The Alchemy Of Reality


By Andy Echevarria



Taxi: A woman keeps encountering the same taxi driver day after day.

Crystal Ball: What happens to a boy who gazes into its depths?

The Magician: A prestidigitator get a chance to perform for an entirely new audience.

Dead Asleep: Be wary of your dreams.

Do Not Trespass: A man comes upon a strange auto accident after a funeral.

Black Eagle: What message does the bird bring?

Elevator: Who knows what will board along with you.

The Thirteenth Floor: A man remembers his horrible past.

The Bronx Is Burning: A man has an idea who a local arsonist might be.

Wunderkind: A boy enters a chess tournament and discovers more than he imagined.

Some similar themes in a couple of these stories. Most have some supernatural element. The last certainly doesn’t but that’s okay. These are pretty simple stories, fairly predictable. Low scare factor.


Michelle: secretary for an insurance company, owns a cat

Jack Weber: magician, has one arm

Dolan: drives a truck

Ryan Crest: lawyer, 32, smokes

Eugene Carr: 31, divorced w/children, former cab dispatcher, exercises

Pretty basic characters in the stories. Not a lot of physical descriptions. I did enjoy the cast in the final story. Eugene, unfortunately, sounded older. Maybe it was the name? I had a difficult time seeing him as 31.


Most of the dialogue is okay for the short stories.


Short stories are difficult to write. I’ve heard that in a short story, the author has to write about THE most important ‘moment’ in the main character’s life. Which means not a lot of wandering around in side plots or flashbacks, and the back story must be succinct.

I think the author could have expanded a bit on character description and personality.

Some basic writing. No profanity.

I was confused by the name changes in the first story. First it’s Michelle, then it’s Melissa. Maybe I missed something, but I couldn’t tell if two characters were being discussed. I didn’t understand this story because of the name change. As mentioned, there is a similar theme in a few stories, which for the first was okay. The second and the third instance (for a ten story anthology) was a bit much.

So, it was an okay book and a quick read.

My Rank:

Camouflage Belt


The Siege


By James Hanna



An Indiana penitentiary is the scene for a riot and hostage taking by a group of prisoners. What is their goal? Tom Hemmings, counselor, must enter the danger zone and negotiate terms before more people are killed.

This is billed as a psychological thriller, but I found the ‘thriller’ part a bit lacking in strength.


Chester Mahoney: portly, child molester, 70s, prisoner, attended Southern Baptist College, Masters in Divinity, bearded, former farmer, pipe smoker, wife dead

Henry Yoakum: prison guard

Tom Hemmings: prison counselor, fine-boned, former army, 52, drives a VW Rabbit

Sarah Baumgardner: works at the prison, blonde, has children

There are a few others in the cast. The author does a good job of relating the lives and thoughts of the characters, Chester, especially. Much of the story is between Chester and Tom. The problem I had was that although the story was from Tom’s POV, I never felt very close to him. Yes, he has emotions, but most of what I see is clinical thinking. I think the story lacked significant character development. Yes, people change, but not so I felt very excited or satisfied about it.


A couple of characters sound very similar and that bothered me, because one is a prisoner and the other is a guard. Shady guard, and maybe that’s why the author made him and the prisoner sound alike. Some voices come through. Conversations, while not long, do tend to go on for a bit.


Profanity. Sex scenes, though not too graphic. Book is composed of Parts, each of which is headed by a quotation. Sections within the parts are headed by date and time.

As mentioned above, I didn’t see much suspenseful thriller, especially in the first major chunk of the book, which is mostly flashbacks. I kept wanting to advance the story but was constantly thrown back in time. I don’t know if this worked for me, at least as to the tension building. As the book moved through the hours of the situation, I wanted to go back to the prison to have some more action, but it settled on a relationship between Tom and Sarah.

There wasn’t much tension. Yes, there was a hostage situation, but right at the beginning it is mentioned how it ended. That blows the suspense part. Yes, there are deaths, but they are not shown with any emotion. There’s hardly any emotion at the climactic scene and it drops off to a lengthy aftermath and most everything goes back to a status quo.

