Category Archives: Fiction

Two Novellas: Quinn Lydia

Two Novellas: Quinn LydiaTwo Novellas: Quinn Lydia highlights JC Norton’s exceptional ability at drawing likeable, well-defined, intelligent characters. Both novellas are character driven and develop in a limited setting. “Quinn” develops mostly in his house and studio; “Lydia” mostly on an expeditionary cruise ship, with a few exceptions in each story.

“Quinn” focuses on what may happen when someone is told they have a terminal illness. Such a death sentence descends on Quinn Evans, an artist and professor. How do you live and what plans do you make? How do you tell your co-workers and family?

“Lydia” follows Lydia O ‘Brien on an expedition cruise to the Falkland Islands and South Georgia in the South Atlantic Ocean. Divorced, Lydia isn’t necessarily looking for a long-term relationship. Her life as a photographer engulfs her completely in a warm cocoon. Then, meeting Maurice unsettles her to a degree and rocks her boat, figuratively. In her mid-thirties and financially secure, does she need or want a relationship with a partner who admits he is bisexual?

Quinn and Lydia drive their stories forward. They both are personable and likeable. One can very much wish to be a part of their circle of friends. Secondary characters such as Quinn’s ex-wife and son, and Lydia’s friend, Maurice, enhance the story in a positive way. Upbeat but not sugar-coated, even when dealing with death, both of the stories in Two Novellas: Quinn Lydia were a joy to read.

I will be reading more of JC Norton’s work later in the year, such as Avenging Angels, the next in the Stone Ayers series, and Christine’s Cruise. (See my reviews of Orca and Scot Free, the first two Stone Ayers books.)

Two Novellas: Quinn, Lydia
by JC Norton
© 2022

Drums of War

Drums of WarThe tension that was building between the Parliament (led by the Puritans) and King Charles 1st in Michael Ward’s Thomas Tallant series boils over in his newest addition, The Drums of War. (See my reviews on his first two Tallant novels, The Rags of Time and The Wrecking Storm). Chaos in London’s streets and elsewhere is a main weapon of Parliament’s supporters, at least so far. Often brutal chaos erupts – breaking and entering, jewel theft, riots in the street. Then the hell of war breaks loose.

While Sir Ralph Tallant refuses to take sides, Tom and Elizabeth both help, each in their own way. Tom joins the Trained Bands. Elizabeth does research and detective work to help friends and acquaintances track thieves and burglars; then helps tend the wounded as skirmishes begin.

Ward’s characterization is perfect. Thomas Tallant is smart and patriotic. His dislike of war doesn’t prevent him from taking sides, albeit reluctantly. Meanwhile, his father insists on riding the fence. His excuse is that he’s on the side with whomever seems to allow his business to continue.

Smart and courageous describe Elizabeth Seymour. Her interests include astronomy, science, medicine and detection. Elizabeth is a good foil for Tom. She’s mentally strong, helping William Harvey tend the wounded at a primitive MASH site close to skirmishes between the king’s supporters and Parliament’s supporters. When the supplies she brought ran out, she just “soldiered on.” As she thought about the wounded she’d already tended to, “she laughed bitterly at the memory of those who said the war would be over after one encounter. She always thought it a forlorn hope…she knew it for what it really was – a bloody fool’s dream.”

Even secondary characters, such as Jake Dibden, a sailor who works on the river, are well executed. Visualization of Dibden, with his strong arms and shoulders, rowing Tom downriver to search for caches of gunpowder stored for the king’s army, comes easily with Ward’s erudite description.

Ward’s descriptions of the chaos amid fog off the Thames during skirmishes of the civil war are exceptional. The Drums of War is excellent reading. Lovers of historical fiction and mysteries will be speedily drawn in.

Bad Fortune

Bad FortuneBad Fortune by Thomas J. Thorson is so hot, it sizzles in your hand. This fourth book in the Malcom Winters Mystery series grabs you within the first few pages.

