Category Archives: Four Stars

Dead Air

Dead Air

Dead Air: A Glenn Beckert Mystery by Cliff Protzman is a thrilling mystery story. Glenn “Beck” Beckert runs the security for a radio station where his friend, Zito, from high school works. While this friend is working, he is shot in the head. Beck finds himself involved in the investigation and it turns out that the list of suspects is fairly complicated. Far more people had motive to murder his friend than he anticipated. The widow and the victim were both unfaithful, giving plenty of motive. He was also on the outs with the radio station stockholders that were looking to sell. Then Zito’s laptop uncovers a mystery all of it’s own.

Beck finds Irene, an old love, to help him unlock the mystery of Zito’s laptop. The laptop reveals even more than they both could have expected. Meanwhile, they start to realize there is still chemistry between them. Add in both mysterious and not so mysterious threats on Beck’s life, and you have the premise of this thrilling novel.

I felt like this novel did a fantastic job of utilizing a standard mystery format to deliver a thrilling and engaging story. A ‘whodunit’ novel that develops fascinating characters and puts them in some interesting situations.

I enjoyed the depth of each character, which is important in building suspense in a mystery novel. Cliff Protzman has fully realized characters with their own personal quandaries about right and wrong, which is refreshing. So many writers create characters that don’t adapt and flow through the story. It’s nice to see someone really put some thought and love into their character development.

What has really made this novel enjoyable is the way the mystery unfolds. It felt like the murder victim had many layers that Beck was slowly peeling off, one by one, only to find that the person at the core wasn’t who he appeared to be. In a way, many of the characters were that way. Each having their individual things they wanted the world to see, but as the story line and the investigation continued, we get to see the real person underneath the facade. Some of those people were nothing like what they wanted everyone else to believe they were.

Dead Air: A Glenn Beckert Mystery by Cliff Protzman is a well written dark murder mystery novel. The story was easy to follow with twists that I could follow. Get yourself ready for this novel; it was a fun read.

Pages: 321 | ASIN: B0765VNM1K

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A-C-T Like a Kid and T-H-I-N-K Like a Parent

A-C-T Like A Kid And T-H-I-N-K Like A Parent: What All Good Parents Need For Their Kids To Know, Learn And Understand

A-C-T Like a Kid and T-H-I-N-K Like a Parent, by C.S. Whitehurst and Katharine Shears, is a guide for preteens and teens as they enter the most difficult stages of their young lives. The authors present numerous challenging situations, looming questions, and advice for readers. Teen readers are given thorough explanations regarding basic life skills and the necessity in learning early to practice and demonstrate responsibility, showing and earning respect, and getting what they want through appropriate measures.

As a parent and teacher, I appreciate the authors’ detailed advice regarding parents’ feelings about their children. They take a close look at the way parents feel about others hurting their children and the difficulty we have in trusting others not to hurt our children. I was especially touched by the authors’ emphasis on the fact that we, as parents, do not want anyone to hurt our children and that includes the child himself. This is something I find, as a mother, very difficult to express at times.

Children, especially teens, struggle with their feelings toward their parents and question whether they truly understand them or not. Whitehurst and Shears stress that a parent, whether or not he or she has sought professional parenting advice, operates based on what he or she knows from past experiences. Helping children and teens realize that we, as parents, bring our own childhood into the parenting realm allows them to see the significance of the decisions we make–bad or good. The authors are open and informative as they explain parents’ varying strategies.

I realize that the focus of the book was effectively the parent and child relationship and the importance of understanding a parent’s point of view, but I would have liked a little more extensive explanation of the parent’s view of bullying. This is such a difficult aspect to drive home as a mother and a teacher. When children hear someone else explain the same information we have tried ad nauseum to explain, it is often more effective coming from another source. The authors have an excellent opportunity to further address this extremely relevant social issue.

The authors recognize that teens are more likely than not to encounter feelings of dishonesty, and be hit with the desire to hide their feelings and actions from parents. Part Three, Chapter 9 deals quite frankly with these feelings and helps the young reader understand the importance of growing into a trustworthy adult. In addition, the reader receives a thorough explanation of the directness appreciated by parents. In fact, the authors dedicate a great amount of their time to the concept of trust, which I appreciated greatly.

