Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Missing Element by John L. Betcher

CreateSpace (March 8, 2010)
294 pages

The Missing Element is the story of James “Beck” Becker and his wife Elizabeth, who have returned to Beck’s childhood home in Red Wing, Minnesota to enjoy retirement from their covert government jobs. Of course, life is anything but quiet with Beck around.
When Katherine Whitson, a Minneapolis computer genius, disappears under mysterious circumstances, her husband George calls the local police. After receiving no help from police, George then solicits a Red Wing acquaintance to convince Beck to help find Katherine.

Beginning at Katherine’s luxury apartment in the Minneapolis Warehouse District, Author John L. Betcher puts his protagonist through a labyrinth of red herrings. Beck’s investigation starts with George as the unfaithful husband, and then moves to his lover, to Katherine’s work colleagues, and on through the ranks of an influential computer company, and into the overwhelming world of computer microprocessors before he can begin to find answers.

To solve the mystery of why Katherine was kidnapped—and to save her—Beck must draw on his resources with the FBI and their computer experts, as well as the expertise of his wife Elizabeth, the former CIA agent.

Betcher leads us into the world of advanced computer technology and international espionage with this captivating suspense thriller. As we follow Beck on his quest to locate Katherine, we are introduced to several colorful characters. There is the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Deputy, Doug Gunderson, and his wife, Connie, who enlist Beck’s help. The brawn in this story is provided by the enigmatic Terry “Bull” Red Feather. Bull is drawn into the story when Beck requests his assistance in dealing with the nefarious characters who try to stand in his way.

The Missing Element is well-written, the plot is intriguing, and the characters are interesting. Betcher draws you in from page one and holds your interest to the very last. Unlike many recent novels, Betcher takes his time tying up the loose ends and concluding the story. This book is obviously the beginning of an exciting new series of suspense novels for Betcher. The Missing Element is recommended for those who love to curl up with an entertaining mystery/suspense novel. It offers a little something for everyone: lively characters, espionage and cyber-technology, and of course the mystery of who took Katherine Whitson and why. Fans of Parker, Grisham, and Clancy will enjoy this first installment in the James Becker series.

Reviewed by Deb L. Baker for Reader’s Choice Book Reviews

Leveled Mind Confused Heart by Angelique

Angelique’s “Leveled Mind Confused Heart” explores the world of Adrienne Whitney, a country gal and college student. After a difficult long-distance relationship with her boyfriend Elliott, Adrienne meets Zephyr Johnson, a younger yet attractive college student. Together, they share passionate moments, and he shows her another world of culture, music, foods and styles. Adrienne falls in love with him; giving her herself and her heart. He gives her attention she lacked with Elliott. However, she soon discovers a secret which will destroy their love and friendship.

Follow Adrienne through her college years and heartaches. The author’s purpose in this book is to realize how much her heart overrules her head when it comes to love and relationships with men. Throughout “Leveled Mind Confused Heart”, Angelique shows us how Adrienne deals with studies in college, her ex-boyfriend Elliott and difficult break-ups with Zephyr. And when she meets Christian in a store, she is mesmerized and ready to fall in love again. But when Zephyr shows up at her graduation, she looks back on her love life and choices made.

This book is for the general reader looking a good contemporary fiction with a bit of romance. Angelique succeeds in describing the heroine’s everyday life with her studies and love life. Also, the author’s exploration of the college life and what an emotionally dependent person goes through is well done. Finally, in her book, the author shows us the complex connection and consequences between the heart and the mind and how one can overrule the other. My favorite part is when Adrienne finally realizes how much she had let her heart override her head when it came to her relationships with Elliott and Zephyr, and how Christian changed her life. “I was no longer a slave to love. One man helped me see that-the one man who’s sitting right next to me. He told me that no person should allow themselves to be a prisoner of love. When one feels shackled, let love be the key.”

The story is well-written. The loves scenes are very descriptive. The author does a good job in keeping the reader captivated from the beginning and the end is satisfying. The use of slang in dialogue is colorful and adds a touch of realism to the story. Although the story is well told, the abrupt time/setting changes without adequate transitions did distract me. Aside from that, the story flows and it suffused with some erotic scenes. Recommended.

