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Gabriel Boutros "Author of The Guilty" (Beaconsfield, Quebec Canada)

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Deadly Accounts (Agent Nora Wexler Mysteries)
Deadly Accounts (Agent Nora Wexler Mysteries)
Price: 1.83

4.0 out of 5 stars A New Cop on the Block, 18 July 2014
Deadly Accounts is the first of what promises to be a series of books about FBI agent Nora Wexler. When she is first introduced we see that she is smart, beautiful and determined. She is also new at her job, and somewhat nave about the kinds of cases she’ll be assigned and how free she’ll be to go after internet trolls and stalkers, which is a personal crusade of hers. In this story, she not only has to help catch an online stalker who is terrorising three women, but she has to prove to her superiors and colleagues that she has the guts and the smarts to get the job done.
Things are never what they seem, and the story twists and turns in clever and surprising ways. Author Wiley does a good job of tying the strings of the various plotlines together, so that seemingly disparate incidents are eventually related, and all mysteries are resolved satisfactorily, for the most part due to Nora’s particular skills.
Nora’s partner in all this is the incredibly good-looking Agent Travis Greer (I only mention how good-looking he is because it comes up with every woman he meets, including in some serious scenes where the flirtatious looks and comments struck me as being out of place). As in many thrillers, there are a couple of “why would they do that” moments. For example, a suspect keeps a murder weapon hidden in a basement instead of disposing of it at the earliest opportunity. Another time, for no clearly explained reason, Greer lets Nora enter a house to confront a dangerous killer on her own, while he waits safely in the car.
But these are minor quibbles and, as I said, these kinds of scenes show up in many thrillers, of which Deadly Accounts is a worthy and entertaining new member of the club.

People Like Us (The Keszthelyi Chronicles Book 1)
People Like Us (The Keszthelyi Chronicles Book 1)
Price: 1.83

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A clever, witty romp through Brittany, 13 July 2014
This book is listed as crime fiction, but it is so much more than that. If you’re only interested in how fast a book gets you into the action, and how fast-paced the story is, then you’ll probably get little enjoyment out of it. On the other hand, if you want a richer, more satisfying reading experience, then you’ll definitely enjoy it. People Like Us could be called a character study, but it is more of a study of a number of characters.
The story is narrated by Nick Keszthelyi, as amoral and shallow a protagonist as you’ll ever find, and his nasty observations of just about everyone and everything in the village in Brittany where the story takes place run through-out this tale of his attempt to steal a priceless work of art from a local convent. As Nick is neither a very competent criminal, nor a particularly conscientious human being, his half-baked plans lead to death and destruction. His reaction to what could be horrifying for others varies from bemusement to annoyance at the inconvenience he is constantly being put through.
And, totally self-absorbed as he is, he is somehow still likable, as is his partner in crime Estrade, who may well be a heartless, serial criminal himself. Although the story revolves around the theft from the convent, much time is dedicated to Nick’s run-ins and affairs with the locals, including a large British expatriate community trying to blend in with the French countryside. In fact, the theft is often secondary to Nick’s observations of these various characters and the shops, museums and restaurants in the area. As I said, if you’re in a big hurry to get to the crime, you might not enjoy this book. If you, like me, enjoy excellent prose, clever commentary on human behaviour, a dry wit and fully-realized characters, in other words, a very good book, then you’ll enjoy this a great deal.

Rescue One
Rescue One
Price: 1.83

4.0 out of 5 stars Solid space action, 2 July 2014
This review is from: Rescue One (Kindle Edition)
Rescue one is a solid action story about the crew of a small space ship that is charged to deliver a vaccine to a distant planet; of course, not everybody wants them to succeed on their mission. It will have a certain ring of familiarity to most sci-fi fans, with the easy camaraderie between the captain and the crew that mans the ship’s flight deck, but the story and characters are distinctive, and author Gardner succeeds in making the archetypes his own.
He also doesn't overwhelm the reader with futuristic terminology, using just enough jargon to establish the story’s context without distracting from the ongoing action, which is well-paced and effective. There are a few personal conflicts and just enough development to make us care about the characters, in what is primarily a plot-driven story. The plot itself has enough twists and turns to keep readers guessing, and reading in order to find out how things turn out. The book is a bit on the short side, but that just means that the story doesn't drag, and when it ends the reader is left wanting more, which is always a good thing.

