Passport to Murder by Mary Angela


Passport to Murder by Mary Angela
Publisher: Camel Press
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (249)
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Stargazer

Voted BoM by LASR Readers 2013 copy

Start with an unlucky number. Throw in a romantic location. Include a dashing Frenchman and an uncompromising professor. And you have all the ingredients for a passport to murder.

This semester, it seems that Professor Prather’s dreams are about to come true. Ever since she was a young girl, she’s imagined going to France, and her French colleague, André Duman, has finally made that trip possible. Over spring break, she and André are to lead a group of students and faculty to Paris to explore the City of Light. But before she can utter her first bonjour, a professor dies, and they are stuck in Minneapolis. She returns to Copper Bluff with an unstamped passport and a mystery to solve.

When André becomes the prime suspect, Emmeline puts her research skills to good use, determined to find out who really killed the professor and spoiled their spring break plans. With thirteen travelers assembled, the possibilities are varied and villainous. Luckily, her dear friend and sidekick, Lenny Jenkins, is close by. Together, they will sort through the conflicting clues even if it costs them time, trouble, or tenure.

Have you ever wondered how crime is solved in the world of Academia? With the assistance of Professor Prather of course!

Passport to Murder is an engrossing story that will pull the reader in from the first page. While taking a once in a lifetime class trip to Paris, there is a death of one of the faculty members during the flight causing an immediate change of plans and cancelling this amazing opportunity for everyone. What occurs after this murder is where the story really heats up, both literally and figuratively.

Passport to Murder is the second story of the Professor Prather series. You do not need to read the first book, An Act of Murder, to feel caught up since Mary Angela does an excellent job at keeping new and returning reader up to speed. The core events of the first story are reviewed within Passport to Murder without causing the reader to feel guilty about missing out if they had not read the first book.

Emmeline Prather and her colleague Lenny Jenkins team up after some more puzzling questions arise regarding the death of the beloved professor on the plan. The mix of characters, including police officers, students and faculty all make for a fun interactive adventure for the reader. The great conversations and in-depth descriptions bring the reader directly into the mix-making the story flow smoothly and enveloping the reader into the world of Emmeline Prather.

As the story progresses and the questions regarding the beloved but very outspoken professor begin to circulate once again, another mysterious tragedy suddenly appears to take Copper Bluff by storm. Emmeline and Lenny begin connecting the dots to find out that this new development is most likely related to the professor’s death. Just when the reader began to believe that life was moving forward for the characters, this new development sets off even more questions and suspicions.

If you are a fan of mysteries, especially those that occur in the world of academics, make sure you don’t miss Passport to Murder by Mary Angela!

Serial Intent by Steve Bradshaw


Serial Intent by Steve Bradshaw
Publisher: Griffyn Ink
Genre: Contemporary Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full length (306 pgs)
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Stargazer

When Lindsey Fetter opened her eyes, the man that killed her husband was standing at the end of her bed. When Charlie Dunn pocketed his cell phone, he could only stare at the empty ice on Lake Michigan; the man that killed his wife and son had been released. When Ellen Dumont visited her parent’s gravesite alone, it never occurred to her that would be her last moment on earth.

450 murders is a slow year for Chicago Homicide Detective Aaron Wolfe, but he carries them with him. Long ago he had to learn how to bury the pain and angst so he could navigate the carnage and hunt the killers. But years of a rising crimson tide and failing legal system were more than he could bear. There were too many innocent victims, and too many killers escaping through the legal cracks. On the eve of his resignation, Wolfe saw the man convicted on the Dunn murders would be released–another legal maneuver. When Wolfe took on the Fetter and Dumont cases, his sick world took another turn. Some were killed by sniper fire and others had their skulls crushed with bare hands. Wolfe knew two horrific factions had engaged in a dark war that would change everything.

Can Wolfe uncover the secret force on a reckless mission to remedy a failing legal system? Can he stop the skull-crushing beast terrorizing the city? Or will Wolfe succumb to his scars and allow a new justice to prevail in a city of predators?

The justice system can be manipulated and no one sees this more glaringly than the police that enforce the laws.

