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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Fade To Black

Fade to Black (The Grobnagger Chronicles #1)Fade to Black by Tim McBain
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**Fade To Black** by *L.T. Vargus and Tim McBain*: The Grobnagger Chronicles #1.

First, there's someone who appears to be just an ordinary kind of guy, but he gets seizures in which he dreams he's hanging upside down in an alley with a rope attached to his foot and no idea how to get himself out of this position much less return to his real life where he doesn't have to undo knots and figure out how to get to the ground without breaking a limb or falling on his head. Once he's met this challenge and overcome it, he is not prepared for what's next which is a brute who begins chasing him down this alley with the sole intention of strangling him to death. After repeating this scenario a number of times, our hero, Jeff Grobnagger, does get better with the knots and the running away, but he still ends up dead until the seizure ends and he returns to the present. Then the story expands to include a new found friend named Glenn who has a cat with digestive problems and a missing daughter. At first Jeff is somewhat wary of Glenn, but after Glenn takes Jeff home and cooks him some of the best food he's ever tasted, Jeff starts to become less paranoid about what Glenn's motives might be.

There is more to Glenn than meets the eye, however. He does have an agenda of his own concerning a missing daughter, and he does know more about the dreams Jeff has during the seizures than he admits to Jeff at first. However, neither Jeff nor Glenn could possibly prepare themselves for some of the occasions they experience together that defy logical explanation. There are very few dull moments once these two men hook up and begin meeting others who appear to have some stake in what Jeff's dreams are all about. The most entertaining parts for me were when Jeff gave his take on either what was happening at the moment or what had previously happened. I laughed out loud more than once at the way in which Jeff perceives his situations and circumstances, even when he's being strangled. Which is why the pages flew by and I didn't want to stop reading until I had all the answers to all the questions -- or at least the answers the authors were willing to give up in this, the first book of Jeff Grobnagger.

The last third of the book was the best part for me. That's when we got to see who Jeff Grobnagger is all about. It was obvious to me that the authors gave a lot of thought to each of the main characters we came to know. There was a lot of humor in this book, but as it came to a close, there was also a lot of heart. There is a maturity in the writing that made me stop and think about what I'd read more than once. There were also a couple surprises I never saw coming. Vargus and McBain have written something quite unique, and I highly recommend it to those who like to read books a little out of the mainstream and who appreciate a fresh look at material that really hasn't been done quite like this before. I'm looking forward to the next installment of the Grobnagger Chronicles as well as anything else these talented writers give us. I'm telling everyone I know about this book, and not only because I thought it was such a good read. It's because it's fun to say Grobnagger over and over again!

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Family by Caroline Leavitt

FamilyFamily by Caroline Leavitt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received an ARC from NetGalley for **Family** by *Caroline Leavitt* in exchange for an honest review. Caroline Leavitt has also written **Into Thin Air** which is what prompted me to read **Family**.

This story begins with Nick Austen in the 1950's when his family was intact, and life seemed perfect. Tom and Helen, Nick's parents treated Nick a bit differently from the way his friends' parents treated them. There were no harsh restrictions even so far as when he was expected home for dinner. He went in when he wanted to. If dinner was still there on the table and hot, he could eat. If it wasn't available any longer, he was free to make himself a sandwich. He chose his own clothing. He also decided on his own punishments. Even though there were not many restrictions, there were still rules, and if he broke them it was up to him to decide what his punishment should be. He always chose something that truly was a punishment for him. He was growing up to be strong and proud, and he loved his parents dearly.

Tom found a stray yellow cat and brought it home for Nick. However, Tom was the only person the cat seemed to like. Tom was not happy with his job, and he often talked about finding something else. He applied for a job in California, and he got an interview. The day the family was supposed to leave for California, the cat disappeared, and no one could find it in the house. Tom and Helen decided to go out looking and told Nick to stay at home in case the cat showed up there. The cat did not show up. Instead two policemen came to the door to tell Nick that both his parents had been run down by a car while standing on the side of the road. Both of them had been killed.