What Went Wrong With Oscar Toll?
What Went Wrong With Oscar Toll?
Price: 3.71

5.0 out of 5 stars Strong legal drama about a death row inmate, 25 Jun 2014
Reading a book about a death row appeal, written by an attorney who specializes in just such cases, I wasn't sure if I was in for a diatribe about the horrors of the ultimate sentence, or if the author would be able to put out a quality work of fiction. I had no need to worry.
Charles Bush has given us a riveting human drama about the desperate struggle to have a man’s undeserved death sentence commuted. His writing displays firsthand familiarity with the labyrinthine appeals process, immersing the reader in a lawyer’s fight to save the life of a Death Row inmate. It’s an engrossing, well-written tale that is hard to put down form the first page. Bush has created realistic and compelling characters, with all too-human flaws, who make you worry about their fate long after you put the book down.
What impressed me most is that the defendant, Oscar Toll, is in no way “prettified,” nor is his crime shown to be excusable. His lawyer, working hard to save his life, has no illusions about what his client did. The issue is whether this man should be sentenced to death, not whether he should be forgiven or rehabilitated. That most of Oscar Toll’s friends and family have given up on him only adds to the poignancy of his lawyer’s last-ditch effort to save his life. Peeling away layers of Toll’s past, the lawyer looks for someone or something to convince an appeal court that his client doesn't deserve to die.
Part mystery, part human drama, it’s a first-rate read, even for those who aren't interested in the legal minutiae on which life and death may depend. I highly recommend it.

Jake's Last Mission
Jake's Last Mission
Price: 0.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Almost, but not quite, 25 Jun 2014
I received a free copy of this story for an honest, non-reciprocal review.
(Spoiler alert!!)

Jake’s Last Mission is a sci-fi short story that has some interesting ideas, but doesn't quite succeed in fleshing them out or developing much excitement. The story centers on Jake, a humanoid captain of a star-ship who wins a space battle that he neither wanted nor started. By destroying the alien ship he has created the potential for a war between his people and the alien race. He is called to meet the alien emperor and explain himself; if the emperor believes his explanation, all will be forgiven. If he doesn't, then war will be declared.
The story’s main problem is that there is little real drama in it. A few things happen to Jake on the way to giving his explanation, but these issues are not overly exciting, they’re quickly resolved, and they play no part in what happens when he meets the emperor. In other words, there are no seemingly insurmountable obstacles (or any obstacles at all, actually) preventing Jake from giving his explanation. And once it’s given, the emperor accepts it and that’s pretty much it.
The writer, Shannon Haddock, doesn't succeed in creating much tension or doubt about what’s going to happen. There are no twists and turns in the plot that would leave the reader wondering what will happen next. There are just scenes where things are described in a matter of fact way, with little sense of danger or anything important being at stake. While Jake is likable, and made real enough, with both faults and positive attributes, the story as a whole was too thin to captivate me.
What the story did have was a lot of alien terminology. While these strange-sounding words are meant to add richness and authenticity to the story, the constant stream of driths, and saeneads, and culinaire and on and on, was too heavy-handed and distracting to me as a reader. There are several pages of “useful notes” at the end of the story to explain what some of those terms mean, but I think that if the explanations are necessary (which they rarely were) then they should be found within the story, either during the ongoing action or even in the body of the narration. Fictional end-notes to a short story just struck me as awkward.
There’s another, “bonus,” short story that comes with this, called Kristark’s Coronation, referring to the alien leader that Jake met, and describing how he is crowned emperor. Once again, Ms. Haddock displays her excellent ability to describe alien settings and rituals in great detail, but there is no actual story here. The essence of all stories is conflict, of which there was none at all in this added featurette. Maybe the point was to describe what the coronation looked like, which is all well and good. But if there was too little drama in the main story, a bonus story with no drama at all was not really necessary.
All in all, some good parts, but with room for improvement.

Space Sushi
Space Sushi
Price: 0.92

4.0 out of 5 stars Watch What You Eat, 15 Jun 2014
This review is from: Space Sushi (Kindle Edition)
Space Sushi, R.L. Currell’s entry into the Futuristic in Nature anthology, is a simple, yet clever story about a food critic about to feast on an epicurean delight which might, if not cooked properly, kill him. The short tale centers on the critic’s time in the restaurant, nervously waiting while the chef prepares the Ambrosian Sea Slug, chatting with his robot assistant or flirting with the somewhat distracted waitress, wondering all along if the delicious dish he is about to eat will be his last meal.
Set 100 years into the future, although it’s a story that can take place in any time period, Space Sushi is an at times funny, and at other times poignant, meditation on the thin line that divides life and death. Written in a friendly, conversational tone, it doesn't take itself too seriously, and is an enjoyable, quick read to a satisfying but ironic ending.

