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The Dangerous Summer of Jesse Turner

D.C. Reep and E.A. Allen. CreateSpace, $10.99 paper (204p) ISBN 978-1-5077-8905-6

It’s 1898, and 16-year-old Jesse Turner is eager to escape his reputation as the son of an outlaw who ran with the likes of Jesse James. In hopes of proving he is nobler than his father, Jesse leaves Missouri to join the Rough Riders, led by Theodore Roosevelt, who are en route to Cuba to fight in the Spanish-American War. Jesse quickly befriends two teenagers from New York and a Comanche, but he also makes a dangerous enemy who holds him accountable for his father’s actions. Reep and Allen introduce an earnest underdog in Jesse and carry the story briskly forward through detailed descriptions of the daily travails and bloodshed of war. Jesse’s easygoing first-person narrative keeps the tone light, yet the authors don’t avoid gritty details of the Rough Riders’ experiences, including lice infestations, spoiled meat, and crabs swarming over fallen soldiers in the jungles of Cuba. Readers drawn toward war stories will find characters worth investing in this vivid historical outing; an endnote touches on the real-life figures that appear in the novel, as well as the authors’ sources. Ages 12–up. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Elliptical: The Music of Meshell Ndegeocello

Andre Akinyele and Jon O'Bergh. Book Baby, $19.99 trade paper (170p) ISBN 978-1-6319-2731-7

In this uneven biography, Akinyele explores the career of American funk and soul singer and musician Meshell Ndegeocello, who has been performing for 20 years. According to the author, Ndegeocello has resisted being boxed into commercial concepts. In this examination of her work, Akinyele and O'Bergh dissect Meshell's discography and talk about their experiences of her albums and what her work has meant to them. These two fans are both professional musicians who look at Ndegeocello's work as both the expression of her as an evolving artist and a queer icon. While they do not get the opportunity to interview Ndegeocello themselves, they speculate on her motives and processes based on interviews they have read and their own personal experiences. This personal connection to the music is both the only appealing part of this book and the most difficult part for readers. While some might find the journeys of other fans fascinating, most will simply want more details about the musician herself. The writing structure is a little confusing as it moves between the co-authors. A reader has to be very dedicated to see this through. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Fatal Reaction

Belinda Frisch. Belinda Frisch , $11.69 trade paper (322p) ISBN ASIN B00GO4P8EY

Robin Cook fans should enjoy Frisch's solid and suspenseful medical thriller, set in Marion, N.Y. Paramedic Ana Ashmore is devastated when she learns the reason she wasn't called to respond to an emergency; the victim found dead in a sleazy hotel turns out to be her older sister, Sydney Dowling. Despite some preliminary indications that Sydney took her own life, the senior officer on the scene, Sgt. Mike Richardson, who raised the sisters after the death of their parents, deems it a homicide. The reader learns, before Ana and Mike do, that the murder may be tied to a medical breakthrough in a local hospital. Dr. Dorian Carmichael has developed a revolutionary uterine transplant procedure that could help woman unable to conceive on their own. But Dorian's first patient, Stephanie Martin, doesn't fare so well after the operation, leading to an effort to cover up her connection with Sydney. The prime villain will come as a surprise to many. This title is also available as an e-book from Thomas & Mercer. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | 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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SoulServe

Robert S. Wilson. Robert S. Wilson, $2.99 e-book (95p) ASIN B00N16R44K

Murders that mix technology with ghosts bring Antivii agent Ray Garret into a world of secret experiments that could save his dying wife in this short, well-structured murder mystery. Though the book is a bit sparse on details (there’s no stated year or location, and Antivii’s role is never fully defined), Ray’s a very human character, good at his job and devoted to his wife, Rhonda—so much that he’s willing to risk his career in order to save her life. The links between the murders and Rhonda’s salvation grow as the race against time quickens, building to a heart-wrenching conclusion that hits the reader a few pages before it slams into Ray. There are issues with how Wilson (the Empire of Blood series) handles female characters—Rhonda is merely a plot point, and helpful scientist Dr. Rainns is a classic sexpot—but otherwise this thriller doesn’t disappoint. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/09/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Maghreb Conspiracy: The Third Spy Story in Croft’s Mideast Trilogy

Roger Croft. CreateSpace, $11.90 ISBN 978-1-5008-2332-0

Set in 2005, Croft’s third spy novel featuring MI6 operative and former journalist Michael Vaux (after 2013’s Operation Saladin) tapers off after an intriguing start. A wet-behind-the-ears agent, Sebastian Micklethwait, lands an extremely sensitive assignment. Micklethwait is to travel with facilitator Mokhtar Tawil to Morocco, where Tawil will help him connect with a member of al-Qaeda’s executive committee who’s offered to provide valuable intelligence on the group’s plans. The mission, dubbed Operation Apostate, goes awry almost immediately, as Tawil is murdered on the first leg of their trip and Micklethwait himself is taken prisoner. It falls to Vaux, who’s been tapped to oversee Operation Apostate, to try to rescue the agent and salvage whatever can be salvaged. Vaux is a familiar genre staple, a maverick who gets results, but this time out, Croft doesn’t give him enough depth to be truly memorable. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/09/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Organ Takers: A Novel of Surgical Suspense

Richard Van Anderson. White Light, $11.99 trade paper (306p) ISBN 978-0-9907597-1-3

Robin Cook fans will relish this taut and powerful medical thriller set in Manhattan, the first in a trilogy. Dr. David McBride’s career is in ruins after he delayed reporting that a superior was taking bribes to move patients in need of transplanted organs up the waiting list. Instead of using his superior surgical skills to save lives, David is relegated to working on rats in a research lab. Fortune seems to smile upon him when he’s offered a chance to redeem himself with a probationary period in another residency program. But before he can start that new chapter, David’s corralled by a shady figure who calls himself Mr. White and displays a disturbingly detailed knowledge of every aspect of David’s life. Unless David agrees to perform illegal kidney harvesting and transplants, White will arrange for him to be charged with drug theft. Van Anderson makes good use of his own medical training in the service of a superior page-turner. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/09/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Seven Days

Sterling Nixon. S&J Publisher, $9.99 trade paper (360p) ISBN 978-0-9903708-0-2

In Nixon’s novel, social ideologies clash in a complex political thriller of political corruption and patriotism. Ex-CIA and Border Patrol agent Rick Savage is a self-exiled outcast whose discovery of department treachery destroyed both his marriage and patriotic faith. He discovers the “Divided House,” a domestic civil war between the western and eastern United States (the West has stopped paying taxes and is threatening secession), orchestrated by narcissist genius Marcus McKeet. It becomes clear that the apocalyptic emergency predicted by fringe survivalists is real. Nixon’s novel, which throws in a mysterious and deadly infection for good measure, questions our government’s ability (and intention) to protect us. Conspiracy fans will crawl out of the bunker for this dystopian/conspiracy hybrid, which is an emotionally devastating and confrontational entertainment. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 01/09/2015 | Details & Permalink

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