Windfall: A Henry Lysyk Mystery by Byron TD Smith

Reviewed by Daniel Ryan Johnson

Windfall: A Henry Lysyk Mystery is a well-researched story interweaving real-world intrigue into a fictional tale full of questions. Windfall is not an over the top mystery thriller where every moment is filled with high suspense and the pressing need for action. Instead, it quietly tells a tale about an unassuming former banker, who is somewhat reluctantly drawn into the maze by a love for puzzles and at the urging of his precocious niece and captivating neighbor. The distraction might be exactly what our protagonist needs to pull him out of a dark period in his life – unless the danger catches up to him.

While the book may move at a more casual pace than many modern mysteries, which feel the need to fill every page with excitement, that does not mean it is lacking in tense moments of suspense. The first chapter of the book will hook you before the following chapters reel you into the world surrounding one of the most infamous unsolved crimes. Author Byron TD Smith does a terrific job of balancing these moments with wonderful character development, that leaves the reader feeling connected to those who live between the pages. All the characters feel real, and their actions are believable, which is not often something you find in the genre.

Mr. Smith’s writing flows smoothly across the pages and can make it difficult to find a place to pause your reading session. This can pose a hazard for late-night readers as they may find a short sleep ahead of them. Smith doesn’t rely on the high-octane world of sex, drugs, and rock & roll to sell the reader on his story, although all three do lurk around the edges. Instead, he relies on the compelling storylines and mildly eccentric characters he has created to keep readers engaged. He doesn’t attempt to write down to the reader to appeal to a larger audience, nor does he alienate readers with overembellished sentences.

After finishing the book, I was surprised to discover that Windfall was Mr. Smith’s first novel. The polished storytelling and literary presence read like an author who has honed his craft for years. I look forward to seeing what he will bring us next, and based on the subtitle am hoping to meet up with Henry and his friends again before too long.

The Friends of Allan Renner by Dave J. Andrae

Reviewed by Lisa Brown-Gilbert

Dave J. Andrae’s The Friends of Allan Renner proposes an intelligent exploration of life through a multi-level, multiperspectival narrative which comes by virtue of Allan Renner’s encounters and discourse with his eclectic assortment of friends.

This book is definitively an offering of food for thought, brimming with revelations about life and people in general. This is a narrative that is provocative in its ideals and shines through its characters, their thoughts, actions and personalities during their congregations with central character Allan Renner often giving a story within a story as their backstories are also very revealing about human nature. Moreover, although this work is a fictional story, the subject matter of their encounters and conversations are realistic, important, and quite often thought provoking with topics such as astrophysics, cosmology, modern culture, racism, film making, futurism, sex, dating, technology, as well as artistic endeavors.

Playing Soldier by F. Scott Service

Reviewed by Timea Barabas

Playing Soldier” is a raw and masterfully written memoir by F. Scott Service. The book is dedicated to the personal experience of war. The author starts with the motivation that may lead someone to participate, takes us through a fragment of war, and ending his tale with the aftermath.
Our journey along Scott starts at the very beginning with his childhood. He was raised in a loving home, but not a perfect home. An only child, he finds refuge from daily life in fiction and play. One day he finds the old field jacket of his father which sparks a new narrative for him, playing soldier. Dressed up in his father’s jacket and armed with a BB gun, he shares the battlefield with the neighborhood kids. School fails to hold Scott’s attention; he would rather continue to explore the many worlds of fiction. He was dreaming of becoming a literary world-builder himself but was repeatedly pulled toward more practical career alternatives.

The next stage of his life slowly ushers in and Scott marries his college sweetheart, Rita with whom he raises Spazzy, their beloved cat. Hand in hand they were slowly building their future together. But the sparkly surface blinds Scott from a dark truth that lurks in the corner of his consciousness as there is no substance to this projection of life together. The I became lost in us, or just in her. So, when offered the chance to join the National Guard, Scott, with his wife’s blessing, decides to follow his inner child’s call to adventure. The military still has an almost magical hold on him; it is shrouded in romanticism and thrill. What is more, the recruiter also flaunts the perspective of good pay and better employment opportunities.

