Monday, October 31, 2011

Remote Control by Cheryl Kaye Tardif

Published by Imajin Books
Review based on Kindle version

Like a step into the Twilight Zone, be careful what you wish for! This novelette is sure to please the afficionado of the old television shows, the story is atmospheric, even the feel is grainy black and white. Cheryl Kaye Tardif never disappoints with the quality and depth of her writing, whether full-length, novelette, short story or part of an anthology, she is consistently exploring the mind. Well-written, gripping, and with a moral buried within, Remote Control is sure to warn and entertain.

Take a lazy, very fat man who spends all his time wishing his way to a rosy future, then picture an over-worked long-suffering wife. Who would guess that these two were the football jock and the class valedictorian in college? What happened to them? She works at two jobs and still can't afford to pay all the bills and keep him fed. He is a plumber, and could have been very good at it, but no. He is so fat, so lazy, and so glued to the TV with his hand gripping the remote, that he has lost his ambition. Not enough money to pay the bills? He just tries to talk his wife into working longer hours or take on a third job. He is convinced that if he wishes long and hard enough, he will be rich. He "knows" that it is happening soon. In the meantime, he lives in his imaginary world of TV and wishes, while his wife tries to make ends meet and wonders where everything went wrong. She wishes, too; wishes that things could be as they were. Is there a turning point? Ah, if I delve into it too far, I'll give the ending away.

Once again Cheryl Tardif has taken us away from our comfort zone to find that we enjoy being there. Once begun, the reader is compelled to find out what happens, thereby reading and watching all the way through, driven by the story to the outcome, thinking about wishes we've made. A brilliant and fitting ending, I am now going to be careful what I wish for, much as I might think I really want it. A well-metered story, picking up pace as it goes along, an impressive writing style.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Opposite of Dark: A Casey Holland Mystery by Debra Purdy Kong

Published by Touchwood Editions

What is a daughter to do when 3 years after she has buried her father she is presented with another body identified as her father? The first thing to come to mind of course, is that he is already dead and can't be dead again. Or can he? If it wasn't such a horrifying thought, it would be almost comical. There are so many things one doesn't think of in a case such as this. In particular, the funeral home where her father was buried the first time is adamant that he is still in plot 352, so how do they handle this second burial? Who passed for her father to all who viewed the body in the casket, including his daughter Casey, to allow them to believe they were looking at one Marcus Adam Holland Which is the corpse of the real Marcus? If that weren't enough, how could her father possibly have a home in West Vancouver, if he was dead, and why, if he was in hiding, would he choose to be so near and yet not contact his daughter or his fiancé Rhonda? They were just finally getting on with their lives from his first death and now he's died again, or so it would seem. What a great plot, and I don't mean burial plot. Debra Purdy Kong has outdone herself.

The lives of the human race consist of so many secrets, I sometimes feel we could be living in two dimensions and not even know it. Casey works security for the Transit Service in Vancouver, BC, and is no stranger to awareness of her surroundings and netting several suspects for various crimes. She decides if she is ever to sort this dilemma out, she will have to go to Europe, where her Dad "died" the first time, and try to learn what he was doing there. She knows she is being followed most of the time, and that someone is looking for something, but she doesn't know who or what. She only knows she must try to find out the truth. What she does learn is that there are many people looking for that something. What was her father involved in? Was he importing and/or exporting illegal or dangerous goods? She is shocked when she finds out just before leaving home that her estranged mother is somehow involved in whatever her father was doing.

This is truly a fast-moving action-packed thriller with many twist and turns, many suspects, and many secrets and lies. Trust is something that is very slippery, hard to determine and equally hard to hold on to. Trust and misguided trust play a major role in this book. Not only is Casey's life in jeopardy, but her friends are as well, even the police trying to protect her. I would have read this book at one sitting were I able to, I was so involved in the story. I am happy to learn that we will be seeing more of Casey in future books and can hardly wait! Great story with strong plot!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Cheat the Hangman by Gloria Ferris