I will say this: the writing is solid. I didn’t see any errors and it is obvious the author put in some time to write a complete story.

My Rank:

Camouflage Belt


Night Things

Night Things Kindle cover

By Terry M. West

Terry M West


Imagine a world where vampires roam the streets. Where zombies can be cops. Where Frankenstein’s monster is a mobster named Johnny Stucke. Where Dracula is gathering an army to wipe out all humans. That’s the premise of Night Things. Where monsters roam and war is about to begin.

This is definitely NOT a Kim Harrison parallel. This is something a bit different. There’s some humor, some graphic gore, a bit of sex, and a weird story all around.


Johnny Stucke: mobster, Frankenstein’s monster, smokes cigars

Gary Hack: drug addict, adult film director, bald, trimmed beard, has a daughter, divorced, overweight

Glass: black, muscular, works for Stucke

Zuzanna: Polish, adult film star, succubus

Dracula: uh, he’s Dracula, what else do you need to know?


Conversations don’t linger on. Scenes are fairly short. Some voices come through.



The author throws in a lot of ‘traditional’ monster stuff. Garlic and silver and spells and burning of zombies. It’s a short book, fast read. There was room to expand a bit more on the lore and the current situation. Basically, Dracula recruits the monster and there are flashbacks to their falling out. I would have liked to have seen a bit more of the present day life. Maybe throw in some other humans unrelated to the main characters or with tenuous connections. Maybe a side plot. There was a lot to take in and though it was easy to follow, I was enjoying the concept. Maybe if the author continues with a series, he can explore the monster life. But for now, I took a chance and wasn’t disappointed.

My rank:

Green Belt


The ISIS Lone Wolf Trigger

isis lone wolf trigger 500 w for posting

By Nik Venture

nik venture


Okay, so there’s a journalist who’s trying to write a feature on a controversial evangelist who in turn is messing around in DNA manipulation. There’s a Muslim terrorist trying to blow up a plane. There’s a bunch of bad guys interested in firing a powerful laser to start a war and blame everything on Iran. A group of CIA good guys trying to figure out everything. And there’s a kidnapped girl and some bits about a liquid natural gas plant.

I think I covered most of it. This started out with some intriguing stuff but after awhile, I lost the connection. It wasn’t until half way through the book that the liquid natural gas plant was introduced and then it wasn’t seen again until the end of the book for a brief scene. The side plot with the kidnapped girl sort of flattened.


Jack Kant: journalist

Angela Bow: documentary researcher, has a sister, attended Rutgers

Ziad Berry: attended MIT

Carolyn James: CIA analyst

John Banger: Married, 6’3”, married with children

David Deacons: married, balding, glasses, overweight

So, Angela’s only role was to play sidekick to Jack and be the one who helps increase the danger. There’s the evangelist, Flint, who shows up, gives Jack and Angela and ride to his house, then disappears only to show up when everybody is kidnapped by the bad guys. Banger was seen but never did anything. There’s a guy named Cranach who is the bad guy. James never leaves her office and really doesn’t do a whole lot. Ziad was a wishy-washy terrorist wannabe whose career ended embarrassingly.

Basically, these were surface characters with barely any physical descriptions.


Here is where my connection to the book was lost. I tired of reading long, long, long speeches and sermon-like dialogues and explanations from these characters.

There is a major problem with internal dialogue that kept switching to present tense. There was a lot of this and I couldn’t understand why there was so much of it. Either have the characters think something in present tense and then let the narrator show us the subsequent thoughts. But these internal sentences in present tense kept going.



Misspelled words and missed quotes. At least one capitalization error.

