Solomon Bull: When the Friction has its Machine by Clayton Lindemuth

It’s a twisted countdown to a brutish desert Arizona race in Clayton Lindemuth’s newest Rebel Noir novel.

“Mind over matter. I can do anything.” That’s Solomon Bull’s motto to conquer seemingly impossible tasks.  And at the top of this list is the Desert Dog race, only twelve days away.

To get a glimpse at what this freestyle event looks like, Solomon describes it best:

“The six-miler involves climbing a mountain trail, scaling a rock face, sliding down burnt volcanic rock through Cholla beds, and climbing a ten-foot, razor-topped chain link fence, (then) diving into a fifteen-mile-an-hour aqueduct.”

Ropes are available along the way, but one miss and, he warns, “You will drown.”

And that’s just once through. Former Green Beret Cal Barrett, who organizes Desert Dog, dictates the number of laps. “The Internet chat is that he uses the event to recruit mercenaries. The winners sometimes disappear.”

While Solomon ponders Desert Dog’s crazed obstacle course and the winner enigma, Lindemuth takes his first person narrative in different directions.

First plot detour is a bet involving his roommate Keith. Solomon decides to bring down Senator Cyman during his reelection campaign. Solomon’s audacious pranks get noticed when the senator’s bodyguard spies on him.

Then, as the days count down to the race, other unexpected situations—this time of the feminine kind—interrupt his preparations for the big day.

Solomon’s annoying ex-girlfriend Katrina, who eventually gravitates to Keith, tries to thwart his training, and then he’s thrown off course when Rachel, a beautiful agent for the Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence (TFI), awaits him in the shower.

Rachel posits the startling conclusion that race organizer Barrett is a terrorist who has a sinister project in the works. Since Solomon plans to enter the race, Rachel puts pressure on him to spy on Barrett and infiltrate his compound.

This Solomon does, to climactic results.

Lindemuth does an excellent job developing his principal character by playing effectively off his well-defined cast. As a result, Solomon remains stress-free in the midst of disconcerting circumstances–especially as he is trying to find his place in the world despite his horrific Native American background.

Regardless of his past, Solomon’s snarky philosophical remarks and incredible ability to manipulate conversations, get him through many tight situations.

And while Lindemuth’s portrayal of Solomon’s self-assuredness and suave persona adds nuance to his politically-charged plot, the story takes on a slightly serious tone when Solomon meets Amanda Cherubini and learns that there is more to Senator Cyman than he thinks. What started as a bet suddenly turns personal.

The author’s straightforward approach to storytelling draws readers in from the get-go as he nimbly weaves in a good-versus-evil theme. Including a little bit of everything one would want in a political thriller and then some.

Five stars to Solomon Bull: When the Friction has its Machine. It should appeal to a broad audience and gain many new followers for Lindemuth’s fine work.

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To Never Know by Thomas Duffy

It’s the year 2000, and Steven Lewis is adrift.

He’s living with his parents in Florida after moving from New York City following an uninspired college career. His prospects are dismal. He works at a video store and is being driven everywhere by his mom and dad.

To make matters worse, his love life is nonexistent. In fact, if it weren’t for his near-constant fantasies about a girl from high school, he sometimes feels life would not be worth living.

The next year, a cataclysmic event galvanizes him into a new resolve — the 9/11 tragedy in NYC. He decides to return to the city and try to make a new go of things. The move will, he hopes, include a reacquaintance with the girl from high school — Kelly Brennan — even though she hasn’t yet responded to the one tentative letter he sent recently.

After getting settled into a miniscule apartment, he takes a job at a pharmacy and renews a relationship with a young woman named Nancy. She’s nice, he thinks, and very supportive, even paying part of his rent one month.

But she’s no Kelly.

The storyline becomes more involved as Steven encounters Kelly’s mother one day at the pharmacy. It is, he deems, his big chance to gain an inroad with Kelly. Then, he receives some shocking news that takes his future in a completely new direction.

