Sunday, April 29, 2012

New Blog

If you've stumbled upon this blog, congratulations. Please feel free to look around, get some basic information about me and read past blogs. However, please be aware that as of 4/30/12 my book review blog will be located at My regular blog, Brayton's Briefs will be located at Please join the fun and see the new look. Thank you and good writing! SLB.

Monday, April 23, 2012


By Mike McNeff

When Robin Marlette and his Arizona narcotics unit force down a smugglers plane, they discover not only bribe money bound for a powerful Arizona lawyer, but end up killing the brother of a powerful Mexican drug lord. Marlette begins an operation to give the money over to the lawyer and arrest the parties paid off. However, the drug lord has plans for revenge. Dealing with pressures from higher up, within his own family, and threats from outside, Marlette fights a battle for survival and justice.

I like the take on a familiar theme. GOTU (Guardians of the Universe). The setting is not in Washington, or some exotic locale, but in Arizona, where border issues and drugs are a real problem. This shows how one state’s handling of an operation can affect the nation.

Robin Marlette: 42, black hair, supervisor and Sergeant of the Arizona Department of Public Safety Narcotics Special Enforcement Unit, also part of the DPS Swat Team, lawyer, started with highway patrol, private pilot, has a wife and children

Carl Walton: Arizona Republican, Phoenix attorney, into money laundering, bribery, extortion, married but not in love with his wife

Burke Jameson: 6’2”, American Indian, solid build, hunter/tracker, tracker in Vietnam, was in Green Berets, part of Marlette’s NSEU, private pilot, divorced twice, used to drink heavily

Tom Pearle, Captain and commander of the DPS Narcotics Enforcement Division, blond, blue eyes, square jaw, six foot tall, worked with Marlette in narcotics in the seventies

Bill Grassley: U.S. Customs Resident Agent in Charge of the Phoenix Office of Investigation, green eyes

Chris Fleming: FBI agent of 26 years with 5 years on the Hostage Rescue Team

Rodriguez-Lara: Mexican drug lord, parents killed when he was ten, committed numerous crimes to obtain wealth, including self prostitution

Angie Spurline: DEA agent, no family, attractive, Asian descent, sad eyes, new to the Phoenix area, husband under investigative quarantine

Lots of characters. Too many to mention all. The main ones have some good personality and background information. Marlette a kind of maverick whose risky schemes tend to make the higher ups nervous but he always comes through with a victory. I was disappointed, however, with his moment of weakness after harboring strong feelings for his wife throughout the book.

Many sentences sound a bit unnatural because McNeff will use contractions about half the time. There are individual voices, but many of the team members are indistinguishable. Understandable, though since there are a lot of characters.

A few punctuation and spelling errors. Profanity, but fitting the characters. One sexual scene. Tight actions scenes. McNeff did his homework on the hierarchy of law enforcement entities, weaponry, and technology. He does a nice balancing act between NSEU operations, home life, and points of view from other characters, without a lot of the drudgery of unnecessary secret meetings and miscellaneous conversations between conspirators (and here I mean Washington conspirators). McNeff generally stays on track and the minor sideline scenes added a few short branches that stayed connected to the plot. Scenarios and situations develop almost too quickly. The chapters’ lengths vary a bit. The story starts out on a high note, drops down for a bit, but it’s not too long before it starts a slow build up. For awhile, I thought about giving the book a purple belt because of the editing errors and many lulls between action scenes (I would have enjoyed more details in a few places, more tension). After completing the book, I felt it deserved a bit higher.

My ranking:

Blue Belt

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Arranger

By L.J. Sellers

Step into the world of tomorrow. America is experiencing dark days with 21% unemployment, very high inflation, $8 per gallon gas, millions homeless, extra lax gun laws, shrinking federal government, and people wanting better jobs because of health insurance. Reality television has hit a new level with an annual competition for the best in America, but a killer lurks in the background.

It is the year 2023. Lara Evans, a freelance paramedic in Oregon is entered into an annual televised contest of strength, intelligence, and ingenuity, called the Gauntlet. However, the other competitors are not her only worry. She’s trying to outwit a gunman who almost killed her and the federal employment commissioner and has followed her to the competition.

Months before The Gauntlet, federal employee Paul Madsen wants very much to impress a pretty coworker. To get the funds to improve himself cosmetically he arranges for individuals to be hired into lucrative positions. However, his intended really would like to be the next federal employment commissioner, who oversees the Gauntlet. For that to happen, the current commissioner might have to die.

I want to compare it to The Running Man, but it might be Running Man Light. It’s a typical questions authors receive, but I’d be interested to learn how this plot originated. It’s an interesting view on the world of tomorrow.

Lara Evans: 42, 5’5”, brunette, former police officer now a freelance paramedic, kick, boxes, marathon runner lives in Eugene, Oregon, allergic to perfume, estranged parents live in Alaska. She was a juvenile delinquent. She has survived a rape and assault and a knife attack. Since leaving the department, she hasn’t been able to eat solid food and throws various food into a blender.

Paul Madsen: federal government worker in Personnel and Payroll Management, highly intelligent, photogenic memory, lonely, average looks, owns a Lhasa-poo dog. Was a foster child.

