Who’s There?: A Collection of Stories by Dimas Rio

Reviewed by Lisa Brown-Gilbert

Offering horror fans a literate concoction of brief yet creatively posed stories woven with a supernatural bent throughout, Who’s There? by author Dimas Rio does well to stimulate the imagination with his collection of Asian culture-centric, eclectic shorts each sure to pique the interest as well as tingle the spine.

Firstly, Author Dimas beguiles the reader with solid storytelling with the title story, Who’s There? which is also my personal favorite. This well-honed tale brings the reader along on a creepy journey through the guilt-ridden conscience of an alcoholic, drug-addicted and particularly egocentric man whose dark psyche leads him into the cold wet embrace of his fiancé.

Continuing the chills is story 2, titled At Dusk within which a high school magazine reporter embarks on an assignment to interview a celebrity mystery writer who shares the ultimate ghost story to his captive, and earnest yet unsuspecting audience of one.

Acts of Faith: Part 1 of The Inquisition Trilogy by Martin Elsant

Reviewed by Ray Palen

The British Jewish historian Cecil Roth, who was educated at Oxford, wrote a book that was of special interest to author Martin Elsant. The book was entitled History Of the Marranos and of the many figures covered in it was one Diego Lopes of Pinancos in Coimbra, Portugal. Ironically, Mr. Elsant is a former radiologist living in Jerusalem and Mr. Roth died in Jerusalem in the year 1970.

While much of ACTS OF FAITH is dedicated to the descendants of Diego Lopes, Martin Elsant includes two quotes prior to his Author’s Notes from different sources. One in particular I found quite interesting: “Folded under the dark wing of the Inquisition…the influence of an eye that never slumbered, of an unseen arm ever raised to strike. How could there be freedom of thought, where there was no freedom of utterance? Or freedom of utterance, where it was as dangerous to say too little as too much? Freedom cannot go along with fear.” – William H. Prescott, The Age of Phillip II and the Supremacy of the Spanish Empire, 1858.

It is easy to pick up a history book or click on Wikipedia to find out about Diego Lopes. I prefer, whenever possible, to read historical fiction — an infusion of actual history within the opportunities that allow for creativity when re-examining historical events. I believe that this is what Martin Elsant is doing with ACTS OF FAITH, retelling historical events during one of the most difficult times in human and religious history — The Inquisitions — in such a way that it feels as if the reader is enjoying a book of fiction, filled with all the expected plot twists and turns.

Guess Who by Nesly Clerge and Joyce L. Shafer

Reviewed by Timea Barabas

Guess Who by Nesly Clerge and Joyce L. Shafer is a sultry romance story nicely wrapped in a cop thriller. A pleasant read for these cozy winter nights.

In the center of all stands Tessa, a woman with a tumultuous past and full of contradictions. She becomes entangled with a chain of bank robberies. After her intuition unexpectedly kicks in upon reading a newspaper article about the crimes, she decides to fully immerse herself in the case to help untangle its mysteries. But the task she set out for herself is not easy. Her first major obstacle proves to be the main detective working the case, Max Walker. He seems impervious to her intention and explanations, hanging up on Tessa’s numerous calls. So, what is a girl to do? Get on the next flight to New York, of course, and make the detective listen.

While the pretense of the plot would label the novel as a thriller, the bank robberies and law enforcement setting serve more as the backdrop for romance. In the hectic city of New York, and in the even bigger turmoil of her personal life, Tessa finds herself the object of desire for many potential suitors. Although she tries to maintain her focus on the job she went there to do, the temptations prove to be overwhelming; especially when it comes to detective Walker, who is playing an intense and frustrating game of push and pull. But to what end?

Joe’s Odyssey by Nick LaTorre

Reviewed by Lisa Brown-Gilbert

When it comes to a road trip brimming with outrageous escapades and misconduct, Joe’s Odyssey by author Nick LaTorre definitely makes an impression. Fueled by testosterone, the overall narrative refreshes the college road trip genre by taking readers along on an action-filled tale with a quartet of hedonistic, pleasure-seeking friends, which includes adventure on the open seas, world travel, mobsters, hitmen, and college prankster antics.

Frustrated and angst-riddled for middle-aged Joe Kerson, life in general, has him in a bad place, perspectively. He finds himself stuck working for a company at a job with no room for advancement and a boss he deeply resents. Also feeling deeply unhappy with his marriage, he no longer desires intimacy with his wife, as well as being frustrated with the stressful financial necessities of caring for teenaged children. As an escape he finds solace in alcohol and his lamentations at the bar he frequents.

