Guest Reviews

Sold on A Monday By Kristina McMorris brings to life a story anchored in reality, by an actual photograph. The saying “a picture is worth a 1000 words” springboards the plot. The mystery is jumpstarted by a photograph taken as readers wonder what happens to all those in the picture? 

 

McMorris noted, “I saw this photo circulating on-line.  It was of four children huddled together on a stoop in Chicago in 1948 with their mother in the background.  There was a sign next to them that read, ‘four children for sale inquire within.’ As a mother of two young boys I was haunted by that photo for months and months.  After I understood there is a story to write I revisited it. They say ‘a picture is worth a 1000 words,’ but for me it ended up to be 90,000 words, a whole novel.  I think any strong and powerful art piece or photo after someone looks at it can tell a story that might even raise questions.”

 

It all started with a picture that became the inspiration for an article by a struggling journalist, Ellis Reed, as it expressed the desperate days of the American Great Depression in 1931. He took a picture of two boys sitting under a sign that read, “2 children for sale.” After the picture is brought to the chief’s attention by his secretary, Lillian (Lily) Palmer, Ellis is offered his chance to write worthwhile stories that begins with this one about the boys. But his chance to advance seems to go up in ashes after the picture is accidentally destroyed just prior to publication.  Knowing the article would be meaningless without a photo Ellis stages another one with a different family.  Lily feels responsible for the aftermath because it was her idea to show the original picture to the newspaper editor in the first place. Ellis’s story launches his career, but it also creates a chain of devastating events. Now both Ellis and Lily, feeling responsible, are determined to make things right.

 

“I wanted to write Lily as strong, vulnerable, and someone who carries a lot of guilt, shame, as well as secrets. I think her son Samuel helps to drive her decisions. She connects to the children in Ellis’ story, seeing parallels to her own life. Ellis is a good person who makes poor choices.  He wants his father’s approval and to get it has the need for tangible accomplishments.  Through his career achievements he gains self-confidence and self-esteem. All the characters in this story tried to forgive themselves for past deeds.  They are searching for what they really want out of life.” 

 

Readers will take a journey with all the characters as they ponder what they would do if they could give their children a better life. Set in 1931 during the Depression, people were desperate to feed their families. This brings into focus the question of how far would a parent go to ensure their children survive? On a similar note, McMorris also explores the struggle Lily had with trying to succeed professionally and being a single mother who wanted the best for her son, Samuel. 

 

This novel takes readers back in time and allows them to have a vivid picture of the desperation.  It is an engrossing story of love, family, ambition, and the struggle of each of the characters with their personal beliefs, how life’s circumstances can push people to do the unthinkable.

The Saint of Wolves and Butchers

Alex Grecian

G.P. Putnam’s Sons

April 17, 2018

With his latest novel author Alex Grecian is moving in a new direction with a new series, a new era, and a new setting, Kansas. Another book that took place in that state, Wizard of Oz has a famous line “Lions, Tigers, and Bears. Oh My.” Replace that with The Saint of Wolves and Butchers and readers havethe title of this new book.

 

This intriguing story involves Travis, a man who chases down evil-doers with help from his trusting companion, a dog named Bear, and a Kansas State Trooper, Skottie who join forces to track down a Nazi in hiding.

 

Grecian wanted to write more of a modern-day contemporary story than his past series, set in Victorian England.  “While driving through Western Kansas to visit my wife’s family I saw a lot of ranch/farm country.  Regardless of where I am I look for angles I can use to write a story. I found out that German POWs captured in Africa were sent to Kansas. After the war, most of these people were allowed to become farmers and stayed here as authorities turned a blind eye.  It occurred to me this would be a great place to hide if I ever committed a crime.  Since Travis and company will hunt for evil-doers, for the next book I would love to have Skottie, Bear, and Travis searching for the bad guy behind the funding of the Nazi in this book who runs a human trafficking ring.  I think I will set it in Alaska.”

 

The plot begins in 1951 when wanted war criminal Rudolph Bormann succeeds in making his way from South America to rural Kansas, where he begins a new life as Rudy Goodman. In the present, Travis Roan, the head of a family foundation devoted to bringing war criminals to justice, comes to Kansas after a report that the German was recognized by Ruth Elder, a concentration camp guard. Aided by his canine companion, Bear, a massive dog, and another ally, Kansas Highway Patrol trooper Skottie Foster, the search continues for this horrific figure who had performed medical research on unwilling victims. To make matters worse, Goodman decides to become a Church Pastor for a Nazi-type cult where he continues his cruel experimentation.

