Category Archives: Fiction

Solomon’s Concubine

Solomon's Concubine“This is not wonderful fantasy come true.” So says Sachi to Nalussa in Solomon’s Concubine by   S. A. Jewell. Solomon’s Concubine is a thoughtful, fictionalized look into what it might have been like as a beautiful, but poor, young virgin Israelite woman chosen to join Solomon’s vast harem. Nalussa, as well as her new friends, Sachi and Abra, had been found, paid for, and delivered to Solomon’s harem without much ability to decline.

True, most of the women chosen would see wealth unimaginable in their normal family life. But are the dazzling accoutrements of Solomon’s palace worth being taken from your family at a young age? Or worth the price of never seeing your loved ones again? Especially since these young women will be virtual prisoners for the rest of their lives. What happens to them when they grow older? What happens to them when Solomon dies? His harem is so vast, will he even see them or interact with them at all? So Sachi’s remark to Nalussa is apt and also captures Nalussa’s own feelings.

Slow But Steady

S. A. Jewell leads the reader on a somewhat slow journey through the preparation of Nalussa and her friends for their initial meeting with Solomon. Fright and sorrow are evident in Solomon’s short and disastrous interaction with Sachi, which ends in her suicide. Nalussa becomes a favorite of the king because of her extraordinary beauty and intelligence. All Abra wants is to soak in the luxury and bear a child of Solomon’s.

Meet Makeda, the Queen of Sheba (an ancient city-state that was on the Arabian peninsula), who comes to see Solomon for herself. And see if all the rumors she’s heard are true. During a banquet given by Solomon, Makeda and many others stare at Nalussa because of the physical similarities between the two women.

After the king’s death, what will happen to the two friends? Especially since Abra got her wish and is pregnant with Solomon’s child. Enter Adriel, the officer charged with procuring the women for Solomon’s harem. Adriel and Jasper (Nalussa’s brother, enlisted to help by Adriel) guide the women out of the country. What becomes of the foursome takes up the last third of the book.

Believable Characters

I enjoyed Jewell’s characterization of Nalussa, Abra, Adriel and Jasper. Some secondary characters, such as Shallum, are also well written. On the other hand, the pacing, although steady, is too steady in places. Jewell missed a few opportunities to quicken the pace. As the group escapes through the chaos following Solomon’s death, Jewell just indicates that “the women were terrified.” A more apt description would have shown how the women reacted to the situation. Once Nalussa, Adriel, Abra and her newborn son are in Sheba, to which they fled after the king’s death, the scenes and dialogue that deal with court intrigue are excellent. The plot gains some quickness of pace as it moves towards the end, but then slows again as the story approaches its conclusion.

Overall, Solomon’s Concubine kept my interest. I may read other books written by Jewell.

Solomon’s Concubine
by S. A. Jewell
© 2022
Ambassador International

Bones of Amoret

Bones of AmoretNoah Travis Grady, the narrator of The Bones of Amoret by Arthur Herbert, is the typical, old-fashioned town doctor. Or maybe not so typical.

Noah is multifaceted, full of kindness and standing firm for what he thinks is right. He helps immigrants who cross the southern border illegally. Two of those immigrants were Angelica, whom he marries, and her son, both of whom he loves with a passion. He helps Francis Barnett with his AIDS, And he’s good at keeping secrets. Like his 20-year affair with Blaine Beckett’s wife. Now he is focused on finding out how Beckett has disappeared and why. And who killed his adopted son. Or so he says. Is all of Noah’s kindness and bonhomie real or just a mask?

But is Noah a reliable narrator? He is retelling a large chunk of his, and others’, personal history in an interview with an unnamed female journalist. The events he’s relating happened about 40 years in the past. So, he’s now a bit older. How accurate is his memory? In fact, Noah apologizes to the reporter: “Sorry, ma’am, there I go wandering off again. You’ll have to excuse an old man his indulgences.”

For example, Noah recounts that during one mission to assist those wanting to cross the border he got shot through the leg and part of his hand was destroyed. Yet, after his wife patched up his hand and leg, he is sitting nonchalantly with his legs crossed beside Francis Beckett as he’s dying from AIDS. And Noah flips through an Oscar Wilde novel that the young man had been reading. All this as if nothing had happened to him. As if he hadn’t lost a lot of blood just the day before.

Likeable Narrator

In spite of this, I really like Noah Grady. Whether his reminiscences about his past experiences are exactly how the events really occurred doesn’t matter. Noah is a likeable narrator and storyteller. His gripping storytelling engendered joy or sadness in me dependent upon what he was retelling. Arthur Herbert also makes fully concrete the other, secondary characters. All were fully fleshed out and fit well into the story arc.

