Category Archives: Book Reviews

The Last Train: A Tokyo Thriller

The Last Train

Michael Pronko is a scholar and an on Japanese culture. He is also an excellent story teller that captivates readers and takes them on an adventure through his words. The Last Train is set in Tokyo, and even if you have never been to Tokyo, don’t worry, Pronko draws you into the life there. His attention to detail is not limited to the scenery, but the customs and mannerisms that make up the Japanese’s culture. There is extensive time devoted explaining the life and world revolving around the hostess clubs, not sex clubs, rather clubs where men go to find a woman to entertain them for a period of time, while drinking and getting their ego stroked. It is within this society of hostess clubs that murder mystery is flushed out. A killer, targeting foreign investors is using the trains as her weapon of choice.

The story revolves around Michiko Suzuki and the team of detectives that are investigating the train murders. Michiko is the daughter of a factory owner whose mother died when she was young. She was raised by her father and his workers. She learned early that business is not always neat and clean, and that sometimes getting their hands dirty and making backdoor deals is the norm there. As Pronko tells Suzuki’s story he alternates between current events and her memories of the past, telling how she got to where she is, and how she has picked her victims. The main detectives investigating are Hiroshi and Takamatsu. Hiroshi is an accountant that due to spending part of his life in America is fluent in English so he works white collar crimes for the police. Takamatsu is a homicide detective that pulls together his own dream team to work on this case. Their case takes a high profile turn and soon they’re dodging politics as well the cultural need to keep everything neat and tidy. Michiko tries to keep her activities low key but when several of her victims survive her plot, things get messy for her and the police.

One of the most fascinating things about this novel is not the mystery aspect. The murder is not a secret from the beginning. What is a mystery is why she is killing people, figuring out what drove her to this life. Hiroshi is a complex character as well, and his dynamic interactions throughout the investigations add to the plot as well as provide an unique look at the culture. Even though he is from Tokyo, spending time in America gave him a different perspective on the way things are done; whereas Takamatsu comes off as the typical Japanese man. They make an interesting and effective partnership. Having the diverse views interacting with witnesses and other characters makes for a dynamic story line, it is diverse and provides multiple views from different cultural perspectives.  Much of the story takes place in Roppongi, here you see all the varieties of hostess clubs, the basic lounge style, mud wrestling, nude women, and the high-end invite only David’s Lounge. Each club gives readers a different taste of the culture.

Overall The Last Train by Michael Pronko is a well written and enticing look into the culture of Tokyo. The story behind Michiko Suzuki is compelling and engaging, you can’t help flipping the pages to see what she is going to do next and find out why her victims were chosen. Hiroshi connects well with everyone he interacts with so there is an emotional response from the reader. Pronko uses emotion, mystery and attention to detail to keep the reader engaged and wanting more. I look forward to seeing more from Pronko and hope he has more stories to tell with Hiroshi.

Pages: 348 | ASIN: B071DPXP7M

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Globes Disease

Globes Disease

Globes Disease by Lance Keeble is an edge of your seat thriller! We follow Jodi and several of her friends as they deal with an affliction affecting all of them. Their small town is under siege by a Vampire, who hunts those with such an affliction and government agencies promising them a cure. This strange mix of individuals must come together if they hope to survive. They will not only have to fight for each other, but fight to keep their humanity in the process.

I did not know what to expect going into this book. The cover art was interesting, as was the title, but once the story got going I was more mystified by what genre this novel fits into. It’s not quite science fiction, even with the disease device. It does not feel paranormal with the vampire and lycanthropy. Even with the suspense/thriller elements thrown in, they alongside with all the other speculative fiction elements do not define the book entirely. For the indiscriminate genre reader, this book is for sure a treat, because it plays with all the familiar conventions found in those respective genres.

From page to page, Keeble’s prose is electric. The characters jump off the page with each thought and action that they conduct. And to some degree, I felt like I knew these characters at one point in my life, because of the breath that Keeble can breathe into them. I was amazed. Some of the names had me scoff, like the characters, Quake and Ano, but as time went on the names kind of went with them and felt natural.

