Book Reviews

Audiobook Review: Revelation by Carter Wilson

At a small New York college, two roommates set out to create a religious cult as a social experiment. Soon, however, things take a malevolent turn when the burgeoning Church’s chosen messiah turns out to be a socio-pathological lunatic. Waking to find himself trapped in a sort of dungeon cell like that of John of Patmos, with only a typewriter, a spider, and the rotting corpse of his former roommate for companionship, Harden Campbell sets to work writing his book of Revelation.

Set over a quarter century ago, Carter Wilson’s novel, Revelation, was only published last year, but it could easily have been set in contemporary times. The story toggles between third-person point of view and first as some of the examination of the action puts us in the position of observer, while other chapters are from the perspective of a manuscript being written by the captive, Harden.

There are three main characters, our part-time narrator, Harden; his roommate turned tormenter, Coyote; and ...


Audiobook Review: The Coelho Medallion by Kevin Tumlinson

In an off-the-beaten-trail location in Colorado, near the borders of Texas and New Mexico, a team of archeologists has uncovered an ancient medallion covered in symbols from various native languages as well as what appear to be Viking runes.  Is this evidence that pre-Columbian European explorers interacted with Native Americans this far into the North American continent? Somebody seems to believe so, and when evidence of a previously uncharted underground river possibly connecting the site to locations further north is uncovered, the speculation and the intrigue kicks into high gear.

The book, The Coelho Medallion, is named for this artifact; the artifact is named for its discoverer, an Hispanic archeologist named Coelho (pronounced Quay-o.) The story is reminiscent of Dan Brown’s Langdon series, the Indiana Jones franchise, and a little bit of the National Treasure movies as well. There are bad guys, heists, chases, an unrealized romantic backstory, a rich playboy/adventurer hero, a damsel in distress...


Audiobook Review: The God Bomb by Kit Power

Several disparate and desperate souls have gathered in a community center in a small English village seeking salvation or healing from the traveling preacher who has come offering God’s grace. However, one person in particular, a nervous young man who has taken the floor asking to be heard, has a very specific miracle he’s come to seek. He is hoping to actually meet God on this day, or there will be hell to pay.

The God Bomb by Kit Power is a tense and spell-binding psychological thriller told through the eyes of numerous characters, each who has had the misfortune to have chosen the absolute worst day to try for their individual miracle. Each chapter moved in POV and each POV is assigned the title of a book of the Christian bible.

There’s the priest, a devoted man of God who fundamentally believes his own claims to be able to bring miracles to those who are genuinely deserving. There’s the born-again former druggie who now leads the band. There’s the militant atheist who has come to shower the fakir of a minister in rainbow glitter for spreading homophobic hate. There’s the crippled teen who sometimes believes in miracles, but no longer believes in them for herself. There’s the married couple expecting their first child, and there’s the man holding them all hostages with a bomb strapped to his chest.


Audiobook Review: The Killing by Lionel White

The Killing is probably best-known as one of the finest examples of the noir film genre ever made. Directed by a young Stanley Kubrick, it was adapted from the novel, Clean Break by Lionel White. Starring Sterling Hayden and Coleen Gray, it tells the story of a newly released con, Johnny Clay, and the crew he has patched together to pull off a race track heist which he’s been planning for years while cooped up in the joint. The plan relies on Clay finding a number of otherwise honest men with money issues who he can cajole into ignoring their consciences for just a few minutes during the biggest horse race of the year in order to reap a huge payoff.

Things go awry when one of the team’s members, George Peatty, a mild-mannered bet window operator with a wife too hot for him by several degrees, let’s slip to his unfaithful bride, Sherry, that he’s due to come into a big score. The story in the novel is told in third person, and the plot is slowly unveiled one chapter at a time until all of the pieces come together in the third act when the heist goes down without a hitch but somehow Johnny Clay’s dreams still manage to fall apart.


Audiobook Review: FLESH: The Disappearance of Portia Barrington by Keith Lee Johnson

Portia Barrington is the 15-year-old daughter of a high-powered defense attorney, and she's been kidnapped. Those who took her have demanded and been paid two ransoms, but now they are demanding a third so, despite the kidnappers' warnings to the contrary, the FBI has been called in. Enter Agent Phoenix Drew-Perry, a woman of color with her own daughter in turmoil.

