Book Review: Helix by Mary Ting @MaryTing @VesuvianMedia @XpressoTours

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Title: Helix
Series: International Sensory Assassin Network #2

Author: Mary Ting
Publisher: Vesuvian Books

Publication Date: September 10, 2019
Genre: Science Fiction, Dystopian, Young Adult

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Amazon // Indiebound

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Helix
International Sensory Assassin Network #2
Mary Ting
Vesuvian Books, September 2019
ISBN 978-1-944109-86-8
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Alliances are forming. The resistance is growing. Everything is about to change.

With her memory still fragmented, Ava returns to the International Sensory Assassin Network (ISAN) to find the twin sister she never knew she had.

But as Ava hunts for information, she finds herself tangled in a web of yet more lies and conspiracy. The Helix serum may not be required to access her superpowers, and the number of male assassins—previously considered too volatile to tolerate Helix—is growing in every territory.

The more Ava uncovers, the more of a threat she becomes to ISAN. Her only salvation may be to join the rebels—if she isn’t killed first.

Sometimes, a second book in a series lacks the excitement and energy of the first book but that is certainly not the case with Helix. If anything, it’s a lot more frenetic, and all the action and intensity kind of wore me out although in a good way for the most part.

interestingly, we get the POV of Rhett this time as well as Ava’s and that made it easier for me to buy into the relationship between these two. So often in young adult stories I think the hormones get out of control to a laughable level but I’m more comfortable and less distracted by the romance this time.

As Ava searches for her twin, she learns a lot more about her own unusual abilities and the widespread conspiracy behind them but it’s the introduction of the younger players, the children, that let Ava and me begin to understand. I wonder what the author has in store for us next time.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2019.

About the Author

International Bestselling, Award-Winning Author Mary Ting writes soulful, spellbinding stories that excite the imagination and captivate readers all over the world. Her books run a wide range of genres and her storytelling talents have won her a devoted legion of fans and garnered critical praise.

Becoming an author happened by chance. It was a way to grieve the death of her beloved grandmother, and inspired by a dream she had in high school. After realizing she wanted to become a full-time author, Mary retired from teaching after twenty years. She also had the privilege of touring with the Magic Johnson Foundation to promote literacy and her children’s chapter book: No Bullies Allowed.

Mary resides in Southern California with her husband, two children, and two little dogs, Mochi and Mocha. She enjoys oil painting and making jewelry.

Author links:

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Book Reviews: Proof of Life by Sheila Lowe and Simply Dead by Eleanor Kuhns @sheila_lowe @suspensemag @EleanorKuhns @severnhouse

Proof of Life
A Beyond the Veil Mystery #2
Sheila Lowe
Suspense Publishing, May 2019
ISBN 978-0-578-45315-6
Trade Paperback

After the accident in which her abusive husband and their infant son died, Jessica Mack had amnesia and began to experience strange noises and even voices. This enthralling thriller traces her development from confused and upset to more and deeper understanding of non-corporeal experiences. A practicing artist, Jessica Mack creates art that seems to illustrate crime scenes, but she cannot recall making the art, nor where the detailed information came from.

Gradually over the space of this excellent novel, Jessica begins to understand what may be happening to her. It is unsettling, disrupts her life at times, but instead of resisting or rejecting the forces, she instinctively sets out to learn more.

For many people whose religious or world views reject the idea of other worlds co-existing with that which we inhabit, this may become unsettling. I would urge such people to persist and read this book. Jessica Mack, an identical twin, has already experienced odd experiences with her twin sister. So she is open to learning more about the spirit world. As should we readers.

Unlike many novels that create a spirit world to fit the story, this author has created a character who is not a willing subject, but one who becomes interested in life for those beyond the veil and in a fascinating and consistent way, struggles to learn more and then to use her developing awareness to aid in a race to locate a small child who may have been kidnapped.

The author steadily raises the tension as time inexorably passes. Jessica must deal with her sister, her FBI acquaintance, other skeptics and a burgeoning love interest. The novel is very-well written, extremely carefully plotted, logical and peopled with very interesting, well-drawn characters It will capture the interest of a wide range of crime novel addicts. I strongly recommend this excellent novel.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, July 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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Simply Dead
A Will Rees Mystery #7
Eleanor Kuhns
Severn House, August 2019
ISBN 978-0-7278-8884-6
Hardcover

Winter in northern climes is difficult in the best of times. In late eighteenth century rural Maine, winter can be deadly. In a small Shaker community located in a snow bound village, a deeply disturbed murderer threatens to tear apart an already uneasy relationship with the World, as it is known among Shakers.

