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Category: Mystery, Thriller & Suspense

Review: The Tenth Witness by Leonard Rosen

[ 2 ] October 2, 2013

17233995Reviewed by Claudia Robinson

“I found myself wishing that Kraus was the hero his biographer made him out to be. Never mind that his steel was turned into Hitler’s tanks and bombers. Von Kraus was part of Nazi apparatus, but he could also have been one of the righteous who saved Jews at great peril to themselves. These people existed, and I desperately wanted Liesel’s father to be one.”

Henri Poincare and Alex Chin have been in the business of consulting and engineering for the Interpol for a few years when Lloyd’s of London commissions them to design a floating dive platform in the North Sea in an attempt to raise some treasure from the bottom of the wreck, HMS Lutine. Neither could have known, however, the implications and subsequent tribulations, accepting the job would bring. When Poincare meets and falls in love for the beautiful, strong, independent Liesel Kraus, Poincare has no idea what kind of ride he’s in for.

Complicating things further, Poincare’s father calls to let him know that his beloved Uncle Isaac has passed away. When a mysterious man appears, weeping at his Uncle’s funeral, a tattooed number on his left forearm, Poincare realizes, with great remorse, how little he really knew about his Uncle and his life during the war, when Nazis reigned supreme. Determined to honor his Uncle’s memory by piecing together his past, Poincare embarks on a literal trip down memory lane that, unknown to him, could possibly be his last trip, anywhere. Especially, when he realizes all is not is what or who, it seems, including the lovely Liesel and her father, Herr Kraus.

Leonard Rosen’s The Tenth Witness is an intricately, delicately woven tale of love, murder, history, mystery and deception. The story forces readers to walk through a dangerous and horrific time in history, get to know the people who suffered, on either side of the wall, and engage in their personal sagas, trials and tribulations. Powerful, well researched, emotionally challenging, and raw, Rosen’s characters inhale his readers in to the story, allowing them to feel, alongside Poincare, the pain raw, gaping wounds a trip like Poincare’s, through the past, can cause. When is the past best left behind and when is it not only necessary, but moral, to commune with the ghosts of a past perhaps, left alone. Rosen allows readers to determine this dilemma on their own, as Poincare must, ensuring a full bodied, passion driven novel, that delivers excellence from start to finish.

Rating: ★★★★★ 

Claudia lives on beautiful Cape Cod with her husband and two children.

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

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Review: The Outcasts by Kathleen Kent

[ 3 ] September 29, 2013

outcastsReviewed by Alisha Churbe

I’m rating The Outcasts a four because it is nicely written, interesting enough to follow until the end, the characters are well defined and the story winds itself into a tight, little bow at the end. There are no egregious fictional flaws and it’s far from boring, but with all that said, I also didn’t find it overly exciting.

The Outcasts is set in 1870s on the Gulf Coast. Based on the cover, title and time period, you might be inclined to think western and it is, but not poorly done or overly stereotypical. The story follows a Lucinda Carter, plagued by epileptic fits, through her exit from a whore house (with the madam’s savings), a love affair (with a serial killer), the search for buried treasure (real or fake?) and up to her final moments facing the consequences of her involvement with a wanted man. The book’s summary boasts that Lucinda is “a woman determined to make a new life for herself in the old west.” For me, Lucinda remained the same woman from beginning to end. While she was very determined and even quite clever, I don’t feel like she was changed by any of the events. I felt like the real story is the story that is woven throughout about Nate Cannon. Cannon is a junior officer and one of three lawmen hot on the trail of the killer, McGill. It’s a sort of coming of age story for Nate and it’s exciting to see how he adapts and changes to all that he encounters and experiences. The two other lawmen, Deerling and Dr.Tom, it turns out have personal reasons, as well as lawful ones for wanting to catch the killer. Both Deerling and Dr. Tom have been searching for the killer for some time, when Nate joins them to continue the search.

The setting is grounded enough where you feel in the correct time and space, but not overly contrived (in a saloon with swinging doors, they challenge each other to a pistol duel). There are guns and mysteries, plot twists and memorable characters that keep you reading through the book. All in all, it’s a good read, but it wasn’t spectacular by any stretch.

Rating: ★★★★☆ 

Part-time fiction writer, Alisha Churbe lives in Portland, Oregon. In the rare instances when you can pry her away from books, Alisha can be found travelling in foreign countries, cooking, or hiking with her husband Michael and dog Euro.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Little, Brown and Company. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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Review: Enon by Paul Harding

[ 1 ] September 27, 2013

ows_137841528655186Reviewed by Krista Castner

Enon is Paul Harding’s follow-up to his debut book, Tinkers which won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. I read and enjoyed Tinkers. Charlie Crosby who is the main character in Enon is the grandson of George Crosby from Tinkers. In Enon, Harding pulls no punches from the start.

A portion of the book’s opening paragraph reads, “My only child, Kate, was struck and killed by a car while riding her bicycle home from the beach one afternoon in September, a year ago. She was thirteen. My wife, Susan and I separated soon afterward.”