Nick became a ward of the state, and he did the rest of his growing up in institutional surroundings. He was never the same boy after that. When he was grown, had a job of his own, and on his way to a career in being a book salesman, he quite by accident met Dore. They met because Dore was blind as a bat without her glasses, and they literally ran into each other as Dore was groping her way down a hall trying to get to a spare pair of glasses. Dore was a school teacher, and Nick just happened to be in that same school, meeting with the librarian hoping to get a book order. As it turned out the librarian gave Nick quite a large book order, so Nick was feeling on top of the world and wanted to see more of Dore. She was a little reluctant at first, but eventually she and Nick became an item. They decided to live together, and Nick thought it would be a good idea to live in a house trailer rather than rent an apartment Or wait until they could buy a house. When Dore became pregnant, they were delighted, but the issue of marriage was off the table. Dore did not want to marry Nick just because she was pregnant, so the issue was not discussed further. Dore's parents were horrified that their daughter was "living in sin" AND on top of that, residing in a trailer park with no intention of moving.

Once again, life was good for Nick. He and Dore were crazy about each other; neither of them had any need to associate with anyone besides each other. Dore had a baby girl who both she and Nick loved beyond all else. And then tragedy struck again, and again, there seemed to be no way for Nick to make it right or get around it. Again, life as he treasured it was no longer an option.

The story goes on from there to reveal what both Nick and Dore do to themselves and each other in an effort to keep going. Neither of them is particularly good at it, but they try and try some more. Caroline Leavitt has a way of putting the reader right into the minds of her characters. She reveals what turmoil each goes through, and as the reader, I could not put the book down. These characters took on a reality because their situations were so believable as possibilities for true to life circumstances. Leavitt makes this story brand new, and she continues to surprise with events I did not see coming.

I highly recommend **Family** to readers who enjoy reading about characters with depth, as well as very good stories that give the reader something to think about. There are more characters in the book than I have covered in this review, and they all have an impact to what happens in the end to Nick and Dore. It was a satisfying ending to a well thought out story, and worth every one of those 5 Stars.

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Sunday, August 3, 2014

Still Life In Brunswick Stew by Larissa Reinhart

Still Life in Brunswick Stew (A Cherry Tucker Mystery, #2)Still Life in Brunswick Stew by Larissa Reinhart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

**Still Life In Brunswick Stew** by *Larissa Reinhart*, a 5 Star rated mystery if ever there was one, is the second book in the **Cherry Tucker** mystery series. Move over Stephanie Plum, because there's another interesting and outrageous character on the bookshelves, and she's every bit as entertaining as Stephanie ever has been.

Cherry Tucker comes from Halo, Georgia, which is close to Sidewinder, Georgia, home of the popular Annual Sidewinder Brunswick Stew Cook-Off, an event that becomes bigger each year drawing people from states away to sample the delicious variations on Brunswick Stew as prepared by locals who view this event as their yearly money-maker. Cherry Tucker is an artist. She and her friend Eloise Parker, who makes Raku pottery, have teamed up with an art booth at the Cook-
Off, hoping to sell their handmade wares. Both women are talented in their respective fields, but it's hard to keep their kind of business going in such a small town. Both women need a big name to recognize them and give them the break they need to progress.

Eloise has Crohn's Disease, but that doesn't stop her from liberally sampling the stew at the cook-off since lately she seems to have her disease under control. Her boyfriend, Griffin Ward, wants to take credit for her improvement since he's been giving her doses of his homemade liquid drink most folks agree looks very much like pond scum. Cherry Tucker gives him no credit at all, but then she doesn't like Griffin much since she found out he may be physically abusing Eloise. After eating 6 cups of the Brunswick Stew, Eloise becomes very ill, is taken to the hospital, and within a short time, she dies. At first her disease is blamed, but when lots of other people from the Cook-Off become sick as well, it is discovered that the stew may be at fault for all the sick people. One of the cooks is in a coma as a result of eating the stew which was prepared by him and his family's business. Eloise Parker's father wants answers for why his daughter died, and Cherry is right behind him with her amateur sleuthing skills to get to the bottom of what killed her friend.