Will Rees is a weaver and hard-scrabble farmer with several children and a bright loving wife in his care. The weaver and farmer is an interesting motivator for the novel, husband and father of a teen girl and some even younger children. His almost insatiable curiosity propels him into conflicts at several levels when a local midwife goes missing in the snowy woods. Naturally he seeks her, exposing himself to storms and cold. He finds the midwife almost dead of exposure in the snow and rescues her while realizing the young woman is distraught and hiding something, something truly horrible.

The novel is a deliberate and accurate portrayal of early life for settlers in Maine during the period and is liberally strewn with a wide range of characters one might expect to find in an isolated settlement like this in early America. His small village has a constable who owns and runs the town bar and restaurant and thus is not reliable to protect locals against the menace of hungry wolves.

Conflicts arise for Rees and his family on all sides, affording the author ample opportunity to make deep dives into a host of personalities and situations and she takes most opportunities to do that, including brief but telling examination of the Shaker community. Consequently, the well-written, finely organized story presents several varied and useful personalities in both ordinary and highly fraught situations in a novel of manners, murder and detection. Readers will finish the novel having a concentrated experience of a particular part of America and its people before there was a United States.

Simply Dead is simply a good story with a lot of excellent characters, very well told.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, August 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.

Book Review: This Story Is A Lie by Tom Pollock—and a Giveaway!

This Story Is A Lie
Tom Pollock
Soho Teen, August 2018
ISBN 978-1-61695-911-1
Hardcover

When a book begins with the protagonist having just dealt with a major panic attack by crushing a porcelain salt shaker with his teeth, you can expect what follows to be a bit strange. And what does ensue exceeds that description in spades. Peter Blankman, age seventeen, is a twin and a mad math genius. He’s also bullied unmercifully by three classmates at his English high school. His only protection is his older, by eight minutes, sister Bel who is no slouch in the brains department herself.

Peter has been dealing with irrational fears and panic attacks for as long as he can remember. His mother is a world famous scientist and his absent father a mystery. All Peter and Bel know is the tidbits their mother drops on occasion, but the overarching message has always been that Dad was utterly evil and the less they know, the better off they’ll be.

A few hours following his attack, he, Bel and Mom are off to the Natural History Museum where Mom’s to receive an award for her work. Peter does his best to hold it together, but as the moment approaches for things to start, he loses it and bolts, running recklessly down one corridor after another. When he runs out of gas, he tries to find his way back, only to stumble on a body leaking copious amounts of blood. It’s his mother and it’s all he can do to stay with her and try to stanch the bleeding.

In short order, Bel vanishes, Peter’s grabbed by Rita, who claims to be a friend of Mom and one of her co-workers. She rushes him out of the museum and into a strange car that follows the ambulance transporting Mom. Peter’s paranoia starts ramping up as the convoy heads away from the two closest hospitals. It spikes even more as he overhears snippets of code-like conversations and senses that something highly suspicious. Little does he know how right he is. He manages to escape, but with Bel missing, where can he go?

What follows is like going in and out of a series of Alice in Wonderland rabbit holes. Every time Peter thinks he has something figured out, reality, or what passes for it, pulls another rug out from him. He’s unsure who to trust, how much of what he’s learned about mathematics can be counted on, he’s unsure who’s real or telling the truth, and as pieces fall into place, he finds himself on ever more fragile ground. Many details are revealed in flashback chapters going back anywhere from five days to seven years prior to the current story line. By the end, Peter, Bel and the reader are all still trying to sort things out. That’s not to say the ending is bad or incomplete, just nicely twisted. If you like industrial strength creepy, this book is for you.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, February 2019.

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To enter the drawing for a print copy
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The winning name will
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Book Review: Death by the River by Alexandrea Weis and Lucas Astor

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Title: Death by the River
Authors: Alexandrea Weis and Lucas Astor
Publisher: Vesuvian Books
Publication Date: October 2, 2018
Genres: Psychological Thriller, Young Adult

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Death by the River
Alexandrea Weis and Lucas Astor
Vesuvian Books, October 2018
ISBN 978-1-944109-14-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

SOME TRUTHS ARE BETTER KEPT SECRET.
SOME SECRETS ARE BETTER OFF DEAD.

