Voodoo Child

Voodoo Child, Book One: Zombie Uprising

Reviewed by Chris Phillips

Around the globe and then landing in a small Caribbean island, this story traverses the world and more.  Purchase Here.

The action starts on the small island of Isle De Fantomas. It moves to the deserts of the Middle East and then back again. The plot is an interesting mix of horror, mystery and voodoo. The most intriguing part of this to this reviewer is the author’s respect for a small religion, voodoo, in this case.

Yes, there are demons, devils, voodoo priestesses and hordes of the undead. They fill the pages and bring out a very mixed bag of horror and yet detailed practice of a little known religion. There are soldiers, military and mercenary troops and wickedly charming scientists and others not nearly so charming.

The action on this small island centers around an ancient and forbidden voodoo ritual from a dark book only recently translated by General Manual Ortiz’s bokor or voodoo priest. The General has declared himself by several titles the island’s Prime Minister for Life, supreme dictator, etc. He possesses this book from killing the previous voodoo priestess. With the bokor’s strange ability to understand the languages the book is written in. Possessor of an ancient voodoo rituals and with his bokor, he performs ceremonies most would leave unexperienced.

The General, his bokor and his fiancé, Lavonia Dawes are in a dark dungeon room performing a ritual that is darker than anything done for many centuries. While this is going on, his nephew, Lieutenant Miguel Ortiz, is out hunting and attempting to kill Sarafina, the current island’s voodoo priestess. One thing leads to another and through an amazing amount of mistakes, errors and simple poor assumptions the theme of the book blasts into the reader’s mind, raising the zombie uprising.

Baron Kriminel, the cigar smoking voodoo spirit of death is summoned, and then has to confront his longtime lover, Gira, the spirit of love and fertility. It is a match made in the environs of the voodoo spirits and thus everything gets darker still.

Talos corporation, a mega-multi-national corporation, researching many devious and insidious ideas, but mainly working on something very similar to voodoo zombies. Maggie Child, co-pilot of a Blackhawk in the Iraqi desert is truly the main character of this tale and although not introduced until Chapter 8, she is the main character of the book. She becomes one of the experiments that Talos is working on to create super-soldiers. James Gallo, shows up to replace his friend and predecessor. Steven Caine. Maggie escapes with Glen Logan, her accidental sidekick from the Talos facility where the dark experiments take place. Her uncle, Rip Flowers, enters the picture and the fun begins.

All of these characters end up on the island and become embroiled in the zombie apocalypse that is taking over the island. This is where the true horror of the story shows up.

Any reader will be enthralled with this rather long book. It holds the reader’s interest right up until the final words of this book, Part One of Burke’s Zombie Uprising series. This reviewer and probably every reader will be waiting with bated breath for the next and other books in the series.
5 Stars.

Wyndona's Cloak

Wyndano’s Cloak: A Tale of Magic and High Adventure by A.R. Silverberry

Book reviewed by Chris Phillips

Silverberry’s debut novel is a surprising fantasy. There are all the classic elements. There is a headstrong and determined young heroine. There are the enemies and friends. As with any good book there are friends that turn dangerous and become enemies or almost. Then there are some that appear to be enemies but are really friends in disguise.  Purchase Here.

Since Jen’s early life she has been apart from her family, living in another world rejected and so different. She returned after the last battle with Naryfel, her evil aunt and queen of another rival kingdom. Now she has settled with her family and they are at peace. Her father the King is in the Rose Castle and the land of Aerdem is at peace. However, Jen has an uneasy feeling that her aunt Naryfel is planning to take over the kingdom yet again. Jen is always on alert and always watching for the surprise attack.

Leading the supporting characters is Bit, the young fiancée of Jen’s brother Dash. There is Pet, a Countess the same age as Jen, who is a friend, but there must be something else going on. There is Yalp the dwarf magician whose magic sometimes works and sometimes works too well and, of course, sometimes doesn’t work at all. The attack comes in the night. All seems to be lost when Jen and Bit take off on different quests to save the King and Dash from certain death. Wyndano’s Cloak is magical with very special powers, but Jen was hurt severely when she tried to use it. However she knows that the cloak is the key to saving the kingdom.

