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Glenn Ogura. iUniverse, $25.95 paper (486p) ISBN 978-1-4759-8855-0

On the verge of leaving Silicon Valley’s prestigious DisplayTechnik to start his own company with new industry-changing video technology, idealistic young engineer Zack Penny is confronted by ruthless CEO Allen Henley, who questions his loyalty. Before the Sun Tzu–quoting chief executive can fire him, Zach quits—but Allen vows revenge, and Zach’s associates at DisplayTechnik are soon shown the door as well. To make matters worse, Zach has been dating Henley’s daughter, Mary Anne. As Mary Anne seesaws between loyalty to her father and her affection for Zach, Allen puts a plan to destroy him into action. Although possessing all the ingredients for a successful techno thriller, Ogura’s debut suffers from improbable plot twists, underdeveloped characters, and stilted dialogue. Readers will have difficulty engaging with the characters—and those who stick around to the end will find the conclusion somewhat improbable.

Reviewed on 01/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Good to Her

Enid Harlow. Strategic Book Publishing and Rights, $18.50 paper (310p) ISBN 978-1-62516-398-1

In 1945, successful, middle-aged businessman Nate Neumann meets his future wife at Dinty Moore’s, an iconic New York City restaurant on the corner of 46th Street and Broadway. Aspiring actress Sallie is two decades Nate’s junior, but he falls for her immediately and they soon marry. However, their union is far from perfect. Over the course of two decades, Sallie has affairs with younger men. And while she always says that Nate is good to her, he has some nagging doubts about her love and their relationship. Harlow (A Better Man) has a rich understanding of New York history, and her decision to set her novel around a legendary restaurant gives the book depth and richness. Unfortunately, the story is less engaging when it focuses on people rather than places. The trope of a wealthy older man being entranced by a pretty younger woman who cheats on him is nothing new. That said, it’s easy to become deeply immersed in Harlow’s New York City, and consequently many readers maybe be willing to forgive the familiar plotline.

Reviewed on 01/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Dragons of the Book of Mormon

Johnny Townsend. BookLocker, $15.95 paper (246p) ISBN 978-1-62646-678-4

In this entertaining collection, Townsend—author of 16 books, including Morman Underwear—creates a kaleidoscope of Morman characters young and old, male and female, gay and straight, who find themselves at odds with the demands of their religion. In “Going Home,” a 56-year-old man no longer wants to live. He maintains good appearances by going to work and loving his family, but worries that wanting to die is a sin. In “Temple Man,” a reporter covers the good deeds of an aspiring temple-clothes-wearing superhero, while internally questioning the value of the hero’s deeds. In “The Venetian Blinds of Heaven,” an excommunicated Mormon clings to his religion and agonizes over whether he should continue to pay tithing or let his family endure financial struggles. Although Townsend’s prose is sharp, clear, and easy to read, and his characters are well rendered, some of the stories don’t “reveal the inner turmoil of LDS life,” as the author claims. At times, readers will have trouble identifying with the characters—in many cases, the turmoil and chaos of their lives feels far too muted.

Reviewed on 01/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Cold Winter Rain

Steven P. Gregory. Oak Mountain Press, $14.95 paper (225p) ISBN 978-0-9859928-1-1

Attorney Gregory utilizes a legal background to create a complex and suspenseful slice of hard-boiled noir that honors without imitating the stylistic and thematic influences of Dashiell Hammett. Eschewing over-simplistic views of morality, the characters here wade through a dark ambiguity mirrored by bleak atmosphere, descending into homicide and emotional bankruptcy. In Birmingham, Ala., Slate, the cynical but decent lawyer-investigator struggling with the deaths of his wife and son, agrees to locate attorney Don Kramer’s daughter, Kristina, unwittingly accepting an invitation into conspiracy and cover-ups. When a murdered man is discovered with Slate’s business card, police captain Leon Grubbs casts an eye on our hard-luck hero and a routine missing person’s case becomes a race against the clock and possibly the New Orleans mob. Slate is not a mere parody of classic genre detectives. Rather, his personality is convincing and complex, skillfully revealed without slowing the action-driven plot. Clean and sharp prose delivers maximum emotional effect, and the dialogue rings true. Though he doesn’t bring anything particularly new to the genre, Slate is nevertheless destined to become a series character welcomed by aficionados of John D. MacDonald and Raymond Chandler.

Reviewed on 01/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Asperger Sunset

Carol Shay Hornung. CreateSpace, $14.95 paper (268p) ISBN 978-1-4827-3577-2

Russ Dante is a middle-school math teacher who has always been a little bit odd—he has trouble interacting with people, finds it difficult to recognize faces, and prefers sketching to human contact. But, his quiet life is disrupted when he witnesses a murder in his local park—and is then chased by the knife-wielding killer. Russ checks himself into a mental health facility to protect himself from the killer, and turns to sister Misty for help. Stress doesn’t help Russ—who is eventually diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome—communicate with the police, and soon he begins to suspect that the murder may be part of a larger conspiracy. Hornung’s novel offers fascinating insight into Asperger’s, but as a murder mystery it sometimes falls flat. Fans of the genre will find that some of the plot details are tenuous at best. Still, readers will find Russ a likable and fully realized character, and the author’s depiction of a man with Asperger’s realistic and intriguing.