Aaron Wolfe is a veteran homicide detective that has seen his share of death. When it appears that a vigilante group is hunting down criminals that manipulate the system, Aaron must decide which side of the line he stands on. Aaron has a past and many scars from his years of service; this proves beneficial as he sizes up the crime scene in a matter of seconds but can be very detrimental in his interpersonal relationships.

Serial Intent is a startling look inside the American Legal System and the long standing impacts that various plea bargains and judgments have on those personally affected by the crimes. When the reader first opens the book, there is a neat listing of 16 main characters. While reading through the book, the reader gets to experience life from each of the 16 characters’ point of view. This can be both fascinating and daunting.

Steve Bradshaw has a unique story telling ability-essentially he is able to bring the reader into the moment of time that the character and story is focused on at that moment. From time to time this can be difficult to track and follow and I occasionally found myself confusing characters. Realistically, this story seems to be most effectively told in the fashion that the author writes it. There is a strong sense of mystery and suspense throughout the book and each character is fascinating and dynamic.

Each character brings a deep back story and a reason for existing in the story. The dialogue between characters is crisp and believable and the confrontation and conflict between the many primary characters is realistic. The description of forensics is strong and very in-depth throughout the entire story. The entire flow of the story is smooth from beginning to end.

If you love a good mystery that focuses on the legal aspects of modern crime, you won’t want to miss Serial Intent!

The Atlas Defect by A.J. Schudiere


The Atlas Defect by A.J. Schudiere
The Nightshade Forensic Files Book 3

Publisher: Griffyn Ink
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (350 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Stargazer

Eleri wanted a different kind of case. She should have been careful what she wished for. When an odd human skeleton in Michigan’s Manistee-Huron National Forest triggers a NightShade investigation, Eleri and Donovan arrive to find it missing. But two other skeletons are a little too easily uncovered—each displays different anomalies that raise alarming questions. The bones aren’t from the area or probably even the continent. A decades-old abandoned building doesn’t register on satellite images. Files detailing genetic experiments on children are even more disturbing, and most of the children are unaccounted for. Who were the test subjects and where are the bodies? Eleri and Donovan believe there are others out there who haven’t died yet. But they will, if something isn’t done. Fast. If the case itself wasn’t enough of a problem, someone is watching. Someone with a particular interest in Donovan’s own skeletal anomalies . . .

Prepare for a book that will challenge how you view the world around you.

The Atlas Defect is the third book in the Nightshade Forensic Files series by A.J. Schudiere. The story centers on Eleri and Donovan, two F.B.I. agents from the Nightshade Division that is tasked with investigating some of the cases that fall outside of the regular realm of investigation. As such, these agents possess deep insight and strong investigative techniques.

The book is strong in description and research. The characters are believable and the events surrounding the ongoing investigations make the reader feel enveloped in the story. Although this is the third book in this specific series, a new reader should not feel that they would be lost just jumping in. While there may be some lingering questions; the author does a great job at filling in the missing back story that appeared in the other two books.

Action scenes and dialogue have a great flow throughout the book. This is mixed with strong medical and procedural research which gives an amazing combination and flow, making the reader feel at home even if the forensic field is somewhat new to the reader. Secondary characters each possess a strong backstory as well as their own character development. Transitions between events are not forced and move smoothly, leading the reader to want to continue reading and not put the book down.

The suspense factor is constant throughout the book. From the constant suspicion that someone is always watching to the mysterious events that plague the characters; there is the knowledge that something is not quite right. As the reader progresses through the book, more and more questions produce answers, which create even more questions in the end.

If you are a fan of forensic investigations I assure you that you will not be disappointed in The Atlas Defect!

Sacrificial Lam by Gary Guinn


Sacrificial Lam by Gary Guinn
Publisher: Wild Rose Press
Genre: Contemporary, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (268 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Stargazer

When English professor Lam Corso receives a death threat at work, he laughs it off. A liberal activist at a small Southern conservative college, he’s used to stirring up controversy on campus. It’s just part of the give and take of life. Even when violently attacked, Lam is convinced it must be a mistake. He can’t imagine anyone who would want to kill him for his beliefs.

