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Designed to Kill

Author: Chester D. Campbell
Genre: Mystery
Reviewed by Elizabeth K. Burton

542This sophomore mystery novel has a good many things to recommend it, not the least of which is the main character. Greg McKenzie is refreshing in an era when the standard for mysteries seems to be to burden the main characters with as many neuroses and life crises as possible. McKenzie’s deepest angst is his effort to quit smoking.

Mr. Campbell’s McKenzie is a retired Air Force investigator who is finding retirement just a bit of a bore. Well, except for that little incident in Israel that left his wife with a bad shoulder, but that was a tale for another time.

In this installment, McKenzie is asked by a close friend to look into the apparent suicide of the friend’s son, an up-and-coming young engineer-architect who seemed to be on the way to fame and fortune. Until a balcony on a building he designed collapsed, killing several people. It was despondency over that, according to the local constabulary on Perdido Key, that led him to shoot himself.

But neither Greg McKenzie nor the young man’s family can believe he would have reacted that way. It wasn’t his style. So McKenzie and his wife Jill travel to their own condo on the key, where the deceased had been living, to see what can be learned. The more they learn, the more dangerous life becomes.

This book seems more a logic puzzle than a mystery as one reads—until the end. That’s just one of the things that makes it a sure-fire delight for anyone who likes lots of suspense and characters who are a lot like the people next door. There’s a wonderful solidity in both Greg and Jill, a constant sense that you’ve actually met them somewhere and just can’t recall where it was. Unlike many cozies, which this technically is, the reader has no difficulty envisioning Greg confronting criminals and recalcitrant witnesses. These are honest, down-to-earth, church-going folks who just happen to end up in messes most people don’t—and who handle it as one suspects they handle any other mess, with steady confidence and practical wisdom.

Boomers in particular are going to enjoy this book, simply because Greg and Jill are fellow travelers whose life experiences we can share because we were there. That, however, needn’t preclude younger readers from enjoying the book, which is filled with vivid and creative imagery as well as demonstrating superb writing skills. Meet the McKenzies—you’ll be better for the experience.


May 28, 2004 in Mystery | Permalink | Comments (0)

Eve Missing

Author: Ralph Pezzullo
Genre: Mystery
Reviewed by Dale Stoyer

540Ralph Pezzullo's first P.I. novel is a quickly paced, hard-edged mystery served with heaping portions of sex and action.

Unlike other disgraced ex-cop protagonists, we get more than hints about how Anthony "Smokey" Annicelli got that way. The book opens with a frank account of Smokey's last days on the force and the last call he took with his partner Wolf. When the dust settles he has been squeezed out of the force under an umbrella of doubt and suspicion. The book fast-forwards a few months to a different Annicelli living on his pension and feeling sorry for himself. He takes a friend's advice and calls the mysterious and well-connected Sabino Goldstick who helps start the healing process.

Through Sabino, Smokey meets a troubled girl named Lina and helps put her life back on track, keeping in touch with her over the years as she blossoms into a sought after fashion model. The book fast- forwards another 10 years, and Lina calls Smokey when her friend, Eve, disappears.

It turns out that Eve started out on the street as Angela Bowman and was taken in by Danielle Giroux on a 'rescue-the-street-urchin' whim. In a year and a half Danielle is able to use her connections to help launch Eve's own modeling career. Then Eve walked out leaving nothing but questions in her wake.

Annicelli's investigation leads him on a tangled trail of love gone wrong. Almost every character he encounters is involved with at least two lovers, which complicates his task. Smokey becomes sexually entangled with most of the women he encounters along the way, but loses his objectivity when he becomes emotionally involved with Danielle. Not long after he begins to suspect that Eve is not just missing, but in fact may be dead, Lina wants him off the case.

Smokey has no trouble finding clues, and isn't afraid to get physical if it will help get the information he needs. Pezzullo doesn't make his hero bulletproof, though, and the result is a refreshing take on the crusading P.I. This is a good first effort that sets the stage for an interesting series. There's plenty of action and sex, some interesting characters, a convoluted mystery and a memorable climax. Really the only flat note in the book comes early on, when Smokey heads to Florida for his daughter's pregnancy driven wedding. He spends a couple of days (and a whole chapter) playing Travis McGee to his friend Mel's Meyer on a booze soaked, sun-drenched boat trip to Bimini. At the end of it, he spends a quick page on his daughter's wedding and it's back to New York where the events from Florida have little effect on the rest of the story.

