcdermid @LittleBrownUK

How the Dead Speak
The New Tony Hill and Carol Jordan Thriller #11
Val McDermid
Little, Brown (UK), August 2019
ISBN 978-1-4087-1225-2
Hardcover

If you are familiar with Val McDermid’s novels you probably know the characters Tony Hill and Carol Jordan. And if, like me, you are a fan of these two; Tony a profiler and criminal psychologist who works with Carol the head of a special Police team, you probably remember the outcome of their previous collaboration in the novel Insidious Intent where Carol’s and Tony’s lives changed dramatically.

In How the Dead Speak, the newest entry in the series, Tony is in prison and Carol has resigned from her job of running an elite Police Force ReMIT – Regional Major Incident Team. Tony is in a rather hostile environment trying to stay out of trouble, while Carol is suffering from PTSD unwilling to seek help.

When a construction company starting work on a project at a local Convent and School now closed down uncovers a gravesite with a large number of skeletal remains, possibly young girls, the ReMIT team, under new leadership, is called in to investigate. When a second gravesite is found on the same premises with more than six male bodies wrapped in plastic, murder is the most the obvious cause.

Meanwhile, Tony’s mother Vanessa pays him a visit, insisting he help her recover money stolen from her by a man using a Ponzi scheme. While Tony has no love for his mother, she orders him to ask Carol to locate the man who has run off with her money. Knowing Vanessa will use every means she can to further ruin his and Carol’s life if he refuses, he agrees to ask Carol to look into the matter. Vanessa then pays Carol a visit, relaying the message from Tony, leaving Carol with no option but to find the man Vanessa is seeking.

As the storylines kick into gear, chapters switch between multiple points of view, from members of the ReMIT team as they investigate the deaths of the young girls and the murdered men, to Tony as he tries to find a way to come to terms with his incarceration, and Carol in her search for the perpetrator of the Ponzi scheme.

Carol and Tony’s relationship has at times been tumultuous throughout this great series. In this novel we watch with interest as they each deal with the problems they face in vastly different circumstances. Though they are not working together this time, McDermid keeps the reader turning pages eager to reach the conclusion of the engaging plot-lines.

I particularly enjoyed the brief and succinct paragraphs at the heading of each chapter, which are bites from one of Tony Hill’s books.

Grab this one… It’s a must read.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, December 2019.

Book Review: Every Stolen Breath by Kimberly Gabriel @KT_Gabriel @BlinkYABooks @TLCBookTours

Every Stolen Breath
Kimberly Gabriel
Blink, November 2019
ISBN 978-0-310-76666-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

The Swarm is unrecognizable, untraceable, and unpredictable—random attacks on the streets of Chicago by a mob of crazed teens that leaves death in its wake. It’s been two years since the last attack, but Lia Finch has found clues that reveal the Swarm is ready to claim a new victim.

Lia is the only one still pursuing her father’s killers, two years after attorney Steven Finch’s murder by the Swarm. Devastated and desperate for answers, Lia will do anything to uncover the reasons behind his death and to stop someone else from being struck down. But due to debilitating asthma and PTSD that leaves her with a tenuous hold on reality, Lia is the last person to mount a crusade on her own.

After a close encounter with the Swarm puts Lia on their radar, she teams up with a teen hacker, a reporter, and a mysterious stranger who knows firsthand how the mob works. Together, they work to uncover the master puppeteer behind the group. Though if Lia and her network don’t stop the person pulling the strings—and fast—Lia may end up the next target.

Inspired by the real-life “flash mob” violence that struck Chicago in 2011, Every Stolen Breath by debut author Kimberly Gabriel is a fast-paced and immersive thriller that shows just how hard one girl will fight back, knowing any breath might be her last.

It’s really hard to fathom how a vicious flash mob can happen, especially when you realize that 98% of the people involved would never do such a horrible thing on their own. The mob mentality is a very real thing and, yes, we can be sheep in the wrong circumstances.

What’s not hard to believe or understand is how a victim can be so messed up, mentally and emotionally, but also physically; Lia’s PTSD is almost a given but it has become a part of her, a part that she has to control as best she can while she pursues justice for her dad and for herself.

This is as intense a story as I’ve ever read and there were moments when I had to put the book down so I could catch my breath. Lia’s journey is frequently a train wreck but she is a girl who won’t be stopped and must be true to herself, no matter what dangers lurk seemingly around every corner. While I’ve never experienced anything even close to this situation, Ms. Gabriel drew me in with a tale I won’t soon forget.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2019.

