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The Finnish Girl

Dennis Frahmann. Loon Town, $16 ISBN 978-0-692-23648-2

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Frahmann (Tales from the Loon Town Café) takes inspiration from events in his own family to create this somber tale that begins and ends with the suicide of Lempi Makinen Lahti. The book opens in 1983 Wisconsin, with ninth grader Danny Lahti, her son, returning home from school to find his mother dead. Shocked and lost, Danny looks through papers from the bottom of a hope chest that was passed on to his mother. Each photo, newspaper clipping, and letter offers a glimpse into the lives of Lempi and others from Danny’s family. These documents weave together events such as deaths in the family by trichinosis. Misfortune stalks Lempi’s family, from her adopted mother’s suicide to Lempi’s own culpability in her biological mother’s death. The prose is unfortunately flat, with some very abrupt narrative transitions. But the very specific place, time, and sense of community may appeal to readers, particularly fans of Jerry Apps and other Wisconsin authors. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Belle of Charleston

Jerri Hines. Amazon, $2.99 e-book (158p) ISBN ASIN B00Q8M1EYK

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Hines's first Southern Legacy romance has all the elements of intriguing antebellum fiction: a mansion near Charleston, a beautiful woman, and two men who are both in love with her. Josephine Buchanan Wright is convinced that Wade Montgomery will marry her instead of abiding by his family's wishes and marrying the fiancée of his deceased brother, Percival. When Wade's cousin, Lt. Cullen Smythe, informs Josephine that Wade will uphold his familial duty, she is heartbroken. Though Cullen offers for her hand to minimize the damage to her reputation, Josephine is convinced her father would not allow the marriage, as Cullen is a Yankee. But Cullen refuses to withdraw his offer, as he finds Josephine extremely attractive. Fickle Josephine falls in and out of love too quickly, and while Hines keeps the story moving, the lack of character development and precipitous ending are likely to disappoint. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The 52nd

Dela. Wise Ink Creative Publishing (dela-author.com), $12.99 paper (472p) ISBN 978-1-940014-38-8

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While driving home from work, 18-year-old college freshman Zara Moss crashes her car trying to avoid a skeletonlike creature. She is rescued by Lucas Castillo, a new transfer student, who is actually an immortal “Watcher.” He informs Zara that every 52 years, 52 female virgins are sacrificed to the Aztec and Mayan underworld as part of a deal to keep its gods in check; Lucas and his family have the job of making sure the abductions go as planned. However, Zara has been prophesied as the sacrifice who can close the portal to the underworld and stop this ritual forever. This series opener offers an intriguing premise born from the bloody mythology of Central America. First-time author Dela’s inclusion of cultural details like Lucas’s family’s tattoos and Cortez’s conquest enriches the novel, while leaving room for quiet moments between Zara and Lucas. While Lucas can be domineering where Zara is concerned (“My muscles flexed as he casually talked about what I felt was my property. The girl belonged to me”), fans of mythology-driven stories will appreciate Dela’s integration of Mayan/Aztec legends into an otherwise typical supernatural romance. Ages 14–up. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Healing Ruby

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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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