At Dawn the Simorgh Appears by K.A. Lillehei

Reviewed by Dianne Woodman

At Dawn the Simorgh Appears is a gripping story that illustrates the strength and resilience of two women who are thrown into a dreadful situation that appears hopeless. Anna, an American scientist, and her Persian interpreter, Farah, are kidnapped from an archeological site in Iran by armed marauders and held prisoner in a stone hut. They have no idea where they are being held, and the inside of their cell is shrouded in darkness. To keep from becoming overwhelmed by their circumstances, Anna and Farah pass their time together reminiscing about childhood memories.

When an opportunity to escape arises, the two women take advantage of it. A young nomad boy, Samir, who is at the bandits’ hideout, flees with them in a stolen jeep. They get help from a group of nomadic tribespeople, and K.A. Lillehei includes interesting details about people who live a nomadic lifestyle. Anna, Farah, and Samir are guided by one of the young nomads through the Zagros mountain range, which are located in Iran and along the border areas of Iraq and Turkey. The plan is for the three freed prisoners to cross the border into Iran. Will they make it safely to Iran before the dangerous men catch up with them? If they survive, what kind of effect will this horrible ordeal have on their everyday lives?

At the beginning of this enthralling novel, Lillehei captures readers’ attention with an excerpt from a story about the Simorgh, a compassionate female winged creature that appears in Iranian mythology as a benefactor to those in need. In chapter one Anna and Farah are discussing the shock and lack of understanding regarding their kidnapping and incarceration. Readers will empathize with their predicament and want to know the outcome. Throughout the book are excerpts of memories from the lives of the three escapees, along with mythological tales about strong women. All of the recollections and mythic tales play a crucial part in the storyline.

Anna and Farah have experienced far different cultural and lifestyle backgrounds. However, as the two women share their innermost thoughts and feelings about themselves a strong bond of friendship develops between them, which is wonderfully illustrated throughout the story. Anna studies ancient civilizations and converses with Farah in English and Farsi. Persian and Arabic words and/or phrases are used throughout the story, and Lillehei provides translations so there is no confusion about their meanings. Usage of metaphors adds depth to the text that conjures up images, thoughts, and feelings in readers’ minds. This is an outstanding book that shows the strength of femininity in the face of monumental obstacles and how cultural background influences the manner in which people learn, live, and behave.

The Gene Rasp: A Novel by Patrick L. McConnell

Reviewed by Lisa Brown-Gilbert

A noteworthy excursion into the world of science fiction, Patrick L. McConnell’s The Gene Rasp renders the heart and the mind rapt with its exploration of the heart and humanity through the journey of the inventor of a phenomenal life altering device offering hope to mankind for a future utopia.

Fascinating from its outset, the story takes place in the future, with the autobiography of
of central character Tom Spoon later known as Dr. Tom Maloof due to be published in the year 2165. However this is no ordinary autobiography because Tom is no ordinary person; as a matter of fact he becomes the savior of future humanity as he invents a revolutionary medical device called the Gene Rasp which can alter genetics of individuals offering cures for cancer as well as many other diseases thusly making the road to immortality a little clearer.

Easily engaging, the story captivates as Tom Spoon charms readers into his world with a humble and comfortable tone, drawing rich images as he reflects on his life, remembering people, relationships, and experiences which affected his journey from orphan to renowned doctor. He recounts having grown up in an orphanage of which we learn that life for Tom was lonely as a boy, although surrounded by many others, he was different, as he struggled with dyslexia. Believing his brain was broken but determined to overcome his affliction, he yearned to be both understood and connected to something, he began to write poetry, heartfelt masterpieces which appear interspersed throughout the story. Tom grows despite dyslexia going on to accomplish much with his life. He wins a woodworking contest at eighteen, attends college, and later graduate school. Altogether Tom’s journey culminates into a hopeful version of an immortal future.

Entirely a very likable read, The Gene Rasp garners the attention with an intelligent and richly woven journey through a science fiction narrative. I enjoyed author Patrick L. McConnell’s efforts within this work as he successfully brought forth a story that was simultaneously thought-provoking and touching. In particular, I appreciated the refreshing inclusion of intermittent QR code scanning tags and URL links as well as the inclusion of the end of the screenplay for the movie version, all served well to enhance the reading experience by creating deeper interaction with the reader. Also personally, I think this would make a great movie and I look forward to more works by author McConnell. This is a read definitely worth adding to your science fiction collection.