However, one pivotal fateful day, Joe’s boss comes to him with a special assignment to meet with a new potential client, Luciano Galdonchino, (a known mobster) on his yacht. Initially, unenthused, Joe meets Luciano and while witnessing some the aspects of his wealth, power, and success decides to seize the opportunity of a lifetime. Joe pushes Luciano overboard, steals his yacht and money, and thusly embarks on the adventure of his life in the stolen yacht on the open sea. However, Joe does not opt to do this excursion alone; he finds himself a crew of three college friends also acquaintances of his kids, known as the Schmorde, Ron, Pirate, and Brute. Together with this mixed bag of oddball, immature characters, he launches a journey to chaos, danger, sex, drugs, and all-encompassing juvenilistic behavior, making stops in Vegas, San Francisco, and Jamaica. Having no remorse Joe easily keeps the adventure going for months leaving his family and old life behind while occasionally sending a nasty letter to his wife.

Endless Incarnation Sorrows: A Spiritual Odyssey of Mortal Imprints on Earth by Lucia Mann

Reviewed by Timea Barabas

Endless Incarnation Sorrows is a daring literary feat of an intergenerational tale that closely follows a soul across its rebirths. Triggered by true events, Lucia Mann shares her personal insights into what was and what might come to be. Following repeated resuscitations, she starts un-forgetting her previous selves. Thus many seemingly disconnected lives scattered across time and space are connected by an invisible string that pulsates throughout the pages of the book. Lucia Mann takes us on an inspirational inward journey, by unveiling the darkest corners of her past and present.

One of the features that makes the read stand out is how gripping all the characters are. Since, the main players shift between the scenes of this play of life, the reader has a narrow window of opportunity to become emotionally invested. Yet, Lucia Mann successfully outlines convincing and enticing personages that faithfully act out their destiny in front of our eyes. And through these harsh lives we can see and to a certain extent even feel some of the hardships that plagued humanity and continue to do so. The first incarnation, Lala bares the burden of her parents’ incest and her desert exile ends in enslavement; Lyveva surpasses her victim status branded upon her by Vikings to become a healer; Lucja experiences the lowest and highest of humanity within the Auschwitz fences.

The sands of time uncover various taboo subjects, ushered away by our consciousness, such sensible subjects that we would much rather turn a blind eye to. While these practices are presented in a contextual fashion, as an integral part of a certain period in history, some survived into our present under various forms, themselves being subjected to a string of reincarnations. Behind the front narrative of survival and redemption of a lost soul, there is a strong underlying outcry for the incarnation of social practices that embrace numerous souls.

All in all, Endless Incarnation Sorrows is hard to put down; there is always an immediate sense of peril or surprise on the next page. While, the subject and the writing style makes the read appealing to a wide audience, there are some details that steer the direction toward an adult or young adult group. Lucia Mann does not shy away from topics that are now deemed taboo and this piercing truthfulness might just be the secret ingredient that keeps the reader on this magically painful and eye-opening journey that the author initiates.

Learning to Quit: How to stop Smoking and Live Nicotine Free by Suzanne Harris and Paul Brunetta

Reviewed by Lisa Brown-Gilbert

Often easier said than done, quitting smoking can be one of the more daunting experiences that someone can face in life and while there is an abundance of guides on the market, it may seem like when you have read one, you read them all. However, within the text of Learning to Quit: How to stop Smoking and Live Nicotine Free, readers/potential quitters become empowered by virtue of its expert authors, encouraging tone, motivational success stories, a bevy of resources and easy to manage exercises. Co-authored by Suzanne Harris R.N. and Paul Brunetta MD, this book is more than just another guide to quitting smoking; it is more like the bible for quitting smoking.

Overall, the book presents a full-spectrum view of the multilayered and quietly intimate process of taking back your life from smoking. Both well-written and thoroughly organized, the book text is divided into two halves; the first half of which explores and delves deeply into an intriguing series of questions concerning smoking which also are the same questions that smokers looking to quit should challenge themselves with answering; for example, Chapter 1 queries “What Moves You to be a Non-Smoker? ” followed by an overview of the issue and original documented experiences told from the experiences of several past patients. The connection to their struggles comes easily as their stories ring as relatable, candid, and insightful with the ultimate outcome of their eventual successes bearing a gift of motivation.