The story is told in a combination of third person and first. Half of the story is Phoenix' personal first person recollections. The other half is from an omniscient third person point-of-view; a technique I personally find distracting. Pick a PoV and stick with it, I say, but I understand that this is becoming a popular story-telling modus. I just find it off-putting and lazy.

The author relies heavily on cliches. I swear I heard the phrase "Off the hook!" more times in the first chapter than a Mel B outtake-reel from America's Got Talent. Also the book references the sex act so ...

Audiobook Review: An Eye for Murder by Libby Fischer Hellmann

Ellie Foreman is a recently divorced woman with a tweener daughter and an aging father to care for. She works as a film director for a small independent production company in Chicago, and her greatest claim to fame is a small regional history piece she produced for the mayor a few years back. Everything is getting to a normal place in her life, when three unrelated incidences converge to force her world to come undone.

First she receives a request from a TEA Party candidate for the governorship to produce a bio-pic which the campaign hopes will introduce the candidate to the voters. Next, her ex-husband brings her the bad news that he is having financial difficulties due to a poor investment decision which threatens his ability to contribute to her financially. Finally, an unknown elderly woman calls to inform her that upon the death of an aged border, Ellie’s name was found amid the dead man’s possessions, and she believes that Ellie may be the intended heir of his meager belongings.

How these three otherwise minor incidences play out to bring Ellie to the brink of bankruptcy and involve her in a 65 year-old conspiracy to revive Hitler’s final solution makes for a fast paced, and colorful tale. Along the way we meet Ellie’s Syrian gardener, a handsome stranger named David, an Hispanic woman with secrets of her own, the charismatic leader of a Neo-Nazi Church, and a young boy who hopes the library might be his ticket out of gang life; as well as a number of other peripheral characters who all have a part to play in this tightly told yarn.


Book Review: Jo by Leah Rhyne

Jolene Hall is a normal college student matriculating at Smytheville University in the Northeastern US. She has loving parents, is besties with Lucy – her dorm roommate (a beautiful red head with a politically connected mother,) and she has a volatile but loving relationship with her boyfriend, Eli. Then everything changes one evening when she has a fight with Eli on the night of a major blizzard. She foolishly decides to walk home, and the next thing she knows she’s been revived from death as a Frankenstein-like monster. Her flesh is beginning to decimate, her organs have been replaced with pumps and electrical wiring, and her blood has been swapped out for some kind of viscous fluid. 

Jo by Leah Rhyne is a novel which walks several edges. It’s not exactly young adult, but it’s also not adult enough in its treatment of some of the more emotional elements to classify it as a classic thriller. It’s not a mainstream horror or sci-fi story either. There is some generic discussion of the mechanics of the lead character’s reclamation over death, but not enough to satisfy a purest; and the story only has one tropey horror scene when Jo and Lucy find themselves surrounded by reanimated zombie-like monster-girls in a poorly lighted laboratory.


Book Review: Fire Sign by M. A. Petterson

Dr. Anja Toussaint is a woman with secrets. Large areas of her skin are covered in burn scars, yet for reasons known only to her, she is compelled by fire. As the arson investigator for the police department in an
anonymous city under the Fire Marshal’s office of an un-named state, she utilizes her impressive knowledge of the mechanics of fire and her almost empathetic understanding of the arsonist mentality to stop and to hopefully capture those who are pathologically driven to burn things.

When the same timed and carefully-placed method is used to burn several churches, Anja is teamed with Sgt, Gil Dolan, a bitter and less-than-ept career cop who acts as her liaison so that she might have access to the evidence. The two have an unamicable history which colors their team dynamic in a way I’ve never encountered in fiction before.

Fire Sign by M. A. Petterson is a novella which serves as introduction to a series which promises to thrill and entertain for several novels to come. The characters are dark and nuanced in a way that makes them fascinating and realistic, but I doubt that I’d want to invite any of them to a picnic, but that’s okay. 

