Heaven’s Crooked Finger by Hank Early

4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

Earl Marcus grew up in a fringe Pentecostal church run by his daddy in the fingers of the North Georgia mountains. Daddy was a snake handler and forced the young Earl to be one too. Except Earl got snake bit and nearly died and, for five days his daddy left him where he lay, to live or to die, according to God’s plan. Earl rejected God that day, and Daddy, and he walked away from both to live his adult life filled with beer and bourbon. Flawed and wounded, Earl spends his days investigating petty crimes as a detective.

 

Thirty years later Earl gets a letter. His Daddy is missing though that can’t be possible because Daddy died a few months before. Earl decides it’s a scam and will leave it be, but he receives another letter that his granny, the only person who ever loved him, is dying, and he has to go home. Earl travels home to Georgia and realizes that he needs to know the truth. Is Daddy dead or alive?

 

The book’s initial setting feels like a hidden character, moody and dark, and evocative with inherent conflict. The tone of the chapters focused on Earl’s early life are filled with arcane religious images which are eerily compelling, believable, but frighteningly so, while the present day chapters seem stilted and forced just as Earl is stilted and forced as he moves through the dichotomy of his life’s past and present. These two sides wrestle against each, steadily increasing in tension and intrigue until Earl reaches the top of the mountain, though not of his own accord.

 

19 Souls by J.D. Allen

3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

 

19 Souls begins with a great opening line.

 

Her bloody finger left a translucent smear on the phone screen as she glanced through the list of private investigators in Vegas.

 

 

The sentence raises questions. Who is she? Why is she bloody? Why does she need a PI? Is she a victim? Is she a killer? Turns out she may be both. The PI that she calls is Jim Bean. Jim thinks he is on track when he picks up a new client, Sophie Ever

s, the above-mentioned woman. Sophie contacts him because she needs help finding her long-lost brother, Daniel. But soon Jim discovers the truth. Daniel is not Sophie’s long lost brother at all. In fact, Daniel is the brother of Cynthia Hodge a.k.a. the body. There’s been a murder. Remember the opening line?

 

And so begins the bizarre series of twists and turns of the novel.

 

This thriller is fast paced. The main character is engaging and the story begins deceptively as a noir tale with a straight-laced but reserved PI with a tragic past but makes an unexpected turn. Soon Jim is on the hunt for a killer a.k.a. his client.

The Pirate Bride’s Holiday Masquerade

 

4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

Pirate Andre Dubois can deny his wife nothing. They both know that. So even though Andre much prefers the high seas to dry land, when Sophie Bellard Dubois asks to spend Christmas in New Orleans with Andre’s father, he reluctantly agrees. What neither of them know is who is also home for the holidays — fellow pirate and arch enemy, Gilbert Harrington IV. Sophie has still not psychologically recovered from the scars Gilbert left when he forcibly robbed her of her maidenhood five years earlier. Once he finds Sophie in the Crescent City, he demands she privately entertain him again, lest Andre be thrown in the stocks. Sophie fears there is no way out, unless she can create one of her own.

 

 

Cathy Skendrovich’s sequel to The Pirate’s Bride is a saucy, delightful romp through eighteenth-century La Nouvelle-Orléans. The liberal sprinkling of French throughout Holiday Masquerade adds charm and texture; the story is briskly paced and realistic. Sophie is fierce and independent. So it makes sense that the high point of the book comes when she regains her sense of power over Capitan Harrington, and even though Andre is present, she doesn’t need him to save her.

 

Skendrovich does a wonderful job of creating chemistry and passion between the two title characters. Those are key to a really good romance, after all, and Andre and Sophie have them in spades. That is fully evident in the titillating lovemaking scenes sprinkled throughout the book. From bed to bed and beginning to end, Andre and Sophie are lively and entertaining. Even though The Pirate’s Bride: Holiday Masquerade is set during Yuletide, it is a perfect read for any season.

