By Russell Brooks
A three-in-one book.
Creme Brulee: a rogue operative tries to convince a software tech to sell her a program to control drones. However, not everybody is who he claims to be.
To The Last Bite: A restaurant reviewer bites off a bit more than he can chew when he faces a former panned chef.
Shashlyk And Morozhenoe: Ridley Fox infiltrates a mobster’s lair to steal some plans.
Short stories all, in their own way, with a food theme. They’re quick reads. The first two were okay but the last wasn’t complete in that it left a lot of questions unanswered.
Monique Beauvais: name is an alias, works for an international arms consortium, black hair
Curtis White: name is an alias, suffers from dandruff, 30s, auburn hair
Dennis Kirby: restaurant reviewer
Ridley Fox: CIA operative, fluent in several languages
Efim Volsky: bearded, tall, heavyset, bodyguard, needs reading glasses
Maksim Antanov: 20s, slim, restaurant owner, mobster
Nice variety of characters. Not too bad but because these were really short stories there wasn’t much background. I thought Antonov, for being a powerful mobster came off looking like a weenie.
Most of the conversations were okay. Some lines didn’t fit the characters or the situation.
Profanity. Stories headed by location. Action was quick and decisive with no real element of danger. The heroes were never shown to be in too much peril. Some issues with ‘ly’ and ‘ing’ words. Little tension. These shorts could have been expanded to give the reader a bit more (no pun intended) meat.
By Russell Brooks
Code-named Pandora, it is a highly infectious microbe with no known antidote. A terrorist group, known as the Arms of Ares are trying to develop it to sell on the black market. Enter CIA operative Ridley Fox, still grieving over his fiance’s death. He’s been assigned to retrieve Pandora and help shut down Ares. Soon, he teams with operative Nita Parris who has infiltrated a pharmaceutical company suspected of being involved with brainwashing…and Pandora. Their relationship is rocky, but their goal is to bring down whoever threatens not only world peace, but millions of lives. But who can they trust, because their foe has spies everywhere…
Nice thriller. Well thought out. Some timely aspects of biological terror included.
Ridley Fox: 6’2”, CIA operative, former Joint Task Force Two operative, fiance was murdered two years before beginning of story, fluent in several languages, played football and rugby
Nita Parris: black, grew up in Barbados, participated in track, CIA operative, attended Princeton University, has a doctorate in Biology, mother dead, father absent in her life,
Sveta Sokolova: husband dead, Russian
Valerik: name is an alias, former KGB operative, member of the Arms of Ares, smoker, overweight
Tabitha Marx: mid forties, has a doctorate, 6′, ice blue eyes, long dirty blonde hair, father-dead-worked as a CIA operative in Pakistan, mother-dead-worked for the KGB, works for the CDC, widowed, code name: Undertaker
Hideaki Hashimoto: 64, 5’7”, fit, doctorate of Pharmaceutical Sciences from Tokyo University, CEO of Hexagon Pharmaceuticals, knowledgeable in brain washing techniques
Tomas Levickis: of Lithuanian descent, bearded, CIA technical field agent, slightly overweight
Pretty solid characters. They reminded me a little of the cast of the old G.I. Joe cartoons in that you have a few heroes against an array of baddies and each contingent of the bad guys are fighting another for power while fending off the good guys.
Average in that I didn’t get a real sense of voices. Fox’s boss (es) could have had some gruffness as I imagine Generals and Colonels sometimes have. Marx came through okay but I think the conversations were just shy of being 100% strong. I don’t think it was a matter of the author trying too hard, just that the dialogue lacked that last bit of punch to make it really solid. Part of this problem may lie in the writing section.
Profanity. Chapters headed by time and/or location. Some problems with sentences that have an action: …he let his palm drop into his hand… and then following that with an ‘ing’ word …,massaging his forehead. These two actions in the same sentence make it seem as if they’re happening at the same time. You can’t drop and massage at the same time. You can drop, then massage. There are several instances like this. Unnecessary words: …stood two feet away from him. The reader knows it’s ‘him’ being referred to, so ‘from him’ isn’t needed. A lot of usage of the word ‘as’. A few tense problems: ‘has’ instead of ‘had’ in a past tense sentence.