Will Jen find the cloak in time? Will the cloak be found at all? Will Bit and Dash wed? Will the King and kingdom be saved? Will Naryfel win the day? Will good triumph? Will anyone survive? Give Silverberry and Jen the chance to win the reader’s heart and spend some time learning the secrets of Wyndano’s Cloak.

The plot has sufficient twists and turns to keep the reader’s interest. The characters are solid and fully developed. The mysteries and surprises grab the reader’s attention and send the imagination scurrying. This is a delightful book and can be highly recommended.

This book is best for young adults and pre-teens. It would be good for their parents and teachers as well.

5 Stars
Published by Tree Tunnel Press, PO Cox 733, Capitola, Ca 95010 […] Reviewer received the book from the publisher.

Then Like the Blind Man

Then Like the Blind Man by Freddie Owens

Book reviewed by Douglas R. Cobb

Debut author, Freddie Owens, swings for the fences and hits a home run with his excellent coming-of-age story set primarily in Kentucky, Then Like the Blind Man. When Orbie’s father dies, his life changes forever. His mother, Ruby, finds herself attracted to the smooth-talking, poetic atheist Victor Denalsky, who had been Orbie’s father’s foreman at a steel mill in Detroit. After Orbie’s father dies, Victor courts Orbie’s mother, and eventually marries her. Not wanting to nor desiring to take care of a nine-year-old boy with an attitude, like Orbie, who can’t stand his stepfather, anyway, Ruby and Victor decide to drop Orbie off at Ruby’s parents’ house in Kentucky, with the promise that they’ll come back to get him once they’ve settled in Florida, where Victor supposedly has a job lined up. Orbie’s mother and Victor take with them Orbie’s younger sister, Missy.  Purchase Here.

The novel is told in the first person by Orbie, who, though young, is very insightful for his age. As I read, I was often reminded of another famous novel told from the POV of a child, Scout, To Kill a Mockingbird. The themes are different, but Orbie’s and Scout’s perspectives on African Americans in the 1950′s are significant to understanding both books. Orbie has some bad experiences with some of the black people he comes in contact with early on in the novel, so he calls them the “n,” word at various points in the story.

Through the course of Then Like the Blind Man, Orbie eventually realizes that his grandparents are great people who love him. They may not have attained a high level of school education, but they are wise about farm life and human nature.

They don’t like it that their daughter, Ruby, has developed a prejudice for blacks, nor that she’s passed it on to Orbie. That’s one of the many nice touches I liked about Freddie Owen’s debut novel, that in it, it’s not Orbie’s grandparents who live in Kentucky that exhibit a prejudiced point of view, but it’s learned from experiences Orbie and his family have living in Detroit, in the north. Of course, in reality, unfortunately you can find prejudice in every state to this day; but, the author didn’t go the stereotypical route of having his northern characters expressing an enlightened POV, and his southern ones being all racists.
Owens, a published poet, has infused Then Like the Blind Man with a poetic sensibility that makes his story and characters come to life for the reader. Through Owens, and Orbie’s story, we feel the emotions of being dumped off somewhere he doesn’t want to live, at his grandparents’ house; but, we come to see them as positive, nurturing influences on Orbie’s life. Though Orbie despises the alcoholic Victor, and how his mother has made wrong decisions (to his POV, anyway), Victor is not portrayed as being completely bad. He does show an interest in Orbie at times, like when Orbie expresses his fascination with a scar Victor has on his neck that he got in WWII.

Orbie comes to think that Victor acts nicely towards him only further to ingratiate himself with Ruby, Orbie’s mother. Ruby is the type of woman who thinks she can change the man she loves, to rehabilitate him, and she always holds out a spark of hope for Victor. This is an aspect about her that kind of frustrated me as a reader, and made me want to tell her–if she was real and in front of me–to stop deluding herself and wake up and realize what a jerk Victor is most of the time. But, thinking of a man who has faults as being some sort of “project,” or someone who can be “rehabilitated,” is a trait that some women have, so Ruby’s having this trait brought even more realism to the story.