When his home is broken into and his wife’s business vandalized, Lam is forced to face the truth. His wife—a passionate anti-gun crusader—is outraged when Lam brings a gun into the house for protection. The police can’t find a single lead. Left to their own devices, Lam and Susan are forced to examine their marriage, faith, and values in the face of a carefully targeted attack from an assailant spurred into action by his own set of beliefs.

What will it cost to survive?

Sometimes your job forces you to push on the limits of society.

Lambert Corso is an individual with just such a job. As an English professor with very liberal views teaching at a religious college, Lam has stepped on his fair share of toes. Suddenly unnerving written threats against his life and then physical attempts against both Lam and his family cause a deeper concern for what is happening at the university. Lam is suddenly forced to question everyone and everything in order to protect his own family.

Sacrificial Lam is an enveloping story told from the viewpoint of Lambert Corso and his wife Susan. The story highlights the various types of personalities that exist on a college campus as well as the frustrations that occur from being the voice for those oppressed when the majority of those on campus have very opposing views.

The threats and Lam’s reaction to the increased threats are understandable and realistic, given Lam’s history and views. The dialogue is smooth and concise and the descriptions of work, personality conflicts, student concerns and the main plot line of fear and mystery focused on Lam and his family weave together to form a great mystery!

I really enjoyed the various conflicts and frustrations that Lam encountered, both internally and externally. Lam’s marital concerns and even his stress impacting his parenting of his two sons speak volumes into the psychology of the storyline. The depth of human nature and our response to external stress is a great pivotal point in the story.

If you enjoy suspense and mystery stories, be sure not to miss Sacrificial Lam!

The Weekend by Alan Winnikoff


The Weekend by Alan Winnikoff
Publisher: Books To Go Now
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (127 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Stargazer

Over a single weekend two people try to figure out if they are right for each other. In the process, they learn more than they might want to know – about each other and themselves.

Sometimes you just need a break from life, The Weekend is designed to give you that break.

Carolyn and Jeff meet up for a weekend in a luxurious Manhattan apartment on Friday night. Although things don’t go initially as planned, the weekend moves forward and the two work out subtle differences and learn much about each other over the next few days. The story is a smooth look at how life outside of the concerns and confines of work progresses for two individuals who wish to disappear into the city.

Although the story only spans Friday evening, Saturday and part of Sunday; we get a deep glimpse into the lives and motivations of both Jeff and Carolyn. While work is discussed sparingly, we begin to see and understand their true passions and desires. Both individuals are in a time of transition in their lives, both professionally and personally and both individuals lean on each other in their quest to discover who they are as a person.

Deep reflective conversation flows smoothly, laying out the deeper plot. While there is some sex and more sexual tension, there is a stronger focus on the individuality of two people coming together as one in an undecided world. Not to give away any details, the story itself looks at more of the psychological understanding and fulfillment of two people taking time away from a world of deadlines, goals to be met and expectations. The Weekend ends as weekends often do, with a desire for more but still a satisfaction and sense of renewal. Again, just like weekends do, there is a longing for another weekend in the future but a sense that one must work and strive for that weekend if the weekend is to be enjoyed to the fullest.

I highly encourage you to pick up a copy of The Weekend for your own weekend reflection!

Prude by Jordan S. Gray


Prude by Jordan S. Gray
Labeled: Book One
Publisher: Evernight Publishing
Genre: Contemporary, Holiday
Length: Full Length (270 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 3.5 stars
Reviewed by Stargazer

Rebecca Washington is a girl in control. Well, at least when it comes to acing her college classes. The rest of the time, she seems to be at the mercy of everyone else. Like when she’s dumped in front of her peers, hit on right afterwards by a jerk for some stupid bet, and then paired up with the same jerk for a lit project.

In order to maintain her perfect GPA, Rebecca will need to give a stellar presentation while ignoring the prodding eyes that will be staring at her. When her partner, Derek, starts to ease her fears of public speaking with his laid back attitude, she’s forced to confront her new feelings about him and his charming smile. Rebecca knows falling for a guy who teases her for being a prudish nerd can only end badly, but what if it’s just another thing out of her control?