Camille Waterson: 33, Paul’s coworker, beautiful, blonde, looking to move up in the world

Thaddeus Morton: federal employment commissioner, bisexual

Jason Copeland: Ex Marine, firefighter, lives in Illinois, self-assured, almost cocky

Kirsten Dornberg: 24, blonde, lives in Florida

Unique characters. Sellers gets into depth with only Lara and Paul, but that’s okay, the others are just for support. There has to be a cop involved as well as typical personalities of the other competitors

Concise, no long soliloquies. Conversations are to the point with no wandering into left field. POV is, for the most part, from either Lara or Paul.

Sellers writes a tight top notch novel with plenty of action and suspense. This one moves fast and does not let down the reader one bit. No extraneous detail. A few unnecessary instances of profanity and a couple of errors but nothing to detract from the enjoyment of the novel.

My ranking:

Blue Belt

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Judas Gospel

by Bill Myers

What if Judas asked Jesus for another chance? “You know, if you had done it my way, you could have ruled the world. Give me a chance to show you what I can do.” In “The Judas Gospel,” the former apostle gets his chance. This books combines a little bit of mystery, the supernatural, murder, religion, and shows the highs and lows of human nature…and don’t jump on my case if I say…aspects and adventures also found in the Bible.

Judas Iscariot, refashioning himself into marketing mogul Jude Miller, is in Los Angeles to bring a new prophet to the world. Nineteen year old Rachel Delacroix, whose father is the pastor of an inner city storefront church, has been recovering from a stay in a mental hospital. She feels responsible for causing a fire that killed her mother and sister. Plagued by dreams of murders with connections to classical painters, she is soon suspected of killing L.A. police officers. She has also discovered she can heal afflictions with her hands. Miller proceeds to market God’s new gift to the world, making each of Delacroix’s appearances splashier and headline grabbing than the last. Can she cope with her new ‘power,’ while trying to stay out of the hands of police…and what evil lurks around the corner awaiting its next opportunity to strike?

I love the modern tale with the extra murder mystery thrown in and the biblical parallels throughout.

Jude Miller – Judas Iscariot ‘redesigned’ so to speak, reserved, but ready to deliver the holy ‘punch’ to promote the new sensation

Rachel Delacroix – Pure innocence fighting personal battles. Unsure of what to expect from the world. Loving daughter

Sean Putnam – Single father with Down’s Syndrome child. Rookie cop who gets thrown into the mystery of Rachel on his first day on the job. Only wants to provide for his son and ends up falling for Rachel.

Reverend Delacroix – Minister struggling to hold together his little inner city church. Can’t stand to see his daughter exploited

The host – Absolute devilish bad guy. Satan’s legion of demons inhabiting a sociopath.

Each character, from the doctor trying to analyze Rachel to the homicide cops trying to solve the murder has a distinct, defined personality. Actually, Jude should get second or even third billing. He’s not a throwaway character, since the story takes places because of his instigation, but he’s definitely not the prominent persona.

Fitting to each character. The worst language is ‘jackass.’

This book is highly enjoyable from the first page to the last. Yes, there is religion laced throughout, but it’s shown from two opposing sides of the spectrum. There is the pastor struggling to deliver the truth of God’s wisdom and love while Miller and his PR machine seek to put Rachel upon an altar for the world to see. You feel the emotion in the cries for responsibility, for humility, and reason, next to the flashy, high tech ‘ministries’ and marketing campaigns of the modern age. The story never drags and is not complex. I don’t like books that are heavily influenced with philosophy or self discovery. The story holds a message for all of us while showing some insight to how people think in the 21st Century, but it’s tempered with action and intrigue. This is a very well written novel.

My ranking

Black Belt

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Cut

By George Pelecanos

Ex Marine and Iraq vet Spero Lucas works as an investigator for a Washington, D.C. defense attorney. He also has a sideline business finding lost items for people. Drug runner Anwan Hawkins, in jail awaiting trial, hires Lucas to find two shipments of marijuana stolen from drop-off sites.
Lucas discusses the problem with Hawkins’ employees, who are laid back and easy going. The picture quickly changes. Lucas must use his intelligence and various contacts because the stakes have been raised and the people he’s up against are serious about keeping him from receiving his ‘cut.’

It’s a basic plot, but so are many of Pelecanos’. There’s nothing new here, but there’s nothing worth dismissing either.

Spero Lucas: 29, Marine who fought in Iraq. Investigator for a defense attorney. He was adopted by Greek parents. Low key. Intelligent. Respectful.
Troubled by his father’s death.

Anwan Hawkins – drug runner, thirty-something. Not a crime boss, not a gang boss, just does a low key business.

Larry Holley – Washington D.C. officer in Narcotics and Special Investigations. His ex cop father, who left when Larry was a child has returned and sucked Larry into illegal dealings. Larry, okay with the small time drug business, is upset when his father condones murder to take care of business.

They’re basic, but I don’t mean they’re flat. Without knowing quite how or why, I kind of understand the characters without really knowing them, or needing to know them too in depth. Pelecanos scrapes below the surface to show you a little of what’s underneath. Every good guy has little faults and every bad guy knows the potential consequences of his choices.

Basic, to the point. No long soliloquies or philosophizing.