Through the Cotton Blooms
Through the Cotton Blooms
Price: 1.85

3.0 out of 5 stars A decent story of love and heartbreak, 5 May 2014
It is the early 1960's in Savannah, Georgia and Eileen Trunket, the youngest daughter of an old and proud Southern family, is madly in love with Paul Peters, her devoted boyfriend for the last three years of high school. She plans to go to Europe to study, and then who knows where the future leads. But on the day of her graduation she learns that her father, desperate to save the foundering family business, has arranged her marriage with the cold, but wealthy Mayor Tom Thompson.
That she refers to her groom- to-be as the “creepy” Mayor Thompson is a sure sign that there will be little wedded bliss in her life. And so begins, Through the Cotton Blooms by L.M Cornelison, the story of a young woman forced to abandon her hopes and dreams and enter into a loveless marriage of convenience.
The book is a bit uneven, sometimes quite good, and sometimes only fair. One of the problems of telling a story from the point of view of one character is that the reader is given little insight into the thoughts and feelings of anyone else. This is especially so here, where Eileen is thrust into an unexpected situation, into a world of politicians she knows little about, and is married to a husband who almost never speaks to her, except when he’s cruelly belittling her. As she has no idea why events are unfolding the way they are around her, neither does the reader.
The scenes of her unhappy marriage are gripping, and sometimes heartbreaking, just as the scenes between Eileen and her true love are sweet and tender. But, I would have liked to know why her husband treated her the way he did, especially when he was able to show affection and passion for other people. Telling us his motivations would have made him a more interesting character, instead of just that terrible man who is mean to his wife whenever he shows up. As for her lover, he is so idealized in Eileen’s eyes that he comes across as almost unrealistically perfect.
So, while we do empathize with Eileen, and feel her struggle to find true happiness, the people around her are not that well-developed because the reader only sees them through Eileen’s eyes.
The other difficulty of a first-person narrator is that we never know things that are going on in other parts of the fictional world that could impact upon her, especially where, as here, she lives alone for long periods of time, far from town and cut off from most other people. Although she is a compelling character, it wouldn't have hurt the book to show what was happening with her father, or her ex-boyfriend, or her husband when he was away from her. This would have created a richer, more detailed world for readers, without taking away from the power of Eileen’s suffering and her difficult journey to find happiness.
In the end there is a lot to like in the character of Eileen, and reason for optimism that Ms. Cornelison will continue to grow as an author.

God's Memory, Part II
God's Memory, Part II

3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting; Could Have Been Better, Part 2, 4 May 2014
Part 2 picks up right where Part 1 left off, and really wouldn't work as a stand-alone novel. Zakhar, the Ukrainian ex-soldier, is after revenge for the murder of his daughter. He holds former US President Taylor responsible, but he doesn't plan to kill him. He wants to kidnap Taylor and get him to confess to being part of a worldwide conspiracy which, among other things, was behind the September 11, 2001 attacks. The reader has no idea why Zakhar believes that such a secret organization exists, other than that his daughter Zoe told him so in Part 1, and no reasons were ever given for her beliefs either.
Be that as it may, when Part 2 begins Zakhar kidnaps Taylor along with Rothfeld, who, unknown to Zakhar, just happens to be the head of that very same secret organization. This book starts off really well, with a well-constructed action scene, and some very gripping moments between the kidnapper and his hostages (including some squirm-inducing torture). About a third of the way through Part 2 I told myself that this is much better than Part 1, but that optimism soon died. The tense dialogue and clever verbal sparring between the characters soon devolves into long-winded speeches, which was the same problem that cursed Part 1.
We get page after page of first Taylor, then Rothfeld, explaining, in a very detailed manner, why this organization, known as The Family, is controlling world events, causing wars and crises in order to make the world, somehow, a better place. The men discuss their politics, philosophy and religion. These discussions go on and on and on. They’re not boring in and of themselves, they just go on and on and on. If I don’t refer to anything else which happens in the book, it’s because there’s almost nothing else in it. Every now and then there’s a page or two about the military looking for the hostages, and a couple of flashbacks to the origins of The Family, but otherwise, almost to the last page, the book is one continuous debate between kidnapper and hostages.
Strangely enough, considering how long-winded these discussions are, much of the story felt rushed and superficial. For example, almost no time is spent explaining how the incredibly intricate plan to kidnap a former US President is put together. Then, The Family’s origin story could have filled a whole book by itself, but it’s told in a handful of pages. Even Rothfeld’s explanations for The Family’s secret machinations don’t really make clear why they decided to behave as they do: I still haven’t figured out how the anti-Semitism his ancestor faced in 18th century Germany led to the US government faking the terrorist attacks on New York City, nor how uniting the world under one government will somehow stop all the tribal, ethnic and religious hatred that are so pervasive.
So, while this book spends a little time as a thriller before trying to be a book of ideas, it doesn't really succeed in either one. There is certainly a skeleton of a potentially fascinating story here, but too little meat on its bones.