I am giving A-C-T Like a Kid and T-H-I-N-K Like a Parent is a wonderfully persuasive piece which is bound to hit home with teen readers. The authors have been careful not to write above the teen reader’s head, and they effectively touch on a variety of issues within one handy self-help manual.

Pages: 192| ASIN: B076GJLLQ4

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Out of the Shadows

Out of the Shadows (Shadowlands #1)

I recently read Out of the Shadows by Ashlee Nicole Bye and was immediately hooked by the first chapter. The prologue to the book, which I admittedly skip over, caught my eye and sets the scene for what is a very interesting concept and well written novel. We meet Julian, who we learn is not from this world as he uses ‘humans’ and as you read on, you learn that he is way older than he appears to be. Although his age isn’t described until later, you know he’s old because his eyesight has been bestowed to him almost a century and a half ago. Clearly, he’s seen some things.

I really enjoyed this book. Maybe it’s because I’m Australian as well and we rarely get treated to books that are supernatural AND also mention state capitals that we know (such as Melbourne), but it was immediately easy to immerse myself into this world that Ashlee has so lovingly created. The characters, such as Sachi, are so well written that you can feel their pain, anguish and confusion as Sachi is thrown into a world she’s not entirely sure about. Sachi’s best friend was killed by the ‘Melbourne Slasher’, but it’s not until she ventures out after months of solitude that she sees things that were definitely not there before.

As the book goes on, Sachi and Julian’s worlds become intertwined as we learn that Julian and his friend Moss are a part of a secret society of reapers (which explains why he’s over a century and a half old) called the Order of Light and Dark, who are tasked with finding out what the Melbourne Slasher is and how they plan on stopping it.

This book also brings into play a very interesting idea that you can play with. The Order of the Light and Dark, and their jobs as reapers, means that they control who dies, when they are supposed to die and what manner they are supposed to die in. This ‘melbourne slasher’ is throwing everything out of balance and is throwing the reapers off schedule. It brings a concept forward that can make you feel at peace; your death has been scheduled and you are going to die when you are supposed to. For a control freak like myself, I really liked this concept.

I really ejoyed Sachi and her strong banter with the other characters within the book. I love that strong female leads are becoming the norm (thanks, Gone Girl!). I feel like without the banter and the wit of Sachi, this book would have been a bit difficult to read. She definitely made me laugh a fair bit.

Another thing I enjoyed were the chapter names. The first one had me snorting with ‘It’s too damn hot for a monster to just be walking around’. Ashlee really nails how Australians tend to describe things and this definitely comes forth in the chapter titles. They were descriptive and funny and accurate.

Pages: 338 | ASIN: B06W58K67L

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Suzy Has A Secret

Suzy Has a Secret

Suzy Has A Secret, by S. Jackson and A. Raymond, delicately addresses child molestation by a trusted family member and teaches young readers that telling a parent or guardian is always best. The authors address the common con by child abusers of using “secrets” to build their young victims trust and prevent them from reporting their atrocities. This short and simple tale of Suzy, a fairy-like creature, helps young readers understand that unwanted touches by another person are never the child’s fault and should not be kept secret. An encounter with her best friend, Lucy, and Lucy’s brother leads her to this realization.

As a parent and a teacher, I appreciate the authors’ delicate approach to this very difficult topic. The use of characters removed from reality helps to ease young readers, parents, and educators alike into the topic of unwanted touches and advances. There is no easy way to address molestation by a family member, but Jackson and Raymond deal with the topic in a way that is straightforward but tactful. They leave no room for guessing as to the “secret” or the type of touching experienced by the main character.

Jackson and Raymond have gone a step further and included detailed instructions for parents, teachers, and guidance counselors to use in discussions with groups of young children. They address safe and unsafe touches, the importance of remembering the “swimsuit rule,” and how to cope if a child reports abuse to you. All of the discussion points included at the book’s conclusion can easily be incorporated into a review of Suzy’s particular situation. The authors’ comprehensive list of facts about sexual predators and how to stay informed as a parent is an extremely helpful tool for parents.

