Category Archives: Four Stars

The Lost Signal

The Lost Signal (Slaves of Zisaida Book 1) by [Fernandez Morales, J.S.]

The Lost Signal by J.S. Fernandez is a science fiction novel that explores the reality of our planet and the myth of creation. Aeons ago, the Creators had arrived on Earth and established two races: the humans and the Urukulu. The humans were to be kept subservient under the Urukulu so that the Creators could tend to their commercial mining needs on Earth. Naturally, this greedy scheme was banned by the intergalactic Federation. However, the Creators have found nefarious ways to infiltrate and exploit Earth again. Fiona is the lady in charge who has taken it upon herself to keep these creatures away for good. She enlists the help of her close friends and allies, fighting her personal demons on an already uphill battle.

The Lost Signal is fast paced without being rushed. Right from the beginning we are thrown into the middle of action. The characters are introduced in an almost Whack-a-Mole fashion, displaying flashes of their personality and the place they occupy in this world. I loved Fiona’s character fight from the introduction. She is teased about her supposed tomboyishness while she struggles with her attraction towards her close friend, Ralph. While her life isn’t particularly easy, it was admirable the way she buckled down on her principles in order to do what was right. Despite the dark and depressing premise, the lead characters were kept respectable without seeming to be on a pedestal.

Similarly, the antagonists were kept interesting without losing their believability. In this era, it’s hardly difficult to imagine a corporation doing their absolute best to achieve profit maximization. Hence, the menace of the Creators was real without seeming preachy. The physicality and characterization of the aliens also left a chill down my spine.

In certain places, the novel reminded me of a Jeffrey Archer novel. I think this was because the amount of real world-like politics involved combined with its fast pace. All of the perspectives were totally human, without verging on too scientific or political. The Lost Signal is a thrilling ride from start to finish. It is a great choice for anyone looking for a creative depiction of today’s world, offering just the right amount of escapism but remaining grounded in reality.

Pages: 454 | ASIN: B07X9147K1

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Social Work

In Social Work author Thomas Duffy, follows his characters through their everyday lives as they work toward their respective goals. Marc attends counseling sessions with his social worker, Lauren. Marc has a rocky past to work through as Lauren has a budding relationship with her boyfriend, Ahmad, that she is building simultaneously.

Both main characters are so relatable. Duffy doesn’t shy away from Marc’s struggles or the struggles of those in his counseling group. Marc had taken some less than savory paths and ended up in a very dark place, eventually attempting to take his own life. Lauren shows him that there is hope and that life is worth living. Readers will identify with Marc’s lows and many will also identify with stepping into the shoes of those who help to lift others out of the abyss.

Lauren is an excellent social worker, and seems to really follow the rule book. She keeps counselor/patient boundaries very clear, at first anyway, but does seem to struggle with letting Marc go once she decides to leave her job. The two had developed a close but appropriate working relationship. She feels guilty when she decides to leave, and struggles with being another person in a list of those who have deserted Marc. Handing Marc over to another social worker felt like giving up on him or throwing him away to both parties involved.

Duffy also delves into relationship complications that both main characters experience. Both Marc and Lauren have their own problems in love. Marc falls for a series of girls who are never quite fitting for what he needs. Lauren hints that her now fiance, Ahmad, isn’t her type but provides her with stability and prospects for the future. Admittedly, Marc is her type, but that doesn’t seem to be an option.

Thomas Duffy also examines a predicament that many of us find ourselves in. Marc is ambitious. He has big dreams, but not a big bank account. Instead of following his dreams, he is forced at times to settle. He wants to get into the entertainment industry, but isn’t independently wealthy. This means he can’t afford to put his job to start up any projects. This leaves him to work in a job that is unfulfilling.

This is the second Duffy book I have read. His style is simple, including lots of back and forth conversation between characters that gives readers a fly-on-the-wall sort of feeling. We hear what the characters say to one another, but we are also privy to their internal dialogue. This gives a unique perspective into how people feel verses what they show to the world. He gives a glimpse into humanity’s dynamic that we are all familiar with but don’t often talk about.

