Death Match by Jason S. Ridler

Entertaining, Fast Action Thriller in the Mock Horror Tradition

DEATH MATCH: A SPAR BATTERSEA WRESTLING THRILLER is not my usual read, but once I put away my granny reservations, I began to enjoy the writing of Jason Ridler and his tall tale of Spar Battersea.

I was captivated by the story, in awe of the realistic fight scenes, entertained by the book’s mock serious tone, and Ridler’s rough and tumble syntax. Matter of fact, I felt a little breathless each time I put down the book; I figure that reading DEATH MATCH could make an hour’s bus or train commute seem like a minute.

The main character, like the story itself, is rooted in American and French Canadian folklore. Paul Bunyan and Davy Crockett spring to mind, but think, also, of Superman, Indiana Jones, Spider Man. The tradition is long. In DEATH MATCH my favorite characters are Spar, Mercy, and Ray (as remembered by Spar), and I smiled at the mock dystopian description of Chisel and Lonesome Crow Tavern.

The hero, a journalist at The Dispatch, is assigned to cover the wrestling match between Hobo the Destroyer and Spar’s friend, Clown Royale. The match ends when Clown Royale, aka Ray Kinston, dies suddenly. Spar, believing that Ray’s death is, at best, suspicious, searches out the real cause of his friend’s death and the perpetrators. On his journey, he encounters a number of grueling tests and must pass each one in order to arrive at the truth. Hurdles and suspects abound, their names, like the places in this novel, are straight from the author’s prolific imagination: Karate Jesus, Magnum, Wizard, Mercy, Johnny Silent (Mime Boy), the Bullet. The list goes on.

I also enjoyed the irony. DEATH MATCH is told in the first person by Spar who prides himself on his toughness. But for all his hard-boiled comic book veneer, Spar has real humanity. He portrays Sharon, Ray’s wife, and her loss with true sensitivity: “She was still holding Ray’s face in her eyes.”

It is because of loyalty to his friend that Spar Battersea quests, despite the nightmarish danger to himself.

And Ray, my hero, the one friend who hadn’t ditched me despite my exponentially growing jackassery, pulled my noggin out of the thundermug and carried me to his place. This place. My place.

Although the narration was at times brilliant, at other times the description was, well, florid. And for me, there was a little too much action and a little too much rawness. Face it, at times Spar Battersea questing in Chisel made Jack Daniels detecting in Chicago look like St. Therese praying in Lisieux.

That said, I recommend DEATH MATCH to the reader looking for a well-written, action-packed thriller. If you are such a reader, you won’t want to miss the first of the Spar Battersea Wrestling Thrillers, DEATH MATCH.

About the ebook’s presentation (cover design, editing, ebook formatting): Professionally edited and proofread. An interesting photo on the cover. The ebook formatting was unusual: in the edition I read, typesetter marks were used for open quotes but not for close quotes. Chapter headings, all caps, were chunky and difficult to read.

About the author: Jason S. Ridler is a professional writer and historian, who has sold over forty short stories, as well as dozens of academic articles, pop culture essays, and assorted odd tales to odd places. A former punk rock musician and cemetery groundskeeper, he holds a Ph.D. in War Studies from the Royal Military College of Canada. Visit him online at Ridlerville. He currently resides in the East Bay of San Francisco with his wife, two dogs, two parrots, and the world’s most dangerous library.

Death Match: A Spar Battersea Wrestling Thriller
Copyright ©2011 Jason S. Ridler
ASIN: B005IGX7OW
Available at Amazon

Surviving Emily by Laurie Bellesheim

A Heartwarming Story, Impossible to Put Down

SURVIVING EMILY by Laurie Bellesheim, is more than a heartwarming story—it is an event. I cried with the characters, feared along with them, applauded their milestones, identified with their setbacks, and learned from the book.

Backstory: Emily, Abigail, and Stephen were close friends throughout high school, even after Emily became engaged to Stephen. On November 11 of their senior year—a dozen years prior to the story’s present—Emily died of Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP). At the time of Emily’s death, she was staying at the home of Abigail. Abigail found Emily’s body.