The Essential Carl Mahogany by Zach Boddicker

 

3.75 Stars (3.75 / 5)

The self-effacing, chaotic, past-his-prime, doubtful, ambivalent, awkward, sometimes arrogant, but usually humorous main character in Zach Boddicker’s novel The Essential Carl Mahogany, is at the proverbial crossroads. What direction should he go in his life? And besides the van named Percy who should Carl bring with him? Carl’s mission is to figure out how to get his shit together and to find his soul which he lost working in the country music industry, except Carl perpetually gets sidetracked by…pick something. Anything. This is why Carl isn’t all that famous of a musician. Sometimes life just happens.

 

There is no dire conflict within the story. No swashbuckling. No hero action. All of the conflict is the soul-sucking daily kind, but Boddicker tells his tale with so much broken self-awareness that you are drawn in by the prose. The story is an oddball, misfit kind of thing that is difficult to categorize as other than a fictional memoir, but the moodiness of the setting and the narrative tickles your ear like a beloved old country song you forgot you knew.

The Discharge by Gary Reilly

4 Stars (4 / 5)

In The Discharge, Private Palmer is home from Vietnam. Everything that served him previously, his training, his skills, no longer applies, and Palmer flounders to make sense of “home” and what that means. The evolution from military personnel to private citizen is laborious, arduous, and problematic. At a loss with what to do with himself, Palmer wanders the streets of Denver, ambles around San Francisco, follows that inevitable movie dream in Los Angeles, but has that bleak moment where he questions all. Palmer returns to Denver, the place that never left his subconscious, to where he finally finds some sense of belonging.

 

The Discharge has the moody quality of a memoir, with emotional depth and moment by moment details, as if you are eavesdropping on Palmer as he shares his story over a beer at a bar with an acquaintance he hardly knows. Maybe Palmer drank too much and shared more intimate moments than intended, only Palmer wasn’t aware of it. The telling is frank and uninhibited and careens between both past and present remembrances sloshing amid tangible vignettes of memory, sensory perception, and moody interruption. Palmer’s journey corkskrews him on the quest of a man trying to find himself again after the disruption of the war and death and distance and time. Ultimately, when Palmer returns from battle he is trying to be the same person he was before Vietnam. But that is just not possible because the ends of a spiral never touch.

Rather be the Devil by Ian Rankin

 

4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

John Rebus has given up cigarettes. Seems he is waiting for the results of x-ray. If the shadow on his lung won’t deter his acerbic wit, then nothing will. Rebus has also givin up his job. Sort of. He’s now retired, bored, and in need of a hobby, and so finds himself begging to solve an old, unsolved murder. DI Siobhan Clarke has mercy on him and gives Rebus some case files for an unsolved murder from 1978 which involved a wayward wife, a rock band, and a mob boss. But who done it? That is what Rebus needs to discover.

 

Gangster Daryl Christie has been beaten near to death, which becomes Clarke’s case. And when a former detective is fished out of the harbor, DI Malcolm Fox is assigned to assist. The three cases seem to intersect, which then brings the three former colleagues (Rebus, Clarke, and Fox) into an uncomfortable alliance. But are they separate cases?

 

Rankin’s 21st book in the Inspector Rebus police procedural series has masterfully woven his adept characters with suspenseful plots, and colored them all with the seedy side of Edinburgh. The story is a gleeful excoriation on members of the greedy elite, and Rankin juxtaposes those supposedly noble characters with the ruthless criminal class. Though Rebus is shadowy in this book, perhaps echoing the shadowed lung, and other characters take front and center in the investigation, it is Rebus who untangles the web of intrigue.

 

Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

3.75 Stars (3.75 / 5)

In Certain Dark Things, a lonely street kid named Domingo, hooks up with an Aztec vampire named Atl, who is on the run from another species of vampire after her family was murdered for their drug cartel ties. Atl must make it to South America and needs Domingo’s help to get there.

 

Set in Mexico City, the author subjugates the classic vampire tale and intertwines it with Aztec and Mexican mythology. As Atl shares her past, we learn a vast amount about the vampires that inhabit Atl’s world; There are multiple species and sub-species of vampire, and if one considers the vast array of vampire mythologies from so many world cultures, this wide array of vampire species not only makes sense, but it’s a very clever twist on standard vampire lore.