In general, the writing could have been a bit tighter as for example this: Marx leaned so close to Parris’s ear that she felt her breath tickle the surface of her skin. I know what the author meant, that Marx was so close when speaking (in the previous line of dialogue) that Parris felt Marx’s breath on her skin. However, the way the sentence is written, that’s not the connotation derived.
Now, having pointed out these weaknesses, I will admit the story was good. Fine plot, pretty exciting action although I wanted more emotion and pain depicted. The author did well on technology and explaining medicalese. No part of the story dragged. I would have enjoyed a bit more of a surprise each time a new traitor was revealed.
With all of that said, I enjoyed the book, but with the mistakes and weakness in the writing, I had to knock down the rank from a potential blue. I gave serious consideration for camouflage, but sometimes at rank advancement testings for my students I have to judge overall effort and while not just arbitrarily giving away the next rank I may lean in the positive direction and know that I’ll have work with the student so he can perform better next time. So, if I may be forgiven the run on sentence I just wrote, I’ll add in the ‘likeability’ factor to this book and give it a:
(Note: I’ve accepted two other books from this author so, I will hope, as all of us authors should strive for, that the writing improves with each book…no more Mr. Nice Guy. Lol.)
By Miro Ringbolt
1981. On a vacation dive off the coast of Kenya, Petty Officer Patrick Redman discovers a jeweled pendant stuck in the reef. Back upon the surface, though, tragedy strikes and, Jurgen, one of his friends, dies. Weeks later, the police learn of the pendant and arrest the owner of the dive and charter business, Stella, and Thomas, an associate for murder. Redman, meanwhile, is discharged from service for narcotics. When he learns that his friends are trial for their lives, he makes plans to return to Kenya to prove their innocence.
Not quite the plot I was expecting but an intriguing little mystery nonetheless. It’s a straightforward plot with some adventure, danger, and courtroom drama all thrown in.
Patrick Redman: British, Petty officer, mother dead, father estranged, atheist
Jurgen Kluge: grew up in Switzerland, 6’7”, muscular, shoulder length blond hair
Ayo: black, Maasi, tall, broad
Thomas Dennie: from St. Vincent, dreadlocks, smokes marijuana, wiry, thin, short
Adhra: 38, Thomas’s girlfriend, black African, large almond colored eyes, father murdered, works for a land developer
Stella Friedmann: German, mid thirties, brown hair, blue eyes, tattoo on lower back, used to be a finance administrator
Lisbeth: Stella’s cousin, tall, slender-limbed, freckles, pale, 20s, green eyes, bisexual
Meja Njenga: Professor at Nairobi University, thin frizzy hair, around 60, has a doctorate
Nyoro Gacoya: 55, African, killer, slim build
A fine variety of characters with a lot of minor characters who play their own roles.
Voices come through very well. Thomas and his Caribbean accent, many of the African and Great Britain accents as well.
Chapters are titled. Lengthy chapters. Profanity. Author exhibits his knowledge of diving, ships and the sea.
This is a lengthy drawn out book with many scenes that probably could have been deleted. Let me clarify, I’m not saying they weren’t good scenes. In fact, I didn’t dislike any of them. I felt, however, that some of them could have either been shortened, tightened up, or outright deleted because they didn’t offer anything to the main plot. Thomas and his prison problems, for instance. They were okay and I was able to see the troubles he had and how he solved them, but they didn’t help move the story along. Just plan to spend some time reading this. I received a PDF file and it contained 565 pages. It’s a good story. I expected an Indiana Jones type of adventure what with the ancient pendant found, but it turned into a mystery/courtroom battle/drama type. A few minor mistakes in punctuation but otherwise from the ocean to the African savannah, a solid piece of writing.