Ralph Pezzulo is an award winning playwright and a screenwriter who has even written for Miami Vice (which may explain the Florida excursion), so it is no surprise that the book is well written and entertaining. He has clearly set the stage for an ongoing series, and created some memorable characters, including Smokey himself. It's refreshing to see a protagonist forced to deal with the aftermath of being shot, in a business where that is a very real occupational hazard.


May 28, 2004 in Mystery | Permalink | Comments (0)

Silence Knight

Author: Irene Estep
Genre: Mystery
Reviewed by Kevin R. Tipple

541As a book reviewer, I try to get to all the books that I have agreed to review in a timely manner. Unfortunately, in the case of this very enjoyable novel, I failed. Through a combination of factors in and out of my control, I have had this book for nearly a year and have finally read and reviewed it. I apologize to the author and the publisher for taking so long with this novel.

As this novel opens, Claire Barlow is the sole support for her sister Maggie and her three-year-old niece. But financially and emotionally supporting them just got harder as Claire has suddenly been fired from her job by Vernon Carter. Emotionally and physically exhausted upon her arrival at home, the last thing she wants to do is go back out to the store for some sugar. Instead, she goes next door, where the new neighbors have moved in, to borrow a cup of sugar. She finds a woman barely alive, shot on the chest, in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor.

As the woman dies, she gasps out a few apparently meaningless words. Then Claire is grabbed by a man who asks, "Who sent you?" Stunned and shocked by what she has seen, she has no idea of what he is talking about or what has happened. He flees the house and takes the unwilling Claire with him, promising to kill her if she does not cooperate. They leave as the house explodes behind them. He believes she was sent to kill him and only managed to kill his handler. Despite her protests of innocence to the contrary, he forces her to drive the getaway car and go on the run with him.

What follows is a twisting tale of political corruption and ruthless killers as Claire and the stranger go on the run. As in other novels I have had the pleasure to read from this author, romance is a major component of the work. However, in this case, the mystery component is also paramount as the chase ensues and the two become united to survive as well as to solve the mystery. Slowly, as they hide on the run from those that want them dead, they learn of each other's backgrounds as well as developing a romantic relationship that may survive beyond the events depicted in this book. Along with character development and humor, this book is another fine novel by Irene Estep and not an easy one to put down.


May 28, 2004 in Mystery | Permalink | Comments (0)


Author: Ken Rand
Genre: Science Fiction
Reviewed by Tom Feller

548It must be hard to write a book like The Sands of Kalahari these days, because the author has to establish why the characters can't just whip out a mobile phone and call for help. Ken Rand gets around the problem by setting this survival novel on a desert planet fifty light years from the Earth and giving the main character plausible reasons why she has to think her way through problems rather than just relying on technology to keep her alive.

That main character is Anna Devlin, an elementary school teacher on a human colony on the planet Phoenix IV, where there is little rainfall but a breathable atmosphere. Her husband is Martin Devlin, administrator of this colony of 3,000 people. At the beginning of the book, she discovers that she is pregnant. She and Martin had conceived the child by what the book calls the old-fashioned method, sex rather than artificial insemination.

The future that Rand describes is technologically and scientifically very advanced. They have interstellar space travel, instantaneous communication across light years, nanotechnology, and other conveniences. Socially, on the other hand, this future is dystopian. Their world is divided into two classes. Anna and Martin are members of the upper class, called the Authority. Most of the colonists are from the lower class, called the Familia. Authorities are secular and materialistic, while the Familias are religious and dogmatic. When the Familias revolt, they force Anna and Martin to flee from the colony's largest settlement, a village of about 1,000 people called Tierra Natal.