We get to learn more about Rebecca and also about Leo’s real family. Family members usually stick together, right? Not so in this case. Far from it, in fact.

Strange things start happening to Rebecca, such as someone hacking her credit card. And someone attacks Leo. What does this have to do with Sara, an ex-friend of Rebecca? Who would want to attack Malcom and Vinn’s friends? What can Malcom and Vinn do to help?

Thorson fills out the depiction of Leo and Ted/Rebecca to some degree. Maybe someday we’ll learn a bit more about Malcom Winters and V. N. (Vinn) Achison. Why did Malcom assume the name of another person? This was discussed briefly in Heirs Apparent, the first book in this series. (See my review of Heirs Apparent). Let’s hope for more personal background on Malcom and Vinn in future outings .

In my view, letting us into Mal and Vinn’s previous lives, even a tad, would add oomph and intensity to these two characters and their blossoming love affair. As it is, sometimes they seem a little superficial. Both Malcom and Vinn have secret past lives. Will the reader ever learn the how, where and why of their earlier lives? Let’s hope that we get at least a tiny peek behind the curtain in future additions to this enjoyable series.

I received a copy of Bad Fortune in exchange for an honest review.

Bad Fortune
by Thomas J. Thorson
© 2022
Thorshammer Books

Knock on the Door

Knock on the DoorRoberta K. Fernandez’s A Knock on the Door ramps up the mystery and the suspense. Three murders in three months. All employees of SpringWare, a software and gaming development company. What was it about the National Security Agency’s (NSA) software project that was getting so many of SpringWare’s employees killed? Who would be next?

Rita Johnson, personal assistant to SpringWare VP Mark Mason, and previously to Jack Crawford, was one of the first to smell a rat. Especially when she went to download files for a certain project from Crawford’s computer after his death. Jack’s death was labeled an accident, but was it really? Why were some encrypted? Why was Mason being so secretive about this project?

Needless to say, Rita’s curiosity got the best of her, and she made a copy of the files for herself. She uncovered a connected, unrelenting, deadly series of events. Whom could she trust?

Tension and suspense mount slowly and steadily as Rita uncovers what’s happening with help from Lori, widow of Jack, Jacob Browning, another SpringWare employee, Nathan Schilling, a reporter for a local paper, and eventually Matthew Abernathy, a local police officer. These amateur sleuths begin getting closer to the truth about SpringWare’s project for NSA and Mason’s relationship with Carl Baxter, the NSA director. Then even Rita is murdered in what was meant to look like a hit-and-run accident. Who would be next among the seekers-of-truth group?

Fernandez starts the suspense early and continues to ramp it up with this apparent first novel in a series. Her characters are well drawn, and the amateur sleuths become a tight-knit group as the action advances.

I received a free copy of A Knock on the Door via www.ireadbooktours.com in exchange for an honest review.

Two Roads to Paradise

Two Roads to ParadiseTwo Roads to Paradise (by Gordon Jensen with Cara Highsmith) deals with a very divided America. This second offering in the Be Careful What You Wish For series continues where The Way Out left off. The world is recovering from a pandemic caused by a genetically modified corn that was originally constructed to become biofuel for a deep-space mission to Proxima b in the Alpha Centauri galaxy. But since it was quick growing, the new strain of corn was used to feed the burgeoning population as well. The downside of this new supposedly wonder food showed up a few years later with reduced live births and fewer viable male babies.

Seems the corn negatively affected the Y chromosome. So, more birth defects and infant deaths. With the return of the Alpha Centauri I, in The Way Out, after a strange 40-year absence, hopes for a cure and vaccine had been high, aided by the unaffected male crew members. But no such luck.

In Two Roads to Paradise, it’s now about three years after the events portrayed in The Way Out. Hunter Young, one of the crew members on the Alpha Centauri I, is now an official in President Margaret Marshall’s administration. He’s also a member of the K Group, a resistance group be trying to rectify the cure and also de-radicalize the country, which had grown ever more divided along red and blue lines.