SURVIVING EMILY begins in flashback with the scene of Abigail finding Emily’s body and realizing that her friend is dead. It is a horrific moment, masterfully told, and from the first page and moving forward, the reader is immediately inside the book.

We meet an older Stephen and Abigail twelve years after Emily’s death. The long-term effects of their grief have kept them from finding love again. Scenes shift from past to present and from Abigail’s life to Stephen’s as they cope with their loss, or not, remember the shock, stumble, go their separate ways, or not, stuff or try to medicate away their emotions, seek help, and attempt to move on.

There is a subplot, involving Nancy and her child, Marie. Their story functions as catalyst forcing Abigail to examine her past. The dialogue between Nancy and Abigail is wonderful, as are the scenes with Abigail and her pregnant co-worker. They serve to flesh out the main character.

Laurie Bellesheim weaves the subplot into the main story arc, and an ‘ah-hah moment’ occurs when Abigail—recently married, pregnant, and working at the Department of Children and Families—realizes that she is the one who needs saving. Tension builds. Characters hang between life and death. Incredibly the lives of all characters intertwine in a believable way and have their part to play in the final, nail-biting scenes.

If I could wish for anything, I’d want a closer look at Carolina’s parents. I didn’t quite believe these characters, especially in one of the scenes between the father and Stephen, but that’s a minor point.

SURVIVING EMILY is a heartwarming, sad, and realistic tale of two people, the paths their lives take after experiencing the sudden death of their friend, Emily. Its theme is survival and growth after catastrophic loss. I read it in one afternoon and predict you won’t be able to put it down, either.

I’d recommend SURVIVING EMILY to any reader who loves a page-turning story and who keeps a box of tissues handy. I await Laurie Bellesheim’s next novel.

Presentation is professional: a cover that stands out in thumbnail view, professional editing, proofreading, and ebook formatting.

My Rating: 5 Stars

About the Author: Laurie Bellesheim, a published poet, belongs to several writers’ organizations including Writer’s Digest, Authors Den and Goodreads.

Laurie began writing at a young age, starting with poetry and short stories. In 2008, shortly after becoming a stay-at-home mother to three children, she decided to fulfill a dream of hers, inspired to write SURVIVING EMILY because of the loss of a close friend to Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP) when she was a teenager.

Not only does SURVIVING EMILY hold great meaning for her, but Laurie also hopes her novel will help raise awareness about epilepsy and the deadly condition of SUDEP.

Laurie was a social worker for six years. She graduated from Southern Connecticut State University with a bachelor’s degree in social work. She lives in Connecticut with her loving husband and three children.

SURVIVING EMILY
Copyright © 2011 by Laurie Bellesheim
Kindle Edition
ASIN: B006VHG5R8

First Published in Paper
2011 by Dog Ear Publishing, LLC
ISBN-13: 978-1457505621

The Plan by Michael Bockman

I loved reading THE PLAN. The story, the writing, the characters engaged me from start to finish. And a good-sized book it is, over 8100 locations, about 126,000 words, a respectably-sized historical novel.

With his rich imagination, Bockman fills in the holes left by history, giving his readers plenty of intrigue, gritty action, surprises, loss, love, and mystery. Bockman’s words flow, his sense of story, unflagging (I’m looking for a better word here).

The theme of the book is social upheaval, the attempt by powerful financiers at the turn of the twentieth century to manipulate and control commerce in America, contrasted with the gathering storm of the labor movement.

Take the opening scene. It contains the seeds of the whole novel. Picture it, the fall of 1907. J.P. Morgan, in morning suit, bulbous-nosed and full-throated, is singing his favorite hymn. He’s really into it, along with three thousand others, when a messenger hands him a telegram. The news, for anyone else, would be a life changer—the suicide of Morgan’s friend and former head of the Knickerbocker Trust, the institution whose insolvency touched off the Wall Street Panic of 1907. But Morgan continues singing. Punctuating the narration are lines taken from “Rock of Ages.” It is a human portrait of this sharp-eyed financier, a major player in THE PLAN.

And the rest of the novel is as absorbing and full of life as the opening scene.

There are two story lines occurring throughout, held together by the main character, Captain, later, Major Archibald Butt who functions as the plot’s linchpin. In real life he was the military aide to Roosevelt and Taft.

