GREEZERS: A Tale of Establishment’s Decline and Fall by Simon Plaster

Reviewed by Douglas R. Cobb

Greezers is Simon Plaster’s latest and perhaps greatest satirical novel featuring the memorable character, Henrietta, named after a town in Oklahoma, Henryetta, who, previous to Greezers, had the desire to advance her journalistic career and one day earn a Pulitzer Prize. In Greezers, a tale of a chain of lube shops, fast food, and succession, Henrietta seeks a change in her life, and gets a job as an assistant to Leroy (“Lero”) O’Rourke, a private detective. She thinks that as a journalist, she has done a fair amount of deductive reasoning, and that will stand her in good steed in her new career. But what lengths will she go to in her pursuit of truth, justice, and the American way? Let’s just say that in Greezers, chock-full of popular culture and musical references that fans of the series have come to expect, Simon Plaster has Henrietta putting her “assets” out on stage for all to see, even having her briefly working at a strip club in her efforts to surveil a subject, Harry DeGrasso, who is a potential heir of the Trinita Coal Oil & Tar Company.

You may wonder why Greezers is called Greezers. It’s because the book is about the plots and schemes of potential successors to the Trinita Coal Oil & Tar Company’s chain of Greezers lube shops to one day take over control of same from the Company’s elderly 95-year-old matriarch, Nanette GeGrasso. While her son, Charles, being the Executive Vice-President of the Company, looks like he would be the obvious choice as the heir apparent, he has fallen out of favor with his mother, and he has familial rivals who also would like to dethrone Nanette, like her nephew, Joe DeGrasso, who is also an Executive Vice-President. Nanette acts scornfully towards all of the potential successors, with the exception of Harry, who is her grandson and a junior executive in the Company, under both the watchful eye and thumb of Charles. Charles, however, does not think that Harry is trained fully enough or is nearly as experienced and worthy as he is, and he believes that he, rather than Harry, should be the one to take over after his mother dies.

Singing the Land: A Rural Chronology by Chila Woychik

Reviewed by Teri Takle

Many people write about the events in their daily life and the thoughts that make it memorable. Daily record keeping is unnecessary, but every few days is needed to view what we have enjoyed in our little snippets in the back of our minds.

Depending upon where you live, life is different. If you live in a large city, it is busy, crowded, noisy, and many residents thrive upon that lifestyle.

For some of us, we live in Iowa, one of those fly-over states. We thrive in the quiet life of the country, or a small town, or even a large city.

For the author, Chila Woychik, she adores her life on her farm with her husband in the beauty and joy of nature in Iowa.

January 21

“First snows, like first loves, leave one panting for breath.”

January 31

“Iowa is nothing in winter, but endless roads slick with lonesome.”

How can these two entries be written just ten days apart? The answer is Iowa. The first draws the reader inside the beauty, silence, and complete awe of the first snow. The second reflects the days of hard work, shoveling, and the constant slipping and falling on the ice.

Another author, Stephanie E. Dickinson, is also an Iowa native. In her foreword to Chila Woychik’s chronology, she reveals her love of the people and the way of life in Iowa. She also beautifully reflects about her childhood memories in Iowa.

Strong from the Heart: A Caitlin Strong Novel (Caitlin Strong Novels Book 11) by Jon Land

Reviewed by Russell Ilg

“Central, we’ve got a potential level one event.”

Good thing such things are nothing new for Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong. And with that line from the prologue, her latest adventure Strong from the Heart is off and running at a breakneck clip that doesn’t let up until the final page is turned. This is the best thriller of the year, in large part for how it confronts Caitlin and company with challenges that are exceedingly rare for a genre novel.

I say that because not only does Strong from the Heart place the opioid crisis front and center, but the book does so with the series’ tried and true regulars front and center. Start with Caitlin’s surrogate son, now high school senior Luke Torres, being rushed to the hospital after snorting Oxycontin. Add to that Caitlin’s own dependence on Vicodin to get her through the pain from recent gunfight-related trauma and you’ve got the recipe for a thriller rife with characters at war with themselves as much as the bad guys who’ve hatched a typically nightmarish plot, typical for Caitlin Strong anyway.

