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And Every Word Is True

Gary McAvoy. Literati, $24.95 (300p) ISBN 978-0-9908376-0-2

McAvoy, a dealer of collectible manuscripts and other memorabilia, delivers an often captivating addendum to the Clutter family murder case, immortalized in Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. When Ron Nye, the grown son of police investigator Harold Nye, finds a box of his late father’s papers, he contacts McAvoy about selling the material. Beyond his interest in the correspondence between Capote and Nye, McAvoy’s curiosity spikes after the Kansas attorney general demands the papers, claiming them to be the property of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation. Challenges to the veracity of In Cold Blood are in no way new, but McAvoy offers fresh details relating to Capote’s embellishments and omissions, such as leaving out details concerning Bonnie and Herbert Clutter’s marriage and family reputation. McAvoy also explores the possibility that the killers, Richard “Dick” Hickock and Perry Smith, were hired, as suggested in handwritten documents by Hickock. Intriguingly, he also addresses the potential influence of law enforcement on Capote’s work: “a case could be made, then, that In Cold Blood was as much a product of the KBI’s guiding hand as it was Capote’s flowing pen.” McAvoy’s disclosures are provocative, if not earthshaking; most notably, McAvoy echoes Capote’s potent prose style and deep humanizing of his subjects, while broadening the conversation about truth, intention, and narrative representation. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 12/14/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Legendary Duke: Put Up Your Dukes, Book 2

Margaret Locke. Locked on Love, $15.99 trade paper (395p) ISBN 978-1-946553-05-8

Locke follows her nearly flawless series opener with a too-clever-by-half fusion of Regency romance and Arthurian legend, specifically the story of Gawain and the Green Knight. After growing up in Italy, Gavin Knight returns to England to claim his inheritance as Duke of Cortleon. He’s a formidable fighter and determined to personally avenge the murder of his father. Marriage is the last thing on his mind. In a diverting contrivance, his plan for revenge begins to waver when he lays eyes on Lady Elinor “Nelle” Greene. It’s a venial departure from the legend, but it works. Due to her family’s diminished circumstances, headstrong, independent Nelle must marry for money. Feeling like a sacrificial lamb, she agrees to wed a much older man. Then she meets Gavin, and both must choose between duty and love. Forgiving the 21st-century dialogue may be a challenge for purists, but the story is genuine romance. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 12/14/2018 | Details & Permalink

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A Printer’s Choice

W.L. Patenaude. Izzard Ink, $27.95 e-book (334p) ISBN 978-1-64228-007-4

Theologian Patenaude’s masterful debut novel tells a gripping story of the near future. In 2088, life in outer space is now a reality thanks to advanced 3-D printing technology. A seemingly orderly world is shattered by the news of outer space’s first homicide. The victim is a Catholic priest, leading to much speculation about both the priest’s reasons for going up to atheistic outer space and the suspected murderer’s motives. With political stability threatened, the Vatican, still powerful on a war-torn, environmentally damaged Earth, sends a parish priest and former Marine, Father John McClellan, to investigate. McClellan’s experience with 3-D printers may be the key to solving the mystery. This is a superb morality tale in which the power of free will and the implications of making good choices are carefully woven together. Patenaude’s take on the possibilities of technology is inventive and in line with contemporary science, and his work truly shines as a nuanced, character-driven drama. This work is a must-read for those who enjoy thought-provoking, challenging speculative fiction. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 12/14/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Celtic Knot

Ann Shortell. Friesen, $26.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-5255-2090-7

Shortell constructs her gripping historical novel on the bones of an actual incident: the murder of Thomas D’Arcy McGee, a staunch supporter of Canadian nationhood and the subsequent hanging of Irish immigrant Patrick James Whelan, who professed his innocence of the crime to the end. Set mainly in Ottawa in 1868, the story is told with brio by 15-year-old Clara Swift, who describes herself as an “Irish girl, British subject and a Canadian all 21 months we’ve had a country.” When Clara, McGee’s servant, hears a gunshot outside the door of their boarding house, she opens the door to find McGee dead. Suspicion immediately falls on members of the Fenian brotherhood, who considered the outspoken McGee to be a traitor to their cause. The authorities, keen to find the culprit, hastily settle on Whelan. Clara, however, is not convinced of his guilt. Shortell vividly conveys the atmosphere that surrounded the murder and examines the profound impact that McGee’s death had on the development of the fledgling nation. This is a lively and fascinating story, well told. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 12/14/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Bay State Skye