God's Memory
God's Memory
Price: 2.37

3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting; Could Have Been Better, 3 May 2014
This review is from: God's Memory (Kindle Edition)
Part I of God's Memory centers around Zoe, a woman in her early twenties whose mother and step-father died in the September 2001 terrorist attacks on New York City. Actually, Zoe would disagree with me, because she is certain that the destruction of the Twin Towers was an inside job by the US government, acting under the control of something called The Family, which is the kind of shadowy, behind the scenes power that one can often find in books about conspiracies. One of the main problems I had with the book is that I had no idea why Zoe didn't believe that Middle Eastern terrorists were responsible for the attack, nor how she knew that an ultra-secretive power behind the throne like The Family existed. She is shown as very passionate in her convictions, and succeeding in convincing many people to follow her, but since we're never told the basis for her beliefs I have no idea why she becomes any more popular than the average rabble-rouser with access to the Internet. (Minor spoiler alert: About two-thirds of the way into the book she receives an anonymous call telling her about a man who wishes to speak to her because he was involved in the secret planting of bombs in the towers in the weeks leading up to the attack. She is very excited at the prospect of getting this evidence, but this merely demonstrated that she had no reason to believe the attacks were an inside job in the first place, since she had never seen any kind of evidence before.)

Beyond this gap in logic, what makes the book not as entertaining as it could have been is that there is hardly any real dialogue, there are only diatribes. Zoe (as well as the duplicitous President Taylor, or the shadowy Rothfeld) never speaks to other characters, she only makes long-winded speeches at them. The result is that Zoe and all the characters are very two-dimensional, existing only to represent specific points of view that the author uses to get his message across, while never feeling like real people. This message is that we are all dupes to governments, the media and unseen powers that mislead and misinform us. While that is not a bad message to have in a thriller, the reader is hit over the head with it over and over, with little nuance or self-questioning by any of the characters, so that it feels like reading a political tract rather than a novel. All this is too bad because the prose is strong and clear, and if more time was spent on fleshing out the characters or making the story a little less obvious, it would have been a much better book.
I'm moving on to Part 2 now.

The Girl who Sang with Whales: 1 (IsleSong)
The Girl who Sang with Whales: 1 (IsleSong)
by Marc Secchia
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.86

5.0 out of 5 stars A Fully Realized Fantasy World, 29 April 2014
A weakness that is common to many fantasy stories is that much time is spent on the fantastical elements, while most of the characters are either two-dimensional or come across as mere caricatures.
This is far from the case with The Girl Who Sang with Whales. Marc Secchia’s excellent novel combines a richly-detailed alternate world, with a slew of well-drawn and well-thought out characters.
The story takes place in a world dominated by the ocean. The people live on islands of varying sizes that are grouped into atolls. Every aspect of life, from religion, to language, to politics, to food, is intertwined with the World-Sea and the creatures that inhabit it.
Among those creatures are huge whales which can be controlled by an exclusively male guild of Bard-Navigators. These men "sing the whales," using their powerful voices to draw the whales to guide and protect their ocean-going convoys. The convoys, and many of the islands, are being preyed upon by a growing population of sea dragons, which are the mortal enemies of the whales.
Into this world comes a teen-age girl, Zhialeiana, or Zhisu for short. She is born of an unknown father, on a tiny island located at the furthest end of the furthest atoll. With her white hair and sea-blue eyes she stands out from everyone around her. Her webbed foot marks her as an object of derision, and sometimes fear, to many who wonder at her origins. And her ability to commune with nature through her songs means she has the chance to become one of the rare female Bard-Navigators in the world.
The book can be enjoyed on so many levels. The prose is almost lyrical, with much time devoted to describing the near-magical realm that Secchia has imagined. The huge cast of colourful characters that Zhisu meets when she is forced to leave her home island reminded me of the best Dickens novels. The story, of an orphan who is used by those she thought she could trust, and sold into indentured servitude to a harbourmaster far from her home, also could have been written by Dickens.
There are moments of quiet contemplation of Zhisu’s inner, spiritual world, as well as the outer world she inhabits, and both are fully-realized creations. But there are also scenes of political intrigue, violent action and high seas adventure. In the middle of this whirlwind stands Zhisu, struggling to find her inner strengths as well as some sort of meaning to the events which befall her. She is swept along by political and spiritual currents that she hardly understands, as her abilities make her a prize that many people want to obtain.
It may sound like a mixed bag, and it is, but Secchia holds all the disparate parts together, and keeps this wonderful story moving forward to an ending that promises further adventures, along with a voyage of discovery where Zhisu, and the happy readers, will hopefully learn who, or what, she really is.

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