 

The story line, though simple, is layered with evocative color in the telling, and the world building is tangible and tactile But the characters are not particularly likeable, and word choice and voice give a dirge-like feel to the book as a whole as the story moves forward. A very unromantic romance develops between Domingo and Atl that may or may not be a slap at the romance genre.

 

Though this new take on the vampire tale is fresh and interesting, the tale is less thrilling than it should be.

Promised to the Crown (Daughters of New France) by Aimie K. Runyan

3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

In 1667, King Louis XIV created a program to promote emigration of young women to New France as wives for Canadian colonists. Promised to the Crown follows the story of three fictional young women who answer the call. Rose leaves a bleak life in a charity hospital; Nicole hopes for a better future than that promised for a poor farmer’s daughter; Elizabeth flees her mother’s schemes for her future.  Each has her own demons, her own dreams, and her own story.

 

Runyan masterfully creates a composite tale, combining accounts of many of the real King’s Daughters into a single captivating story that weaves the lives of three women together.  She is able to create characters with believable flaws and complicated histories. Her adept merging of historical facts from the lives of many women to build these three distinct protagonists speaks to Runyan’s skill as both a researcher and a writer. Each woman responds uniquely to the unexpected realities of Quebec: its harsh climate, difficult conditions, the sometimes discouraging attitudes of those already there.  Expectations are tested when Rose, Nicole, and Elizabeth discover life in New France to be different than anticipated. All three women demonstrate resiliency as they adapt and grow. Historical information not utilized for her main characters is highlighted via dialogue and secondary characters.

 

Each of the women in the novel has faults and makes choices that can sometimes be a bit exasperating to the modern reader. It is a credit to Runyan’s skill that she is able to motivate their seventeenth-century responses with backstory. Her careful construction of their personalities allows us to identify with them despite the span of time and culture that separates us from them.  The book is worth the read to glean a glimpse of this often forgotten chapter of history.

Stack A Deck: Book Four: The Weir Chronicles by Sue Duff

3.5 Stars (3.5 / 5)

To Do List:

  • Save Earth and its twin planet Thrae from destruction by your father Aeros and his brother the Primary.
  • Rescue both Gwynn, your mother and one of three sisters whose combined powers have been essential to the survival of the planets and Rayne, the woman you love.
  • Do it all without much of your Sar power while being pursued by Aeros, who is busy slaughtering all of the innocents who get in his way.

Welcome to Ian Black’s life.  Welcome to Stack A Deck.

 

Author Sue Duff has done a wonderful job of creating a world and people similar enough to our own so to be relatable, yet different enough to be interesting and original.  The plot of Stack A Deck is well thought out, creative and complex.  However, occasional clunky sentence structure and unfortunate syntax and grammatical errors distract from the flow of an otherwise good book.  If those flaws weren’t present, I would have given it four stars.  There is a glossary in the back of the book, which is helpful especially if one is new to the Weir world.

 

The fourth book of The Weir Chronicles has a solid storyline and lots of action.  However, it would be great to see the action scenes fleshed out a bit, as well as a more full-bodied description of the differences of environment between Thrae and the various colonies on Earth.The ecology in particular, seems sparsely illustrated.  That being said, the characters are engaging and the plot rolls along nicely, feeling neither contrived nor illogical.  Overall, Stack A Deck left me wanting more, and mostly in a good way.

Ghosted by Judith Docken

4.5 Stars (4.5 / 5)

Freelance writer Hannah has a predilection for the unwanted and for distancing herself from others (with the exception of her cat), so when she comes across a Victorian era house for sale located in the wilderness outside of Calgary, she knows she’s found the perfect place. Tucked an hour away from everyone she knows, she soon discovers that it is someone else’s place as well—the resident ghost, who has scared off all previous owners of the beautiful, lovingly crafted home. But Hannah is as intransigent as the ghost and refuses to leave her newfound sanctuary. The two battle for control; all changes to the home are met with door-slamming and the knocking over of lamps, and even her cat starts behaving strangely. When Hannah’s journalistic drive leads her to discover what motivates her spooky companion, she finds a commonality between the two of them—and wonders if the ghost’s fate may also be hers.