Social Work flows well and is easy to understand. The characters are endearing and relatable which got me invested in the characters.

Pages: 272 | ISBN: 1694404684

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Hannibal’s Elephant Girl

Hannibal's Elephant Girl: Tin Tin Ban Sunia by [Brindley, Charley]

Charley Brindley’s Hannibal’s Elephant Girl takes place in 229 BCE in North Africa. We’re treated to a thoughtful account of life in a river camp near Carthage. The delivery of the story is exceptional as the reader can effortlessly follow the various story lines in the book. There are more than one major character but the main focus is on a girl called Liada. We accompany this 12-year-old girl as she goes about her business and the adventures in the camp. The narration is simple but still managed to keep my attention. Different literary and stylistic devices are used to spice up the plot and every character is developed uniquely. The reader falls in love with some characters and loathes some due to how the author represents them. This connection brought me the most joy because the characters I was rooting for almost always won.

Liada gets rescued from a river by an elephant named Obolus. The savior elephant is among the many that are being trained for war at the camp. There is a war looming and every party needs to prepare for any situation. Despite getting rescued, Liada’s life is not all smooth as her memory seems to have faded. Liada is assigned some tasks, among them feeding soldiers in the camp. Yzebel, the woman who took Liada runs a cafeteria where soldiers go to eat.  Yzebel is patient and understanding. She is one of the characters the I greatly enjoyed from the beginning. Yzebel, however, has a disgraceful son, but despite this, Liada continues to be the hardworking girl who keeps it together.

I appreciated  Liada’s character as she is accountable for anything she does and treats everyone with courtesy. Liada’s daily tasks make her interact with different people in the camp. I appreciate how the author describes events in the book. Everything is detailed. The camp, soldiers, city of Carthage and the activities the characters engage in are well illustrated and one can easily visualize the happenings. Hannibal is one of the members Liada interacts with. Hannibal is in charge of the elephant army. Tin Tin Ban Sunia is another character that Liada befriended. Liada and Tin Tin Ban Sunia became friends despite the latter being mute.

The kind Liada and Yzebel, however, plan to save the poor girl from slavery. This was a bold but risky move as the two put themselves in danger. Their arrangement also revealed another side of the characters that I got to love. Charley Brindley makes a simple story more exciting with twists in the plot. The suspense and action the characters take make the reading thrilling. Hannibal’s Elephant Girl is engaging, with a balance of detail that allows your imagination to run. The characters are well developed and addictive to follow. This is a fantastic book with plenty of lessons for young readers.

Pages: 425 | ASIN: B07P9WJFWP

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Marley Faces Reality

Marley Faces Reality by [Mooney, Lesley J]

Marley and Richard have only just met, but the spark is there, and it is real. Things begin to move quickly when Richard comes to work in the same business as Marley. In addition, he is strangely close to their new manager, Ross Gilmore. The buzz in Marley’s office is all about Ross and the wealth that he has accumulated. However, Marley’s sights are set on Richard, and she is much less concerned about his association with the new man in charge. With dreams of marriage, a family, and a horse farm of their own, Marley and Richard set out to make a life together. Something… just a little hint of something… isn’t as simple as it seems.

Marley Faces Reality, by Lesley J. Mooney, is the story of Marley Bollane, a young woman working hard and waiting patiently for her turn at love and a family. Unlike many in her peer group, Marley has chosen to remain a virgin until marriage. She doesn’t realize how quickly that marriage will arrive when she meets Richard. Their relationship moves quickly and all seems well. There remains something quite unsettling about Richard’s friend and business associate, Ross. Marley can’t shake the feeling, but she also can’t put a name to it.

The underlying and brewing drama is drawn out well throughout the book. Mooney keeps readers guessing and makes it interesting to watch Marley try to piece together the clues she begins to pick up along the way. Marley’s life with Richard moves along at a rapid pace, and the reader becomes easily absorbed in all of their triumphs.

