The Carnival Keepers

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By Amber Gulley

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1879. London. James Hurlsworthy has accepted a series of bets from a friend to be completed in a day. However, he barely begins his adventure when he is thrown into some weird situations. There’s a carnival in town and magical creatures are roaming the streets with agendas of their own.

Okay, I thought the premise of James and his bets were interesting. When there’s a murder at the beginning of the book, I thought it was going to start getting really good. Then the story took a turn for left field and ended up going in half a dozen or more directions. The plot fell apart and turned into a book of multiple stories, James and his bets becoming a side story that lost ground.


James Hurlsworthy: has a title of Lord, has an older brother

Eddy Miller: pimp, owns a coffee house, large frame, has siblings

Mr Scraps: owns a curio shop

And more and more and more characters who kept popping up into the story. And very few without magical powers. There is a cat and a rat and spiders and a horse and an elephant and mermaid type creatures coming out of a lake and a girl with butterfly wings and a monster in a basement and too many characters to track and every one is involved with a story of their own and some may cross each other’s paths but there are stories that didn’t seem to develop or lost focus and…whew!

I thought naming a character Arry (get it? Harry without the H, as in one of the British accents dropping the H’s in words?) was a little much.


Mr. Scraps and Eddy had the best voices. There were a lot of internal dialogues and because of the multitude of characters, those threw me out of whatever story might have been happening. Arry and his buds had good accents.


The book is separated into titled Parts. Some profanity. The scenes with James are 1st person from his POV. The rest of the book is 3rd person from various POVs.

So, where to begin. Let’s start with the carnival having a Ferris Wheel. I did my homework and discovered that the first amusement ride with the term Ferris Wheel was designed by George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. and was the largest attraction at the Chicago Exposition…in 1893. Yes there were similar type rides throughout the centuries, but the Ferris wheel was until 14 years after this story took place.

Let me discuss the carnival. I thought it an interesting place where the carnies steal souls…and lives of many of the humans who attend. That was a cool aspect. But it wasn’t developed enough to keep my interest. Ditto the monster in the basement. What a creepy, scary THING, but again, it never developed and that early story died early. Then there were a story about one of the magical creatures wanting a necklace back and spent much of the book trying to find it. Another had a girl who wanted to run away and join the carnival. Anther story had the demise of Eddy. Another story had these spiders that bothered a lot of characters. Another included the mermaid type creatures coming out of a lake, but that didn’t seem to go anywhere and never concluded. The book starts with James in a cemetery with someone else and wondering if he was going to get away from the spiders but I didn’t make the connection at the end of the book. His story about the bets fell apart in short order and never really got back on track.

There was too much going on here without a succinct development in any if the subplots. I kept hoping it would evolve and nicely tie up, but I was disappointed.

The rank I give this is because of the above comments and not because there were any grammar/punctuation/spelling errors.

Yellow Belt


Eye For An Eye


by Ben Coes



Covert operative Dewy Andreas helps discover a Chinese mole in Mossad, and thus begins a chess match of deadly proportions. When the Chinese Minister for State Security, Fao Bhang, discovers the identity of Andreas, he sends assassins to Argentina where Andreas is with his fiance, America’s National Security Adviser. When the kill mission goes wrong, Andreas reverts back to his military training in order to seek revenge. It’s a game of one-upmanship between Dewey and Bhang. But there are other players in the game, both American and British who also would like to see Bhang eliminated. And unbeknownst to Andreas, he is included in their schemes.

An oft seen plot with your typical explosions and gunfire. Nothing too new here.


Dewey Andreas: 39, covert operative, usually on assassination missions handsome, unruly brown hair, bright, cold, blue eyes, large aquiline nose, grew up in Maine, played football for Boston College. Went to Ranger school. Was in Delta Force. Had a son who died at age six from leukemia. Drives a Ford F-150, played hockey in high school, has a scar on his left shoulder to his bicep, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Fao Bhang: minister of China’s state security, has a half brother, was an assassin, smokes

Jessica Tanzer: 37, National Security Advisor, Andreas’ fiancee, auburn hair

Raul: 31, assassin, has a penthouse in Peru, drives a red Kawasaki Ninja 10r, long hair, muscular

Adrian King: 35, the President’s Chief of Staff, 5’8”, thick brown hair, bushy eyebrows

Lots of characters who come and go, play minor but important roles. Thrillers like this are noted for lots of politicos and agents and contacts. It’s pointless to list a lot of the characters, since most of them end up dead after a few chapters. Coes includes the standard array of good guys, bad buys, and those behind the scenes.