Rand spends too many pages on their flight, because the story really doesn't begin until Anna is on her own in the desert, where the average daytime temperature reaches 120 degrees Fahrenheit. She can't call for help. First, the Familias have sabotaged the colony's communication systems. Second, there is no one left to help her. In the desert she learns to apply her own teachings of rational problem solving combined with the education needed for teaching elementary students. Anna is a competent woman, which places the book firmly in the tradition of Robert Heinlein and John W. Campbell. It really doesn't give away the plot to say that she succeeds, because there is a framing story set 35 years later in which she is an old woman telling her story to a teenager named Lisan Navarroclan.

The ecology of the planet is worked out in great detail, although it does suffer in comparison with Dune. There is no description of the physics of faster than light travel, except that people apparently do not suffer from relativistic effects. The latter really isn't important to the story, however.

In conclusion, I can recommend this book. It is a quick and enjoyable read, and I found that I cared about Anna and Martin and what their ultimate fates were.


May 19, 2004 in Science Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Rough Rider

Author: Nina M. Osier
Genre: Science Fiction
Reviewed by JaToya Love

549Rough Rider is an awesome book. From beginning to end, I enjoyed this story.

Joy Grant is a Star Guard Captain. Think Star Fleet and you'll get the point. Nineteen years ago, Joy, then a Lieutenant, and her Captain, Kirk Rogers, along with the rest of their crew came in contact with a sentient race of beings called the Zortians. During the course of establishing first contact and good relations with the Zortians, Captain Gambol was lost to his crew and pronounced dead. Assuming command, Joy did her best to solve the mysterious death of her Captain and lover, but with no physical evidence to prove his death or his continued existence, Joy had no other recourse but to accept the death of her love.

Now nineteen years later, well established Terran settlements have suddenly stopped communicating with Central Command, as well as with routine freighter runs. Something's up and Joy, as the first person to communicate with the Zorti, is sent to find out what. But in doing so old memories are dredged up and secrets are revealed.

Nina Osier has done a great job blending true sci-fi with real drama. There's romance and adventure and chaos and mayhem, and that eternal question -- what impact would humans have on an alien civilization? That is really what this book is about.

When we get to the point where we're zipping off and extending our reach outside the milky way, what will happen to the cultures we encounter, if any? Should we even initiate contact in the first place?

The secondary story here is Joy the woman, her life, and her love. When she first set foot on Zorti she was in love with Captain Gambol, as he was with her. Within hours she found out she was pregnant, and hours after that she was told he was dead. Nineteen years later she has a wonderful son she doesn't know as well as she thinks she should and a new romantic interest in her life. She's sure she doesn't want to face the memories going to Zorti brings but she's equally sure that as a Captain in the Star Guard she will do what is needed of her.

What's cool about this book is that the author flashes back and forth between the past and the present. So, while Joy is living her life every so often the author would fill us in a little more on what happened almost twenty years prior. And we get it from all perspectives, not just Joy's, so we get a complete understanding of the way things happened and why.

What's a bit of a problem with Rough Rider is the occasionally awkward flow of Osier's writing. There are times when the dialogue comes off sounding strange, and inflection is lost unless the sentence is read a few times. And, while I'm no stranger to run on sentences, there are times when the narrative is poorly phrased and that too must be reread until its meaning is assimilated.

Other than those two things, Rough Rider is a pleasure to read. The characters are living, breathing human beings who are easy to connect to and commiserate with, and I'd definitely read another Nina M. Osier book.


May 19, 2004 in Science Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Shaking Hands With Lefkowitz

Author: Melvin Foster
Genre: Fantasy
Reviewed by Ruth Mark

551This debut from Melvin Foster is part murder-mystery, part search for the meaning of life. It begins promisingly. In the first few pages we learn that the protagonist, Alan Borman/Boroshefsky (his Jewish name), has been shot dead, and Detective Lefkowitz is there to help Alan solve his own murder.

This first ‘twist’ – that the book’s main character is the one who has been murdered -- is enough to pique readers’ interest. A page- turner, this novel is mostly well-written with adequate dialogue. The characters are reasonably believable (I wasn’t convinced by Lefkowitz however…I was left wondering who he is/what he is). Alan himself doesn’t really know who Lefkowitz is, but says: “Detective or angel, Lefkowitz was the one true connection to my life.” (page 62). Unfortunately, we never do find out what this actually means.

