Semblance Of Guilt


By Claudia Riess



Ellen Davis is a divorced journalist who tries to make a living by running a society column. When she meets the Clarkes they seem like the perfect couple, but trouble brews. Soon, Davis discovers a possible affair had by the husband and later she is accused of being a mistress herself, and of murdering the wife. Meanwhile, she’s also trying out a new romance with a police lieutenant. Will the romance survive or will Davis be convicted?

I thought the premise was pretty good, but when I got into the book, I discovered some disappointments.


Ellen Davis: reporter, divorced, 5’4”, 37, BA, auburn hair, hazel eyes, drives a Honda

Pete Sakura: Japanese descent, police lieutenant, widower with a son

Graham Clarke: lean, 40s, administrator at Columbia, drives a Jaguar, light brown hair, beown eyes, wears glasses, degrees in philosophy and administration

Sophia Clarke: Greek descent, Graham’s wife, 30, black hair, brown eyes

Anna Mangione: married

There are a few other characters that stand out, Ellen’s defense attorney for one. I didn’t feel close to Ellen and I didn’t feel too much emotion emoted…if I’m allowed that phrase. Also, Anna wasn’t as much of a loyal friend as I might have expected.


Conversations were okay. I think a few voices came through, Sophia’s for instance.



The problems I had with the book were:

– It was difficult judging time passage, at least in the first part of the book.

– Sorry to play a bit of a spoiler, but the dead body doesn’t show up until 11 chapters in. Way too long for a murder mystery.

– There was no discovery of the dead body. One scene ended with Ellen running away from the house and the next had the cops on scene investigating the crime. I think this relates to the time issue a bit.

– No real tension throughout. No danger for Ellen. She went to trial and although I enjoy a good courtroom battle, there wasn’t anything for me to get excited about. The defense attorney was a disappointment and didn’t really seem to care about the case, other than keeping Ellen in her place.

The major problem was the climax…because there wasn’t one. The book ended with a 20-30 page, drawn out, lengthy confession and nothing more. I expected tension, danger, not a long explanation that could have been so much more exciting.

My rank:

Camouflage Belt


Kindred Intentions


By Rita Carla Francesca Monticelli



Somebody is killing London lawyers. When Amelia Jennings goes undercover at an attorney’s office, she finds herself in a gun fight in the waiting room. Soon, she’s kidnapped, but rescued by Mike Connor, who also had a hand in the opening battle. Who is he? What’s his story? Can Mike and Amelia survive when they become the hunted? Can Amelia fight her feelings of attraction?

Nice premise and it doesn’t hurt that the action starts on page one. A romantic suspense with action throughout.


Amelia Jennings: cop, brown hair, son is dead, divorced

Mike Connor: wears glasses, blue eyes, former covert operative

Yep, that’s right, two characters. Okay, there are a couple others but who cares? The others aren’t involved long enough to make an impression. Actually, I wasn’t impressed by the main characters because they aren’t described very well. Amelia is attracted to Mike but that was a given. His attractive nature isn’t shown. Neither is Amelia’s. I don’t ‘see’ enough of them in a mental image to get close to them. Part of the reason for that is below.


A lot of non-contractions during dialogue. Enough so that it felt wrong.


Here is where the problems really show up. First off, there is profanity. Now, I don’t mind it in a story if it’s necessary and natural. In this book, however, I don’t think the F word is needed and whenever used, sounds forced.

This is a shorter book (my pub file was only 145 pages) which is fine, but this story could have been longer and drawn out.

There were several ‘ly‘ adverbs.

Way too many sentences started with ‘She’. There are entire paragraphs where ‘She’ starts every sentence.

Which leads me into the next weakness: too much telling and not enough showing. There’s action, but hardly any emotion is shown from Amelia. It’s distant narrator when it should be inside-her-head-narrator showing injuries, fear, exhaustion, lust.

This weak writing of telling is prevalent throughout with such sentences as:

– He pushed her in a rude way.

– He arranged her hair behind her ears with a caring gesture.

– He cleared his throat in a forced way.

