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The Thrift Shop Murders

Stanford Pritchard. Springside Book, $15.95 paper (266p) ISBN 978-1-4943-3644-8

In Pritchard's uneven metaphysical whodunit, brokerage firm manager Selwyn McCandless finds his life crumbling when millionaire Fairfield Dixon is murdered at an elegant dinner party. Soon after the killing, Selwyn—and all the other partygoers—receives an enigmatic letter and poem stating that clues leading to portions of Dixon's vast fortune are hidden at local thrift shops. Meanwhile, Selwyn's son, Marvin, a day laborer working to build a museum for the dead man's art collection, becomes a suspect. Despite an intriguing concept, the plot is convoluted at times, lacking tension or focus, and hindered by relentless inner monologues, meandering pace, and a contrived climax.

Reviewed on 06/27/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Second Key

Cheryl Holdefer. Cheryl Holdefer, $9.99 paper (252p) ISBN 978-0-615-97560-3

In Holdefer's novel, Rachel Matthews, a single mother of twins, is still mourning the death of husband Patrick and finds dating difficult. When she meets her old high school friend and prom date Michael vacationing at Lake Placid, they charge into an affair. But when she sees him kissing another woman, Rachel returns home to discover a key in Patrick's study that leads to a safety deposit box—and letters from his mistress. While she investigates her husband's mysterious past and grapples with heartache, Rachel works to love again. Although the author offers up a fascinating premise, her novel suffers from a lack of suspense, predictability, and an unsatisfying ending. Potentially complex plot elements (e.g., the husband's infidelity) lack tension, and, in the end, readers will have difficulty investing in the characters and their story.

Reviewed on 06/27/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Second Hand Stops

Katie St. Claire. CreateSpace, $12.99 paper (346p) ISBN 978-1-4949-9669-7

In this winning novel from St. Claire, six 18-year-olds—all raised together in a manor house in England—are forced to drink a life-prolonging elixir to receive multimillion-dollar inheritances and internships in New York City courtesy of an anonymous benefactor. This promising premise kicks off St. Claire's Black Moon series, and finds Julia Malone abandoning her sheltered upbringing in England to become vice president of the product research and development firm Van Buren Industries in the Big Apple. Julia's telepathic abilities help her sustain her lifetime bond with confidante and former housemate Nic amid luxurious Manhattan penthouses, but feed her concerns about possibly duplicitous company staff. The unclear motives of Claude Van Buren, the inscrutable benefactor, in promoting a skin cream that includes traces of the untested elixir, which had ambiguous effects on the teens, leave Julia wondering about its safety and her future. St. Claire's novel is well plotted and the characters skillfully developed. Her convincing portrayal of Julia's angst and Nic's loyalty help make this a lively paranormal fantasy adventure. Julia's insistence that she is a normal teen, albeit with unusual abilities, makes her a character with which readers—both young and old—can empathize.

Reviewed on 06/27/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Out There: A Novel

Sarah Stark. Leaf Storm Press, $17.95 paper (238p) ISBN 978-0-9914105-0-7

In this lyrical, evocative novel, Stark summons the possibility of salvation in tragedy. Iraq war veteran Jefferson Long Soldier returns home with a wounded soul and a copy of Gabriel García Márquez's novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, which he carried with him through combat and credits for saving his life. But when neither family nor a psychologist can help ease his transition to civilian life, Jefferson journeys by motorbike across Mexico in search of salvation and the reclusive García Márquez. A tribute to magical realism and the transforming power of fiction, Stark's novel juxtaposes violence and gentleness and merges logic with sensuous atmosphere to question the boundaries of reality. Jefferson's struggle for peace reveals an existence as fluid and magical as a dream—but with consequences.

Reviewed on 06/27/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Lost Capital

Peter M. Wahl. CreateSpace, $10.79 paper (292p) ISBN 978-1-4928-6335-9

Biting satire dissects the myth of the American Dream in Wahl's thought-provoking novel that exposes the worm in the apple of power. Ballsy dreamer Guy Baxter creates a whirlwind with unforeseen consequences when he declares himself a company—Guy, Incorporated—and sells shares of himself on the stock market. Forced into work as a tennis pro when his stock dives, Guy is shocked when wealthy Ivan Vissar makes him a part owner of a business venture called eCOM. Ignoring his devilish employer's disreputable background, Guy discovers that he might be a pawn in a cruel game of chance. This seductive rendering of America's self-made man motif modernizes Fitzgerald's fable, crafting in Guy a likable yet naïve mirror of Gatsby. In so doing, the author utilizes an original voice and skillfully captures the numbness and amorality of a society in which elegant parties mask debasement, and honesty is crushed by a hungry bottom line.