Janice S.C. Petrie. Seatales Publishing Co., $14.99 trade paper (298p) ISBN 978-0-9705510-4-7

Petrie’s entertaining novel is based on the real story of the Bay State Skye, a ship found floating empty, its crew lost to the sea, near Gloucester, Mass. In August 1990, Brothers Jimmy and Murph Sweeney are headed to port aboard their lobster boat when they come across the Bay State Skye, awkwardly circling outside the Gloucester breakwater. When they pull alongside, they find that its owner and crew are nowhere to be found, presumed lost at sea. The Sweeneys also note that the boat had been dragging inside state limits, which is illegal, and has gathered hundreds of pounds more than the legal limit of 100 pounds of lobster. The illegal fishing has also damaged the equipment of lobsterman Johnny Higgins, who could be financially devastated by the loss, but it helps to unite his community in a fund-raiser for him. The fish and lobster catch from the Bay State Skye is brought to market, but when bouts of bad luck and unfortunate events follow various transactions, including sales losses due to shipping accidents, the fisherman begin to believe the catch is cursed. Petrie’s novel includes fascinating details about both the fishing industry and market; readers will find themselves caught up in the stormy excitement and the tantalizing touch of mystery. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 12/14/2018 | 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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American Tango

Jennifer Vandever. Melograno, $14 trade paper (264p) ISBN 978-0-9966795-2-7

In her enjoyable second novel, Vandever cleverly meshes strikingly eccentric characters with everyday situations. Rosalind Plumley, a 37-year-old Oregonian, is an artist trapped in a retail job that caters to snobby hipsters. She’s the middle child in a bohemian family and married to a sweet but sad man who has a budding marijuana addiction. Amid her failing marriage and struggles with her neurotic family, Rosalind fantasizes about escaping her life and moving to Buenos Aires. She signs up for a tango class in preparation for her imagined future, and what follows is a story about love and reevaluating your dreams when reality comes crashing down. Rosalind can be amusingly gloomy and the story is seasoned with salty wit—she describes a pair of shoes as appearing to have been “dipped in the shimmery gold powder used to kill off a Bond girl,” and when her liberal mother considers a late-in-life romance, the greatest drawback is that the man voted for Romney. Vandever (The Brontë Project) writes smart, interesting characters who gradually mature in believable ways. Perceptive, bittersweet, and sometimes darkly funny, this is light enough for a quick read, yet it has enough depth to leave a satisfying impression. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/04/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Tough Girl: An Olympian’s Journey

Carolyn Wood. White Pine Press (Oregon), $18 paper (306p) ISBN 978-0-9977828-0-6

In this scattered debut work, written after hiking the Camino de Santiago, Wood reflects on the struggles of youth as the root of her courage and strength necessary to push on in later life. Wood, a competitive swimmer in her early years, attempts to relate a life of hard lessons that got her to the 1960 Junior Olympics in Rome and helped her through adolescence in the mid-1960s. However, while Wood thinks fondly of her time in the pool, swimming feels like something she did in between more important life happenings. Wood depicts herself in turn as a daughter in a strained relationship with a mother recovering from cancer, an athlete constantly pushing to be and do better, a lesbian finding comfort in her own sexuality, and a middle-aged woman looking to the next phase of life. Making stops at every trying life obstacle from childhood to late adulthood, she introduces so many charged elements that the novel feels unsure of which story it is trying to tell. The sections on swimming, her mother, and her lesbianism are thought provoking, but this is mostly an aimless journey in the present while dipping into the past, with a number of rhetorical questions that read as though she’s trying to figure out her life as she’s writing it. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 11/04/2016 | Details & Permalink

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