Also, there are included pictures of the patients which adds an additional dimension of realism to their included testimonies. Each chapter ends with a reiteration of key points, action steps and also includes a space for personal notes. Additionally, within this half of the book, Chapters 9 and 10, amply provide a blueprint to be implemented for embarking on your personal smoking cessation sojourn.

Consequently, as a whole Learning to Quit: How to Stop Smoking and Live Nicotine Free brims with inspiration and powerfully important information presented in an attention-grabbing multi -perspective view of a life-threatening habit that to some (myself included) seems almost impossible to overcome. Entirely, this was not only an intriguing read but a necessary read for any smoker period. As you move through the content, your mindset becomes altered as you stop and take pause while wallowing in the fact that when you smoke, you have lost authority over yourself, your life and your health. Anytime is a good time to start taking it back, as a matter of fact, the sooner the better as proven by the many success stories within the book, including the authors. One aspect of the book that I found particularly interesting was the poignant look at the difference between fear-based and desire-based motivation. Also, the authors offer access to a multitude of helpful resources through their website Learningtoquit.com. Ultimately, this book is a must-have for anyone thinking about or determined to quit. It is an eye-opening and mind-altering call to take back your power.

Kensington: A Memoir About Friendship, Love and Life in a Small Town by Robert Haydon

Reviewed by Dianne Woodman

Kensington: a memoir about friendship, love, and life in a small town is a fascinating recollection of Robert Haydon’s life in the 40’s and 50’s that also includes enthralling ancestral stories along with entertaining anecdotes involving animals. Haydon’s family moved from Kensington, Maryland, to Dallas, Texas, in 1957. Haydon not only shares some of his unforgettable memories of Kensington through engrossing stories but also writes about the tough scenario the family faced that prompted the move to Dallas. During Haydon’s teen years in Dallas, music became an important part of his life, especially after he met Steve Miller, a fellow classmate, who shared his love of music. This friendship led to the formation of a band that included other fellow classmates, and the group named themselves “The Marksmen Combo.” This was the beginning of Haydon’s performing career, which brought him into contact with some of the greatest musicians of all time, who are mentioned in the book.

This memoir grabs readers’ attention from the very beginning with the wonderfully written prologue that sets up the story, which is told in the stylistic tradition of a novel. The Haydon and Mann families joined together through marriage and had different outlooks on life. The Haydon’s led a rural lifestyle, whereas the Mann were city folks. Haydon shares intriguing snippets about his ancestors along with more specific details about the lives of his grandparents and immediate family members. Pivotal and historical events in the lives of both families that are touched on by Haydon connect with readers’ emotions. Haydon also uses vivid, sensory details along with realistic dialogue to draw readers in and keep them invested in continuing to turn the pages. The black and white photographs sprinkled throughout the book not only help legitimize the story but also help readers visualize the people that are an inherent part of it and the places where events have taken place.

Haydon does an excellent job of using anecdotes that pull readers into the heartaches and celebratory moments experienced by individuals in this well-researched narrative that also provides readers with opportunities to form their own opinions about some of the material presented in this historical account. The honest and genuine telling of moments and events that encompass family and friends will appeal to readers, especially anyone who is interested in influential rock music icons and a real insight into what it was like growing up in the 40’s and 50’s. Kensington is an enjoyable, moving, and enlightening memoir that covers historical junctures and personal incidents of a time period in history that was far different than today’s culture.

Murder, She Wrote: A Time for Murder by Jessica Fletcher & Jon Land

Reviewed by Russell Ilg

“It’s just that the research I did turned up a murder where you used to live, where you were an English teacher.”
“There was a murder, and someone was arrested, yes, Kristi.”
“Were you the one who caught him, Mrs. Fletcher?”

That exchange, between Jessica Fletcher and a young woman she thinks is a reporter from the local high school newspaper, forms the heart of A Time for Murder, the 50th entry in the iconic Murder, She Wrote series. Jon Land, current series shepherd, has chosen to celebrate that milestone by taking us where no reader (or viewer, for that matter) has ever gone before: into Jessica’s past, specifically twenty-five years back in time, and the result is nothing short of a smashing, slam-dunk success unrivalled in the annuls of literary pop culture.

Jessica’s still married to a much alive husband Frank. And they’re raising their eight-year-old nephew Grady at the time, as she tries to carve out a career as a high school English teacher while struggling to get published.

“Is this a mystery?” one of her students asks, as the class dissects one of Jessica’s own short stories that she distributed anonymously.