Though the main characters’ lives move along quickly in the first few chapters, it takes a while to get to the meat of the story. When it finally happens, the author brings readers in headfirst. The drama is well-planned, multiple characters are impacted, and Marley is still clueless enough to keep readers yearning for more. When she fails to notice the changes in her children and the impact her brother-in-law has on their lives, readers become irate for her.

Ross, who begins the book as a mystery, becomes quite the villain, and does so fairly abruptly. He returns in one way or another throughout the plot. Whether he is in a face-to-face confrontation or whether previous dealings with him come back to haunt Marley and Richard’s little family, Ross is always there. His presence helps make the book much more than the romance it seemed at the outset.

There are some points in the beginning of the book where the dialogue feels a bit wordy. Some of the exchanges between characters feel much more like narration than genuine exchanges between two characters.

Readers who enjoy an element of romance in their thrillers will find Mooney’s work satisfying. Mooney has created relatable characters, a dramatic story-line with multiple twists and turns, and a heroine to be remembered.

Pages: 276 | ASIN: B07ZNC36XG

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Rethinking Sex Ed: The Wisdom of Religion….. Without the Crazy

Rethinking Sex Ed: The Wisdom of Religion..... Without the Crazy by [Hammack, Doug]

Sex and sexuality have changed quite a bit in the last decade. It is therefore only natural that the approach to sex education be changed to fit with the times.

Dr Doug Hammack’s book, Rethinking Sex Ed, is a guide to help parents bridge the generational gap that tends to stand in the way of effective sex education. He suggests that a symbiosis between religious and societal teachings on sexuality would be most beneficial. The book details the progression of sex education and shows the reader how and when teachings ceased to be effective.

The book is well written and delivered in an even tone that seeks to inspire the reader to change their stance on their own sex education approach. The book is diplomatic, not fully supporting one approach to the detriment of another. The author acknowledges the importance of all approaches. This book only advocates for amendment of sex education to make it more palatable to the current generation. The author has a very good grasp of the material and is well versed in this subject and speaks from a point of expertise. It would therefore be safe to say that this is a reliable guide book for anyone willing to keep their mind open.

This book is very short which is wonderful, because this could be heavy material with an important message. Dr. Hammack has the ability to keep the reader well engaged and on track with the message. It takes special skills to write a book about sexuality that does not pin point and focus on a particular orientation. The basis of all love and sexuality is the same. We are all inherently the same. In that sense, this book is suitable for anyone regardless of their sexual orientation. It is not even specific to parents either.

Rethinking Sex Ed is an important book that I think is especially important in this time of so much sexual confusion. Children are growing up lacking the appropriate sexual curriculum and therefore never really attain that maturity. This is a recommended read for educators, young adults, and parents.

Pages: 186 | ASIN:  B07JK5H6B5

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Murder On Spirit Island

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Murder on Spirit Island by Jim Riley is a thrilling murder mystery novel set in Louisiana, following Niki Dupre as she attempts to solve the disappearance of a wealthy businessman, Henry Welker. Gunmen, alligators, and a bigger conspiracy is afoot, Niki uses every bit of her impressive skill and experience to get to the bottom of the situation, all without ending up at the bottom of the Mississippi River. With all of the danger surrounding her, she still makes time for John, a high school flame from many years ago, who gives her the Welker case to start her perilous journey.

Murder on Spirit Island is a very well constructed story, as it kept me guessing at every turn. The chapters are short, and many of them enticed me to keep going. The characters were colorful and easily recognizable, although there was a bit of confusion when initially learning of the group of men that often met on Spirit Island. Other than that, each one has their own personality and style, and each one could be the murderer on the loose.

Niki’s character is one that the reader will want to succeed. She is trying to prove herself in an industry where men typically rule the roost, but she doesn’t let it get in her way. The reader will move through the story with baited breath to see the decisions she makes and how she might manage to escape the next source of danger, no matter who it is. She’ll even flirt with a police officer, if she has to.

The story even has some good comedic aspects. Mr. Riley is certainly a quick-witted individual, and he does well to bring in some lighter points. An early example involves some yoga stretches and an unexpected guest entering Niki’s apartment to an… interesting view.

