The Skin Room, by Morgan Fleetwood

Step inside the mind of a young man that has a slight obsession with skin. The look of it. The feel of it. But alas, things never go as planned, and he ends up on the run for a set of very coincidental circumstances.

Given the style of the novel, there was a lot of time spent inside Alex’s head. He was at least an entertaining narrator, but I do wish there was just a bit more external interaction to break up some of the monotony. Dialogue was on point as a good indicator of character personalities. They were noticeably differently from one another.

I liked the fact that the author made him very fallible—a first timer into the world of the macabre, if you will. Things are made more gripping by the fact that he made mistakes and everything that he planned for got derailed. It showed his character, as well as show a spark of creativity.

The story itself is compelling, and I liked how the author developed the main character. Alex was different and it really helped things along. Violence was used in appropriate amounts and never really felt overly gratuitous. Not a bad read.

No Man Left Behind, by R. G. Miller

A killer is stalking Vietnam vets and murdering them in the most horrific manner. Toni and Isis, NYPD detectives try to slog their way through rats, subways, and a crazed killer that will stop at nothing until they’re all dead.

Once you get past the awkward opening, the plot catches the readers’ attention and keeps them there through the remaining rough patches. The first thing that caught my attention was the fact that the main characters were a lesbian couple. They were done well, and things like the sexuality spectrum were frequently talked about and used as inner conflict in a tasteful manner. Now, given the fact that the setting is NYC, there should, by default, be a certain level of racially diversity. The author made extra sure to accomplish that, no questions asked. As far as characters went, I really liked them all. They were done well, they meshed well, and they all served appropriate roles for either plot progression or conflict.

There’s definitely opportunity for editing. There’s some real awkward dialogue that doesn’t fit with the flow of things. Scene progression and change got choppy sometimes, which made them jarring. While I liked the ending, I still had many, many questions about things that were brought up or happened earlier in the story that didn’t get tied up. They felt forgotten and lost. There was a whole lot of info dumping that went on, especially at the beginning while the author was trying to establish the characters. It was a lot to be thrown at once.

For its flaws I still enjoyed the story. I think this could really shine with some extra editing. I adored Toni and Isis, their relationship, and would love to see what other stories they have to tell.

Madam Tulip, by David Ahern

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4 stars

 

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Aiming for the high-flying life of an actress, Derry’s quest isn’t going so well. With a bit of help from her pre-cognitive abilities, Derry dons the alter ego of Madam Tulip after a bit of luck at the race tracks. Things went a little awry at the party she performed at, and now Derry’s trying to prove her friend’s innocence…with a little help from her abilities, of course.

 

I felt like Madam Tulip had a little bit of everything—except for romance, really, but that was alright in my book. Derry’s character and her subsequent development were more than okay without it. I digress, however. The book had mystery, intrigue, drama at the celebrity level, drug lords…man, Madam Tulip’s life was not boring. I was happy to see that the author significantly nerfed Derry’s pre-cognition. It helped add challenge to the story, though it was hard to maintain.

 

The mystery was a fairly linear, straightforward one. There were a couple of twists here and there—even with limitations applied, some abilities allow for things to get too easy. There were moments that felt easy, but the way they pushed along the novel was nice. So, there was a balance to find and sometimes it slipped in one direction and then the other.

 

I liked the characters; Derry’s father especially. I really enjoyed their relationship. It was weird, but at the same time felt realistic. And, I’ll be honest, it’s pretty hilarious. I won’t say he was used as comic relief, but certainly used as a tool to diffuse tension and bring a character or scene back to something of an equilibrium.

 

This was a cute story with some neat settings. Likeable and relatable characters were at the forefront of this novel. A worthwhile read.