By Allan Danahay
On a stakeout for a client, private investigator Kelly Wynton sees a local gangster is involved in the case. The next night, after a car chase in town, Kelly runs across a murder victim. The next morning, the woman he’s been watching is found dead. Who killed whom? Why? Whatdo the murders have to do with a cat burglar known as Spiderman? Kelly must wade through the suspects, the corruption, and blackmail in order to ferret out the truth.
A nice complex murder mystery set in Australia. Some times I cringe when I receive mysteries set outside of America, but I took a chance with this one and wasn’t too disappointed.
James Kelly Wynton: 32, private investigator, loves jazz, drives a Ford Territory, former police officer, owns a Ducati Monster
“Spiderman”: 28, female, cat burglar, slender build, drives a Ducati Monster
Danielle: 16, large breasts, father is a lawyer
Damian Black: 20, drives a black Nissan Skyline, mechanic
Max Busby: James’ boss, fifties, former police officer
Charles Diamond: mid sixties, career criminal, drives an Audi, homosexual,
Terry Doyle: homicide investigator,
Elaine Norman: Brothel owner
Jonno Hetaraka: private investigator, drives a Nissan Murano SUV
Long cast of characters with just enough info to get a picture of them. Yes, Spiderman’s name is revealed later.
As mentioned below, run-on sentences which tended to make me lose the gist of the conversation. Most of the characters tend to speak this way.
Chapters headed by date and time. Except for the prologue, it is first person from Kelly’s POV. A lot of run-on sentences. In fact entire paragraphs consist of one sentence. Misuse of ellipsis and other incorrect and missing punctuation in many areas. The missing punctuation makes it very difficult to read and understand some of the shorter sentences, let alone the lengthy ones. Profanity. A few misspelled words. Writing could be tighter. Sentences often are too wordy or detailed to get the point across.
I like the story. It’s a well laid out plot, well told, good action. An all-around fine mystery but the above mistakes must reduce an otherwise higher rank to:
By Rick Pruett
The time is mid1980s. After surviving a shark attack while surfing, Alika Kealoha feels he needs to seek out his destiny. Guided by a Kahuna, he begins his quest for knowledge about his father, who was a Rainbow Warrior, a respected and revered status of the Hawaiian culture. He also starts investigating his father’s suspicious disappearance and assumed death. The deeper he gets, the more the danger grows.
This is a mystery in Hawaii with a bit of a different kick to it. A little spiritual journey, a little murder mystery. Good one to get into.
Alika Kealoha: 28, 6’2”, 200 pounds, surfer, mother-dead-was Cuban and a night club dancer, father-disappeared and assumed dead-from Hawaiian stock and former Merchant Marine, took dance and martial arts, plays bongos, smokes marijuana at times, attended the University of Hawaii, was in track and field in high school
Spicy Mike: musician, smokes marijuana, of mixed race heritage
Robert ‘Baby Rambo’ Lopez: built like Stallone but only 5’6”, mom is Filipino, dad Hawaiian, surfer
Kilani: nurse, attractive, took ballet and jazz dancing, of mixed race heritage
Pilipo: childhood friend of Alika’s father
Johnny Kaleiakini: teacher at U. of H., drummer, specializes in ethnomusicology
A lot of detail about Alika and his family. Just enough about the friends and minor characters to get a decent mental image. I wondered, though, what Alika did for employment. Songwriter and playing gigs are mentioned but while he plays at a nightclub, his employment isn’t featured.
Except for the mystic Kahuna, everybody sounds the same when they talk the local slang. I’m not putting down the culture because if you ever hear it, the speech is wonderful to listen to. But with all of the locals, all of Alika’s friends speaking it, the dialogue runs together and the characters all sound alike. The bad guy who attacked Alika in the bathroom, his dialogue was not tight enough. Too explanatory and not fitting the character.
First person from Alika’s POV. Some capitalization errors at the beginning of dialogue. Some punctuation problems. (I was later told that these and the typos had been corrected for the published version.) Very little profanity. A lot of passive voice that could been rewritten to bring the reader in closer to the character.