These particular Washington-based villains have formed a drug cartel of mammoth proportions under the auspices of the government itself. Their dirty dealings are brought to light when an entire town on the Texas-Mexico border is wiped out in minutes. But a Caitlin Strong thriller is far more comfortable in the darkness and Strong from the Heart is no exception there, as we’re treated to a seemingly endless succession of morally challenged types, most notably a monstrous Native American named Yarek Bone who sports a condition that keeps him from feeling any pain.

Bird in a Snare (The Lord Hani Mysteries Book 1) by N.L. Holmes

Reviewed by Timea Barabas

Bird in a Snare is the foundation stone of The Lord Hani Mysteries, a historical series that plays out in Ancient Egypt. N. L. Holmes masterfully resurrects from the sands of time a tale of a humble diplomat and a proud family man, who finds himself adrift in the whirlwind of changing times.

This is a story about the life and adventures of Hani, a diplomat serving under the rule of Akhenaten. As a new horizon slowly creeps upon the land, Hani is sent to the distant realm of Syria to uncover a murder with grave political repercussions. During his mission to solve one murder, he encounters only more death, political corruption, and a fragile net of relationships between leaders. But before coming to any conclusions, he must return to his home, mid-investigation. The sun has set. And soon a new sun will shine over the kingdom. The successor who rose to the throne seems to depart from the comfort of the old ways, into a new territory; a new direction that does not seem to meet with Hani’s set life course. But, nevertheless one must adapt and above all, survive.

Bird in a Snare is well documented and offers a historically convincing depiction of what once was. N. L. Holmes world building skills melt together fiction and historical facts, in her reimagined set of events. She addresses Ancient Egypt from a macro level – mainly through state and religion – and the micro level of everyday life. But what is more, she unites these two spheres through the main character, Hani. Although the story revolves around a central figure, he is constantly surrounded by a colorful bouquet of characters, be that pharaohs, his scribe Maya, or members of his family. This psychological attention to character development is what truly animates the pages of the book.

Under the penname of N.L. Holmes, an archeologist and university professor by trade, brings her in-depth knowledge to the realm of historical fiction. The abundant knowledge of the author seeps into the text in a natural way and brings color to historical details. For all those who love to dive into historical fiction, keep an eye on Bird in a Snare and other writings by N.L. Holmes.

The Offspring by Bill Pinnell

Reviewed by Lisa Brown-Gilbert

Offering a read that simultaneously compels, repels, and excites, author Bill Pinnell’s The Offspring, peers into the dark side of human nature via family relationships, secrets, and racism, shown through a multi-layered, multigenerational, multi-perspective lens bringing together a set of characters whose lives intersect in interesting and at times intense ways.

First, the curiosity is piqued by an intriguing prologue which fundamentally sets the tone of this complex character-driven story, as a vivid memory quickly turns from pleasure to horror, within the mind of a character seemingly beguiled by scenes from the past. Next focus moves to the backstory of the romance between Lemuel Decker and Irene Baxter. Both are students at Logan High School during the 1940s in rural Nebraska. Set apart by an age gap and personality the two almost seem to be polar opposites while Lemuel is a shy athletic farm boy, Irene is pretty, popular, and outgoing. Because of the difference in age in school their paths rarely directly cross. However, once they do each makes an impression on the other not soon to be forgotten. Shy farm boy Lemuel holds a soft spot for the pretty and friendly Irene, but his timid demeanor continues to keep him seemingly hopelessly infatuated and at a distance.

Grandma Mable, Are You Able? by Willie Etta Wright

Reviewed by Teri Davis

Jacob has a life that is different from his classmates. It seems to him that he is the only one without a mother and a father. His grandmother acts as his parent.

His teacher, Miss Green, announces that the students are to participate in a Family Exercise Day this Saturday. While his classmates are excited, Jacob feels depressed. How can he possibly spend a day exercising with his grandma? She is old and deaf, wears false teeth, with white hair and glasses, and sometimes needs to walk with a cane. Grandma Mable wants Jacob to consider exercising her way. Somehow this does not brighten his prospects of a fun day. His only hope for a good day is bringing his dog, Friendly, with them. Of course, his grandmother agrees to the day. Jacob would much prefer to stay home and play video games.

The illustrations are bright and perfectly correlate with the text making this book enjoyable for most reading levels. The recommended reading level is for ages eight to eleven and grades three, four, and five.

Grandma Mable, Are You Able?” has the prospect for vocabulary enrichment using words such as raucous, steady, mishap, and knack, as well as the past tense verbs of spotted, whirled, dangling, topped, splattered, chuckled and darted. What a great way to introduce verbs and suffixes!

