Archive for the ‘Mini-Reviews of Books’ Category

Mini-Reviews of Books: Celina Grace’s Echo…

Friday, October 27th, 2017

(Celina Grace, Echo, Kate Redmen #6, Isaro Publishing Ltd, 2015)

I’ve read other books in the Kate Redmen series (maybe all of them?) as part of my love affair with British mysteries (my most recent novel is an homage to Christie and her two famous sleuths, Miss Marple and M. Poirot). This novel has an important theme: the sexual abuse of children. When it’s done by VIPs, they often get away with it. When the system puts little girls and boys in the hands of VIPs as part of social services, it’s deplorable.

DC Redmen is facing a few personal crises in this tale too. The author creates a nice blend of mystery, police procedural, ad personal angst. The plot drags a wee bit in a few spots, and, while readers of the other books will appreciate the references to those other cases, this book is a stand-alone that can be independently read.

Plot and dialogue are done well, but I would have like a bit more character and settings description. In particular, the villains aren’t well described, but the nature of this murder case might excuse that a bit. You’ll see what I mean. By the way, you won’t find out the reason for the title until the end.

I had a good time with this book. Crime fiction lovers will too, especially those avid readers of British mysteries. Ms. Grace isn’t Ian Rankin, but this book is a tasty treat for your fall nights by the fire. But what’s the big deal with kidney pie? It doesn’t sound as disgusting as haggis (note the British v. Scottish play on words here), but ugh!


Sci-fi book sale: More than Human: The Mensa Contagion and Rogue Planet are now on sale at Smashwords from October 1 through October 31. Their prices are reduced to $1.99—that’s one-third off. In the first novel, an ET virus changes the world, but in a good way, and leads to the colonization of Mars. In the second, there’s a wee bit of “Game of Thrones” fantasy mixed into the hard sci-fi as Prince Kaushal leads his Second Tribe in their fight against the First Tribe’s brutal theocracy. Both books are stand-alone, not part of a series. Use the Smashwords coupon numbers when you check out. Note that the second book is also available in paper format at Amazon. Lots of exciting fall entertainment for a reasonable price!

In libris libertas….

Mini-Reviews of Books #31…

Friday, August 25th, 2017

Ice Cold. Tess Gerritsen, author. I usually can’t afford Ms. Gerritsen’s books, so I snap one up when I see them on sale. The Rizzoli and Isles TV show doesn’t do justice to them, and this one is a gripper and a fun read.

While R & I are the main characters, it’s more about Isles than Rizzoli. The good M.E. is attending a convention in Wyoming, and she and some casual friends she encounters there get lost in a snowstorm. Surviving the cold is only part of the story, though, as we discover there are some violent bad guys in them thar hills—OK, the action mostly occurs in a valley, but you get the idea.

I always wind a good theme or two around and through my own plots, but here an important theme is the story, and to talk about it would be a spoiler. It’s a well written novel that will take you on an enjoyable roller coaster ride (maybe I should say skis and snowshoes), but don’t look for those TV characters here: they’re completely different and much more interesting.

Hey, since when does Jane have a kid? (Part of the difference, of course.)

Shoulders of Giants. Jim Cliff, author. I found this novel less serious than the above but very enjoyable too. It’s a standard mystery written in a tongue-in-cheek Parker-style (lots of name droppings of American crime fiction writers and TV shows). The main character is a new PI who gets quite a first case. There’s a love interest a la Hollywood too (I could have done without that) and a cop-buddy for the newly minted sleuth. A search for an old cop’s daughter turns into a search for a serial killer, and the killings seem random.

Good plotting, characterization, and snappy dialogue make for interesting reading, but unfortunately the editing was a wee bit lacking. And the use of a few very British terms made me wonder why Chicago was picked for the setting. Mr. Cliff is from Essex, England, so they were bound to creep in, I suppose, and I can’t and shouldn’t complain because he could probably say the same thing about my Rembrandt’s Angel with its English and Scottish settings. Maybe the anti-cultural appropriation crowd hates it when an author sets his story in another culture; I think it’s a skill to be admired and congratulate Mr. Cliff for doing the job so well.