The Bones of Amoret held my attention to the end. I will be reading other works by Arthur Herbert.

I received a free copy of this book from ireadbooktours.com in exchange for an honest review.

The Bones of Amoret
by Arthur Herbert
© 2022

Sherlock Holmes: The Persian Slipper

Sherlock Holmes: The Persian Slipper and Other StoriesIn Sherlock Holmes: The Persian Slipper and Other Stories, Brenda Seabrooke does an excellent job of recreating Arthur Conan Doyle’s brisk, steady pacing. Seabrooke shows all sides of the famous duo. From Sherwin Soames, a tall lad interested in chemistry interacting with a Scottish lad, Ian Dotson, to John Watson helping solve one of the first cases he encounters early in his friendship with Holmes. Although uneven, these stories entertain.

Even as a young lad, Sherwin Soames, Seabrook’s protagonist in “The Marzando Matter,” has the markings of the adult we know from Conan Doyle. In this story, Soames admits he has already studied thieves, pickpockets, cut-purses and the like. Soames concludes: “The human mind is capable of almost anything and once set on a path is unlikely to change it unless or until it is expedient to do so.” “The Persian Slipper” lacks strength. Why would Holmes just insert himself into a case without being asked? The client had sought out Dr. Watson. Why would Holmes suggest that he and Watson use aliases while they were at the home of the fiancé of the client’s sister? And before he knew much of the facts in the case. Why would George Spencer-Hytton (the fiancé) suddenly show marked improvement when Dr. Watson had barely begun treatment?

Somewhat better is “The Curse of Barcombe Keep.” Sherlock Holmes lets on that he believes in curses to route out the murderer. Although why the staff were so shaken by an apparent curse that affected only the members of the Northington family, owners of the house, one can only guess.

Believable Protagonists

Seabrooke creates a believable pair in her rendition of Holmes and Watson. As usual, Holmes is a step or two ahead of Watson in interpreting clues and witnesses. Seabrooke’s Watson demonstrates a sense of humor. At the beginning of “The Persian Slipper,” Watson grumbles about the heat while observing Holmes watching ice slivers in separate teacups. Smoke is rising from one of the cups. After a moment, Watson says, “I say – your ice is afire. It’s so hot even the ice is burning up.” Turns out, the cup contains a sliver of dry ice. Holmes is comparing the melting of that versus real ice.

I received a free copy of Sherlock Holmes: The Persian Slipper and Other Stories by Brenda Seabrooke from reedsy.com/discovery in exchange for an honest review.

Sherlock Homes: The Persian Slipper and Other Stories
by Brenda Seabrooke
edited by David Marcum, Derrick Belanger and Brian Belanger
© 2022
MX Publishing

Grace Among Thieves

Grace Among ThievesIn Kari Bovée’s Grace Among the Thieves, Grace finally gets to meet her father. Why had her father waited so long to contact her? She thought he was dead. Many years dead. When had he remarried? When had he become a heroin addict, and why?

Who would beat Anna Ivanova almost to death for a mysterious package? Valentina Baklanova, Ivanova’s niece, draws Grace into the investigation. Baklanova works at the same Hollywood studio as Grace.

The pressure on Grace and her friends ramps up when Madeleine, her father’s second wife, is kidnapped, and a note left about the same mysterious package.

Grace and Chet, her husband, are faced with keeping their circle of family and friends safe as murders and break-ins abound. Will they be successful and find the package? And learn what it contains? Will they succeed and beat the clock?

Why does Grace remain fixated on her sister four years after her death? Including still wearing Sophia’s dressing gown in the evenings and mornings. Grace now has a loving husband, a promising job as a clothes designer and as a costume designer for Ambassador Studio. As well, she and her husband care for a few teenage orphans.

Likeable Characters

In this third entry in the Grace Michelle Mystery series, Kari Bovée succeeds in growing Grace in confidence and likeability. The plot moves along at a fair pace. However, the supernatural aspect, in the form of Grace’s dreams and voices initiated by Sophia, her deceased sister, leaves a lot to be desired. Those aspects slow the plot and are not really believable. Sophia’s ghost does a lot of the heavy lifting in the hunt for the package and the crime’s solution. She provides connections and hints that could have been better provided through other, natural, means.

I have read the first and third installments in Grace Michelle Mystery series. I’m not sure I will read other books in this particular series. Although I like the characters more in this book than in Grace in the Wings, the plot in Grace Among Thieves had aspects that were less than credible.

See my review of Grace in the Wings, here.

I received a free copy of Grace Among Thieves from ireadbooktours.com in exchange for an honest review.

