Category Archives: Fiction

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.

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.

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?

Anxious People: A Novel by Fredrick Backman

Reviewed by Teri Takle

If you ever read a book that was not what you expected, Anxious People could easily be the one.

You have a finite group of people: a bank robber, a real estate agent, an older couple looking for an apartment to flip into a profit, their hired person trying to help them purchase, a two-women couple with one expecting a baby soon looking for a home, an elderly neighbor, an overly-wealthy bank executive, a senior police officer, and his son, a newer police officer following in his dad’s footsteps; all deciding who should and shouldn’t buy the apartment. The exceptions are the policemen who are attempting to arrest the bank robber.

Being human, each person possesses secrets that can change how others perceive them, and no one wants their secrets revealed.

Are you confused yet?

Anxious People is funny with twists as the reader learns about each character, slowly revealing themselves to others. While always making you question what these people are doing and why.
Characterization is phenomenal in Anxious People. You quickly develop a visual person and their personality for each one allowing you to understand their motivations.

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?

Slip Out the Back, Jack: A bone-chilling gritty serial killer thriller (Jack Ryder Book 2) by Willow Rose

Reviewed by Allen Hott

An interesting but somewhat confusing book by one of the busiest writers in the marketplace right now. Willow Rose is a Scandinavian writer by birth but now resides in the United States and has had over 125 books published in this country. She writes Mystery, Thriller, Paranormal, Romance, Suspense, Horror, Supernatural thrillers, and Fantasy.

Slip Out the Back, Jack is somewhat of a combination mystery thriller with some romance interspersed throughout. One of the first

chapters tells of a surprise gun attack in a crowded theater but it takes several more chapters before the reasons for that in this book to become apparent. Following the flow of the total story takes some work by the reader as there are several different occurrences that have to come together to make it a complete story.

But as these things happen Jack Ryder, a detective, is a major part of the entire book as he tries to live his life solving mostly murders while he raises his children, at least partially, as his separated wife also does her part in this job.

Ellipsis by Kristy McGinnis

Reviewed by Timea Barabas

Ellipsis” by Kristy McGinnis is a wonderful piece of fiction that reads like real life. The novel tells the story of a girl becoming a woman. And through this not so out of the ordinary life are presented some of the horrors of ordinary life.

The novel opens up with the blossoming of Nell Sanger, a college student who has all her future mapped out. She took on some side jobs to help support herself, one of which was modeling for art students. That is where she met Narek, a gifted art student from Armenia. The two immediately felt connected by the many things they have in common and were intrigued by each-others cultural and personal differences.

But this is not a simple love story. It is a complex tale about the many forms love can take and the challenges that these bring. The love for and of a boyfriend, former lover, child, mentor, fellow women, the love of self. As you go through the pages of the book, there is an overwhelming sense that tragedy, loss is inescapable. Happiness, on the other hand, is harder to hold on to. Will Nell be able to experience joy, or will all her happiness end up being trapped somewhere in the past?

Forbidden Brownstones by Clifford Browder

Reviewed by Lisa Brown-Gilbert

Author Clifford Browder, prolific in both his knowledge of New York history and its people, affords literary enthusiasts with another journey into historic New York with the fifth title in his Metropolis series, Forbidden Brownstones, a work which artfully portrays life from the perspective of its central character, Junius Fox.

As a young black male living in mid 1800s New York City, Junius Fox and his family, although free, faced political, cultural and social constraints of a society stuck in the throes of the system of slavery. Living in a world alive with rampant instances of overt racism and easily provoked violence towards blacks created an overall environment for blacks living in New York at the time a struggle to thrive in and very often dangerous to live in.

However, Junius witnessed something shining in the midst of his limited life sparking a deep desire within him for the seemingly unattainable, a Brownstone. For Junius his longing for owning a Brownstone became an obsession since the age of twelve, when he became initially entranced by the enticing visage and mystery of the buildings, fomenting a desire that continued to burn within him into his adulthood. However, Brownstones were not owned by black people at that time, not even those considered Black gentry. Instead, the sought-after homes were only owned and lived in by the white gentry in the city, who refused to sell to monied blacks. Blacks could only work in the buildings. For Junius to own a Brownstone as a black man was a fantasy that he wanted as a reality.

Meanwhile, determined Junius was not deterred from his desires by his station in life. Alternatively, he sought to be the best, as he makes his way into the world of gainful employment through jobs available at the time. Eventually, fate brings him closer to finally satisfying his Brownstone obsession with finally working and residing in a Brownstone not once but twice.