 

All the characters are either very likeable or very unlikable. The character that stole all the scenes was Bear, a Tibetan mastiff who understands Esperanto and became mute after poachers cut off his vocal cords. He is brave, smart, and loyal, where everyone except the antagonists have complete trust.  Surprisingly, Elder, was written as sympathetic considering she was forced into becoming a guard by the Nazi regime, after refusing to have sex with German military officers.  The main character, Travis is calm, intellectual, unfailingly polite, and very moralistic.  

 

Because Grecian wants this to be a series he plans on developing each character’s backstory as the books progress.  “Travis keeps to himself so we do not know where he has been in the world and where he has come from.  He is mysterious and I purposely did not say if he is Jewish.  I do hint at the terrible tragedy he has gone through.  As time goes on readers will find out more about him.”

 

An interesting aspect is that the Nazi was hit by lightning, not once, but twice, while in Kansas, and lived to talk about it.  After being struck people have their bodies affected in unexpected ways, such as a person’s hair and toenails will not grow back, and they can have hearing loss.  Goodman used it to claim he could heal people, because it gave him energy and insight. This for some could be the fantasy part of the book.    

 

Hopefully readers also understand that guns are tools. Grecian explained, “This is why I put in the book quote, ‘These chunks of metal that were largely useless without a hand to point them.’ The evil comes from the person who uses it to their advantage.  It is the person that needs to be blamed.”

 

Readers will yearn for the next book to see how Grecian flushes out the characters’ backstory, especially Travis Roan, whose mysteriousness is intriguing. Hopefully, this does become a series, because of the unique characters and storyline.

Beneath The Surface by Lynn H. Blackburn has both suspense and romance although it has more of an emphasis on the relationship between the two main characters, Leigh Weston and Ryan Parker.  

It is interesting how she weaves everything in the plot around the Dive Team, including relationships between the team members, the victim, and the outside experts.  The sarcastic banter between the characters allows for a humorous interlude.

Because she wants to emphasize the character interaction, she noted, “When we pitched the series my editors asked how much of this is going to be underwater, because it is difficult to develop relationships there. Any law enforcement dive team knows the dive is very intense, mainly because of the horrible conditions.  I want readers to understand I am writing about the team, not necessarily the dive. The unifying factor for the story is that they are all on this dive team. Besides, I wanted to make this realistic. Most of the time they cannot see anything underwater. It is like someone driving in a fog. I talked to a professional who said ‘you cannot see anything and must feel around since it is so very dark.’”

There are actually two mysteries to the story, dismembered bodies found at the bottom of the lake by the dive team, and someone stalking Leigh with the intent of doing bodily harm.  They come together when Ryan and his colleagues ask Leigh if they can use her boat deck as they work the investigation. Soon after, Leigh’s life is threatened having law enforcement wonder about a possible connection.  Ryan knows his team must solve the murder case quickly, especially when Leigh may be the next target on the list.

Sprinkled throughout the story are images of the Carolina community that includes their culture. “I wanted to show how Leigh connects to her mom through cooking. After all, Carolina girls love to cook.  In the South, we cook for the people we love. No one gets together without having lots of food around. Through her baking and cooking she is able to initially get close to people.  If she likes you she will try to feed you. One of her love languages is cooking and baking cookies. I actually developed a little recipe book for my newsletters’ subscribers, a dive team recipe book.”  

This first in the series will leave readers wanting for more.  Fortunately, the next book will be coming out at the end of this year, but it is also unfortunate that people will have to wait months for the next installment.

 

The Gate Keeper

Ian Rutledge Book 20

Charles Todd

William Morrow

Feb. 6th, 2018

Mystery/thriller

9780062678713 

The Gate Keeper, by the mother/son team known as Charles Todd, is a mystery with a huge ending twist.  Fans of this series will see Scotland Yard Detective Ian Rutledge having to solve a case from a different point of view. He is not only the investigator, but is the first person on the scene so he has become a witness as well.

 

Because this is a different type of mystery, The Todds wanted to make sure readers understand that it is not a puzzle where “there is a race between the writer and the reader as to who figures it out first. This novel has Rutledge pursuing the truth and finding a solution.  He has a dogged determination to keep tracking the killer.”

