The Mine By John A. Heldt

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The Mine, by John A. Heldt, is a triumph in storytelling — truly a book you don’t want to put down. This unassuming tale of a brash young man who goes into an abandoned mine in the year 2000 and comes out in prewar 1941 is a classic — a love story combined with outstanding science fiction.

Twenty-one year-old Joel Smith leaves behind a girlfriend, a best friend and an unfinished life that, for him, was just beginning at the start of the new millennium. He arrives in Seattle, his former hometown, straight from the railyards. He has added rail-riding hobo lore to his ever-growing list of new skills.

It is an unlikely place for a love story to have its genesis. He’s drowsing on a park bench — dirty, unshaven, but still apparently irresistible to twenty-one year-old Grace Vandenberg, newly engaged, but nevertheless attracted to the figure reposing in the park.

Joel rescues Tom Carter from a back alley beating and the two become good friends. Tom’s family adopts Joel and even skeptically buys his story about being the wayward runaway son of a Montana rancher.

Things get even more interesting when Joel meets his up-and-coming journalist grandmother, Ginny Gillette, who pins him down one afternoon for the real story. Joel, however, doesn’t stray from his cover and the time-space continuum remains in place — for now.

The author’s easygoing narrative style is flawless. When Ginny suggests an evening at the ballpark where Joel will escort Grace instead of another young woman, a frantic conversation is triggered in Joel’s head:

“He felt as genuine as Eddie Haskell in a heartfelt conversation with Mrs. Cleaver — ‘I’m sorry Theodore can’t join me and Wallace for the game’ — but he did not care. He’d give his left steely for an evening with Blondie.”

Needless to say, the plot thickens as Joel must carefully negotiate his way through his mostly-made-up life story and his strong urge to alter — or at least mitigate — the future. Late in the book, as he contemplates whether he should enlist in America’s desperate fight, he considers a possible future in the Forties:

“He could do what Patrick Smith had done on December 8, 1941, and enlist. But how strange would that be, serving in his grandfather’s war? Would he storm the same beach in 1944 and take a bullet meant for someone else?” The questions leave him breathless, as they will you, the reader, as you follow Joel through the most difficult decision he’ll ever make.

In the end, the author ties the story up with a Hallmark movie ending that you won’t see coming. Suffice to say, it brought tears to my eyes.

I only wish I had more than five stars to award to such a finely crafted piece of writing. Take my advice and download this book today. You’ll be glad you did.

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Walk In the Flesh By Peter Bailey

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Neil is the perfect soldier. Especially in those moments when he becomes a psychotic, ruthless killer with preprogrammed nanobots running wild inside his head. This is what makes him truly scary. That, of course, and the fact that he can come back from the dead to kill all over again.

Peter Bailey has done a superb job of creating a thriller sci-fi classic that stands head and shoulders above the rest of the books in this genre. And it’s the added zest of grimly detailed horror that permeates the entire story which, in my opinion, does the trick of giving the novel its uniquely creepy quality.

Set in a post-apocalyptic world that has seen a nuclear strike on London — which kills Neil’s wife, incidentally — Walk In the Flesh examines just how wrong things could go if overzealous scientists have their way.

There are many reasons to love this gritty read — the author’s unique gift with words and phrases chief among them:

“The slow flow of arterial blood began to spurt as the heart pumped its ten pints over the guests. Soon they would begin to scream and panic would flow through the room like a hot wind. But that did not concern Neil. By then, he would be dead. Again.”

Over and over, Neil’s handlers place him in new hosts whose sole purpose is to get near enough to a world leader to kill him — with extreme and unthinkable violence. Neil, however, retains his personal memories from one host to the next and gradually begins to go rogue.

Meanwhile, Ariana, an Iranian pathologist, is getting closer and closer to uncovering the truth behind these coldly calculated murders But, since she is a single woman in the morbidly male-dominated city of Tabriz, there’s only so much credibility she can hope to muster.

The story takes a series of wildly unpredictable turns as Neil cycles through his murderous roles, and the people he works for start trying to figure out ways to rein him in. Neil surprises everyone when he unites with an unexpected ally, however, and the race to the book’s satisfying conclusion is on.
This is not a story for the faint-hearted. Indeed, some of the clinical autopsy and murder scene descriptions are very well-researched, lending a macabre air of authenticity to many parts of the tale. And Bailey doesn’t hold back when it comes to suspenseful scenes that will leave you gasping for breath.

All in all, I give Walk In the Flesh five stars and look forward to more work from this imaginative writer.