The illustrations are light and benign when considering the heavy subject matter. Simple, white backgrounds with minimal details keep the reader focused on the fairies themselves and the feelings of the characters according to the text. Though the illustrations serve to keep young readers from feeling uncomfortable and fearful, I would like to have seen slightly more detail as far as setting.

Suzy Has A Secret serves as a simple yet effective tool for educating young readers in safe and unsafe touches and the importance of keeping parents and guardians aware of any uncomfortable situations they may encounter. The added tool for parents and educators makes this an invaluable tool for keeping children safe.

Pages: 35 | ASIN: B01CRDLJB6

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Shadows, Shells, and Spain

Shadows, Shells, and Spain

Would you walk a mile for someone you love? What about 300 miles? In John Meyer’s Shadows, Shells and Spain this adult fictionalized travel memoir tells the story of Jamie Draper’s journey on the Camino de Santiago trail.

Jamie Draper was a happily married man who loved his wife Pamela very much. But when she surprised him with a divorce, it had caught him off guard. Ever since he received a postcard addressed to him from Spain, it had sent him on a journey. He quit his job as a history teacher in Canada and moved to Palma, Spain, hoping to reconnect with his wife and discover why she so abruptly left him. He then starts a journey to follow the Camino trail to find his wife by following the subtle hidden clues in her letters to him. Along the way he makes interesting friends and explores the trail with some intriguing strangers. He meets a British woman named Brie Bletcher, who’s estranged from her husband Martin. When Jamie tells her his story, she joins him on the trip. Gaining clues and traveling along a striking trail they  hit some snags from missing letters to some stained by the weather. When Jamie discovers that his wife is very sick in a new batch of letters, it gives his mission a new urgency.

This story takes place in present day Spain and some parts of Canada. These are beautiful landscapes on their own and John Meyer is able to bring them to life with vivid details. This being a fictional travel memoir I expected some heavy scene descriptions, but these were broken up by the curious characters that pop up along the trail as well as Jamie’s intereactions with Brie. The story was well written and grows more profound the longer he travels the trail. It had a bit of literary fiction, romance, mystery and drama all wrapped into one story. The theme, I felt, is about life, loss and love, and how to move on from grief. This would be ideal for people who love travelogues and who love tear-jerking novels.

Although I enjoyed reading this book, there’s a lot of factual and historical tidbits that slow the pace of the story. I wish this was streamlined so that I could get back to my favorite part, the characters. Although travel readers will enjoy the architectural highlights of each town and accompanying history. If you can’t make it to Spain, this is your next best option.

Pages: 287 | ASIN: B0756JF632

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Liars

Liars

Liars by Steven Gillis is a page turner up until the very end. Jaded by his own marriage breakdown, a writer struggling to capture lightning in a bottle twice spies a couple in the supermarket and becomes fixated on them. Eric McManus is the author who has branched out into owning a recording studio, but still chases the dream of again capturing the success that was had with his first book.

I loved this book. I was immediately hooked from the first chapter. The first person narrative style has appealed to me since I devoured Gone Girl, and it’s been rare for me to find a book that I can devour as quickly as I did that one. Liars is well on its way to becoming this.

What I enjoyed most about this book is that the writer doesn’t try to justify how shitty the main character is. He simply paints the character as he is, flaws and all, and leaves you as the reader to deal with it.

This book also brings forth some very interesting ideas about enlightenment as a concept. My favourite quote is from the main character’s live in lover but not girlfriend Gloria, where she explains to McManus that she doesn’t think enlightenment is that great anyway as it only ends up with people being hurt. It’s good that the main character has people who disagree with him and show him alternate views as it becomes very clear that he gets fixated on things and tries to destroy them.

The fixation on the couple in the supermarket only grows throughout the novel, as McManus inserts himself into their relationship by contacting where the female works and getting her to help him with his back garden. I’m glad that the creepiness of this was addressed again by Gloria, because it made me a bit uncomfortable to read this. McManus’ almost compulsive need to destroy this couple and expose their happiness as a ‘lie’, as the title suggests, gets more and more obvious throughout the book. This is especially shown through the passages where McManus says ‘years on, I will write’. It’s almost as if he is using their relationship as an idea for his book because he is stunted and annoyed at his own lack of creative growth.