Cherry Tucker is a hoot. Just give her a sundress or a pair of flip flops, and she will alter these simple items into fancy going-out-on-the-town wardrobe items. True, not everyone understands Cherry's fashion vision, but that doesn't concern her. She's too busy flashing her panties during an awkward, unplanned front roll-over in church, or battling her grandfather's goat Tater, or trying to figure out what turned her lips to mush when she kisses Luke, or helping poor souls like Hunter Adams, or trying to get information out of her Uncle Will, the town sheriff, or trying to keep track of what may be illegal goings on at the Bear's gorgeous mansion. There's so many well developed characters, it's hard to list them all. Suffice it to say, Larissa Reinhart has a knack for writing people who keep readers entertained and wanting more.

Eventually the mystery behind who was responsible for killing and/or making people sick with food poisoning is solved, but not before we're given more information advancing the stories of key characters, and prompting us to read the next Cherry Tucker Mystery in the series. This is why I've rated **Still Life In Brunswick Stew** with 5 stars. It's a keeper!

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Friday, July 25, 2014

Calling by Joe Samuel Starnes

CallingCalling by Joe Samuel Starnes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a free ARC of **Calling** by *Joe Samuel Starnes* from in exchange for an honest review. The publisher of this book, *Open Road Media*, caught my attention these past few months because of the high quality of new books they are publishing as well as the republication of some iconic past authors whose work should not be forgotten.

It has been my experience in going to the doctor's office, and yes, even on a bus, that someone who is lonely or just simply obnoxious, will get the seat next to me and begin to talk. I always have a book open in my lap to discourage this, but there are some who refuse to notice that I'm trying to read. I won't answer questions with more than a grunt or ignore the speaker completely, but this never stops the truly determined conversationalist who somehow believes that it's my burning passion to know about and even see an appendix scar, or hear about her daughter's sex life. So, I completely understand the annoyance Timber Goodman feels when Reverend Ezekiel Blizzard Jr gets on the same bus, and immediately begins to tell Timber the story of his life. In fact, Zeke seems to believe it is Timber's obligation to hear this story no mater what he does to discourage the telling of it.

To sweeten the temptation for Timber to listen, Rev Zeke offers him some of his bottle of Jim Beam, and eventually, as we knew it would, this weakens Timber's resolve. Throughout Arizona, Zeke relates the story of his growing up under the strict hand of his father. When Zeke left home, his mother sobbed and was inconsolable; later Zeke came to believe she was afraid to live by herself with her husband. When Zeke came home for Christmas, he was informed that his mother had died 3 weeks prior, and his father was vague on all the details including why he never notified Zeke of her passing. This incident cut Zeke loose from any ties he may have had with his father or the town where he was raised.

While Zeke is relating his story, Timber begins remembering incidents from his own past and begins to see where he and Zeke share a few things in common. Both were raised in strong religious backgrounds, although Zeke became much more involved in the religious life by becoming a minister himself. Timber was more indifferent to the preaching and never had a call to Jesus moment like Zeke did. Yet he knew the kinds of reactions Zeke talked about when he spoke of what religion did for him. The storytelling in this section was first rate. I became more and more interested in where this was going. When Zeke got on the bus, it was obvious he had had some sort of physical encounter because he was wearing all the marks of a struggle or beating. He showed Timber that he carried a Bowie knife with him, and he left no doubt that he knew how to use it.
So, how does a man of God wind up on a bus going across the country with a life story that is beginning to sound far from innocent or religious?

That's where Starnes begins to inform us of more of the truth about both Zeke and Timber. There are surprises in store, and they are somewhat startling given what we think we know about these two men so far. While religion does play a part in both men's lives, it's interesting to see how it's used to rationalize questionable behavior into something a little more palatable or even to squeeze sympathy where it has no place at all. I think **Calling** is about how slick the most moral high ground becomes with the right person calling the shots and keeping the "flock" who look to them for guidance from catching on to what's at stake.