Along the banks of the Bogue Falaya River, sits the abandoned St. Francis Seminary. Beneath a canopy of oaks, blocked from prying eyes, the teens of St. Benedict High gather here on Fridays. The rest of the week belongs to school and family—but weekends belong to the river.

And the river belongs to Beau Devereaux.

The only child of a powerful family, Beau can do no wrong. Handsome. Charming. Intelligent. The star quarterback of the football team. The “prince” of St. Benedict is the ultimate catch.

He is also a psychopath.

A dirty family secret buried for years, Beau’s evil grows unchecked. In the shadows of the ruined St. Francis Abbey, he commits unspeakable acts on his victims and ensures their silence with threats and intimidation. Senior year, Beau sets his sights on his girlfriend’s headstrong twin sister, Leslie, who hates him. Everything he wants but cannot have, she will be his ultimate prize.

As the victim toll mounts, it becomes crystal clear that someone has to stop Beau Devereaux.

And that someone will pay with their life.

Years ago, I read a book by Iain Banks called The Wasp Factory that I’ve never forgotten and I don’t mean that in a good way. The story of an extremely disturbed teenager, it’s filled with violence and perversity and it literally kept me up at night, hoping to find at least one redeeming factor in this boy or even a reason for the story itself. I suppose I have to say it’s a good book because it made a huge impression on me but I can think of better ways to get my attention. When I read the description of Death by the River, I really hoped this psychopath would be more tolerable than the one in that book.

Fortunately, as psychopaths go, Beau is a lot less horrific than Frank was but that’s not to say he’s a pleasant guy to be around. He reminded me in a way of Ted Bundy with his charisma but, in Beau’s case, he has the rich, privileged background—and protection from others—that allows him to intimidate and bully his victims, feeding his narcissism. Beau has turned manipulation into a fine art and each episode of depravity just makes him want more. He’s a fascinating young man.

Leslie and Dawn are not quite as vivid (because they’re normal teens) but I liked both for different reasons. Dawn, who seems to be kind of forgettable as the stereotypical high school cheerleader, turns out to have a lot more going for her than you might think and Leslie stands out as a girl who can’t be charmed by a handsome face.

I did think the pacing of the story was a bit uneven but all was forgiven by an ending I definitely did not see coming. All in all, I’m glad I had the opportunity to read Death by the River and will be interested to read more by these authors.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, October 2018.

An Excerpt from Death by the River

Crickets chirped and mist curled around him as Beau eased out of the crack in the wall to the cells. The chill in the air teased his sweaty skin, but the surge of power pounding through his blood was like liquid fire.

The rush consumed him. He knew in that instant he would find another victim, but his rational mind begged him to be careful.

Don’t get caught.

He chuckled. Besides the money, his father still had hefty political clout in Baton Rouge, thanks to his notorious grandfather and years of murky business dealings. The family name had spared him in the past from legal proceedings and institutions. It would again.

Heading toward the fountain across the grassy field, Beau considered his next night of fun. Before he reached the forgotten angel, a flash in the corner of his eye made him turn.

Amid the trees, crowding the edge of the property, something darted in and out. He could just make out a long, white hooded cloak, fluttering and billowing at the edge of the woods. Then it disappeared.

His heart rocketed to his throat. It can’t be!

All the stories he’d heard of the lady in white of The Abbey came rushing back at once, intensifying his panic.

Then he calmed. Someone had to be messing with him. It wasn’t the girl. Kelly had taken off, a bawling mess, across the field several minutes before and he’d heard the slam of the iron gate. He was alone. Unless … the guys had pulled a fast one on him.

But the guys don’t know about your room in the cells.

Beau cut across the grass, anxious to get to the iron gate and back to the party. Almost to the path, he glanced back over his shoulder to the patch of trees where he had seen the ghostly presence. Nothing was there.

It was just your imagination. Or was it?

He made it to the party at the beach, relieved to be back among people, but the incident with the ghost had eradicated his high.

He hungered for it to return but would have to wait.