 

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A Life Removed, by Jason Parent



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There’s so much I want to say about this novel, I’m not even sure where to begin. There were so many layers and nuances to it that I could not put it down once I started. 
There’s a killer on the loose, carving out hearts and leaving the bodies on display. Aaron’s a good cop. He really is. But once he gets involved in the gruesome murders, his life is literally downhill from there. 
First things first, as a crime novel, I was really satisfied with how things were set up. Things started off vague, to keep both readers and cops guessing. Then the foreshadowing started to trickle in. “Aha!” the reader says, “I’ve got the whodunnit…what now?” Oh, boy. Let me tell you what now. Things explode. I mostly mean the narrative, of course. It expands and then turns itself on its head. I really liked both of the twists at the end. 
There were a lot of psychological and religious themes throughout. Both were tied heavily to morality and it’s grayness. I don’t mean peppered here or there; they were the main themes. Both were explored thoroughly through the narrative. They were both used in conjunction with each other to make their necessary points. What surprised me the most was how well-researched they appeared to be. And, throughout, the narrative remained respectful for all walks of life. 
Now, characters, because what’s a story without them? Relationships are put to the test. Some bend, some break, some are formed. Some are brought into question and re-examined when morality is threatened. There was quite a bit of development to go around, some good, others bad. I really liked how well done the “bad” character development was. It’s something that not a lot of novels choose to undertake. I was so happy that this one did. The police force was fallible, realistically so. It really, really made for a good story. It kept things from feeling too easy. 
I also enjoyed the realism of the police work. It allowed the reader to keep their attention focused on plot and story progression rather than fanciful detectives that miraculously know everything. It wasn’t boring. It didn’t feel overdone. Yet it was still realistic. 
I could honestly go on about this novel, so I should probably stop. If crime fiction with a bit of horror is your bag, please pick up this book and read it. I promise it will be worth your while. 
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Day of the Tiger, by Dallas Gorham

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Carlos McCrary is a private investigator, not a cop, thank you very much (quite possibly my favorite running gag throughout the entire novel). Hired by a millionaire, ex-NFL hotshot to help a friend, McCrary’s life just got a lot more exciting.

 

 

Now, please believe me when I say that this is, at its core, wholly a private eye novel. A modernized version, for sure, but it stays mostly true to the formula. It didn’t follow the ‘damsel in distress’ trope as much as others seem to. That was nice. While it remains committed to its genre, it defied many stereotypes with its characters.

 

 

I can honestly say I enjoyed every character in this, with the exception of the villain. I don’t think he was designed to be a sympathetic character. And he was good at making the reader dislike him. All the characters were integral to the development of each other, in one way or another. The plot almost feels constructed around them—that’s how well it aided them.

 

 

The plot was fairly intricate. Several overlapping story lines peppered the narrative. All of them were needed for it to feel complete. It really felt well-rounded. Everything made sense and I didn’t have any questions left at the end. The mystery part of the book was really disguised as background information and world-building, in my opinion. It was how the readers’ learned information that added depth to the characters and the world, without boring or overloading them.

 

 

I also enjoyed the diversity of the characters. I liked how they were treated and how the narrative came together around them. That diversity was another place where stereotypes were broken. It helped add a bit more realism and relatability to the cast of characters.

I loved the way everyone interacted. There was plenty of drama to go around, for sure. However, the difference came during how they handled everything. There was no unnecessary in-fighting, simply for the sake of drama. People got along, had good relationships and good foundations.

 

Action and dialogue were at a good balance. Action was carried out with realism rather than flashy Hollywood stunts. It really felt that McCrary was flying by the seat of his pants instead of miraculously knowing exactly how to escape a situation. That’s not to say things weren’t too easy sometimes, but he still at least hit a few speedbumps.

 

 

Quite possibly the series I’ll turn to when the mood hits me for the genre. Very well done. Excellent characterization. Definitely a good read.

 

 

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Death Unmasked, by Rick Sulik



A different spin on a classic cop tale. It follows quite a few stereotypes of the genre. However, it differentiates in the fact that it brings reincarnation and past lives–paranormal things–into the station. 

