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The Dead Man’s Treasure

Kris Bock. Pig River, $9.99 trade paper (220p) ISBN 978-0-692-37167-1

Bock adds a clever interactive twist, tempting recipes, and endearing characters to this chaste and somewhat formulaic romantic thriller, which is linked to The Mad Monk’s Treasure but stands well on its own. Instead of leaving each of his grandchildren a tidy sum, Rebecca Westin’s millionaire grandfather left them a series of winner-take-all clues to a buried fortune. Camie Dagneau and Erin Mayer (familiar to readers of the first book) have plenty of treasure-hunting expertise, and Rebecca, estranged from her relatives because her father abandoned her, needs all the help she can get. Camie and Erin’s friend Sam offers to help with the search, and it’s all good, suspenseful fun as Rebecca and Sam traipse the New Mexico desert, deciphering clues and trying to outwit Rebecca’s half siblings. Though the plot is spare in the romance department, there’s plenty of suspense, as well as abundant touristy tips and tastes of the Southwest. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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At the Edge of the Sea

Karen M. Cox. Meryton, $10.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-936009-27-5

In this intoxicating and heartfelt romance set in 1959, a minister’s son falls headlong for the wrong kind of girl. Billy Ray Davenport’s life has always been guided by the Bible and his intense yet devoted father. After being accepted to med school, Billy Ray spends a summer shadowing local physician Dr. Miller and learning different approaches to treating patients. An instantaneous and overwhelming attraction to Lizzy, whom the townspeople call a slut, ties the sheltered Billy Ray in knots. Despite numerous warnings to steer clear of Lizzy, including some from Dr. Miller’s own daughter, Billy Ray is besotted by her striking looks and drawn in by a beautiful soul that he senses beneath the surface. Cox (Find Wonder in All Things) vividly captures the tensions and nuances of smalltown 1950s life. Billy Ray and Lizzy’s roller-coaster relationship, captivating in its intensity and honesty, is a brutal fight against all odds, and Billy Ray’s inner struggle to do the right thing is surprisingly real. Readers will be entertained and inspired by this winning tale. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Way into Darkness

Harry Connolly. Radar Avenue, $15.99 trade paper (366p) ISBN 978-0-9898284-6-8

Connolly’s epic fantasy comes to a resounding resolution (after The Way into Magic) in this gory, action-packed third episode. The once vibrant Peradaini Empire has become a scattered collection of tyrannical holdings struggling to feed and house the refugees fleeing an invasion of monsters. Tejohn Treygar, once fiercely loyal to the king above all else, now realizes the very survival of the human race depends on him, transcending any of his political concerns. He reunites with the young magic-user Cazia to hunt down a scholar reputed to have a powerful fighting spell, but when they finally reach their goal, they discover the scholar gone mad and his research destroyed. Armed primarily with their wits, Tejohn and Cazia must innovate, rally the survivors, and lead from the front through surprising twists and turns. This violent, tense installment successfully wraps up the deeply complex story, though some readers will wish the protagonists learned more through deduction and less from blazing revelation. There’s so much going on that the immersive prose sometimes feels expository, but the sweeping storytelling propels the reader right to the satisfying finale. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Devil Will Come

Glenn Cooper. Lascaux Media, $11.69 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-0-692260-55-5

In a suitably ominous prelude to this imaginative thriller set in 1139 C.E. Rome, Bishop Malachy observes an unusual celestial event known as the Devil’s Tail, leading him to prophesy that, after 112 more popes, the world will end. In 2000, Elisabetta Celestino survives a murderous assault in Rome, carried out by a man with a tail. In response, she becomes a nun, but 12 years later she leaves her convent when a former professor asks her to help him explore some catacombs that may contain ancient astrological symbols she could decipher. To her shock, what she finds instead are the skeletal remains of almost 100 human bodies, all with bony tails. Cooper prolongs the suspense of the modern-day plot with flashbacks that portray the Emperor Nero and playwright Christopher Marlowe in surprising ways, which provide novel explanations for the burning of Rome and Marlowe’s murder. An interesting variation on a familiar theme. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Sixth

Avery Hays. Diadema Press, $26.99 (362p) ISBN 978-0-9854182-4-3

In this spirited debut historical thriller, we meet the worldly, well-bred artist Florbela Sarmentos as she is moving into La Ruche, the histroical decadent residence of artists and political dissidents in 1910 Paris. Born in Lisbon and educated in London and Cherbourg, Florbela is the daughter of Portugal’s leading antimonarchist political prisoner. Florbela rushes headlong into Parisian life accompanied by her mysterious roommate and pursued by lovesick suitors. After witnessing an assassination by hit man The Pope’s Panther, Florbela becomes drawn into her father’s political affairs; her involvement with a gritty underground cabal, a painting, and a secret cipher could change the course of history. Hays’s recreation of the era’s “bohemian bedlam” involves an intriguing who’s who of famous emigrant artists and political exiles—Marc Chagall, Amedeo Modigliani, Diego Rivera, Pablo Picasso, Gertrude Stein, and Vladimir Lenin. Vignettes at salons and La Ruche provide an enjoyable glimpse into the politics, social habits, and fashions of the gaslit era. Though some of the romance aspects are lacking, the political intrigue and its energetic pace will certainly captivate readers. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The End of Banking: Money, Credit, and the Digital Revolution