All in all, the pages read very easy and the reader shouldn’t be surprised when they find themselves twenty pages in after a blink. The pacing Keeble maintains is one that I admired, since it lends to the novel’s suspense and thriller architecture. And it is not only that, but the mystery that exists within the early pages of the book, because as the reader you want to know how all these various characters get swept up into this awful mess.

There were some hang ups for me as a reader, mainly along the lines of how many points of view Keeble chose to follow. It makes the chapters very short and it can ready almost choppy at times, since we are jumping from head to head. This flaw is only saved by how well written his characters are.

The final verdict is this: if you are looking for an interesting and pulse-pounding read than I would recommend this book. If you are searching for a book that defies genre convention and definition than this is the book you are looking for. If you desire a book with a fun case of characters bound in a common mission and goal, when the world is so divided, then this is the book for you. If any of those reasons apply to you then I would very much recommend this book.

Pages: 353 | ASIN: B01F0D0GVY

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Another Summer

Another Summer

Another Summer, written by Sue Lilley, tells the story of Evie and Joe, a married couple who have hit a rocky patch after uncovering lies and secrets within their marriage. Evie escapes to Cliff Cottage, a house left by her grandmother to do some soul searching whilst Joe stumbles through the countryside in an effort to find her. Old and new romances will be sparked as the couple reflect on their marriage and the twists and turns of their relationship. Will they reignite their old romance or will the lies and deceit be the final straw for Evie and Joe?

Another Summer begins with an awkward phone call that will change the marriage of Joe and Evie forever. Evie manages her grief through running away whilst her husband, dressed in expensive Hugo Boss attire, drowns his sorrows in a bar contemplating his next move. Prepare for a rollercoaster of emotions as Joe decides to chase after the leading lady of his life.

Summer flings, beach shacks and indie bands will come together for a teasing storyline that at times is hot and heavy with its seductive characters. Though the plot is steamy, the pace of the book is a little slow at times. I believe this was intentionally done to drive the readers to develop a burning desire to learn more. Another Summer questions the integrity of relationships and whether you would return to a partner after deceit. Many of us perceive relationships to be black and white, however, this love story opens the door to the possibility that love may be a grey area instead.

Sue Lilley’s ability to bring the characters to life left me feeling genuinely concerned for the fate of each character and their relationships. Even the small roles of the story had their own individual plot that I quickly became invested in. One of the characters, Lisa, is a lost and lonely teenager, desperate for answers and acceptance of a male figure in her life. Even though she seems like a lost cause, the reader will be inclined to fall for her sweet demeanour as she tackles her own demons alongside the ride with Joe.

The dreamy Jake will enter Evie’s life at a time where she feels the most vulnerable. With his boyish good looks and charming personality, it’s hard not to find yourself hoping he ends up whisking her away on a much deserved romantic holiday! But just like all of us, Jake is only human and has his own flaws and nuances to match.

I enjoyed how the story paralleled real life with places in the present sparking memories of the past for Evie and Joe. The flashbacks into the past will remind the reader of their own teenage romances and the hormonal dramas that came with first kisses, parties and summer romances.

I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys a romantic novel that questions whether relationships have the strength to survive the test of time. Does time heal old wounds? Should Evie return to Joe? Only time will tell.

Pages: 215 | ASIN: B00R9S9TFI

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False Gods

False Gods (The Sentinel, #2)

False Gods is a classic tale of angels and demons with a modern twist. Following his adoptive father’s untimely death, young Cormac is inducted as the Seventh Sentinel. Under archangel Michael’s celestial watch, Cormac acquires a team of quick witted, and often-times humorous, powerful beings. Sworn to protect mankind and his loyal sentinels from the ever-impending threat of demons and evil forces, he is thrust into the steep learning curve of what it means to serve his Lord. Cormac must now confront not only his worst nightmares, but the missing pieces of his past as well.