If you’ve read Pelecanos before you know what to expect. Straight forward, no extraneous detail. The urban culture is presented as ‘It is what it is.’ He puts a lot of emphasis on music, food, alcohol, and books. The details are basic and not lavish. There’s no hype, no flash, no sensationalism, but with “The Cut” you don’t mind. If the protagonists from his stories all gathered in the same room, you’d find many similarities. I tend to view Pelecanos’ stories as ‘A Day in the Life of’ or time elapsed snapshots of a chapter out of the lives of the characters, with a little flavor and spice added to keep it interesting.

My ranking:

Blue Belt

Monday, March 26, 2012

Deadly Currents

By Beth Groundwater

In the whitewater rapids of Colorado’s Arkansas River, Tom King falls out of his raft. Mandy Tanner, ranger and river guide rescues him but King dies anyway. Mandy subsequently finds out King died from poisoning. Who killed him? The suspects are numerous. The wife had motive because Tom cheated on her. The mistress hated that Tom wanted to go back to his wife. The son Tom refused to help financially. The environmentalist who was against Tom plans for a golf course. The realtor in competition with Tom for land and water rights. Maybe it was one of Mandy’s own crew of river guides. She navigates her way through the list while also dealing with her uncle’s failing rafting business. Soon, she finds the water isn’t the only danger she has to face.

A nice cozy set in a small Colorado tourist town. A different setting than a typical big city mystery. This has your usual slate of suspects and characters.

Mandy Tanner: Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area Ranger and river guide at her uncle’s rafting business in Colorado. Both parents dead. Likes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches

Steve Hadley: Mandy’s supervisor

Gonzo Gordon: Another river guide.

Victor Quintana: Sheriff’s Detective

Rob Jaurez: An owner of a competing rafting outfit and Mandy’s boyfriend

Cynthia Abbott: bartender, Mandy’s good friend, likes to tell blonde jokes

Bill Tanner: Mandy’s uncle. Widower, no children. Wants Mandy to take over his business when he retires.

David Tanner: 30, Mandy’s brother. Blond with freckles. Accountant.

As I mentioned a standard cast for this type of mystery. Everyone is well defined and Groundwater doesn’t go into to too much depth with anybody except Mandy.

Standard. Rob doesn’t use any Spanish except mi querida when talking to Mandy

Easy read. I must mention, however, about the cool and appropriate name of the author. What else but a river adventure would you expect someone named Groundwater to write? She did some excellent research to bring a lot of aspects of life on the river, the dangers, and the technical know-how. This is a cozy with a few instances of foul language, but not enough to turn you off. The author did a nice job of keeping the story moving with each chapter.

My ranking:

Blue Belt

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Game Plan

By Charles Wilson

Mississippi doctor, Spence Stevens investigates the death of a mentor and runs afoul of a government conspiracy. Years ago, scientists implanted human lab rats with computer chips, giving them enhanced knowledge and abilities.

An interesting plot worthy of a Syfy movie. This is another story about the power of government against the little guy in an effort to control the world. You could throw just about any hero into the midst and the story would still work.

Spence Stevens – Research scientist out to solve the problem of blindness. Single.

Walter Quinlan – The antagonist. The controller of the troops of chip implanted warriors. He ‘sees’ what his underlings see and commands them to act.

I’d mention the detective I thought would be paired with Stevens, but (and I’m sorry for the spoiler) he dies early on. This is unfortunate because he’s a likeable guy and you get to know his history but I was disappointed when he turned into a throwaway character. In fact, I felt after this death, the other roles didn’t matter too much. There’s a little bit of mystery near the end of which one of Steven’s female acquaintances is the traitor, but by that time, I didn’t care. Nobody is really strong except for Quinlan and I would have liked to have seen him even stronger and ‘badder.’

Nothing complex. The mild profanity sounds forced.

A little confusing in the opening chapters. I tried to make a connection between the prologue and the opening scenes with the first death that gets the story started. I enjoyed the scenes in Montana in the secret government lab. Those were the most intriguing and enjoyable. The merciless power of the bad buys is typical, but still gets you into a ‘love to hate’ mood.

My ranking:

Green Belt

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Legend Of Rachel Petersen

by J. T. Baroni
(Baroni is gentleman on the left. Just in case you thought it was the furry creature in the lower right.)

Christian Kane is a sports writer for a Pittsburgh newspaper. On the night of the annual awards banquet the paper celebrates the retirement of a long time veteran and Kane is expecting to be promoted. He is not. Disgusted, he quits the paper and he and his wife use what money they have to move to a rural house where Christian plans on writing a novel. He is unable to come up with a worthwhile plot until he and his wife stumble upon an old grave out in the woods. Buried in the grave is a young girl, Rachel Petersen, who died during the Civil War. Inspired by this grave, Kane then proceeds to write the following story:

In 1950, two brothers, Thaddeus and Seth, are out hunting deer. They finally managed to bag the prized buck but the deer is lying on an old grave, the grave of a little girl whose ghostly legend is popular in the area. Come Spring, Thaddeus digs up the grave and releases the spirit of the girl.
Everyone assumes the story of the little girl who reportedly killed her uncle, aunt, and cousins, then hung herself is true. Everybody uses the legend as a way to scare others because Rachel supposedly returns haunt area folk, wielding the knife used in her slayings. However, Thaddeus and Seth are encouraged by the Rachel's spirit to discover the truth behind the girl's death.