His budding relationship with Nancy reaches a crisis point. His parents, still in Florida, tug on his emotions from afar. And he just can’t find a job that will elevate him above a paycheck-to-paycheck existence.

But it’s the revelation of his new roommate that will really draw the reader’s attention.

There’s drama and angst in equal measure throughout this dialogue-driven story that examines Steven’s problematic penchant for drifting with the tides of life rather than striking out boldly for the things he says he wants most — as he should have done way back in high school.

It’s also a tale of tragedy and rebirth, of second chances and the beauty of being there for those we care about. It’s deceptively complex, probing Steven’s insecurities and subsequent struggles to find his true path — as well as his one true love.

This is author Thomas Duffy’s fifth book. Fans may also want to try his others: Heartbreaker, Stockboy, One Love and Off the Line.

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Sand Runner by Vera Brook

Vera Brook takes sports to a bloodthirsty level in her debut sci-fi novel.

Kaiden (Kai) Reed has one ambition: to impress Sara. With little to do in his ghetto town, especially after losing his parents, Kai sets his mind to winning this year’s local athletic competition, knowing that the end goal will be a kiss from Sara.

An odd landing to an immense leap leaves Kai struggling during the last leg of a grueling obstacle course. Kai sees a mysterious drone hovering around him just moments before he wins the race. He doesn’t think much of it until it returns the following day, announcing that he has been chosen to be a Runner for “the most extreme, most spectacular, most eagerly anticipated athletic competition on the planet—The Tenth Global No Limits Race.”

A neuroscientist turned fiction writer, rising author Vera Brook attacks her literary craft like she has been at it for years. In the telling of Kai’s heart-stopping adventure, Brook presents a teenager who is willing to pay the highest price for love and a chance of a better future. A part of Kai’s acceptance into the No Limits Race is watching a gory surgical procedure—one that Kai will have to undergo himself to gain the status of a Runner.

Kai signs the contract and moments later, is whisked away to the game center in the megacity.

Brook has a firm footing on character development. Kai, her primary protagonist, and Emily Starr, Kai’s trainer, who comes in a close second, are nothing less than feisty. The duo’s fierce—near reckless—fortitude is raw and visceral. Brook tightly weaves irony and tension between these two toughened characters.

Kai trains hard even though Emily rubs him the wrong way. Amid the constant friction, Kai senses that there are more hidden elements behind Emily’s gruff persona than she would ever admit. Curiosity gets the best of Kai, and he begins to look for ways to find answers to his suspicions.

Still, as the tension mounts and stakes rise, Brook springboards from the duo’s friction and Kai’s sleuthing to develop the possibility of romance. That is just one among a hefty handful of themes Brook deftly incorporates into her fast-paced and highly edgy read.

While much of the storyline focuses on Kai and Emily, there are hints of other complications brewing. For one, Kai senses early on that something is not kosher with the No Limits Race, but can’t quite put his finger on it. His acuity, nonetheless, is spot-on.

Indeed, there are sinister underpinnings, and Brook does a stellar job rolling character foils and ugly antagonists into unquestionably harsh circumstances. Additionally, Brook increases tension to the aforementioned drama with a chain of shifting perspectives, to keep Kai and the reader guessing.

Designed for YA readers, yet reaching for a broad audience, Sand Runner is a top-notch read, especially for those dedicated fans of The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner.

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Guns of the Waste Land: Departure by Leverett Butts

Fourteen-year-old Percy Murratt rides off from the dusty old cabin he’s always called home in search of answers about his Pa — Big Jim Murratt, a deputy sheriff killed riding the trail — and the mysterious man in white who visits his mother on the day this story begins.

The answers Percy seeks are not easy to come by, however, in this well-written new Western saga by standout author Leverett Butts. For even the friends of Lancaster O’Loch — the man in white — cannot make sense of why O’Loch, a former lawman himself, killed five deputies before high-tailing it out of town.

One of the surviving deputies swears almighty vengeance upon “Lank,” as he is known, for the multiple deaths, including the collateral demise of his younger brother, ridden down by O’Loch in his haste to leave town, on account of his having the sheriff’s wife, Guernica, riding pillion behind him.

