Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Book Review: Red Julie (An Olivia Miller Mystery Book 2) by J.A. Whiting

An Unusual Mix of Syrup and Gore

J.A. Whiting, the author of Red Julie (An Olivia Miller Mystery Book 2), has written books for at least four other series.  All of these other series have ‘cozy mystery’ in the title.  This series doesn’t.  And while the change in title might imply a clean break from the style and characters of a cozy, the book doesn’t quite achieve it.  It still has the syrup typical of the genre, e.g., “Olivia nodded as she slathered the jam on her scone and took a chomp out of it. She laughed and wiped her mouth with her napkin. 'Yum,' she managed.”  I’m not sure eating a scone is worth a chuckle in any other genre.  But it also has gore that no cozy would condone, with gruesome deaths, torture, and mutilation.  Yeah, no kidding.  I’m not saying the mixture is bad, but it’s…unusual.

The characters of Red Julie are quite likeable, although perhaps a bit stereotypic…or maybe, cozy-typic.  The men are sensitive, thoughtful, and for some reason, always want to cook something for Olivia to eat.  Olivia is smart and spunky.  But there are inconsistencies as well.  For example, at one point, Olivia is going to impersonate a police officer to get information.  Even if she isn’t in law school yet, she should know better.

The pacing is somewhat inconsistent, being fast during the scenes of violence, but not so much in the other three-quarters of the book.  Part of the reason is the repetition of clues.  The mumbled phrases, discovered papers, and overheard rumors that create uncertainty about the culprits are repeated a lot.  Also, the transition from action back to speculation disrupts the flow a bit.  After a high-speed chase in heavy traffic, including an escape that involved a last-minute, cut-across-lanes to a rest area ploy, the story nearly stops when Olivia passes it off as nothing, wondering if “…she misperceived that the car was following her.”  That’s a head scratcher of the type the author probably didn’t intend.

And finally, there’s the question that’s common to a lot of amateur sleuth novels:  why is this untrained, ill-prepared amateur is investigating rather than the authorities?  The answer – because the police won’t – seems a bit unbelievable after the brutal killing of a very well-to-do individual.  But its fiction, after all.

Overall, much of Red Julie reads like the too-good-to-be-true characters and dialog of a cozy.  Just don’t get too comfortable with it, because you never know when and how the next person will die.

Friday, February 23, 2018

In the Space of an Atom Named 2017 Wishing Shelf Book Awards Finalist

Pick up your copy at

The announcement comes less than three weeks after the Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition (EPIC) named In the Space of an Atom a finalist in their Suspense/Thriller category.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Book Review: An Ace and A Pair: A Dead Cold Mystery (Dead Cold Mysteries Book 1) by Blake Banner

An Enjoyable Police Procedural with a Few Convenient Discoveries

If you’re a fan of police procedurals, chances are you’ll enjoy An Ace and A Pair.  The story hits the ground running, with the ‘dinosaur’ of an NYPD detective, John Stone, partnered with attractive, but generally disliked Detective Carmen Dehan.  They’re relegated to cold cases, and after shuffling through boxes of them, Stone picks the ten-year old, Nelson Hernandez file with the well-reasoned justification of “This one always interested me.” 

Soon, the list of suspects from that gangland-style execution looks like a who’s who of the criminal world with the New Jersey Mob, a Chinese gang (the Triads), a Latino gang (the Angeles de Satanas), and one or more bent NYPD cops all making appearances.  As Stone and Dehan track down leads, it becomes apparent that someone believes the score still needs to be settled – their ‘persons of interest’ start to die.  It all ends with a finale that caught me by surprise…and I was sure I knew.

The downside to An Ace and A Pair is that Stone’s detective work involved some quite improbable deductive leaps.  For example, at one point the New York detective comes to the barren plains of Texas and finds an abandoned car that no one seems to have noticed in ten years.  Really?  A lot of his discoveries are passed off as old-fashioned detective work, but details aren’t given, making them seem much too convenient.  But I liked the concept of the old-school detective.  And as characters, Stone and Dehan worked, showing a mix of humor and begrudging admiration for each other.

Overall, you’ll need to accept some deductive leaps that might clear the Grand Canyon, but otherwise, it’s a fast and enjoyable read.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Book Review: The Amazon Code (Harvey Bennett Thrillers Book 2) by Nick Thacker

An Action-Packed Adventure…But Psychics?

At its heart, The Amazon Code is action/adventure, with all the extreme feats and unlikely events that this genre implies.  Set in the Amazon (obviously), it becomes a veritable catalog of the gruesome ways someone might die in that world – hostile natives, vicious creatures, unforgiving habitat.  Then, add to that mix a shadowy and utterly ruthless organization committed to your demise and the stage is set for some hair-raising action.