 

Judith Docken paints the small town of Spruce Valley and its denizens as well as the quiet beauty and solitude of the woods outside Calgary in a way that makes the reader visualize it all perfectly. She possesses a strong voice as a writer, as shown by the subtle details of her characters, all who feel like distinct personalities. Hannah, the protagonist, is an independent, stubborn, and completely relatable woman in her early thirties with a penchant for wine and an equally independent and stubborn cat named Jimi (for Jimi Hendrix, whose black hair the cat resembles, which I found to be a nice touch). Any cat owner will chuckle knowingly at Jimi’s antics, as well as Docken’s deadpan humor, which contrasts perfectly with the heavier aspects of tragedy and loss that pervade the story. Ghosted is a strong debut novel from Docken, and a thoroughly enjoyable read.

The Pirate’s Bride by Cathy Skendrovich

5 Stars (5 / 5)

 

The Pirate’s Bride is a story about the young, but beautiful, Sophie Bellard, and her handsome, though unwilling, husband Captain Andre DuBois. Both parties are forced into a political marriage by their pirate king fathers, they part ways after a disastrous wedding night. Freed by the death of her father, Sophie trains to become a pirate under her father-in-law’s watchful gaze. Soon, Sophie is sailing the seas as a pirate fearsome enough to rival her husband. They meet, and passions flare, but Sophie holds a dark secret that might destroy any chance they have at happiness. After a terrible accident, it’s uncertain whether the lovers will be together at all.
I found this action-packed romance refreshing and invigorating. Sophie is a young, independent woman with a desire for freedom, and Andre is a sexy and passionate male lead. The accurate historical facts in this book only made me fall deeper into the story as I read. The author, Cathy Skendrovich, does not leave a person wanting as she carefully balances her fight scenes, her romance building, and her passionate encounters to create a story that is not only believable, but highly enjoyable. Skendrovich really gets into the magic of New Orleans, and paints a picture of the town and the high seas as they would have been hundreds of years ago. Even though the characters are from a different time, I could relate to their passion for life, and the emotions they faced with each new twist of fate. She will leave you rooting for Sophie and Andre to succeed in their love, and crying at the challenges they face. I would highly recommend any historical romance lover add this to the top of their reading list.

Apocalypse All The Time by David S. Atkinson

4 Stars (4 / 5)

 

Apocalypse All The Time“It’s the end of the word as we know it, and I feel fine.”

 

Sometime in the near future the world has become a dystopian society where apocalypses of all sizes and magnitude are a normal part of life’s routine.  Unlike other post-apocalyptic fiction, the world of Apocalypse All the Time is collapsing from every kind of imaginable horror – impact apocalypses, nuclear, climate change, zombie, and even alien invasion apocalypses.  Marshall is sick of it.  Life is constantly in danger and continually disrupted by one apocalypse or another, but nothing significant ever changes and no one seems to die.  Ever.  The emergencies are always handled by the Apocalypse Amelioration Agency and their Wizard of Oz-like leader, Malcolm.  Like the best heroes of fiction, Marshall is out to change that.  But instead of saving the world, he sets out to stop the reign of apocalypses.

 

Quirky and entertaining, Apocalypse All The Time paints a vivid picture of a world gone weird and one man’s daily struggle to manage while life crumbles around him on a regular basis.  What makes Apocalypse All The Time unique isn’t the subject matter.  The end of the world has been coming in literature for years, and America as we know it has been decimated and destroyed repeatedly by plagues, disease, explosions, and the un-dead.  What makes this book different is that while Doomsday keeps coming, the world averts disaster over and over until one man decides he has had enough.  In Not Quite So Stories, Atkinson examined society’s need to explain and demystify the world through short stories that concluded that life is so absurd, it is beyond our comprehension.  In Apocalypse All the Time he explores the impact an allure with apocalypticism can have on the way we live our lives and the effect it has on us. It is an absurdly funny exploration of society’s fascination with the end of the world and the trend of endless apocalypse predictions.

