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Category: Mystery, Thriller & Suspense

Review: A Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger

[ 2 ] February 18, 2014

18090082Reviewed by A.D. Cole

The main character is John Gower, a 14th century poet and contemporary of Geoffrey Chaucer. Gower, as Bruce Holsinger depicts him, is a deeply conflicted man. On one hand, his poetry borders on moral pretension, expressing the highest ideals of moral purity. On the other hand, Gower’s ill-gotten livelihood was obtained through the mafia-like buying and selling of secrets. He’s attained a status of respect, but those from whom he’s extorted naturally despise him.

Many powerful men are under Gower’s thumb. But Gower himself is under the thumb of only one man: his friend, Geoffrey Chaucer. Now, Chaucer is calling in the favor. It seems there is a mysterious and very important book floating around. A book that Chaucer wants. He puts Gower to the task, and at first it seems a rather insignificant assignment. But when Gower begins encountering powerful men who are also in search of this book, he realizes his friend is hiding information and that this book has the potential to tear apart a kingdom.

The journey of the book, itself, is an interesting one. It crosses a continent and a sea with a young woman who is both warrior and lady; is passed into the hands of a lowly maudlyn; stolen by a transgender prostitute; sold to a high-ranking lawyer; and passed off to an earl. In the meantime, John Gower is using up the last of his favor among friends. His estranged son turns up out of nowhere and appears to be connected to the whole mystery. And his best friend appears to be no sort of friend at all.

A Burnable Book contains an extensive cast and an intricate plot, all of which come together apparently seamlessly, in the end. The year is 1385 and the novel was researched down to the very last detail. There was period slang that you’ll not find in modern dictionaries. Detailed depictions of the division of London into three different cities. A wonderful scene set on a street dedicated to publishing books and the division of specialty labors in that industry. Even the story of Edgar/Eleanor, the transgender prostitute, was based on a historical account.

I particularly loved the conflicted Gower. One of my favorite scenes is when Chaucer is critiquing Gower’s most recent poetry. The poems are satire without humor. They’re judgments cast down by an author who’s placed himself in a position of moral superiority over those he’s criticizing.

When Chaucer questions this, Gower says, “Are you saying the lines aren’t true to their subject?”

Chaucer replies, “Much worse, John. They are not true to you.” He goes on to explain that Gower doesn’t take risks in his writing. He doesn’t write from his soul.

I enjoyed this particular debate because Gower, due to his limited insight, couldn’t understand the value of fable…of fiction. It wasn’t until the end that he recognized fiction as a means of revealing truth; as a means of connecting all of the little stories to the bigger stories in the overall story to which we all belong and which contains so many unsolvable mysteries.

Gower’s enlightenment at the end of the novel is icing on the cake of an already satisfying plot. In fact I wasn’t sure whether, in this review, to address this book as character-driven, plot-driven, or theme-driven. It seemed equal parts of all three, which not many books are, these days. The one difficulty I had was getting acclimated to the language and characters. There are a ton of characters and a couple dozen new words in the form of 14th century slang that you have to adjust to. But overall, I loved it. If you enjoy history or mystery, or if you’re a bibliophile or lover of words, this novel is for you.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

A.D. Cole is a homeschooling mother and aspiring romance novelist. She lives in the Ozark foothills and spends her free time reading, writing, baking and pondering life’s little mysteries.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by William Morrow. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: The Wife, The Maid, and The Mistress by Ariel Lawhon

[ 4 ] February 13, 2014

17618286Reviewed by Colleen Turner

On August 6th, 1930, Judge Joseph Crater – a man with seedy mob ties who was under suspicion for purchasing his seat on the New York State Supreme Court – disappeared without a trace. To this day his disappearance remains a mystery. The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress uses what is known about Judge Crater, his various connections and the people closest to him to present a thrilling and emotional story of what might have brought down this flawed and powerful man.