Besides there being various themes and messages in Then Like the Blind Man, Orbie’s boyhood exuberance, how he relates to his grandparents, his changing point of view about much of what he’d taken for granted; and his adventures are what really makes the novel captivating. Freddie Owens fills the pages of his novel with other very memorable characters, like the humpbacked elderly lady, Bird; Moses Mashbone; Mrs. Profit; and Nealy Harlan. If you’re a fan of novels like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird, Freddie Owens’s Then Like the Blind Man is s Must Read!

 

A Bullet for Carlos

A Bullet for Carlos by Giacomo Giammatteo

Book reviewed by Chris Phillips

Giammatteo starts this new series with a blast. A drug sting goes bad and the cops go in knowing they would not have backup. Everything that can go wrong does for detective Connie Gianelli. In a moment of desperation, she makes a phone call for help.  Purchase here.

From there on, she seems set on a path with trouble on all sides and a very narrow line to follow to survive with her reputation and life intact. She runs into trouble at work and finally has to bring the family she knows but cannot acknowledge in to rescue her.

“La famiglia e tutto- Family is everything” – Dominic Mangini. This quote is the key to the whole story. Connie was raised by Maria, who everyone assumes is her mother. Only her uncles Dominic and Zeppo know the truth, and they are not talking. These are the pivotal characters when the story begins. As the trouble deepens, crimes committed come to the forefront. Connie is transferred to cold cases and meets Frankie Donovan, a hotshot homicide veteran who is investigating her case.

The characters are alive and full of very human flaws. They develop smoothly with the bumps that happen to all humans. Special circumstances awards go for Connie trying to solve some bloody, messy, rape murders crossing state lines and still trying to clear her own name. That is when the problems really begin.

Connie is a good cop with a good reputation, but a poor judgment call puts that all-in jeopardy. Frankie is a no-nonsense detective bound to find the truth and the missing drugs. Others come in to help and look deeper and still get the cases solved. Uncle Dominic is always in the background and he continues to “help” where he sees it making a difference. It would be better if he wasn’t a member of organized crime, a high-ranking member. Connie is encouraged to follow up on a cold case that takes her out of Brooklyn and to Texas. Everyone thinks this is a good place for her to stay so the problems don’t stay in anyone’s attention, but there is a problem. Evidence keeps disappearing or misleading the investigation. Problems develop in Texas and an undercover operation going bad leads to more suspicion and more guilt for Connie to cope with.

In a climax of supreme intensity, Connie comes face-to-face with a serial murder that is more vicious then even she can imagine. The book ends well but with cliff hanging events on all sides.

The tale is appropriate for adults because of the violence and the language. As stated at the beginning of the book, this is the first in a series “Blood Flows South.” This reviewer is waiting for the next one as well as the other series Giammatteo promises with a segment to entice readers.

On the Corner

On the Corner: A Novel of Lifelong Friendship by S.J. Tagliareni

Book reviewed by Nancy Eaton

Did you have a best friend who was there for you during the good times and difficult times in your life? This is the story of On the Corner.  Purchase Here.

Sal and his childhood friend, Michael have been there for each other. It is difficult to imagine what would have happened had they not been there to provide the emotional support to each other during the many events that took place over the years.

The reader will follow the story of these two men as they face many situations in life; marriage, deaths of loved ones, going their separate ways to college and reconnecting again.

Once you read On the Corner, it will make you really appreciate someone you might have known like Sal and Michael. Sometimes we take friends for granted but this story will make you take a second look at your close friends. Even if you have lost contact with a close friend, On the Corner will make you want to search for that person so you can reconnect again.

The author of this book, S.J. Tagliareni, has written this story in a very descriptive manner and it never lacks in details. The story never gets boring because there is always something new going on in the lives of these two men. Sal makes the reader feel like they are right there with him as the story unwinds.

On the Corner is a story of how true friendship can make a difference in someone’s life. This is a very heartwarming story, and it will bring out many emotions in the reader. I know it did for me – it brought tears to my eyes in many cases and at other times the story made me laugh. I don’t want to give away any spoilers so that is all I’m going to say about the story. On the Corner is a very worthwhile read and one that I highly recommend!

The Bee Sting

The Bee Sting by Paul Murray

Book reviewed by Teri Davis Takle

t’s odd how one event can change your life, your future, and your future family’s lives. It’s simply one thing that could be traumatic, but it becomes the pivot point for everyone. That’s rather terrifying when you think about it.  Purchase Here.