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About the Authors

Alexandrea Weis
Alexandrea Weis, RN-CS, CRRN, ONC, PhD, is a multi award-winning author of twenty-five novels, a screenwriter, ICU Nurse, and historian who was born and raised in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Having grown up in the motion picture industry as the daughter of a director, she learned to tell stories from a different perspective and began writing at the age of eight.

Infusing the rich tapestry of her hometown into her novels, she believes that creating vivid characters makes a story moving and memorable.

A permitted/certified wildlife rehabber with the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries, Weis rescues orphaned and injured animals. She lives with her husband and pets in New Orleans. Weis writes paranormal, suspense, thrillers, horror, crime fiction, and romance.

Website, Goodreads, Twitter, & Facebook!

Lucas Astor
Lucas Astor is from New York, has resided in Central America and the Middle East, and traveled through Europe. He lives a very private, virtually reclusive lifestyle, preferring to spend time with a close-knit group of friends than be in the spotlight.

He is an author and poet with a penchant for telling stories that delve into the dark side of the human psyche. He likes to explore the evil that exists, not just in the world, but right next door behind a smiling face.

Photography, making wine, and helping endangered species are just some of his interests. Lucas is an expert archer and enjoys jazz, blues, and classical music.

One of his favorite quotes is: “It’s better to be silent than be a fool.” ~Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird)

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Book Review: Star of the North by D.B. John

Star of the North
D.B. John
Crown Publishing, May 2018
ISBN 978-0-525-57329-6
Hardcover

Three plot lines run through this contemporary thriller, sometimes in parallel and sometimes converging. The overarching framework of the story is Jenna’s search for her Korean American twin sister, kidnapped from the Korean peninsula. Her sister was believed dead for a long time until Jenna receives evidence that she is alive in North Korea. She manages to join the CIA, the only mechanism she knows of that will allow her to execute her plan to rescue her sister and exact revenge. The tangled path to her sister ends in her dining alone with Kim Jong Il.

Accompanying subplots involve Mrs. Moon, an enterprising peasant who begins a profitable black market business with contraband, and Colonel Cho Sang-ho, a highly regarded North Korean official who learns he is descended from traitors to the regime. Their subsequent captures, arrests, and brutal imprisonment in the coal mines of North Hamgyong Province make for painful reading.

This chilling and timely novel about North Korea has received accolades from every major reviewing outlet, including starred reviews from Booklist, Publishers’ Weekly, and Library Journal.

D.B. John was born in Wales and now lives in London. He has lived in South Korea and Berlin and is one of the few Westerners to have visited North Korea. He co-authored The Girl With Seven Names, Hyeonseo Lee’s New York Times bestselling 2015 memoir about her escape from North Korea. His first thriller was Flight from Berlin (2012).

Reviewed by Aubrey Hamilton, September 2018.

Book Review: Passage by Indie Gantz

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Title: Passage
Series: The Akasha Series #1
Author: Indie Gantz
Publication Date: March 2018
Genres: Science Fiction, Young Adult

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Passage
The Akasha Series #1
Indie Gantz
Cromulent Press, March 2018
ISBN
Trade Paperback

From the author—

On day one, Charlie Damuzi and her mute twin brother Tirigan are blissfully unaware of the dangerous world they live in. They may be aliens living on Earth after the extinction of humans, but to Charlie, life is pretty mundane.

On day two, the Damuzi family is ripped apart by a family secret that forces the twins to flee the only home they’ve ever known.

Determined to find a way to reunite their family, Charlie and Tirigan travel to uncharted territory in search of their salvation.

But that’s just Charlie’s side of the story.

In the future, forty days from when we first meet the Damuzi twins, Tirigan is on the move. His destination is unknown, as are the people he’s surrounded himself with, but his mission is still the same. Keep his sister safe and reunite their family.

However, as Tirigan attempts to navigate the complex bonds he’s formed with his companions, he’s forced to confront the one thing in life he has yet to fully understand.

Himself.

Family. Deception. Power. Destruction.

It all begins on day one.

There are elements in this story that set it apart from many other science fiction tales, not least of which is the premise that Earth is now populated by aliens, long after humans as we know them have gone extinct. That alone gives the reader the promise that the two principals, Charlie and Tirigan, are going to be very different beings than what we’re accustomed to and so they are but…they’re also quite familiar. This brother and sister are really appealing and it’s very easy to forget that they are, indeed, aliens.