In the first few pages of False Gods, I felt much like what I imagine Cormac did in his first few days as the Seventh Sentinel; confused and unprepared. It felt as if I had been dropped into the halfway point of a dense novel. At first, it drove me crazy. I couldn’t keep characters straight, and between the jumble of formal language and modern day jargon it took me a while to surmise this was taking place in present day. Not to mention Cormac and his team are traipsing all over the globe to the point where I had to drag out a map. Albeit, I started to enjoy the confusion. As small pieces came into focus I quickly became fully invested in Cormac’s journey.

Cormac, young and freshly out of being sworn in as the Seventh Sentinel, quickly realizes that his life is now filled with danger at every turn. He acquires a team of powerful individuals, each with their own strengths. The reader watches as Cormac stumbles through his first few weeks of this new position under the watch of mighty angels. Like any hero’s journey, he is given a quest, one that will lead Cormac and his team all over the world in search of artifacts.  That is, unless demons get to them first.

This book was so poignant and filled with emotion that it left me wanting a bit more at times. False Gods is on the razor’s of emotional drama and a non-stop celestial action with faint notes of romance and intimacy.

The writing is skillfully crafted around Cormac and he comes to life right in front of you, his disposition immediately so infectious in a way that makes you wish you could be one of his paladins. The loyalty of his team and his emotional confrontation with his past grips you harder with each page. The quiet and intimate moments between characters, such as Noelle and Connor, or Cormac and Rachel, are visceral and evocative. Cormac’s team of gifted paladins are a bit hard to keep straight, the descriptions come to light very quickly in the beginning and are easily lost as the story becomes more involved. However, their personalities start to differ, and by the time the book comes to a close I found myself touched by each individual’s support for their Seventh Sentinel and clinging to Cormac’s unwavering determination.

Pages: 312 | ASIN: B01B7FMFDG

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Erinland

Erinland

Kathryn Berryman’s Erinland infuses Christianity into ancient rites while catapulting 21st Century characters into a 9th Century Viking war. Two teens, Amy and Richard, serve as threads in an intricate tapestry of historical fiction. Sharing the weave is Aiden, a monk protecting valuable antiquities with his life.

The story moves along through the points of view of one of the three most important characters. When Amy and Richard land in their respective, opposing villages, they are fully embraced. Both are long-awaited reincarnations of gods of the time. We’d expect the teenagers to feel displaced and confused, but they adapt quickly.

Berryman provides much in the way of Viking history, landscape, and relic description. Erinland is driven by her vast interest in these. We learn much lore through the tale of these ordinary, troubled children endowed with extraordinary powers from the glorious beings they represent. Berryman’s depictions of the cultures during the time are lovely and detailed as she describes their villages, clothing, and lifestyles. “The kransen, a gilt circlet worn on the head by unmarried girls, is removed from the young bride to be. It is a symbol of her virginity. The kransen is wrapped up by the bride’s attendants and put away until the birth of her eldest daughter who it will pass to.” (Page 194).

In Berryman’s desire to share her knowledge, she writes long monologues. These establish her as a credible authority on ancient history, but do so at the expense of natural dialogue. After suddenly being transported in time, the three primary characters are plunked down and force-fed tons of information. “Richard listened closely to Vagn as he spoke. It was a lot of information to absorb.” (Page 325).

The lack of meaningful exchanges sacrifices character development. This is particularly true for Amy, but less so for Richard. Relating to the characters is essential for us to want to read on.

Because war is the foundation of the plot, we may find it difficult to suspend belief when we are told the teens can learn how to become warriors in a few afternoons. Berryman relies upon descendent memory to take care of the problem. “Familiarise yourself with our ways. Your memories will return. A son of Odin retains his father’s essence and with it his memories and might.”  (Page 183).

In the end Erinland is a fascinating story that fuses mythology with well-choreographed battle scenes.