Reviewed by Jackie M. Smith for Reader’s Choice Reviews

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Woman Who Attracted Money by Steve Chandler

Robert Reed Publishers (October 1, 2009)
Reader’s Choice Reviews Rating

Steve Chandler’s excellent novel, “The Woman Who Attracted Money,” carries the subtitle “A Robert Chance Mystery,” indicating immediately his intention of creating a series character, and after reading this first entry, I am quite impressed and would definitely seek out future novels in the series.

Robert Chance is ironically named because he is not a fan of chance or any form of chaos in life. He is a just the facts kind of guy who prefers all things to remain simple. On the wall of his office is an autographed Charles Mingus album, below which Chance has written a quote from Mingus: “making the simple awesomely simple, that’s creativity.”

Like Chance and Mingus, Chandler himself takes these words to heart. His prose is often both simple and complex at the same time, in the classic hard boiled noir style. Also, in the mode of writers like Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett, Chandler finds room to roam within genre conventions to provide plenty of nuances to his characters and setting.

Chance is an ex-cop, turned life coach, turned private eye for the first time, to solve the apparent suicide of a client and friend. This is a refreshing new “daytime job” for a detective, and since Chandler himself is a business coach this novel is another successful example of how “writing what you know” is often a better solution than coming up with some kind of convoluted new twist.

Madison Kerr, Chance’s sidekick, growing love interest and the source of the novel’s title, is the perfect partner for Chance. Their dialog has the classic ring of Hollywood couples from the Golden Age of cinema, when men and women bantered intelligently back and forth rather than just hurling obscenities around three times a minute. She is his coaching client and a businesswoman, but also an expert computer hacker, another coup for Chandler since that doubles as a nice nuance to her character and a useful tool as the two of them work together to solve the murder at hand.

The mystery itself is presented confidently, with a few surprises along the way and an ending I did not guess, but as with the best classic mysteries, it is the original characters, superb dialogue and brisk, fast paced prose that keep this novel constantly entertaining, thought provoking and hard to put down.

If you are an avid reader of the mystery genre, looking for something new to read, I would rate this as: Highly Recommended/Must Read

Reviewed for Reader’s Choice Book Reviews by George Wilhite

The Woman Who Attracted Money

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Machiavelli's Desert by Lawrence Uhlin

Libros Libertad (February 17, 2010)

A Chernobyl-type nuclear disaster, murders disguised as suicides, corruption, nanotechnology, political conspiracy, and more abound in Canadian author Lawrence Uhlin’s debut novel, Machiavelli's Desert. Canada’s sovereignty is challenged to the brink in a thriller that takes the reader from Ottawa to Washington D.C. and from the Grand Caymans to Kamloops, British Columbia.

The horrific meltdown-explosion of a nuclear power reactor opens up the story in a small pacific Island called Arnivan. I was immediately hooked by the author’s attention to detail in describing the disaster. The island’s population is devastated and the environment polluted. The facility is a CANDU reactor designed, built, and installed by Canada.

Scientist Dr. Claire Frenette is found dead shortly after revealing to a rookie politician how she believes the reactor meltdown is the result of government financial cutbacks to scientific programs. Will Headley is a government staffer with a gambling problem. A mysterious Russian-sounding man known as Renakes has a solution to Headley’s dept predicament. Daley Whitman is a blue collar criminal sprung from jail for a promise of a favour to Canada Corrections. An ailing veteran senator is Whitman’s chosen confidant in his dilemma. CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) Intelligence Officer, Mari Volser, at the senator’s request, investigates Whitman and later Dr. Frenette. Meanwhile the World Court is poised to charge Canada for crimes against humanity for the Arnivan catastrophe. Reparations to the island nation will certainly bankrupt Canada. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Nicholas Plato is charged with keeping Canada afloat in its most desperate hour. Plato has been offered a chance to purchase advanced computer technology that could be the key to Canada’s financial stability, or plunge the government into a scandal the likes of which the country has never before experienced. In the meantime, the Americans are poised to pick up the pieces and push forward their desires for Canada’s vast natural resources.