Dak Ackerthefifth and the Ethics of Heroism by Joshua S. Joseph

Reviewed by Ray Palen

“You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” – The Dark Knight

That quote from filmmaker Christopher Nolan resonated with me as I read this complex and extremely satisfying novel from Joshua S Joseph. The protagonist in this, a young Indian man with the unique name of Dak Ackerthefifth — a name blamed on the same slip of the entry pen used on Ellis Island while in-taking droves of new American citizens to our country.

DAK ACKERTHEFIFTH AND THE ETHICS OF HEROISM is more of a spiritual journey than a work of fiction and the reader is privileged to go along for the ride. Throughout Dak’s life he seeks to understand the precept of what it means to be a hero. We understand that for one to be a hero you must pick a side — hero or villain — but we also learn that life is not that black and white and often times it is not clear as to which side you are on. The story begins with the death of his parents, Richard and Rudy. Our narrator indicates that the death of parents is the way every good hero story starts — but be mindful, this is no Disney tale.

Richard Ackerthefifth was a ballpoint pen magnate who allegedly died during a business trip to the Congo — or so Dak’s mother told him. Rudy was left to raise 8-year-old Dak and his younger sister, Emily. Regrettably, or in keeping with the hero plan, Rudy passes away when Dak is 14. Her death is blamed solely on Crazy Uncle Ji. He was not an actual ‘Uncle’, but was given that honorific title by their mother. Shortly after Rudy was diagnosed with cancer, Crazy Uncle Ji gave her a cocktail of various supplements which initially helped her but then quickly pushed her into a physical nosedive that she never recovered from.

Tracks: A Curious Tale of Who’s Her Daddy? by Simon Plaster

Reviewed by Dianne Woodman

Who is Henrietta Hebert’s biological father? An answer to the question is a conundrum that could be illuminated when Henrietta’s mother finds DNA evidence that supposedly belongs to the mystery man, and this is the impetus behind Tracks: A Curious Tale of Who’s Her Daddy? Henrietta’s mother hires a private detective, Max Morgan, to find out the truth. Max is not only an admirer of hard-boiled detective tv shows and crime novels but also an avid listener to The Fat Man, a popular detective drama radio program in the 1940s and early 1950s. In American history, the show lasted for six seasons. Max fashions himself after the detective in the title role. A marvelous beginning to an entertaining story with a number of complications arising as the detective becomes more embroiled in the speculative paternity case. More than one man is a suspect for possibly fathering Henrietta, and melodrama surrounds each man.

Simon Plaster pulls readers into this delightful story from the first page and keeps their interest right up until the final page. It takes place over a time period of five days in Henryetta, Oklahoma. A good balance of noteworthy, pivotal, and lighthearted moments lends additional meaning to momentous subject matters, such as political treachery and subterfuge, differing views and aspects involving paternity, and ethical issues in both sperm donation and DNA testing. All of these topics are woven together with amazing skill revealing a seamless story from beginning to end. Plaster also beautifully shows how extenuating circumstances and individuals’ subsequent reactions to them can impact a person’s life in positive and/or negative ways.

The Future of Leadership in the Age of AI: Preparing Your Leadership Skills for the AI-Shaped Future of Work by Marin Ivezic and Luka Ivezic

Reviewed by Timea Barabas

Are you ready for the next revolution? Few people are. But the good news is that it is not too late to prepare yourself. And The Future of Leadership in the Age of AI by Marin Ivezic and Luka Ivezic proves to be a great boot camp for what is to come.

It is a book that encompasses the past, present, and future in order to obtain a more comprehensive understanding of a phenomenon. The revolution that is to come. Or is it already here? While it might seem like a more or less far-fetched futuristic topic, it is not so. AI is already part of our world. The reason why this might be hard to notice, for some, is that it is so well integrated in our everyday life.

In order to determine The Future of Leadership in the Age of AI, we must first turn to the past. Marin Ivezic and Luka Ivezic will start by walking the reader through the first three Industrial Revolutions, only to set the foundation for the fourth because this will most likely have an exponentially bigger impact than all its predecessors. However, any one of us can act in order to ease this (unavoidable) transition and ensure that we will not be swept away.