Cass is a high-achieving, attractive student looking forward to attending college in Dublin next year along with her best friend, Elaine. She is apprehensive about her upcoming exams and has found alcohol changes things, including herself.

Twelve-year-old P.J. is running away from home. Life is not good, and an older bully is threatening him.  

Imelda, the mother of Cass and P.J., has problems.   She is the typically born-beautiful wife who expects to be admired by all, completely self-absorbed. Born into an impoverished and dysfunctional family, she fears going backward.   However, keeping her spending under control can be a challenge. Additionally, she feels the burden of keeping up her image to the rest of the town.

Dickie Barnes is in a downward spiral. Can he save his job and his family before bankruptcy?

You would think that Dickie was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, being that he inherited his family’s Volkswagen business.    However, Dickie is changing, his business is in financial trouble, and his priorities are out-of-whack.

The Bee Sting is an epic history of the Barnes family in about 650 pages—each character’s insecurities, the parents’ pasts, and how their emotional baggage affects their children, themselves, and each other. 

The style is a little unusual, omitting commas and ending punctuation. Usually, this is fine, but occasionally, you need to reread the sentences to follow the storyline. 

The story surrounds those who make life happen instead of those who choose the easy path; ambition, lack of opportunity, and chance all play a role in everyone’s life, along with expectations of family, friends, or society. All are influencers along this curved road of life. The importance of dreams and goals, or lacking these, often decides our success or failures.    

The characterization and setting are superb. You know these people and understand their choices in usually taking the easiest path.   You can picture each one along their misadventures. 

The ending troubled me because it did not tie up all the loose threads. I finally realized that someone finally dared to put others before themselves and do the right thing.  

Paul Murray is an Irish author and has also written three more award-winning novels, An Evening of Goodbyes, Skippy Dies, and The Mark and the Void, and additionally wrote the screenplay Metal Heart.   

The Bee Sting is not for everyone, and the issue of homosexuality makes this an adult book.

The Bee Sting was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.

Stella and Shell

Stella and Shell by L.S. Lentz

Book reviewed by Teri Davis Takle

Making new friends is always a little scary, especially when moving to a new home.

For Stella, a big dog, there is so much to explore and the nearby river is almost calling to her.  She is an adult dog, but she sometimes cannot help herself by getting into the trash, like a naughty puppy.  Purchase Here.

Moving to a new home is exciting.   What new adventures are waiting?  Who will these adventures be with?  Who will be her playmates?   Who will be her friends?

Stella and Shell is a beautifully illustrated children’s book.  The lush, picturesque settings immediately pull the reader into the story with the simple text in perfect correlation.   It’s easy to relate to the farmhouse, the kitchen, the river, and the surrounding area.

Friendship is the theme and the need to find something in common to build those friendships.   With the challenge Stella has about how to approach new friends and being persistent, many lessons can be learned.

There are numerable teachable lessons in Stella and Shell.  Vocabulary lessons with the words amber, oozes, startled, and fluffy would be appropriate for young children.  With Stella sniffing, patting, and barking the senses could be mentioned along with when to best use those actions.  For everyone, discussions about how to approach new people, as well as dogs, and big dogs could be wonderful life lessons.  Even a little problem-solving could be used with asking how could Stella later make friends with Mr. Fish, Mrs. Owl, and Brother Beaver.   Who could be friends with these other creatures?

Unlikely friendships are essential for everyone.  We all need to respect each other’s natural abilities, strengths, weaknesses, disabilities, and gifts.  There is a need for everyone to learn to make friends and to further develop their friendships.  Who would ever imagine a friendship between a large dog and a turtle who enjoy digging together?

The ideal reader for this book would be for young children with the book being read out loud to them.  However, the audience could easily be extended to older children, especially those with any type of difficulty, disability, or those who have problems making friends.

The author, L.S. Lentz, is an experienced educator who recently moved to a farmhouse in Massachusetts.  Stella is her actual dog and she really created a bizarre friendship with a turtle and the two of them enjoy digging together.  Stella and Shell is her first published children’s book.

Stella and Shell is a delightfully wonderful story for young children, those who enjoy a happy story, and friendship.  We each differ but finding common sharing is the key to building lasting relationships and lifelong friendships.