Pages: 278 | ASIN: B01MR9IAQL

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The Perfect Teresa

The Perfect Teresa

Take a moment and remember what happened to you in high school. For some people, this was a den of depression, oppression and pain. As teenagers, we’re severely lacking in skill and experience, yet we need to navigate a world that expects us to act like grown ups. Many a poor decision has been made in high school that can go on to affect our lives for decades afterwards. In The Perfect Teresa by Ulises Silva we have an example of just that. Our protagonist is a jaded 43-year old woman working in corporate America. She surely hasn’t had it easy and while not everything can be blamed on her high school experience, what she clings to from that time is definitely ruling her life. Teresa can’t move forward and she’s trapped in this sad, drunken life where happiness eludes her. It’s not until she crashes hard into rock bottom that she is given a chance for a do-over, thanks to a talking coyote.

Our protagonist isn’t all quite there. It’s clear that she’s broken and she’d rather blame everyone else than accept any sort of responsibility for it. This tale is told in the first person and is showcased in such a way that it feels like the reader is Teresa herself. We’re privy to her thoughts, her neurosis and her desperate attempt at avoiding herself. She’s miserable and her life sucks. There is no denying that. Silva does an excellent job with the imagery and how the story jumps around Teresa’s mind. It’s hard to do that and keep the story on track. Silva is clearly talented in this realm.

Even the time skip is well done. It’s hard to shift from present day to the past and keep in mind how things have changed: technology, manner of speech, what is and isn’t popular with teenagers. Silva either did some great research or potentially tapped into their own past in order to recreate what it was like in the late ‘80’s for teenagers. This isn’t easily done, and the book is better for it.

Using deities from various mythologies can be a bit messy, but Silva focuses on what would suit our protagonist. She is of Latin-American descent and the use of Quetzalcoatl and our friendly talking-coyote Piltzintecuhtli, or Pill for short, makes sense. For an Aztec deity, Pill dislikes the use of profanity and seems to have an attachment to Teresa. It is well known that the gods will favour a mortal here and there for their own amusement. Is Pill the same?

Combining a slice-of-life with a timeslip can bring about a unique experience. Instead of the washed-up twenty-something that usually happens in stories like this we have a woman who has really lived her life and come to regret it. The Perfect Teresa by Ulises Silva is a story about self-search, self-love and acceptance. What Teresa accomplishes through her foray through time is a lesson to be learned by all. This is a must read for anyone looking for excitement, adventure and even just that gentle reminder that things will be okay.

Pages: 421 | ASIN: B06XG2GT22

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The University of Corporeal and Ethereal Studies

The University of Corporeal and Ethereal Studies

Upon entering the book, The University of Corporeal and Ethereal Studies, the reader is immediately greeted with an acceptance letter. Wolfgang Edwards uses this as a sort of introductory to foreshadow what is to come: you are literally stepping out of our own reality and into this new one and this letter serves to summarize that. What follows is the collections and stories of various students and characters who attend this university. Set in a fictional, sometimes bizarre, universe, Edwards explores various facets of the supernatural, blending fantasy with characters who have very human traits.

I think an interesting way to categorize this book is like taking Harry Potter to the next level. You sort of get that feel because of the setting that it’s in. It’s not magic per say, but exploring otherworldly things, some of which I was unfamiliar with before learning about it. So that’s really the closest way to describe it, although it goes far beyond that. I learned a lot because certain things piqued my interest which I honestly have never heard about before. The book is intriguing and I became more interested the more I read. One such example was a chapter titled ‘The Oneironaut’ which is based off a concept called oneironautics. I learned that this is the concept of lucid dreaming, or being able to control your dream, whether it is trying to wake up from a dream or make something happen within the dream.