From the start you know that this is not going to be a light romantic comedy. It is a study of a man’s grief over the loss of his lodestar. Charlie isn’t overly skilled or ambitious, but he’s a doting father who delights in sharing all the secrets of his small New England town of Enon with Kate. When Susan leaves shortly after Kate’s death, Charlie has the run of their now empty house and is overwhelmed by his grief. He quickly spirals into an ever increasing dependency on pain pills and alcohol to make it through the day. He wanders through the village at night. He often sits in the cemetery where Kate is buried conjuring up ever more phantasmagorical stories about the graveyard’s inhabitants and different elements of life in Enon. As Charlie falls deeper into drug dependence, the illusions become more elaborate. He’s on a pilgrimage to try to catch one last glimpse of Kate; to have a chance to say good-bye.

The prose in this book is exquisite. It’s illustrative and elegant, but often overly long or elaborate. As Charlie loses his grip on reality the descriptive paragraphs can be as long as a page. It’s hard to take a breath and savor the writing as the scenes bounce from one outlandish thought or action to another. It’s not unlike what I imagine a drug addict might actually be thinking, but at times it becomes a bit much.

Tinkers was a spare book where ideas had time to develop and the reader had time contemplate. I think that if Enon had been edited more mercilessly then I would have been more spellbound by the scenes conjured up in Charlie’s mind. As it was the scenes became more outlandish, the book lost some of its power for me.

I give this book a solid three stars. The subject matter isn’t light. Charlie’s grief is palpable and sometimes even maudlin, which seems appropriate given his situation. The writing is arresting. I just wish that in the last third of the book more emphasis was placed on the story line, and less time was spent on describing flights of fancy. The real power in the book was Charlie’s relationship with Kate, and his grief over her loss, not overly long descriptions, albeit beautiful descriptions, of unconnected random thoughts.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

Krista lives just outside the urban sprawl of Portland, Oregon. Lamentably, her work as a technical writer and business analyst often interferes with her reading which is a true passion.

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

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Review: The Alchemist Agenda by Marty Weiss

[ 2 ] September 26, 2013

6e1a1fe1bd9e1f7f42f01944d0d3b18fReviewed by Caleb Shadis

The Alchemist Agenda was a fast-paced thriller and a fun read. However, as far as thrillers go it was a little short. My copy was 263 pages. It had a good pace and a pretty good story. I would put this one in the league of a Dan Brown or Steve Berry, but I think there was a little more substance to it. The plot was much tighter than anything I’ve read by Dan Brown and that I feel is a good thing.

Charlie Rocklin is a treasure hunter who just recently had his dream come true. He has a partner who sought him out and was able to raise enough capital to start the company Charlie always wanted – Gold Diggers Exploration. Their main goal was to find and salvage ships from the ocean floor for profit. Spanish galleons of course were a favorite target.

Charlie’s team found a wreck and the hope was that it was one of a fleet of ships sent with a large bribe for the US. One that never made it. What they found was not what they were looking for; by some strange coincidence there was a WWII Naval sub sitting on the ocean floor nearby. A Nazi sub by appearances, though the outside more closely resembled an American sub. It was an enigma. It also happened to be carrying a very dangerous secret. A secret that some were more than willing to kill for.

Ariel is a history professor with a secret past and she also wants to find out what is on the sub, though she has less lethal means of getting what she wants. Together, Charlie and Ariel have to stay one step ahead of the shadowy organization trying to recover the sub and its secrets.

There was a lot that could have been added to fill out the book and give it some heft. However, I admit that many people don’t like having lots of ‘extraneous’ details and like the story to be streamlined. They will appreciate this one. It’s a decent book and the writing is above par for the genre. I think Marty Weiss has a promising writing career ahead of him.

Rating: ★★★½☆ 

Caleb is a software engineer and amateur woodworker living in southern Minnesota. He has more hobbies than he has time or money for, and enjoys his quiet time reading.

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

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Review: Mending the Moon by Susan Palwick

[ 2 ] September 23, 2013

mending-the-moonReviewed by Krista Castner

Gray. If I had to pick one word to describe Susan Palwick’s Mending the Moon, it would be gray. Perhaps it’s fitting that the dust jacket is even primarily gray. Very early on we learn that sixty-four year-old Melinda Soto has been brutally raped and murdered while on a solo holiday in Mexico. Melinda was a librarian in Reno. She was also a single parent who adopted her son Jeremy from Guatemala when he was a toddler. He’s now a freshman at the University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) where he’s struggling to figure out what to do with his life.

Melinda’s death brings her close friends together as they try to support Jeremy. But Rosie is trying to cope with her husband Walter’s advancing Alzheimer’s, and Veronique is unhappily trying to get through yet another excruciating year of teaching English Lit at UNR when all she really wants to do is retire. Henrietta, or ‘Mother Hen’ as she’s affectionately nicknamed is the priest at the Episcopal church that Rosie, Melinda and Jeremy attended. The three women all work together to try to help Jeremy come to terms with what his mother’s death means today, and what it will mean for his future.