Book Review: The Case Against Atheism by Mike Dobbins

Reading The Case Against Atheism: The Failure of Disbelief by Mike Dobbins was, for me, like reading a rebuttal to my own book, Believe It, You Know an Atheist. Where my book tries to explain to theists and other non-atheists, like Dobbins, what atheism actually is and why it isn’t the bugaboo they’ve been conditioned to mistakenly assume that it is, Dobbin’s book repackages and regurgitates many of the old theistic and spiritualistic tropes that turned most atheists against religion in the first place. In fact, any non-fair-weather atheist who reads Dobbins' book is going to find himself or herself on common ground, reading for the umpteenth time the same tired old fallacies he or she has encountered dozens if not hundreds of times before in Church, family gatherings, and Internet message boards.

To be fair, on many pages Dobbins acknowledges that atheism is not an unreasonable conclusion. However, one gets the feeling that he is saying this only to dangle a carrot or extend an olive branch so the reader will be placated long enough to continue reading with an open mind – a characteristic which most theists seem to think atheists as a group lack.


Book Review: The Spirit and the Shadow by Thomas P. Lavalle and Brandon L. Swope

Detective Robert Garrison is an investigator in the Vampire-Human division of the LAPD. He’s human. Detective Aiden Lawson is Garrison’s partner. He’s a vampire. Together they investigate any incident involving human-vampire violence – whether vamp on human or human on vamp in nature. When a human victim turns up in an alleyway with his throat half ripped out in an uncharacteristic attack, the two are pulled into a case that draws them into an international conspiracy involving assassination squads, covert operatives and a mysterious package.

The Spirit and the Shadow is Book One in a proposed series of graphic novels written by Thomas P. Lavalle and illustrated by Brandon L. Swope. Actually, it’s less a graphic novel and more a novella in script form with an ongoing story-board.


Book Review: Sons of Cain by C.W. Burgett

Jack Basset is a reporter for a major daily with a particular talent for sniffing out good stories. His current assignment is to find out why an assassin murdered a US Senator a year before. Jack finagles a meeting with the prisoner who refuses to meet or talk with anybody with the exception of one man by having guards tell the prisoner that the one person he will meet with is waiting to see him. Jack leaves the meeting with precious little, and soon learns that the prisoner, the prison guard, and Jack’s editor have all been killed. Realizing that he’s probably next, Jack scurries to protect his family and self just as the assassination team arrives at his house.

Sons of Cain by C.W. Burgett is a thriller involving a secret society determined to advance to the white house. The writer goes out of his way to avoid strong language and sexual situations. Unfortunately that doesn’t always work to keep the reader engaged. In one particularly grating scene, a nurse who has been helping Jack attempts to seduce him only to have her advances rebuffed by the hero who wishes to remain faithful to his wife.


Book Review: The Hacktivist by R.J. Webster

Jack Bishop is a young and impressive computer programmer fresh out of college and deeply in love with his medical doctor girlfriend, Catherine. He’d known for some time that the day would come when she would set off on her life’s dream to help the poorest of the poor, but when she boards that plane bound for Haiti leaving him behind to await her return, it leaves him feeling more than alone. It leaves him feeling empty. He desperately wants to find some way that he too can help, but how is a computer programmer – even one as talented and devoted as Jack – supposed to benefit the starving and sick poor?

Then one day the company’s security team approaches him about a programming problem and Jack becomes obsessed with learning everything he can about Trojans, and viruses, and IRC server channels. Partly he’s obsessed to fill the void Catherine left in his life, but soon the seed of a plan begins to germinate. Jack can use his new-found knowledge to build his own code – a code to help the charities that help in places like Haiti.

Book Review: Discretion by David Balzarini

As a young man, Colin Wyle is not particularly impressive. The son of a former professional basketball player, Colin is cordial and likeable enough, but ultimately he’s forgettable. He, like many boys his age,  spends most of his time daydreaming about the unattainable girl-of-his-dreams, Natalie Merian, and the rest of his time trying to figure out a way to earn his father’s respect. Then one day while attending church with the family of one of his friends, Colin begins to hear a voice. The disembodied personality calls herself Christel, and she begins guiding Colin to a better life.