Published by Imajin Books

I completely immersed myself in this well-written book enjoying every minute. It was definitely deserving of being short-listed for the Crime Writers of Canada "Unhanged Arthur". Gloria Ferris' writing reminded me somewhat of one of my favourite authors, Donna Andrews, especially with the very large quirky extended family interaction and antics. She brings "skeletons in the closet" to a whole new level. Take a decades-old cold case of a missing child, a sudden unexpected inheritance of a huge fabulous and museum-like home to divorced grand-niece Lyris Pembroke, who must then quickly plan and host the annual Pembroke family reunion comprised of about 400 extended family members all too soon after moving into her new home. Throw in a good helping of the paranormal and hidden secrets, a headstone with no name, a fire, attacks on Lyris and you have a pretty good perception of what fun this book is going to be. Lyris definitely has her work cut out for her. Fortunately she has also inherited Conklin the butler, and is able to hire Caroline, an excellent cook and housekeeper. For the reunion, Lyris shows admirable organizational ability as she works her way through what must be done prior to the reunion.

Not all is fun and games, though. There are also some dangerous intruders lurking about, not all of them necessarily human. Or perhaps otherworldly would be a better way to put it. Toss in a small dog with sharp teeth, soon joined by an oversized black cat, and the house begins to fill with more rooms occupied than the residents realize. Spanning so many decades, it would be strange if there were not romances, both current and decades old. Reignited passions, and reawakened love and trust with those who have suffered at the hands of their exes in the past and discover there is still a chance for happiness, even if it comes almost too late. The book is loaded with many different types of chaos and stress and yet it doesn't confuse the reader, it is just all a part of the whole. I loved the balance of the book, I laughed at the shenanigans, shed a few tears as the cold case is dealt with, worried with our heroine, relived the past with the few remaining WWII veterans even enjoying the singing of Vera Lynn in my mind, went through terror, thrills and chills, and loved the ending. This book certainly ran through a gamut of emotions, old and new. I am really looking forward to the further adventures to come.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Lexi Spiderwoman by Kensington Roth

Published by The Harriman Group (2011)

A bizarre and fascinating fantasy, it kept me wondering what would be the next surprise. Kensington Roth has a writing style all his own. A slow start that had me wondering what the point was, soon became clear it was setting the stage. Kensington's writing in this stage reads much like a screenplay in the way it describes thoughts, his character's perceptions and the perceptions her colleagues have of Alexandra Fine. For instance, you can quickly tell that Alex has been at the receiving end of bullying in the past, and a form of it in the present. Though smart and beautiful, she has low self-esteem. The importance of this as to her character becomes a pivotal point when the story really gets rolling. Scene settings are also written in the same descriptive yet abrupt sentences. Once set, the flow changes into story-telling mode.

Keeping a black widow spider as a pet may seem ludicrous to some people, but then some people keep poisonous snakes for pets. No one can doubt that Lexi has found a pastime that she enjoys, feeding her pet with insects and watching in fascination how the spider reacts, even to the point of the spider learning tricks such as pushing one insect aside for Lexi to give to her personally at which time the spider gives her a little "love nip". This little game is quite important to the story as it goes along.

Lexi works as executive secretary for the president at an oil trading company, an influential and coveted job that includes assisting at house parties and even hobnobbing with the rich and famous occasionally. She is also the single mother of a teenage daughter, Lindsey, who is absorbed with chat rooms on the internet, much to the consternation and worry of her mother. When she falls prey to one of the cyber-predators and disappears, Lexi understandably becomes distraught, and perhaps this trauma also acts as a trigger to the changes in her character. Whatever she has connected to with Ophelia, the black widow spider with her beautiful red hourglass marking, comes even more to the fore. The black widow spider is notably sexy and draws every male widow to her. So, when Lexi suddenly shows her sexiness, we begin go notice why the details of the spider are important. She also begins to be amazingly strong and develops into a superwoman. The changes in the character are exciting and fun and progress throughout the book.

I have no intentions of ruining the plot for prospective readers, so I will leave these hints and suggest reading the book. What has happened to Lindsey? Is she still alive? Will they find her in time? Who could have taken her? There are several twists and turns, and surprising suspects. The antics of Ophelia and the tragicomic storyline make this a stand-out plot, especially with the timely subject of cyber-crime, a terrible crime against young people that needs to be brought out such as the author has done with this entertaining book. I am happy to give it a good review because the potential for a future featuring this comic but human superhero is fantastic.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Charlestown Connection by Tom MacDonald

Our unlikely hero is from the projects in Boston's Charlestown. He is a permanently sidelined All-American Boston College Football hero, due to a mangled knee, and a recovering alcoholic. He runs the food pantry for Saint Jude Thaddeus Church. A pretty low-key guy, Dermot Sparhawk is a survivor of his past.