Seven hundred and fifty miles away in Mercer Island, Washington, Anna and William Clark get an unexpected call from their twenty-two year old son Percy. He needs to be picked up now from the airport. He’s come home early from his Mexican vacation. He was staying at the same resort as Melinda and he just wanted to get away from all the turmoil that happened after her body was discovered. Percy is unsettled. He is quiet and introverted for a few days before he drowns himself in Lake Washington. A few days later the DNA results come back and implicate him as Melinda’s rapist and killer.

Interwoven with these two storylines of grief and loss is a subplot about an adult comic book featuring Comrade Cosmos and his adversary, Emperor Entropy. Both Jeremy and Percy were avid followers of Comrade Cosmos. There are some pretty long passages from the comic which contain allegories about good vs. evil; and the ultimate power of compassion and persistence to win the day. But even those stories are rather pedantic and heavy-handed with pseudo religious rhetoric.

Improbably, the Reno contingent, at Anna’s invitation, drive up to Seattle to attend Percy’s memorial service. It is held on what would have been his twenty-third birthday. It becomes painfully clear that even Melinda’s survivors have more compassion for Anna’s reaction to Percy’s death than do her husband and his parents.

While the writing in this book is good, the story is gray. There is just no escaping the dreariness. I kept hoping that something would happen to lighten the mood. But sadly (and that’s a word that is used freely throughout the book) it ended on a poignant note that left me with a sense of futility about life’s caprices.

Rating: ★★☆☆☆ 

Krista lives just outside the urban sprawl of Portland, Oregon. Lamentably, her work as a technical writer and business analyst often interferes with her reading which is a true passion.

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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Review: What Dies in Summer by Tom Wright

[ 1 ] September 22, 2013

9780393345582_p0_v3_s260x420Reviewed by A.D. Cole

In his debut novel, a Southern Gothic thriller, practicing psychologist Tom Wright crafts a beautiful, brilliant, and thoroughly entertaining coming-of-age story. Jim, otherwise known as Biscuit, is haunted with a heightened ability of sensory perception. It’s just enough that he can know something is coming, but not enough that he can do anything about it. When his cousin L.A. comes to live with him and their grandmother, he is further haunted by the mystery of her silence.

One day, the two cousins stumble across the body of a young girl, mutilated and posed for the killer’s own sadistic amusement. Naturally Jim is disturbed. But when it comes out that this is the third in a series of killings, he realizes that his nightmares have had more in common with reality than he wants to admit. As events unfold, Jim slowly learns that his visions, L.A.’s silence, and the murders, are all connected; and that their outcome is inevitable.

Wright explores the close relationship of cousins; the twisted motives behind rape and murder; and the damaging effects of silence within families. He does this against the backdrop of an eerie, ethereal version of Dallas, and as told by the voice of Jim, a teenage boy struggling with the burden of his own abusive past and his need to be a man, solid and dependable, for his grandmother and cousin. Jim’s dreams, the bizarre behaviors of some of the side characters, and the startling incident with the storm (as shocking as a Biblical plague), all blend together to give this story a sense of otherworldly power, without actually pushing it into the realm of the supernatural.

Wright’s novel is populated with some of the most interesting supporting cast I’ve ever seen. There’s Colossians O’Dell, the hobo with a beautiful singing voice. Froggy, the convenience store owner whose colorful stories draw Jim and L.A. back time and time again. Dee, a sensitive artist and homosexual in a family that accepts neither of these traits. And Dr. Kepler, the infamous atheist, who serves as a spiritual guide for Jim, despite her refusal to participate in religion.

Many of the blurbs say that this story is about loss of innocence. But I think, for Jim, it’s closer to say it’s about the gradual shedding of innocence. Over the course of the murder investigation, Jim sees and experiences things that open his eyes to the evil in the world. Even though he comes from an abused past, the abuse was a danger he understood and possibly even felt comfortable with. At the conclusion of the book, he is living in a different world than the one he started with. But in a way, he is always reaching and striving for knowledge and understanding. So he is an active participant in the shedding of his own innocence.

I was also drawn to Jim’s insecurity and his need to be useful. There’s a scene when someone asks him to help end her life by crushing up some pills in applesauce. Jim trusts this person to know what she wants and he goes to the kitchen and follows her instructions. When he returns, he wakes her up, and she sees what he’s done. She cries and apologizes and tells him she should never have asked him to do it. In that moment, Jim stares down at his hands and cries at what he perceives to be yet another failure to be of service. He seems to want to protect. To help. To offer something worthwhile back to the people he loves. And he is constantly disappointed with his own, ineffectual attempts to do so. I found this endearing and heartbreaking.

There’s much more I could say about What Dies in Summer. If you don’t like it from the first sentence, then put it down. But I think you will. At times and in places it becomes difficult to read, due to some of the violent descriptions, but the overall novel is incredibly lyrical and enjoyable.

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 W.W. Norton & Company. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.

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