I found Machiavelli's Desert to be one of the most dialogue heavy books I have ever read. Although the dialogue is authentic, many of the conversations continue for several pages and some for full chapters. I found myself craving a car chase, love scene, or fist fight to break up the constant conversation. Uhlin has created several fascinating point-of-view characters and he uses each effectively to tell his story; but none is a clear cut protagonist in whom we can become truly invested.

Uhlin shows his considerable knowledge of Canadian politics and culture. He questions international policies, morals, and values and he examines how doing the obvious wrong thing can benefit the greater good. The characters are interesting and well drawn with vivid descriptions. Uhlin has infused enough suspense while pacing the story in a way that keeps us guessing, without giving away too much, as he sets up a whopper of a twist at the end. Machiavelli's Desert is an entertaining, quick read with a wonderful opening and a satisfying conclusion and is recommended to readers who enjoy political espionage thrillers.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Thumb Flagging by Jerome Peterson

Thumb Flagging by author Jerome Peterson is a coming of age story that will charm you from the opening pages. Two twenty-something, self-professed bohemian-bums take to the open road to find themselves in a criss-cross America journey.

We meet Jay Patterson. Jay was raised Catholic, is the youngest child of six, and the only son. His mother and five sisters pamper him like a baby. Jay knows this is his biggest problem-even calls himself an S.C. B. or Spoiled Catholic Brat. He battles this childish shadow; however, he is more likely to break down in tears than he is to deal with his setbacks like a grown man. Willy Jacobs is a seasoned hitchhiker. He believes he has a cure for Jay's issues-a date with the Concrete Diva. When Willy learns that Jay has a sister in Colorado, it is decided. "We're going!"

The trip to Durango, Colorado is Part One of the three part Thumb Flagging. Jay is unwilling, nervous, and afraid to even put up his thumb to stop a ride. The pair takes on a master/apprentice-type relationship. Willy imparts his roadside therapy of knowledge and experience in goofy sayings of philosophy to prop up Jay when his spirit wanes. "We will put on a hat of happiness, place a morning star in our eyes, and cornflake the rest," Jacobs says. He puts up his thumb and wiggles it in a way that looks like a flag in the wind and Jay calls it "Thumb Flagging." With each ride, they meet another in an eclectic assortment of characters. The lonely, the depressed, the drunk, the chatty, the religious, and an insane traveler armed with a huge hunting knife all add to this wondrous first journey of personal discovery for Jay. Willy teaches his student to welcome the good rides with the hassles as the way of road. The drop-in at the sister's house leads to a wild night of drinking with 'the sis' and husband Bernie.

At the beginning of Part Two, Jay's confidence is still soaring high after a successful first trek. He's ready for another Thumb Flagging tour and gets the idea to travel to Malibu to meet his idol, Bob Dylan. More chance meetings with the best and worst of the highway ensue. Willy's street-smart drifter confidence is challenged by the clairvoyant Celeste. She sees his book knowledge and philosophizing as a shield to protect his dark secrets. Willy's free-spirit energy is quiet for the first time as he ponders Celeste's words. Despite his apparent growth, Jay's shadow emerges when the knife-wielding psycho returns with girlfriend in tow to terrorize our highway heroes.

Jay's time to shine is in Part Three. Willy has moved to Maine to live with his girlfriend and young son. He invites his former pupil to visit him. Jay gathers his gear, his guitar, and his dog for his first solo expedition. No longer the student of the road, Jay is confident enough to take on his own traveling apprentice when he meets Chloe. Gypsy Chloe hides her femininity under several layers of clothing and her true self under a tough, don't look at me-don't touch me stance. Jay's experiences and new found wisdom go a long way in breaking down her walls and gaining her trust.

I had only a couple of minor problems with the book. At times, the dialogue sounded unrealistic due to Peterson's reluctance to use coarse language. Jay and Willy weren't above hard drinking and cannabis use, but wouldn't express themselves with words cruder than darn or poop. Another problem for me was the too frequent use of "ya" instead of "you." Aside from that, I believe this heart warming tale will appeal to fans of character-driven fiction, rite of passage stories, and travel fiction.

