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Girl from Above, Book 1: Betrayal

Pippa DaCosta. Pippa DaCosta, $2.99 e-book (189p) ASIN B00VR14IUY

DaCosta’s space opera series opener is a gritty science fiction adventure rife with antiheroes and cliffhangers. Space tug captain Caleb and his second-in-command, Francisca, make a shady but profitable living smuggling cargo among Saturn’s moons. Then a stowaway synthetic human, known as #1001, puts them directly in the crosshairs of the law and the powerful Chitec corporation. She looks like the other 500 male and 500 female synths legally created by Chitec for wealthy families. But #1001 shouldn’t exist, and she definitely shouldn’t be able to fight, and kill, with ease. Someone sent her to kill Caleb, but a conscience she shouldn’t have is staying her hand. While Caleb and Fran struggle to escape Chitec, #1001 battles her own altered programming. DaCosta spins her story briskly, revealing Caleb’s checkered past and his connection to #1001 little by little as the authorities close in. Despite some predictable plot twists (and trouble with details such as the names and terraformability of Saturn’s moons), there’s probably enough intrigue to draw most readers back for the next chapter in this series. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 04/28/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Morning Line

Tom Kenny. CreateSpace, $12.95 trade paper (223p) ISBN 978-1-500454-26-5

Kenny’s intriguing, occasionally moving thriller opens in 1998 New York City, with American journalist Bill Upton receiving the Metropolitan Peace Council’s Peace Medal for his “brilliant, persuasive writings” that have led Northern Ireland to the verge of genuine peace. In his acceptance speech, Upton shares the story about how “courage and sacrifice, when mixed with a bit of sleight of hand, can accomplish what most think impossible.” Flash back to 1980s Northern Ireland: a British sniper misses IRA leader Michael O’Shaughnessy and instead kills O’Shaughnessy’s son, Timmy, in the five-year-old’s bedroom. The bullet travels through a stuffed kangaroo, a Christmas present from the boy’s Australian uncle, Aidan McGuire, before exploding in Timmy’s “little heart.” Devastated by Timmy’s death, Aidan, a trainer for a record-breaking race horse, has an opportunity years later to help the IRA cause. His unique access to the animal gives him the idea for a scheme that can vastly increase the movement’s coffers. Readers will keep turning the pages to see how Aidan’s plan will connect with Upton’s speech. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 04/28/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The President’s Butler

Laurence Leamer. Foggy Bottom Books, $9.98 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-692-76574-6

Leamer’s latest novel takes a satirical look at the election process in the United States. The tale is narrated by Billy Baxter, the butler of one of the presidential candidates, Vincent V. Victor, a self-absorbed businessman, corporate raider, author of self-help business books, and star of TV shows. When he was young, Billy struggled to escape poverty, first as a footman at the Valhalla estate, and later as the butler and confidant to Mrs. Helm, Valhalla’s 72-year-old owner. Upon the sale of the estate to Vincent, Billy is hired as the businessman’s personal butler. The initial story around the Valhalla estate is engaging, particularly in its depiction of the aristocratic lifestyle and Mr. Baxter’s relation to it. Unfortunately, as the caricaturization of the businessman turned politician becomes more predictable and obvious, the story loses some of its momentum. As the butler aptly observes in the latter part of the book: “As I reread these pages, I see that early on I am a character in this drama. But once I go to work for Mr. Victor, I begin to fade.” (BookLife)

Reviewed on 04/28/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Lost Birds

Birute Putrius. Birchwood, $16 trade paper (296p) ISBN 978-0-9965153-0-6

Inspired by her own birth in a displaced persons camp after WWII, Putrius’s enjoyable debut novel follows multiple families from Lithuania who immigrate to Chicago after the war. Irena Matas was born in a DP camp in Bavaria. When her parents aren’t allowed to return to Lithuania, they start a new life in Chicago. Antanas Balys was torn from his farm, his wife, and his four children during the war and never saw them again. Magda Vitkus suffered brain damage from being buried under rubble during a bombing. Following them for 40 years, Putrius shows how long the shadow of war can be. The history and insight into American and Lithuanian culture is wonderful and Putrius does a marvelous job of illustrating the longing that the old exiles have for home. However, the point of view switches often and the large cast of characters can make for confusing reading. An abundance of clichés (“squealing like a stuck pig” and “like a sore foot finds its worn slipper”) detract from the storytelling. Stints of magical realism delightfully showcase Lithuanian folklore, but they’re rare, making it seem out of place with the rest of the novel. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 04/28/2017 | Details & Permalink

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A Thirty-Something Girl

Lisa M. Gott. Booktrope, $2.99 e-book (156p) ISBN 978-1-62015-641-4

The opening of Gott’s debut reads like a well-written letter from a forlorn friend. By the time her 30th birthday arrives, Hope Jackson’s life has crumbled into ruins because of a miscarriage, a failed marriage, and a continuing list of setbacks. Her sadness overflows as she describes her troubles to her three closest friends, who offer her their love and support. One of them, Clara, provides Hope with generous financial help and the opportunity to stay in her family’s gorgeous beach house, where she can begin to recover her emotional equilibrium. The story then takes an abrupt turn, becoming a romance and introducing multiple elements that threaten the reader’s suspension of disbelief, such as the fact that Hope’s love interest, Sam, is perfectly handsome and perfectly flawless, as well as the fact that Hope’s random guess of Sam’s name turns out to be accurate. Even when fate deals Hope one final harsh blow, it’s something that’s simultaneously beneficial to her, and her life becomes absolutely ideal. These improbable plot twists are off-putting in light of the fair amount of talent Gott displays and a voice that sounds real, such as when Hope wishes “he would hurry up and hate me, so I can get on with my life.” Romance devotees may find much to enjoy in this novel, but it might help if they’re fans of fantasy, as well. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 04/28/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Ultimate Retirement and Estate Plan for Your Million Dollar IRA

