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Alice Y. Yeh (New York, USA)
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Peace Love and Murder (Five Star First Edition Mystery)
Peace Love and Murder (Five Star First Edition Mystery)
by Nancy Conner
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars Unexpectedly great, 23 Oct 2012
It all starts with a simple traffic violation. Then they discover the body in the trunk. What follows is a desperate quest to clear the name of an innocent man, all of which seems to depend on gut instinct, a little army training, and sheer dumb luck. As the layers of illegal activity are revealed, it becomes exceedingly clear that Bo is in over his head.

My first response after finishing this book is that it was surprisingly wonderful. I wasn't in the mood for a murder mystery when I started it, but the story soon changed my mind. The characters were engaging, and I felt completely at ease in their (imaginary) company within the first few pages. The author took care to flesh out the main players on her stage, revealing moments of brilliance mixed in with instances highlighting their very human flaws. It helped me to connect with people like Trudy and Ryan in ways that I wouldn't have expected. Then again, what I was expecting was a slew of murder mystery stereotypes. This was one of those rare instances in which I was thrilled to be wrong.

As far as the mystery itself, the plot was well conceived. The author conducted her misdirection well, mixing in real clues with red herrings. One of my greatest pet peeves with murder mystery are illogical jumps in the would-be detectives' reasoning and plans of action. Bo's behaviors felt natural rather than forced, his thought processes believable and easy to follow. Some of his success fell upon serendipity rather than skill, but these events only required some light stretching of the imagination.

That brings us to the writing. Even in this plot-driven story, the tone and word choices made me feel as if I were inside of Bo Forrester's head. The pacing was, in a word, comfortable, and the dialogue was particularly well done. Within the span of a short conversation, I could get a feel for individual characters' personalities, even filtered through the mind of a biased storyteller whose freedom is on the line. You won't find much lyricism or poetic waxing here, but then, Bo isn't exactly the type.

Peace, Love, and Murder is one of those unexpected gems that one comes across every so often. There is much more that I could say in its favor, but in an effort to minimize spoilers, I will instead encourage readers to see for themselves.

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(Review copy provided by the author)


Quest of the Demon
Quest of the Demon

2.0 out of 5 stars Hide and Read book review: 2.4/5, 11 Sep 2012
As a teenage girl living in a modern era, the last thing that Darci expected was to be transported to an alternate world, one in which dragons, elves, and ogres live alongside humans. Drawn there through the ineptitude of an apprentice wizard, she finds herself embroiled in a battle against evil that will decide the fate of more realities than one. At least she gets a nifty weapon and some strong allies.

First off, I will say that Quest of the Demon has an interesting premise. The idea of dragons maintaining the balance between good and evil is intriguing, and yet the goal of the supposed balance seems to be skewed to the side of good. At least, it's supposed to be. Add to this unbalanced scale some impossible odds and a strong sense of urgency, and you're suddenly invested in Darci and company and their quest to save the world, so to speak. The author did think up credible background stories for most of the main characters, and they explain a great deal about current behaviors and motivations. Unfortunately, the plot itself is a little disjointed, with subplots that go nowhere and asides that add little to the story or the development of the characters.

Perhaps the story itself would have been easier to follow if it were more readable. Beyond the extensive array of grammatical errors, there was an abundance of proofreading gaffes that made reading the book almost painful at times. In all fairness, the writing quality improved dramatically in the last third of the story, as did the plot, but both flaws returned with a vengeance at the very end. There are only so many times that a reader can excuse the use of "bought" for "brought." Now, I received my review copy over a year ago, so hopefully the book has undergone some editing since then. If not, it sorely needs to undergo some revisions.

On the whole, Quest of the Demon had a lot of unrealized potential. Due to violent content and sexual references, I would not recommend it to readers under the age of thirteen.

