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Darien and the Lost Paints of Telinoria

Jeanna Kunce, illus. by Craig Kunce. Windhill (windhillbooks.com), $16 (192p) ISBN 978-0-9844828-6-3

After 10-year-old Darien’s babysitter cancels, her parents have a neighbor, Miss Mildred (“old Miss Mildew” to Darien), watch her for the afternoon. What could have been a dreary day stuck indoors transforms into an adventure when Miss Mildred gives Darien a mysterious set of paints; as Darien begins creating a forest landscape, she enters the painting and an enchanted world populated by talking dragons. After winning the trust of a dragon named Amani (dragons are suspicious of humans, who capture them to melt their scales into gold, Amani tells Darien), she accompanies him on a perilous mission to rescue his parents and to help end a rift between dragons that have mated across color lines and those still clinging to ancient tradition. First-time author Jeanna Kunce creates a thoughtfully developed universe with medieval and fantastical elements (the walls of an underground city are lit by tubes filled with luminescent fish). Craig Kunce’s delicately etched b&w illustrations help add to the magic of a fantasy starring a heroine empowered to do the right thing. Ages 8–up. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Rockets’ Red Glare

John Darrin and Michael Gresalfi. Biblioque, $16.95 trade paper (388p) ISBN 978-0-692-41890-1

Darrin, a career radiation-safety expert, and Gresalfi, an adviser to the White House on terrorism, deliver a gripping thriller reminiscent of Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre’s The Fifth Horseman. Islamic extremists team with violent Christian fundamentalists to plan a series of acts of nuclear terror throughout the U.S. A sophisticated scheme nets them a supply of cesium 137 from a private Tennessee facility, but the plot comes to the attention of the authorities when one of the vehicles transporting the lethal isotope is stopped by the police. Cal Bellotta, a consultant for the Department of Homeland Security on radiological WMD threats, labors frantically to thwart the terrorists, but the authors, plausibly, don’t turn him or his colleagues into miracle workers. The story line is one that genre readers will find familiar, but Darrin and Gresalfi give it new life and urgency through a combination of taut prose, punchy chapters, and convincing detail. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Private Lines

Emma Gates. Wells Street, $15.95 ISBN 978-0-9888906-8-8

In this business thriller, Tyler is a global alliance manager for a huge international telecom company, which keeps him traveling constantly. While he’s in France to broker a fairly straightforward deal with FranceFon, he meets their alliance manager, Delphine, with whom he has instant chemistry, but she is reluctant to close on a deal that was all but done before she came on board. They get closer, and when he presses about her reluctance, she reveals that GlobeAll, Tyler’s company, is engaged in financial improprieties with which she doesn’t want FranceFon associated. This revelation sends Tyler into a spiral of self-doubt, especially because it was his mentor, Nick, who brokered the crooked deal. Meanwhile, Carly, a Milwaukee-based GlobeAll account manager, is struggling with an ailing mother, a demanding boss, and an emotionally unavailable lover. Carly and Tyler meet via video conference, and they become captivated with each other. As both are soul searching while GlobeAll starts to crumble, they start to reevaluate their lives. Gates remarkably manages to make the intricacies of telecommunications interesting to laypeople. That said, the romantic tension between Tyler and Carly falls flat because the obstacles between them aren’t emphasized enough, nor does his attraction to Delphine seem like much of an impediment. Readers will find themselves more intrigued by the shadowy Department of Defense deals laying the groundwork for the Iraq invasion than by the romantic entanglements of the leads. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Healing Ruby

Jennifer Westall. Jennifer Westall, $3.99 e-book (369p) ASIN B00O3GRNF2

Coming of age in Depression-era Alabama is fraught with pitfalls for Ruby Graves in the opener of Westall’s (Love’s Providence) Healing Ruby series. Ruby is a typical young woman of her time, but then tragedy strikes her family repeatedly, much like the biblical figure Job. In the wake of those tragedies comes a new understanding of her faith, and more questions than she can ever find answers to, among them mysteries in her family’s past. Plot strands are teased out slowly and answers revealed as the story progresses, and the novel builds to a satisfying climax followed by a gentle push toward the next installment. Woven with scriptural references that and brutally frank regarding the treatment of people in the 1930s South, Westall’s story also sounds notes of hope and faith that balance her portrayal. Insight into history and race relations enrich a textured narrative. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/09/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Third Daughter

Susan Kaye Quinn. Susan Kaye Quinn, $12.99 trade paper (346p) ISBN 978-1-4937-7477-7

Romance and intrigue collide in the fluffy, entertaining first installment of Quinn’s Dharian Affairs steampunk trilogy. As the third daughter of the Queen of Dharia, 17-year-old Aniri has the opportunity to marry for love. However, she agrees to an arranged marriage with Prince Malik of neighboring Jungali after he makes an impassioned plea for peace—and her mother presents a calculated need for a spy amongst the Jungali. Far from home, Aniri must find the evidence needed to prevent war, even as she maintains the pretense of romance with her betrothed. As danger mounts, so do the lies, deceptions, and mysteries. The feisty, resourceful princess leaps into and out of trouble with grace and style. Quinn (the Mindjack trilogy) could have done much more with the alternate East Indian setting, which feels mostly like window dressing, but steampunk fans will appreciate the airships, swordfights, illicit romance, fantastical technology, desperate escapes, last-minute rescues, and breathtaking scenery, all pulled together by a genuine sense of fun. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/09/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Narrow Path to War: Marshals of Arion, Book 1