Rebecca Washington is your “typical” smart girl, good grades, attention to detail and a love life that fits neatly into an organized schedule. In fact, the schedule is so neat that her boyfriend decides that old married couples have more spontaneity and publicly breaks up with Rebecca, drawing her much unwanted attention. This includes attention from a strikingly handsome man in her British Literature class. With her life in chaos, Rebecca’s friends try to help her see there is more to life than just class and good grades.

Prude is a look at life from a controlled perspective, that is, until life becomes uncontrolled. Rebecca finds herself drawn to Derek, who happens to embody the exact opposite of everything that Rebecca is interested in. As the story unfolds, we see the many different layers of Derek and this lines out much more in Rebecca’s true search for herself.

While I enjoyed the psychological complexities of Derek; Rebecca had some subtleties of her own that come out throughout the book. Shayler and Ansley, Rebecca’s best friends since high school, make many appearances throughout the book, but I feel that we only get to know them on a superficial level. Even with Rebecca’s point of view throughout the story, we only get a glimpse of what makes up her persona. I felt that by the end of the book, I knew more about the backstory behind Derek and his character development than I did even with Rebecca being placed as the main character.

Some scenes of the book felt strained and rushed, almost as though there was a race to get to a more interesting part coming up. There were several stereotypical occurrences and some stilted dialogue which disrupted the flow of the story from time to time. The story development and plot twists did fit well, but still felt a bit forced.

Overall the story had a general easy to read flow. While I felt the overall character development and backstories could have been stronger, the core plot and twists throughout the story did make for an interesting read romance.

If you are looking for a fun story to give you a glimpse into the world of a prude, then be sure not to miss Prude!

The World Without Crows by Ben Lyle Bedard


The World Without Crows by Ben Lyle Bedard
Publisher: Self-published
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (400 pgs)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Stargazer

In 1990, the world ended. A disease turned people into walking shells of themselves. Zombies. Most of them were harmless, but some were broken by the pressure of the disease. The cracked became ravenous killers whose bite infected.

To escape the apocalypse, Eric, a young, overweight boy of 16, sets off on a journey across the United States. His plan is to hike from Ohio to an island in Maine, far from the ruins of cities, where the lake and the fierce winters will protect him from both Zombies and the gangs that roam the country.

Along the way, Eric finds friends and enemies, hope and despair, love and hatred. The World Without Crows is the story of what he must become to survive.

For him and the people he would come to love, the end is only the beginning.

The end of the world means that things change-the true humanness of humanity comes forth.

The World Without Crows is a fascinating look at the change in world dynamics when Vaca B turns people into zombie-like husks of their former selves. Eric is a teenager with a very poor self-image. After the death of his mother, Eric leaves everything that he has known to travel towards an island in Maine where he hopes to find safety.

Along the way, Eric meets several new friends and they form a group desiring the same thing, safety. Unfortunately, there are gangs, ragtag military groups and other that look to profit from those that might show a little too much trust. Eric and his friends face danger and the risk of death throughout the entire journey.

The World Without Crows speaks to the authors understanding of human nature and the psychology of the individual. Ben Lyle Bedard does a fantastic job at bringing each character to life-and each character has an amazing back story and life before the Vaca B-each life is filled with dreams, desires and loss. The description and journey that the author brings forth causes the reader to become fully immersed in the world that the characters live within. This new world is enough to create a frightening realization for the reader-this reality is something that could happen in today’s society.

The interactions between characters both verbal and non-verbal are descriptively explained by the author. In fact, some of the best conversations of the book are explained through the actions of the characters rather than by dialogue alone. The author spends a great amount of time describing the world around the characters, I found that I found that I could completely relate with the actions and choices that each character made, even though some were certainly for the worse.

As each character becomes more near and dear to the reader, there is the reality that this character may not make it to the end. With the disease of Vaca B so prevalent and with it so easily transmitted; the reader can become so totally involved in the story and not realize that when a character is facing death, that he or she has become a part of the reader’s identity.