Not too bad for capturing the voices of the characters. As I mentioned, there are a lot of characters, but each seem to have a good distinctive voice. For me, I have to assign a voice (deep, calm, cynical, etc.) for each character, even if a few sound similar. Especially with a book such as this one with a plethora of voices. Conversations don’t wander too much from the point of the scene which is good because the book is long enough without extraneous material.


Lots of relatively short chapters. Chapters headed by location. Profanity, but that’s expected in a thriller such as this one. Lots of build up chapters, drawn out details. Short scenes here and there to link to other scenes later. There is a ‘busy’ feel to it. The actions scenes move but there are many instances of repeated words within a paragraph which tends to give the action a stilted feeling. I felt the story could have been written a little tighter without a lot of the extra stuff. Still, a decent thriller.

My Rank:

Purple Belt




By Richard Stark



Parker, professional thief has just ripped off an armored car. During the getaway, his vehicle crashes. With the cops bearing down, he flees into an amusement park, closed during the winter, where he finds there is only one exit. Said escape route is now guarded by members of the local mob and their paid off cops who all witnessed Parker’s actions and soon learn about the robbery. It’s thief versus the mob in funland.

A different Parker novel. Usually, Stark writes about a different job for Parker to accomplish, lays out the details, the problems and the relationships with other team members. Then you see the operation play out. In Slayground, the job is complete and in its aftermath Parker has to fend for himself. This time, it’s how Parker can effect his escape and still keep the money.


Parker: professional thief, has a girlfriend, wife dead

Caliato: 38, member of the local mob, patient nature, smokes cigars

Donald Snyder:64, watchmen for Fun Island amusement park, drives a Volkswagon, stocky, owns a Colt .44 revolver

Parker is intelligent and tries to anticipate difficulties. I really get into his head, start empathizing with the character. If the reader can get drawn in, then the character is well written. Normally, the other characters are other members of Parker’s latest team.


Basic. No fluff. Parker doesn’t waste words. In fact, Parker does very little talking. Most of the conversations are by the mobsters and bad cops. And they’re pretty distinctive voices.


Book separated into Parts. The writing is basic. No nonsense. No details sensationalized. It’s business through the eyes of Parker. Action is laid out step by step. Some profanity. This was written in the era of pulp fiction popularity but doesn’t use that type of language. Of course this is the serious side of Richard Stark, aka Donald Westlake. Parker is the serious professional thief whereas John Dortmunder is the humorous. I’ve read other Parker novels and what fascinates me is the amount of research Stark had to have done. If you’ve read any of his books, think about first, the job, then the preparations for the job, then the possible problems (which always happen). The devil-and the delight-is in the details and they’re laid out one by one. Of course, you’re rooting for a bad guy, but that’s okay, because it’s the anti-hero type of story. Parker is a thief and for him, it’s like anybody else doing CPA work, or construction, or waiting tables. In all of Parker’s stories, you’re reading to see how he defeats not only the cops (which are almost nuisances) but other obstacles (usually other bad guys). Very little, if any humor, very dry at best. Smart writing. On the cover I’ve shown, is a quote by Elmore Leonard. “Whatever Stark writes, I read.” I think that says it all. He tends to show some action then go back and explain how characters came to be doing that action.

Westlake died a couple of years ago and the world will miss him. I’m trying to collect and read all of his books. I haven’t once been disappointed.

My ranking:

Brown Belt


Quick Kick – The Rules

Every now and then I will present, mixed in with the regular reviews, a series of shorter reviews, usually audio books that I’ve collected, listened to, but didn’t have the opportunity to write down the usual elements for a more detailed review. Unless none is available, the plot summary will be from the Amazon listing. These are Quick Kicks. Any assigned or accepted reviews from author requests will be the normal four point analysis.