One story deals with Archie’s attempt to find the killer of his friend and fellow soldier in the Civil War, Mick Shaughnessy. It takes him to Greenwich Village, to Washington, to Rome, and traveling back to New York on the Titanic. This story functions separately but is connected through Archie to the second, the attempt by Astor, Vanderbilt, Morgan, and others to control commerce.

THE PLAN pits the worker’s movement against Wall Street barons and has a wealth of characters, presidents and anarchists, painted larger than life. Meet J.P. Morgan, his librarian, Bella da Costa Greene, Teddy Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Major Archie Butt, John Jacob Astor IV, George Vanderbilt, Emma Goldman, Clara Lemlich, Big Bill Haywood.

Scenes take place on sea and land—in the White House, in a smoky back room of the Brevoort, in the slums of Five Points and The Bend, in McSorley’s Pub in the East Village, and Rome. Major events of the age, like the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire and the sinking of the Titanic, are woven into the story’s fabric in a way that made this reader feel like she was there.

Needless to say it, but I will, anyway: I recommend THE PLAN to anyone who likes to be immersed in a cinematic sweep of another time, to the reader who, aware of the history of American financial and social movements, believes that the past is prelude.

My Rating: 5 Stars

About the Author. Writer and filmmaker Michael Bockman has four produced screenplays to his credits. His feature screenplay about the Beat Generation, Starving Hysterical Naked, is the basis for the short film he directed, available for viewing on YouTube.

Between screenwriting assignments he has written numerous articles that have been published in newspapers and magazines. He has collaborated on three best-selling self-help books with English author Lynne Franks—Grow (Hay House), Bloom (Chronicle Books) and The Seed Manifesto (Thorsons). THE PLAN is his first novel.

THE PLAN by Michael Bockman, Story by Ron Freeman
Copyright © Michael Bockman 2011
ASIN: B0061MS0FI

Dreaming of the Bones by Deborah Crombie

This is not a proper review, only my random thoughts as a reader having just finished Dreaming of the Bones by Deborah Crombie. In my mind, there’s a difference between reader ramblings and book review. And also, I just finished listening to the unabridged audible version. I haven’t actually cast my eyes upon the words—which begs the question, “What is a book?” but the answer to that is a mighty one and for another day.

You know, I really love Deborah Crombie’s writing and DREAMING OF THE BONES exceeded my expectations. 

I’m not going to get into the intricacies of its plot except to say that it involves Victoria McClellan, Kincaid’s ex, who asks him to investigate the mysterious death of the poet Lydia Brooke and the effect that investigation has on all the characters. So that’s the still point of the turning novel, at least in the beginning: Kincaid and current lover, Gemma James, pitted against the relationship between Kincaid and Vic. And I like the time Crombie takes with the tangled emotions between and within those three characters. Right there we have opportunity for interior conflict, nice and juicy, and the possibility of growth. Another murder deepens the emotions, ups the stakes. More characters with common history add to the conflict and plot complexity.

And in this book there are lots of relationships going on—the living with the living, the living with the dead, the dead with the dead, walking forward, stepping back, lots of backstory interleaved, having words, characters conflicted or not, being loving together or not. And a child’s emotions, too. Add to this mix the poetry of Rupert Brooke (There is a rumour and a radiance of wings above my head … ) All of that percolating while the who-done-it goes on. Oh, it’s a delicious stew. I gobbled it up, totally. Sad to see it end. 

A word of caution: the characters (major and minor), the poetry and the beauty of the plot go on and on in your head.

But one thing I have to say is that I guessed the perp. Doesn’t happen very often but it didn’t spoil the book for me at all. I think there was a strong clue about 75% of the way through, I won’t tell you what form it took, but I didn’t know until the very end that I was right.

My Rating: 5 Stars

DREAMING OF THE BONES won the Macavity Award for Best Mystery Novel in 1998.