(Review copy provided by the author)


Legends of Marithia: Book 1 - Prophecies Awakening
Legends of Marithia: Book 1 - Prophecies Awakening
by Peter Koevari
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 14.55

3.0 out of 5 stars Quick, enjoyable read, 23 Aug 2012
Nine hundred years ago, a cursory act of questionable justice turned a young half vampire into a dark sorceress and renewed an ancient war. She is the fulfillment of one dire prophecy, and yet there is another, a prognostication that centers around the savior of Marithia. Vampires, faeries, elves, dragons, and humans find themselves caught in this epic battle that will decide the fate of their world.

Book One of Legends of Marithia is your standard tale of good versus evil, though it is a little more graphic and dark than many other epic fantasy novels (read: sex and violence). The story moves at a quick pace, and readers are quickly sucked into the fight. Admittedly, there aren't too many surprises when it comes to the plot. Even so, it manages to feel fresh and interesting, and I was eager to see how everything would turn out. What I discovered was that the author tends to kill off characters just as they start to pique my interest.

In general, I had some trouble connecting with individual characters. Part of the issue is that there were many opportunities to show character development, but they were skipped over in favor of moving the plot along. For instance, Vartan's training with the dragons could have been fascinating. Equally interesting would have been Kassina's descent into darkness, or an expansion upon Tusdor's turn from thievery. I liked these characters well enough, but it was hard to invest in them on a deeper emotional level. Perhaps it would have been easier had the line between good and evil not been so cleanly drawn.

The writing itself was, for the most part, good. It successfully faded into the background, giving center stage to the story that it was meant to convey. There were several short, descriptive passages that were lovely. With that said, some of the sentences were stilted, awkward, or grammatically flawed. I had to read through them several times to discern the author's intent.

Overall, Legends of Marithia: Prophecies Awakening is an entertaining read for more mature audiences. I look forward to seeing what happens in Book Two.

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(Review copy provided by the author)


3 LIES
3 LIES
Price: 1.80

4.0 out of 5 stars A complex conspiracy, 10 Aug 2012
This review is from: 3 LIES (Kindle Edition)
Two seemingly unrelated conspiracy theories link together in 3 Lies, a book that combines espionage, high treason, and a very messy marriage. Betrayed by his wife, and six months away from divorce, technological genius Cliff Masters has chosen to shun all things high-tech in favor of a simple life on a docked boat. All seems to be going well, until his new girlfriend goes missing. Speaking of disappearances, ten CIA contacts have recently gone AWOL. Just what is going on?

I wasn't sure what to make of this book at first. It seemed like I was being told two different--and very compelling--stories, each of which could have stood on its own. Then, slowly, bits and pieces began coming together. By the end, I could fully appreciate the intricacy of the author's construct and the seamless manner in which two conspiracies converged. For all its switching between Doug's and Cliff's points of view, never once did the story lose my interest. I fully intended to read half the book today before getting back to work. Instead, I burned through page after page, caught up in the rhythm and tightly controlled flow of the plot. The passage of time only registered when I realized that the sun was going down.

Part of the reason why I was so hooked is that the story toys with a reader's mind with well-managed dexterity. A few short scenes would have me decided that this character or that character was definitely on the "right" side, and then more information would surface that suddenly cast a dark shadow of doubt on his or her integrity. It was nuanced enough that it was difficult to discern whether I was being led to the truth or tossed a particularly pungent kipper.

Perhaps it was because I read through so quickly, but I never did fully understand which were the titular "three lies" that were told. It also took several chapters before I realized that "Hizonner" was a slurred version of "His Honor," an intentional bit of mockery made no sense until I tried to say it aloud. For the most part, however, the book read smoothly. It was detailed enough to lend credibility without losing readers in technical language. Through passing descriptions of a few symptoms, readers can feel the desperation of Beth's situation, even if they know nothing about acute renal failure or hemodialysis. As far as this story goes, my only real bone of contention is the tidiness with which each loose end was woven back in. There is something to be said for allowing the audience to conjecture. Life, after all, is never that neat.

My day off is now gone, but it was time well spent. 3 Lies is one of those stories for which you'll need a few free hours...and perhaps a healthy dose of suspicion.