His evening shift is shockingly interrupted by pounding on the door, then his godfather Jeepster stumbling across the room and into his arms. Jeepster is a Viet-Nam veteran and best friend of Dermot's father, also a Viet-Nam vet, both men were marines. Jeepster has spent most of the intervening years in prison. While trying to hold Jeepster up, he is told to "take it" meaning the key he held. Unable to carry on, he gasps "it opens..." then collapses, at which time Dermot sees a deeply imbedded knife in his back. With his last gasp, Jeepster breathes "Oswego" and dies. The only clue Dermot has is the word McSweeney on the key and Oswego, which means nothing to him. Author Tom MacDonald knows how to catch our interest.

As if this weren't enough, Dermot starts getting callers, mostly Irish, trying to find out what Dermot knows. In the meantime, Dermot is anxious to get to the bottom of who killed his godfather. What is going on? What do all these people want? How could Jeepster have anything of value anywhere? There is so much action in this book, so many threats, so few clues none of which make any sense. And what does the art world have to do with anything at all? Everyone seems to be owed big money, but from what? Throughout the journey the reader will venture into rough places and high class places looking for a sign, a clue, and what the words McSweeney and Oswego have in common.

A little-known concept of coding becomes a turning point, but not very easily. Not all people are who Dermot thinks they are, nor are they all after the same thing in the beginning. I thoroughly enjoyed following Dermot through his journey of discovery, his integrity, and with the help of friends, how the code gets broken. Still there is a lot more to this and I encourage the reader to enjoy this fascinating trip to learn the full story. An exciting, action-packed mystery evolves over what happened in the food pantry.

This is a very interesting book, well-written and well-worth reading. I found myself captivated by what would happen next, who else may get killed, what will happen about the money owed, and the humour of the situation some of the characters find themselves in. Great job! I will be interested in reading other books by Tom MacDonald.

Orchestrated Murder by Rick Blechta

Published by Raven Books: Rapid ReadsLink
A most unusual way to begin an investigation into a murder--the entire orchestra has claimed they are guilty! Someone has murdered the conductor, Luigi Spandafini, but which one of the orchestra is the murderer, and who is being protected by everyone else? Detective Lieutenant Pratt has been assigned to the case, and his partner in this is a rookie, Ellis. It just happens that Pratt is familiar with the orchestra as a patron. Luigi has been strangled, and though Pratt knows symphonies, it is the newcomer Ellis who can identify the "weapon". He has been strangled with a cello string, both ends of the string tied with timpani mallets which makes for a better grip for tightening the string without injury.

This was an entertaining book and a quick read. Smoothly written and easy to follow, but still with a satisfying mystery. Spandafini was not a well-liked person overall, though a brilliant conductor. He was also well-known for chasing skirts and attacking the orchestra members. Apparently the members of the orchestra held him to blame indirectly for the deaths of two members. Curiously, the timpani player and the cellist were the victims.

Rick Blechta has done an excellent job of creating a fascinating closed-room murder mystery packed into a short book, maintaining the feel and allure of the murder mystery genre. Just right for the commuter or someone with a busy schedule. There are the usual twists and turns, misdirection, and of course what is probably the largest group of suspects all in one place. I really enjoyed it and read it in one go.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Night the Aliens Went on Strike by Mark White

Published by Obyod Press

I won this book in a fund-raising auction to raise money for the devastated town of Slave Lake, Alberta, whose library was destroyed. Almost the entire town burned down.

Mark White's book is quite humourous and I really enjoyed it. A real curiosity. It's sometime in the future, and noise is the pollution Colin and Tony are following up on as Noise Abatement Officers. Noise abatement is under the Council's Environment Services. The Officers are often put in very dangerous situations. First, they have to enter the home of the complainant to assess the noise level in the apartment there. Then they have to approach the lawbreakers. After tracking down the ditzy and drunk hostess, who is a regular offender in different locations, and her loud aggressive drunk party-goers, they finally extract a promise they will start lowering the volume after threat of ticketing and the next time confiscating their equipment. Noise appears to be a major crime in this earth-time. Immediately they receive a complaint about barking dogs and an extremely bright light in a field in her isolated rural area.