Thanks to Christel, Colin becomes a sports hero and wins the affections of his girl and the growing tenuous respect of his father. Is she a guardian angel, a psychic spirit guide, a muse, a daemon? Colin doesn’t know, and frankly he doesn’t care. Things are going perfectly, and Colin is on his way to the life he’s always wanted. Then, one day while on a holiday trip to the lake, everything changes. Natalie disappears. Suspicion falls on Colin and his father. Days pass, tension mounts, and then out of the blue, Christel is in Colin’s ear telling him the steps he has to take. Hours later, Colin’s life is changed again, Natalie is saved, the man who had her is dead, Colin is a killer, and the police are covering the whole thing up to save face.

Years pass. Colin and Natalie have remained friends, but he is in a new relationship, engaged to be married. He has an investment job which he has been very successful at with Christel’s help. Then, again torment from his past arrives. New evidence has surfaced in several cases similar to the one involving Natalie’s abduction. Investigation is sure to uncover his involvement in the death of her captor. Colin needs Christel now more than ever, but is she everything he’s always assumed that she was?

Discretion by David Balzarini is a thriller with a message.


Book Review: Lust, Money & Murder by Mike Wells

Elaine Brogan was born in a poor Pittsburgh suburb to a doting working class construction worker father. As a child, he regaled her with tales of fictitious royal ancestors and he provided her with everything she could want or need, even if he had to beg, borrow or steal (mostly steal) to provide it. As a young woman, her aspirations were to enter the modeling profession to stake her fortune. She was content, comfortable and proud of the life she and her father had staked out for themselves. That all changed, however, when a seedy scam artist running a modeling school con set her father up to take the fall on a counterfeiting dodge.

Unable to face life behind bars, Elaine’s father, Patrick Brogan, commits suicide, and Elaine sets out to avenge his death. Men continue taking advantage of Elaine’s naivety and trusting nature through college and into her career in both the Secret Service and the US Treasury Department. Elaine makes a name for herself due to her uncanny ability to spot the flaws in counterfeit US currency, and this attracts the attention of various unsavory types.

Lust, Money & Murder by Mike Wells is a story in three parts. The narrative follows Elaine’s life through a trio of novelettes combined into one story, detouring only briefly toward the middle of the third novella to tell us the story of a Mafioso Elaine becomes entangled with.

Book Review: Daddy's Little Felons by Rick Bennett

Morgan Rapier is a retired Navy SEAL and an expert at creating computer code who has been surviving in San Francisco but not really living since the death of his wife. In his lonely free time, he comes up with a plan to send a virus to the next hacker who attempts to infiltrate his home computer network. That hack comes just as he receives a call from his old friend, Judge Patrick O’Shea, who pleads with him to come to Salt Lake City to help investigate the murder of a friend of the judge’s wife. This sets off a chain of events that doesn’t end before Morgan has solved the murder of Olive Jenkins, has become internet famous for subduing some redneck thugs on video – twice, has started a minor holy war in the Middle East, has crippled the internet infrastructures of both China and Russia, has helped the FBI track down a serial killer, and has taken a ride on AF1.
Daddy’s Little Felons by Rick Bennet is a thriller which takes its title from a term of endearment bestowed by the Mrs. O’Shea character on the criminal wards of Judge O’Shea’s court. Bennet is clearly computer literate, and the sub-plot concerning the hero’s takedown of the would-be hacker-world (if it can be called a sub-plot since the entirety of the plot is several interwoven subs) is easily the best aspect of the book.


Book Review: An Ounce of Prevention by Adam Graham

Gerald “Jerry” Newton runs a detective agency in Boise, Idaho; not Los Angeles, not Chicago, not even Brooklyn. It isn’t exactly the locale one first envisions when imaging a classic gumshoe tale. For the most part, one would be right. Most of the cases Jerry and his crew investigate are run-of-the-mill, boring security details. Then a Mr. Durand, a lowly fourth grade teacher and part time counselor at a soccer camp, brings him an unusual case. Durand has been receiving threatening letters, and he suspects that somebody is out to kill him. Jerry takes the case, thinking it’s probably just a kid angered over a failing grade blowing off steam. Then Durand’s car explodes, and the mystery deepens. It seems Durand is keeping secrets.
An Ounce of Prevention by Adam Graham is a modern take on the traditional Marlow/Spade detective story with all of the tropes and none of the clich├ęs. Yes, the detective is a former cop with friends on the force, but he wasn’t drummed out for breaking the rules, and he didn’t quit because of departmental politics. His reason for leaving the force is much more personal and believable.

