Horde (Zombie Apocalypse: The Chad Halverson Book 6) by Bryan Cassiday

Reviewed by Daniel Ryan Johnson

Horde is clearly a product of the times. It’s a zombie apocalypse book written with a heavy influence from the COVID-19 pandemic. With people worried about things like face masks, quarantining, and social distancing, the zombie apocalypse sounds like an event with which we are all too familiar.

Bryan Cassiday takes on the oft overplayed zombie apocalypse novel. However, he mixes in current events to give the zombie tale a unique twist. He combines everything that this last year brought us. Most of the novel takes place in an encampment in Arizona, where mistrust runs high. The camp is filled with confusion regarding the nature of the plague. There is much debate on whether the zombie plague can be transmitted through spores released through the breath of zombies and if there are symptomless human carriers of the disease.

Horde does not limit its scope of yearly commentary to pandemic-related affairs, however. There is also a president who seems to be losing his grip on reality as he declares himself president for life and begins to nuke cities across the United States in an attempt to limit the spread of the virus. Not to mention, an attempted overthrow of the government by a group of armed vigilantes.

100 Seconds to Midnight: Conversations at a Seminar by Surendra Kumar Sagar

Reviewed by Douglas R. Cobb

100 Seconds to Midnight: Conversations at a Seminar is the latest intriguing and eye-opening book by the often prophetic and always interesting author, Surendra Kumar Sagar. The provocative title references the so-called Doomsday Clock and how close the hands of it have moved towards midnight, the time when Doomsday will supposedly happen and all of mankind will potentially perish.

In 100 Seconds to Midnight, Sagar illustrates how close we have come to midnight and the roles he feels that the Trump administration and the Deep State have played in moving the hands ever closer to the fatal hour through a series of fictitious conversations held by Hollywood and Bollywood actors portraying famous dead intellectual personages such as Albert Einstein, Erwin Schrodinger, Leonardo Da Vinci, Diogenes of Alaska and himself, at a seminar. Though the topics and possible conclusions of the conversations at the seminar are, as the author calls them, “mind exercises,” they are meant to both enlighten the readers of 100 Seconds to Midnight and to urge them to get involved and do whatever they can to help ensure the continuation of intelligent life on Earth.

Kudos to the author for including the topic of COVID-19 in his book, and the ramifications the rampant spread of it and its variants, as well as the fatality rate of the virus, has had upon the entire world. The response that the countries of the world, and the somewhat initial delayed response of the United States, has pushed the hands of the Doomsday Clock somewhat closer to midnight, though it is heartening that vaccines have been invented to combat the disease, and that they are fairly effective against it.

Politically speaking, Surendra Kumar Sagar does not appear to take any side, as far as if he leans more towards Republican or Democrat points of view when it comes to who is more at fault in advancing the hands of the Doomsday Clock. Both sides are at fault, along with the Deep States and political leaders of the other countries of the world. What is more important than who is at fault is what can be done to reverse the trends and actions that have caused the hands to steadily approach Doomsday. While there are numerous disconcerting things that the fictitious versions of famous historical figures discuss in the seminar that Sagar depicts in 100 Seconds to Midnight, the author is not all gloom and doom. There is still a chance to reverse some of the deleterious trends and slow down the Doomsday Clock’s steady ticking towards midnight.

The Unopened Letter: A Dose of Reality Changes a Young Man’s Life Forever by RW Herman

Reviewed by Dianne Woodman

Richard William Herman was dealing with challenging life situations, which led him to drop out of college and reevaluate his life. Not long afterward, he received a draft notice. The year was 1965 during the Vietnam War Era. Rather than serve his time in the Army, he enlisted in the Navy for a four-year stint. The Unopened Letter is about the experiences that RW Herman went through as a young man who made a commitment to the United States Military at the age of nineteen. Herman attended boot camp in San Diego, California, where he demonstrated an aptitude for leadership. He volunteered to be the company yeoman and excelled at the job. After successfully graduating from basic training, Herman received his orders and found out he would be going to school for training as a radioman. At the end of training, Herman attained the rank of Radioman Seaman (RMSN) and was ordered to report for duty on the naval vessel USS Cambria stationed in Norfolk, Virginia. While serving his tour of duty, Herman became a tremendous asset in the communications division and got quick promotions. Although Herman never saw combat, he not only participated in a number of training exercises that prepared Marines for deployment to Vietnam, but he also experienced historical moments and life-changing events.