This is a story within a story involving a paranormal mystery. There is a little bit of the classical revenge-of-the ghost story here, too, but I really got into it because I happen to enjoy these types of stories. I wasn't too sure at first how the story within a story would work, because the Kane's story takes up the majority of the entire book. I think it works pretty well, though.

Christian Kane: 6'2”, fit physique, late thirties, sports reporter for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, doesn't wear a watch or like electronics such as new computers, likes ESPN, drives a BMW, likes the Steelers

Shelby Kane: Christian's husband, fit physique, late thirties, secretary for law firm

Rachel Petersen: 12, redhead, mother dead, father unable to care for her, taken to Pennsylvania in 1863 to live with uncle and aunt

Some good characters here. Pretty well defined. I enjoyed Kane's rebuffing of modern technology even to the point of not wearing a watch. Nobody was forgotten or left behind; in other words, I didn't feel there was any character needing more attention.

A good effort at bringing voices of the different time periods into play. No long speeches or unnecessary filler.

If it weren't for the excessive profanity and a rape scene this would have been a great YA story. It had that type of feel to it. It's a fairly quick read (only about 142 pages in the pdf file and part of that is intro and promotion of other books at the end). Good use of period products and factoids (a young Roy Clark at the Grand Ol' Opry, for example). I had mixed feelings about what happened after Kane's story ended. I thought Baroni rushed to get to the end and everything seemed to fall into place for Kane rather systematically, quickly, and unbelievably. Then, I received the first surprise (which I won't tell you because it'll ruin the book) and I groaned audibly wanting it not to be so. However...the very ending and the next set of surprises wrapped the story up nicely and I had a good satisfied chuckle. I think you will, too. Not because the story is belly laugh humorous, but because of the sly eeriness with which Baroni finishes it off.

My ranking:

Blue Belt

Monday, March 5, 2012

Dear Air 2000

By Terry Ravenscroft

Terry Ravenscroft, former factory worker turned comedy writer, tackles the airlines. In this collection of humorous letters to various airlines foreign and domestic he describes various ‘complaints’, inquires about cultural affairs, and requests accommodations and/or reassurances for a whole host of ‘problems’ which may or may not occur during the flight or during his vacation. He begins by requesting a supply of lasagna from Air 2000, inquiring about special arrangements from Britannia Air for his extra large body size, and wanting to buy a stewardess uniform from Air UK. From there his requests and questions become stranger and funnier with each letter. Some of the replies are notable, too, for what they DON’T say. For instance, Olympic Airlines (Greece) referred Mr. Ravenscroft to their cargo department in reply to his request for information on ferrying back an urn, never mentioning the fact he’d be stealing a Greek artifact.

Similar to Dear Coca-Cola, this is a collection of humorous letters and replies.

None, other than the authors various self depictions. He presents himself as an obese man, deaf, mute, blind, or suffering from different ‘diseases’ and ‘afflictions’ which may cause problems for the airline.

The replies from the airlines remain professional and even acknowledging some of the humor in the author’s letters.

I did find this book a bit more humorous than Dear Coca-Cola for some of the outrageous requests and ‘complaints’ listed. However, I felt the author did push the envelope a little. Sometimes the number of letters re-covering the same ground was too much. Plus, on many occasions he threw in some mild insults to the host country, which to an airline representative, would tend to result in less assistance offered even though, to their credit, they remained professional. In many ways, the author comes across as one of those customers who will not be satisfied no matter what is said or done and in many instances, I can understand the airline’s termination of communication.

My ranking:

Green Belt

Monday, February 27, 2012

Dear Coca-Cola

By Terry Ravenscroft

For the next couple weeks I’d like to review a couple of collections by Ravenscroft. This is a bit coincidental as I just uploaded a post on my other blog regarding humor. Humor is a tricky thing and each person defines what’s funny. Keep that in mind when you read further.

Former factory worker Terry Ravenscroft, who lives in Derbyshire, England, has written a number of letters to British food corporations describing various ‘complaints’ and offering suggestions for product improvement. This book is a collection of those letters and the companies’ subsequent replies. Mr. Ravenscroft starts with one of the most popular brand names, Coca-Cola, writing to see if the drink includes any type of animal matter because he has visiting friends who are vegetarians. Then he wonders whether the company actually puts cocaine (hence the soda’s name) into the drink. From there he contacts every business from soup to nuts, from tea to pasta, from chocolate to dog food. Most of the replies he receives are very professional with a few ‘standard form letters’ and even some company representatives adding their own bits of humor. Each letter seems to get more outlandish than the last.

For a person with too much time on his hands who wants to stir up a little humorous controversy, I suppose writing letters to companies is the way to go.

None, unless you count the representatives from the corporations who, for the most part, remain professional.

I suppose the dialogue in the letters remains consistent throughout and the dialogue in the replies vary from slightly nudge-nudge-wink-wink to blatant form letter.

