Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Haunting of Sunshine Girl by Paige McKenzie

Posted first to Blog Critics as Book Review: 'The Haunting of Sunshine Girl', A Novel based on the YouTube web series phenomenon.

Reaching the age of 16 is an important turning point in a teen’s life. It is a special time, labeled sweet 16 in the case of young girls, a kind of coming of age. What if there was more than just a coming of age, a heralding of a different understanding.

In The Haunting of Sunshine Girl by Paige McKenzie, we are introduced to Sunshine Griffith and her mother, Kat. As Sunshine reaches the age of 16 things seem just a bit different, but she can’t really get a feel for it. Moving cross-country to the Northwest for her mother’s new job she finds the new house they are moving into decidedly creepy. Her relationship with her mother has always been extremely close, much like that of best friends, their bond is strong and they laugh and share inside jokes that hold them close. Yet that too seems to change as they move into this new place. Unable to figure it out, she shares her concerns with her friend she left behind, as well as her mother.

Usually on the same wavelength, she cannot get her mother to see or hear the strange happenings, including that of water running and a young girl crying. Sleep is becoming more difficult and her mother is becoming more distant. School is her only escape for now and she has befriended a strange young many, Nolan Foster, who is more than willing to listen to her concerns. His is smart and cute, yet he is a bit ostracized from the rest of the kids due to his belief in paranormal occurrences. He certainly comes by it naturally as his grandfather was a bit of a ghost hunter, who died before he could prove his theories to the outside world.

As they come together to try and tackle the possible haunting, they find there is more danger then could be imagined. The short time in the home already has her mother turning into someone else. As Sunshine tries to come to terms and get her mother to understand, Kat picks up a knife and cuts first herself and then Sunshine on the hand. Sunshine now knows that this woman is more than just her mother, there is another presence there as well, and one who is not concerned about the body that seems to now be housing it. Sunshine enlists the help of Nolan to help her find the answers before any further damage can occur. As they search for information, the horror of the answers is more than they bargained for. Death seems to be stalking them. Can they do what they need to do before it is too late for them all?

This is a fascinating tale of the paranormal and the importance of family and the belief in each other. The characters are quite well thought out, and you find yourself wanting to be a part of the fold. Well, except for the creepy stuff. There is humor and terror, and the investigation is strange and abhorrent, yet sets the stage for the presence that seems to be within their new home.

If you enjoy paranormal activity, friendships, family and just great personalities you will find this a fun, page turning work. Set as a young adult work, it also works great as a crossover novel for the nature and speed of the action keeps you riveted as the investigation takes your mind in dizzying direction.

Paige McKenzie is an author to watch for.

Rating 5/5

Friday, March 27, 2015

Smile Now, Cry Later by Paul MacDonald

Posted first to Blog Critics as Book Review: 'Smile Now, Cry Later', a Chuck Restic Mystery by Paul McDonald.

The business of human resources is often fraught with personalities and unpopular decisions. The people that hold these positions must be diligent and knowledgeable, able to make good decisions, often at a moment’s notice.

In Smile Now, Cry Later by Paul McDonald, we meet one such individual. Chuck Restic is in the HR profession and often moonlights as a private detective. His personality is very passive-aggressive based off his real life persona. He uses his corporate skills to solve crimes, which he finds a bit more interesting than his actual corporate job.

His coworkers are often not as caring as he would like, and many of the conversations he has with those working within his company are uncomfortable, but usually necessary. There are sometimes those caught up in circumstances, yet still must be dealt with to keep the company above the law. Ed Vardaresian is one of those, a quiet unassuming man, yet he wears an excessive amount of cologne, which leads to the complaint filed.  The accuser is noted for her complaints and the circumstances are those that make it necessary to deal with this issue in a timely manner.

What really creates Chuck’s concern is when Ed, an employee that never calls in sick, disappears not long after his conversation with him. Due to his perceived connection, Chuck determines that he will find out what is happening with the missing employee.

It is here that Chuck gets a dangerous surprise, for Ed is much more than a simple employee.  He owns some property and has somehow come up against a billionaire real estate developer as well as the Armenian mob, and his disappearance is decidedly worrisome.  His family has no answers and when Chuck digs deeper he finds himself in danger, and that old friends may actually be enemies in his search for Ed. Can he find the answers before another body is found or has his meddling created a murder fest that is cavalcading out of bounds?

MacDonald has given us an interesting private investigator, one that seems unlikely at first glance but quickly wins your confidence.  His background in HR is at times a boon, but in other areas a danger. He trusts often too quickly which makes him seem easy. But once he determines the truth, he is like a dog with a bone, digging to find the answers where ever they lead, regardless of the people involved.

The characters are interesting and the mystery is well set, leading the protagonist in directions that sometimes get very dizzying. Yet he sticks with it and keeps you along with his wit and humor.

If you enjoy mystery and people you will find Chuck Restic in Smile Now, Cry Later>, a great protagonist. This is a solid work for your library.

Rating 4/5

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Diamond Head by Cecily Wong

Posted first to Blog Critics as Book Review: 'Diamond Head,'A Novel of Change and Tradition by Cecily Wong.