Lots of fun, this novel makes me want to try some more of the young sleuth’s cases. Never figured out whether the title had to do with anything, though. (Maybe because I’m an ex-physicist?)


The Midas Bomb (Second Edition). With a plot motivated by signs of the impending financial collapse of 2007-2008, Ponzi plots, and international terrorism, this first novel in the “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series” is as current today as it was back then. The story connects an unscrupulous hedge fund CEO with two Manhattan murders and terrorist attacks. The two detectives team up for the first time. Connecting the two murders undercovers the larger conspiracy. Available in ebook format from Amazon, Apple, B&N, Kobo, and Smashwords (and its lending affiliates) as well as in paper format from Amazon, this novel starts off the series with a bang. Good summer reading!

In libris libertas…

Mini-Reviews of Books…

Friday, April 21st, 2017

The R.E.M. Effect. J. M. Lanham, author. In this novel, the reader will find entertaining reading with some serious themes interwoven. Because my very first book Full Medical was a sci-fi thriller of this type, I’ve always been particularly fond of this subgenre which mixes sci-fi with thrills and suspense. This is one you don’t want to miss.

Mind-altering drugs are more common in real life than most people think. Big Pharma loves to peddle them, especially when they find out that their drug has other applications like alleviating pain by turning off the human brain’s ability to receive pain signals. Drugs for various brain problems like seizures find a new market amongst pain sufferers in this way. They aren’t necessarily addictive, but they’re still scary.

What happens when a drug to cure insomnia gives outliers in the test population of a clinical trial ESP powers as they dream? This sci-fi theme might become a newspaper headline in a not too distant future as Big Pharma strives to broaden its markets and create drugs with many application. The novel answers that question and adds duplicity by the pharmaceutical company as it colludes with the CIA, because the latter is interested in mind control for political purposes.

Channeling Crichton and other authors who have written tales describing future events that aren’t that farfetched, I found this book a good read that is well worth your time. My only complaint—and it’s a minor one—is that a lot of things are left unresolved at the end. To avoid spoilers, I’ll refrain from making a list. Of course, some of the best sci-fi stories share this feature as their authors leave their readers wondering.

I hope to read more by this author in the future, though, because he is a gifted storyteller.


Teeter-Totter between Lust and Murder. Detective Chen is framed for the murder of a U.S. senator. As her partner Castilblanco moves to prove her innocence, they uncover a complex plot involving the underbelly of NYC as well as the overbelly corresponding to the rich and powerful. #3 in the “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series,” this book is now on sale at Smashwords and is available in all ebook formats. Use coupon code XW55G. Coming soon this spring from Penmore Press: Rembrandt’s Angel, an international tour de force involving a Scotland Yard expert on art heists and an Interpol agent. Chasing down some dealers in stolen artworks suddenly becomes very dangerous!

In libris libertas…

Mini-Reviews of Books #27…

Friday, April 14th, 2017

Under the High Ground. Scott Michaels, author. In spite of its faults, this novel is entertaining. There’s a thirty-year-old conspiracy in Washington D.C. that started with the death of the main character’s father and ended with the death of his brother, who is president of the United States. That premise gets your attention, but the reason for the conspiracy will leave you saying, “Huh?” It also comes out of nowhere—no real hints—so in that sense this is more a mystery than a thriller. The characters aren’t well-developed and many aren’t believable, especially the main character, who does a Mr. Hyde/Dr. Jekyll flip from frail and needy sot to Rambo-like hero. The main character’s love interest adds unnecessary international flavor and is too enamored with psycho-babble. The best character is the assassin, a one-man wrecking crew, but you’ll learn little about him too. He’s a clone of the Jackal. Maybe the author was trying to do too much?