The Killing of Faith: This is a suspense/thriller you won’t soon forget by William Holms

Reviewed by Timea Barabas

If you are looking for a fresh suspense/thriller, you should look no further than “The Killing of Faith” by William Holms. This book will take you on a thrilling journey of the rise and fall of a woman.

It all starts and ends with Faith. The story, narrated in the first person by Faith herself, opens to a very grim but vague present setting. A setting that is periodically revisited throughout the chapters and which is in stark contrast to the past. She takes us back to her childhood and patiently goes through the main events of her life: engagement, marriage, motherhood.

Faith is the kind of beautiful girl that is well aware of her good looks and does not hold back from using this to her advantage. She finds little interest in school, instead, she prefers hanging out with her friends, shopping, and boys. One boy in particular. So, she enters into a tumultuous relationship that eventually leads her to drop out of school and move out from her parents’ place to a different city. Faith leaves everything for a man and a fresh start. But she doesn’t get either. Her dreams crumble and so does she. At least until another man walks into her life and she rebuilds herself through him. This becomes a pattern that repeats with some minor variation. Faith seems to have an innate drive to seek out completion in somebody else and this drives her to the edge of life.

The brilliant thing about the book is its growing suspense. And this suspense is a testament to the skills of William Holms. It all starts with the title, “The Killing of Faith”. So, naturally, the reader expects Faith to be killed at some point. But there are so many questions that arise: why? How? By whom? And as the pages of the book seem to run out and Faith is still very much alive, one starts to wonder if it will still actually happen or was it all just a ruse. This tense anticipation is the main driving force that keeps you flipping page after page.

This is not one of those books that get you hooked by a nurtured love for the main character, quite the contrary… yet the author manages to elicit feelings of sympathy and compassion for Faith as she is met with hardships. Also, her childish naiveté remains an endearing quality. The character carefully balances on the verge of a charicaturistic depiction of women and this is one of the elements that awaken such strong feelings of ambivalence toward her.

The Killing of Faith” is a captivating read, but it is not a book for all ages, as there are some explicit scenes and vulgar language. What is more, the sequel is already in preparation by William Holmes.

Versus: A Tale of Zero-Sum Contestation by Simon Plaster

Reviewed by Dianne Woodman

Henrietta has embarked on a new career as a private detective working for FISSION FYI, which is located in Oklahoma City and owned and managed by Leroy “Lero” O’Rourke. Lero is busy with opposition research involving the Democratic and Republican candidates running for the office of the Governor of Oklahoma, so he assigns a pending acrimonious divorce case between Lilith Crammer and Adam Crammer to Henrietta. Randolph McCoy and Andrew Hatfield, who are senior partners in different law firms, represent the Crammers. They have known each other since elementary school, and the men thrive on a competitive relationship. McCoy and Hatfield adhere to opposing viewpoints in their political ideologies, and each one is a staunch supporter of their representative political party gubernatorial candidate. Along with them clashing politically and being on opposite sides in the divorce case, they are also in the midst of playing in an annual golf tournament. Both McCoy and Hatfield are not only determined to be the winner, but each man is also willing to stoop to deceitful and underhanded behavior for the purpose of one-upmanship. As Henrietta and Lero make headway in their endeavors, they are disrupted in their respective jobs by the ungentlemanly competition between McCoy and Hatfield. What will be the final outcome for any objectives set by Henrietta, Lero, McCoy, and Hatfield?

Dangerous Bureau by Roger Williams

Reviewed by Daniel Johnson

Dangerous Bureau is a book about monsters. Not the kinds of monsters that hide under your bed or in your closet – hopefully. This book is about the monsters that live next door. The monsters that you see on your television every day. The monsters that we all know are out there, but can never see until it’s too late.

Roger Darrell Williams brings us the story of Tara Helms, mother of two, loving wife, and former computer hacker extraordinaire. Tara quit her job as a hacker to take care of her sick son, and aside from spending more time in the hospital than the mother of a small child should have to, her life was pretty good. Until one evening, when her little girl was abducted by one of these monsters next door. After that Tara Helms’ life would never be the same.

Williams takes us down a dark path as the abduction and murder of Tara’s daughter Cindy continues to pull her further and further into the abyss in order to take down the man who killed her child and the system that supports him. The monsters that fill the pages of Dangerous Bureau grow more and more revolting with every turn of the page, and the reader’s hope for vengeance grows stronger with each word.