Lines in the Sand: An American Soldier’s Journey in Iraq by F. Scott Service

Reviewed by Timea Barabas

F. Scott Service extends an open invitation to step into the mind of a soldier at war. “Lines in the Sand: An American Soldier’s Journey in Iraq” is based on the journal entries kept during the author’s service in Iraq. It offers a unique and very intimate look into the thoughts and emotions brought on by a world falling apart.

The memoir was triggered by F. Scott Service being deployed with the US Army to the Iraq war. He was stationed at Camp Anaconda, where he served as a specialist in hydraulics mechanic, mainly focusing on repairing helicopters. At camp all daily activities are strictly regimented by the greater power of the US Army. The few days off that soldiers enjoy offer very limited display of freedom. However, in parallel, he followed his calling and passion as a writer, tirelessly documenting the daily life of a soldier.

A recurring theme of the book is the concept of conscientious objector and its repercussions. Scott is faced with this questions once at the beginning of his story and once towards the end. Each time the answer would be a major turning point for future events. However, what is truly intriguing to follow is what happens in the meantime; how his experience of war consolidates his theories and belief system. During his deployment, F. Scott Service faced an internal war of his own. Relentlessly he tried to reason with the seemingly unreasonable Iraq War, hoping to attribute some meaning to complete chaos.

Araya by E. Detorres

Reviewed by Dianne Woodman

An elite team of Gundogs has been trained by Ellis Fast to hunt down and kill Gluttons for their armor. Gluttons are the deadliest and most ferocious creatures in Hell’s Heart, a Black Forest filled with trees that can influence people through music and lyrics and cause them to lose their sanity. While on a mission, one of the team members is killed in a particularly heinous way by a Glutton. The remaining members make the trek out of the forest before they lose touch with reality. After returning to their mountain abode, they are hired to retrieve an asset that the military believes could change the tide of an ongoing war, and the secretive weapon is located deep in the Black Forest. Ellis along with team members Alex Bright and Smug embark on a mission fraught with threats from sadistic creatures that live in the forest, the trees that invade people’s minds and cause horrifying reactions in behavior against themselves and/or others, and soldiers from warring factions. Will the team find the asset and make it out of the forest to safety or will they succumb to the call of the trees and/or be killed by the minacious life forms before they can complete their mission?

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.

In Her Tracks (Tracy Crosswhite Book 8) by Robert Dugoni

Reviewed by Allen Hott

Following in his own foot tracks, Robert Dugoni has written a very interesting book about missing women. He has chosen Tracy Crosswhite to be the “good guy” and track down not only the women but also who caused them to be missing. It isn’t the type of case Tracy wants but since she just returned from maternity leave her boss ended up putting her on Cold Cases since her old spot had been filled.

Missing persons is not really Tracy’s cup of tea since she had just been involved in that several years ago when her own sister had turned up missing and was never found alive. But Tracy accepts her job in her new position and gets involved in her first cold one now.

Seems as though several women in her area are missing and it also seems as though they were in the same section of town. Tracy quickly finds a path that runs through the area but then it seems to just stop dead. Although she does not find any women on the path it does seem to have some evidence that becomes quite useful as the case develops.

Also in the area is a somewhat worn looking house that turns up being occupied by three young men (or older boys) whose parents have passed away recently. The boys wander around the area but also work at various jobs in the neighborhood. The oldest one named Franklin appears to be the head of the family and “rules” the two younger ones. The youngest (though an elder teenager is somewhat of a slow thinker and spends most of his time playing with various games like Monopoly). Though they are very close to that same path it doesn’t immediately provide any evidence of wrong-doing.

Two of the main users of the path seemed to have been a pair of neighbors who lived close by and close to each other. One is the father of the three boys but he had passed away recently. The one still living there is an older gentleman named Bibby who walks his dog quite often on the trail and there is even of a dog walking on the deserted path recently.