DREAMING OF THE BONES
#5 in Kincaid/James Series
Mass Market Paperback Published 2007 by Avon
ISBN: 9780061150401

About the Author:
Second child of Charlie and Mary Darden. A rather solitary childhood (brother Steve is ten years older) was blessed by her maternal grandmother, Lillian Dozier, a retired teacher who taught her to read very early. After a rather checkered educational career, which included dropping out of high school at sixteen, she graduated from Austin College in Sherman, Texas, with a degree in biology. Her website: deborahcrombie.com

Rekindling Motives by Elaine Orr

A Must Read for its Sparkling Humor, Scintillating Mystery, Lovable Characters

REKINDLING MOTIVES by Elaine Orr is the second book in the Jolie Gentil series and is just as successful in creating mystery and surprise as the first.

In this snappy read told in first-person point of view by the protagonist, Jolie Gentil (“It’s pronounced Zho-Lee Zhan-tee,”) returns to Ocean Alley and the Jersey Shore. Jolie, of course, is the protagonist. Aunt Madge and Scoobie return as do their pets, plenty of minor characters, and the stores, restaurants, and houses of Ocean Alley, the Atlantic Ocean and the boardwalk.

Jolie is appraising a vacant Victorian, the Tillotson-Fisher house when she finds the skeleton of Richard Tillotson in the attic who vanished in 1929 under suspicious circumstances. The deceased was involved in bootlegging as were many others on the Shore, including the Fisher family. It was Prohibition, after all, a time when gangs and rivalry abounded and rum was run all around, especially off the Eastern Seaboard.

Ever the sleuth, despite the admonitions of the police chief, Jolie gathers clues from the memorabilia that abound in the attic, as well as from a memorable character, the dead man’s fiancée who never doubted his steadfastness.

Ms. Orr’s mind is inventive. She knows how to surprise the reader whose interest never wanes. The pace is facile, sometimes a little hectic, but always spot on. The prose is flowing. The book has been well edited. It is one you wont want to miss.

See my review of the first in the Jolie Gentil series, APPRAISAL FOR MURDER.

My Rating: 5 Stars

REKINDLING MOTIVES
Elaine Orr
Publisher: Lifelong Dreams (November 4, 2011)
Page Numbers Source ISBN:
 1467923095
ASIN: B0063MTJME


Appraisal for Murder by Elaine Orr

A bright new sleuth who will engage your heart and mind

Elaine Orr’s APPRAISAL FOR MURDER is the first in her Jolie Gentil mystery series. The book is a snappy read with all the ingredients of a first class mystery including a sleuth with an unquenchable spirit who will engage your heart and mind.

If you’ve been through a divorce or an otherwise gruesome time of your life, you will appreciate the unquenchable spirit and wry humor of Ms. Jolie Gentil, the protagonist of this series.

In APPRAISAL FOR MURDER Jolie returns to her roots in the fictitious Ocean Alley, somewhere on the Jersey Shore. The protagonist comes back for convalescence following the sudden and surprising financial betrayal (read `theft’) by her estranged husband. She interacts with the inhabitants of Ocean Alley with wit and verve, brings along her cat, Jazz, and stays with Aunt Madge and her two dogs.

Jolie reacquaints herself with the community, including some former classmates and earns pin money by doing real estate appraisals. When one of Aunt Madge’s friends is murdered, the police are quick to point to a suspect, but at the end of the book Jolie proves them wrong. As a plus there’s hint of a romance or two bubbling on the burner.

Told from the first-person point of view of Jolie Gentil (“It’s pronounced Zho-Lee Zhan-tee,” the protagonist is quick to tell us), the author, Elaine Orr, brings the Jersey Shore to life. Jolie runs on the boardwalk, takes the dogs on long walks, smells the salt tang of the sea air, reacquaints herself with old high school chums, and slowly uncovers evidence to reveal the perpetrator. She leaves no stone unturned. Evidence, leads, suspects, all are presented logically, slowly, and uncovered completely.

Along the way Jolie is harassed by one of her estranged husband’s thuggish creditors. He is one of the antagonists. Without spoiling the mystery, I won’t say any more, except that he is not out of place on the Shore. The author handles his presence and storyline quickly and deftly, weaving this line into the rest of the story. He is a surprise each time he appears, and not the only one. The humor as well as the plot make this book fresh and new and hard to put down.

Themes include the healing power of humor, the success, if slow, of honest labor. Lucky Jolie, to have her sense of humor and an aunt like Madge; lucky us, to have an author like Elaine Orr.