And by the way, this must now be a fully edited and revised edition. I didn’t find any run-on sentences or bad grammar, as some previous reviewers had noted. Just saying that early criticisms can be unwarranted as the author refines his or her work according to feedback.

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Warrior Lore By Ian Cumpstey

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Ian Cumpstey’s masterful translation of ten Scandinavian folk ballads will amuse, entertain, and delight you if you are at all into this sort of mythological storytelling.

He has done a wonderful job of bringing these ballads — many of them centuries old — into popular verse form, so even readers like me (I have an English degree, but never got much past Beowulf) can easily appreciate them.

He has even written a brief introduction prior to each one, giving it valuable context and a glimpse into the role each played during the times they were being told in their native languages (around a blazing hearth deep in the Scandinavian woods, one imagines).

I particularly liked the one involving the currently big-screen popular God Thor cross-dressing to retrieve Mjolnir. I can just imagine how movie audiences today would react to seeing their superhero dressed up in a woman’s frock.

The rest of the ballads ranged from cheerful and sunny, to melancholy and tragic, clearly showing that Scandinavian audiences — like those today — appreciated a well-told tale, full of human (and mythological God) triumphs and tragedies.

I give Warrior Lore five stars and recommend it as good reading material to be shared around a roaring fire — now as way back then.

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The Opener By John Triptych

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Don Rouse has had his fill of dead-end jobs and failed relationships. Now, if he can only score that easy money that he knows is out there, just waiting for him, he’ll be set. This is the well-written story of Don’s search for that financial windfall, set against the exotic backdrops of China, The Philippines, and a corruption-ridden Thailand.

The narrative, which is terse but compelling, begins with Don and his brother escaping a dysfunctional, hard-luck life in Kansas. Don, with the moral support of a long-time girlfriend, eventually bootstraps himself into a four-year degree, just as the U.S. economy tanks. Desperate for a change of scenery and a new start, he heads to Shanghai to teach English as a Second Language.

For awhile, things go well enough for him to get by, but the seedy accommodations he’s forced to endure lead him to a crossroads in his young life: where is he going, and how will he get there? At loose ends, he travels to Thailand for a brief holiday with his coworkers.

Enter ex-pat Otis and a hulking Brit named Finny, who talk Don into staying in Bankok when his friends — including yet another long-term girlfriend — are returning to their ESL jobs in Shanghai. This is where he learns to be an Opener — someone who spends his days in a vast warren of cubicles, phoning people all over the world and trying to sell bogus stocks and options.

Things go well, and Don is just starting to really get the hang of it when the shop’s owner misses his scheduled payoff to Thai police and they arrive one day like storm troopers to close the place down. Don escapes through a window, drifts around a bit, then jets off to Manila, where he once again tries a fresh start — this time with a woman he has met by chance in a bazaar. Her name is Jessica.

Events begin to unfold in rapid-fire fashion once Don lands in the Philippines. For one, he discovers some very rough customers are looking for him, with the idea that he set up the raid on the Bangkok office. Then, he gets an even bigger surprise — one that completely turns the plot upside down and sideways.

I won’t give away what happens the rest of the way. Suffice to say that this book was written by someone with very intimate knowledge — or great research — of how these “boiler room” operations work, bilking money from people all over the world by phone. They justify their actions by saying that if the poor saps they contact aren’t giving their money to them, they would be giving it to someone else.

The main character, Don, generates a fair amount of sympathetic vibes, so the reader begins to care what happens to him — and plenty does, not all of it good. But by the time the book is over, you’ll never trust a telemarketer again.

I give The Opener five stars as a real page-turner — particularly toward the end as plotlines converge and a mystery is solved satisfactorily. Kudos to the author for writing a convincing who-dun-it, wrapped as the memoir of a self-serving con artist. May I never have to work as an Opener — in this life or the next.

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A Boo-tiful Halloween By Angela Shori

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A Boo-tiful Halloween by Angela Shori is the perfect book for night-time, tuck-em-in, reading aloud time. And, of course, it’s perfect for Halloween, which is right around the corner. I can remember reading colorfully illustrated books like this to my son when he was little and he still talks about them, and what fun we had. He would memorize them and finish each rhyme before I could even get it out of my mouth! This book is just like that — one that is perfect for banishing fears of monsters under the bed. In this book, all the monsters are cute and adorable..Five stars to the author for creating a memorable read.

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Roads and Circuses By Tom Mazzone

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“If what you want and what you get meet half way, consider yourself a lucky person.” So advises Bernard O’Malley, of the West Dubliner O’Malleys, in this free-ranging, hilarious commentary on life in general, Irish politics in particular, and the goings-on of the O’Malley clan in passing.