A major part of Two Roads to Paradise covers a trip Hunter Young takes to meet Lydia Statham. Statham is a former major in the US Army and a leader in the resistance. Travel is tough because of tension and border patrols between the various disgruntled red and blue sections. Thus, he travels by water along part of the Great American Loop. He then crosses northern Mexico by car to get to Nevada.

Young, Latham and other resistance members attempt to steal a new cure from a group who want to only provide it to certain groups of white people. All does not go as planned with the resistance’s heist. What is to become of the K Group? Can anybody calm the frayed nerves on both sides of the country’s divided population?

Gordon Jensen is spot on with his characters. One can see Hunter Young, the man of action, twitching and wiggling a foot as he sits through another interminable DC meeting. Lydia Statham, although polite and friendly, is still very much a retired major and a good leader in the resistance. In his travels from Washington, DC, to Nevada, Young engages with well drawn characters who stand out as individuals.

Jensen covers a few current hot topics, such as pandemics and how the government handles information releases and acceptance of a new vaccine. Another topic is the tension between blue and red states. Jensen heightens the tensions. Groups of states band together into different regional zones based on the predominant ideology of each alliance. Canada and the northern part of Mexico are now called The Americas, rather than just the United States of America. Jensen’s outlook may well be very prescient.

Overall, a well-written work. One exception in an enjoyable read is a rather dull dissertation on the politics of the territorial divisions.

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

The Way Out

The Way OutThe Way Out by Gordon Jensen, with C. Highsmith and G. Thomas, begins in the near future, 2025. The Alpha Centauri I is the first manned spaceship to be sent to the planet Proxima b, in the Alpha Centauri galaxy, 4.24 light years. All is going well on what would have been a ten-year mission (measured in earth time) until the spaceship encounters increased energy pulling them towards what is assumed to be a black hole. Forty years later, the spaceship appears and plummets into the ocean. After a short prologue on board the spaceship, the rest of the story is told in the form of interviews conducted by a documentarian-journalist who talks with a NASA employee who communicated with the spaceship the day of its return to Earth and major crew members.

Their arrival dispels the idea that the spaceship had been lost after entering what everyone thought was a black hole. The interviews with the crew illuminate the cool, guarded reception the crew received upon being rescued from the sea after plunging to Earth. No hugs and kisses with loved ones. No ticker tape parades. Why?

Apparently, things had changed significantly between 2025 and 2065. Fewer men, more women in power, what else had changed? Global population had fallen to just over 2.5 billion people. Why? Seemingly, when eaten, the genetically modify organism (GMO) corn used as biofuel for the spaceship interacted with the male Y chromosome and rendered it inert. This became another viral pandemic. Consequently, fewer babies were born, and even fewer of them were males.

New World Order?

Think about the world with no sports teams because of insufficient males to compete. Or a world with reduced digital and electronic communications because of a war that broke out fighting over who would control the supply of the new corn prior to the recognition of its drawbacks and repercussions. Think of the decrease in population where most survivors migrate towards metropolitan areas away from the devastation caused in agricultural areas based on trying to destroy the new corn with its ominous side effects.

The near-future Earth world created by Gordon Jensen has many of the same problems as our present-day one. Scarce resources, and fights over those resources, are still all too real. Unconscionable actions deemed necessary by the government “for the greater good” are taken or suggested that affect the human rights of the spaceship crew. Pandemics still rage and vaccines are still viewed as problematic by some of the population. Conspiracy theory alarmists would have a field day with everything carried within the vaccine in Jensen’s created world.

I enjoyed this fictional world and the characters within it. However, as stated previously, the story moves forward by means of interviews with the major characters. This is an interesting concept. On the other hand, vivid action and suspense are rather subdued. Everything is relayed to the reader second-hand and is seen through limited viewpoints. However, we get to meet each important character and learn their foibles up close.

I recommend The Way Out and look forward to reading Two Roads to Paradise, the second book in Gordon Jensen’s Be Careful What You Ask For series.