I think the major problems are with the jumpy abrupt side plots and the dialogue. I’ve discussed the dialogue but let me go a bit deeper into the plot. As mentioned, I didn’t understand the introduction of the LNG plant halfway into the story and then not going back to it until briefly at the end. Especially with the long explanations in that into scene. The girl being kidnapped faltered because Angela should have been more worried. Then at the end, after the girl had been in an accident was never shown rescued and it was two weeks later before Angela and Jack saw the girl. That doesn’t make sense. It was sort of left up in the air what was going on with Flint and the business with DNA manipulation didn’t work for me.

I kept trying to grab onto something solid and was left with grasping clouds that somewhat connected to another cloud. Then I was left with trying to come up with a rank. Green dropped to Camo which dropped another rank. With everything put together, I have to go with:

Orange Belt




By Cody Schlegel



Nick Harmen arrives back in Junction, Iowa, after a narcotics run to find his buddy Joey has been discovered dead. Who killed Joey? What is Nick going to about his narcotics business? What is he going to do about his live-in girlfriend and daughter? Adam Craig is a cop suffering from PTSD. How is he to cope with the future?

This isn’t so much a whodunit, as it is a look into different lives of the cast. It runs a bit like a soap opera.


Nick Harmen: 29, pot dealer, drives a Dodge Ram, father dead

Ryan Harmen: 23, Nick’s cousin, pot dealer

Zack Harmen: 30, Nick’s cousin

Will Craig: married, deputy, 56, black, played football in college

Adam Craig: Will’s son, former military, cop

Bruce Harmen: Nick’s brother, drives a Chevy Silverado

Tori: dirty blonde hair, has daughter

Rick Hensley: county sheriff, 6′, 51, slender, former Marine

A lot of characters and I think a fair amount of detail so you know each one. Most everybody, unfortunately, is a bad guy or is into committing some type of crime. Even some of the bit players aren’t straight.


Pretty surface stuff. No long conversations and just a bit of character development with the dialogue.


Here where I have the problems. There’s some profanity and racial slurs but no big deal on these.

What I had trouble with was following the story because there were abrupt scene changes with no scene breaks. This is where the soap opera feel came about. The story jumped from scene to scene and character to character. The author over used the word ‘meanwhile’ and ‘back in’ as in Back in town or back at this person’s house. After awhile, every time I ran across these words, I couldn’t help but hear that deep voiced guy from the Superfriends cartoons – “Meanwhile…back at headquarters!”

Most of the story was ‘telling’ instead of showing. Rarely did we get very close to emotions or internal thoughts. The narrator stayed distant and omnipresent. I didn’t feel close to any of the characters.

I didn’t understand Adam’s role in the story other than to make an extended book, to have a side story going on. There were tenuous connections to the main plot, but his PTSD problem was never shown to be resolved.

I don’t know whether it was the formatting of the specific file I have or if it’s common amongst others, but in several cases there were XXXXs or ****s to denote years, locations of towns near Junction, and in one case the name of a hospital. If it’s my formatting, then no problem. If it’s seen in others, then there should have been actual numbers or words.

My Rank:

Camouflage Belt


Judicial Indiscretion


By Michael Arkin



Who killed a prominent New Mexico judge? Was it a developer? A Mexican drug runner? The law thinks the killer is David Madrid, attorney. David’s sister reaches out to her friend, Matt Lucas for assistance. With his team in place and some help from friendly cops, Matt sets out to discover who really is the guilty party.

Nice legal plot involving a wide list of suspects. Good personal stories are included which help.


David Madrid: attorney, divorced, alcoholic, dad dead, has two children, 5;7:, brown eyes, brown hair

Linda Lawson: Madrid’s half-sister, newspaper reporter, brunette, blue eyes, athletic, widow

Matt Lucas: Private investigator and lawyer, 57, divorced with three children, drives a Corvette and a white Toyota truck

Jeffe Saizman: District Attorney, dark complexion, black hair

Brian Nichols: felon, 6’2”, ex prison guard

Amber James: lawyer, large eyes, light brown hair with red/blonde highlights

There’s another P.I. and some shady characters in the cast. Most of the cast is well used. Some physical descriptions help.