The actual story is divided up into a number of different perspectives from each character. Some had more relatable stories and more developed characters than others; some were truly fantastic. It reads like a dark adventure of disconnected people that the author is able to draw together for a bigger purpose – much bigger, and much more dangerous. Throughout the various chapters, we learn of different schools within the University, from which the different characters attend. There’s the School of Coin, School of Metallurgy, School of Engineering, etc. Each school is headed by a dean; and one sticks out in particular. Dean Merkea – an unpleasant man with an ugly, tattered demon dog who even urinates on a character’s shoe at one point. My favorite chapter, Prisoner from Beyond, ties together Dean Merkea, a curator, and unravels the launch of a very unique exhibit at a museum.

Despite its setting, the author manages to piece together a few solid pieces of insight every so often that can be just as intriguing as the story. One such example was of Arakatzeko, a character who can be related to someone like Socrates today: deceased, but full of wisdom. As Araktzeko is studied, we learn alongside the characters: “the true rulers of the royal palace were the cats, who were said to live through every change in royal families without incident”. Such tangible reliefs are welcome and help humanize an otherwise crazy setting.

As the book progresses, you get a feeling it’s heading towards something – just not sure what. The unique stories of each of the characters has surely got something for everybody, admittedly some more than others. It is guaranteed to stay fresh and new until the very end, which may leave you wishing that the author could’ve just kept going.

Pages: 720 | ASIN: B01MUAKPM3

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Dining and Driving with Cats – Alice Unplugged

Dining and Driving with Cats - Alice Unplugged

Dining and Driving with Cats – Alice Unplugged by Pat Paterson tells the story of Patterson and his wife, Alice, driving from the Mexican border to Atlanta, Georgia, with their two cats, Munchie and Tuffy. Along the way they use the opportunity to sample as much as they can from their pre-researched food-stops. The book will take you on a journey as they try countless dishes, meet unexpected people and attempt to tame their two beloved cats – who, there is no doubt, are definitely in charge.

While reading the book, Pat and Alice’s Honda Fit feels somewhat like home – you can almost feel yourself squished into the back with the two cats roaming around, as the two of them drive to their next destination. The tone is always kept light, making this an easy read and giving the reader a sense of comfort. While there are many descriptions of the food they eat and the antics of their two cats, the real theme in this novel is storytelling.

Patterson’s goal is to use their long trek to Georgia to tell stories along the way. The stories of the people they meet are interesting to a point, but you do find yourself feeling slightly removed as there is no real tie to them.

The best stories told are the ones about Pat and Alice; how they met and eventually fell in love. Not only does this insight make the reader feel more connected to them, but the stories themselves are sweet and witty and good enough material to be made into a Hollywood romance.

The best thing about the whole book is definitely Alice. I almost want to call her a ‘character’ of the book because that’s what she feels like. Her smarts and determination, coupled with her calm composure and uncanny ability to cajole the cats to bend to her will, makes her seem almost too good to be true. She seems the type of person who, if you were married to them, you would want to write about.

The only down side to the novel is the actual travel aspects. While mildly interesting to start with, it becomes slightly mundane, and all the descriptions of the food they eat becomes repetitive – it can’t all be as delicious as described, surely? However, this may just be because the Alice and Pat stories are so good that it leaves you craving more. The food is unimportant; you just want to hear about Alice and Pat!

Overall this is an enjoyable read, and the way the stories of the couple are intertwined with them visiting familiar places, is expertly done. The cats are sweet and their antics add an entertaining element. This is a great book for storytelling and memories, and will leave you feeling sentimental and warm and fuzzy inside.

Pages: 260 | ASIN: B06XD7XGGH

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End of Knighthood

End of Knighthood Part I: The Chess Pieces (Reverence, #2)

End of Knighthood Part I: The Chess Pieces by Joshua Landeros is a ripping tale of military science fiction. The novel follows the continued struggle of William Marconi a cyborg super soldier as he continues to figure out his place and duty as a soldier and knight in this futuristic warzone. Will ends up joining the resistance movement. Fighting the UNR, the new world government superstructure, or curbing its growth becomes the center of conflict. Chancellor Venloran is the locus of these plans and wishes to destroy his enemies completely. Can non-UNR countries survive the rising tide and hardened troops?  The principal question is, what will Will do to make up for his past transgressions on behalf of his former role?