With these fun moments mixed in, this is a mystery adventure that manages to be entertaining in every aspect. With twists and mis-directions sprinkled throughout, the reader will be itching to learn the truth behind each murder.

Pages: 371

720 Heartbeats

720 Heartbeats by [Tomc, Jaka]

Rok was living a great life. He was a detective, something he’d aspired to be since childhood. Even better, he was working each day with one of his oldest friends. His girlfriend was more perfect for him than Rok could have ever imagined. Things were good. Until his stolen laptop is returned in the mail, containing a diary entry dated the following day. Each day brings a new update, eerily predicting events in the next 24 hours. As Rok tries to understand the why, how, and who of the situation, everything in his previously idyllic life is upended and he realizes he no longer knows anything.

720 Heartbeats, by Jaka Tomc is an intriguing mix of noir style detective drama, traditional love story, and mind bending science fiction, in a story that comes full circle before its end. What begins with Rok and his best friend Boris on an assignment soon turns into an unwanted and improbable adventure. When Rok’s laptop mysteriously reappears at home, he finds the journal entry but doesn’t give it too much thought. It isn’t until a couple of days have passed that he realizes it gives an accurate, albeit vague, glimpse into the future and by then, Rok is plagued with questions about how it can happen, and who is writing the diary. Things only get weirder when he decides that the only explanation is that it’s a future version of him, which spurns many discussions with Sara about alternate dimensions, the non-linear nature of time, and whether the decisions of present day Rok can change the outcomes of events for future Rok. To complicate matters further, his professional life becomes muddled when he learns some hard truths about people he thought he could trust. Within a week, and with the return of his laptop,  Rok’s entire life changes.

Tomc does a wonderful job with his character’s development and dialogue, namely between Rok and Sara. Their conversations feel sincere, and cover the necessary points of the story without feeling forced. The other characters, while very much important to the plot, nonetheless remain very much in the background. Their interactions are still good, but slightly more flat. The story itself is frequently interrupted by Rok’s inner monologue about the randomness of life, the beauty of love, and various other philosophical musings. Although thought provoking the first few times, these tangents quickly become repetitive and, with a few exceptions, add little to the story. Despite that, the book is truly captivating and unique in the way it weaves genres together. 

720 Heartbeats isn’t lengthy, but manages to contain plenty of action and mystery, and I had a hard time putting it down. The subtle implications presented at the end truly screws with your head as you wonder… what just happened?

Pages: 145 | ASIN:  B07DS81NZR

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The Progeny

The Progeny: A Novel (Descendants of the House of Bathory Book 1) by [Lee, Tosca]

Are we defined by the ones who were before us, or do our actions define us? Do the actions of one individual condemn their future descendants to a dire future?

The Progeny is a thrilling adventure story, echoing the suspense of Robert Ludlum’s Jason Bourne series. The beginning of the story is a little slow but the story picks up and is quickly entertaining. Things keep on rolling as our lead character, Audra and her small group of people find themselves in situations that quickly turn sour. Despite the frailty shown, the characters rise up to the challenges that face them, which made me emotionally invested in the well drawn characters. I frowned when I read about the zealots who were hunting descendants of the most infamous female serial killer in history. Why? They are not the killers. Why harm them? But then people do tend to carry grouses for years, maybe some are crazy to carry ones that pass on from generation to generation. These thought provoking themes kept me hooked. I especially loved Luka character, who loves Audra without any motives or benefits. The author describes the revelation in layers which is all the more warming to my heart.

There are many more layers to the story than initially appears. It shows the depth with which Tosca Lee has crafted her narrative. Overall the story is well written and continues at a good pace.  We get a glimpse into the past of the characters, but thankfully the story does not dedicate too much time on it. The one thing that I did find odd was the persuasion power that every descendant of Elizabeth Bathory (mainly females) seems to have. Why it appears, or what is the reason for it is not explained. Even more curious is that it goes away after a certain age. Why? I need to know! Needless to say, I am invested in this enthralling and thoroughly entertaining novel.