About the Author

Kimberly Gabriel is an English teacher who writes every chance she gets and struggles with laundry avoidance issues. When she’s not teaching or writing, she’s enjoying life with her husband, her three beautiful children, and a seriously beautiful boxer in the northern suburbs of Chicago.

Connect with Kimberly
Website // Facebook // Twitter // Instagram

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Follow the tour here.

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Book Review: 101 by Tom Pitts—and a Giveaway! @MrTomPitts @DownAndOutBooks

101
Tom Pitts
Down & Out Books, November 2018
ISBN 978-1-94823-538-9
Trade Paperback

A violent, gritty, aptly named novel, about the illegal marijuana and miscellaneous drug trade along Highway 101 on California’s Pacific coast. The action, and there’s plenty of it, rages from Fulton Street in San Francisco to Garberville and surrounding grow sites in Humboldt County. The novel is a deep dive into the weeds—both legal and illegal—that conceal the lives and perambulations of cops, growers, federal agents and ordinary citizens often caught in the cross-fire of brawling drug dealers.

Twenty-five-year-old loose cannon Jerry Bertram offends some drug-dealing bikers. To save his own life and mend his wounds, he races north from the city to a hideout near the small community of Humboldt County. His destination is with an old friend of his mother. Vic has become a very private pot farmer who does not appreciate Jerry’s intrusion. When the bikers, led by a Russian called Vlad the Inhaler, descend on the rural community, chases, murder, violence of several kinds erupts. Several members of local and federal law enforcement agencies also become entangled. Eventually Vic is forced back to the city into a confrontation with several criminal elements.

The story evokes the climate, the physical locations, the people and the culture in a very engaging way. Pace is fast and furious most of the time and the characters are really real. This is not a novel for the faint of heart. Brutal and explicit, there are few redeeming characters or resolutions for most of the cast. Excellent of type.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, May 2019.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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Giveaway

To enter the drawing for an advance
reading copy
of 101 by Tom Pitts

leave a comment below. The
winning
name will be drawn on
Wednesday evening,
November 20th.
Open to residents
of the US and Canada.

Book Review: Diary of a Dead Man on Leave by David Downing @soho_press

Diary of a Dead Man on Leave
David Downing
Soho Crime, April 2019
ISBN 978-1-61695-843-5
Hardcover

Josef Hoffman isn’t his real name. He’s a German who has recently returned to his native country, to the town of Hamm. It’s April, 1938. Adolf Hitler is in power.

Josef has a mission. He works for the International Liaison Section of the Communist International and with a list of members of the Comintern his orders are to locate the men on his list and confirm they are still members of the Party. The Soviet Union’s leaders, sure that another war in Europe is imminent, want to find out whether there are enough Communists in Germany to form an underground group willing to undermine and disrupt the Third Reich.

Josef manages to get a room in a boarding house near the railway yards, where he has landed a job. The boarding house is run by Frau Anna Gersdorff, her father Erich who is blind and bedridden, and Walter her eleven year old son. There are also three other lodgers staying at the boarding house, Askel Ruchay, Jakob Barufka and Rolf Gerritzen.

Josef knows he shouldn’t get too friendly with the people around him. He is there to observe and report, and track down the men on his list. But he finds himself drawn to Anna and her son Walter, especially when he discovers Walter, an intelligent boy, is being bullied at school and not just by other children. A teacher is determined Walter is too clever by far and makes it his mission to degrade and diminish him at every turn. Walter’s only friend is Marco a younger black boy, the son of Verena who works as the cook at the boarding house and this does not sit well with the current regime.

Every six weeks Josef is instructed to meet with a colleague to report his progress. He has decided to keep a journal detailing his day to day efforts to track down these men…and it is through his journaling he reveals the characters of the lodgers, as well as the men he works with at the Railway Yard. We also see his growing attachment to the Gersdorff family.

As the days unfold, Josef slowly becomes ever more entangled with the lives of the people in the boarding house. HIs progress in finding his Communist brothers is slow. His need to be careful approaching these men intensifies, fearful at any moment he will be reported to the authorities or arrested and questioned by the Gestapo. Tension is rising throughout the country as Hitler and his Third Reich grow more brutal and violent.

I found this book engrossing. Written in journal form makes for an easy read, but throughout, the author is adept at keeping the stakes high.
Check this one out…and find out what becomes of Josef and the people he has grown to love.

Respectfully submitted.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, September 2019.