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(Review copy provided by the author)


Encounters in Paris: A Collection of Short Stories
Encounters in Paris: A Collection of Short Stories
by Carolyn Moncel
Edition: Paperback
Price: 3.73

4.0 out of 5 stars Sneaking a peek, 28 July 2012
Encounters in Paris explores a few key moments in the life of Ellery Roulet. Set in Paris, the woman's life is turned topsy-turvy as a result of two letters. The rest of the stories cover the ripples caused by those initial two events, exploring Ellery's emotional state and focusing on the decisions that she makes.

Described as a book of short stories, Encounters is more like a series of vignettes. What makes these scenes works is the author's ability to evoke emotion and create an ambiance with these short interludes; despite the limited amount of information given, I felt like I knew exactly what was going on, and I was connected to Ellery in those moments. There is something easily accessible about the experiences that are relayed; the setting of Paris is more incidental than anything else. With a few particulars altered, these stories may just as well have taken place elsewhere.

Perhaps what is most remarkable about this work is its ability to pull you into each story. In a matter of two or three paragraphs, one is drawn into Ellery's life just as surely as one would tumble into the world of a much longer tale. What is implied is as important, if not more so, as that which is stated outright. It's an effective reflection of a world in which most of our communication is nonverbal, and a single action can convey a mountain of words. Ellery's actions certainly speak volumes about her development as a character.

The book itself is only about twenty-seven pages long. I would have liked to have seen more scenes, as the everyday does as much to establish a character as do major life events. Additionally, the style took some getting used to. The sentences were a little overdone in terms of their content--that is, too much information was crammed in, and not necessarily in a logical manner. The attempts at lyricism felt forced, and the story flowed best when the author wasn't trying quite so hard.

Given the length of this work, there is only so much that I can say. It is a quick read, and the snapshots are easy to fit into a short wait at the doctor's office or the spin cycle on your washing machine. I managed to complete it in the course of a single lunch break. For those who want something that is easy to put down and to pick back up, this just may be the right fit for you.

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(Review copy provided by the author)


The Card: A Van Stone Novel: 1
The Card: A Van Stone Novel: 1
by Jim Devitt
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.93

3.0 out of 5 stars Quick read for young sports fans, 8 July 2012
Van Stone, newest bat boy for the Seattle Mariners, has it made. He's quickly learning the ropes at work, enjoying an improved social status, and may even be allowed to purchase a car. Then tragedy strikes, and he finds himself embroiled in a dangerous mystery involving a recent gift: a baseball card for a mediocre player from the 1920s. Between suspicious men in suits, threatening letters, and gunfire, he and his friends need to piece together the puzzle before time runs out.

This novel takes us inside the world of baseball, or specifically, that of bat boys, with the introduction of Van's new job. For young sports fans, this may present a point of interest, especially as it is told through the eyes of a neophyte who is both awed and enthralled by each new experience. This "insider look" is one of the high points of the novel and encompasses a good portion of the beginning. The tragic beginning of the mystery is when the novel completely shifts gears.

The episodic nature of Van's detective work caters to younger readers and their reduced attention span. Still, it felt a little disjointed, even if it did come together at the end. As a healthcare professional, I was particularly bothered by the cavalier attitude that the book took towards unnecessary use of an x-ray device, especially when healthcare costs are ballooning. But I digress. As a whole, the story did well to avoid extraneous interactions and while a few more red herrings would have added more intrigue to the tale, its few plot twists were conducted rather nicely.

The Card is written in simple enough language that I would recommend it to middle grade readers and above. At times, the language became a bit awkward. Tthe sentences often contained too much information without the lyrical flow to make them feel natural. The tone of voice also sounded like that of a much younger character, which is why I felt somewhat confused when Van first mentioned being able to drive a car.

On the whole, The Card is a quick read and light entertainment for a younger set, particularly for those interested in baseball.