The Wife, The Maid, and The Mistress is told from the point of view of the three women closest to Joseph Crater: his wife Stella, their maid Maria Simon and Crater’s mistress Sally Lou Ritz. Ariel Lawhon does an excellent job of bringing these three women to life, flaws and all. Each woman has gotten herself wrapped tightly into a spot that could prove quite dangerous if they try to break away on their own terms. In a world of dark and seedy speakeasies where powerful and violent men hold all the cards, the women will have to keep level heads and beat the men at their own games to survive.

The pacing is perfect, starting the story 39 years after the judge’s disappearance with Stella coming back to one of her husband’s favorite hangouts, Club Abbey, on the day of Crater’s disappearance for her annual vigil and meeting with Maria’s husband, Jude Simon, one of the detectives assigned to investigate the judge’s disappearance. From there the story goes back and forth, releasing little tidbits and details from each woman until the truth is revealed to Jude in a letter from Stella given to him before she leaves the club for the last time. The excitement and emotion is really in the details, however, with the reader being pulled along on a thrilling mystery that leaves you guessing but one that also forces you to become emotionally invested in the plights of the players with good hearts who are pushed into doing things they wouldn’t do in a different time and place. But don’t be fooled for a moment into thinking that every person involved is good or innocent. There are some vicious characters sprinkled throughout, namely Judge Crater himself and Owney Madden, the mobster who seems to be pulling all the strings. There are a number of bright lights and kind hearts to be seen, but there is just as much vice, lust and greed and that keeps the story moving at an exhilarating pace.

I was not aware of Judge Crater’s disappearance or the mystery and legend surrounding it before reading The Wife, The Maid, and The Mistress but this captivating novel has me very excited to read more details and theories which, to me, is the hallmark of a great story and an equaling talented author. I’m very excited to see what Ariel Lawhon presents next.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, their dog Oliver and their fish Finn. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Doubleday. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Drone Enigma by Ron McManus

[ 0 ] February 6, 2014

Final-CoverReviewed by Lauren Cannavino

Books that are touted as military thrillers, like The Drone Enigma, are often laden with too many technical terms, government speak and cold, surface characters. None of these characteristics apply to this novel. Ron McManus presents a lively story of secrets and intrigue, murder, mystery, politics and adventure. Ex Navy SEAL member Jake Palmer is called to join an investigation by his old SEAL team member and friend, Wade Jansen. Jansen works as a top defense contractor and needs Palmer to dig into the death of an employee working on a top secret project. What Palmer gets himself into and what he uncovers along the way is far from expected or safe.

Palmer is no nonsense, intelligent and skilled which allows him to quickly gather information and back stories on everyone connected with a top secret government project named Perseus. The project is centered on the design, development and eventual implementation of military drones. The murder of one of the top project engineers paired with the theft and return of a top secret laptop have rightly aroused suspicions. Only a few days into the investigation, Jansen is shot and killed in his office and the case soon takes on an entirely new level of importance for Palmer. While this action is unfolding, other stories and suspicions are interjected throughout and all paths will soon lead to Palmer and his discoveries.

The cunning and beautiful Alona Green shows up as a possible suspect with a wealth of knowledge and skills that are both useful and potentially dangerous to Palmer. Green has confessed to stealing the laptop that belongs to project leader Owen Fuller whose part in the plot begins to excitingly take shape as the book advances. Meanwhile, back in Afghanistan, a shadowy figure, Hassan Aswad carefully lays the groundwork for his plans against America; the connection to the events and people that Palmer is uncovering cannot be denied. Green and Palmer become an unlikely duo when Palmer must turn to old SEAL friends and avoid the police when things begin to head south. Never questioning his gut, Palmer affirms his loyalty to both his dead friend and his country, and continues his personal mission in order to stop an attack on US interests overseas.