It’s not supposed to be, but that gets her thinking, as does the murder of the beloved high school principal who was just about to hire her full-time. An office mishap is suspected at first, until Jessica displays her keen powers of observation for the first time while working with Appleton Maine’s only detective, none other than future Cabot Cove sheriff Amos Tupper.

But that flashback to the past is only part of Land’s fourth, and best, effort in the series so far. In the present, the high school reporter for whom Jessica granted an interview turns out not to be a reporter at all; in fact, she’s not even in high school. And when she turns up murdered herself after badgering Jessica about that murder in neighboring Appleton, we’re off to the races on a dead sprint that swiftly reveals a clear connection between these two killings separated by twenty-five years.

Choice Cut (The Cut Series Book 3) by Arnold Eslava-Grünwaldt

Reviewed by Lisa Brown-Gilbert

Book three in his penetrating “Cut” series, Choice Cut by author Arnold Eslava-Grünwaldt dispenses to readers yet another fast-paced, and intensely exciting addition to his well-received crime thriller series, within which, he capably continues to delve into the activities of the criminally debauched in Yonkers, New York, and the skilled team of detectives that pursue them and bring them to justice.

Maintaining the pace of excitement, drama, and thrills author Grünwaldt artfully continues the general storyline from book two, populated with most of the same characters, particularly the resilient and tough, Detective Sergeant Hamilcar Hitchcock and members of his general assignment squad. With a challenging mystery brewing, the story moves quickly and flawlessly into new and twisted scenarios calling for Sergeant Hitchcock and his team to move into action.

This time, the story starts out with members of the general assignment squad finding themselves coming to terms with the end result of their previous investigation which led to the nearly fatal shooting of a revered fellow officer and the unfortunate and temporary loss of another valued officer. However, the thrills and twists are just beginning with the discovery of a recently deceased male who may possibly be the casualty of a serial killer known as “The Butcher” whose victims are referred to as “one of the butcher’s cuts.”

Buried Leads: A Nichelle Clarke Crime Thriller by Lyndee Walker

Reviewed by Allen Hott

Early one morning Nichelle Clarke, a very hard-working crime/political writer for the Richmond Telegraph, gets a call that drives this whole story. A body has been found in a shallow grave. It turns out the well dressed individual in the muddy shallow gravesite was a lawyer. And not just a lawyer but a tobacco lobbyist from Washington D.C.

To be the first reporter on the scene is a great deal for Nichelle as she is constantly battling with other reporters for the top spot in the eyes of the paper’s editors. Her boss, who is an assistant editor, is always trying to get her more and more involved as he likes her style. However the competition is tough and continues throughout the story.

As other events occur, including other deaths, there is little doubt that the original death was part of a very large political manuever. Not only are local politicians but the trail goes higher and higher all the way to the Senate.

There are several people who get involved with Nichelle and one is an FBI agent who is a former boyfriend of hers. Kyle still is pretty well enamored with her though she doesn’t appear quite as anxious for him. But he is a great source of needed information as she gets deeper and deeper into the case.

Strangely enough the other individual who not only helps her but actually saves her from possible harm is a Mafia boss. Joey is a young neighbor who has been very friendly with Nichelle. She never realizes that he is involved with criminal activities at all. It turns out he seems to be a watchdog for several gangs but doesn’t really do much expect spy around and report activities.

Nichelle does get very deep into who and what is involved. It turns out that many of her instincts are correct as politics, graft, and just plain criminal events happen. One of these even include putting Nichelle into the hospital

It is a very good read and all of it seems to be very possible in today’s world. Crime is rampant everywhere, politicians get involved, and quite often it is the work of a “digging” news reporter of some sort to uncover it!

A Case of Need: A Novel by Michael Crichton

Reviewed by Allen Hott

A Case of NeedAn interesting (though somewhat boring book in places) about a young girl who dies or is killed from a botched abortion. At least that is the idea of A Case of Need as we begin working our way through the story. John Berry, a practicing pathologist is alerted to the fact that, Art Lee, an obstetrician friend of his has been arrested. Supposedly Lee performed the abortion that had ended up killing Karen Randall.

It seems that she was brought to Lee by her uncle, Peter Randall, and she requested the procedure. Lee claimed that he told her she was too far along (four months) in her pregnancy and that an abortion could not be performed safely. He says she left and then later died from a botched abortion.