Getting back to the length of the book, the explanations were near the end, but with a longer book, they could have been drawn out more, hinted at, foreshadowed. Some of them didn’t make sense. Amelia is kidnapped, questioned by the bad guys, is knocked unconscious, and wakes up in an empty room out in the middle of nowhere. The explanation for this is told, but it doesn’t make sense because of the ‘coincidence’ of Mike showing up soon after. There is a twist to the plot that is interesting, and even though there are no misspelled words, there are some punctuation flubs. I thought of Camouflage, but taken as a whole, I have to drop this to:

Yellow Belt


Beliefs Can Be Murder


Dudley Lynch



In the west Texas town of Flagler, things are heating up. Sheriff Whorter is facing: FBI agents tracking a mysterious container that was shipped to the United States; murders at the three Christian universities; a massive fire; and a break in. What do these all have to do with three Middle Eastern college students and a plan to build a massive new religious community nearby?

What an intricate, multi-faceted story. FBI on page one and it doesn’t let up from there.


Helen Briggs: Sheriff’s aid, prim, 60s, widow

Patrick Kane: FBI agent

Luke Whorter: Sheriff, attended Yale and has a divinity degree, father was a sheriff

Sawyers Tanner: Chief deputy; graying hair, overweight, mustache, late 50s

Malachi Jepp Rawls: professor, 5’4”, bowlegged, injured leg, uses a cane, widower, drives a white Jeep Grand Wagoneer

Luke isn’t described as much as some of the other characters, so I didn’t get a good picture of him. However, he works well with the other cast members. Good personalities although the development between Luke and the female agent could have been a bit more detailed throughout. Also, more details on Luke’s past, failed relationship could have helped.


Conversations do not wander afar and when there is side stuff, those are mostly narrator telling. Good voices.


Right up front, I’m going to say that this was solid writing from page 1. I kept looking for errors or mistakes or weak points, but didn’t find any. Very good use of words to add depth and to not have the reader skim over places. Explanations were concise and didn’t go on for pages. Action had good tension although (okay, a bit of weakness here but minor) some extra drama and emotion might have been inserted.

The book is separated into Days with quotes at the beginning of each day. No profanity, which was surprising for a Texas cop story, despite the religious aspects. These weren’t preachy, but did reference Christianity.

POV is first person from Whorter.

So, as to ranking. I hovered between two ranks and tried to compare what I’ve given past books that have earned higher rankings. Maybe it’s because I enjoyed this one after weeks of reading stuff that left me wanting something substantive, or maybe it’s just good writing and a good story. Probably a combination of all three.

My Rank:

Blue Belt


Smile Of The Rictus


By Julius Talen



For hundreds of years, there has been one person who is rarely named in the world of magicians – the Rictus. Who is he? What does he want? Is he immortal? In modern day London, Chief Inspector Adelaide Shaw takes on a case of a killer who uses magic and illusion to strike at his victims. In response, she accepts the guidance of Oliver Whitaker, a magician on the outs. When two master magicians come face to face, is anybody safe?

I was intrigued by this plot. A little magic (okay, a lot of illusion), a bit of mystery throughout history. An interesting premise.


Adelaide Shaw: Chief Inspector, rides a motorbike, 31, 110 lbs, 5’9”, has six brothers.

Oliver Tobias Morsen Whitaker: 29, magician, mom dead, attended Oxford, 6’2”, 200 lbs.

Mais Lawson: inspector

Rudolph Van Mappen: elderly, magician, nicknamed Mistle

There are a few others but Oliver and Adelaide get most of the story. Other than some basics, there is not much description about the two main protagonists. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the characters. I think the cast was well rounded with some side players who made the reading enjoyable.


Missing commas on tag lines. Missing periods on dialogue where the next sentence is a non-tag line. Otherwise, I felt the characters voices sounded young (well, 29 and 31 are fairly young) but the characters themselves act older.


One minor bit of profanity.

Misspelled words, capitalization errors, incorrect words, missing words. These were the major problems throughout.

Another big thing was the author bringing in history of Adelaide late in the book. This extra aspect of her character should have been shown earlier in the book and revisited at least once or twice. To bring it up at the end doesn’t do it justice and weakened the story and the character. It’s parallel to having the ghost save the day at the end when no ghost was mentioned before. This aspect was not fully developed nor was it dealt with in the aftermath.

Ditto too with maybe foreshadowing who the baddie was. Maybe some hints or clues earlier in the book. Red herrings?

Some good action scenes but I would have liked more description of the magic and more emotion from the characters when it happened. Much of it was: this happened and it was countered, then this happened and so on.

My Rank:

Camouflage Belt


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. (I later learned the error was caught and hopefully will have been changed by the time you read it.) 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



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