While Mr. Ravenscroft is going for humor, he sometimes steps over the line of professionalism and decency. Though there are a fair number of laughs to be had, some of his replies are mildly to medium insulting and after a few of these, it is no wonder the companies contacted simply do not reply as is often stated. Similarly, and this is purely personal preference, it was not necessary to include the plethora information regarding his sexual peccadilloes, true or not. Many letters included information regarding activities that lacked common sense, such as the nanny throwing in an unopened tin of tuna into a meal because the directions suggested ‘adding a can of tuna.’ I admire the companies remaining professional, even going so far as to offer vouchers and coupons. I also give credit to the creativity of Mr. Ravenscroft but he generally came off as a pest.

My ranking:

Camouflage Belt

Monday, February 20, 2012

Night Corridor

by Joan Hall Hovey

It's 1973. Residents in the town of St. Simeon are in fear. A serial killer is roaming the streets. Caroline Hill, in a mental hospital for nine years is released to start her new life. With help from the hospital, she is set up in an apartment and a new job. While she rediscovers herself and tries to cope with the world, she deals with a sexist co-worker and realizes she's being watched and followed. As the weeks roll by, the body count grows and Caroline's fears mount. With the inevitable meeting with the killer she must wage a desperate fight for survival.

I like the premise, but once you get into it, you soon see how the story is 'off' in many places. For instance, weeks go by between the first suspicions of a stalker and the next incident. A subplot is included where the police suspect one guy of killing his wife and making it look like the serial killer's work, but they take a long while to get a search warrant to confront him.

Caroline Hill: 26, nine years in a mental institution. Put there by her Bible thumping father and submissive mother, both dead when story starts. Caroline had a baby out of wedlock and was forced to give it up. She's sensitive to others and wary of her new freedom.

Greta Bannister: Caroline's landlady. Talkative. Caring

Harold Bannister: Greta's 24 year old nephew. Learning disability. Works in a bakery. Develops a crush for Caroline.

Lynne Addison: Nurse in the institution. Dealing with her mother's Alzheimer's. Wants only the best for Caroline.

Thomas O'Neal: Homicide detective

Buddy: Abused as a child. Neglected by his mother and uncles including one who raped him.

Mike Handratty: Caroline's coworker at the diner. Sexist, chauvinist, harasses Caroline.

Jeffrey Denton: Piano player who lives above Caroline.

Relatively unexciting characters, even though Caroline's rediscovery of herself is an interesting study. Some of the background for a few characters is irrelevant to the story. Buddy's is a typical story.

Pretty basic. Some standard B-movie lines. Nothing too exciting.

This was a difficult story to read. Short chapters. Other than some of the plot problems, this book is fraught with mistakes editing should have caught. Missing quotation marks or quotes in the wrong places. Extra or missing words. Sentence structure doesn't flow in many places. There are abrupt switches in POV. Slow action. Climax is drawn out and not suspenseful. End of chapter foreshadowing seems forced and one doesn't pan out. Set in the seventies with some minor references, but not enough to matter. Title is unique, but irrelevant, unless I'm missing something.

My ranking:

Yellow Belt

Monday, February 13, 2012


By David Weddle and Jeffrey Lang

Set in the time after the last season of DS9 ends. An agent from Starfleet’s enigmatic and shadowy Section 31 has once again approached Doctor Julian Bashir for another mission. Another genetically enhanced doctor, Locken, recruited by Section 31 has gone rogue on a planet within the infamous Badlands. Locken, a Khan wannabe, is creating an army of Jem’Hadar in a megalomaniacal plan to unite the Alpha Quadrant. Assisted by Ezri Dax, Ro Laren and DS9’s resident Jem’Hardar, Taran’atar, Julian must fight his own doubts about enhance individuals to stop Locken before the galaxy is plunged into all out war.

Not an original plot, but as a Star Trek fan, I did enjoy the Section 31 episodes and the series of Section 31 stories in books. This one didn’t deal too directly with the black ops agency, which most of them didn’t. I was disappointed because I thought the authors of these books would delve more into the workings and machinations of Section 31 rather than providing another episodic chapter in the lives of the Star Trek characters.

Doctor Julian Bashir: Chief medic on Deep Space 9. Genetically enhanced individual.

Ezri Dax: a Trill and current love interest of Bashir’s

Ro Laren: Chief security officer on DS9

Locken: Doctor, genetically enhanced.

Taran’atar: Jem’Hadar who is observing activities on DS9. He is an altered version of his race in that he doesn’t need the required Ketracel White formula to function.

If you’re a fan of Star Trek, you know the characters. The only new ones are the race of Ingavi who come across as more monkey like than humanoid.

The authors do a good job of recreating the voice of each character from the series. From Bashir’s above average attitude to Ezri’s quirkiness. The conversations were typical of ST novels.

The story follows the events in a previous book, Avatar, so the station in is the midst of a major overhaul after an attack. The fusion core is being replaced. While the main story is progressing, other DS9 characters’ subplots continue which was a little distracting and unnecessary. This book is written similarly to others in that the main characters are separated and the storyline follows each group, usually every other chapter bouncing back and forth. The action is typical ST and the theme is one seen before. Despite the interruptions for stuff going on back at the station, it is still an enjoyable story.