For me, **Calling** had a very satisfying ending. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to read a well told story with a few ideas to ponder when finished. This book would be a good choice for book clubs.

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Friday, June 27, 2014

SarA's Game by Ernie Lindsey

Sara's GameSara's Game by Ernie Lindsey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a copy of **Sara's Game** by *Ernie Lindsey* from for which I "tipped the author".

Up until two years ago Sara had a very good life. Then, without any warning, her husband, Brian, vanished from the face of the earth. An extensive search was performed, but no reason for his disappearance ever surfaced. He was simply gone.

He left behind a wife, Sara, and 3 young children, 2 girls and a boy. After two years, Sara managed to put together a life for the children and her, but it is not easy raising three young children by herself and holding down a full time job. However, Sara is nothing if not resourceful. She works in marketing for a company called Lite Pulse which makes computer games. She is very good at her job and has worked her way up in the company at a pretty rapid pace. Of course there are times when she misses her husband and feels frustrated that he has never been found. There are also times she resents his not being there to help with family responsibilities. But over all, Sara has managed to accept what she cannot change and in that frame of mind, she balances her job and her family obligations very well.

That is, until the day that started off like any other day when Sara got to work and received a phone call from her son's school. The children had been playing hide-and-seek, and when they had finished the game, Jacob, Sara's son, was nowhere to be found. No one wanted to panic just yet. It had happened once before when Sara and the children were playing this game at home, and when everyone was ready to stop, Jacob couldn't be found. He had discovered a great hiding place and fell asleep waiting for someone to notice him. He finally turned up when one of his sisters stepped on him. Sara wanted to believe this current incident was just history repeating itself. Until her daughters' school called to say that both her girls were missing. The class had gone to an ice cream shop to celebrate the end of school, but when attendance was taken before returning to the school, neither of the girls was there. Sara immediately left work to go to the schools to straighten all of this out. When she got to her car, she found a note on her windshield that said, "Are You Ready To Play The Game?" This was how Sara was led to the conclusion that her children, all three of them, had been kidnapped.

From that point on, whoever was responsible for abducting the children leads Sara on an exhausting and frustrating journey with clues she has to solve and orders she has to follow if she ever wants to see her children alive again. The first task is designed to humiliate Sara as much as possible. It was hard to imagine what Sara had to be thinking and feeling as she was forced to decide whether she would allow herself to be humiliated in that fashion, and from that point on, the tension builds. It is obvious that the goal of the person who has Sara's children is to punish her severely for something she has done in the past. There is one very obvious person who could be the one behind this scheme, but realistically, it's a stretch to think that this person would go to such lengths and harbor such extreme hatred for Sarah to hatch a plan like this one. However, both Sara and the police detectives on the case agree that the one person they have in mind must be the culprit.

From the time Sara becomes aware her children are missing, the action on this story never lets up; in fact, it only intensifies with each additional chapter or revelation. Lindsey has written a very tense, believable story about testing a woman's endurance and her love for her children far beyond what any mother expects to encounter in raising her children. Fortunately for readers who enjoyed reading about Sara and her family, Lindsey has written two more books featuring these people. I immediately bought both of them. I look forward to reading more from Lindsey in the future. He certainly has a gift for keeping readers on the edge of our seats and delivering first rate storytelling.

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Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Swollen Red Sun by Matthew McBride

A Swollen Red SunA Swollen Red Sun by Matthew McBride
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received an ARC from Open Integrated Media (Mysterious Press, Inc) for **A Swollen Red Sun** by *Matthew McBride* in exchange for an unbiased review. My thanks to Open Road Media for allowing me to read and review this book.