I highly recommend reading The World Without Crows–this story will haunt you at night when you realize the depth of humanity is much more shallow than you ever imagined.

The Last Detective by Brian Cohn


The Last Detective by Brian Cohn
Publisher: Pandamoon Publishing
Genre: Inspirational, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Suspense/Mystery
Length: Full Length (232 pgs)
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Stargazer

It’s been two years since the invasion.

Two years since the slicks came to our planet and herded humanity together like cattle, placing us under constant watch in the few cities that remain. The lucky ones are left to their own devices. The unlucky few are rounded up and carted off to labor camps to face an unknown fate.

Former homicide detective Adrian Grace was cut off from his family, but has somehow managed to survive. When one of the slicks is murdered, they ask him to find the killer. He reluctantly agrees, and in the course of his investigation witnesses the best, and the worst, that humanity has to offer: a plot to escape the labor camps; a pending war between an in-your-face councilwoman and the corrupt city mayor; and a priest who claims to have befriended the dead alien. But worst of all, he stumbles onto a conspiracy that puts the fate of the entire city in jeopardy. In the end, Detective Grace discovers that the killer might just be the last person he would have suspected.

A story about betrayal, redemption, faith, fear, and hope, The Last Detective is a thrilling look at what happens to humanity when our world crumbles around us.

Humans, by nature are very adaptable- unfortunately this can be good and bad.

Since the aliens conquered humanity, daily existence is just that-existing and surviving. There are no goals, and no real jobs unless you are unlucky enough to be chosen for the labor camps or if you choose to work for the aliens policing the rest of humanity. Adrian Grace used to be a homicide detective, but not anymore. That is, until he is asked to undertake an investigation into the death of one of the aliens.

The Last Detective is a stunning in-depth story that looks at life after the destruction of civilization; and not where many stories try to pick up with the rise of the underdog-but a true look at what happens when there is no impending insurrection, when there is no hope. The Last Detective is an amazing look at the rivers of humanity that flow between the islands of despair in the darkest depths of loss.

Brian Cohn draws the reader into a world that has given up. The plot of The Last Detective is not sadness or the bleakness of reality, but what humanity can and will do to survive. I love how the author took the perspective of Adrian Grace as an individual not set on “fixing” the world, but with a realistic view of the society. While working the case, turn after turn, things change and hidden agendas are revealed.

I love a good mystery and Brian delivers. I was sure I had everything figured out, and then suddenly I was wrong. Not only that, the evidence to the contrary was sitting in front of me the whole time! The dark schemes and the intense dialogue and plot make this one of the best Science Fiction Mysteries that I have read in some time.

I highly recommend reading The Last Detective! It will give you a new view and a very real understanding of human nature!

The Siren House by Andrew Post


The Siren House by Andrew Post
Publisher: Medallion Press
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (460 pgs)
Rating: Best Book
Reviewed by Stargazer

Once upon a time, the world ended. Or maybe not. Cassetera Robuck, survivor of the apocalypse, must find a way to stop the Regolatore: a theocratic time-shifting cult bent on ridding hers, and every other parallel universe, from scratchers, those who use molecular reconstruction machines to “jazz” new, impossible life. Too bad her new friend Thadius Thumb, proprietor of the holo-vaudevillian theater the Siren House, happens to be the most famous—or is it infamous?—scratcher of them all.

As a kid, life for Cassetera Robuck was hard enough suffering from a nerve disorder that prevented use of her legs. Then, the apocalypse happened. To survive, Cassetera and her family made a new home on an abandoned oil rig on Lake Superior. There, she and her father discover a machine. One that can take things apart molecule-by-molecule and reassemble them. Ten years later and when her family is all but lost, Cassetera heads into an apocalypse-torn Duluth to seek out a man calling himself the Fabulous Thadius Thumb, the proprietor of a holo-cast variety show staged nightly at the Siren House. Thadius is not only a ringleader to the Thickskulled Thespians and their head writer, he is also a resistance leader. Against what? Those who caused the apocalypse, of course. The Regolatore, a universe-hopping terror cult that use machines all too similar to the one Cassetera and her dad found . . .