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

The Way Out
by Gordon Jensen
with Cara Highsmith and Gordon Thomas
© 2018

Lies at Her Door

Lies at Her DoorLies at Her Door, by A. A. Abbott, seems to be a novel dealing with characters whose lives are not what they seem or had envisioned. Who, if anyone, is telling the truth? The mystery at the center seems to highlight what’s missing from the lives of Neil Slater and Lucy Freeman. And even Sebastian and Dan Freeman. Lucy wishes she was thinner and not responsible for the care of her invalid mother. Lucy feels unloved—her mother calls her a pig and fat, and otherwise derides her daughter. Jennifer and Sebastian, Lucy’s parents used to deride her for the inability to keep a pet alive for even a short while. But Lucy cooks for the household and helps dress and assist her mother since her mother contracted Parkinson’s. Why the derision of a daughter who is competent, kind, and at least nominally pretty? Is something else at work?

Why does Dan, Lucy’s brother, stay away from home? Is it just that he enjoys the superstar lifestyle since his band became popular? Or is there something more sinister? Why does he live alone with just a bodyguard?

Neil wishes his girlfriend, Gemma, would move in with him. But Gemma professes that she loves living in the country. Neil’s job as a detective keeps him in Bristol.

Jason Jardine, one of Dan’s fellow band members, goes missing. Lucy even gets blamed for Jason’s disappearance. Then Jason’s skeleton is found in a collapsed cellar only accessible from the Freeman house. When Lucy finds her mother’s diaries while clearing off a bookshelf, she hopes to find out the truth of what happened. But Sebastian disposes of the diaries before Lucy can read them. Why?

Why is Lucy Freeman the nexus in the mystery of Jason’s death? Neil think Lucy is the murderer. Why? Does Neil even remember that Lucy babysat him once when he was four? And supposedly gave him a drug-laced brownie? Drugs meant for the members of Dr. Sweet, Dan’s band. Was Lucy even aware of the drugs in the brownies? Why does Lucy remember almost nothing from the last time she saw Jason?

Lies at Her Door is a slow, but inexorable crawl to the denouement in the search for Jason’s killer. Lucy is a well-drawn character. Her father, a professor, is fairly well drawn. Jennifer, Lucy’s mother is just a shell of a woman for the majority of the novel due to her illness. But she impacts the story, nonetheless. The plot, although a bit slow, benefits from Abbott’s tight, straight on prose. Alternating the narrative from the perspective of both Lucy and Neil provides more information than would otherwise have been possible.

This was a fairly good read.

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

Lies at Her Door
By A. A. Abbott
© 2022
Perfect City Press

The Beached Ones

The Beached OnesWhat would it be like if everyone thought you were dead? What if people walked by you and didn’t seem to notice you? A few people, like your ex-girlfriend, Jolene, and her new boyfriend, Brent, can see you. But Isabella, the medium, can’t. You seem solid enough to yourself. Normal functions work—you can eat, drink and wear clothes. You swear you are alive and well. But one moment you’re at the ocean helping beached whales and the next you’re lying by railroad tracks; then you’re in the Midwest. With no idea how you moved from place to place. Welcome to the dystopian world of Daniel Shepard in The Beached Ones by Colleen M. Story.

Story keeps the reader off balance by inserting flashbacks of Daniel’s earlier life in a single-parent, dysfunctional household. Daniel escapes that environment by becoming a motocross stunt rider. One of his current desires is to get to San Francisco to meet his younger brother, Tony. The other is to reclaim Jolene.

I never really became involved with the characters in this novel. They all seemed like chimeras. Daniel seemed the most solid, alive character even though he apparently died from an accident at a motocross show prior to the beginning of the novel. Ghostly as he is, Daniel is the anchor holding the lives of those within his sphere together. Daniel feels responsible for everyone who touches his world, no matter how tangentially. That includes Trisha, a teenager who he doesn’t know, who commits suicide in a parking lot while Daniel stands helplessly nearby.

Straightforward or Beached?