Serenity. Craig Hart, author (Y, …) Not a bad tale, but it leaves too many things dangling, creating a diffuse novel with multiple cliffs remaining for the reader to hang over. Too much is left unresolved. There’s not enough back story about the main character, his ex-cop buddy comes out of nowhere and then returns to nowhere, and the premise is a bit absurd: turf wars between drug pushers in the Michigan woods? The main character’s daughter is a whiny irritant all through the story too. Like the book above, this novel still is entertaining, though. Just skip through the whininess of the daughter and you’ll be fine, but don’t have high expectations. The best character? The sixty-year-old main character’s thirty-year-old girlfriend. The two have a modernized Marshall Dillon and Kitty relationship.


Teeter-Totter between Lust and Murder. Detective Chen is framed for the murder of a U.S. senator. As her partner Castilblanco moves to prove her innocence, they uncover a complex plot involving the underbelly of NYC as well as the overbelly corresponding to the rich and powerful. #3 in the “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series,” this book is now on sale at Smashwords and is available in all ebook formats. Use coupon code XW55G. Coming soon this spring from Penmore Press: Rembrandt’s Angel, an international tour de force involving a Scotland Yard expert on art heists and an Interpol agent. Chasing down some dealers in stolen artworks suddenly becomes very dangerous!

In libris libertas…

Mini-Reviews of Books #26…

Friday, February 3rd, 2017

Death in Holy Orders. P. D. James, author (2001). We can call this “finding hidden treasure.” The ebook was on sale, so I decided I wanted the ebook version. (I did the same with Heinlein’s Podkayne recently.) I took a look and became pleasantly surprised when I realized that this was one book in the Adam Dalgliesh series (#11) that I missed. I read so many books that they become fuzzy if cherished memories in my mind, especially in a series where you have a strong main character like Commander Dalgliesh.

The book is in James’s verbose and very English style (that was a turnoff for me in the much shorter sci-fi story Children of Men). It’s filled with excess narrative (like Christie, she hides the clues among the verbose weeds), but I’m always a sucker for British mystery, the DS, DCI, and, in this case, Commander-ranked agents and detectives in London’s Metropolitan Police AKA Scotland Yard. Christie’s detectives Miss Marple v. Poirot were different; they were both private citizens, one a meddling spinster and the other a PI. The crime is still murder, though—in the case of this novel, multiple ones. We peer back a little bit into Dalgliesh’s past and into the pasts of many of the suspects’, as well as the victims’, dark pasts in some cases.

The setting is a struggling divinity school. For a while I couldn’t figure out whether it was Roman Catholic or Anglican, but no matter (I still don’t know, but it seems like it’s Anglican in the RC tradition, whatever that means). The characters are complex and interesting and woven with skill into the complex plot and seaside scenes of the story. James has Dalgliesh performing his usual methodical sleuthing. It’s an interesting read albeit a bit too long and verbose.

This novel generated a bit of nostalgia. I was reminded how P. D. James and other English mystery writers, Christie included, influenced my own writing in the upcoming Rembrandt’s Angel, which can be partly considered an homage to these great English writers who have entertained me.  Of course, I minimized the verbiage a wee bit, following my minimalist writing tendencies, but Esther Brookstone, a Scotland Yard inspector, and Bastiann van Coevorden, an Interpol agent, stubbornly plow into a case like Miss Marple and Poirot…or Dalgliesh. I hope you have as much fun reading about their adventures as I did (and you will) reading this one.


Coming soon! Gaia and the Goliaths has environmental issues as a theme, but Chen and Castilblanco still have to solve a crime. #7 in the “Detectives Chen and Castilblanco Series” starts out with the murder of an environmental activist on a street in Manhattan. As the detectives pursue the investigation, they discover that the activist’s boyfriend is also a target. His activity overseas leads to the conclusion that there is a conspiracy involving an American energy company, a Putin surrogate, and an old nemesis. This new novel will be available in all ebook formats.

In libris libertas!