James Lange. Retire Secure, $2.99 e-book (88p) ISBN 978-0-99035-884-8

Lange (The Little Black Book of Social Security Secrets, Couples Ages 62–70), a CPA and attorney, predicts the imminent death of the “stretch IRA” at the hands of Congress (a prophecy possibly canceled out by the right’s recent electoral gains). If he is correct, however, the cost to American families could be in the millions. For those of us ignorant of this investment vehicle, the stretch IRA allows IRA owners to bequeath their IRAs to children or grandchildren as an “inherited IRA.” Because these beneficiaries have longer life expectancies than the usual IRA owners (retirees or their spouses), the required minimum distributions from the accounts are quite small, allowing the majority of the balance to accrue tax-free for a generation or more. The difference between this form of estate planning and conventional approaches can be worth hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars to one’s heirs. While on one level a shameless plug for Lange’s business, the book is nevertheless a clear, well-written, and informed take on a worthwhile topic seldom addressed in mainstream personal-finance books. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 04/28/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Earthking

Christopher C. Hall. Piper, $12.99 paper (304p) ISBN 978-0-9966048-0-2

Hall’s exciting first book in the Earthking Chronicles introduces 14-year-old Colmeron, second in line for the throne of Arnoc. When the king’s closest advisor is found dead, it’s believed to be a hunting accident. But an ancient evil has reappeared, and after a second tragedy occurs, Col is spirited away to safety. As Col and his protector dodge the Noflim, spirits that can possess the dead, he learns more about the history of Arnoc, including the defeat of the Unnamed One, who had been cast out of Heaven and trapped underneath a legendary city called Entaramu (elements of Christian allegory aren’t hard to locate in Hall’s story). Col must find the city and stop the Unnamed One from escaping while evading the Noflim and their monstrous servants, the Kheva Adem. Hall creates a fast-paced and absorbing fantasy, filled with imaginative backstory that includes forest dwelling treelike creatures called the Greenkind and subterranean giants who sleep for decades at a time. Readers should easily sympathize with Col as he overcomes tragedy and adversity to become the leader his people need. Ages 12–up. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 04/28/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Soul Mender

R.S. Dabney. Red Pen Warriors, $14.99 trade paper (380p) ISBN 978-0-692-47201-9

A familiar science fiction theme—a parallel reality populated by alter egos of the inhabitants of our own—gets a fresh spin in this intriguing variant of a dark fantasy. Since childhood, Riley Dale, an environmental scientist living in Boulder, Colo., has been plagued by visions. Then she unexpectedly crosses over into the world of her imaginings with the help of a magic ring left to her by her grandmother. Partnering with Oz, a drug-addicted ne’er-do-well who represents the other half of her divided soul, and protector Zachary Stone, who’s a serial killer in her own world, Riley travels cross-country to Los Angeles, the terrorist-bombed capital of this alternate U.S., to learn the crucial role she must play in events rocking the parallel world. Dabney’s writing is crisp and confident, and her characters—including both of their personalities—are well-developed. She introduces more subplots than can be resolved by the novel’s end, making this a promising start for a projected trilogy. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/04/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Hunting in the Zoo: A Detective Pete Nazareth Novel

R.H. Johnson. Hampton, Westbrook, $17.95 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-1-5323-0214-5

Johnson’s suspenseful third novel featuring Det. Pete Nazareth of the NYPD (after A Measure of Revenge) places presidential candidate Archer Grande, who boasts that he could “stroll naked down Fifth Avenue, and my supporters would still vote for me,” in the crosshairs of an assassin. Nazareth is half of a team dubbed the Dynamic Duo, after he and fellow detective Tara Gimble amassed an impressive record for “not only closing the toughest cases but also for putting themselves in harm’s way again and again to get the job done right.” New York City’s mayor taps the pair to go after Stone Jackson, an expert sniper who has begun taking out child molesters, starting with the Little League coach who abused him. As Nazareth and Gimble search for Jackson, the killer ups the ante after concluding that Grande is a dangerous demagogue. Unexpected developments ratchet up the tension en route to a dramatic climax. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/04/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Flame Eater

Barbara Gaskell Denvil. Gaskell Publishing House, $4.99 e-book (424p) ASIN B01B8SEC3S

This meticulously detailed romantic thriller portrays two flawed families in medieval England whose less moral members are victims of a murderer/arsonist. The families are united in 1485 when heiress Emeline Wrotham marries Nicholas Chatwyn, an earl’s son and the aloof, scarred younger brother of Emeline’s true love, Peter, who was murdered. On their wedding night, the castle is engulfed in flames, and Nicholas is injured. Emeline and Nicholas, who is still recovering from extensive burns, depart for his cousin’s Nottingham home while the castle is being repaired, but an outbreak of the plague sends them away, eventually to London. During their travels, the marriage is consummated, and they become true partners, in love and in adventures. Charismatic and witty, Nicholas is the heart of Denvil’s novel; he works undercover for King Richard, rooting out political threats while maintaining the persona of a lazy drunkard to his disapproving father, whose favorite son is dead. Denvil’s numerous minor characters are as intriguing as Nicholas, infusing vitality and never detracting from the story. Everyday 15th-century life is richly evoked—the clothing, food, travel, habits—providing substance to a winning narrative. Family dysfunction is deftly woven into a mélange of murder, politics, and romance, with a wickedly realistic, often comical portrayal of kinship. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/04/2016 | Details & Permalink

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