The potential reader should view this book’s listed genre with skepticism, in my opinion.  On Amazon (the online store, not the region), the book is listed as Psychics, as well as Action & Adventure.  I don’t get it.  With the references to neuroscience, as well as the author’s synopsis mentioning “emerging science,” I was thinking technothriller.  For example, the clues that drive our protagonist, Harvey “Ben” Bennett, to the Amazon come from fMRI-based videos of people dreaming, a capability that appears close at hand.  But perhaps the author went with the psychic category because the link to science is weak with more hand-waving in crucial places (how did they get that map?) and niggling errors (e.g., the incorrect definition of fMRI) than one would hope.

The second precautionary note for potential readers is that you may want to start with book 1 – always a good idea, but maybe more so for this series, because you are joining an on-going story.  Ben is single-mindedly pursuing a ruthless organization he faced in book 1, even though he’s totally unsuited to the task.  He’s a park ranger.  The villains are part of a clandestine group unencumbered by ethics and at ease with the use of extreme violence.  Hopefully, his obsession is explained in the first book, because the attempt to attribute it to his personality in this book just doesn’t work (“Ben was just being Ben — stubborn, boorish, and reclusive”).  Lots of people share those traits, but none of them go to the Amazon based on a rumor, untrained and unprepared, hoping to form a rag-tag team with the right mix of skills to win the day.  Ben, however, does.  It’s good suspense, but a bit inexplicable even for action/adventure.

The Amazon Code also has the somewhat unusual distinction of being loaded with action – chases, gun fights, grisly deaths – and yet, it feels slow.  Part of the reason is that chapters are written from the perspective of different characters, so with each change in point of view, the reader gets another recounting of the hopelessness of their situation.  Additionally, each character recounts events from their lives in general.  The technique can greatly aid character development, but it’s overused and sometimes makes little sense.  I was never sure, for example, how either Ben or Julie saw their relationship, beyond the fact that they thought it was something they couldn’t escape (“Hours of arguing and slamming doors had taught her that there was nothing that could force them apart, except, ironically, death”).  Is that supposed to be romantic?

So, for the reader who can suspend reality a bit and who doesn’t require crystalline characters, The Amazon Code can provide a decent rush of intense action…and a long list of ways to die in the Amazon.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Book Review: One Perfect Lie by Lisa Scottoline

A Review Without a Spoiler?  That’ll Be Tough But Here Goes…

Misdirection is at the heart of One Perfect Lie.  In fact, it’s so integral that to say much about the plot is difficult without making it a spoiler.  So, I won’t.  But there is something to be said about other elements, such as pacing (OK, but inconsistent for a couple of reasons) and character development (probably the best part).

This book was recommended to me by a friend because it’s a thriller that uses more than the usual array of fists, torture, guns, car chases, etc.  It also involves the use of psychology to control and manipulate others.  I did find that addition interesting, at least until the twist.  The thing about a twist is that everything that proceeds it should make sense after the ‘reveal.’ In other words, you should be able to reframe everything, but in this case, the psychological ploys no longer fit.  So, a potential plus became a bit of a letdown.

Character development was good.  The young men (mainly, members of a high school baseball team) and their moms felt real for the most part.  The mothers, in particular, grew within the story, and I applauded their efforts to turn their lives around.  The only downside was that after their changes in heart, they tended to act somewhat impulsively, calling, writing texts, and posting on social media without always having the facts.  Sometimes, they acted as if no one else was involved, but you can’t fault them for inaction.

Pacing of the story is OK, with the requisite chase scenes, deaths, and confrontations.  But it’s inconsistent for a couple of reasons.  First, there are extensive side stories about the moms and their sons (and a husband in one case).  But those tales are so protracted, it seemed like the title of the book should be, Three Women Get their Lives Together.  The other damper on pacing was the conclusion, which you expect to be fast and tense for a thriller.  Unfortunately, the end is so difficult to believe that eye-rolling is more likely than a knot-in-the-stomach.

Overall, One Perfect Lie has the action of a thriller, including some novel use of psychological ploys in addition to violence.  But the impact is limited because not all the action fits after the twist, the side stories take too much of the stage, and the finale nudges the story toward the fantasy genre.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

EPIC eBook Award Finalist

The Electronic Publishing Industry Coalition (EPIC) named In the Space of an Atom one of four finalists in the 2018 EPIC eBook Award Competition, Suspense/Thriller genre.

“EPIC's eBook Awards™, formerly known as EPPIE, began in 2000 and has become the oldest competition to recognize excellence in ePublished works...”