The Author, *Matthew McBride*, begins his book with a note to the readers, telling us that the places he's described in the book are all real. He also says that Gasconade County was once considered the methamphetamine capital of the world. In spite of that, many hardworking, honest people live there. So do a few degenerates. It's the degerates McBride writes about, and that's pure gold for his readers, because to my way of thinking, those degenerates make for the best stories.

The story begins with Deputy Sheriff Dale Everett Banks and Deputy Bo Hastings at Jerry Dean Skaggs' (ever notice the degerates are often named Skaggs?) trailer. Jerry Dean is on parole for shooting a bald eagle, and Banks means to take him back to jail. Jerry Dean is a meth-head and will not go easily. When Banks and Hastings knock the trailer door down, they find evidence that Jerry Dean has been cooking meth which, of course, would be a parole violation, and all the more reason to put Jerry Dean back behind bars.

It's Banks who is the constant presence in this story, and he is very clear about what his role in life is to be: go home alive to his wife and kids. Not that he doesn't do his job effectively; he just won't be shot by "some tweaker". The trick is, can he make it to the end of the book alive when there are some pretty hardnosed bad guys trying to outsmart the law at every corner.

Some of the gang eager for the law to go away are: Reverend Butch Pogue who can spend a whole afternoon butchering horses because he prefers horse meat to any other; Junior, Reverend Pogue's son who is roughly 5 cupcakes short of a baker's dozen; Jackson Brandt, who works with Jerry Dean Skaggs in whatever capacity is needed, but who sometimes seems reluctant to follow an outlaw's path; and Olen Brandt, an 81 year old rancher whose body is letting him down lately. There's also Reverend Pogue's new wife, a whole lot of money, and a hiding place no one in his or her right mind would guess.

McBride has brought together a very interesting bunch of people and then let them have at it. For me, this was a 5 stars novel, and I look forward to what else McBride can do. Keep those degenerates coming!

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The City by Dean Kontz

The CityThe City by Dean Koontz
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received an ARC for **The City** by *Dean Koontz* from in exchange for an honest review.

When **The City** begins, Jonah Ellington Basie Hines Eldridge Wilson Hampton Armstrong Kirk is 9 years old. When he was 8, he was visited by a woman he called *Pearl* who told him she was The City, by which she implied she was familiar with all the ways in which the people of this particular City interact with each other. She was to visit Jonah several times throughout the story, and each visit centered around a significant incident in Jonah's life. At least part of her point seemed to be that for every bad person who exists within The City, there are many, many more who do not subscribe to the kind of bad behavior and destructive influence exhibited by the few.

Jonah has a very close relationship with his mother and his grandfather. His father is no longer a factor in the family, although the man does pose a threatening presence now and then. Jonah knows enough about his father to understand he is someone to be feared. Jonah also develops relationship with Mr Yoshioka, another tenant in the building where Jonah lives; Malcom, a boy Jonah's age; Malcom's sister; and Mrs Lorenzo, also a tenant in Jonah's building. Once these people have all become acquainted, Koontz throws everything from terrorism to memories of World War II to Sophie Tucker at them to move the story along. This is where Koontz's talent for storytelling is most obvious. Never mind that the incidents he creates often have nothing to do with each other and fracture the story rather than give it any sense of cohesion. So long as Jonah is the focal point for all the action, Koontz keeps grinding out new situations to add to the story.

The biggest problem I have with Koontz's books is his inability to be original. His ideas, for the most part, come from someone else's creativity. At first, Koontz just wrote as a Stephen King wannabe; now he has picked up on an idea prominent in someone else's story and tried to make it his own. He didn't disappoint me in this book. There is an object featured in this story which comes right out of another very successful, very popular storyline used elsewhere. After all the books Koontz has under his belt, I think it's pathetic that he continues to rely on this ruse. That is why I continue to read Koont's books. I want to see what he has copied this time. As I said, he never disappoints.

I would recommend this book to Koontz's many hardcore fans because they will probably enjoy his latest attempt to throw everything at the wall and see what sticks. To everyone else out there who thinks like I do, stick with the master... Read King.

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