Reviewed on 06/27/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Lethal Cure

Glen Apseloff. Amazon Digital Services, $2.99 e-book (353p) ISBN 978-0-9898461-9-6

Shortly after an injured girl dies at Dr. Jake Warner's hospital, leaving behind a strange diary and many unanswered questions, the doctor discovers he's suffering from memory loss. A few days later, he wins a free trip to Europe, and while the holiday comes with some curious restrictions, he accepts, bringing the mysterious diary with him. While Warner enjoys the trip, he can't shake the feeling that something is terribly wrong, and that somehow it's related to his memory loss and the diary. This medical thriller is chock-full of fascinating ideas—memory erasure, memory transfer, the military applications of memory—that will hook readers almost immediately. Unfortunately, the novel's structure and plotting are less successful: engaging plot threads are dropped and the narrative wraps up too quickly. Still, if readers can look past these problems, they will find a lot to like.

Reviewed on 06/27/2014 | Details & Permalink

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How to Knock a Bravebird from Her Perch: The First Novel in the Morrow Girls Series

D. Bryant Simmons. Bravebird Publishing, $17.95 paper (344p) ISBN 978-0-9857516-6-1

When Pecan's doting father dies unexpectedly, she marries a boxer named Ricky Morrow and becomes pregnant almost immediately. Unfortunately for Pecan, things go from bad to worse: Ricky becomes violent, and she falls into a cycle of pregnancy and physical abuse. But when Pecan meets another man and tries to extricate herself from her marriage, she's forced to fight for her life and the lives of her children. From the start of Simmons's novel, readers will empathize with Pecan's struggles. While the author's prose is solid, the narrative is somewhat predictable. The plot and eventual outcome of the novel will be obvious to many readers from the beginning. And this predictability will likely take readers out of the story.

Reviewed on 06/27/2014 | Details & Permalink

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A Quest of Heroes

Morgan Rice. Morgan Rice (www.morganricebooks.com), $10.99 paper (234p) ISBN 978-1-939416-20-9

In this action-packed first book in the epic fantasy Sorcerer's Ring series (which is currently 14 books strong), Rice introduces readers to 14-year-old Thorgrin "Thor" McLeod, whose dream is to join the Silver Legion, the elite knights who serve the king. Though initially rejected for his youth and inexperience, a chance meeting with the king's Druid, Argon, prompts Thor to leave home and try again. Against all odds, he is allowed to join the Legion as a squire-in-training. Thor quickly proves himself time and again, earning honors, recognition, and even the eye of Princess Gwendolyn. Simultaneously, he discovers a mysterious magical ability building within him. As Thor struggles to tap into his potential and prove himself as a member of the Legion, he becomes embroiled in political intrigue and drama. While Rice's writing is solid and the premise intriguing, there's an overwhelming amount of wish fulfillment packed into this initial installment, with Thor's successes and rewards piling up at an unbelievable rate in an impossibly short time. The predictable plot is packed full of fantasy clichés, the pacing is rushed, and character development is hasty. Ages 12–up.

Reviewed on 06/27/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Finding Julian

Shane Morgan. TSW Books (www.shanemorganwrites.com), $12.50 paper (286p) ISBN 978-0-615-94581-1

Morgan's convoluted, soap operatic novel introduces 21-year-old Julian to the family she never knew, and a world of high stakes and hard decisions. When her estranged father dies, Julian travels to Narragansett, R.I., to attend the funeral against her mother's wishes. When the will is read, Julian is astounded to hear that she's inherited her father's estate, angering other members of the family. While Julian tries to extract herself from the legacy she never wanted, she discovers things aren't what they seem. Her father may have been murdered, there are several different copies of the will floating around, not all of her family can be trusted, and she's attracted the attentions of two very different guys—one of whom may be more trouble than he's worth. As Julian's mother urges her to return to New York, Julian tries to uncover her father's killer and locate the true will. Clichés abound in this drama, which relies on stock characters, tired twists, and even a climatic confrontation on the edge of a cliff in the rain. There's potential, but it's lost amid overused tropes. Ages 12–up.

Reviewed on 06/27/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Broken Covenant

Teresa Williams Irvin. HeartChild Inc. (www.teresairvin.com), $16.95 paper (304p) ISBN 978-0-9799395-5-6

Irvin (Seeds of Rebellion) spins out the story of a couple who must overcome emotional wounds and learn to love one another, set against the backdrop of the French and Indian War in 1755. Still grieving the death of her husband, 17-year-old Rebecca chafes at living at home and once again being treated like a child. When the handsome Blanton Moseley offers to marry her to take her away from it all, she accepts, willing to try life on the frontier despite the hardships. Their relationship is tested by a lack of communication, Indian attacks, and Blanton's decision to join General Braddock and Colonel Washington on their campaign; the separation allows them to come into their own and realize what's important. While Irvin thrives in the historical details and accuracy of the setting, the plot lacks energy and her leads have little chemistry, making for a passionless and chaste romance that barely resolves itself by the end. As an adventure set in tumultuous times, it's capable, but as a character piece or drama, it's fairly mundane. Ages 12–up.

Reviewed on 06/27/2014 | Details & Permalink

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