By Nancy Holder & Debbie Viguie


Narrated by alternating members of an unreliable group of teens, this riveting thriller will have readers on the edge of their seats. No one is safe, and everyone is a suspect.

Callabrese High’s exclusive parties are famous for booze, sex, and most especially, their scavenger hunts. But when the latest invitees RSVP yes, they have no idea what they’re in for. Because this time the high school elite aren’t the ones doing the hunting. They’re the ones being hunted.

My Analysis

It’s a serial killer book with a bit of gore but not much. Sometimes I found it difficult to distinguish between the characters as the narrator didn’t use different voices for the characters. With a lot of characters to deal with, the authors don’t get into them too much, and the killing of them had to be done every so often.

I enjoyed the game and wished more of the game wold have been played. Some may argue that it did get played out, but it felt almost secondary. A vast array of characters who were typical high school snobbish elite.

My rank:

Green Belt



Purgatory Key


by Darrell James



Investigator Del Shannon is assigned to find two kidnapped teenagers. In Tuscon, Shannon makes contact with one of the kidnappers and negotiates a money drop. However, the drop goes bad and Shannon has scant leads. ATF Agent Frank Falconet is assigned to trace a major league felon presumed to be dead. The man’s brother’s image was picked up on surveillance in Tuscon. When Shannon and Falconet meet up, they realize their two cases are connected and it’s off to the bayous of Louisiana. While they also try to sort out their previous romantic relationship, the teenagers must contend with killers and tiger…and the possibility of treasure nearby.

Oft-seen plot given a little sizzle with the wilds of the southern bayous. The addition of tigers provides a little more interest.


Del Shannon: 31, Investigator for Desert Sands Covert in Tuscon, carries a nine millimeter Baby Eagle, parents dead, short blonde hair, ice green eyes, drives a Jeep Wrangler, graduated Community College

Frank Falconet: 39, ATF agent, lives in New Jersey, Irish-Italian, grew up in Brooklyn, divorced, has a teenage daughter

Lissa Rogers: 18, teenager, long dark hair, slim, runner up in the Miss Teen America pageant, parents dead

Kendra Kozak: teenager, friend of Lissa, long red curly hair, average looks, curvy body, lives with Lissa as parents aren’t around

Payton Rickey: smokes, hairy body, has a leg injured from a plane crash, handsome

Teddy Rickey: Payton’s younger and taller brother, blonde hair buzzed on sides, spiked on top, pale skin, hooded almost colorless

Standard bad guys. The main two good guys have some depth and the interplay between them is good. There were two problem scenes I had with Lissa. I know the author had to include the first particular scene for the purpose of suspense. I also knew how the scene would end because if it ended the way it should have, the story would have been shorter. However, I didn’t believe how Lissa responded to the situation at hand, even with her adventurous spirit. The second scene also could have had a different choice made when she discovered the circumstance at hand. I don’t want to reveal too many details to spoil the story-basically each scene dealt with two possible chances at escape-but personally, I didn’t buy either decision or action. Maybe I could believe the first one, because, as I mentioned it had to happened the way it did to prolong the story. But, not the second instance, not with the surroundings and the issues involved. I also didn’t like the second teen, Kendra. She was irritating with no ounce of strength or common sense.


The Cajun character’s voice comes through best. Conversations were fine but I didn’t feel real energy in them.


Some profanity. Varying lengths of chapters. It’s written well and it’s a good thriller. There was nothing unexpected, no twists. Having read a previous book in this series, I wasn’t disappointed but at the same time wasn’t excited. I read the ARC but noticed a lot of errors to be fixed, in some instances incorrect words altogether. Because I knew it was an ARC, this didn’t affect my ranking, just noted that there were more errors than usually seen in ARCs. Anyway, it was a good book.

My Rank:

Purple Belt


Other People’s Mothers

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By J. L. Gregory



This is a collection of stories about mothers. This is not a collection of stories that praise and show how wonderful mothers are. This anthology of anecdotes gives a peek behind the curtain of reality. Some are funny, some are amusing, some are sad. All are charming tales that show mothers who are quirky, loving, exasperating, frustrating, and how some cope with situations in unique ways…and the reactions and observations of those who grew up under those mothers.