 

Travels and Tribulations

Travels and Tribulations by Tyrel Nelson

Reviewed by Lily Andrews

An emotional and physical journey, “Travels and Tribulations” is a compulsively readable memoir written by Tyrel Nelson. During the bleak time of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tyrel lost his mother whom he had shared a close relationship with, to a kidney disease and thereafter, his job.  Purchase Here.

It was a depressing moment for him pushing him into persistent despondency and it was during this time that he began making a recollection of significant experiences in his life going back from 2008 to 2020 including the people and places that he got a chance to meet and see respectively. This somehow provided a much-needed catharsis for him, relieving him from the agony and grief that hung around him. It was through sorting various compilations that he had written over the years that he penned these captivating vignettes that he shares with us today.

With a unique sense of rare immediacy and keen depth, the author walks us through the memories of his life, his experiences, and his relationships and even goes ahead to share the sorrow that engulfed him during the pandemic period. Part travelogue and part self-reflection odyssey, “Travel and Tribulations” takes us across the physical excursions and super-famous Carnivals in Ecuador, the lowlands in Guatemala, the countryside of Mexico, and back to Minnesota in the United States. Throughout, Tyrel’s voice shines with raw honesty and candidness, not holding anything back, leading us to moments of soul-searching during the reading.

He credits his mother for laying the groundwork and sparking the desire in him to see the world. This is after traveling with her to her homeland, the Philippines for a two-week trip. He does not stop there but goes ahead to celebrate both his parents for instilling in him the values of resilience, compassion, selflessness, and living in the moment from an early age. Across, the author’s writing and travel style are equally affable invoking in his exposition, an inviting feeling of shared thoughts and experiences, both poignant and impactful. “Travels and Tribulations” by Tyrel Nelson is an indelible biography and one that marks the arrival of a quintessential voice in biography writing.

 

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Hat Trick

Hat Trick by William LeRoy

Book Reviewed by Douglas R. Cobb

Hat Trick is the latest book from the pen of the best-selling author, William LeRoy. It features the down home-style sleuthing of one of LeRoy’s most intriguing main characters, PI Maximo Morgan, in three long short stories. The first tale, “One Shoe Blues,” won the Percy Wilson Society’s prestigious Not the Butler Award, and the other two stories, “Prankenstein Monster” and “Ham for the Holidays,” are also gems of brilliant storytelling, making this collection a captivating and engrossing “hat trick,” indeed. The three tales make this book a Must Read for fans of mysteries, especially those that are laced with a generous helping of humor, cultural references, and the trademark sort of clever wordplay that LeRoy is known for. Like the author’s other novels, Hat Trick is set in Oklahoma, with much of the action taking place in the small backwater town of Henryetta.  Purchase Here.

“One Shoe Blues,” originally published in PWS Periodical II, is my personal favorite of the three Maximo Morgan Mysteries, though I also thoroughly enjoyed reading the other two tales.  It takes its title from the B.B. King song of the same name. Maximo, or “Max,” has a knack for jumping to conclusions and making assumptions, some fairly accurate in a sense, some of which are erroneous. Ah, well — not all of the conclusions reached by other examples of literature’s most famous PIs have been completely accurate, but that’s one of the aspects about Hat Trick and LeRoy’s other books that lend humor to them and make you want to keep turning pages to discover what Max will be up to next. Reading the very cool first story, “One Shoe Blues,” you might even learn a thing or two about shoes and shoe-related expressions. I know that I did.

The other two tales in Hat Trick are also stellar, if you are a fan of clever and humorous mysteries, as I am. The first chapter of “Prankenstein Monster” begins on the Monday after Halloween, on November 1, 2023, and Max is faced with another day at  work at the local Mister Quickie’s copy shop. He is not in the best of moods because the night before, the front door of the house that he shares with his mom got egged. The incident reminds Max of Mike Hammer’s Case of Ghostwritten Graffiti and the quote that Halloween was “a green light for some to engage in perverse passions.”