The book also brings up interesting ideals about love. While McManus is still obviously hurting from the breakdown in his marriage and his tried and failed attempt at having an open relationship with his partner, it’s interesting to read a book that explores this more commonplace idea. I have always been a bit interested in the dynamics of open relationships, and it’s interesting to see whether or not people can put aside their jealousy and truly engage in an open relationship. McManus also mentions that he had sex with women without his wife’s consent, which is another way that open relationships engage. It’s nice that he’s at least a little bit self aware, otherwise this novel would be very difficult to read indeed. I loved reading this book!

Pages: 210 | ASIN: B075F32YR1

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The Magus

The Magus (A Chronicle of Rebirth #1)

A Chronicle of Rebirth, The Magus, begins when Nelina finds herself being taken to the slavers block by her ruthless uncle who was forced to take her in after her parents die. Now he’s looking for some easy money by selling Nelina into slavery. As fate would have it, Nelina is purchased by the even more ruthless Magus of Danthamore. The Magus is popular and powerful and equally dangerous, but oh so sexy. The chemistry between Nelina and Danthamore is sudden and palpable. Their lives are quickly intertwined and the Magus finds himself taken by this green eyed beauty that many consider to be nothing more than a lucky pauper. Nelina must navigate the resentment of the staff while attempting to be more than a pawn in a deadly political game. Can she survive her new life? What will the Magus have to sacrifice for her?

This book takes care in crafting it’s characters. The protagonist and antagonist are both meticulously developed before the story takes wild twists. The writing is often direct, but the beauty of the prose is found in the details. Do the characters fall ridiculously hard for each other a bit too quickly? Of course they do, because this is a love story that doesn’t focus on how they met, but how they will hold onto what they have. What will they do to keep one another?

We get a good sense of the characters before the story takes some wild turns. You’ll be flipping pages as the story switches between the political intrigue of the kingdom and the steamy romance between Nelina and the Magus. There was one thing that I felt would have improved the story and it’s that the author’s sometimes tell instead of show. There were a few events that I was simply told about when I wish (because I can see the authors have the talent) that I was shown.

What I enjoyed most about this story is the turmoil the characters undergo after they’ve fallen for one another. You keep asking yourself, ‘how far will they go’? I think stories are often character driven, but I think this book is a relationship driven story.

If your looking for a romance novel underlined with suspense and punctuated with adventure than A Chronicle of Rebirth: The Magus is for you. A well written novel that begs to be expanded upon.

Pages: 343 | ASIN: B072511ZWY

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Lucy Meets the Family

Lucy Meets the Family (Lucy's Tale #2)

Adjusting to change is never easy—even if you’re a cat! In Lucy Meets the Family, Rolynda Tassan’s second book in the Lucy’s Tale series, Ben brings Lucy, a little gray cat, home. Nervous, Lucy meets her new family: a cat, Addy, and two dogs, Sissy and Pippin. When Ben leaves, Lucy tries to make herself at home, but she does everything wrong! She makes a mess of the litter box, gets into food that doesn’t belong to her, and annoys Pippin by sleeping on her bed. Will Lucy ever feel like part of the family?

Dedicated to families who open their homes to animals from the shelter, Lucy Meets the Family is a great way to teach young children how to prepare to bring a new pet home, especially if they have other pets at home already. Like Lucy, a new pet will feel anxiety at her surroundings and make mistakes as she tries to find her way around her home. Readers will learn to anticipate what they can do to prepare their other pets for a new family member. Addy, Sissy, and Pippin already have their own spaces and understand the rules, so they need time to adjust to another animal. On a more practical level, Lucy Meets the Family shows readers what an owner will need to purchase before bringing home a new pet.

For young children just learning to read, Lucy Meets the Family is good practice. The words are simple, and some lines of text are repetitive. The pictures in the book are colorful and have the feel of being hand sketched with watercolor paints. However, the illustrations directly reflect the story and focus on Ben, his pets, and the purchased items for Lucy. Tassan weaves a heartwarming tale about furry friends with tails that animal lovers will enjoy.