Jonathan McMillan. Zero/One Economics, $28.95 (248p) ISBN 978-3-9524385-0-3

In this economic primer, an investment banker and an academic macroeconomist, sharing the McMillan pseudonym, offer a sound if controversial argument for the demise of the current U.S. banking system as it exists today. The authors view the digital revolution as undermining traditional ways of organizing financial systems and banking regulations. Their main purpose is to show how to restore a functioning, effective financial system, so as to ensure “the stability, the productivity, and the distributive justice of the economy.” The authors start with a refresher on the industrial age and the need for banking that it created, then show how banking got out of control in the digital age. They devote considerable attention to why the current system is now obsolete, examining pooling and risk diversification, and exploring liquidity provision and financial services for borrowers. The authors also dedicate a chapter to the public sector’s role and the private organization of credit. While the authors take care to explain their ideas in a nontechnical way, this is by no means an easy read. However, for those with a good foundation of knowledge, this thought-provoking book offers much to consider and digest. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Mistake, Wisconsin

Kersti Niebruegge. Kersti Niebruegge (kerstiniebruegge.com), $3.99 e-book (160p) ISBN 978-0-9908710-0-2

Megan Svenson, 15, is determined to figure out why the “Troll,” Deputy Mayor Trollqvist, has it in for the teenagers of Mistake, Wis. Not only has he exchanged tater tots for head cheese on the school menu, but he has also cancelled Opening Day festivities for musky fishing season (the fish are the pride and joy of Mistake), because of a thief stealing musky-themed mailboxes. Aiding her aunt, Sheriff Lori Holm, in tracking down the thief and trying to understand the Troll’s erratic behavior through her blog, Uff Da, Megan ensures an ending almost as satisfying as the town’s famous Blue Moon frozen custard. Shifting attention among multiple Mistake citizens, with Megan as the central figure, debut author Niebruegge creates a light, humorous mystery filled with Midwestern references—cheese curds, lutefisk dinners, supper clubs, and high school sports—and a touch of Northwoods folklore. Despite intriguing cliffhangers, Niebruegge’s characters and plot can be overshadowed by excessive town backstory and a vein of passively endured sexism (“There she goes, Miss Almost Legal”) that distract somewhat from the novel’s farcical, homespun appeal. Ages 14–up. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Healing Ruby

Jennifer Westall. Jennifer Westall, $3.99 e-book (369p) ASIN B00O3GRNF2

Coming of age in Depression-era Alabama is fraught with pitfalls for Ruby Graves in the opener of Westall’s (Love’s Providence) Healing Ruby series. Ruby is a typical young woman of her time, but then tragedy strikes her family repeatedly, much like the biblical figure Job. In the wake of those tragedies comes a new understanding of her faith, and more questions than she can ever find answers to, among them mysteries in her family’s past. Plot strands are teased out slowly and answers revealed as the story progresses, and the novel builds to a satisfying climax followed by a gentle push toward the next installment. Woven with scriptural references that and brutally frank regarding the treatment of people in the 1930s South, Westall’s story also sounds notes of hope and faith that balance her portrayal. Insight into history and race relations enrich a textured narrative. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/09/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Third Daughter

Susan Kaye Quinn. Susan Kaye Quinn, $12.99 trade paper (346p) ISBN 978-1-4937-7477-7

Romance and intrigue collide in the fluffy, entertaining first installment of Quinn’s Dharian Affairs steampunk trilogy. As the third daughter of the Queen of Dharia, 17-year-old Aniri has the opportunity to marry for love. However, she agrees to an arranged marriage with Prince Malik of neighboring Jungali after he makes an impassioned plea for peace—and her mother presents a calculated need for a spy amongst the Jungali. Far from home, Aniri must find the evidence needed to prevent war, even as she maintains the pretense of romance with her betrothed. As danger mounts, so do the lies, deceptions, and mysteries. The feisty, resourceful princess leaps into and out of trouble with grace and style. Quinn (the Mindjack trilogy) could have done much more with the alternate East Indian setting, which feels mostly like window dressing, but steampunk fans will appreciate the airships, swordfights, illicit romance, fantastical technology, desperate escapes, last-minute rescues, and breathtaking scenery, all pulled together by a genuine sense of fun. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/09/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Narrow Path to War: Marshals of Arion, Book 1

DL Frizzell. BookLogix, $14.95 trade paper (363p) ISBN 978-1-61005-499-7

Frizzell’s imagined universe becomes less interesting as his debut proceeds—not a good sign for a series kickoff. A fleet of six spaceships “crossed an entire arm of the galaxy in only a decade” to establish a new home for humanity on an earthlike planet, Arion. During the next 500 years, the population of Arion lost the use of all “micro-electronics.” The introduction of the main characters is well handled; student Alex Vonn refuses to take shelter during a powerful magnetic storm so that he can witness the phenomenon, and Frizell makes the danger palpable. Marshal Hugh Redland is first seen on the trail of an escaped prisoner, only to find that he’s chasing the wrong quarry, a mercenary in possession of an odd map of the entire planet. All the ingredients for excitement are here, but the plot focuses on Vonn’s tiresome search for the truth about his father, the characters lack depth, and the prose is unmemorable. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/09/2015 | Details & Permalink

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