Despite these uncertainties you still want to find out how Alan, a successful lawyer, managed to end up dead in a dodgy neighborhood. Was it a random killing or was he killed for a reason? Lefkowitz believes the latter and the only way Alan will solve his case is to re-live the sins he committed in life.

Whether Alan is in Heaven, Hell or Limbo isn’t clear, but he’s certainly in a strange place. A place where the walls change color according to his moods/thoughts, where time doesn’t appear to matter, and where cigars taste of whatever the smoker desires. Alan himself doesn’t have a human ‘skin’ and ‘subtle energy’ are the buzz words.

There are many references to Heaven: Alan meets his guardian angel (everyone apparently has one from birth), the Pearly Gates are mentioned, and there is even a Burning Bush room. The importance of each dead person’s ‘Ten Worst’ list is emphasized and brings the Ten Commandments to mind, while a computer system stores the good & black marks for and against everyone who has died. Alan can’t resist comparing his list with those of others.

Alan and Lefkowitz discuss the case in Interrogation Room 989G, a size-changing cubicle of a room situated in some kind of maze of corridors. Lefkowitz has a theory – in order to find out who killed him Alan must work through all the moments in his life when he ‘hardened his heart’. Anecdotes from Alan’s life, especially those from his childhood and where he grew up, follow in glorious (if repetitive) detail. We’re also introduced to another key character – Arlene Jaffe – the girl Alan spurned as a teenager. She appears to be (and is) key to solving the crime.

There are a few times when the chapters don’t have any kind of transition – we switch from Alan to Arlene and (after a few chapters) back again with little or no warning. It takes a while for the reader to get oriented. The Point of View also switches around while paradoxically the pace of the plot is a little slow after the first interest-grabbing chapters. There are also far too many chapters while the author only uses a handful of cliffhangers at the end of a few of them.

It is an interesting book with a surprising (and not entirely convincing) twist at the end. If I’m honest, I found the ending quite disappointing – I was left expecting more that wasn’t delivered. I was also left with a sense of déjà vu and wondering what the point of the book was. There is a lot of moralizing throughout, while the overwhelming message to think before we act or our behaviors will affect others (and sometimes in ways that we cannot predict) is admirable. That nothing is random or coincidental, that ultimately we will have to atone for our sins if we hope for any form of redemption is the Old Testament teaching of how people can obtain the key to Heaven. A message wrapped in fiction? A safe way to do it? Possibly…

Meanwhile the clichés (e.g. Alan was “dead as a doornail” page 63) and stereotypes abound (we’re left thinking masturbation is wrong for instance, see pages 74 & 75) and are at times very irritating. I also felt like screaming when the word ‘tears’ was used yet again (there’s a lot of crying in this book and eventually you become so immune to it you reach the point when you cease to care what happens).

In conclusion, this book will either make you think or leave you cold. It is, however, a page-turner and that in itself is admirable in a first work of fiction.


May 19, 2004 in Fantasy | Permalink | Comments (1)

Song of Salvation

Author: Rajendra Kher
Genre: Spirituality
Reviewed by Jeremy M. Hoover

552Song of Salvation is an all-encompassing and far-reaching narrative about the truths that are taught in the Bhagavad-Gita. It is a novelization of the core of that sacred book: the discussion between Sri Krishna (the guru) and his disciple Arjuna. The setting for this novel is a battle between two families that are descended from the same family. The Pandavas, exiled for twelve years as a result of losing a rigged dice game, have returned from exile to reclaim the kingdom that is rightfully theirs from the Kaurava family.

Of course, the Kauravas want nothing to do with this. They believe that the Pandavas did not follow the terms of their exile. We find out later that this argument rests on a technicality of whether the lunar or solar calendar was followed. The Kauravas, while accurate from their point of view, are wrong when considering the Pandavas’s point of view. The Pandavas (and some within the Kauravas’s court) press for the return of their kingdom because the terms of their exile have in fact been fulfilled.

A standoff ensues between the two families, and millions of warriors who have taken up arms for one family or the other. When the battle is about to begin, Arjuna, a warrior for the Pandava family, begins to worry about the war. He feels sorrow and pain within for thinking that he may have to kill his own family members. For Arjuna, this war is nothing but a civil, inter-family war.