Grace in the Wings

Grace in the WingsFlorenz “Flo” Ziegfeld, Jr., Fanny Brice, Mary Pickford, Hedda Hopper. These are a few of the famous Broadway and Hollywood names from the early 20th century mentioned in Kari Bovée’s Grace in the Wings. But this name dropping gets the story off to a very sluggish start.

Grace Michelle, the smart, beautiful, younger sister of Sophia, one of Ziegfeld’s stars in the eponymous Follies, works as an assistant costumier there. After Sophia’s death, Grace is thrown into a number of unusual circumstances, including trying to determine if, and how, Sophia was murdered.

Flo Ziegfield masterminds making Grace the star of his Follies to replace Sophia. He also masterminds sending her on a whistle-stop, cross-country train trip to drum up business for his show. The publicist, Donovan Green, sent along to assist, nearly gets Grace killed during this trip. “How did I get into this mess? All I want to do is design and sew costumes.”  Thus muses Grace to Chet Riker, her bodyguard and new love interest. Did Sophia commit suicide or was it murder? And why would Chet mislead Grace when she asked questions about her sister’s death and the police report?

Change in the Wings

Also, Grace is innocent and naïve at the beginning of Grace in the Wings. For someone orphaned and homeless at a young age, and who then led a life in the theater, she’s too innocent and naïve. Did Grace never wonder what Sophia did to keep them alive while they lived on the street and after Flo Ziegfeld took them under his wing. However, Grace does change and mature as the novel progresses.

I was gradually drawn into Grace in the Wings, even though the plot was sluggish in spots. But tension and suspense did ramp up. Bovée provides great characterization of Grace, Flo Ziegfeld, Fanny Brice and some of the minor characters. Grace, especially, comes into her own.

I look forward to reading other installments of the Grace Michelle Mystery Series.
I received a free e-book copy of Grace in the Wings from ireadbooktours.com in exchange for an honest review.

Giveaway:

Enter to win a $35 PayPal gift card, autographed copy of GRACE AMONG THIEVES, and gift basket containing mouse pad, mug, and tote bag courtesy of the author of the Grace Michelle Mysteries! (one winner/USA only) (ends April 4)

https://gleam.io/0V9S1/grace-among-thieves-grace-michelle-mysteries-tour-giveaway

 

Last Call by Cathi Stoler

Last Call by Cathi StolerWho can you trust, if not your friends, drinking buddies, and regular customers? That’s the question stumping Jude Dillane and Thomas “Sully” Sullivan, her landlord and friend. The dumpster behind The Corner Lounge, Jude’s bar/restaurant hides a body. Turns out, it’s the recently arrived brother of one of Jude’s regular customers, Art Bevins. Who would want him dead, and why? Who among the “10th Street Irregulars,” Sully among them, would have the guts to do such a thing? Last Call by Cathi Stoler keeps the reader guessing.

When Elaine Garlinger, an FBI agent, takes charge of the case, she starts talking about a serial killer. Because of the murder weapon and the physical appearance of the victim, Garlinger connects the current crime to the New Year’s Eve Killer.  And things really heat up for Jude. The killer begins leaving her threatening notes, both at The Corner Lounge and slid under her apartment door. How does he know where she lives? And how does he get into the building, anyway? Why is he so interested in Jude? Does the killer think she’s seen him or knows his identity in some way?

Believable Characters Attract

Believable, likeable characters entice the reader in Last Call by Cathi Stoler. The reader meets characters first seen in Bar None, such as Dean Mason, Jude’s hunky bartender; Sully Sullivan; Tony Napoli (who is this guy anyway?!); and Pete, Jude’s chef and co-owner of The Corner Lounge. Eric, Jude’s new boyfriend, earns a larger part in this second book of Stoler’s Murder on the Rocks series.

I’ve read three of the four books in the Murder on the Rocks series. All of them held my interest based on characterization and, to a lesser extent, plot. I want to read further in this series and look forward to the next installments. See my reviews of Bar None and Straight Up.

I received a free copy of this book from booksirens.com in exchange for an honest review.

Last Call
By Cathi Stoler
© 2020
Level Best Books

Bar None

Bar NoneWe meet Jude Dillane in Bar None, the first installment in Cathie Stoler‘s Murder on the Rocks series. Jude is co-owner of The Corner Lounge, She’s the smart and savvy narrator of this cozy mystery.