They have a hard time driving then walking in a blizzard out of nowhere to see what the light can be. There shouldn't be anything there. Likewise, the snow shouldn't be getting so deep so fast and it's very odd snow at that. A flash of brilliant light every three minutes and suddenly they wake up in darkness. They are on an alien ship but somehow feel comforted. An argument of some sort seems to reach the edge of their consciousness and they soon learn that they must prove the planet's worth or the world will be destroyed. These two unlikely heroes set off to save the world with Racul, a female alien who has faith in them. She takes on a human form, one of a famous model in fact, and accompanies them while they demonstrate that their job helps make the world a better place. The premise of the book is offbeat, surreal and fun. The threat of annihilation staved off by these two, and the reason why they become acceptable, is genuinely humorous. What will the Collective decide? A far-fetched sci-fi/fantasy that somehow works, I actually enjoyed this romp. You can tell from the title that it is going to offer something a little unusual and it certainly does. This is a short book, a fast read of intergalactic interest and humour.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Mrs. Quigley's Kidnapping by Jean Sheldon

Published by Bast Press
Reviewed as an e-book

This book is a very entertaining read. The story appears to take place primarily in the late 1960s. Jean Sheldon has done an excellent job of keeping the time period consistent. I love the many references to that time in conversations and in Mattie Draper's thoughts. I enjoyed reminiscing as I read, especially about the early computers. Our heroine is a former secretary who got tired of typing "Dear Sir or Madam", making coffee, and doing paperwork. She is ready for something more exciting. Mattie's good friend and sometimes date Frankie Ficaro, a PI, suggests she rent the office next to his and become a private investigator. Mattie tells her story in the first person and I think this was a perfect match for her sense of humour, her flow of thoughts as she goes along and the reader getting a sneak peak at the many characters she meets. Mattie endears many and the rest, well, it's a toss-up. They are either irritated, or despise her, especially the Sheriff. For her first case, she is hired by Dave Quigley to solve the kidnapping of his wife, Diana and bring her home alive. Mattie is a little less than confident that she can do the investigation, but Frankie builds her confidence up and promises to help when he can.

This was a quirky, funny story, lots of lightness yet a terrible crime. There is seemingly no end to the suspect list, and it just keeps growing. Mattie's thoughts and comments are reminiscent of some old detective novels and movies. Not the tough guy ones, but the novels lightened with humourous remarks and thoughts complementing the plot. She gathers information from helpful secretaries, household staff and their contacts among the rich and famous the Quigley's hobnob with. But sleuthing is not all talking to suspects and her own group of listeners, not in the least. At various times she is getting too close to something or someone, but she's not sure what. She is separately arrested, warned off, hog-tied, beaten and drugged, but who is doing what, why and for whom? No matter what, feisty and fun, she keeps on going. She truly believes, along with others, that if she doesn't find Diana before the ransom is paid, Diana will be killed. This is a cozy mystery despite the serious crime, with many contestants for the kidnapper and/or for the murderer. There are lots of false leads and red herrings. Although there is a final wrap-up, I would enjoy reading more cases featuring Mattie and Frankie. I really enjoyed this book.

Monday, October 3, 2011

What Fears Become: An Anthology from The Horror Zine edited by Jeani Rector

Published by Imajin Books

What a variety of short stories! All of them within the horror or paranormal genres, every story completely different. This great collection comes from some newer authors, and several well-known authors. Jeani Rector has collected from among the best of the contributions of stories, poems and artwork from The Horror Zine. Some are just plain scary, some are psychological, some feature ghosts, monsters, werewolves, vampires, all the favourite demons of our nightmares and stories to be told around a campfire or at Hallowe'en. An anthology to bring shivers and have us listening to bumps in the night. Some even come with a bit of humour... ghoulish humour.

Reviewing an anthology is always somewhat difficult. Do I review them individually? Group them? Authors have contributed over 30 short stories, 18 poets contributing one or more poems each and 9 artists contributing. I think I will just say that this book will entertain the deepest fears hidden in the corners of the psyche. Great tales to tweak the imagination, make us feel something is watching, digging into our souls, acquainting us all with what fears become. Is your heart pounding and your spine tingling yet?