Tracy believes she knows now what is going on and she takes another of the police officers with her and heads to the neighborhood where all the action has been taking place. There is no question that
Tracy has it figured out because as she gets close to where she expected an occurrence, another one did happen. Lucky for her and an intended victim that her hunch worked out correctly.

The ending was not as she had planned but it was still a good finish. There is no doubt that Dugoni has written another good story for his readers to follow all the way to the end.

The Hot Rock: A Dortmunder Novel (Book One) by Donald E. Westlake

Reviewed by Allen Hott

A story that moves, moves, and moves. Basically The Hot Rock is about a very expensive Balabama emerald that belonged to one country in Africa but since the country divided into two halves both sides want possession of this jewel. As the story begins one side (Talabwo) with their ambassador, Major Iko, is trying to get the emerald out of its display position which is in New York City.

Dortmunder is led into working to get the emerald by Kelp, his normal right hand man. Kelp and Dortmunder meet with Iko and arrive at a financial agreement for the event to happen. It will take five men at thirty thousand dollars per man for Dortmunder’s crew to pull off the job. But that is only part of it though as Iko and Dortmunder then battle over expense money per man per week. All of these happenings go along to make this story not only funny but definitely readable to the end.

After Dortmunder and Kelp leave they begin rounding up the balance of the crew and beginning to make some plans for when, where, and how not only will they live but also how they will pull off the money making deal.

Little do they realize however that at the same time another group of thieves have also looked into the value of the stone and already made the necessary arrangements and stolen it from the display? However the guy who actually stole the gem was later caught and put in jail and he supposedly has the gem with him (likely swallowed it prior to capture).

So that means Dortmunder and his gang will have to break Greenwood (the one with the stone) out of jail. In true Westlake fashion Dortmunder and his gang do in fact break Greenwood out of prison.

But then when they get to talk to him they find that he doesn’t have the gem now. Because when he was arrested he decided to hide the gem at the police station.

This is how this book moves from one place to another as the gem is constantly on the move and the Dortmunder crew never stops hunting it but always it appears to be a step ahead of them. They are earning money from Major Iko but they can’t get him what he wants so they don’t earn the big bucks that they want.

What they do get from the Major always seems to be another major tool of some type (a truck, a helicopter, and other tools) to help the gang break into and then out of the newest location of the stone.

Overall the book is a very funny read as Westlake writes well and the conversations that go back and forth between the characters are more than enough to keep the reader’s attention. There have been several Dortmunder books over the years and they all created quite a variety of stories that were well received. The Hot Rock is one of those!

Anchored (The Anchored Series /Book 1) by Bridget E. Baker

Reviewed by Carol Smith

Summary:

Earth and Terra are a parallel of two worlds colliding in certain areas as experienced by 17-year-old Alora and her brother Jesse. Mystery, adventure, and the love of a brother and sister hiding under false pretenses are waiting for all lovers of fiction.

On earth, Alora’s parents died in car wreck. Suspicion surrounding the death of their adoptive parents on earth arises and is eventually resolved.

Both children, under the age of 18 at the time, fled from Social Services and are currently in hiding. The villain is a social worker named Devlan Rosenbaum who is intent on finding the two.

The imaginary world of Terra is an “attention getter” alive only in Alora’s dreams; described somewhat as “a tiny planet that consists of two warring factions, with no guns or major technology.

The life of Alice (her earthly name) takes place in these two separate worlds weaving them together thus creating a plot that is somewhat complex in nature. Her life on earth is shared with her brother Jesse and the other world of Terra, a place visited in her nightly dreams she shares only with her Jesse.

Terra is occupied by a certain group of people called “Healers” and “Citizens”. Alora is a Lifter and a Binder who travels with a group of people called a troupe.

Drama unfolds and causes Alora to use her powers as a Lifter. Her secret gift as a Lifter is revealed and she is now in great danger according to her adoptive father Martin.