But don’t look for blinding epiphanies or Sturm und Drang. APPRAISAL FOR MURDER is a light mystery, and billed as such. I did not see any character arc: there is no essential change in the protagonist, other than solving the mystery.

The book is the first in a series. The second has already been published, thanks to the miracle of Amazon and Smashwords, so you won’t have to wait to read it, and doubtless the third is in the pipeline. If you seek a new mystery series with a protagonist who will win your heart, a place that reeks of the Jersey Shore, a story that will keep you turning pages, APPRAISAL FOR MURDER is for you.

I found only one typo, an article typed twice. Otherwise, the grammar, punctuation, and formatting are immaculate. 

APPRAISAL FOR MURDER is available in print or ebook
ASIN: B005PJM8WO
Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1466395079

My Rating: 4 Stars

About the Author: 
Elaine L. Orr has written fiction and nonfiction for many years and recently introduced the Jolie Gentil cozy mystery series. Elaine was born in Washington, DC and grew up in Maryland. She moved to the Midwest in the mid-1990s and met her husband in a writers’ group in an Iowa library. After working for public and private sector employers, she now writes full-time. She and her husband, Jim Larkin, live in Indiana. To learn more, visit her web site.

Fiction includes the Jolie Gentil cozy mystery series. Elaine created a setting she likes (an east coast beach town) and a profession that would let Jolie meet a lot of people and have an opportunity to get into a lot of trouble (real estate appraising). And friends, lots of friends.

“Secrets of the Gap” is set in Bath, England, home of the astonishing Roman Baths that have been excavated since the late 1870s. It’s a wonderful site and you’ll enjoy the mystery.

 

The Saintmaker by Mary Carroll Patrick

Sit up, mystery mavens. Get ready for a compelling read.

In THE SAINTMAKER by Mary Carroll Patrick, the murder is introduced in the opening pages, solved at the very end of the novel. In between, evidence is uncovered slowly, cumulatively. Tension builds. The protagonist worries. The authorities rant. Suspects and action abound.

Janet McNally Reed, a widow attempting to get beyond the loss of her murdered son, begins a new job, that of pastoral assistant at St. Ignatius of Loyola Catholic Church in College Station, Texas.

However, her hopes for peace and healing are dashed when she finds a body in the adoration chapel, a place for prayer usually open to the public twenty-four seven.

The victim is a lawyer seeking to atone for past misdeeds. From the start Janet Reed, keeper of the dead man’s secrets, becomes embroiled in the murder investigation. The prime suspect for a time, she persists with her own investigation, getting herself caught up in some sticky wickets, uncovering evidence until the murder is solved to the satisfaction of the authorities and, in the end, solved for the reader. (Sorry to be so cryptic, but elucidation would spoil.)

The narrative is told in the first person, from the point of view of a thirty or forty-something business woman steeped in her faith, yet not above an occasional salty phrase. (For this reader, the prose could have used a little more salt, especially in the beginning.)

The author’s voice is fresh, strong. The subculture of the Catholic parish is subtly portrayed and the sense of place is so strong that it becomes a character. I felt that I was right there in the chapel praying or in the office dealing with crises or with the bishop.

The two main characters–the protagonist and her long time friend, an atheist–have their own arc, and at the end of the story find a certain if muted sense of peace. They grow.

Themes include a longing for salvation, the vagaries of grace, and the difficulty of uncovering truth.

For this reviewer, the novel was engrossing. If you are a mystery buff, Catholic or not, you won’t want to miss the debut novel of Mary Carroll Patrick, THE SAINTMAKER.

My Rating: 4 Stars

About the Author. THE SAINTMAKER is Mary Carroll Patrick’s debut novel. She loves a mystery and her Catholic faith. Some of her favorite authors combine both: Ralph McInerny, Andrew Greeley and William Kienzle. Two have moved on to eternal life, and one is no longer writing. Determined not to let the genre die, she wrote The Saintmaker, her debut novel. Mary Carroll works in the Catholic communications field and lives in Texas with her husband and children.

THE SAINTMAKER
Sold by:
 Amazon Digital Services
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
ASIN: B005W7KEHK