“You have to read this book!” A phrase I uttered even before finishing the book itself.

The Siren House is not what you might expect, it is a look at what could be, what was and what should be-all at the same time. Yet, the flow of the story is not nearly as confusing as it may sound. The whole premise of the story rests on the realization that there are multiple timelines, multiple variations of existence and multiple variations of ourselves across the infinite fields of time and space.

But, the plot does not get bogged down in the ridiculous complexity of the variables of time and space. In fact, the plot itself is told from the eyes and experiences of Cassetera Robuck. Well, one of the Cassetera Robucks, in one of the dimensions where the Regolatore have set up shop to keep the people of her dimension from advancing their technology and knowledge so much that they are a threat to other worlds and ultimately other dimensions in search of raw materials to create further enhanced technologies.

The story flows so well-from the deep descriptions to thorough and engrossing conversations that keep the reader directly involved with the story, so much that I had a hard time putting the book down because I felt almost as though I had left a part of myself in the story. Although I could not put the book down, I struggled because each page I completed reading would be one page closer to the end of the story. The story, with alternate dimensions, other realities and other timelines actually flowed together and did not become confusing. In fact, the author does an amazing job at creating such explanations that the reader will most likely come to wonder if this is truly a possibility to happen today.

The many different characters, from the workers at The Siren House to Cassetera and Thadius, histories and backstories were complete, full and made each character feel fully formed. The flow of conversations, the main plot and sub plots all flowed together. The entire story moved on its own time without being rushed or feeling like it was dragging. Overall, this was a fantastic and excellent jump at the reality that there are many more realities in an ever-present universe. Then, when the end did come, there was not the pain of separation-as the author did an amazing job of sorting out the details and not leaving the reader wanting more. The best part? It wasn’t set up for a series of sequels like so many stories are, although there are ways to make a spin off- this story is not set up as a pipe to any other story. Simply, this was just one amazing read.

Just like the beginning of the story where the chapter title is “The beginning is the end is the beginning” I reiterate, “You have to read this book!”

Dark Hunger by Demetrius Sherman


Dark Hunger by Demetrius Sherman
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Contemporary, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Short Story (121 pgs)
Rating: 2.5 stars
Reviewed by Stargazer

Peter Sunday searches for missing people and the trail leads to corpses. Unknown to the private investigator is that he’s on the deadliest journey of his life. A heart-pounding journey where he must face those that bullets cannot stop.

When people start disappearing and the local police cannot locate them, it is time to call Peter Sunday for help.

Dark Hunger follows Peter Sunday through strange disappearances and strange murders. While the initial plot seems interesting and the characters have some depth; the story is riddled with clichés and lots of heavy narration.

Dark Hunger is a story about a private investigator with a long history of police procedure, yet with the setting in contemporary America with cell phones and internet-it was almost midway through the story before the main character began an internet search on the business in question. Interaction between Peter and interviewees provided some frustration in that the dialogue seemed stilted and forced, some interactions, such as those between Peter and the manager of the News Station were quick snippets that information was withheld and then later flatly revealed with little to no specific dialogue. Grammar issues plagued the story and the flow of the story was also often caught on some of the more severe grammatical issues.

While the dialogue seemed forced, it did not factor very much in the overall story. Most of the story was straight narration, and although this was the case, there was a strong lack of actual description. I found that I was unable to immerse myself in the story no matter how hard I tried. Obvious elements were evident but the characters seemed extremely oblivious, so much that to the point I became frustrated reading the next line.

Overall, I feel the plot could formulate a great story if allowed to unfold correctly. Peter Sunday is seen as a deep character with a lot of flowing backstory while his partner, Tony, seems almost lost. Secondary characters also are poorly developed, again leading Peter to take main stage and focus but detracting from the depth of the story that truly could be.

Although I feel that there are many incomplete elements and many things that can be improved upon, I believe that the foundational plot and resonance of Peter Sunday could have a great focus for future stories. Some strong editing, focused description and dialogue points would make Dark Hunger an insatiable read that I would not want to miss!