This is not a big thing and I don’t necessarily count off but this book has short chapters and I was a bit thrown when many of the chapters ended so abruptly. There wasn’t any end of scene or even a scene change. I didn’t understand the reason why some chapters ended at the point they did. One chapter ended and another picked up where the last left off. As I said, I’m not lowering my rank because of this, it just was a little jolting to be sailing (or surfing, lol) along and bam! the chapter ends.
A lot of very nice details about Hawaiian culture. Street scenes, nightclubs, tourism, etc.
Alika is not your typical detective. He’s a free spirit kind of guy, likes the music and the girls but finding the truth about his father helps him find himself.
By James Stoddah
When Jason Chadwick, one of the developers of he World Wide Web dies, his assistant doesn’t think it is suicide. When she’s almost killed by an assailant, she connects the attack to Jason and wants the police to re-investigate his death. While she tries to discover who Jason was through his journals, police investigators Thomas Riley and Lucy Bridges tackle the problem from another angle. Along with his lawyer, Chadwick had set up an online treasure hunt and anybody who could figure out the clues might receive his wealth. Of course, with treasure hunts, there is always someone who doesn’t want to play by the rules.
A fun little mystery where the reader can play along. The website listed is real. Follow the clues and see if you can outwit the police and Amy. I’m always up for a puzzle story.
Amy Pearce: works in Internet communications,
Arnold Pearce: 6’7”, 230 pounds, athletic, lawyer
Thomas Riley: Detective Inspector, Lucy’s partner, slim, dark eyes,
Lucy Bridges: Detective Sergeant, caramel colored hair, mole on her cheek,
Frank Duffy: solicitor, father was a lawyer,
Beverley Johnson: former Las Vegas mayor, powerful personality
Not a lot of description for the characters so I didn’t get a mental picture of them. There is some depth but not a lot. This isn’t a character driven story but I would have like to have seen a bit more substance. Plus, the two cops aren’t very cop-ish. They succumb pretty easily to the bad guy without a plan to subdue him and take control. At one point, Lucy sits with the bad guy on the sofa. I would have thought she’d stay away from the baddie with a gun. I expected more from Amy since she was the closest to Jason. I also thought Frank’s role in the story was minimally effectual even though he’s featured as a strong secondary character. I won’t play spoiler but he doesn’t add anything that somebody else on the trail couldn’t have discovered.
Conversations stay on point but no real distinct voices. The baddie with the cops isn’t menacing enough with his words. “I have no patience with either of you now.” As if the cops are recalcitrant children. Uses some cliché lines.
Some profanity. Tense problems in some sentences. This is all about the puzzle so the story stays with that a lot. However, this is not like a treasure hunt where people are traveling around the world discovering clues, or digging up stuff. The puzzle may take some research and some thinking but it remains centered on the Internet and the pages that Jason (and the author) have set up. The problem with this is there is little action because everybody stays in the same place. Readers are encouraged to play along. Once you get to a new page, stop reading and try to figure out the clues to the next page. Now, I don’t want to play spoiler but I will tell you this: it’s more than just looking at the words or the picture. The cops use some Photoshop software to help them, but for the most part, with some clicking and thinking, the puzzle is revealed. If you get stuck, just keep reading and when the cops figure something out, try again. The writing could, in general be tightened, there is a lot of passive voice so any action lacks tension.
By Cindy Santos
An unemployed Latino grocery shops, trying to time her checkout with the store’s closing. She remembers her youth and another grocery store she enjoyed. She worries about feeding her children but at the checkout encounters a situation that makes her rethink her life.
Not much I can add here. It’s a short story and that’s basically it.
Main Character: Latino, no car, unemployed, has two brothers, divorced with children, attended Stanford
No name for the character but there is a lot of information for a short story. The people she meets aren’t very nice but I think there is enough to get a flavor of the attitude of the story.