Hush, Hush: A Ronnie Lake Mystery by Niki Danforth

Reviewed by Dianne Woodman

Hush, Hush is an exciting and fast-paced cozy mystery with an intriguing opening, mushrooming tension, imaginative red herrings, scintillating dialogue, brilliant character arcs, a jaw-dropping climax, and an amazing and satisfying twist ending. With a hint of political subterfuge, power struggles among law enforcement agencies, and a tenacious private investigator with martial arts skills, Hush, Hush is a teeth-chattering mystery that keeps readers’ eyes glued to every single word with anticipation.

Hush, Hush is told from the perspective of the main character, Ronnie Lake, a newly licensed private investigator. Ronnie takes on the case of a missing female college student, and her strong and brave German Shepherd, Warrior, participates in the investigation. Even though Ronnie has past experience using her private investigator skills, this case is proving challenging. Ronnie runs into roadblocks, both external and internal, in her search for the missing student. Is the young woman a runaway or a kidnap victim? Is she dead or alive? As the days go by, the investigation into the unexplained disappearance of a seemly happy individual leads to far more sinister ramifications. Will Ronnie solve the case before life-threatening dangers escalate out of control?

New Yorkers: A Feisty People Who Will Unsettle, Madden, Amuse and Astonish You by Clifford Browder

Reviewed by Lisa Brown-Gilbert

When it comes to New York City, its dynamic environ and multicultural fusion of distinctive inhabitants, author Clifford Browder focuses his keen literary eye on his life and experiences as a seasoned resident there, as well as providing glimpses of the eclectic history of the city in his recent work, New Yorkers: A Feisty People Who will Unsettle, Madden, Amuse and Astonish You. Moreover, being no stranger to using the backdrop of New York as a setting for his previously published books, including a series set in nineteenth-century New York, titled Metropolis, author Browder once again provides an intriguing exploration of a very culturally distinctive locale.

Moreover, this is not your typical cut and dry biography, providing dry facts; instead, the read is a heartfelt memoir of a man and the city he lives, loves, survives and works in. The narrative keeps you rapt in its pages with a winning combination of information gleaned from Mr. Browder’s unique standpoint, research, and experiences from his many years as a resident. Consequently, author Browder does well with transfixing the mental eye with descriptions of his life as a longtime resident, including historical glimpses and insider tidbits of the better-known aspects of New York as well as the lesser-known and even the obscure.

The Nosferatu Conspiracy: The Sleepwalker by Brian James Gage

Reviewed by Dianne Woodman

The Nosferatu Conspiracy: The Sleepwalker is the first book in a new series that takes place in both Romania and Saint Petersburg, Russia. Brian James Gage has written a gripping, edge-of-your-seat supernatural thriller with his own interpretation of Russian history involving Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin and the Russian Imperial Romanov family during the reign of Tsar Nicholas Aleksandrovich Romanov II. Rasputin, a powerful and deceptive vampire with extraordinary, otherworldly abilities, has orchestrated an elaborate scheme that will enable vampires to rule the world and use the human population as a food source. Members of the Romanov family are crucial to the success of Rasputin’s game plan. Vampire hunters with special weapons are trying to thwart Rasputin’s efforts in his promise of victory for bloodsucking evil beings to triumph over humankind. The hunters face a time-constraint for trying to put a stop to this calamitous undertaking. Who will be the victor? Will humans serve as vampires’ food supply or will humans destroy any chance of vampires running rampant?

Big Numbers (Austin Carr Mystery Book 1) by Jack Getze

Reviewed by Allen Hott

Austin Carr is having some problems with his life. Because of monetary problems and a split with his wife, he is living in an old truck-mounted camper. The camper is parked in the lot of a bar where he spends a lot of time and the owner of the bar wants him out of the lot but seems to always succumb to Carr’s charm. Carr has also given him a few stock tips that paid off and he is hoping for more help in exchange along the way to pay for the parking.

Mostly Carr gets along well with Luis who is the bartender at Cruz’s bar and grill so that keeps him pretty well fixed for food and beverages. However Cruz still is very watchful because he isn’t happy with the camper truck in the lot.

It seems as a stockbroker he isn’t doing overly well although he has one client, Gerry Burns, who has been putting quite a bit of work Carr’s way. One day Gerry comes in to see Carr and first complains a bit about the market, like everyone else is doing in this particular slowdown. But then he drops a bigger bomb when he tells Carr that has pancreatic cancer and supposedly is dying.