Pages: 30 | ASIN: 0998331821

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Project Bodi: Awaken the Power of Insight

Project Bodi:  Awaken the Power of Insight

Project Bodi: Awaken the Power of Insight by Hosein Kouros-Mehr is a sci-fi fiction book that goes into an alternate world of Google and its reign in 2030 and beyond. Although it’s a fictitious book, there are so many parts of it that relate to the world that we currently live in so reading this book was like looking into the future. A scary and not so distant future. The book focuses on Google Health and the impact that artificial intelligence has on the future of work.

This book took a bit for me to get my head around, but once I did, I devoured it. I love reading about alternate worlds and dystopian futures and although this book was a somewhat dystopian future, the similarities between what’s happening in our world are obvious. Artificial Intelligence is scary because we don’t know much about it as a species and yet continue to use it with reckless abandon and for me, messing with things that we don’t fully understand can only lead to trouble.

How much of a role should artificial intelligence have within society? This book suggests that the way things are going, artificial intelligence should not only be expected but welcomed with open arms. However, as the story goes on, I felt more linked with Austin than I did with Beth. As much as I want to be hardworking and driven, my smartphone and social media is a constant and easy to access distraction from my work. Although I might have talent, it’s surely being squandered by my lack of dedication and focus to the task. It was refreshing to see this written in a non-condescending way as that is so often the case when people write about younger generations.   

I found myself reading this book with ease. Although the book switches between three different characters, including the CEO of Google, the language is easy to understand and easy to follow. As we are dealing with some interesting concepts throughout this book, it’s a huge bonus that the perspectives that are shown in the book are easy to understand and easy to read and are delivered with relaxed and concise language.

I really liked the different perspectives that were shown throughout the book. It varies from the younger guy whose distracted yet shows promise, the senior worker whose given a mountain of a task with little room to fail and the CEO of the company that’s taking over the world. Despite these differences, the perspectives between them all show that there’s similarities there as well. The pressure to stay on top of your game in a world of never ending challenges and pressures. I liked the passages about subconscious. We often forget that our strongest tool is our mind and once we sharpen it, we can be unstoppable.

I really enjoyed this book. It was an easy and eye opening read that showed me what the future will possibly look like.

Pages: 219 | ASIN: B072QX9YZX

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Srepska

Srepska: ATMs have shuttered. Stock markets have gone haywire. Can one operative stop a deadly band of criminals before it is too late?

Explosions and mayhem make up the introduction to Lucas Sterling’s debut novel, Srepska, immediately throwing the reader into the after effects of a massive cyber attack in Kenya. Personal, business, and federal accounts have been digitally looted leading to a state of emergency. Fearing repeat on a larger scale, Agent Frederic Ulrich is tasked with seeking out those responsible, though the feared group ‘Srepska’ is immediately suspect. The scant bread crumb trail points to the U.S. as the next target, but a possible mole leaves Agent Ulrich unsure of friend or foe. With the aid of Lars Christopherson, he must find a way to inform and prevent the next attack.

Srepska is definitely deserving of it’s place in the action genre. Lucas Sterling brings to the table an adrenaline packed story that is made all the more intense by it’s relatability. Set in modern day, the Information Age as we like to call it, Srepska is a story you could very well see taking place in our own reality, the focus being a cyber attack. The suspense is therefore intensified given the fact that such attacks in the long scheme of things are still fairly new, meaning effective defenses are still being regularly updated and changed. This is felt throughout the book by many of the characters, with concern on how to combat such a threat that initially seems faceless.

We follow Frederic Ulrich and Lars Christopherson through the story as they team up to put a stop to things. Sterling presents us with two characters very strong in their trade. We are treated to an inside look to their jobs, but the characters themselves lack some dimension. This could be due to how fast paced the story is, moving from action to suspense and back again in quick succession, leaving little room for character development.

Following the bread crumb trail of clues is exciting given how so many countries have been after this group for so long. Things just seemed to fall in to place too easily in some respects. And I felt that there were some sections where settings were over explained, when all I wanted to do was to get back to what this novel does best, the action!

All in all, Lucas Sterling’s Srepska is quite the page turner. The fast pacing keeps the reader engaged and the highly relatable and believable content adds to the feeling of suspense, leaving the reader all the more eager to see the success of the main characters in their goals. A very exciting read!

Pages: 239 | ASIN: B075V8C8HL

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