Colorful characters abound in this perfectly executed, though often cryptic, tale, including Percy’s long-dead grandpa, who returns one night to help Percy on the trail. Then there’s Reverend Merle Tallison, an anxiety-ridden frontier clergyman who has inexplicably lost his direct connection to God. And, of course, there are the three mysterious sisters who suddenly appear out of nowhere to tell a tale of ransack and rape against a seemingly affable cattle rancher. What were his motives in the deplorable deed — if, in fact it really happened at all?

The narrative is a skillful blend of flashbacks and straight-up, dialogue-rich, interchanges between the principal players, who jump right off the pages and into the reader’s imagination. Pretty soon, you’ll be searching for your own spittoon in the empty saloon where the psychologically challenged parson plays hand after hand of intensely focused solitaire.

But, I digress. Revenge-seeking deputy Gary Wayne and his stoic sidekick Boris eventually catch up with Lank and the epic fight to take him back to justice alive is on. Dust and blood are liberally mixed in the resulting bare-knuckled fracas. But who emerges victorious? And what of young Percy? Is he really, as the perplexed pastor perceives, on a mission from God?

Finally, there’s the occasionally lyric turn of phrase to appreciate and savor:

“‘Psalm 109,” Ardiss’ voice had been soaked in whiskey and drug through gravel by a team of unbroken horses.”

Priceless imagery.

Five stars to this ambitious tip of the slouch hat to Arthurian legend. It is often cinematic in scope and does a wonderful job of painting the storied Wild West lawman as a flesh-and-blood, frequently flawed individual. Really, it would do extremely well as a Clint Eastwood-directed film, given his penchant for offbeat, yet highly relatable, characters.

If you like your westerns one part The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and two parts Lonesome Dove, you’ll surely enjoy The Wasteland.

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Seattle Red (The Boss MacTavin Action Mysteries Book 4) by Reb MacRath

Boss takes his newly acquired (and very un-Bosslike) man bag with him to the mean streets of Seattle in this new mystery that is vintage Boss MacTavin.

His client: Ramona Hinton, who just wants to know who is responsible for the untimely demise of her security guard husband, found in the drug-infested alley behind the convenience store in which he worked.

But the case involves far more than what appears to be a random whack job. It turns out to be an epic fight against Organized Retail Crime (ORC), which is running rampant in area stores. Boss joins forces with some highly memorable characters, including local rent-a-cop legend Duncan Jackson (think “Denzel Washington in Crimson Tide”) and beefy detective Al Swanson who “was in his mid-forties, six-three, 230 pounds. He appeared to like the sauce and had the pallid complexion and rasp of a serial smoker.”

As with every Boss book, author extraordinaire Reb MacRath entertains endlessly, marrying matchless prose with memorable plotlines. This installment in the series is no exception. From time to time, he can’t resist a well-turned, quotable phrase:

“Deep voice. Soft and low as a spirit can go.”

And,

“Angus McPherson — born of thunderrrrrr, drunk on blood!”

And,

“Tough guy in a small man’s way. Dead-eyed and bullet-headed.”

But, back to the story. Boss, and his two colleagues, DB (Dirty Boy) and Luigi, take on the boosters and the alphas that comprise the majority of fleet-fingered felons by posing as either blind-eyed security guards or, in Boss’s case, as a multi-pocketed pilferer — the better to sniff his way up the food chain to the head goombahs running the rackets.

The team is subsequently joined by a gorgeous Geisha to run a sting that will entice the ORC mind trust to reveal themselves, so the Seattle detective team, Al and his partner Bobby, can swoop in and make the pinch.

But it’s not that simple. The good guys run up against some tough resistance and before the end the plotline dips and twists on a rollercoaster ride to the surprising finish.

A special highlight: at one point in the story, Boss is forced to make use of a unique boutique called Armless Arms, which specializes in “alternative weapons” from bladed crucifixes to tactical pens to stun guns disguised as cell phones. The resulting firefight — without any fire — is truly inventive.