This is where the biggest problems lie. Most of the dialogue is not natural to how people really speak. Most of the dialogue is made up of long paragraphs, long explanatory paragraphs, long detailed paragraphs. A lot are the telling of previous conversations and have direct dialogue from the other party included. Because of these long paragraphs, I lost interest in them because most of the interviews and investigations that were done and then explained could have been shown at the time they were happening or summarized a lot quicker.

I found it amusing that after chapters and chapters of lengthy dialogue, Lucas becomes irritated near the end with an explanation from a professor – which wasn’t nearly as long as some of his colleague’s conversations.

Some of the internal dialogue used italics, some didn’t and this needed to be tightened.

Most of the characters tended not to use contractions when normal dialogue would include them.


Book is separated into Parts.

Some profanity. 1st person from Matt’s POV during his scenes and third person POV other times.

Little tension throughout with only one action scene. Okay, two, but nothing very dangerous about the second. Most of this book, as described above, was lengthy conversations.

I didn’t quite understand Nichols’ role other than his ex wife is Matt’s girlfriend and Nichols hangs around trying to pick up information regarding her whereabouts. He’s a felon on the run, and takes off after he recognizes Matt in a diner, but there was no indication that there was any danger. Matt didn’t find out who Nichols was until much later. Nichols comes and goes and his role is a bit confusing.

Another thing I didn’t think worked was the extensive focus on Madrid’s alcoholism and his working through the 12-step program in jail. Some of it revealed some insight into his character and the mystery, but a lot of it, I felt, was not needed. Plus, the book covered only the first 5 steps so it’s unknown whether David went on to complete the program.

My Rank:

Camouflage Belt


After The Evil


By Cary Allen Stone



A serial killer who castrates her victims. A homicide investigator trying to recover after the justifiable shooting of a young girl. An FBI agent thrown back into the presence of her former employer and boyfriend.

A good plot. Well thought out. Not sure if I like knowing who the killer is right away because it takes away from the suspense at the end.


Nick Parker: airline pilot, married, drives a Lincoln Navigator

Anthony Moralli: priest, dark hair and eyes, olive complexion

Jake Roberts: homicide investigator, American Indian

Thaddeus Abrams: 46, psychiatrist, married, 190 lb, 6′, brown hair, green eyes, scar on right elbow

Ed Fairchild: Roberts’ supervisor, married with children, smokes cigars

Mika Scott: FBI agent, black hair

Lori Powers: flight attendant, daughter dead, blonde, cyan eyes

Harmon Blackwell, black, Roberts’ partner, large man

A nice cast. Not too much physical descriptions for the main people so it was a bit difficult getting a mental image. I think Roberts and Harmon play well off each other. It might have been nice to get into the former relationship between Mika and Jake more.


As mentioned some nice interchanges between Harmon and Jake with Mika thrown into the mix sometimes. Lori’s internal dialogue with her daughter is a nice touch and adds to her ‘badness’.


Here’s where I have some problems. No profanity which is okay, but it might have added something with just a bit. I know that’s rare to say, but it is a cop/killer story and profanity adds realism.

Some misspelled words: you’re daughter should be your daughter and I don’t know how you can pea on a wall.

The major issue was POV and tense. When in first person from Jake’s POV the tense is present, although it changed at one point near the beginning when I was trying to figure it all out. With scenes other than Jake it’s third person past tense. The problem I had was when it was first person present with Jake the POV shifted to other characters. For instance, in a scene with Jake and Lori, Lori leaves the room and the POV shifts to her. Still in present tense. This happens a lot and for first person, using the word ‘I’, the POV can’t shift. I don’t think it works.

Too much physical distance and time passing between the good guys and the killer at the end. I knew the ending before Jake and Harmon arrived on scene which lessened the suspense.

This is the first of a series and Jake has a lot of potential.

My Rank:

Green Belt


The Conspiracy Of Silence


By Augustine Sam

Augustine Sam


Benjamin Carlton, television star, is on trial for the murder of the wife of the California’s governor. Carlton’s girlfriend, Rita Spencer is his lawyer, but she has stumbled into a conspiracy spanning Washington politics.