Krishna comes to Arjuna’s aid and discusses with him the truths of the Bhagavad-Gita (this conversation is the essence of that scripture) to calm Arjuna down, and to help him overcome his doubts about the justness of the war.

Arjuna’s central struggle is with detachment. He must rise above his concern for what is temporal (the fear of killing his own family) and focus on what is eternal. To do so, he must seek self-actualization, where defects of the mind are eliminated. Krishna encourages him to practice karmayoga, the path of duty.

Krishna repeatedly tells Arjuna to do things for duty’s sake, detached from any sense of reward. Arjuna must not give up action, but the desire that makes him act in some ways but not others. Nature exemplifies this selfless duty: Rivers flow and make soil fertile. A river never returns to gauge its work; but it keeps flowing and moving forward, performing its duty without ego.

Finally, Arjuna is able to reach a point where his mind is free from anxiety and he can pursue duty for duty’s sake. At this point he is able to enter into war with the Kauravas, because to not wage war would be unjust: the desire of avoiding personal pain would be the driving force behind his actions.

This is a good story. It is difficult to decide whether to review the story or the philosophy, since the latter makes up much of the former. As for the story, there are some interesting devices used. For example, many parts of the story pertaining to ancient history are told in flashback to bring a better sense of immediacy to the story. The story also uses the “divine sight” of Sanjaya to narrate the conversation between Arjuna and Krishna to a third party. Yet, the story is marred by many typographical errors that interrupt the flow of reading.

The story was difficult for me to work through, but only because I was unfamiliar with this philosophy and many of the people involved. Yet, I found it very rewarding. Detachment, and the pursuit of duty for duty’s sake, has much merit behind it. Perhaps the greatest compliment this book can be given is for a reader to be sparked to begin contemplating the Bhagavad-Gita itself. I, for one, will do so.


May 19, 2004 in Spirituality | Permalink | Comments (0)

McClellan's Bluff

Author: Mary E. Trimble
Genre: Young Adult
Reviewed by Susan DiPlacido

10150402At just seventeen years old, Leslie Cahill is already a smart, talented, and beautiful young woman, and she's at the critical juncture where she's ready to start maturing even more. She takes her first steps when a an older man, twenty-eight year old Sloan Stroh, shows an interest in her. Leslie finds herself flattered and excited by this strange new man in town even though her father and brother vehemently protest her association with him.

In McClellan's Bluff, Mary Trimble skillfully weaves together the conflicting emotions of a young woman who's blossoming with adult desires while still trying to balance those feelings with her inexperience and hesitation. Throw in an extremely protective family hawkeyeing her every move, along with rapid, severe change in that family's dynamics as her father prepares to remarry, and mix it with sleek, sexually charged stranger, and the end result is a volatile delight to read. Trimble definitely nails the psyche of a seventeen year old girl consumed with a new infatuation with the whiff of sexual expectation. And she does an admirable job of bringing her entire life and personality to life. The atmosphere is thick with details of the ranch life, something she's obviously knowledgeable about, and which proves interesting to readers. Additionally, she unfolds the story with darker twists while infusing it with Leslie's maturation in other areas too. She grows as a person as she learns to be a sister and truer friend, taking on more responsibility in her life.

There's no doubt that McClellan's Bluff is a wonderfully written story that will engage the target audience. Additionally, it's so good that most adults would enjoy reading it, and should feel comfortable letting their children read it with the way Trimble handles the situations in both language and tone.


May 15, 2004 in Young Adults | Permalink | Comments (0)

Listen to the Ghost

Author: Beverly Stowe McClure
Genre: Young Adult Paranormal
Reviewed by Deb Watson

10150401Jade Dalton, her best friend Elaine, along with Jade’s older brother David and his best friend Matt, are spending their summer vacation house- sitting for Jade’s grandparents in Charleston, North Carolina. In addition to the house sitting duties, David and Matt are working at a local restaurant during the summer, while Jade and Elaine have brought from Texas several of Jade’s paintings to show and sell during the Piccolo Spoleto festival. But before their summer adventures begin, odd things begin to happen to Jade. She hears music that can’t be explained, someone is whispering her name, but no one can be found calling her, now her diamond earrings are missing and she sees a pink mist floating overhead. She thinks she is going crazy until Elaine and David admit that they too have heard the singing. However, when the food starts flying and attacking all four teens finally believe that it's not the faulty wiring in the old house but that a ghost is present.