Stoler creates likeable characters who have all-too-human flaws and blind spots. Jude is a bright 34-year-old up-and-coming entrepreneur who can’t see that Roger, her current boyfriend is a predator. Sully, an ex-marine is tough and smart except for his choice of the women for whom he falls. Dean, The Corner Lounge’s premier bartender, is handsome and good at his job, but wants to be an actor. So, who knows how long he’ll work at The Corner Lounge. And Peter, the chef/co-owner of The Corner Lounge, creates all kinds of off-beat entrees for the restaurant. All of these characters are memorable and work well together.

When Ed, who works at the Big City Coop with Sully, indicates to him that things aren’t financially correct at the co-op, Sully and Jude begin to nose around. Especially when Ed was killed in Sully’s apartment. When George, another worker at the co-op, has a fatal car crash, things really heat up for Sully and Jude. Who shot Ed? Who pushed George’s car off the road? In fact, who smashed the front window of The Corner Lounge?

Stoler’s meticulous prose keeps the action going at a steady pace and the tension high. But there are three places where the prose is not at its best. For example, when Jude finds Ed-dead in Sully’s apartment, Stoler described the scene as: “Ed was there all right, and he was as dead as the empties from the bar at last call.” Really?

Another miss is when Jade depicts the view from a window in her apartment: “…gazing at the midnight blue sky dotted with stars. They were as bright and unfathomable as the ones that often filled my head.” How many stars can you see from the middle of a large city? Not that many, I think. Too much ambient light.

A third instance was Jude’s description of the traffic sounds she could hear from her apartment. “Like a long and lonely spiral of some long forgotten soulful jazz melody that no longer existed, it wafted up and into my mind.” This is a bit clichéd.

As a whole, I was pleased with, and entertained by, this initial offering in Stoler’s Murder on the Rocks series. Characters are believable and the plot moves along at an even pace.

I look forward to reading the second book in this series. For my review of Straight Up by Cathi Stoler, click here.

I received a free copy of Bar None from booksirens.com in exchange for an honest review.

Never Scot-Free

Never Scot-FreeJC Norton‘s second book in the Stone Ayers series, Never Scot-Free, is a quick but complex read. Norton’s meticulous, spot-on prose makes for a smooth read with effortless transitions.

Stone Ayers works for Dominic Balducci, a restauranteur who also owns multiple other types of businesses. Ayers ostensibly is his Information Technology (IT) guy. Yes, Ayers does work of that sort for Balducci, including programs that keep track of Balducci’s under-the-table operations, of which the biggest is drug dealing in cocaine. But IT isn’t Ayers main job or even his strongest skill. Killing is – Ayers is adept at killing without remorse in a number of different ways. Snapping someone’s neck or having a death appear to be an accident. This skill of Ayers’ came to the forefront during his time in the United States Army Special Rangers.

Ayers’ justification for  his killings is that they are necessary and don’t harm others (no collateral damage, in modern parlance). That is, until he becomes seriously in love with Gudrun Weimar, who he met previously while on assignment on a trip to Antarctica. How will Ayers resolve the conflict between what he does for Balducci and his intense love for Gudrun? This conundrum is not resolved by the end of the book. We can only see what develops over the rest of the series.

Suspension of Disbelief? Maybe Not

This series is entertaining, but there are a few things in Never Scot-Free that may shake up the reader’s suspension of disbelief. Things such as everything being too perfect for both Ayers and Balducci. For example, Ayers is a 6’2”, blonde-haired, blue-eyed Adonis. He has a perfectly shaped body that he, naturally, keeps well-toned. He is on very good terms with Balducci and his family. Ayers loves a beautiful, whip-smart scientist and environmentalist, Gudrun Weimar. He sees no problem disposing of people who appear to be hurting his boss, and whom Dominic Balducci wants eliminated. Ayers “saw himself as being just a particular kind of soldier, working for a commander whom he happened to like a whole lot more than the ones who’d given him orders in the US Army.”

A similar glowing light shines on Dominic Balducci. He’s wealthy, with several businesses. He has a loving wife, Brenda, whom he’s loved since they were teenagers. His 17-year-old son, of whom he’s proud, is smart, honest and has a great girlfriend. Nice house, businesses doing well. Even making a profit from the cocaine sales. Ayers looks up to him because Balducci is “tremendously loyal to those who worked closely with him.”

Peter DelBino, Balducci’s brother-in-law, runs one of Balducci’s businesses and deals cocaine for him, too. DelBino syphons off some of the cocaine he receives and profits by selling it for a higher price to another dealer. Balducci instructs Ayers to find out what’s going on and stop it.