Reviewed on 01/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Anvil of God: Book One of the Carolingian Chronicles

J. Boyce Gleason. iUniverse, $33.95 hardcover (440p) ISBN 978-1-4759-9020-1

Gleason’s gripping historical novel—the first volume in his Carolingian Chronicles—offers readers a vivid mix of bloody battles, intriguing characters, and plenty of pagan sex rites. The year is 741, and Charles “The Hammer” Martel, the Frankish general and mayor of the palace who held off the Saracens and preserved Christianity in Western Europe, is on his deathbed. In the palace at Quierzy (located in modern-day France), the politicking around succession is laden with intrigue, which Gleason makes lively and entertaining, while giving considerable space and full character development to the women who walk the corridors of power. Trudi, Charles’s daughter, embraces paganism, while her brothers grapple with the role of the church in a reconstituted kingdom. As the saga unfolds, Trudi takes flight to avoid a forced marriage of political convenience, while her brothers battle each other in the skillfully described siege of the city of Laon. As both stories move toward their exciting conclusions, the mix of history, action, drama, and vigorous doses of sex makes this debut historical novel a page-turner.

Reviewed on 01/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Fiction

H Anonymous. Jason Tanamor. Zoiks! Online Books, $12.95 paper (210p) ISBN 978-1-4348-3828-5

This novel from Tanamor is a winning jumble of the gritty, the raw, and the grotesque. Set in a prison, the book follows three inmates—Unknown (in for fraud), Ambiguous (in for murder), and Stud (in for reasons unknown)—as they communicate through the building’s plumbing system, sharing stories and attempting to outdo each other with tales both shocking and bizarre. While the novel is slow going at first, readers who stick around will find the author soon hits his stride. Tanamor writes like a deformed love child of Chuck Palahniuk and Charles Bukowski who has finally discovered its own voice—and the result is a rousing novel that will confuse just as often as it entertains. This is a well-crafted piece of experimental, voyeuristic fiction from a promising writer with lots of potential.

Reviewed on 01/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Unveiling

S. Woffington. Red Summit, $11.69 paper (364pp) ISBN 978-0-615-76924-0

Woffington’s novel follows 20-year-old Sara Al’Khutban, a contemporary Saudi Arabian woman loyal to her family heritage but interested in pursuing an art career. When Sara removes her veil in public to allow her to see what she’s sketching more clearly, her horrified father, Abdullah, has her American art teacher, Lulu Castalia, deported and pressures Sara to marry. Sara responds by escaping to America—a decision that only compounds her troubles. As Sara and Abdullah wrestle with the results of their choices, Sara comes to realize that her artistic leanings and religious faith are not mutually exclusive. Although Woffington offers up well-developed characters, her narrative drags at times, while the novel’s resolution descends into melodrama. Additionally, the somewhat saccharine ending and superficial comparisons of Western and Saudi cultures will not resonate with readers.

Reviewed on 01/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Golden Apple

Faerl Marie. CreateSpace, $8.99 paper (165p) ISBN 978-1-4936-6058-2

Poppy Parker has an idyllic life until her husband Josh dies in a car accident. Still reeling from his death almost a year later, Poppy resolves to leave her home in Alpharetta, Ga., and go to New York City to spend time with friends and start life anew. While in New York, Poppy reconnects with photographer Austin Bandy—a man who has loved her for years—but must try to heal the wounds of the past and open her heart to the possibility of a new relationship. Marie’s novel about a woman’s profound grief will fail to connect with readers because the author’s heroine rarely struggles, despite the death of her husband. Poppy is financially independent and thus free to pursue her passions with a wonderful man waiting in the wings. And while readers will identify with and understand Poppy’s efforts to reconcile her feelings for Josh and Austin, they won’t become fully engaged with her story because the conflict driving the narrative lacks potency.

Reviewed on 01/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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A Prayer for the Devil

Dale Allan. Emerald Book Company, $23.95 hardcover (320p) ISBN 978-1-937110-34-5

When his twin brother, Aaron; a politician named Brad Thompson; and Muslim reformist Ablaa Raboud are killed in a bombing at a political rally in Boston, handsome and humane Father Luke Miller decides to take matters into his own hands. The police are unsure about the intended target of the attack, and Miller’s investigation raises more questions than it answers. He defies warnings about his own safety and finds support from businessman and mobster Sal Bruno, homeless men John Daly and Blade, computer hacker Arnold, and Raboud’s sister. Allan’s taut thriller is well plotted, and the explication of the mystery and the many odd characters with whom Father Luke becomes involved will keep readers engaged and turning the pages. While the bombing drives the mystery at the heart of Allan’s book, it also serves as a vehicle for a somewhat surface exploration of the clash of Islam with Christianity and the West. Readers may find the characters lacking in emotional depth and some plot points far-fetched, but fans of the genre will enjoy this highly readable thriller with a final shocking revelation that seems to signal a sequel.

Reviewed on 01/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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