Pages: 337 | ASIN: B010MH9YUW

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PALE FACE & THE RAVEN

PALE FACE & THE RAVEN by [Dighton, Stacey]

Pale Face and the Raven by Stacey Dighton is a terrifying murder mystery meets a horror story. It starts with a string of rape cases and murders taking place in the town of Westhampton. Luke Raven, a detective inspector and long-time alcoholic is assigned to the case. Unable to cope with his alcoholism and an inability to form long-lasting connections with other people, he is dragged down by the weight of his own past and present. On the other hand, there is a struggling author, Tony Richards. His life isn’t turning out as he had planned, and his flailing desperation leads him down a dark path. His own sordid past and tattered familial relationships are slowly unraveled throughout the story. It is a race against time and personal struggles as these men and the people in their lives are dragged into the horrific events taking place.

Throughout the novel, I was surprised to find myself sympathetic to the murderer’s motives. Not supportive of them, of course, but Stacey Dighton managed to build his character in a manner such that his motives and actions were entirely believable.

It would seem that the alcoholic detective and struggling author are overdone cliches. But that did not make the story any less compelling. They were well-fleshed out and so human that they managed to escape the common murder mystery tropes. Similarly, all of the other characters were plagued with their own flaws. Addiction, cowardice, dependency, all these traits were laid out realistically.

The interlinking of all the characters added depth and complexity to the narrative, but was myopic at times. It was as if the five to six main characters were the only people who lived in
Westhampton and the other people clearly lacked dimension. Although this aspect did intensify the plot, it turned it into a bit of a guessing game. Sort of like Big Little Lies. However, it was without a doubt a thrilling read, kind of like a Jack Reacher novel but with more interesting characters. Perfect reading for a long weekend.

Pages: 373 | ASIN:  B07ZBPFBWK

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Serial Killer Support Group

A self declared angel of balance seeks to help a group of like minded people grow and hone their abilities. Preston Blake has hunted some of the most notorious serial killers. He will get them together by choice or intimidation. They will make each other better. If anyone falls out of line a Dreadnaught kind of fate will befall them. Preston, despite his demeanor as an alpha seems to have one weakness. Young, pure and entranced Grace Bennet. They are brought together by a force neither of them understands. Will Grace fall into Preston’s arms? Will the group serve its purpose? Is Detective Gabe Bastien a threat to the group or a potential?

Right from the get go, this book is disturbing to say the least. There is something dark and scary about the tone and feel of it. As soon as you begin to read it, you feel scared and vulnerable. Your skin crawls and you get an urge to either be very quiet or scream your lungs out. As you should when you are among serial killers. This is how vivid and in depth Wesley Boydd Thompson goes with this book. He leaves nothing to the imagination for the reader. He lets you go through every moment of it. You never forget Bethany’s screams and quick breaths no matter how far through the book you get. Perhaps it is the unabashed relay of frightening detail. Perhaps it is the blatant display of evil. Perhaps it is the chilling introduction to darkness.

The character development is really quite brilliant. Not in a way that makes you like them but in a way that puts you right inside their minds. It is like getting a front seat into the mind of a demented human being. The salaciously dark thought processes that occur even when they are not actively practicing their craft. For a minute there, you will think of it as a craft. You will be terrified by Preston’s evil confidence and charmed by Grace’s naïve innocence. You will be interested by Russel’s dark eagerness. The characters are multi-dimensional.

The book does have some grammar and spelling mistakes though. In some cases they can be distracting from the story however in some cases the reader will be way too engrossed and sufficiently freaked out to notice. I felt like some information was left out. Questions remain unanswered and some backstories are missing. Whether to be impressed by the cliff-hanger or exasperated will be a personal choice. The story feels unfinished and left me with more anxiety than satisfaction.

Serial Killer Support Group is a unique story with seemingly apt portrayal of serial killers. It is interesting and gripping. It is anticipatory and may leave you unable to close your eyes for a night but then most good stories will. Maybe refrain from reading if you are about to walk outside by yourself?

Pages: 37 | ISBN: 169945065X

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