La Chimère of Prague: Part II (The Chimera of Prague Book 2) by Rick Pryll

Reviewed by Ray Palen

Prague is the capital of the Czech Republic and one of the largest and most bohemian cities in the European Union. It is important to have an understanding and a sense of Prague to truly appreciate this novel as the majority of it is set there during the late 1990s. Specifically, LA CHIMERE OF PRAGUE spans the length of August – December in the year 1998.

It was not that long before the action of this novel that Czechoslovakia saw a schism referred to as the Velvet Revolution and later the Velvet Divorce which saw the country split into the new Czech Republic and Slovakia. Prague is found in the former and by the late ’90s became one of the business and cultural centers in all of the EU. Author Rick Pryll knows all this only too well as he lived in Prague from 1997 to 2002.

Someone who knows and understands Prague even better is the protagonist in this tale, Joseph. He is an American ex-patriot American now living and working in Prague. He is not only leaving behind the U.S.A. but also the memories of his late love. In one of the most interesting love affairs in modern fiction, Joseph was involved with a bi-sexual mermaid who died under mysterious circumstances. He still intends to get to the bottom of her death but for now, must focus on his own life and moving forward.

Tunnels & Caves by Robert Haydon

Reviewed by Dianne Woodman

Kelly Wren and Angie Morrison are in a serious romantic relationship. They co-own a farm in Willow Creek, a rural town in Texas. Wren is a former sheriff who works on cold cases along with retired detective Wayne Tolleson for the Austin Police Department. Morrison unofficially helps with the investigations, which involve three cold cases: the double murder of a man and his girlfriend, the murder of a teenage girl, and the disappearance of a college student and her boyfriend. While Morrison devotes time to aid Wren and Tolleson, she also oversees the day-to-day running of the successful farm business and deals with a stalker. Wren and Tolleson end up in dangerous and life-threatening situations while pursuing satisfactory resolutions to the unsolved crimes. Will they be successful, or will the criminals get away with their abhorrent behavior? As Morrison’s stalker escalates to more intrusive and threatening behavior, will Morrison become the victor and not the victim?

Cooking for Cannibals by Rich Leder

Reviewed by Daniel Ryan Johnson

Cooking For Cannibals is your classic love story. Boy meets girl. Girl gives her mother and her mother’s friends a miracle drug that makes them young again. Corporate hit-men come in search of miracle drug. Drug comes with the side effect of craving human meat. Youthful 90 year olds start killing people of questionable character. Boy starts cooking up a cannibalistic feast. It’s a tale as old as time.

Rich Leder takes us on a wild ride in this darkly comedic thriller and if you are willing to suspend your disbelief a bit you will be joyfully swept along. It’s not the drug that takes the elderly back half a century that is hard to believe. Nor is it the fact that a side effect of the drug is cannibalism. Rather the most unbelievable part of the book is in the insane luck that our protagonists seem to be blessed with as they are constantly jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire while remaining unscathed, with death and destruction looming all around them.

Tales from the Other Side by Paul Corson

Reviewed by Timea Barabas

Tales from the Other Side” by Paul Corson was designed as a companion piece to his “Regaining Paradise: Forming a New Worldview, Knowing God, and Journeying into Eternity”. While, the books are strong enough to stand as independent reads, when taken together, their message is elevated to the next level.

But first off, a few words about “Regaining Paradise”. This daring book goes beyond the curtain of materiality to tackle some of the biggest existential questions relying on personal experience, science, and rationality/logic, sprinkled with a little bit of imagination. Although the spark for this intellectual and spiritual quest lies in the three lived transcendental experiences of the author, he heavily relies on science to argue his perspective.

In “Tales from the Other Side”, Paul Corson delves deeper into his personal life, revealing instances of when the “Other Side” seeped into this side. These confessions and stories will enable the reader to have a more holistic view of the thought-process of his spiritual journey. The book is segmented into seven magical parts, of which five are autobiographical, the next part is a rather out of the ordinary conversation (between space travelers and stargazers) and the last part consists of fiction stories that form allegories.