Mini-Reviews of Books #25…

Friday, January 27th, 2017

The Pope of Physics. Gino Segre and Bettina Hoerlin, authors (Henry Holt/Macmillan 2016). Nobel Prize winner Enrico Fermi not only brought Italian physics out of the Dark Ages, he was a national and international icon who was the last great physicist to excel in both theory and experiment. He was also a great teacher to many students. He had a cameo role in my novel Sing a Samba Galactica for asking one day at Los Alamos, “Where are they?” He was referring to extraterrestrials. That statement is now called the Fermi Paradox: if ETs are abundant in the Universe, why haven’t they come to visit? It probably inspired Freeman Dyson to come up with his famous estimate for the number of ET civilizations.

Fermi’s less rhetorical accomplishments, while noteworthy, aren’t described in great detail in this biography. The book is more a tribute to the man. The person who first explained beta decay, designed the first atomic reactor (then called a nuclear pile) at the University of Chicago, and helped bring World War Two to a swift close with the development of a fission bomb, was a complex person who tried to isolate politics from science—for him the bomb was an experiment in nuclear science. He’s been criticized for that attitude, but the criticism is unjust—one can read between the lines here that scientists were used by the politicians. They still are.

Perhaps more important in this story is how Fermi, who wasn’t Jewish, still suffered from anti-Semitism. His wife was Jewish, so they had to flee Mussolini’s Italy. His wife’s father died in a concentration camp. Friends and their relatives were persecuted and murdered. Fermi’s flight from Italy was immensely beneficial to the U.S., though, as it was the case for many refugees from the hatred and bigotry ravaging Europe.


Mini-Reviews of Books #24…

Friday, January 20th, 2017

Our Revolution. Bernie Sanders, author (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s, 2016). Thank goodness for Christmas gifts. The price on the flyleaf for this hardbound is $27! Not Bernie’s fault, of course. If you don’t know it already, Bernie Sanders is one of my heroes, right up there with Kurt Vonnegut. I identified with this man and his campaign—probably the first time since McGovern—and now I know why. His background is similar and his views are similar. Mind you, I don’t agree with him 100%, but the percentage is higher than with any living politician.

This book is a post mortem of his campaign and an introspective look at a great progressive. His ideas need to continue into new generations to give hope to the downtrodden. As he states, the progressive movement isn’t about one candidate or one campaign. It must build from the ground up so that America can return to being the shining star of freedom in this world that has become so dark in its move toward fascism, exploitation by multinationals, and enriching the one-percenters. Every progressive who deserves the name should read this, absorb the ideas, and act. Yearn for the Bern.

Poisoned Palette. Jill Paterson, author (J. Henderson, 2017). Not a bad little mystery, emphasis on “little,” as DCI Fitzjohn and DS Betts solve another one in the Blue Hills region two hours from Sydney. But wasn’t the last one in this series about an art shop too? (This is #6 in the series.) OK, it was a literary agency. Similar. The downhill slide noted in Mini-Reviews #18 continues. The twists and turns in earlier books are fewer and the story more predictable. The 172 pages relies too much on the previous books for character development—the MCs aren’t further developed here, the feud between Fitzjohn and his boss becomes more of a stretch, and the romance between a victim/suspect and a visiting American is left as a cliffhanger.

Maybe the author is tired of old Fitzjohn and should have taken the opportunity to end the series with the old boy retiring to babysit his orchids? The rush to end this story hints at a yes answer. Editing errors, noted in previous books, also continue, although the author seems to be more into dropped words now (I can fill something in, but I don’t know about the average reader, and s/he shouldn’t have to do so). The $3.99 price seems to be a bit much too, considering this is more novella than novel. If you’re new to this series, don’t start with this one—numbers one through three are better fare.