Some of the stories include:

– A mother’s cooking in the 1950s

– A mother at church trying to make friends

– Why a woman won’t eat beets

– A woman’s words help a college student

– Two women’s thoughts on their mothers

– Mother’s change after retirement

– How one mother rid herself of baubles and collectibles

– How cooking kills skip a generation


Mothers, of course. Elderly, young, divorced, married, widowed.

Sons and daughters who are counselors, mothers and parents themselves, retired.

Though the stories show some interesting aspects of mothers, don’t forget that these stories come from the observations and experiences of those who had these people as mothers. How their lives were affected, and how those experiences were passed on to their children. Sometimes it feels as if the people telling the stories are in the background but they’re really not and when I kept that in mind, it made the stories that much more enjoyable.


The bits of conversation fit each character and without a lot of background information or description, I knew who and what kind of person spoke. From the shy student to the irascible, complaining mother, to the grieving widow


A few incorrect words but I skipped over those.

It’s a short book, quick read. A nice taste of life with mothers with some humor (I enjoyed the story of how one mother disposed of her collectibles), some sad moments. Most ended with some joy that the people would be okay after their experiences.

Well written slices of life from a lot of perspectives. This might make a good Mother’s Day present.

My Rank:

Purple Belt


Victim Of Compromise


By Luke Johnson


Ray King is a recently promoted Chief Inspector and his first case is the murder of a private investigator. The case involves some very important individuals involved in politics. Add to that an apparent suicide. Just when King thinks he he has the case solved, he realizes he doesn’t…and the body count rises.

An intricate plot set in Britain. Pretty well laid out with some surprises along the way.


Ray King: Chief Inspector, 6’2”, peat brown hair

Terry Donovan: Detective Sergeant, 6’, carrot colored hair

Annette Crosley: former cop, private investigator, brown hair, green eyes, drives an MG Metro

Jim Wallace: graying hair, burly, Chief of detectives

Charles Robertson: MP, tall, sandy hair, 40s, married w/children, owns a security company

A nice cast. Lots of people and a lot of them die. I think there are good personalities and fairly well developed throughout.


Donovan has a good accent, dropping the H’s in a lot of words. The attorneys and Robertson have good voices, too. A lot of conversation. Near the end, I realized the cops spend an awful lot of time talking to people or interviewing people, even if it was a relatively short conversation.


Book is divided into Parts. Some profanity.

I wondered for a bit how the rest of the book was going to play out when the apparent murderer was caught early on. Then the complexity started and it turned into a pretty good chase after the killer since people kept getting killed.

I don’t have anything bad to say about the book. Clean writing. Everything worked out well. It would be interesting to see if King and company show up again in another book. If they do, I think it would be a worthy read.

My Rank:

Purple Belt




By M. G. Hardie


(book to be released May 23)


One day, stock broker Devon Heathrow finds a package that contains a pair of glasses. Using the glasses, he is able to see strange beings-Them-from another dimension who subsequently attack him. Rescued and physically altered by another entity, Devon now wanders the world in search of answers, trying to avoid Them, and saving humanity from Them…if he can.

That’s my take on the plot. Had I known how the book was going to present this plot…I would have rejected the review request.


Devon Heathrow: stock broker, married with child, brown eyes.

Yep. One character, and the eye color is all the description I could find.

Okay, yes, there were other characters, but they were so far below minor because most of them showed up for a scene, then were gone.

So, there are the creatures called Them and most were given weird names. He, Him, Me, Ask. Others were given names-I assume-by Devon, which represented what they did: Landslide, Avalanche, Tsunami, etc. There is a guy named Prime who shows up later in the book who is one of Them. The He character is the surgeon who gave Devon the alterations to make Devon more than human.

There is another other-dimension group called the Sway, who influence humans more subtly than major catastrophes. In fact, one of the Sway is named Influence.

Unfortunately, these names made reading more difficult, especially when the He character was around Whenever sentences started with He, I had to read carefully to determine whether the sentence dealt with the Them He or he Devon.

The problem I had with Them and Sway, was because of how the book was written, these characters didn’t develop. They popped in and out. Every time a new character was introduced, I thought, “Okay, now we’ll have more than a passing interaction.” Nope. Gone by the next scene or chapter.