Thumb Flagging touches our primary emotions: anxiety, fear, sadness, wonder, joy, and love. I could relate to Jay and his struggle to cast off his immature tendencies. In Willy I saw a man who hid his own insecurities by coaching Jay. Peterson treats the reader to a nostalgic glimpse of 70's bohemia. His well written characters span the spectrum of humanity, with just enough tension and conflict to keep readers captivated and turning pages to the end. The scene-painting narrative will have you feeling like you're along for the ride, footloose and free with the wind in your hair, and adventure in your heart. Pack your bedroll and hit the road with this recommended read!

Eloquent Books (February 16, 2010)
ISBN-13: 978-1609112356

Reviewed by William Potter for Reader's Choice

Thumb Flagging

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Obsessive, Compulsive and Published by Evie Alexis

Obsessive, Compulsive and Published
Evie Alexis
Class Act Books (December 1, 2009)

In “Obsessive, Compulsive and Published”, author Evie Alexis explores the world of Erika Seals, an inspiring romance novelist coping with her obsessive compulsive disorder while working hard to get her first book published. She manages her everyday life and her self-esteem issues with the help of her loving and supportive boyfriend, Elliot Beck and a lot of house cleaning.

Erika’s purpose in this book is to surmount the challenges life throws at her. While she works hard at dealing with life, she writes articles for an online magazine and takes writing classes. Throughout “Obsessive, Compulsive and Published”, Erika struggles with her everyday life; starting with her boyfriend’s parents who unexpectedly visit. Her self esteem is shaken when she meets her boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend who is taking the same writing class. And, when she gets “the call” from her agent, she’s invited to go to New York to meet the publisher. Again, she is confronted with doubts and insecurities about the changes in her life.

This book is for a general reader searching for a different kind of contemporary fiction. My favorite part is when the heroine learns her book will be published after working so long on her story. The author explores the excitement and fears a writer faces when her hard work becomes a reality. Evie Alexis succeeds in describing the complex world of Erika Seals with her trials and tribulations, and what a person with OCD goes through every day of her life. Finally, in her book, the author shows us the strong connection and love between the hero and heroine. “Now it's Elliot's turn to laugh, his deep chuckles filling the room. He reaches me and kisses the top of my forehead. "I wouldn't trade you, Miss Seals, for any OCD-free gal. Who else can boast about writing a novel and keeping such a tidy abode, while validating company contracts from the comfort of her home?"”

The story is very descriptive and well-written. We can truly feel what the heroine goes through with her OCD. The opening scene did capture my interest and the author does neatly tie up the ending. The dialogue is realistic. Since I wasn’t too familiar with the author’s style, I was a bit taken aback with the first person point of view. But the story does flow and is suffused with some humorous scenes. Elliot is very likable and loyal toward the heroine. Overall, this story is pleasing. Recommended.

By Jackie M. Smith for Reader’s Choice Reviews

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Science-Fiction & Fantasy Cinema Classic Films of Horror, Sci-Fi & The Supernatural

I have long desired to see the 1927 sci-fi classic, Metropolis. I lost interest when I discovered a confusing assortment of versions, restorations, and run times existed. I was delighted to see a movie poster of the film gracing the cover of author John Howard Reid’s Science-Fiction & Fantasy Cinema-Classic Films of Horror, Sci-Fi & the Supernatural.

This is the twenty-third entry in Reid’s “Hollywood Classics” series. To say that Mr. Reid is a movie buff is like calling the Pope religious. His movie addiction began at age 5 when he first saw Laurel and Hardy in “Jitterbugs” at a Saturday matinee. He began writing movie reviews at age twelve and wrote reviews for rival newspapers as an adult. He drew on his more than 20,000 reviews and his personal collection of over 3,000 titles on DVD and VHS to write this book.

Nearly 300 titles are examined. Some like Creature from the Black Lagoon or Flash Gordon are well known, while others are more obscure: The Hound of the Baskervilles or a Spanish version of Dracula from 1931. Reid doesn’t leave out animated favourites like Peter Pan and Cinderella. The best of Elmer Fudd, Bugs Bunny, Roadrunner, Donald Duck, and many others that graced the big screen in the 1940’s and 50’s was a nostalgic highlight for me. The book looks at several of these seven minute animated films that made up my Saturday morning television routine as a child in the 70’s.