Okay, this is the basic plot, which is fine, but once I delved into it, I discovered there were a lot of problems that went beyond basic.


Benjamin Carlton: black, television star

Rita Spencer: Carlton’s girlfriend, attorney, slender, hazel eyes, long mahogany colored hair

Frank Talbott: 40, mobster, smokes cigars

Bruce Travis: smokes, former FBI academy instructor

Manuel Ernesto Rodriguez: drives a Jeep

Brent Greenburger: homicide investigator, married, two sons

There’s also a guy named Leland, who works for a branch of the FBI. Except for Rita, no real physical descriptions. Many people don’t act as one would expect them to. Talbot, who I thought was an interesting character, is brought in early, then never seen again. The two bad guy flunkies are ridiculous in their actions and dialogue. Speaking (no pun intended) of dialogue:


Major issue here. Everybody talks to him/herself. A lot. They speak in complete sentences out loud…to themselves. Where a narrator should be explaining this, the characters think in complete sentences, which isn’t normal. There are some B-movie lines. Characters’ dialogue don’t match their personality or their profession.

Example: Greenburger in a disagreement with his superior – “With all due respect, let me oppose you,” he whined while gathering courage… No cop speaks like that.

Rita, standing in line for popcorn after speaking with Leland who was telling her a shocking story. “Lord!” she cried. “They are closing in on me, the sinister cartel, the FBI, and worst of all, the Shadow of Death-the greatest mob hit-man of all time-according to Leland; a phenomenal killer who entered a hotel sauna, plunked down his towel like a normal steam-bather, strangled the senator while they were both naked, and then dissolved into thin air without being spotted.” – Okay, let’s move past the fact this is one of the worst examples of a run-on sentence and realize, she’s saying this aloud…to herself…while in line for popcorn. Really? And nobody gives her a weird look? The governor, too, has his own scene of walking around having a conversation with himself.

While I’m here with Leland and Rita, their entire conversation is inane. In the midst of this fantastic story about political murder and other nasty business, Rita asks him his age and he wonders that Rita, the lawyer, uses profanity.


Profanity. Not much, but just enough to be unnecessary.

I think the author tried too hard to convey the ideas in the book with language and words that were off.

The plot dumps the reader right into the murder case, then backs up and shows some of the investigation.

Abrupt POV shifts. At least one misspelled word. Misuse of semi-colons and commas. In one sentence there is a mixture of past and present tense. Repetitious words. A lot of people ‘pause’. Leland ‘pauses dramatically’, and an attorney ‘turns dramatically’, which is weak writing.

The FBI is portrayed as inept and this is not believable. The FBI bodyguards are worthless as they can’t keep Rita from sneaking in and out of the hotel each day for court. Leland, hospitalized, is frantic that there’s a mole inside the FBI and he can’t trust anybody, including his bodyguards. Yet, a scene later, both the guards and Leland allow the bad guy posing as a doctor to waltz right into the room without a suspicion.

Part of the plot involves Rita possessing a diary that both the baddies and the FBI want. The baddies can’t seem to kill her and the FBI are apparently stymied by her refusal to turn over the diary to them. So much so the FBI Director makes an appearance and he is denied. Really?

Not believable – a high profile trial involving a celebrity and the governor’s wife would take longer than one morning session to choose a jury. Also not believable – An alibi given the governor at the very end of the trial, is not challenged by the prosecutor. Most of the court proceedings were not believable.

Part of the plot involves Carlton being part of a secret spy organization. Okay, but that’s not followed up on later in the book. What happens? Is the organization shut down? Does he leave it or continue to be a member? This a cool plot point, but the author never goes into the intricacies of it.

This shadow of death assassin isn’t dealt with either.

The ending is weak.

This entire book was a mess with weak writing, bad and unnatural dialogue, confusing and convoluted plot points, and characters who aren’t believable.