Beyond the problems of the characters, there were massive amounts of dialogue. The scene with He was mostly dialogue and He dumped so much useless, irrelevant information in lengthy passages, I stopped caring. The information dump was an encyclopedia entry listing almost everything about Them. This was done way too early in the book and most of the information was not relevant throughout the rest of the book and the way the story developed. The last 80 pages was mostly dialogue, with looooong passages and explanations, and most of that was repetitious concepts that were given throughout.

Devon has way too many way too long internal monologues. People do not think in multiple page paragraphs.


Where do I start? Titled chapters. Profanity. Punctuation problems. Misspelled words.

ALL of the book was telling, not showing. Action scenes were either too short or too long and none of them showed the pain or emotions of Devon. They were related through telling. Passive verbs, ‘ing’ verbs with lessen the tension.

There is a major problem with tenses. The author jumps from present to past and it doesn’t make sense and doesn’t work.

POV jumps. Narrator jumps from close 3rd to distant 3rd to medium 3rd too abruptly. It was jolting and threw me out of the scene.

Many times there are two sentences as one sentence and those two pieces don’t relate to each other.

Poorly written sentences. Weak writing. In one scene it is written that two Them used their fist, instead of fists. Many times I had to re-read sentences to figure them out.

Continuity problem: At the beginning Devon drives a Camaro. A few pages later the car is an Impala.

Time problem: After the surgery, Devon awakens to find himself in a barn on a farm. Minutes later, the house is destroyed and the family killed by Them. In the same scene, just a little time has passed and Devon hears the incident being reported on a passing car radio.

So, Devon is altered. Some time has passed because when he reaches out to a friend, he discovers he’s wanted for crimes back at the office and his bank accounts were frozen. However, he seems to find money to hop a train and cruise ship. This shift in transportation has problems, too. He was taking a train to California. I assumed he went some distance before the train derailed. Then he was on a cruise ship. How did he get there? How did he pay for the train ride? How did he survive at least a week with no money. None of these questions are answered.

After the cruise ship disaster, he begins wandering the world and for over half the book he travels and explores and examines and philosophizes and fights battles and rescues babies in way too numerous quick scenes and it’s exhausting to read. I kept waiting-in vain-for revelations to be made, for him settle down and do something substantive to the story. This doesn’t happen until he meets Prime and begins the endless conversation.

Jobs he held included lumberjack, construction, vigilante. He’s paid for his work but in one scene he uses an ATM. What? He’s traveling all the time, when did he have time to set up another bank account?

Attempts at lofty concepts and philosophy and the diatribes on human nature and the human species…it was all too much.

All in all, this was a poorly written book with a plot that never got off the ground because everything was told instead of shown and Devon was never grounded long enough to develop and give the reader something worthwhile. The characters were all but irrelevant and never developed. The dialogue was long with too much information.

My rank:

White Belt


Off The Grid


By Robert Kingett



What happens when a blind journalist accepts a challenge to go for a month with no Internet? No email, no Facebook, no Twitter, nothing connected to the World Wide Web? This book shows how he deals with: his job, obtaining a job, receiving information, traversing around Chicago. Will he survive without podcasts? What type of world did he leave behind and now faces.

Actually, I think is a very insightful book and plot. A man’s struggle in the modern world and what he loses…and gains.


Robert Kingett: (yes, the author), almost blind, lives in Chicago, freelance journalist, homosexual

Marcus: black, brown eyes

Crystal: blind, brown hair with gold flecks

Travis Cornell: homosexual, brown eyes, 6’

I realize the book deals with Robert but I was disappointed in a lot of the characters. They weren’t developed enough. He meets Crystal but she’s never mentioned again. Did he connect up with her after the month was over? Robert’s friends show up every now and then, but they don’t seem to have an impact, other than the scene when they were trying to hook up a landline telephone. Which scene seemed a bit unbelievable that nobody would know to plug one the jack into the phone and the other end into the wall. Unless I’m missing something, I can’t believe the setup could be that incomprehensible.


Not much, but Robert has his own voice (if you can get by imagining what he sounds like singing in the shower. Lol.) The conversations do show his frustrations when dealing with people who don’t understand that-for awhile-he doesn’t have access to the Internet.