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(Review copy provided by the author)


Zero Sight (Zero Sight Series, Book 1)
Zero Sight (Zero Sight Series, Book 1)
Price: 2.41

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An edgier take on YA fantasy, 3 July 2012
Times are hard for Dieter Resnick. In a post-depression America, his only hope of getting out of the economic wasteland called Las Vegas is to earn a full scholarship to a private university. The problem? He just accidentally killed a boy while trying to avoid having his head crushed in. Magic is messy, and Dieter soon discovers that in evil or unskilled hands, it can often be lethal. At least he has a vampire on his side.

With I first read the summary of this novel, I admit that I was less than enthusiastic. The two main protagonists sounded like your typical underdogs: one a talented but untrained "nice guy," and the other an angst-ridden social outcast with immense skill. It was an unexpected delight, therefore, to discover original, well-defined personalities and odd bits of humor that elevated these characters beyond their tropes. Dieter was surprisingly charming for a total nerd, while Rei's dual nature and strange appreciation of puns were as entertaining as they were fascinating. Other characters received the barest of consideration in terms of development of personality, however, and while this is not unexpected for a plot-driven novel, one could only hope that they are not as one-dimensional as they seem.

Following the idea of cliches and overused plot devices, the concept of a "magic school" has been done, and done quite thoroughly. Even so, the author manages to differentiate Elliot College by its particular approach to magical theory and education. There is a tongue-in-cheek handling of supernatural stereotypes that is executed particularly well.

Deviating from the squeaky-clean approach to YA fiction, Zero Sight is unabashedly frank in its use of crass language and its descriptions of violence. While some may protest the inclusion of expletives and intricate detailing of battered bodies, these literary choices lend a sense of realism to an otherwise fantastical novel. Battles are brutal by nature, and shying away from the ugliness would have detracted from our understanding of the characters involved. Similarly, Dieter's struggle with his libido is one to which all teenage boys can relate (or so I surmise, never having been one myself).

As a whole, the book is very well written; the biggest drawback lies in the great number of typographical errors. They range from "forth" for "fourth" and the occasional extraneous word to the unforgivable misuse of "it's" for "its," or rather, of apostrophes as a whole. Further proofreading is definitely warranted.

Overall, Zero Sight is an engaging, realistic fantasy novel with likable protagonists and a fast-driven plot. I look forward to delving into other books in this series.

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(Review copy provided by the author)


Burden Kansas
Burden Kansas
by Alan Ryker
Edition: Paperback
Price: 4.15

4.0 out of 5 stars A return to "real" vampirism, 24 Jun 2012
This review is from: Burden Kansas (Paperback)
In a small town in Kansas, cattle are getting attacked. Some are torn apart, while others get away with a little blood loss and some strange sort of virus. The target of the contagion isn't bovine, after all: it's human. Keith Harris, an angry man with a weak sense of self control, is the first to come across the vampires, and his actions set off a twisted chain of events that delves into the darkness lurking within us all.

For a novella of its limited length, Burden Kansas does a superb job setting up its characters and fleshing out pasts through passing comments and very brief explanations. The mix of man and monster in Keith's psyche is superbly done, and one is as horrified as one is sympathetic with the choices he has made over the course of his life. Dennis's fear and impotent sense of rage feels genuine, and it is this understanding of everyone's motivations that make the events in this supernatural story wholly believable.

The story itself is told in short, choppy prose, which the author has described as "the minimal voice of the western." It is indeed minimalist, which sets and edgier tone to the tale and blends well with Keith's voice and perspective. It does lend itself to some redundancies, and I would have appreciated more diversity of word choice, but as a whole, the style works quite well.

One of the main advantages of this story, I believe, is that the content was suited to its length. The story moved along steadily, and the final denouement, while somewhat open-ended, felt conclusive enough. The book makes for a quick, interesting read, though it may be a little too dark for an afternoon at the beach.