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Book Review: Last Night at the Monarch Motel by Mark Valenti

Martin Van Dyke is a man with a plan – literally. Ever since his one and only girlfriend dumped him
for his lack of ambition and prospects, Martin has carried a laminated sheet of paper in his breast pocket which outlines for him a course of action which he hopes will carry him through to the top of the guest relations industry ladder. Filled with Stewart Smally-esque platitudes and work-a-day advice, the plan is the one thing in Martin’s miserable life that gives him hope of a better tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the slack-spined Martin continues working the night desk at the fleabag Monarch Motel, just outside of Sparks, Nevada. His boss, Mr. Finley, is a demanding and lazy loner who has no faith in Martin’s abilities. Yet, Martin must find a way to impress Finley if he ever hopes to advance as his plan dictates. It is with this reality constantly in the fore that Martin is forced to deal with the worst night of his life. There’s been a robbery at the nearby Nugget Casino, and every character who arrives at the motel that night is suspicious and in a variety of ways, ultimately more than a little dangerous.

Last Night at the Monarch Motel by Mark Valenti and Sonia Silver is a farce in the vein of Get Shorty, Seven Psychopaths and The Ice Harvest. As black comedy, LNatMM is strongest toward the end.
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Book Review: Rise from the Ashes - Lena's Story by Laura Franklin

Several explosions have detonated along the eastern seaboard. News comes of similar attacks all over the country. As confused citizens and officials attempt to fathom what caused the calamity, a strange sickness overtakes a large chunk of the population. Like a plague, the sickness sweeps the country quickly killing a large chunk of the populace. Those left behind soon determine that they are immune to the sickness, but it’s too late to restore order. Gangs of opportunistic thugs have begun staking claim to territories. Meanwhile warlords and drug families in neighboring nations unaffected by the bombings begin mobilizing to breech the US to capitalize on the destruction of our infrastructure. At the same time, armed and haphazardly trained Taliban militia (who have taken claim for the explosions) have also begun entering as an invasion force.

Several distinct groups begin a slow march north in late autumn, compelled by peculiar dreams that several who have assumed leadership roles have been experiencing. All of the various groups are being led to Lake Champlain at the Canadian border, but each must contend with the risks of freezing, starvation, exhaustion and run-ins with the various marauders they could encounter along the way.

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Book Review: Move by Sherri Fulmer Moorer

Ruby Josen is a meek woman. She’s passive, she’s uninteresting, and she’s unadventurous, but mostly she’s just complacent. She recently applied for and was rejected for a promotion at the graphics company where she works in a small Tennessee town. To add insult to this injury, Millie, the woman given the job, is an angry, pushy, demanding person who seems to have it out for Ruby. To then heap even more insult onto the injury and the first insult, Ruby learns that her friend, Simone, who had promised to recommend her for the promotion, reneged and actually helped Millie to get the job.

The insults keep coming, but not before Ruby meets Bryce, a mysterious and seemingly prescient stranger, at a local festival. He promises to remove the obstacles which have been keeping Ruby back. It’s this apparently random happenstance encounter that sets the action into play. People begin turning up bludgeoned to death in this small mountain town – people who have been making life hard for Ruby.
Move by Sherri Fulmer Moorer is a paranormal thriller that explores the philosophical issues of free will, fatalism and why-are-women-so-mean-to-each-other? With a strong focus on the minutia of office politics, Move is a meticulously plotted examination of the butterfly effect. Each action results in – not a snowball, but an avalanche of cause-and-effect chaos.
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Book Review: Cache a Predator by M. Weidenbenner

Police Detective Brett Reed had not been having a good year. After divorcing his drug addicted wife, Ali, in an attempt to keep his five year-old daughter, Quinn, safe from Ali’s negligence; a judge had believed Ali’s claims of abuse and had granted her custody of - not only Quinn - but the dog, the house; and there was now a protection order that made it even more difficult for Brett to assure Quinn’s safety. To make matters even worse, there were now fabricated rumors that Brett had possibly sexually violated Quinn. Things then get even worse when Ali is killed in a car crash just as a serial mutilator has begun a vigilante crusade against known and accused child molesters.