Profanity. Titled chapters. Short book.

A couple misspelled words, a couple punctuation errors, and a capitalization error.

As mentioned, I think this has wonderful insight into today’s world and how people behave and interact. I found common ground with him when he was looking for a job and the employers wanted email resumes or online applications. If I may relate my own story: I ran into a similar situation years ago when I couldn’t access a certain college’s website to apply for a job. So I spent an hour looking for the campus employment office (which was actually off campus). When I walked in, half the lights were out and one person was manning the desk. I wanted to apply for a position. She told me the college did everything online. “Here’s my resume and I’ll fill out an application.” “No, you have to do it online.” “But I’m right here.”

I couldn’t believe she wouldn’t accept my resume. I was standing right in front of her. I walked out thinking that she really needed to find another job because her position was obsolete.

Anyway, back to Kingett’s book. What I thought interesting was that though he constantly mentioned his blindness, I felt that disability was almost secondary to his troubles having no Internet. They were inter-connected, but his problems were common enough to be relevant for anybody with no access who needs information.

Of course he did mention the vast wasteland the Internet has become but he did mention it has become vital for persons with disability to function ‘up to speed’ with everyone else.

So, for ranking. As mentioned I was a bit disappointed with the lack of other characters’ developments and I was a bit disappointed with the ending. I hope I’m not playing spoiler by saying when Robert goes back online, I found it sad that he acted like a junkie who, after being deprived of his drugs for too long, has now been shown the vault of heroin.

Okay, maybe not that bad and there was humor in some of his actions, but, in a sense, that’s what it reminded me of.

My rank:

Green Belt


A Touch Of Suspense


By Kathryn J. Bain



Three stories, all featuring K.T. Morgan.

In The Visitor a serial killer thinks he has his next victim well in hand.

Small Town Terror brings serial kidnappers/murderers back to a town they visited years before and this time they’re wanting to teach everyone a lesson.

In Reunion, a felon is determined to take back what he thinks is his: his ex wife.

So, these have a wandering woman-K.T.-showing up in the locales of each story, the heroine to save the day. I think the basic plots of each are good, but there are problems. The major one is that I was unfamiliar with the K.T. character. She just shows up with no explanation of why she’s in the towns to begin with. Is she a Jack Reacher type who travels around and ends up in these dramas? It seemed almost too pat to have the bad guys already in action and K.T. pops up. In Reunion, I didn’t understand why K.T. befriended the daughter of the guy the felon’s ex was going to marry. I would have thought the teen would have had better sense than to accept friendship from a stranger so quickly.


Christine Westman: 26, blonde, blue eyes, medical assistant

Kathleen ‘KT’ Morgan: 5’8”, around 30, widow, brown eyes, tattoo on shoulder, drives a Jeep, former Marine

Colt: has a brother, scar on face

Elizabeth Corman: waitress, married, pregnant, mom dead, blonde

Raymond Lindley: divorced

Some good characters and some of them had decent background information even for the short-ness of the stories. I was a bit confused since in the first story, K.T. was introduced as Kathleen Tatiana but used Morgan in the other two stories. No explanation why.


For the most part, I think the characters had separate voices. The teen in Reunion and her dad. K.T.’s tone was pretty straightforward, even when conning the bad guys in Small Town Terror. She didn’t become too excited or emotional in her conversations.


Chapters headed by date/time

3rd person POV except for parts in The Visitor when scenes were 1st person from the killer’s POV.

In Small Town Terror, I thought there were too many repetitions of the phrase “…when Shirley arrived/came.” in reference to the impending birth of the baby.

Because of the short stories a lot of things, as mentioned above weren’t fully developed. K.T.’s character/background/reason for wandering around the country.

The main bad guy in Small Town Terror wants to visit this small town to teach them a lesson before he and his gang head off to Cuba. First: there was no explanation on what happened the last time he was in the town, if he had lived there, etc. Second, I didn’t quite believe that the bad guys thought they could just hop a boat to Cuba and why would think to go there?

Clean writing throughout and I understand K.T. is in a longer novel, so watch for that. Maybe in that book, there will be explanations. For this triple feature I give this a

Green Belt