She learns of a Prophecy about a woman who will one day be born as a “Lifter”. Women are not allowed to be lifters. The followers of Amun call her the Warden and they believe she will destroy Terra. Alora’s life has changed, she is now forever in grave danger.

The Prophecy launches Terra into a violent war between the factions of Amun and Isis. On earth, more Terran characters come into play casting violent interactions among Alora and her brother; it seems earth and Terra are becoming one. The reader is pitted between wondering what is real and what fantasy is at this point. The interchange between Terra and earth in some places can get a bit confusing.

Jesse convinces Alora her dreams are possibly hallucinations caused from trauma and arranges for professional medical care.

The finality is a herculean, emotionally-driven ending; a raging storm of inner most feelings of hatred, revenge, vengeance and discernment between good and evil ensues. This powerful inner battle driven by Alora’s emotions destroy Terra forever.

Conclusion:

The “power of the pen” in the hand of Bridget Baker is driven with excellence. She is a natural when it comes to writing unique, emotionally-driven, power pact stories.

In “Anchored” she builds strong characters that depict vivid personalities. The reader is clearly able to recognize Alora as a compassionate and empathetic young lady although she possesses incredible powers as a Lifter in a foreign world.

Her narrative literary style is loaded with dialogue and amazing description coupled with great intensity. The dialogue between Alice (Alora) and her brother Jesse is fun to read; they often joke with each other allowing the reader to recognize their special bond. Her brother is her “anchor”.

Baker cleverly inserts picturesque, graphic words that magnify each scene.

The sentences are neatly structured in such a way that the reader is eased into the setting of the unusual world of Terra creating a feeling of belonging in-spite of its foreign nature.
She is able to build enough suspense in both worlds to keep her readers “on edge” anxiously awaiting the outcome. I can keep on reading, not ready to stop.

Baker executed an intense description of the Exordium that I consider a literary masterpiece. Her colorful vocabulary excites strong human emotions.

Some of the episodes on Terra can be interpreted according to the reader’s preferential taste. The battles called the “Ascension” are numerous, brutal and long lasting.

Halfway through the book, I am monstrously curious and eagerly awaiting the ending. With Terra destroyed, Alora is, at last, able to live in peace and harmony with herself.

Stargazer: A Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito Novel (A Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito Novel, 6) by Anne Hillerman

Reviewed by Carol Smith

    Summary

The setting is the Navajo Nation in New Mexico; the month is October.

The story begins when Officer Tara Williams at Socorro County Sheriff’s Department receives the call about a young boy finding a dead man inside a car near highway MN 169. She embarks on the assignment and begins her work creating a crime scene.

Stargazer is the story of Officer Bernadette Manuelito working with her police colleagues in the Navajo Nation of New Mexico. It is more than a murder mystery or investigations of crime. It is about the people who work inside law enforcement in the Navajo Nation coping with the pitfalls of budget shortage, staff shortage and other obstacles. Some episodes include mention of missing and exploited indigenous women and children as a prime problem although not the focus of the story.

Tara Williams is contacted by Officer Bernadette Manuelito regarding a missing woman in Socorro. Her name is Maya Kelsey. Tara immediately makes the connection, the woman named Maya Kelsey is married to the man found dead in his car. Maya Kelsey, reported missing, shows up at the police department confessing to the murder of her husband, Steve Jones.

Together, the two police women begin a long journey of investigating the murder of the dead man, Steve Jones, Ph.D., a scientist who works at the VLA. The VLA is an actual real-life astronomy observatory located in central New Mexico. The author makes an interesting note of this observatory at the end of her book.

Throughout the book the haunting experiences of death and suicide experienced by folks in police work surface in various characters. They carry on in-spite of it. It makes the story authentic.
The author includes colorful descriptions in her scenes that create picturesque moments for the reader. They will feel present.

Officer Bernie’s dedicated, hard work causes her to solve the mystery and find the “real killer” of Steve Jones and also solves the mystery of why his wife, Maya Kelsey, confessed to a crime she did not commit.

This story is action-packed with a lot of movement and interaction between characters. It is a very multi-faceted, enjoyable read.