Cache a Predator by M. Weidenbenner is a thrilling procedural novel with all of the bells and whistles: a child at risk, a friendly dog, a beautiful and intelligent foil/love interest for the protagonist, tons of interpersonal relationships, and enough well-thought-out gimmicks to make the Sky Mall Catalog jealous. The title, for example, is not a misspelled reference to Chris Hansen’s willful entrapment specials. Rather, it is a pun playing on the idea that the serial mutilator has a plot-device of hiding his or her severed trophies in geocaching treasure boxes for hapless hikers to accidentally discover. Another is her tactic of telling the story in the third person with the occasional first person sojourn into the mind of our unknown whacker.
Book Review: Incognito by Chris Randall

David Chrysler has an assignment; protect a national heroine known popularly by an affectionate nickname only; the Lady. Exactly what the threat to the Lady was, David was unsure. There had been only vague clues to what the scheme might be. As a former secret agent for MI6, Chrysler had the specific skillset necessary to fulfill this mission; but with so little evidence to go on, this seemingly simple mission would test him more than any other. Before it was all over, David would suffer the death of his best friend, the loss of his backup livelihood, and the ward in his charge would lose her life as well, or would she?

Incognito by Chris Randall is obviously loosely based on the death of Diana Spencer. Halfway through the story, the character is presumably killed in a fiery car crash in a Paris tunnel along with her playboy boyfriend. The conceit of the story, however, is that Randall hints that he’s telling a thinly veiled account of actual events. Is it ripped-from-the-headlines fiction (a la Law and Order) or is it non-fiction with some fictionalized elements to enhance the narrative (a la Braveheart?)


Book Review: The Natural Victim by Peter Reynard

“Like a skinny lumberjack.” That’s how the unnamed narrator of The Natural Victim describes Deiter Fox, the energetic, tall, blonde, bearded grad student and fan of detective fiction who happily accepts when Eric Wanbois invites him to prove his innocence in the murder of his lab mate, Jason Stampos.

Stampos was not well liked. In fact, the more Deiter and his unnamed “Watson” look into his history, the larger the list of potential suspects seems to grow. Set in 1999 on the Ohio State University Campus in Columbus, Ohio, The Natural Victim by Peter Reynard is a closed door mystery with a twist. Records indicate that the accused used his pass card to visit the hall where the murder occurred on three separate occasions that fateful night. Witnesses alibi the client, but police are unconvinced. The accused had means, motive and apparent opportunity; and besides, there is a holographic direct accusation in the form of Eric Wanbois’ name flashing on the victim’s computer monitor.


Book Review: The Triumph Detective by Hazen Wardle

Resche Plimpton is an odd man with an odd style and an odd life’s goal. Convinced that Elvis Presley still lives, Resche runs a private investigator’s business under the first name of the king of rock ‘n’ roll hoping that one day a client will ask him to solve the urban legend of what really happened to the man who brought us Graceland. As he awaits that fateful day, Resche and his assistant/receptionist/gopher (whose name he doesn’t know at first) spend their days mostly waiting and occasionally toying with the occasional potential client should they call.
When a rich recent-widow calls offering thousands of dollars to investigate the recurring abduction by space aliens of her faithful German Shepherd, Resche accepts the challenge; and along with him we meet the members of a Realien-like space-cult, a cabal of video gamers, a probably-fake psychic who goes by a name which is a pun for the French term for fried potatoes, and several members of the local police constabulary.

With his penchant for plaid suits and classic British cars, The Triumph Detective is more in the mold of Dirk Gently and Daryl Zero than Sam Spade or Phillip Marlowe. Nobody is killed, no sexual tension smolders hotly just below the surface, and the reader is kept entertained more by the silly humor than by the not-so-tense plotting and never-quite hardboiled style, but you will be entertained nonetheless.


1 comment:

  1. This is John Reinhard Dizon, author of "Tiara". I would like to submit my book for review.