Are our lives as straightforward as we would like to believe? Do we absolutely know where we’re headed at any given point? Or are we pulled this way and that? Do we live a vertiginous life as Daniel does in both human and spirit form?

Are the beached whales that Daniel attempts to save at the beginning of the novel synonymous with, and representative of, those humans in his life whom he also tries to save? Hmm, read The Beached Ones and draw your own conclusions.

Shadow of Murder

Shadow of MurderWhen and where does it take a village to solve a murder? In Lauren Carr‘s Shadow of Murder. That’s where. What happened to Konnor Langston? Why did she suddenly disappear while helping Larry Donahue clean out his deceased father’s house?

Beware. There are lots and lots of characters in this lengthy tome. This is really an affair involving a good chunk of the village of Spencer, including the mayor, Gnarly (a German shepherd). And the villagers all know one another, and most are somehow related to each other.

I enjoyed the characterization. Although there was a multitude of characters, many “on stage” together, most of the characters had their own personality. But I chafed when I had to keep referring to the Cast of Characters list at the beginning of the novel to keep everyone straight and remind myself of who was who, as most are related to each other in some way, as previously mentioned. This slowed down my reading of the novel to a large extent and took away from the enjoyment of the story. In fact, the interactions between certain groups of characters detracted from the sense of mystery. At times, this seems like a novel about the village characters, especially during the first 25 percent of the novel.

Another minor irritation was the food fight scene at the Spencer Inn. It reminded me too much of Keystone Kops slapstick-style comedy. But once the story got rolling it became more engrossing.

Overall, I enjoyed reading Shadow of Murder. I look forward to reading more from Lauren Carr.

Lauren Carr

Lauren CarrI’ve just discovered Lauren Carr, a prolific author of cozy mysteries as well as other genres. In the near future, I’ll be reading and reviewing a few of Carr’s mysteries.

Gnarly is a character that appears in a few of the books in Carr’s Mac Faraday series.

Enjoy this preview of what’s ahead.

Ten Things You May Not Know about Gnarly
by Lauren Carr

Gnarly is a canine genius. In It’s Murder, My Son, Mac has Gnarly evaluated by a dog expert who determines that the German shepherd has reasoning and planning capability, which is why he doesn’t always listen to humans.

Gnarly is a kleptomaniac. When he gets bored, he plans and executes heists—just to see if he can get away with it.

Gnarly is a West Virginian. He was born at Beck’s Kennels in Inwood, West Virginia. His parents still live there.

Gnarly is lactose intolerant. Mac Faraday only recently made this discovery.

Gnarly was not in the first or even second draft of It’s Murder, My Son. While Mac Faraday had a dog, it was not become an actual character until a much later draft.

Gnarly has a squirrel friend named Otis. Occasionally, he and Gnarly will have spats. In Old Loves Die Hard, Otis threw acorns at Gnarly, hitting David’s police cruiser.

Gnarly was inspired by Lauren’s son’s Australian shepherd, which was given to him by a woman during halftime at a football game. Her big sales pitch: “You can keep him. He’s free!” The next day, the free puppy chewed through a $65 power cord.

There is a real Gnarly. After the success of the Mac Faraday Mysteries, Lauren got a real German shepherd and named him Gnarly, after his fictional counterpart. He was kind enough to model for the fictional Gnarly’s campaign posters.

The real Gnarly can open doors—even doors with round doorknobs like his fictional counterpart. For this reason, Lauren has to lock the door when she wants Gnarly to stay outside. He hasn’t conquered picking locks yet; but give him time. Most of Gnarly’s misbehaviors are based on real-life incidents involving Lauren’s dogs or dog stories supplied to her by fans.

While the fictional Gnarly is un-neutered, the real life Gnarly is. A friend of Lauren’s wanted to breed Gnarly with her purebred German shepherd, but before the “wedding” could take place, Gnarly developed an unhealthy obsession with a footstool. For the sake of her sanity, Lauren decided to get Gnarly altered. Luckily, Lauren’s friend understood.