My ranking:

Purple Belt

Monday, February 6, 2012

Engines of Destiny

by Gene DeWeese

The next two weeks, I step into the science fiction world with two reviews on Star Trek books. I usually don't take a sci-fi book unless there's something that peaks my interest. I can count on one hand the number of series I've read, including Doctor Who, the Rama series, and a couple of others. I actually started read Trek as a youth but the first book I picked up was Triangle and I didn't understand it and didn't read another Trek novel for many years. Now, I've collected nearly all of them. You might see other Trek or Who novels here in the future, if I deem them worthy.

Bored by retirement and depressed by Jim Kirk’s death, Captain Montgomery Scott is drowning his anxieties in various taverns in Scotland. One night, he meets an enigmatic woman (Guinan) and soon after embarks on the mission which would ultimately lead him to his adventure on Picard’s Enterprise in the story, Relics.

This story picks up almost immediately after Relics. Scott, wandering around the universe in a shuttlecraft, encounters aliens trying to escape their planet’s corrupt rulers. They ultimately lead Scott to a Klingon Bird of Prey. After helping the aliens to escape, he returns to the Enterprise to obtain the information on how Spock took another Bird of Prey back in time as seen in the movie Star Trek IV. Scott wants to repeat the process to ion order to prevent Kirk from dying. Followed by Picard, they all end up in an alternate universe where the Federation doesn’t exist and the Borg are dominant.

I’ve read many Trek novels throughout the years and, like any other series, some are pretty decent, and some are not. This novel deals with time travel which, in any sci-fi book can get confusing as the science behind it. This plot differs from the usual ones where the crew encounters aliens on a planet and deals with bad guys either on the planet or shooting it out in space. I like the time travel novels although the reader has to pay attention to the story or risk getting lost in the details. I also enjoy the featuring of a minor character, Guinan, in a more prominent role.

The usual cast

Captain Jean Luc Picard
Commander Willam Riker
Montgomery Scott
Captain James Kirk

There are others who fill crew positions on the Enterprise and the alien ships in both the ‘real’ universe and the alternate one. Usually, authors of Trek books do a decent job of portraying the characters as seen on TV.

As mentioned above, it stays true to the characters. The reader can be confident, for example that Sarek isn’t going to go off half-cocked and spout wild emotional soliloquies. It’s basic Trek.

Detailed. As mentioned above, if you don’t focus, you’ll lose the flow of the story. It even begins with a little confusion until you are a few pages into it. However, as with many Trek novels, the science is relatively easy to understand, unlike many other sci-fi books dealing with time travel, quantum theories, etc. However, like many Trek novels, there is a period in the middle where everything drags along as the story moves toward the climax. This is not mean the story gets boring, but rather this reader’s mindset is attuned to the television broadcasts where a story is told in its entirety in an hour. So, one wants the novel to move along quicker. Other readers may not have this ‘problem.’

My Ranking

Blue Belt

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Vanilla Lawyer in the Mayhem Blues

By J.P. Hansen

Simon Caldwell, Twin Cities lawyer, meets an old blues musician and his granddaughter in a local bar. After talking, Caldwell decides to litigate on behalf of the musician in order to collect copyright money for the aged singer’s music. Almost immediately after getting advice from friends, trouble begins. He is warned off the case, his briefcase is stolen, and someone takes shots at him. Even after he thinks the case is complete, his residence is ransacked. The suspects are numerous: another lawyer, an aged construction worker, a major record company, a magazine writer, maybe even the granddaughter herself. The motives include racism, drugs…and a strange decades’ old death. For an attorney who just wants to keep under the radar and tend to his probates, Caldwell finds himself struggling to solve the case and to survive.

I like the story. It isn’t just a ‘normal’ case because you know it can’t be so easy. There is something behind the copyright case and you can’t wait to find out what. I wondered something, however. When Caldwell gets involved with the case he takes a leave of absence. This leave seems pretty extensive and I wondered that his firm’s coworkers didn’t balk more of the amount of time off he took.

Simon Caldwell: White, 6’2”, blue eyes, lawyer, has a collection of country blues, divorced, usually handles wills and probate, ‘vanilla’ type law, has an estranged older adopted brother, parents dead, originally wanted to be an English professor

Dot Fuller: Black, interior designer, attractive, divorced. Has a married brother. She’s wary of Caldwell’s motives

Curtis ‘Lionheart Wilson’ Fuller: Dot’s grandfather, old blues musician, has a sleeping disorder, was a grade school janitor

Frank McGhee: 50, single, lawyer, inherited firm from father, big man, six foot tall, wears a trench coat year round, deals in patent and copyright law, democrat, always wants to take Caldwell golfing

Jocelyn: Stripper, Dot’s friend, blonde, has a degree in nursing, speaks Spanish, carries a Glock

These and a few others are pretty well defined characters with appropriate background information. Except for a little philosophizing from Curtis, there is not too much in depth. I would have enjoyed seeing more involvement of a few characters other than just conversations, but maybe Hansen will use them more in the next book. I also wanted to see more emotion from Caldwell since he’s the main character. I wanted to get into his head more, to get a better feel for him.

Lots of conversations, some of which reminded me of television shows where one sentence quickly follows the next. A little bit of information about characters or the case is included with each conversation and it doesn’t drift off topic.

Hansen did his homework regarding blues musicians. He lays out the plot very well, keeping you moving through the story, throwing in enough teasers and tidbits to keep you interested.