The Little Breadwinner: War and Survival in the Salvadoran Heartland by Lucia Mann

Reviewed by Timea Barabas

The Little Breadwinner: War and Survival in the Salvadoran Heartland” is a harrowing tale about the many faces of war, written by Lucia Mann. The book folds and unfolds the narratives of several generations across different lands and times, but perhaps the biggest feat of the read is that it offers an account of the civil war of El Salvador. What is more, the author was on location at the time of the civil war so the subject has an added personal resonance.

If you are not familiar with the Salvadoran Civil War (1979-1992), this is a great opportunity to learn about it. At the beginning of the book, you can find a map and chronology of the events that serve as a general guideline for the pages that follow. The two sides that were in conflict for more than 12 years were the military-led junta government and a coalition of left-winged groups, the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). The US-funded government death-squads conducted a methodic terror campaign against civilians that added up to a long list of human rights violations (forceful recruiting of child soldiers, massacres, attacks, and rapes). A lot of people were killed and a lot of people simply disappeared. Their exact number remains unknown, but the UN reports a victim count of over 75,000, as far as those killed during the long civil war. It all finally ended with the Chapultepec Peace Accords.

“The Little Breadwinner” encompasses the civil war, but goes beyond it and captures some of the late after-effects of a tough decade. Lucia Mann starts with some apparently disjointed cold facts about the Salvadorian Civil War, but as the pages progress, her approach turns more personal as she tells us a multi-generational story. She frequently interjects with personal observations and comments that sometimes jolt the reader out of the immersive experience.

One of the main characters is Estrella Godwin Lozano, a person with a short stature that becomes “the little breadwinner” for her family living in poverty. She is the descendant of the Waorani tribe from the Amazonian rainforest. Her birth mother was a gifted tribe member and her gift passed down between generations being particularly strong in Estrella’s case. Yet, this special soul was not ordained for an easy life; she faced many hardships and challenges, the worst of which was brought on by the civil war.

The Little Breadwinner” reveals the personal narratives of the victims of the Salvadorian Civil War. The book is based on real events but presents these in a fictionalized form. Lucia Mann, a passionate and worldly activist, a prolific writer, tells yet another unique story about the oppressed and suffering trying to fight against the current of fate.

The Secrets to Living a Fantastic Life: Two Survivors Reveal the 13 Golden Pearls They’ve Discovered by Dr. Allen Lycka and Harriet Tinka

Reviewed by Douglas R. Cobb

The Secrets to Living a Fantastic Life by Dr. Allen Lycka and Harriet Tinka is a very inspirational and thought-provoking book written by two people who lived through extremely traumatic and trying experiences. The authors learned from those experiences and grew to understand that they did not have to allow what happened to them to influence the rest of their lives negatively. Instead, they both chose to move on and have successful careers and happy lives, and decided to collaborate and write a book to help others also live “fantastic lives.”

The Secrets to Living a Fantastic Life is subtitled “Two Survivors Reveal the 13 Golden Pearls They’ve Discovered.” Those “golden pearls,” or life lessons, aided them to get past the traumatic events in their lives and to move on. The self-help book that they wrote, detailing what those 13 golden pearls are, is full of revelations that the authors hope will inspire readers of the book. The negative things that everybody experiences in their lives, to one extent or the other, do not have to define who we are as people.

I really liked it that Dr. Allen Lycka and Harriet Tinka opened up in The Secrets to Living a Fantastic Life and revealed the nature of the traumatic experiences they went through. Dr. Lycka was diagnosed as having Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) and he was told he only had six months to live. Harriet Tinka was a fashion model and a Woman of Distinction who lived through the terror of being kidnapped by someone she knew, stabbed by the man, and left for dead. Dr. Lycka and Harriet Tinka could have let these things embitter them and alter the course of their lives and careers for the worse. Instead, they moved on, grew, and didn’t let the negative things they went through define them.

What are the 13 golden pearls that the authors discovered and relate to their readers in The Secrets to Living a Fantastic Life? Being an author myself, I don’t want to reveal too many “spoilers.” I’d rather that potential readers of the book get the pleasure of checking out what the pearls are on their own, by reading Dr. Lycka and Harriet Tinka’s book. They reveal what the pearls are in a captivating and entertaining manner by both telling stories from their own lives and also by utilizing a myriad of quotes from famous authors like Ralph Waldo Emerson and celebrities like Sir Paul McCartney, Christopher Reeve, and Bruce Lee.