A Little Too Rosy

Never Scot-Free focuses on Ayers’ tracking of DelBino and his associates. Ayers’ relationship with Weimar also matures to a certain extent. This addition to the Ayers series gives enjoyment. But its depiction of Ayers and Balducci is a little too rosy. Lots of good qualities and few or no flaws. Also irritating is Ayers’ and Balducci’s attitude to killing – it’s justified. For example, Balducci had a high opinion of himself: “He was not a bad person, he’d once told Stone. He did bad things sometimes…but only because they were necessary to protect his family and what they had, or to avenge a wrong. He would never ‘turn the other cheek.’ These deeds were, as he saw them, justified, and he did good things too, lots of them.” Such a self-centered philosophy is questionable, to say the least.

Despite the rather too rosy portrayal of Ayers and Balducci, Never Scot-Free was a welcome diversion. Good pacing throughout, even with some overlong descriptions of Ayers’ methods for tracking DelBino. Plus, relished the many “naps” in which Ayers and his amour indulged.

I will continue to read about Stone Ayers and look forward to future installments. For my review of Orca, the first in this series, click here.

I received a free copy of Never Scot-Free in exchange for a voluntary, honest review.

Never Scot-Free
By JC Norton
© 2020
Self-published

Straight Up

Straight UpMoney helps. “It makes everything better.” That’s how Cathi Stoler begins Straight Up. This third novel in Stoler’s On the Rocks series continues the story of Jude Dillane co-owner of The Corner Lounge. Narration switches between Jude and Dolores Castel, a shady female on the prowl for a rich third husband.

Tension arises when Dolores sets her sights on Thomas “Sully” Sullivan as her next catch. But she has to deal with Jude, who’s Sully’s best friend as well as his tenant. Tension also heats up Jude’s world when Art Bevins, a serial killer previously known to Jude, comes hunting for her again. Not to mention that Jude’s boyfriend, Eric, has left her. So, Jude and her crew have to stick together. Not to mention help from some FBI agents assigned to protect Jude until the killer is found. Stoler maintains and heightens the edginess and suspense by alternating narrators at key, strategic points in the plot. Stolen successfully keeps the reader on edge until the end.

Stoler’s well-defined prose helps keep Straight Up moving at a quick, even, pace. well-rounded characters with human quirks and failings as well as likeable qualities populate this novel. Dillane and Sully, Peter and Dean, Ari Maguire and Elaine Garlinger, even Dolores Castel and Art Bevins, are people you’d love or love to hate.

This is the first work by Cathi Stoler that I’ve read. Straight Up can be read as a stand-alone work but does make references to plot points from the previous two works in this series. Those references did not hinder my enjoyment of the book or understanding the plot. My enjoyment of this work will lead me to read other books by Stoler. I’ll especially read the first two installments in the On the Rocks series, Bar None and Last Call.

I received a free copy of this work from booksirens.com in exchange for my voluntary, honest review.

Straight Up
by Cathi Stoler
© 2021
Level Best Books

Napa Noir

Napa NoirMany people might think that wine making is all about growing the right grapes in the right environment. Then sitting back to watch the grapes grow and the money roll in. Not so. Tax evasion, stealing grapes, mislabeling wine, selling cheap wine at higher prices, murder. All of these illegal tidbits make Peter Eichstaedt’s Napa Noir an excellent, thrilling read.

Dante Rath works for the Santa Rosa Sun. He writes “The Grapes of Rath,” the newspaper’s wine column about Northern California’s extensive upscale wine industry. A real come-down for a hot-shot, award-winning investigative journalist. Or so he thinks. Until, that is, two men are shot and killed at a Napa Valley winery. Was it for money? Or is there more involved? Rath jumps in to investigate for the paper rather than the regular newbie crime beat reporter. Told from Rath’s point of view, we get to hear his thoughts on his fact finding and exploration of the murder story. We are also privy to his thoughts about his deceased wife and his withdrawal from dating and a love life after her death.

Wine, Women and Money

From his anxiety-caused indigestion and digestive upset to his renewed interest in women, Rath is a likeable and believable narrator and protagonist. We learn of Rath’s panning of the wines of the largest winery in the area, run by wealthy entrepreneur Riccardo Santos. Also, we watch his courting of Carmen Carelli, an ambitious lawyer representing some of the elite in the California wine industry. Rath is definitely relatable.

Peter Eichstaedt’s Napa Noir is an enjoyable, fast-paced read. In addition to Rath and Carelli, supporting characters are well-rounded. Mei Ling, Marvee McGregor, and an African-American cab driver help bring this murder mystery to life.

I look forward to reading any future books that Eichstaedt adds to this first of his Wine Country Mysteries

I received a copy of this book from www.readersfavorite.com in exchange for an honest review.

 

Napa Noir
by Peter Eichstaedt
© 2018
Wild Blue Press