Well, really, it’s mainly about eldest son Marcus O’Malley, who slogs his way through boarding school, then law school, with single-minded adherence to another motto of the family: “Inaction will lead to being run over, so keep moving.”

Marcus becomes a celebrated barrister with many calls upon his time and attention. Unlikely events and a colorful cast of supporting characters keep him well occupied. When he’s not roundly defending his bald head against unwarranted attacks by boorish ex-classmates, he’s complimenting his future wife Ciara: “You look nice with clothes on,” he tells her one drunken night at a party.

Eventually, he’s talked into running for political office by a kindly, white-haired gentleman who paradoxically has the pull to make an axe murderer — a persistent would-be client of Marcus — mysteriously go away in handcuffs. For Marcus, life is good in his new role as defender of the downtrodden. He fills every pothole in West Dublin, then sets his sights on higher aspirations.

“The fastest way to a destination in Ireland (is) via a crooked and wide line,” he pontificates, and, after spending years in his first term being a do-gooder, he sets about to drastically change tacks. One whisky-soaked evening he’s watching a documentary on Adolph Hitler and decides the man had the right idea — at least in the beginning. Visions of national pride engendered by fiery rhetoric and an iron fist begin to resonate in Marcus’s befogged brain cells.

But how to go about it and still be adored? He partners with a wide variety of businessmen and real estate developers to substantially remake West Dublin, but his ambitions now include becoming the youngest P.M. in the nation’s history. He can’t do that with nickel-and-dime resolutions and revolutionary land developments. He’s got to have a Cabinet position.

This he achieves smoothly by becoming Minister for Justice and Equality. One of his first actions is to get his sister, Therese, a job in the Passport Office. “This didn’t raise any eyebrows, since nepotism in Ireland was as common as moaning at the rain.”

On and on it goes, as the political intrigue becomes ever more outrageous, and Marcus moves ahead with his plans to assume dictatorial rule by the time he reaches his mid-forties. Among the many new measures he plans to put in place: a Passing Wind / Excessive Gas Tax — twelve cents a fart, levied when outside one’s residence.

The author shows a masterful hand at painting the tomfoolery that oftentimes accompanies political maneuvering not just in Ireland but around the world. His characters are finely drawn and the story never lags — right up to the unexpected conclusion.

Five stars to Roads and Circuses, and to its talented author, Tom Mazzone. I look forward to the next installment of this series.

Wind Down By Mark Ewig

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Aaron has a big problem — and it all started with the night he was stabbed in the back by one of his roommates. You’ll be drawn into this outstanding and dynamic story from the very start, and carried forward on a wave of mystery and paranormal suspense.

Was it Drew, on meds because of an abusive situation at home? Or Ryan, who fought with Drew the night of the incident? Finally, there’s Jason, who disavows any involvement outright.

Aaron goes to the hospital and stays four days while the police try to figure out who plunged the knife into his back. His girlfriend Jessica just wants to be there for him as the four friends break up and go their separate ways with the mystery of Aaron’s assault unsolved.

Fast forward fifteen years. Jessica and Aaron are married with three wonderful children. His life is idyllic — a nice home, good job, and a family who loves him. But suddenly, things start going wrong.

He blacks out, sometimes while driving, sometimes for days on end. And that’s not all. He begins seeing things: an elderly couple that appear and disappear in the blink of an eye; an apparition that oozes from his television, known to him only as the shadow man; and odd, tingly sensations and a crushing weight that descends on him just prior to each blackout.

A shaman that he meets offers a startling explanation, and it’s one that he initially rejects.

“The power to control the world is in your hands,” intones the shaman, who encourages Aaron to link back up with his old roommates in an effort to see who might have set this strange series of life events in motion.

He gets no real answers from Jason, who now works as a policeman in a small town in Indiana. He continues to claim innocence, but does use his police connections to get the current addresses for Ryan and Drew.

On the way to see Ryan he again blacks out and comes to in a hotel room. Disoriented, he wanders the halls until he encounters Amanda — another friend from college, but looking like she hasn’t aged a day. She, too, encourages him to continue on his “journey.”

Will Aaron find the answers that he seeks? What is the significance of the wind-up monkey? And what’s the deal with the two bluebirds on the inner thigh of a stripper in central Illinois?

Follow Aaron on his quest for the truth. You, like he, may get more than you bargained for.

I give Wind Down five stars for inventive plot, intriguing and complex characters and a genuinely good story.

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