First person narrative from Simon’s POV. A few editing errors (misspellings, capitalizations missed, name flubs, etc.) and slightly rough and/or simple sentence structure in places, but nothing egregious. Relatively short chapters. A quick read at only 187 pages in my pdf file, with not too much detail or description. No profanity and even the sex scene is PG13. This story is good, but I wanted more. More detail, more character development, more action, maybe more legal intricacies. Even though I must give it a lower ranking, I want to read more of Hansen’s work because I think Caldwell is a character worth following.

My ranking:

Camouflage Belt

Monday, January 23, 2012

Vampire Huntress Legend 3 - The Hunted

by L. A. Banks

Damali Richards and her team are recovering from their fight in Hell. Damali is now a full-fledged Huntress and has taken measures to eradicate Nuit’s former empire. While the team reflects on their chosen life as vampire and demon hunters, their powers diminished and gone askew, a new threat makes itself known.

Meanwhile, Carlos Rivera, potential guardian and now Master Vampire, is brought back from near death by the remaining members of the Covenant. Reluctantly, they recruit him into their ranks to help Damali and her team heal, and to atone for the sins of his past.

As everybody is mystically drawn to Brazil, they discover a secret connecting all them with the Huntresses of the past and the answer may hold serious changes for both Carlos and Damali.

After the two-book opening story, I like this new adventure, because first, it comes directly on the heels of the last story, time-wise. There isn’t a long time lag needing explanation. Plus, it continues bringing up Huntress legend facts and combined with actual history, makes it a fun and intriguing plot.

Same team on Damali’s side.

The Covenant warriors, down a few members, pick up a new naïve Father.

The character of Carlos comes under heavy fire in this story. You see deep emotion tearing at him from all sides. Not only does he have to deal with his love for Damali, he fights against the growing vampire nature slowly creeping up to claim him.

Damali is also given more depth in this book. With her love for Carlos finally out in the open, running wild and deep, she has to stay focused to do her job as a Huntress.

I like the dichotomy between the two. It strikes a faint note of familiarity with the Buffy/Angel characters with each battling their own natures and responsibilities.

A new team of native were-humans enter the picture, and once again, similar to the vamps and the Covenant warriors and the Damali’s team in the first book, character definition is lacking, especially when they fall into street familiar actions like bumping fists. It just doesn’t ring true.

Same as usual. At least the Covenant warriors don’t slip into street. However, as the characters develop you notice slight differences in characters. Rider, for instance still stands out because he’s vocal and doesn’t hold back his feelings even when he should. The speaking mode of the attorney on the Vampire Council is a little more defined because of his objection to the situation with Carlos. Marlene is more motherly and overseer guardian even though she still slips at times into a more ‘amiga’ tone.

This time the scenes, the actions and the descriptions are drawn out. This story is over twice as long as each of the last two. There is a lot more detail, especially during the sex scene. I didn’t think that scene needed to be so lengthy because of the usage of repetitious words and phrasing, but that’s a personal opinion. However, again, you have the detail and the descriptions of many similar stories of vampire sex with humans, the bite and the pleasure.

The story seemed to fill in more gaps and didn’t hurry through important scenes. I also liked the teasing bits from the new baddie.

Because this is a more rounded story, with more explanation, more detail, and a little historical context mixed in with fiction, Banks gets advanced in rank.

My ranking:

Purple Belt

Monday, January 16, 2012

Vampire Huntress Legend 2 - The Awakening

By L.A. Banks

Carlos Rivera, now a master vampire, strikes a deal with the Vampire Council to bring his friend and desired companion, Damali Richards, a vampire huntress, to the sixth level of Hell. There, the council will use her to gain more power. He also has a deal to bring Damali to Nuit for his own egomaniacal schemes. However, Rivera’s status in ‘life’ or ‘un-death’ is unique, and his actions could forever damn him or save him.

Meanwhile, Damali Richards and her team deal with a new member in their ranks, try to locate the master vampire who is on a rampage, prepare for an upcoming concert that could harm untold thousands of innocents, and try to hold themselves together in the face of Damali’s upcoming birthday which will transform her into a full huntress.

Same characters as in Minion with an additional cast of:

The Convenant – A group of multi-ethnic warriors who desire a meeting with Damali. Again, as with the vampire council, nobody is really defined or unique.

Rivera is shown to possess much more emotion now that he’s in a quandary with his new ‘arrangement.’ It’s deeper, more personal, bringing up images of his past life.

Same as with book one in that everybody sounds similar when speaking.

Pretty similar to the first with quick, precise action scenes. A few more connections to characters are made and/or dealt with including the death of one baddie I thought would last longer since she was a unique and interesting character. One thing I noticed, and this relates to Character and Dialogue, is many characters use the same terminology, such as ‘cool,’ ‘It’s on,’ ‘For real, for real,’ and calling Damali ‘D.’ One character maybe works, but several, including a bunch of vampires, using the same phrasing gets distracting and doesn’t sound true.

More explanations to the Huntress legend and history are given, which are interesting even when they slide into philosophical areas. Actually, some deep issues are discussed, such as intentions, words, and deeds all originating in the mind and the spirit. I like this part because it causes one to sit back for just a moment and think. It’s doesn’t come at you like a minister preaching from the pulpit, but just enough to make you consider a few things.