The Book That Matters Most by Ann Hood

4 Stars (4 / 5)
9780393241655Ava’s twenty-five-year marriage unravels after her husband Jim leaves her for another woman. Ava’s children are grown; her son if off to work in another country and her troubled daughter Maggie leaves for Europe to attend school. Ava is lonely and desperate for company, and though she is not an avid reader, she begs her friend Cate to let her join Cate’s monthly book group where members choose the books they want to discuss throughout the year. This year’s theme is for each member to choose the book that mattered most to them over the course of their lives. Ava, struggling to name a book that matters most to her, chooses a book from her childhood which she read after the traumatic deaths of her sister and mother, for which Ava blames herself. Ava, trying to fit in with the group, tells them that she has invited the author of her book to come to the group and speak. The problem is that Ave does not know, nor can she locate, the author. Maggie disappears in Europe, and Ava must now find both her daughter and the author. These quests both confuse Ava and help her to untangle secrets from her past including the death of her mother.

 

The Book That Matters Most if filled with misdirection but ultimately these direct the reader to a predictable ending. In spite of this, the story is smoothly written as it examines grief and healing, and is filled with a tangible depth of emotion. Hood weaves humor throughout the moody and intricate plot and builds suspense, forcing this reader to turn pages.

The Rampart Guards: Chronicle One in the Adventures of Jason Lex by Wendy Terrien

5 Stars (5 / 5)
Jason Lex’s life irampart-guardss changed when his mother is presumed dead from a mountain lion attack and her blood-stained jacket is found. Full of grief, Jason’s dad needs to start fresh and moves the family to Idaho, where Jason knows no one except his Grandmother. Since moving to town, Jason can see weird flying creatures and wonders if he is going crazy, especially since he swears he saw his mom after her death. Soon after this confusing experience, Jason discovers his family’s secret about their connection to cryptozoological creatures. Jason’s family has kept the creatures from overpowering the world with their negative energy for centuries, but now that Jason’s mom is dead, the creatures are out to take over the world and only Jason can stop them.

Terrien does an excellent job of instilling the action-packed adventure story with teen nervousness and dread while dealing with difficult emotional issues, such as the death of a parent, family shame, guilt and hurtful secrets. Terrien creates charismatic characters and weaves them into a fast-paced plot set in a seemingly real world full of amazing cryptozoological creatures which are both endearing and fearsome. The use of magical elements is delightful and makes this novel, the first in the series, appealing to many audiences. I was intrigued and captivated by this story.

The Ninja’s Daughter: A Hiro Hattori Novel (A Shinobi Mystery) by Susan Spann

5 Stars (5 / 5)
The Ninja's DaughterIn 1565 Kyoto, Japan, Ninja Hiro Hattori is awakened by a knock at the door. There has been a murder, and Hiro and Father Mateo, a Portuguese Jesuit, head off to investigate. Hiro discovers a family relationship with the deceased’s father, but distrust between family and clans, misdirection of clues, lies, espionage, and the pressing political tensions due to the recent death of the shogun, make the case a difficult one to solve. Then the local police forbid the investigation, and Hiro and Father Mateo are forced to dodge both threats and blackmail. But the death of the innocent girl presses on Father Mateo and the two can’t just leave it unsolved. They must find the murderer even when continuing the investigation is at their own peril. They find themselves going in circles around potential suspects, but nothing is what it seems. They discover an illicit relationship, stolen property, and treasure, while circumnavigating the customs and hierarchy of feudal Japan. All the while the potential new shogun threatens war.
Susan Spann’s writing is exquisitely precise just like her ninja character Hiro Hattori is precise. Not a single word is wasted. The descriptions of 16th century Japan are vividly painted, but not overwrought, and the author clearly has done her research into both the history, and beautiful, but sometimes brutal culture of feudal Japan.
Her characters are clearly defined, so much so that as a reader, I could judge them by the things they did not say. Each character’s look, each action had clearly defined meanings. The story drew me in from the first sentence and the plot twists and turns surprised me again, and again. I loved this book.