DL Frizzell. BookLogix, $14.95 trade paper (363p) ISBN 978-1-61005-499-7

Frizzell’s imagined universe becomes less interesting as his debut proceeds—not a good sign for a series kickoff. A fleet of six spaceships “crossed an entire arm of the galaxy in only a decade” to establish a new home for humanity on an earthlike planet, Arion. During the next 500 years, the population of Arion lost the use of all “micro-electronics.” The introduction of the main characters is well handled; student Alex Vonn refuses to take shelter during a powerful magnetic storm so that he can witness the phenomenon, and Frizell makes the danger palpable. Marshal Hugh Redland is first seen on the trail of an escaped prisoner, only to find that he’s chasing the wrong quarry, a mercenary in possession of an odd map of the entire planet. All the ingredients for excitement are here, but the plot focuses on Vonn’s tiresome search for the truth about his father, the characters lack depth, and the prose is unmemorable. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/09/2015 | Details & Permalink

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SoulServe

Robert S. Wilson. Robert S. Wilson, $2.99 e-book (95p) ASIN B00N16R44K

Murders that mix technology with ghosts bring Antivii agent Ray Garret into a world of secret experiments that could save his dying wife in this short, well-structured murder mystery. Though the book is a bit sparse on details (there’s no stated year or location, and Antivii’s role is never fully defined), Ray’s a very human character, good at his job and devoted to his wife, Rhonda—so much that he’s willing to risk his career in order to save her life. The links between the murders and Rhonda’s salvation grow as the race against time quickens, building to a heart-wrenching conclusion that hits the reader a few pages before it slams into Ray. There are issues with how Wilson (the Empire of Blood series) handles female characters—Rhonda is merely a plot point, and helpful scientist Dr. Rainns is a classic sexpot—but otherwise this thriller doesn’t disappoint. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/09/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Maghreb Conspiracy: The Third Spy Story in Croft’s Mideast Trilogy

Roger Croft. CreateSpace, $11.90 ISBN 978-1-5008-2332-0

Set in 2005, Croft’s third spy novel featuring MI6 operative and former journalist Michael Vaux (after 2013’s Operation Saladin) tapers off after an intriguing start. A wet-behind-the-ears agent, Sebastian Micklethwait, lands an extremely sensitive assignment. Micklethwait is to travel with facilitator Mokhtar Tawil to Morocco, where Tawil will help him connect with a member of al-Qaeda’s executive committee who’s offered to provide valuable intelligence on the group’s plans. The mission, dubbed Operation Apostate, goes awry almost immediately, as Tawil is murdered on the first leg of their trip and Micklethwait himself is taken prisoner. It falls to Vaux, who’s been tapped to oversee Operation Apostate, to try to rescue the agent and salvage whatever can be salvaged. Vaux is a familiar genre staple, a maverick who gets results, but this time out, Croft doesn’t give him enough depth to be truly memorable. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/09/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Organ Takers: A Novel of Surgical Suspense

Richard Van Anderson. White Light, $11.99 trade paper (306p) ISBN 978-0-9907597-1-3

Robin Cook fans will relish this taut and powerful medical thriller set in Manhattan, the first in a trilogy. Dr. David McBride’s career is in ruins after he delayed reporting that a superior was taking bribes to move patients in need of transplanted organs up the waiting list. Instead of using his superior surgical skills to save lives, David is relegated to working on rats in a research lab. Fortune seems to smile upon him when he’s offered a chance to redeem himself with a probationary period in another residency program. But before he can start that new chapter, David’s corralled by a shady figure who calls himself Mr. White and displays a disturbingly detailed knowledge of every aspect of David’s life. Unless David agrees to perform illegal kidney harvesting and transplants, White will arrange for him to be charged with drug theft. Van Anderson makes good use of his own medical training in the service of a superior page-turner. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/09/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Seven Days

Sterling Nixon. S&J Publisher, $9.99 trade paper (360p) ISBN 978-0-9903708-0-2

In Nixon’s novel, social ideologies clash in a complex political thriller of political corruption and patriotism. Ex-CIA and Border Patrol agent Rick Savage is a self-exiled outcast whose discovery of department treachery destroyed both his marriage and patriotic faith. He discovers the “Divided House,” a domestic civil war between the western and eastern United States (the West has stopped paying taxes and is threatening secession), orchestrated by narcissist genius Marcus McKeet. It becomes clear that the apocalyptic emergency predicted by fringe survivalists is real. Nixon’s novel, which throws in a mysterious and deadly infection for good measure, questions our government’s ability (and intention) to protect us. Conspiracy fans will crawl out of the bunker for this dystopian/conspiracy hybrid, which is an emotionally devastating and confrontational entertainment. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/09/2015 | Details & Permalink

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