The chapters of The Drone Enigma are quick and as a result the book survives a beginning that seems slow only as the major pieces are presented. The Perseus Project and all of its details are slowly revealed with an exciting climax at the end of the book. Palmer is a rugged and gruff, yet fun hero who has a sense of humor paired with a dry, quick wit. He has no time for nonsense and no time for threats to his country. McManus ends the story in a very interesting fashion that leaves the reader with a multitude of questions, not about the story which wraps up cleanly, but rather about our very own government and all the secrets we are kept from daily.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Lauren Cannavino is a graduate student, freelance writer, wine lover, and avid reader. Random musings can be found over at www.goldiesays.com.

Review copy was provided by Ron McManus. Compensation was received but in no way influenced the thoughts and opinions expressed in this review.

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Review: Approaching the Speed of Light by Victoria Lustbader

[ 1 ] February 3, 2014

16059460Reviewed by Lauren Cannavino

It often appears in life that everything is connected by a strong undercurrent in the universe that holds us all together. In Victoria Lustbader’s novel, Approaching the Speed of Light, this idea seems to be a fact. Jody is a dark, yet compassionate and hard-working man with a troubled, terrible past. His past often hits him when it hurts and at the most unexpected moments, never giving him rest from his demons. As troubled as he is, Jody is magnetic and manages to attract people even if he isn’t sure that he wants them around. His family, dog Einstein, friends and coworkers also make sure that Jody keeps them around.

Jody was adopted and in his previous life his name was Christopher. The memories of Christopher, that life and the terrible people in his life that time, are peppered through the book as a brilliant backdrop. This inclusion was an excellent feature because the memories filled more and more gaps as the book went; the story within the story matched Jody’s progression as a character perfectly. The terrible life that Christopher endured comes back in Jody’s nightmares and act as a block that prevents Jody from letting people in. When Jody does contracting work at an assisted living home, he meets Tess, a resident that mistakes her for her dead son, and the two become close. Tess also introduces Jody to her friend Ella, who Jody realizes he had seen a long time before in a different location and part of his life. The two hit it off and were clearly destined to meet and Jody also develops an endearing relationship with Ella’s young son, Evan.

As Jody continues to grow, learn and accept himself and the past, the story moves along quickly. Lustbader’s setup was brilliant and the ending of the novel quickens, not in a hurried matter, but rather as a ball of energy that seems finally ready to unravel. I have not been emotionally moved by the end of story in a very long time and this one definitely moved me to tears. While the outcome was less than ideal, it was exactly as it should have been to get the message across and really drive the point home. Lustbader corrected the sadness with some extra special joy in the epilogue and connected everything in the story, just as we are all connected.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Lauren Cannavino is a graduate student, freelance writer, wine lover, and avid reader. Random musings can be found over at www.goldiesays.com.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Forge Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Known Devil by Justin Gustainis

[ 1 ] January 30, 2014

KnownDevil-144dpiReviewed by Nina Longfield

Justin Gustainis’ novel Known Devil: An Occult Crimes Unit Investigation is a new option in the supernatural detective genre. Known Devil is set in an alternative Scranton, PA in which supernatural beings coexist with humans. Although coexistence is getting difficult. An outside vampire organized crime syndicate is trying to take over the Calabrese family business. Amongst the gang warfare investigation, Detective Sergeant Stanley Markowski and his partner Detective Karl Renfer are seeking the source of Slide, also known as HG-plus, short for hemoglobin plus something else, a new drug that some elves and rumor has it at least one vampire are hooked on. With the exception of goblins, supernatural beings are not supposed to be prone to addiction. Hovering in the background is a rising political faction that would like to finish off the coexistence of supes and humans; the Patriot party believes that supernaturals are “a cancerous growth”.

Detective Sergeant Stanley Markowski is a bit of a smartass. He always seems to have a sardonic witticism going on, yet he’s serious about his business. His partner, Karl Renfer, is a vampire who goes out of his way to prove he supports the law over his vampiric nature. They work the night shift in the Occult Crimes Unit within the Scranton Police Department. Lately, the night shift is getting a lot of action between the new drug, Slide, causing supernaturals to turn to robbery and vampiric gangland warfare flaring up in the streets. Markowski’s daughter, Christine, is also a vampire. They talk about Markowski’s cases in the evening as they each prepare for their night jobs; Markowski drinks coffee, Christine drinks warmed blood, O-type being her favorite. Christine is a natural observer and frequently relates what she has seen and heard on the nocturnal streets to her father. She provides a unique perspective that is different from a police detective’s point-of-view.