Silicon Slummin’…and Just Gettin’ ByThe Silicon Valley hasn’t seen anyone like Mary Jo Melendez, ex-USN Master-at-Arms, and she’s not sure she wants to stay there either. Readers met the MECHs (Mechanically Enhanced Cybernetic Humans) in Muddlin’ Through. Russia and the U.S. still want them and think Mary Jo knows where they are. But they have to compete with Mary Jo’s stalker. Unlike the first book in the series, this one doesn’t travel around the world, but the dangers for her might be worse. This mystery/suspense/thriller novel is available in all ebook formats.

In libris libertas!

Mini-Reviews of Books #23…

Friday, January 6th, 2017

[Whip me with an Udon noodle because I don’t do enough of these. These reviews are short—not as short as the average Amazon review—but, like everyone else, unless I write a review shortly after finishing a book, my procrastination becomes infinite. Here are two books, though, that are certainly worthy to read. Enjoy.]

The Billion Dollar Spy. David E. Hoffman, author (Anchor, 2015). This was a gift from someone. Anchor is a subsidiary of Random House (who distributes the book), so the book is overpriced. Thanks to whoever gave it to me as a gift. It’s non-fiction but reads like a spy novel. While Putin has declined to follow his foreign minister’s advice to expel U.S. diplomats who enjoy that oligarchical paradise known as Mother Russia, all in retaliation for Obama’s actions (and those in retaliation for the cyberattack on his beloved DNC), the Cold War was difficult for the CIA as they tried to find spies in Moscow. This is the story about their most successful recruit and his handlers. A lot of this material was undoubtedly classified TOP SECRET for decades. So fascinating I added it to the “Steve’s Bookshelf” page! As they say, truth is stranger than fiction.

Dark Secret. Edward M. Lerner, author. (Phoenix Pick, 2016.) Can six people start a new human civilization out among the stars? They can with frozen and fertilized embryos and a lot of science and technology to back them up. Their adventure begins when a gamma ray burst from two merging neutron stars gives the Mars colony’s VIPs only a short time to prepare an expedition to preserve the human race. The teeming billions of Earth and Mars are doomed, so the six have to muddle on.

Human nature being what it is, the probability there will be one power-hungry fanatic among them is certainty. Ask yourself what the choir boys in Lord of the Flies would become if brainwashed by such a warped individual—that’s the danger the other five face. Sinister, exploitive danger generated by one individual with Hitler-like aspirations.

This sci-fi novel can be many things to many readers—dark psychological drama, extrapolative science, post-apocalyptic tale, refined space opera—but entertaining will be all their common denominators. The title is a play on words. The planet is named Dark, but the fanatical despot in the tale has a dark secret until the nefarious plans become known to the other five. Better than your average sci-fi story, I must say. Well done, Mr. Lerner!

In libris libertas!

Mini-Reviews #22…

Friday, August 19th, 2016

[Note: these reviews are generally reserved for R&R books I’ve found entertaining. They are NOT on Amazon, and please don’t query me to review your book here. I do my “official reviewing” at–query there instead.]

The Nuremberg Puzzle. Laurence O’Bryan, author (Ardua, 2016). The PR for this novel calls it the “most controversial mystery of 2016.” Hmm. It’s not very controversial—people have been wondering about the Catholic Church’s support of the Nazi regime for years—so it’s just another conspiracy wrapped up in some historical fiction. It’s also not a mystery but a thriller. That said, it’s OK, and reading it is probably time better spent than playing some stupid computer game because it’s a gory tourist guide to the city where those famous trials were held.

Sean Ryan becomes involved in a neo-Nazi conspiracy designed to apply the final solution to the wave of new immigrants in Germany from the Middle East via an ethnic-specific virus. If you can stretch your mind far enough to believe that, you’ll be ready for the subplots that include the search for letters from Pius XII encouraging Hitler to invade Russia to eliminate the godless Communists (not clear why the neo-Nazis want those), a fictional excuse for Hitler’s stupid repetition of Napoleon’s mistake (Hitler already had a treaty with Stalin’s government).