Family ties and connections are not always what they appear to the outside looking in. The visual clues often hide heartache and pain, for pride is the constant. The mistakes and hurt are only for internal visitation, not for the outsiders looking in.

In Diamond Head by Cecily Wong, we follow the life of Frank Leong and family. In the nineteenth century he is part of the wealthy shipping industry in China. Worried about war on the continent, he moves his family to the island of Oahu. When his brother dies, his wife becomes a part of the extended family, a rock in the presence of much pain.

A parable of an old fable, in China the red string of fate is the cord that binds one to their perfect match. That same cord also punishes the mistakes, passing that punishment down the family line. Believers in such a match the family is careful of the possible repercussions of making bad choices.

When Frank is murdered, the family is devastated by the deceit of the past and the untruths hidden below the surface of this genial patriarch. The family begins the process of unraveling, and it seems as though everything rests on Franks only granddaughter.  The string appears to have many knots, passing the curse down their family tree, can she find the answers to the danger before her family drifts away into obscurity.

This is a wonderful work that spans the time from the Boxer Rebellion to the bombing of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. It is a tale of tragedy, lies, loss and sacrifice. The threads or red lines of fate however know the truth, and hope peaks from the darkness in a mystifying tangle of certainty.

Wong has given us a story of the ages with war and romance, love and beliefs, all set in beautiful surroundings. The characters are well developed and you feel as though you are reading actual history along with the cost of how mistakes shape families. You become enthralled with the life and intricacy of the detail, and fall in love with the family. There is a truth of enlightenment, one that takes you from the past into the future of this fractured family.

If you enjoy contemporary work with romance, history and strength, you will find this work a perfect fit for your library. Wong has given us a strange mystery couched in hidden agendas, beauty and deceit. It is a work that stays with you way after the reading.

This would also be a great work for a book club or a reading group. The nuances and ideas will make for vigorous comment.

Rating 4/5

Friday, March 20, 2015

True Medical Detective Stories by Clifton K. Meador, M.D.

Posted first to Blog Critics as Book Review: 'True Medical Detective Stories,' a compilation of true-life medical cases presented by Clifton K. Meador, M.D.

We often hear of medical miracles, but are they really miracles at all. Or was there perchance a special Doctor in charge that took more than a cursory look, more of a medical investigator, someone that looked further then the obvious to find the root of the situation.

In True Medical Detective Stories by Clifton K. Meador, M.D., he takes us into the examination rooms and gives us case by case notes of some of the most interesting of true-life medical cases. Not only does he give us the play by play of the studies and bedside looks, but he does it in such a way as to make this truly a page turning set of mysteries.

He also pays homage to Berton Roueche, staff writer at the New Yorker from 1944-1994, the man who popularized medical detective stories.  The interesting thing about these true life stories is that the doctor was the one who took the steps to dig deeper, often planting the bug of an idea with the patient or their family that then bore fruit, taking him in direction that was necessary to find the cure.

It is important to note that without this communication from both sides many of these cases could well have ended in tragedy.

Doctor Meador takes the cases and with his twist on wording and descriptions of the facts takes us into the sometimes mysterious causes of illness.  Doctors often have to become detectives in order to find the root of the issue, and it is these cases that strike the pose of mystery, for without this investigation there would have been no story.  Some death often seems without cause, which makes this work so fascinating.

If you enjoy true mystery as well as medical miracles you will find this to be a work that is difficult to put down.  Doctor Meador takes us on a journey into the detective work of those dedicated professionals who wanted a more concise understanding of the cause of their patient’s maladies, and gives us a depth of understanding into the necessity of thorough communication between the doctor and his patients.

A book group or reading club would find this a great work and challenge to create both questions and answers.

Rating 4/5

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Shadow Cabinet by Maureen Johnson

Posted first to Blog Critics as Book Review: 'The Shadow Cabinet' by Maureen Johnson.

Beginning with Ghost Busters  and moving on to Men in Black we have become enamored of the idea that there is a special squad out there, helping to keep us safe from the strange and unnatural. Could such a hidden group exist in secrecy so deep it remains under the radar?

In The Shadow Cabinet by Maureen Johnson, we meet one such group and follow their exploits into the world of ghosts and darkness.  Reeling from tragedy Rory and her friends find themselves looking for one of their own who has been lost. Has he moved on to the other side, or is it just possible that Rory acted in time to save him.

As they begin their search, Rory’s friend Charlotte is kidnapped by a woman named Jane.  Known to Rory as a teacher and counselor, she is now recognized as the leader of a cultish organization that has its roots in the disappearance of a group of people from 40 years prior.

Rory and her group, known as the ghost squad find their own time running out as they search for their friend, and contain the damage that is engendered by Jane and her own group as they try to unleash a nightmare on the city. Can they stop the damage and still find Stephen before it is too late?

This is a fun and unique story of a group of those who find themselves in a position of powerful secrets as they clean up the city of London. Only a select amount of the chosen are included, but there is only one way that seems to lead to the abilities necessary. Near death experience seems to turn the tide and Johnson has given us an action packed thriller with humor and adventure as well as the danger of real crime. 