Smoke Screen: A Novel by Sandra Brown

Reviewed by Allen Hott

Somewhat interesting story about a fire at police headquarters in Charleston. Actually four of the city’s top officials have been described as heroes for their part in getting people out of the building. However there were several deaths and one was a man who was being held on charges. Later it is learned that he had some information on someone in the governing hierarchy. And perhaps the fire was set intentionally to create a cover up for his death.

Britt Shelley, a very well-known television reporter who does many on the spot interviews, gets involved early on but in a strange way. It seems that she wakes one morning and the man next to her is not only one of the men who is looked on as a hero from the deadly fire but he is also dead! Britt claims she was given some sort of date rape drug in her drink and has very little memory of the entire night. She had met him for an interview about the fire.

Caged to Kill: A Different Gripping Stand-Alone Thriller Novel (Lawyer David Thompson Legal Thrillers Series Book 2) by Tom Swyers

Reviewed by Allen Hott

In answering a tapping knock on his door one evening, David Thompson discovers Phillip Dawkins. He recognizes Dawkins because Thompson, as an attorney, had had some dealings with Dawkins while Dawkins was in prison. Thompson is quickly afraid and threatens to call the police. Dawkins asks him to check the latest news to see that he (Dawkins) had been freed from prison under something called the Innocence Project.

Although he had not only been in prison but actually he had been in solitary confinement for killing a police officer. However how after thirty some years the state was releasing some prisoners as a gesture toward “bettering the entire process”. That gesture appears later to be false!

Phillip had been corresponding with David at one time but after too many lengthy letters David stopped writing. Phillip said however he understood but he knew no one else in this general area and hoped that David could give him a hand or a restart in life outside of prison.

Keep Your Eyes on the Flag by Lucille F. Burgio

Reviewed by Allen Hott

It appears that there is something desperately wrong about a particular candidate who is running for President of the United States. Not only are there several folks who have come out claiming he is a fraud and a fake. But now there have been several instances of snipers shooting at spectators shortly after he has presented one of his campaign speeches to a large mass. Keep Your Eyes on the Flag seems to be Upton’s way of diminishing his own efforts or self.

The current president, who does dislike this candidate, believes that he has to use his staff to find out more about the individual and also about the shootings. He appoints two of his top staff members to dig into not only the shootings but definitely into the presidential candidate-hopeful.

As they dig deeply into the past they find several former POWs and other soldiers who served with Ashe Lipton Upton, that candidate. Strangely enough all of these veterans also believe that something is going on. Upton (the name he goes by) was definitely a POW in Germany and suffered all types of wounds and disfigurements. However there were others who did also. Several of them believe that somehow this man calling himself Upton actually took the place of the real wounded POW named Upton. How he did it and what happened to the original Upton is the question.

The Mother-In-Law by Kiersten Modglin

Reviewed by Allen Hott

The very short book starts with a Prologue which gives the reader a bit of an idea of what is going to happen. But! Why, when, how, and “oh my gosh’ is all wrapped up in the book’s telling. And it is a good telling.

Loren is out walking with her four year old daughter when Rynlee, the daughter, pulls away from Loren’s hand. Rynlee is off chasing a dog and as she catches up to him she drops her ice cream cone which the dog quickly gobbles up. Then the dog’s owner, a man about Loren’s age, comes up and begins to apologize. Loren stops him and says it was Rynlee’s problem and not to worry.

The man, Jack, quickly introduces himself and takes them across the street to his bar or shop, as he calls it. And with that Jack and Loren seem destined to become a perfect pair. Actually they do and meet up with just a few unfortunate incidents that always seem to be triggered by Jack’s mother,

Before we meet Jack’s mother though, another character, Meredith, is brought into the picture. It turns out that she is Loren’s slightly older cousin and she is very close to Loren. Readers need to remember her name because she also plays an important part in the book!

An Equal Justice (David Adams Book 1) by Chad Zunker

Reviewed by Jud Hanson

David Adams is the quintessential rags to riches story. He grew up in a poor family and thru hard work managed to not only go to college but obtain a law degree from Stanford. He is looking forward to his new job at a prestigious Austin law firm. He is shocked to learn that a fellow associate he drove home after a company dinner has been found dead in his home. The associate’s last words to David were a warning to get out while he could. David soon realizes that all is not as it seems at his company. David is determined to find the truth but soon realizes that in doing so he may pay the ultimate price.