This is a well-orchestrated story that shows off all the Boss bravado fans have come to love, backed up by an ensemble cast of characters who are totally believable and one hundred percent enjoyable.

Five-plus stars to Seattle Red. And bring on the next book in the series. We’re all rrrready for yet another Boss Corrrrection.

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Love Outside The Box: A Guide To Self Love by Deane Thomas

In his groundbreaking new book Love Outside the Box, author and relationships expert Deane Thomas encourages readers to begin their journey toward satisfying and permanent love by first looking within themselves.

The book is a treasure trove of excellent advice and commentary on the subject of love — both of self and others. And Thomas, through insightful commentary and personal anecdotes, will soon stimulate your own “out of the box” thinking on this critical subject.

“We learn from the moment of conception,” Thomas says. “But the constant within us remains a pure love energy. We are created in love, and our basis for existence is love. Indeed, the very essence of our creation is love.”

In addition, he asserts that love is a powerful energy that takes us over if we truly allow it to.

For generations, and, in fact, as far back as humans have roamed the planet, we have been trying to decipher and make sense of the emotion of love — with its myriad of manifestations and applications. In the final analysis, however, love is intensely personal and is the vivid force that speaks most directly to us — and to our souls.

A little further on in the book, Thomas asserts that barriers to love are everywhere and we must be constantly vigilant, lest we go astray in our search. “The current moment bears no relationship to the past,” he says. “But the ego-mind will use the past to torment the present and the future. This activity hinders us from truly experiencing what we should be encountering or feeling.”

He goes on to point out that, in times of crisis, we tend to go into defensive or offensive mode, and “our ego-mind comes out in its full glory.” This is, however, perfectly normal and to be expected. But it is how we follow through with our actions that determine a constructive outcome.

One thing is for sure, he adds. We can never regret anything we have experienced in this life. “There is no right or wrong,” Thomas says. “There are simply lessons we learn.”

Childhood should be a happy time, with liberal doses of love being heaped upon each and every child. But the author, relating that regular abuse — verbal and physical — was laid upon him in his youth, says that, sadly, unconditional love is increasingly not the norm around the world.

“The amount of time children spend in healthy loving environments is slowly eroding,” Thomas says, “which in the long term is not (going to be) beneficial for the evolution of the human race.” What happened to us as a child was not our responsibility, he goes on to clarify, and never will be. ”But, somehow, we have to make peace with this unhappy fact.”

The baggage we carry is so often not ours. ”We carry other people’s issues and opinions so that we may keep them happy, or protect them in some way,” he states. “Placing yourself first is the key to happiness going forward.” And, he adds, “You can decide who will be part of your life journey in the future.”

In the section on Spirituality and the Soul Journey, Thomas really drives home his theme of early childhood being key to future happiness in terms of self-love and feelings of self worth.

“Throughout the first years of life, we are NOT taught what love is; we are shown instead, through association and example from others, that love is associated only with an external existence and is shared between those with whom we are close (our family and friends). In effect, then, society is conditioning each and everyone, from the minute we are born, on what love is and how to express it.”

This can have a paralyzing effect on one’s ability to isolate and nurture our own unique love of self.

Finally, he suggests the benefits of doing a “life review” periodically, to make sure we are on track for prioritizing our efforts in our own best interest.

“Our days are somewhat congested with activities and tasks for others,” Thomas notes. So much so, in fact, that we have very little free time for ourselves. “The imbalance is very obvious if you consider all that you do on a daily basis. Perhaps this is an exercise we should routinely carry out, almost like a routine service on a car or something else we rely on in our life.

“This review is literally a snapshot of our life at a point in time, and this is the window of opportunity for change,” he concludes.

These comments are but a small sample of the sage advice and observations offered in Love Outside the Box. Thomas also includes in each chapter a unique and thought-provoking poem that reinforces the points made therein. Purchase your copy today and get started on balancing out your own love inventory today.

Amazon Link for Paperback

Amazon Link for Download (Available March 28, 2017)