Editorial Review

Hillerman’s gift of creating alliteration in various sentences adds strength and enhances reader impact. In one scene taking place in the wilderness, the alliteration in “coyote chorus” causes the reader to relax in the midst of a violent episode.

The phrase “Tsunami of sadness” cleverly inserted in a very emotive scene is an alliteration used to soften the powerful word “Tsunami” placed before the emotional word “sadness”. It is intended to galvanize the reader.

Descriptions of police characters definitively depict that of tough, dedicated folks who are on task.

Anne Hillerman performed an outstanding job creating the character of Bernadette (Bernie) Manuelito. Throughout the book she remains focused on her police work and connects with husband Sergeant Jim Chee. She has a natural inclination that causes her to see patterns, missing pieces, and the ability to notice what does “not add up”. Bernie’s actions show respect for her superiors. Her chary attitude saves her in a violent scene.

“No stone is left unturned” under her watch. The character of Officer Bernadette is believable because of Hillerman’s ability to build her personality into that of a bona fide police woman.

The author’s prose often includes words that describe the usual sights and sounds of the natural world we live in. E.g., “The morning light gave the grass a golden glow as it shimmered in the autumn breeze”. The euphony invites the reader to be present in scene.

The sound of Navajo words such Ghaaji” for October and other Navajo words are often used throughout the book. It marks the importance of American Indians clinging to their native language and customs while living in a modern-day society. There is mention of some primitive conditions such as many homes on the Navajo Nation still lacking electricity.

Hillerman is very adept at connecting all the dots in a mystery. She is an excellent mystery writer.

Quite a bit of Navajo history and present-day problems are mixed into the plots. Because of this, the story would appeal to Native American Indians and other races who are genuinely interested in the history and present day life of the American Indians.

The Fiancèe by Kate White

Reviewed by Lily Andrews

The Fiancèe is a mystery thriller novel by one of the best-selling authors, Kate White. The plot revolves around the Keaton family of Ash Keaton, Claire Keaton, and their four sons: Gabriel, Blake, and fraternal twins, Marcus and Nick.

The author uses the first-person narrative through one of the characters, Summer, who is Gabriel’s wife. The Keatons hold extravagant and lovely vacations in their family home but on this particular vacation, Summer feels uneasy and anxious as she, Gabriel, and her step-son, Henry make their way to the Keatons. As the get-together begins, Nick introduces his fiancee, Hannah, to the family during one of their dinners in the evening. Everyone is utterly surprised that Nick, known for his usual casual flings, wants to settle down with a woman he has hardly known for two weeks. The matriarch of the family, Claire, whom all her stepdaughters find controlling and judgemental except for Summer, is particularly not pleased with the announcement.

The Midnight Library: A Novel by Matt Haig

Reviewed by Teri Takle

How often do you think about your choices that you make every day? You have to decide if you plan to get out of bed, what to wear, what to eat for breakfast, etc…

Nora Seed has choices about her life almost every second. Her choice of suicide brings her to another reality. Could you imagine every single possibility you could have taken in your life? Would life be different for you? Could you have had a happier and more fulfilling life, or were you doomed from the start?

What if there exists a book for every possibility you had chose not to take in your life? Endless opportunities for you that could have been your life?

Would you prefer to read about whether you had chosen to marry, have a family, marry someone else, move across the country, or to a different country? The possibilities are endless.

Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam

Reviewed by Teri Takle

New York City residents, Amanda and Clay, need a vacation. Life can be tedious with having a teenaged boy and a daughter. They lead the busy lives of a white middle-classed American family. Amanda selected the perfect vacation home on Long Island in a remote and luxurious area, renting a house with a pool for one week. The home is lovely and better than she had expected.

Their time on Long Island is enjoyable until there is a knock on the door. An older black couple is waiting to enter the house while claiming that this is their home and they want the family to leave.

They will even refund their week’s stay in cash, even doubling it. They claim that strange things are happening in the city, so they jointly decided to go back to their own home.
Wait! The week is not over. Do you leave? Do you demand a refund? Are they the actual owners? Is this some scam? Do they believe the couple? Are they criminals?
Would you? What would you do?