My Rank:

White Belt


Death’s Door


By David Reichart



Fresh out of the military and after a short stint as a truck driver, Jesse Yates joins Palm Court Detectives. His first assignment: figure out who’s hijacking trucks for the cargo. Yates goes undercover but soon things turn serious and he finds himself delivering a cargo of death.

I think this is a good intro to a new series. The plot holds it own for the most part, is well thought out with only a few glitches here and there.


Jesse Yates: former Navy SEAL, former Marine, former truck driver, private detective, knows martial arts, former smoker, has a sister, dad was a paratrooper

Ernie Donovan: runs Palm Court Detectives, priest, 50s, black hair

Sheila: former actress, P.I. who works for Donovan

Jimmie Flynn: owns Flynn Transportation, almost 50, tad portly, brown hair, married, 2 sons, has a brother

Donna Grey: dark hair, ponytail, former Army, dad was a Marine, works at a bowling alley

There are a bunch of baddies and a couple are pretty involved. There are also some bit federal players I would have liked to have seen in more than one chapter. This book dealt mostly with Yates but I would like to have seen the other members of the PCD involved more. Maybe in future stories.


Pretty good voices. Yates tends to be hesitant a lot, asking questions, and almost overboard with his doubts and fears. The grit and character to have become a SEAL doesn’t hold over here in the detective world except in the action scenes.


Some profanity, but not a lot.

Speaking of actions scenes, they’re tight and well coordinated.

The author shows his knowledge of trucking and fighting. There were some slow parts building up to the climax and this is a short (er) story than a lot of mysteries. For instance, I thought there was too much back and forth between Yates and the bad guys in the final part of the book. Too much arguing.

I mentioned the feds. I wold have liked to have seen them again at the end, just to wrap it up with their part of the whole story.

Shorter meant a faster read.

Again, the rank I give does not mean I didn’t like it. I think this series has a lot of potential and this fills a good niche in the mystery genre.

My Rank:

Green Belt


Dark Money


By Larry D. Thompson



Attorney Jackson Bryant is called by his old friend, Walt Frazier, for advice on how to handle security at a Halloween party/fundraiser with the featured guest being the governor of Texas. Danger looms and when a shooter wounds the governor and kills one of the hosts, not only is Walt under fire for neglect of duty, but Bryant has to figure out who is ultimately behind the killing. You guessed it, politics and money are involved.

I expected a court case but didn’t get one til the end. Most of the book was tracking down and capturing the killer and the investigation into the shooting. I think this covered the spectrum of mystery and legal. Again, not what I expected, but enjoyable nonetheless.


Jackson Douglas Bryant: lawyer, former military, uses a cane, reserve county deputy, drives a pickup

Walt Frazier: former military, still has moments of PTSD, part of the governor’s protective detail, 6’2” muscular

Richard ‘Colonel’ Van Zandt: Vietnam vet, leader of an anti government group, bearded, lean, blue eyes

Miriam Van Zandt: Richard’s daughter, marksman, works at a convenience store, drives a pickup

Oscar Hale: wealthy, married

J.D. Bryant: Jackson’s son, plays football at TCU, former Marine

A good cast of characters including who I thought was a minor character, a washed out musician and one of Bryant’s clients, but who managed to be involved in the main plot. I think the author used him very well in the story.


Good voices. Conversations didn’t wander.


I didn’t see anything wrong with the story. I wish the court case could have been longer because when I read about attorneys in mysteries, that’s the enjoyable part, the battle in the courtroom.

I think it was a well rounded story, covering all bases, not leaving something hanging and no obvious ‘filler’ material. One of the bad guys came and went too fast and that’s too bad because I liked him and would have liked to have seen more of him.

I think the author brings to light a problem with politics but didn’t keep bashing the reader with it.

The author shows knowledge in the subject matter without overdoing it.

So, with this all taken into account, with the rank I’m giving, I want to mention that I didn’t dislike the book and I think it’s a solid story. I enjoyed the last legal mystery by this author and would definitely read him again.

My Rank:

Green Belt



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