Sean Jamison’s so close to retiring. His coworkers think he’s losing it. In reality, that’s the farthest from the truth. Relics from a past life set him on a journey of self-discovery, heartbreak, and a killer much more familiar than he’s comfortable with. 

I liked the reincarnation aspect included in the narrative. The typical “gut feeling” that many cops seem to have was given more depth. My issue with it came near the end, during the resolution, when Sean suddenly knew an awful lot about other people’s past lives. Don’t get me wrong–the explanations tied things up nicely. A lot of information came that left me wondering why he knows all of this? Is the author looking to set things up for a sequel and explain things more then? The entire sequence felt a bit disjointed from the rest of the narrative. 

There’s a nice roller coaster of emotion that goes with this as well. Relationships were made and broken, people stepped out of their comfort zone, and really made quite a bit of progress with their personal development. I felt like things moved too quickly or easily on occasion, however. 

The ending felt a bit anti-climactic. There was a large buildup with the antagonist. It just seemed to coast along, though. I wouldn’t say it fell flat or short, but it didn’t feel nearly as exciting as the buildup led it to be. 

Character dynamics were nice. There were quite a few to get attached to, even in just a short period of time. And instead of featuring trim, young, handsome cops in the prime of their life, the narrative focuses on those in the later stages of life. It shows how it’s never too late for anything to happen–love, a sense of self and purpose, all of those can happen at anytime. Sometimes a person just has to wait a little longer than others. 

I also liked how the women were treated as characters. They were empowered, respected, and just as necessary to the narrative as everyone else. 
Death Unmasked was certainly a unique twist on an age-old formula. It followed quite a few stereotypes, but differentiated enough that it wasn’t boring. The world was set up in such a way that spin-offs and sequels that can explore some of the secondary characters a little deeper. 
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Desperados, by Verge Le Noir


The entire time I was reading this, I tried to decide whether Julio Roman was the luckiest or unluckiest guy alive. A simple crossover into the US turned into a botched mess that nearly ruined everything. The circumstances that continue to haunt him during his journey will have the reader saying: “give the kid a break!”

Desperados is face-paced, and full of action. When describing the difficulties Julio faces, the author keeps things real and uncensored. It helped make character emotions a bit more expressive. It made them raw, more impactful. The reader gets treated to lifelike reactions.

I really liked the characterization. While they weren’t necessarily completely three-dimensional, they had a certain fullness to them. The interactions were great, and it gave an excellent insight into what we perceive to be the struggle of an immigrant. Novel tone felt dark and gritty, even thought it really wasn’t. There were some bad circumstances, however, Julio kept his head up throughout everything.

I have to say this one stands out a bit. Instead of embracing stereotypes, the author gets creative with them and tells a tale not often told. It was a good, solid story that didn’t sugar coat much. I liked that a lot.

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Killjoy, by LeVar Ravel



I feel like the mob and hitmen go hand in hand. Killjoy’s no exception. Except…this hitman’s quite different.

 
Gwen’s dealings with the assassin are a bit different than that of her husband’s, the mob boss that hired him. Things with the assassin get more and more bizarre the more she deals with him. He has a zero percent failure rate. But…why? And that’s where the novel really picks up.

 

 

Honestly, I thought I had things figured out after about twenty pages. I was delightfully proven wrong. There’s an air of mystique and mystery maintained throughout the narrative. It helps the reader get into Gwen’s head. It also offers many different possibilities as to the resolution and ending. Because of that, it remains a bit of the unpredictable side.

 

 

I liked the dynamic between Gwen and her husband, Charles. They were both excellent, well-rounded characters that adhered to some common genre tropes. However, they deviated enough to keep their characters fresh.

 

 

I had one or two questions still remaining at the end, but it was more burning curiosity than anything. While I enjoyed all of the novel, I think the ending was my favorite part. Through all the tumult endured, it had a powerful message that will hit the reader hard.