Eventually the pink mist turns into a young woman named Phoebe whose appearance is similar to Jade's. Phoebe is enchanting and mischievous. She adds a moustache and beard to Jade’s favorite painting, wears Jade’s clothes and jewelry and even warns her to stay away from her former boyfriend whom she believes is trouble for Jade. Jade begins to lose patience with Phoebe’s meddling until Phoebe finally agrees to stop creating mischief if the teens will help Phoebe find her wedding rings by July first. If they find the rings by that date Phoebe will be able to leave her ghostly form and rest peacefully and stop haunting the house. The quest to find the rings results in exciting escapades for the four teens.

I am always looking for a book which will ignite and delight the imaginations of my adolescent nieces and nephews. Listen to the Ghost fits the bill. McClure does a fine job of sparking the reader's imagination and creating suspense. She takes you on a roller coaster ride from her opening lines when Jade hears the voice of the ghost through the tense confrontation with Jade’s ex-boyfriend, and ends in a successful conclusion of solving Phoebe’s mystery of her missing wedding rings and a new romance for Jade. Listen to the Ghost should delight the younger adolescent readers.

May 15, 2004 in Young Adults | Permalink | Comments (0)

The Prince of Gemen

Author: D.G. Novak
Genre: Fantasy Romance
Reviewed by: Kevin R. Tipple

533Years after the great population wars on the planet Daleer, what little hospitable land that is left is supporting the two groups known as Gemen and Arath. Mutual hatred, much of it based on false knowledge handed down over the generations, ensures that almost any meeting between the parties turns into bloodshed. As this romantic fantasy novel opens, Princess Arath, known as Calli, is being sent to Viceroy Roman and his family in preparation for a wedding. Calli is to be married to him should he find her acceptable and per her father, King Arath, he will find her acceptable and she better do nothing to cause any problems. She does not want to marry him and knows that her father will brook no interference by her or anyone under his control regarding this arranged political marriage.

What he can't control are the Shadrani, led by Prince Gemen, who hunt in the forests around Soris, the town of Calli and her family. Legend has it that according to the handmaiden Solte, "'They are not like any other! They cannot be killed. And they--they howl at the moon like crazed beasts!'" (Page 4) The handmaiden goes on to recount stories that are familiar – that the Shadrani drink the blood of their victims and have strange sexual practices.

Calli dismisses these stories and others as tales told to frighten young children into behaving. Before long, she acts like a child herself and decides it would be a good idea to change clothes with the handmaiden. Thanks to the requirement that females must be veiled at all times due to their second-class status, the royal guard with them is unaware that they have switched places. The guard is also completely unaware that the Shadrani are stalking the group and once attacked, are unable to rescue both women. Instead, they leave the Princess dressed in her handmaiden's clothes behind, secure in the knowledge as they flee with Solte that they have protected the one that matters. The abandoned Calli quickly becomes a prisoner of Prince Gemen and his troops.

As this novel moves forward, Calli moves from a position of a hated prisoner to a person of trust by some of the Shadrani, and then to the potential mother of the future King of the Shadrani. At the same time, as she works to conceal her noble birth to stay alive, she finds herself falling in love with the Prince. A man who has great personal motivation to kill her should he learn the truth.

This is a novel that relies heavily on erotic elements, often very graphic elements, to move the story forward. While there are other storylines involving deceit and treachery among the houses and sub-groups, eroticism is the primary element and theme. As such, some scenes are extremely graphic and could offend readers who might be expecting a more mainstream and less graphic fantasy romance.

While this was an interesting novel that kept the reader entertained and turning the pages, it is not a unique or exceptionally well written fantasy. Rather, much of the work reminds one of other fantasy novels and as such seems heavily clichéd. It reads as if the author is counting on the graphic nature of the work to make it stand out. If this is the first novel of a planned series as implied in the author's biography, it will be interesting to see if the author relies less on graphic eroticism and more on character development, storylines, and plotting in the future.


May 12, 2004 in Fantasy | Permalink | Comments (0)