She has done a great job on creating characters, with the downright creepy to the smoldering and dangerous.  To be in such a group there must be a strength, yet along with that also comes the flaws, and that is what makes this a work to follow.

If you enjoy the paranormal connected with romance, danger, mystery and adventure you will find this a work to follow. Well written you will find the strange but likable characters keep you interested. If you are reading into the night be sure to keep your doors locked and your lights on for the strangely intense, creepy quality will makes the hairs on your neck stand at attention.

For those who enjoy this type of work it will be a great addition to your library, but make space for the series as it is sure to be spectacular.

Rating 4/5

Monday, March 16, 2015

A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear

Posted first to Blog Critics as Book Review: 'A Dangerous Place', A Maisie Dobbs Novel by Jacqueline Winspear.

In A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear, we meet Maisie Dobbs. She has a life she loves and a husband and family who adore her. Unable to ask for more she finds she is pregnant and suddenly life is fuller and richer. A psychologist and investigator by trade she has given it up and in return gained a life of more than she can imagine.

Yet for her, tragedy lurks. Unable to share her grief and anger with her family or friends she leaves everything behind to find that one place where she can put her life back together.  She has gone to India, a place she has found peace once before. As those who love her try to find her, she finally realizes that she can no long run and hide, it is time to return.

Yet as she gets closer she realizes that she is not ready, and Gibraltar will be her stopgap until she can find the strength to return to where her heartache began.  It is here that she stumbles upon a body.  Written off by the police as an accident, all her own training about crime begins to tumble through her mind. Her interest is piqued and she finally finds something to get her mind back into fighting shape.

There is danger lurking though, for someone does not want the answers found. She finds herself being followed but is sure that at least one of the followers is intent on bringing her home. The other though is a mystery. Can she solve this puzzle and find a killer before she becomes his next victim?  If only she can use this investigation to add strength to her resolve she believes she can finally find a way to put her mind to rest.

Winspear has given us an unimaginable beginning, and given us an interesting heroine who must overcome the odds to begin again. Her descriptions of the love and friendships create a ache in your own heart, making you wonder if you could withstand such pain.  Her descriptions of the beauty of the country side are mesmerizing and with written word she takes you there, along with her amazing character in Maisie Dobbs.

The mystery is interesting and the characters that Maisie meets along the way are in eclectic mix, strong and flawed but with differing agendas that are hidden in their interaction with her. She must use her skills to get through the lies and secrets surrounding this death.  As Winspear gives us Maisie’s mindset and training we begin to truly understand her abilities as an investigator.

If you enjoy historical mysteries, with romance, danger and travel you will love this work. Maisie is a wonderful character and you will find yourself looking for more of her brand of investigation.

Rating 4/5

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Book Seller by Cynthia Swanson

Posted first to Blog Critics as Book Review: 'The Bookseller' by Cynthia Swanson.

Dreams often seem the precursor to events that have occurred or those yet to come. Often they are more then they seem but just as frequent they have no meaning at all.

In The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson, we meet Kitty Miller.   She has chosen a life in the early sixties of unconventionality.  Teaming up with her best friend they open a bookshop, and she is in control of her own destiny.  Her life is everything she hoped for, but that is when the dreams begin.

In her dreams she is Katharyn Andersson, married to Lars with beautiful children and a lovely home.  The dreams or wonderful and exciting, irresistible and romantic, and she is sad when she awakes each time.  Yet soon the dreams seem to come more frequently, intruding on her daily activities.

While she loves being with her dream husband and children, she is beginning to lose pieces of who she is as Kitty.  The Bookshop is no longer as successful and she and her friend Frieda must make a decision to move forward. Yet her dreams begin to seem more real than her life at the Bookshop, and make her wonder. Does she have a choice in what she wants in life?

As the dreams become more real, she suddenly finds she has another child. She is shamed and mortified at her reaction to him. She tries hard to be there, and Lars is beginning to have impatience with her lack of responsiveness. No long quite as enamored of her dream world, she strives to reduce the amount of dreaming that occurs. She even shares her concerns with her dream husband.
Now there is a strange and disturbing thought that she is no long sure which life is the dream life, and she must make a decision as to what is happening in her life for her to be whole again. Which one is her real life and can she find a way to connect the two, or is a dream just that–a dream. 

I was riveted to this book from the beginning. There is a quality of hope and beauty in the world of dreams and yet with the mystery of who Kitty (Katharyn) really is you find yourself propelled forward in a fantastic array of choices and life decisions that motivate and move you. You will find both sides of this eclectic woman to be likable yet with the same flaws that we understand to be human.  There is a hope that is engendered as you read through the pages, and yet there is also fear and concern that make you care about both Kitty and her friend Frieda.

Swanson takes us to an uncomfortable place and finds a way to move us as though we are a part of the process. You feel for each whether it is Kitty or Katharyn. They seem so alike and yet so far apart, but together they seem to become whole.

This is a great work of subterfuge and red herrings, a mystery and yet a love story. It is also a story of hurt and tragedy, and a distinct trek into the differing directions of coping.

This would be a great book for a reading or discussion group.

Rating 4/5