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(Review copy provided by the author)


Seer of Mars (The Vallar Series Book 1)
Seer of Mars (The Vallar Series Book 1)
Price: 0.00

0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but needs an editor's pen, 30 May 2012
On Mars, various organizations and colonies have risen, their ultimate goal to get back to Earth, or Hinun. Thus far, the strongest faction has been a militaristic group, called Marscorp,that uses psychics to show them how to defeat and absorb rival colonies. Alliance is not an option. It is within this milieu that Ian Connors, a growing psychic, discovers the love of his life via visions. The problem? She's on the enemy's side. In his quest to find her, Ian comes face to face with the brutality of war and is forced to make a choice: to save lives or to destroy them.

Vallar is a fast-paced tale, designed for the young adult reader. It is good about playing to one's sense of righteous indignation and the frustration of being ignored and misunderstood. While the forces at work are portrayed in a very uncompromising light (Beacon = evil, Vallar = good), this is the sort of black-and-white worldview that caters to adolescents, even if it doesn't challenge them. In that sense, Ian's limited emotional range is appropriate for the novel, though older readers might crave a little more depth. As for me, I can let it go; my major issue is one common with young adult fiction: the bizarre suddenness with which characters fall in love. In some cases, authors are able to present enough chemistry to make it believable. Unfortunately, that was not the case here.

Incredulity aside, I found this story to be quite diverting. I was quickly pulled into Ian's struggles and shared in his sense of impotence as the adults around him ignored his prognostications. It's a tale as old as time (see Cassandra and the Trojan Horse), but it still rang true and helped me to connect with the character. This, in turn, made his obstacles, triumphs, and failures my own. I wanted him to succeed, just as much as I wanted Beacon to receive his just desserts. In other words, the author successfully made me care about her protagonist and this fictional world.

One of the things that did draw my attention away from the story at hand was the plethora of typographical and grammatical errors. Were my copy a paperback, rather than an e-book, I may have been compelled to whip out a red pen to underline and circle my way along. As it stands, this is definitely not the worst that I've seen, but it was irritating all the same. Some critical proofreading would have benefited this work greatly.

Vallar is an easy, entertaining read for those looking for a quick read and conflicts with clearly drawn lines. For those who prefer subtle nuances and strong character development, this may not be the best fit.

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(Review copy provided by the author)


The Valley of Heaven and Hell - Cycling in the Shadow of Marie-Antoinette
The Valley of Heaven and Hell - Cycling in the Shadow of Marie-Antoinette

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great entertainment for the vicarious traveler, 22 April 2012
During one alternately rainy and scorching summer vacation, author Susie Kelly and her husband, Terry, set off on bicycle to follow the journey of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette through the Marne Valley. Along they way, food is consumed, physical endurance is tested, and French history is shared. More than as travelogue, as it were, The Valley of Heaven and Hell immerses readers in the past while engaging their sympathies for present troubles. The result is a memorable shared trip through 750 kilometers' worth of France.

For those of us in desperate need of a vacation, this narrative takes us out of our humdrum lives and allows us to travel alongside Susie and Terry, all while learning about a couple most recently brought to the fore by a woefully inaccurate film featuring Kirsten Dunst as the much maligned queen. What could have been a very dry rendering of French history becomes a fascinating story, told by a woman who clearly cares about the subject matter. Relayed with the same zeal that the author applies to present day foibles, readers quickly find themselves engaged. Beyond the Revolution and the Reign of Terror, Kelly also explores the impact of World War I on several of the locations through which they cycled. The end result is as educational as it is entertaining.

In the scenes depicting the ride itself, the author conveys various mishaps and her own emotional state with a self-effacing humor that is often hilarious enough to make a reader laugh out loud. Granted, the transitions between past and present are a little abrupt at times, but on the whole, I can appreciate the attempt at seamless shifting based on location. The author also saw fit to include helpful URLs for items and areas of interest for those of us who are a little less well-traveled. The inclusion of references buoys the credibility of the factual information presented.

I suppose that this review is shorter than most, but it's rather difficult to explain what made a very long bike ride, the French Revolution, and some WWI so utterly fascinating. Suffice it to say that I would recommend this book to anyone interested in a literary getaway minus the expense of an actual trip.

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(Review copy provided by the author)


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