Nothing special. The man in line speaks the most but his speech, I think, is the most important in the story.
First person from () POV. Present tense. Short story. I was expecting some mystery, drama, some action, but there was nothing like that. A lot of reflection on the old grocery store and life which is contrasted with the current life and present day store. The story makes you think a bit. I thought the listing of food items was a bit distracting. It’s a quick read with a nice message and revelation at the end.
By Naghilia Desravines
Cael Darcic awakens from a coma to discover she has partial amnesia and she’s pregnant. Soon after, she learns the father of the baby, her boyfriend Michael was killed on the same night that she suffered the injury which lead to her coma. Putting the pieces of her life back in order, she discovers some distressing things about Michael. At the same time, a long time friend expresses his feelings. As more memories fall into place they reveal that she may not be able to trust those who claim to care for her.
You’ve seen it before but amnesia stories are always interesting because you’re pushed along to see when the big surprise will happen, when the final piece clicks into place.
Cael Darcic: 27, black, pregnant, has two sisters and two brothers, at the beginning of the story she suffers from partial amnesia, long curly black hair, before the incident she worked as an airline PR manager and had enrolled at university,
Amanda Erikson: blonde, petite frame, bohemian in nature, has a boyfriend,
Christopher Bush: short, muscular, close-cropped blonde hair, one green and one blue eye, smokes
Shen Chan: Cael’s dead boyfriend’s father, Chinese, Catholic, painter
Li Juan Chan: Shen’s wife
A nice variety of characters but not too much depth. I would have liked to have seen more play from Amanda since she was Cael’s closest friend. Other characters needed some more physical description because I felt as if they were skimmed over and didn’t get close to them.
No real distinct voices. The characters didn’t all sound the same, but other than some obvious female reactions, I didn’t see separate voices.
Some profanity. One POV shift in a chapter. Some ‘ly’ and ‘ing’ problems that could have been tighter. Otherwise, fairly solid writing. No real tension until the end but I was a bit disappointed when the story portended a climax but then fizzled. There’s a set up for a sequel, but it could have been stronger. It’s a quick read and I think it could have had more suspense, more danger throughout.
By Sameer Ketkar
A chemistry teacher is found dead inside the wall of an Atlanta hotel. Because of the condition of the body, the CDC is called in. The team, headed by Tigh and Larkin Callahan start investigating the incident. Enter into the picture Homeland Security Agent Corban Banks. The trio with their CDC team discover a link with bio-terrorists. But how much more could explode when the both Callahans discover their mutual attraction for Banks?
Okay, good premise in that we have a mystery with some widespread danger. Then there’s the bisexual angle. Plus, the Callahan children are involved in their own little dramas. This one is a little off the wall, maybe more than a little.
Tigh Callahan: co-head of the CDC’s Crisis Response Team, three children, tall, brown hair, a bit pudgy, owns a dog, drives a Lexus hybrid SUV
Larkin Callahan: Tigh’s wife, co-head of the CDC CRT, blonde, short, pretty, wears glasses, drives a Porsche, came from wealth
Corban Banks: Homeland Security Agent in the Bioterror Task Force, salt and pepper hair, hazel eyes, tall, drives a Dodge Charger, former homicide investigator
Amanda Romanclef: actress, attractive
Eddie B.: Amanda’s agent, short, bald, Jewish
Cornelius ‘Neil’ Callahan: 14, the non-genius of the family, likes to write stories, loves football, attends a school for geniuses
A wide variety of of characters, none of whom, I think, is the protagonist. Tigh, Larkin, Corban, and somewhat Neil, all seem to get a good share of attention. Maybe not so much with Corban. A lot of minor characters all with nice descriptions and personalities.