 

Having left his sister’s wedding in a distraught mood Rutledge decides to take a car trip. He encounters on a deserted road a woman standing next to a murder victim.  She reports how a stranger stepped in front of the car and without warning fired a shot killing Stephen Wentworth immediately.  With a list of persons of interest piling up Rutledge must sort through the many different aspects of the case.  He is helped along by a voice in his head, Corporal Hamish MacLeod, the ghost of the Scottish officer he had executed for cowardice, who comments persistently inside this detective's weary ear. Rutledge always listens, and appears to have given Hamish a life that was taken away. Hamish is real to Rutledge, sometimes antagonistic, sometimes supportive, sometimes part of his unconscious perception, an inner-self. 

 

An interesting piece to the storyline is the similarities between the victim, Stephen, and the detective, Rutledge.  They both had someone close to them killed in the war, although Rutledge played more of a role.  They were also both jilted by the woman they loved.”  The Todds noted, “Stephen is the ultra ego of Rutledge in some ways, and that is probably one of the reasons why he wanted to follow through and find the killer. They both developed levels of coping skills and were solitary people.  Neither became involved in a relationship after their engagement was broken.  Yet, Ian came from a loving family, and Stephen from a dysfunctional one.”  

 

One of the secondary characters can best be described as an early 20th Century “Mommy Dearest.”  The mother of Stephen is vicious, spoiled, and uncaring who tried to thwart any happiness her son might achieve.  “We wanted to write a character where the mother hated her son all his life. She sees him as a monster, an ugly duckling.  She has no redeeming qualities. She enjoys painting him in a dim light.  Basically, just a terrible person who is bitter and self-centered.”

 

Because World War I play such an important role in the storyline, readers get a glimpse into the emotional wounds of many of the men, including Rutledge. “We wanted to humanize those who have served.  Our goal as writers is to show how they were ordinary people and then were trained to be warriors.  When they come back they must learn to trust again and to relate to those outside of their unit, the band of brothers. They can talk amongst their peers because they know there is a sense of understanding. Having experienced horrors first hand they cannot just shut out what they saw on the battlefield.”

 

The Gate Keeper by Charles Todd is a ‘who done it’ type of mystery.  Readers will enjoy the investigative process Ian Rutledge must go through to find the culprit.

Cutting Edge by Ward Larsen is a modern-day western, that also reminds readers of Superman and The Six Million Dollar Man.  As the book describes it, the antagonist, Delta, and the protagonist, Trey have a “High Noon standoff 21st Century.”  The Superman qualities is that each have x-ray vision of sorts where their brains become a computer monitor, and Delta has similar qualities of the Six Million Dollar Man with his speed and strength.

The other character in the book is technology.  Larsen connected his characters to the Web, which he does not see as far-fetched.  “Trey has a screen in his right eye.  Voice and facial recognition are at his fingertips where he can even record and send conversations.  I made sure to allow him to have access to only people who are in databases, so he could not find recent refugees or children.  He can find any information on a person because he is given top level security access.  It is doable where implants are put in the brain and then a person can connect directly to the Internet.  I would describe it as an implantable brain computer that interfaces.  It is being designed to for those who have prosthetics.”

The plot has Trey Debolt, a Coast Guard rescuer swimmer, fighting for his life after a helicopter crash.  Officially he was declared dead, because no one knows that there is a rogue government experimental unit who chose to use him as a guinea pig.  He becomes a man on the run after he witnesses his savior, nurse Joan Chandler, being gunned down. It becomes a game of cat and mouse as the hunted and the hunter try to outwit each other.  Fortunately for Trey, Shannon Lund decides to investigate his death.  Having access to records as a civilian working for the Coast Guard Investigative Service, she agrees to help him get to the bottom of what was done to him and to find the culprits chasing him including Delta.

Besides the fast-paced plot Larsen explores how technology has both good and bad points.  Readers will hope that he turns Trey and Shannon into a series and that there will be sequels written.

Latest comments

31.08 | 07:03

I enjoyed this! Thank you

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29.07 | 21:13

Great interview and the story sounds great

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27.05 | 23:23

Outraged, too! It is just getting coverage. This government is shameful under this leadership.

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26.03 | 16:01

At first I thought it said spa season. Either way it is a sign of rejuvenation! On a Kristin Hannah kick, loved Winter Garden. Happy reading!

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