These fraternal twins have the bond that we see between twins now but they take it further. Tirigan is essentially mute but that doesn’t hurt his connection to Charlie because they can communicate telepathically. The two live a comfortable existence until everything is suddenly turned topsyturvy and they are forced to leave it all behind.

Another compelling facet of this book is the author’s use of flash forwards, told by Tirigan. That can often be confusing and disruptive but Ms. Gantz handles it well and the future episodes allowed me to feel an even stronger rapport with Tirigan. In fact, they helped to round out the worldbuilding that is so critical to any science fiction story.

On the whole, I thoroughly enjoyed Passage and, while much of the book is taken up by the setup and worldbuilding, I was still engaged by Charlie’s and Tirigan’s adventures and I’m anticipating even better things to come next year in the second book, Kindred.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2018.

About the Author

Indie Gantz grew up in Northern Virginia and received her Psychology degree at George Mason University. Despite her passion and curiosity for the human mind, Indie left her chosen field of study to finally give voice to the many imagined minds she has created.

Indie lives with her family in North Carolina. She spends her days drinking tea and clacking keys.

Author Links:

Website // Goodreads // Twitter // Facebook

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Book Review: Pandora: Outbreak by Eric L. Harry

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“Like Crichton and H.G. Wells, Harry writes stories that
entertain roundly while they explore questions of scientific
and social import.” -Publishers Weekly

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Purchase Links:

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Google Play // Indiebound // Amazon

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Pandora: Outbreak
A Pandora Thriller #1
Eric L. Harry
Rebel Base Books/Kensington, January 2018
ISBN 978-1-63573-017-3
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

They call it Pandoravirus. It attacks the brain. Anyone infected may explode in uncontrollable rage. Blind to pain, empty of emotion, the infected hunt and are hunted. They attack without warning and without mercy. Their numbers spread unchecked. There is no known cure.

Emma Miller studies diseases for a living—until she catches the virus. Now she’s the one being studied by the U.S. government and by her twin sister, neuroscientist Isabel Miller. Rival factions debate whether to treat the infected like rabid animals to be put down, or victims deserving compassion. As Isabel fights for her sister’s life, the infected are massing for an epic battle of survival. And it looks like Emma is leading the way . . .

A pandemic is one of my favorite apocalyptic scenarios so I really looked forward to reading this. In some ways, Pandora: Outbreak met my expectations but not in others.

There are three major characters, siblings Emma, Isabel and Noah, and I liked them all up to a point but also found them a bit unlikeable, each in his or her own way. Isabel seemed kind of weepy and weak, not really a scientific type but I gave her some latitude because of the situation she was in. I just can’t imagine how hard it would be to maintain a stiff upper lip when you’re watching a sister or brother turn into…something.

Noah just about bored me to tears with his obsession to prevent anything untoward happening to his family. I know, that’s harsh of me but I just didn’t want the endless instructions about weaponry, supplies, fortifications, etc.

And then there’s Emma, the actual victim of the virus. She became really unlikeable and, yet, I cared about her the most because her personality changes are driven by the disease. To blame her for that would be like blaming someone with a mental illness so I cut her a lot of slack and sympathized greatly with what she was going through, especially her fear of the unknown.

In the end, my primary objection was that I felt the story was being told in lab reports with a sort of clinical coldness. Perhaps there was just a little too much of the day-to-day and not enough of the nailbiting action I expect from a pandemic story. In addition to that, there are overtones of sexism that I could do without, not uncommon in science fiction but I always hope for better. Still, there’s room for improvement and growth so I’ll check out the sequel next year.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2018.

About the Author

Raised in a small town in Mississippi, Eric L. Harry graduated from the Marine Military Academy in Texas and studied Russian and Economics at Vanderbilt University, where he also got a J.D. and M.B.A. In addition, he studied in Moscow and Leningrad in the USSR, and at the University of Virginia Law School. He began his legal career in private practice in Houston, negotiated complex multinational mergers and acquisitions around the world, and rose to be general counsel of a Fortune 500 company. He left to raise a private equity fund and co-found a successful oil company. His previous thrillers include Arc Light, Society of the Mind, Protect and Defend and Invasion. His books have been published in eight countries. He and his wife have three children and divide their time between Houston and San Diego.

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Pinterest // Bookbub // Amazon // Goodreads

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