Max relishes in associating the exploits and lives of literary PIs with his own. The “perverse passions” that lead to three costumed people egging his mother’s (and his) house is what sets off a chain of links that is the plot of “Prankenstein Monster,” a story originally published in the October edition of Private Dickwork Illustrated. This is a great story with many twists and turns to it. Max finds himself trying to solve the mystery of why a “dame” disappears following a Halloween party.  A stranger “smelling of embalming fluid,” who crashes the party adds to the fun of reading “Prankenstein Monster.”

The third tale in Hat Trick is “Ham for the Holidays.” Besides the natural desire that many people have of wanting to be home for the holidays and spending time with friends and family, traditionally also over indulging in all sorts of food, like ham, is another experience that can make holidays special. Max has that “natural desire” in spades. In “Ham for the Holidays,” a story that was “originally commissioned as course material for a 2023 Harvard 4-H Club Symposium on “Homicide and Hunger in Hamlet,” our intrepid flatfoot PI faces some of the issues that Shakespeare’s tragic hero, Hamlet, also faced, like hunger.

In “Ham for the Holidays,” Max can’t help but recalling the hard lesson that another one of his heroes, the literary PI Percy Wilson learned. Sadly, the Latin expression “Cherchez la Femme,” or “Shedunnit,” was often true when it came to the perpetrator of nefarious deeds. Max, like Percy Wilson, is reluctant to consider the possibility that “Sometimes a guy had to walk over burning charcoal and his own mother to wrap-up a case.”

Hearing that his Mom is going to get remarried, Max goes on a “hunger strike.” Mom Morgan enlists the aid of Dr. Stern, to help her “troubled son.” The table is turned when Max, himself, gets accused by guilty the good doctor of “emotional blackmail.”  Everybody’s a suspect in “Ham for the Holidays,” even Max’s own sweet Mom Morgan, and…himself.

Hat Trick by William LeRoy is a treat to read, whether it’s read before, during, or after the upcoming holiday season. The three Maximo Morgan Mysteries included in the book are sure to bring a smile to the faces of everybody who checks out Hat Trick. If you’re someone who loves reading mysteries with plot twists galore that are also laced with a heaping helping of humor, this is definitely the book for you!

 

 

 

Hidden Behind the Mist of Arrow Lakes

Hidden Behind the Mist of Arrow Lakes

Book Reviewed by Timea Barabas

Hidden Behind the Mist of Arrow Lakes is the result of an in-depth and extensive historical investigation by Lucia Mann. This is a deeply personal writing by a daughter of a Holocaust survivor. In this book, the author presents her own perspective on the history of the Holocaust and the branches that pierce through our present. Mann fearlessly shines a bright light onto uncomfortable dark corners of the human psyche.  Purchase Here.

While deeply rooted in historical analysis, the book is written in an accessible way, which is not an easy accomplishment given the topic. The vivid scenes create a sturdy bridge into the past, which allows readers to engage with history in a way that feels remarkably immediate.

Structured into four parts, Hidden Behind the Mist of Arrow Lakes follows multiple narratives that weave together seamlessly, creating a disturbing tapestry of stories that span across generations. From the fall of the Romanovs to harrowing accounts of World War II atrocities, this book is a captivating exploration of the threads of history that shaped our world.

Lucia Mann’s latest book was prompted by the revelation that the region of Arrow Lakes (which is close to her home in British Columbia) also became home to former SS officers and sympathizers who escaped persecution by entering Canada using fake identities. Mann offers an invaluable account of the social and psychological impact of Holocaust survivors (and their descendants) being faced with the living ghosts of their abusers.

The author starts and ultimately concludes her narrative by revealing what (and especially who) lies hidden behind the mist of Arrow Lakes. This creates a comforting circular storytelling arc. However, since this section of the book offers the most unique and intriguing storyline, it leaves a sense of longing for a more detailed account of how war criminals found a new home in a remote Canadian region and the intersectionality of the communities ’life with this hidden history.

For those familiar with Lucia Mann’s previous works, her unmistakable voice shines through once again. The reader-friendly prose sprinkled with the author’s personal reflections opens a window into her thought process and emotional journey. This vulnerability reveals her inner strength and emanates authenticity.

Hidden Behind the Mist of Arrow Lakes prompts a discussion about the long shadow of the Holocaust that stretches across generations. Lucia Mann’s words sound a powerful call to action, urging individuals, organizations, and nations to address the unresolved threads left in the wake of the profound historical tragedy.