I will mention a couple of the pearls that I loved reading about the most, though, and those are the importance of forgiveness and laughter. I will talk more about a few of the other pearls with Dr. Lycka and Harriet Tinka in an interview that they graciously agreed to do with me, which can be read elsewhere at this same site.

Regaining Paradise: Forming a New Worldview, Knowing God, and Journeying into Eternity by Paul Corson

Reviewed by Timea Barabas

Do you feel a sense of incompleteness? A longing to return to a place you have never been to? Regaining Paradise: Forming a New Worldview, Knowing God, and Journeying into Eternity might not have the answers to all of your questions, but it will help you find the answers you are searching for. Prepare yourself to be taken on a “hero’s journey” by Paul Corson on the vehicle of imagination.

Regaining Paradise is about regaining what we once all had, but then slowly grew out of, the light of Paradise. A light that many of us have turned a blind eye to. In a world in which materialism gains ever more ground, it is a challenge to see beyond the mirage of the tangible. But, as Paul Corson notes, the solid is mostly intangible energy. The author has peeked behind the veil of our reality and not just seen but experienced what lies beyond. If you accept his invitation to journey together, so will you.

Although Regaining Paradise heavily draws on the author’s personal transcendent experience, that is not the only source of inspiration. The curious nature of the author comes across in the rich references that embellish the book, from a great variety of fields: literature, mythology, philosophy, psychology… the list goes on.

Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man by Mary L. Trump

Reviewed by Nancy Eaton

Whenever we read a book like this, we wonder if the work was written just for the money or for a reason like revenge. It would have to take a lot of convincing to make readers believe Mary Trump was not writing the book for either of these reasons.

Mary Trump has written a book about her uncle, Donald Trump. Her father, Fred, was the oldest of the Trump sons but no matter what he did, it just didn’t please his father, Fred Trump, Sr. His father always favored Donald and Fred instilled into Donald that losing was a sign of weakness.

As a child, Mary Trump spent a great amount of time at her grandparents’ house. It is here that she observed Donald and his siblings. Mary tells us of the many holiday get- togethers and some funny things that happened at these events.

We have to agree that Mary Trump does have the professional credentials to write a book to try and explain some of her uncle’s behavior. And she also has first hand knowledge of the family.

This is a well-written book and Mary Trump makes many points that will make the reader ponder her thoughts. The main question is does she do a good job of convincing readers that what she is saying is true? I must admit she convinced me. When you read her words and then look at the way her uncle has acted throughout his presidency, it is my opinion that she has written a credible book.

Bank Shot (The Dortmunder Novels Book 2) by Donald Westlake

Reviewed by Allen Hott

This is a book from the 70s but is well worth reading because it is one of the funniest books that you will read. And it is all clean fun without sex or cussing. Just a great storyline that will keep your interest.

It all begins with Dortmunder (one of Westlake’s best characters) selling encyclopedias door to door. In fact he is just taking deposits and the books will never be delivered). However on this current attempt he manages to discover that the woman he is trying to “bamboozle” has called the cops on him. Out he goes as fast as he can and meets up with Kelp, one of his associates. They get away from the scene quickly and have no problems.

Little does he know that meeting Kelp is about to begin one of the biggest happenings of his life. Kelp introduced Dortmunder to his nephew, Victor, who was a former FBI agent. The two of them take Dortmunder to see a nearby bank that appears to be being torn down. Next to it sat a huge mobile home mounted on some type of foundation.

Buried (Hush Collection) by Jeffery Deaver

Reviewed by Allen Hott

I am not exactly sure why Jeffery Deaver decided to write a short story with this one but not only he did and he did a great job. It involves a man who gets kidnapped and then put away in a basement type prison. Funny thing is as the story goes along he isn’t really the main premise behind the story.

In fact the story is about a person called The Gravedigger who does all sorts of criminal activities and then usually leaves notes of some type for the police to use as they hunt sometimes for the bodies but all the time for The Gravedigger.

While this part of the story is moving along Edward Fitzhugh a longtime newspaper reporter is about to retire but he is so interested in writing the story and hopefully even helping the police that he almost puts off his retirement. (And he actually does but in another fashion).