For each selection Mr. Reid includes the full cast and the parts played by name. The director, screenplay writer, editor, music composers, and producers are listed, as well as copyright date, studio, worldwide release dates and running times. Many selections include the dates when the movie was made and locations where the film was shot and the cost to produce them. Each title is summarized, many with Mr. Reid's own personal review and other reviewers’ comments.

Movies like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Karloff’s The Mummy, Star Wars, and Cinderella in the same book with Fire Maidens from Outer Space, Daffy Duck and the Dinosaur, and Bride of the Gorilla makes this a fascinating collection.

All this, and the expert advice on the best version of Metropolis, make Science-Fiction & Fantasy Cinema-Classic Films of Horror, Sci-Fi & the Supernatural by John Howard Reid a must read for movie buffs and film trivia fans and for those who take pleasure in a wonderful cinema experience. Twenty-first century cinema appears to be more about special effects and marketing than producing satisfying films. If you are interested in finding the gems that came before, then this book is a key to which you will refer again and again. Highly Recommended. 5 Stars John Howard Reid

320 pages (January 22, 2007)
Large format 8X11 inches

Science Fiction & Fantasy Cinema

Reviewed by William Potter for Reader’s Choice

Friday, April 2, 2010

Sandman by Ian Kingsley

The Vincent family is set to enjoy some downtime at their Mudeford Sandbank beach hut, near Christchurch Harbour in Dorset, England. It doesn’t take long for a shocking, brutal murder to disturb this tranquil setting in Sandman by author Ian Kingsley.

We meet Paul Vincent, his wife, Sasha, and their 13-year-old daughter, Leah, at a windsurfing lesson. We quickly learn how Sasha’s flirting brings out the worst in Paul. Paul finds himself apologizing for a jealous outburst directed at the windsurf instructor. The point-of-view switches to actress Carol Davis recalling her horrifying rape on the beach not far from the Vincent’s hut by a man wearing a balaclava. This two-pronged opening with a peaceful beach scene and a violent assault in the opening chapter hooked me instantly.

It has been said that good fiction must have conflict. Kingsley has included enough conflict here for two novels. An incident on the beach puts Paul at odds with a young disturbed loner, a man named Stevie Clarke. Clarke, known by the locals as “The Sandman” doesn’t do well with confrontation. His resentment boils; he produces a large knife and aggressively warns Paul, “I’ll kill you the next time you cross me.” A short time after a jogger is killed, Paul informs the police that he believes Clarke is the killer. Clarke is desperate to get even with Paul for putting the police on him and he begins to stalk Leah relentlessly.

The police appear inept in their effort to catch the killer despite an obvious connection to the previous rape on the beach. Carol Davis contacts Paul and soon the pair are working together to prove to the police Stevie Clark is the killer/rapist. Leah’s attempt to help with the investigation only serves to muddy her father’s work when she hands over evidence that implicates Paul as the murderer to the detectives.

Sandman touches our primary emotions: jealousy, love, guilt, fear, hatred, and grief. As a father, I related to Paul’s unwavering commitment to keep his family safe. I also understood his discomfort with his wife’s tendency to flirt openly with men. Kingsley has written an intriguing mystery/psychological thriller with interesting, believable and well-developed characters. There are twists, turns, red herrings, and a healthy dose of hair-raising fear and suspense to keep even the most fickle reader captivated. The dialogue is authentic, and, along with the scene-painting narrative, you’ll feel like you’re on the beach witnessing the unfolding action.

Just when you think you have it all sorted out, the author changes directions—successfully keeping you guessing until the final pages. When you begin Sandman make sure you set aside a good bit of time, for you won’t stop reading until the last page is savored. Highly recommended to readers who enjoy a great mystery! 5 Stars

New Generation Publishing (Aug. 1, 2010)
240 pages

Reviewed by William Potter for Reader’s Choice Book Reviews