Landeros paints a picture worthy of the classic military science fiction writers in their hay day. Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers can be felt in every leap of Will from rooftop to rooftop. He masterfully borrows what made these novels great by their action and dialogue. One of the strong parts of the End of Knighthood is not just the fantastic action, but the dialogue between the soldiers is some of the best I have ever read. This is what keeps these soldiers human and what makes them instantly relatable to the reader. Sure, it is cool to read the amazing action scenes that Landeros crafts, but in the quiter moments we get to see how these individuals struggle with their in between status and their struggle in the midst of war.

As far as action goes, you can’t get too much wrong when you have cyborg on cyborg action, but Landeros takes painstakingly careful steps so that the reader does not become lost in the rain of bullets and blows. We are able see every body fall, but we are also able to see the glimpses of humanity from these soldiers as they reflect later their deeds. Will, the main protagonist, and one of the few carry overs from the previous book, is one such character that we get to see who continues to develop.

In our current times of political upheavals and nation states, one would think a book such as End of Knighthood would be hard to swallow. The UNR seems to be something that could occur in the not so distant future, but with the addition of these tech enhanced soldiers, Landeros has given the reader enough of an escape to enjoy oneself rather than wallow in more reality. Despite having a military science fiction bend, the novel could appeal to anyone looking for an action centered yarn along with some political thriller overtones. The genre blending on Landeros’ part is spot on and should please a wide variety of readers.

All in all, the reader may lose some sleep going through one battle scene and turning the page for another, but it is sleep happily given up. I look forward to the next installment of the Reverence series.

Pages: 233 | ASIN: B06ZZCDJ44

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The Fugitive’s Trail

The Fugitive's Trail

Suspense, intrigue and subterfuge. An agent chasing a fugitive who knows more than is healthy for him. What begins as a cat-and-mouse game evolves into a spectacle that is sure to entertain all readers. The Fugitive’s Trail by J.C. Fields appears to be the first book in a series centering on the skills of Special FBI Agent Sean Kruger. His son now off to college we meet Kruger as he sells his home and moves into a condo where he hopes to just relax and quietly move about his business. Relaxation is not so easily found for our agent. No sooner does Kruger make a romantic connection with his attractive neighbor than he is pulled into a man-hunt. Will Kruger catch this so-called fugitive and bring him to justice? Or is the thought of justice much more subjective than previously thought?

For a debut novel this is a fantastic piece of work. Any reader can tell that a lot of time and effort went into crafting this adventure. Fields has done his research in this area of crime fiction and it all feels quite realistic. Understanding how major organizations like the FBI, CIA or even the local police department work can be a daunting task for a new writer. Fields is clearly comfortable with this topic and has either studied or done enough research to become so. What’s unsettling with this genre is the matter of how loose-lipped certain agents can be when they are in the comfort of their home with their significant other.

Fields does a great job describing the scenery, particular points of interest and characters in general. The main characters in this particular book have their back stories fleshed out under the pretense of first-dates. Instead of feeling forced, this is a natural stage for such information to be shared. A clever trick indeed.

If there are any drawbacks it would be when Fields describes the race of a character. Using such phrases as ‘the black guy’, ‘the white guy’, or the ‘girl of Asian descent’ seems rather bland in comparison to how he describes other aspects of the book. Opportunities to describe a characters skin tone with more grace are missed here and it grates hard to read such a stereotypical and flat profile. Other parts of the character are described with more elegance which is what makes this particular aspect stand out.

If you are looking for an adventurous crime-drama where the elements of surprise and intrigue hide around the corner then The Fugitive’s Trail by J.C. Fields is a must-read. Quick-paced with easy to digest chapters and interesting characters you can’t go wrong by adding this to your collection. Besides, aren’t you curious to see just what happens when Kruger does catch the fugitive? The delectable twist shouldn’t be missed.

Pages: 307 | ASIN: B00WS00FW8

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