 

 

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Grave Robbers, by Matt Drabble

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Available June 20th, 2017!

I love it when a book excites me so much that I can’t wait to write a review. Grave Robbers was good. Really good.

A bank robbery botched in a brutal way leads Lucas Grant and his new partner, LT, into the arms of an intense mystery. To be fair, the novel starts intense. Then stays intense. The plot composition fit nice and tight, like the perfect puzzle.
Characters were brilliant. Their personalities and development meshed together so well with the story. They were so well-written–both men and women alike. But, I have so much love and respect for how the women characters were crafted. As characters, I adored all of them. I loved the way the women were received within their story. And all of them were useful, serving to further the plot in one way or another. Equally as important to the story as any of the other characters, without serving as only the “love interest.” Their development was on point.
There are so many things that go well together, and the coolest one thus far has been crime-fiction with zombies. And I’m fairly certain I spotted a nod to George Romero. Which, if it was, was kind of cool because the closer the end gone, the more Land of the Dead it felt. I like the fact that the author takes a different approach to the crime boss that served as the story’s antihero. Comparing character endings, his was my favorite. He had a unique story line that strayed from the stereotypes and norms of the genre. He was also a well-crafted character.
Action is a difficult thing to write. The action scenes in this novel were so awesome. There wasn’t anything flowery or lengthy about the style. Nor was it short and to-the-point. The perfect median between the two, in fact. The wording and pacing helped enhance the imagery. Visualizing everything was simple. I never had a problem seeing exactly what was going on.
It ended in the perfect way. Sure, there’s (hopefully) a huge hint that there’s going to be more. However, I would not be upset at all if this was the only novel. The ending serves both purposes. Not only that, but the stories all wrapped up with an appropriate ending.
This book was awesome. It was a non-stop thrill ride from beginning to end. It’s very rare I come away from a story with zero complaints. An absolute must-read.

Andorra Pett and the Oort Cloud Cafe, by Richard Dee

6_5_17 Andorra Pett

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What’s better than reading a crime-filled drama? A crime-filled drama…in space!

 

Jokes aside, Andorra Pett and her best friend Cyril take a giant leap to change their lives. By giant leap, I mean they pack up and go to a space station. Near Saturn. Away from the desolation of their romantic lives, the Oort Cloud Cafe might be the answer. It is, only not in the ways they expect.

 

For crime fiction, this had a much lighter tone than I ever expected. It fit in very well with the narrative. The main character’s not a journalist, detective, or even a curious observer. Things don’t feel gritty and hard-edged. Andi wants to start her life over as the owner of a little cafe. She doesn’t have a predisposition for many of the circumstances presented. Yet, she still manages to prove herself without going over the top. That right there sets the tone of what to expect from the characters.

 

What sets this apart is that it’s not a heart-pounding, race-against-time thriller. There’s plenty of tense moments to be sure, but this takes a different approach. It’s very character-driven. There’s quite the cast, all with their own uniqueness to add to the story. They’re all tied together on the tiny space station. Individual stories help push the plot forward. When the time’s right to start foreshadowing, the differences cast harsh suspicion. One minute X might be guilty, the next it was could be Y. Building the narrative in such a way took great care, and it shows.

 

I could probably go on and on about the characterization quite a bit. Development of the two mains, Cy and Andi, was wonderful. Even though it’s told in first person, the reader knows the supporting characters as well as Andi. Steady narrative progression builds up the world and the characters piece by piece. Each part shows careful attention to detail and continuity. Everything feels solid. Things feel tied up at the end. It’s part of a series, but feels like it could be its own standalone novel. Kind of like Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys. Only without the young adult tone.

 

This was a really good book in a myriad of ways. Characters, plot, and structure were all spot-on. The story itself was well-written and entertaining. Things were easy to visualize without being jargon-heavy. I can say without a doubt that I’ll be on the lookout for Andorra Pett’s next adventure.

 

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