The action scenes at the end are exciting, but end quickly with little detail and I could have used a bit more, just to aide my imagination. The fight at the end, in my opinion, was too short, the big baddie not lasting long enough for the power he was portrayed as having.

My ranking

Green Belt

Monday, January 9, 2012

Vampire Huntress Legend 1 - Minion

In the next few weeks I will be presenting reviews of books from years past. I had originally written these reviews in order to have them in case of I ran short of current books. However, I decided I might as well put them into the mix. I want to mention that the author recently died, but in no way was the timing of these reviews planned. I already had them scheduled months ago.

By L.A. Banks

A group of musicians tours America’s nightclub scene. Led by Damali Richards, they are also a team of elite vampire and demon hunters with extra sensory powers. After a gig one night in Philadelphia, they find themselves battling a new type of vampire threat, one targeting artists and nightclub personnel. When a personal connection to one of the members is discovered, and Damali’s powers start to rapidly mature, the team races against time to stop the force behind the killings. Meanwhile, other forces, including one close to Damali, are at work on their own evil schemes.

As I read this and explanations were revealed, I thought of a very slight parallel to the Buffy the Vampire Slayer legend. This story, however, is more serious with very subtle humor and none of the laugh out loud kind. The histories of the Huntress and of the vampires are complex, but not too confusing. This is the first of a continuing series. It was an appropriate introduction.

Damali Richards – almost 21, vampire hunter. In a band with three other members. Has all the powers of her band members

Marelene Stone– 50, Band manager, seer-guardian, has visions, able to read thoughts.

Jose aka Wizard– 30, Band member, tracker. With Jake can ‘smell’ danger in the air

Jake Rider – 45, sharpshooter

Shabazz – band member, martial arts instructor, sensor with Joe, could feel things coming and detect a location by touch

Joe Leung – 30, lighting/keyboard, sensor

Big Mike Roberts – audio sensor, demolitions

Fallon Nuit – Master vampire out of New Orleans, seeking to control the world

Carlos Rivera – Nightclub and drug king in LA. Fighting against vicious attacks against his employees. Helped Damali through her teen years on the streets. Almost a lover.

A few of the characters (band members) were a little difficult to distinguish at first, and Banks doesn’t delve too deeply into their back stories or their inner emotions. This was an introductory story, so more depth of character may follow in subsequent books.

Interesting combination of street patois and serious vampire hunting. Rider is most distinguishable in his speaking. Some of the older characters speaking as street youths was a little hard to fathom. I thought Fallon, as a master vampire, would adapt to each location and time period. For instance, I expected him to have a New Orleans accent in an early scene although he does use a bit of French later although it wasn’t necessary. In the scene with the vampire council, most of the members sounded similar and I found it difficult defining each character.

An introductory story as I’ve said. You have the obligatory action scenes to establish the kind of huntress Damali is and you get to see a little of what is coming. Banks has set up some intrigue between the ‘bad guys’ that leaves you wondering how things will sort themselves out. Not too much detail and description, just enough to get you started, although I would have liked to have a bit more on each character. Sentences flow smoothly and action scenes are well played.

My rank:

Green belt

Monday, January 2, 2012

The Craigslist Murders

by Brenda Cullerton


Charlotte Wolfe: New York interior decorator dealing with the demands of the very wealthy while searching for her 'victims' through the popular Craigslist. She contacts young trophy wives who are selling items owned by previous wives. Then she kills them. However, Wolfe's life is in turmoil and about to get much worse. She suffers the psychosomatic pains of childhood neglect from a mother who only wanted to rise to the top of wealth and society. She endures the indignity of her mother's constant presence and nitpicking in her adult life. The friendship with her college chum is eroding quickly. Bills are piling up. Her clients are driving her mad with their insane ideas. Plus, the cops may be closing in on the killer of young wealthy wives in the New York area.

The premise is very interesting. I really liked the concept when I first picked up the book. There is a lot here to contemplate and enjoy.


Really only one needs to be mentioned. Charlotte Wolfe: 37. Neglected as a child. Suffering humiliation from her mother as an adult. Although she enjoys, somewhat, her profession, she doesn't enjoy the clients.

Yes, there are other people in the book, supporting characters. A friend of Charlotte's who spouts philosophy. A college girlfriend who is turning into the type of rich twits Charlotte despises. A homeless man who provides a nice irony to the wealthy. A Russian client Charlotte falls for. However, Charlotte is the only one you really need to be concerned about.


Very good. Cullerton has got the rich wives’ voices down. Charlotte's conversations are very on edge because SHE is on edge most of the time.


Okay, here's where I have problems. Most of the book deals with flashbacks or memories. I also was disappointed because I thought the first chapter portended a humorous nutty killer and her frustrations with the rich.

However, it quickly turned dark and depressing as it delved into Wolfe's back story. It's a short book, only 219 pages. Cullerton is very knowledgeable about interior design and some of the wealthy 'sicknesses'.

She provides very good insight to the haughtiness and selfishness and conceit of the wealthy. However I just got distracted by too many flashbacks. I mention this because recently I've had discussions concerning the proper place and need for flashbacks and memories. Also, the story needed better editing as many sentences were difficult to read because of missing or added words.

My ranking:

Purple Belt