My problem is with Tigh and Larkin. I just don’t ‘get’ them. They’re serious about their work but their, uh, proclivities are just so off the wall I truly don’t know what to make of them. I’m not against the whole bisexual angle and maybe this is just to give the story a bit of comedy relief but some of the serious overtones are missed. You have two parents and three kids, but Dad’s playing video games with Neil is the only closeness seen. Mother and father don’t seem to care about the other kids’ school work, the son’s gangster attitude or loud music or notice that the daughter is into drugs. And the last scene before the epilogue really blew my mind in their apathy about how their behavior could affect the children. I’m not a moral prude here, but let’s get a little real.
Neil’s brother, in his gangster, laid back mode has the best voice. Sometimes Tigh is a little juvenile. The students seem to have good voices. Short novel so the conversations don’t wander.
Prologue and some scenes done in first person from the Neil Callahan’s POV, the rest in third person (but as narrated by Neil with first person references). Profanity, some of it unnecessary. Incorrect tag lines in places. Several instances of incomplete sentences that refer to and sometimes complete the previous sentence. This is okay but at times it doesn’t work and is jarring. Sexual scenes but not overly graphic.
I mentioned the characters of Neil’s siblings-sister sells weed and brother is into music-and I don’t know how focusing on these moved the story along. I would have liked to have seen more concentration on the mystery. This is the first of a series, so maybe the children’s activities will lead to something. There was a lot of good science and medical knowledge. The technology was skimmed over.
Normally, I have a fair idea on my rankings about stories, but here I had to think awhile. I didn’t see too many mistakes other than those mentioned. I guess, in this instance I fall back to looking at the whole of the book with everything taken into account. This is what I usually do, but here I think it’s plays an especially major part in my decision. I’m going with my gut because I think the series has potential if the author can get by some of the potholes.
By John Paul O’Prey
When the Duggan brothers, Terry and Tom, discover an ancient archaelogical site on their neighbor’s land while searching for their dog, the community sinks into controversy and murder. First, there is a member of a Druid sect who is found murdered at the site days later. Then the discovery is made that the woman was pregnant at the time of death. The owner of the land, Joe Beatty, is investigated for several sexual assaults, and several people, including the Duggans are witnesses to unexplained phenomena.
This is a complex soap opera-ish type of story with a bit of the weird thrown in. However, the strange aspects-the prophecy-was hard to follow and understand.
Lucy Feeney: Druid, has two brothers
Dominic Phelan: 51, bishop, has a brother
Terry Duggan: owns a dog, separated from wife
Tom Duggan: married, Terry’s brother, smokes, first wife dead, has a child that is not his own
Joe Beatty: coach, married, has a son
Lorcan Delargy: archaeologist, doctorate, wears glasses
Neasa Lafferty: 60ish, freckled, olive green eyes, graying brunette, psychic, married
Barry McLaughlin: archaeologist
A lot of decent characters but no detailed physical descriptions for most, so it was hard to get a mental image of them.
I think there are some good voices here. Conversations stay on track, but they pretty much had to with the length of the chapters and the quick scene changes and time changes. Some of the dialogue, particularly with the police, seemed a bit forced, a bit unnatural. Not that a cop would say these things, just the manner, the phraseology, was off. Heated conversations are on the verge of being formalized. There’s anger but veiled, held in check.
Short chapters. A bit of profanity. Tense changed from past in one chapter to present in the next chapter for no apparent reason, then back to past in the following chapter. I found it difficult to judge passage of time. For instance, in one chapter, Lucy has been persuaded to stay around for three days to see if she can’t be talk out of her involvement in her religion and two chapters later, it sounds as if she left the religious group. But there is no discernible time element.
Some tense problems in a few sentences including dialogue. Example: “If I confronted her directly I feared she may never tell and just leave me.” This should have read “…I feared she might never have told me.”, since the woman being discussed is dead and the person is saying what might have happened.
The story is a bit difficult to follow and I’m not sure whether it’s the vagueness of the characters, the dialogue or the way it’s written throughout. I found myself going back and re-reading from the beginning of the chapter, then catching up to where a particular character left off from the last time he/she was highlighted.
Tension is very low. I would have thought the discovery of the corpse would have been played up a bit more. Little and subdued action.