The ending of this adventure in Nuremberg is unsatisfying and a 67% cliffhanger—to avoid a spoiler alert, you’ll have to read it to see what I mean—and I abhor cliffhangers. (This probably means there’s a sequel coming, but I won’t be reading it.) That 67% is just about the main characters, by the way; you’ll never know whether authorities can defeat that virus!  There are some interesting characters (FYI: Ryan isn’t one of them), but they aren’t well developed nor interesting enough to compensate for a herky-jerky plot that leaves you breathless for all the wrong reasons. There are no big plot twists or interesting themes either—the West doesn’t need neo-Nazis to make immigrants’ lives hell.


On sale: The Golden Years of Virginia Morgan. This sci-fi thriller will be on sale at Smashwords for $0.99, reduced from $2.99 (67% discount) from now until September 1. Use the coupon code FU54W. First question: what will the U.S. in the future do with retirees with Top Secret information? Second question: how do you prevent the assassination of a presidential candidate? Third question: is there room for romance in the life of an old agent? This fast-moving story’s main character is a woman who shows perseverance and strength to survive while unmasking a terrible conspiracy. Don’t miss the thrills!

In libris libertas!

Mini-Reviews #21…

Friday, May 6th, 2016

[I was cleaning off my book shelves and found a hardbound I’m definitely offering up to some school book fair.  They might get a buck for it?]

By the Book.  Pamela Paul, ed.  (New York Times, Henry Holt, 2014).  The long subtitle is “Writers on Literature and the Literary Life, from the NY Times Book Review.”  First objection: most of these people aren’t writers by my definition.  Lena Dunham?  Not exactly a prolific writer.  Neither are Colin Powell, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emma Thompson, Sting, Carolyn Kennedy—you get the idea.  For the most part, you have personalities where the Times has sent faux-interview-like questions about literature and the literary life like “What book would you recommend that the president read?”  This is the Times doing its pseudo-intellectual masturbation in grand style.  At $28, it’s a rip-off, unless you’re a one-percenter who thinks it will create some conversation sitting on your coffee table.

Among the 65 people responding, I’ve read books by only 9 of them.  That sounds like I’m an illiterate clod, but remember, most of these people aren’t writers.  Celebrities like Powell, Sting, and Schwarzenegger probably used ghost writers; Bryan Cranston doesn’t even have a book.  The real writers in the group should feel insulted.  Many are academic, or pseudo-academic types like Malcolm Caldwell, who write for other academics; many write non-fiction; and others write “literary fiction” (whatever that is, I don’t read it).

Most real authors here aren’t prolific.  Joyce Carol Oates is a prolific writer, but she recommends that the president read Moby Dick.  What does she want to do?  Bore him to death?  He’ll already be there when he leaves office and doesn’t have McConnell and Ryan to enliven his existence.  Lee Child, who’s become formulaic with his Reacher novels, lauds Cruise’s portrayal of the famous stud.  Huh?

I guess a third of that subtitle is real: these people are talking about reading, so maybe they all have a “literary life.”  The rest is false advertising on the part of the Times.  I got this book for Christmas two years ago—well-intentioned, I suppose, because I am a full-time writer.  I would never have bought it otherwise, though.  You shouldn’t either.  And you can get 7-8 ebooks for the price of this monstrosity.


May Day Sale.  It might still be going on.  It’s not clear what the Amazon cut-off time is for a Kindle Countdown Sale.  Mary Jo Melendez has been inviting you to that sale all week.  Her stories, Muddlin’ Through and Silicon Slummin’…and Just Gettin’ By, were on sale through today, May 6, for $0.99 each; they might still be.  But don’t worry: they’ll just revert to the original $2.99 price, which is still a bargain.  Want more summer reading?  Check out my entire catalog: here’s my Amazon page.  Three more series, twenty more recent books, all save one for $3.99 or less, including my new sci-fi/fantasy novel, Rogue Planet, for $2.99.  What are you waiting for?

In libris libertas (just not the Times’s)…