Gustainis’ characters are intriguing, fun, sometimes annoying, but well drawn and lifelike. The interaction of the characters rivals and enhances the consistent flow of action throughout the novel. There is a lot going on within this storyline, yet Gustainis molds and blends the plot with precision. The author suggests clues throughout, but some actions are surprising and lead the reader deeper into the goings on of Known Devil. The one downside of the book, if there is one, was the unneeded digressions (the boss’s java… “he makes it from these Jamaican Blue Mountain beans”) and detailed planning before jumping into a gun battle. Gustainis is excellent with his details but at times, like before a gun battle, these same details tend to slow the flow of the action. Although a little jarring when the digressions happen, they are merely a small hiccup in the buildup of the coming action. I wouldn’t miss this story for these brief digressions in narrative.

All in all, Known Devil is a fun book. It is exactly the entertaining, action packed, supernatural beings filled novel I was hoping for. Whether you’re familiar with the supernatural detective genre or new to this style of noir detective fiction, Known Devil by Justin Gustainis is a pleasurable read.

Rating: ★★★★½ 

Nina Longfield is a writer living in Oregon’s fertile wine country. When she is not reading or writing in her spare time, Nina enjoys hiking in the hills surrounding her cabin.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Justin Gustainis. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Delia’s Shadow by Jamie Lee Moyer

[ 4 ] January 28, 2014

10576071Reviewed by A.D. Cole

It is 1915, the year of the San Francisco World’s Fair when Delia Martin returns home. She’s immediately thrust into her duties as maid of honor for her best friend. She also helps take care of the dying woman who had been a mother to her when her own parents died in the great earthquake. But none of this is the reason for Delia’s sudden return from New York.

Gabriel is a man on a mission. Amidst the massive comings and goings of the World’s Fair, a serial killer is on the loose. Lieutenant Gabriel Ryan is determined to catch the killer before he can hurt anyone else and before knowledge of his movements in the city becomes public. The hunt has been largely in vain, but he finds a sudden and strange source of information in his best friend’s fiancée’s maid of honor.

Delia has been recently haunted by a ghost she calls Shadow. It is this ghost who has compelled her home to San Francisco. She and Gabe quickly realize that her ghost is directly connected with his investigation. As the two of them dig deeper into the case, the murderer becomes bolder and more personal. Now, with their lives and the lives of their loved ones in danger, Delia and Gabe must reach deeper into the spirit world to find the villain.

Based on the title and cover, I was expecting a ghost story with some murder mystery thrown in. But the ghosts in this book were a given thing. Nothing mysterious about them. I would call this a historical thriller with some ghosts thrown in. There’s not a thing wrong with that, I just had to adjust my thinking a few pages in. But then I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. There were hauntings and séances, but these were all for the purpose of finding the serial killer and I didn’t really feel spooked by any of it.

So, if you’re a fan of historical thrillers in the vein of Matthew Pearl’s The Dante Club, or Caleb Carr’s The Alienist, then I think you’ll like this book as well. Unless you have a strong aversion to the supernatural.

All of the characters were well-drawn and interesting, even the smallest, side characters. I enjoyed the mystery, though I didn’t find myself shocked by any sudden twists. Mostly what I enjoyed was the hunt for the killer and the relationship between Gabe and Delia.

Delia’s Shadow was a well-written and entertaining novel. I can’t say that it blew me away or anything, but I did enjoy it and would recommend it for fans of historical crime thrillers.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

A.D. Cole is a homeschooling mother and aspiring romance novelist. She lives in the Ozark foothills and spends her free time reading, writing, baking and pondering life’s little mysteries.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Tor Books. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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