After hearing Lee’s story, Berry gets somewhat crossways with the police, especially a Captain Peterson, when he decides to do some investigating himself. First off he does not believe Lee did it and secondly he realizes that the Randalls are not only an influential family but also a group of well-known doctors that gets their way, one way or another.

The Big Lie: A Jack Swyteck Novel by James Grippando

Reviewed by Jud Hanson

It’s time for another Presidential election. A widely-supported, if controversial, incumbent is facing off against a younger, more liberal opponent. As has happened before too many times, the popular vote winner appears to be on the losing end. The final result won’t be known until the Electoral College meets. However, the votes of the electors are governed by a myriad of laws, allowing for the possibility of “faithless” electors. One such elector has just surfaced in Florida and hires Jack Swytek to defend her right to vote her conscience and her fitness to serve , as well as against murder charges. There is a lot more to this case than meets the eye and Swytek will have to pull out all the stops to succeed for his client.

Verona by Jeffery Deaver

Reviewed by Allen Hott

VeronaIn this one Deaver has written an interesting short story about a man being killed in Verona while driving home in his automobile. It turns out that he was Donald Lark, a gangster who commanded a good size portion of the Panhandle territory. That territory was wanted by several other gangs and two in particular.

At the funeral parlor Brendon Nagel and his right hand man scouted out the other potential gangs and leaders as to who might be the other gang looking to take over Lark’s territory. It turns out that the most likely group is led by John Yung and Ki, Yung’s right hand man. Both of them were standing by the casket and eyed Nagel and his man quickly and quietly.

Likely Suspects (Alexis Parker Book 1) by G.K. Parks

Reviewed by Allen Hott

Likely SuspectsPretty good read about Alexis Parker who has been working as an Investigator at the Office of International Operations but has decided to now strike out on her own. Her plan is to do security work or even private detective work. A good friend and former supervisor puts her in touch with a James Martin who is owner and active leader of Martin Technologies. After a somewhat strange interview and stranger introduction to Martin’s secretary, she is hired.

The problem appears to be that some one or more than one someone appears to be attempting to be doing damaging things to James Martin, possibly even killing him. As Alexis begins her new employment she finds that Martin expects her to basically act almost like a girlfriend. At dinner on the first day of employment it seems that several gunmen enter the restaurant and plan a holdup of the diners. Alexis and her former boss (Mark), who is along basically to further the introduction of the two, get the word from Martin to go after the gunmen and see how good the new security head of Martin Technologies really is.

To the Bone (A Kate Reid Novel Book 9) by Robin Mahle

Reviewed by Allen Hott

Takes a lot of cops to go after the bad guy in this one. And the cops range from the regulars from the Boston Police Force, County Police, Massachusetts State Patrol, and even the FBI.

It basically starts with Mike Hawthorne, foreman of a construction site along the Charles River in the Boston area. One of Mike’s men calls him over when as they were digging they spotted a hand in the dirt that they are removing. Needless to say after calling the police the digging is done for the time being and the investigating of the area begins.

Detective Terry King begins the investigating which turns up an entire body. King brings in the Medical Examiner and other police officers. They surmise or at least believe that it is another of the victims of the Charles River massacre that was supposedly done by Whitey Bulger some 25 years previously.

That crime was not actually ever solved as they didn’t know if they were mob deaths or normal citizens who were killed by some maniac. Mostly they were younger women and they all seemed to have other injuries or incidents to their bodies prior to their murders.

Today’s find quickly turns out to also have strange conditions so there are questions. However shortly after the body is found and the digging is stopped yet another body with similar circumstances is found. Strangely booth bodies were not from the vintage of the Charles River massacre. One for sure appears to be of recent times.

Toward the Light by Bonnar Spring

Reviewed by James Eaton

This is a well-written book that, for the most part, impresses and engages, and here and there, strains credulity.

I suppose I’d also label it something of a slow burn, so as thrillers go, not substantially thrilling unless you put in the time. So put in the time. Patience rewards here.

Note: If you have seen and worshipped “The Princess Bride” as I have, you might need to take a pill to wipe Inigo Montoya from your memory banks, or you may find that wry swordsman haunting you, particularly at points in the story where I’m sure the writer of this novel did not envision invoking Mandy Patinkin.

Now that that’s out of the way, I will say that I, ultimately, enjoyed “Toward the Light.” The details, always in abundance, were essential to the illustration of the Guatemalan setting. I don’t feel, having just finished the book, that I’ve been to Guatemala, but I am quite sure the characters lived their lives and made their choices there, and that is what matters.