Laura Hillenbrand “Unbroken”

unbroken-coverLaura Hillenbrand is the remarkable author of Seabiscuit: An American Legend, and of curse her previous work is also remarkable, but her own story will probably be a movie at some point in our lives. She wrote Unbroken as well as Seabiscuit after being diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrom and suffering from such an acute case of vertigo that she wrote much of the manuscripts longhand while holding onto the bathtub and writing with her eyes closed. Remarkable.

That said, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption,  tells the story of Louis Zamperini, a Depression-era youth who is saddled with running track by a school principle and his older brother after repeated scrapes with the law. So Louis gets off easy, emerges as a star runner, participates in the 1936 Berlin Olympics and then becomes a WWII Army Air Corps B-24 bombardier. Then things turn the other way.

Louis and his B-24 crewmates ditch at sea after being shot from the sky. There are three survivors. Eventually, they are to endure weeks and weeks upon the ocean with no food, nestled into a tiny raft the size of a coffin. This is not the worst part. That comes later, in Japanese POW camps.

What is amazing, beyond the story, is the amount of work put into this book by the author. She does credit dozens of people for helping her with myriad details, but overall, this is a stunning work of nonfiction. It does not read quite as lively and free as Seabiscuit, but then again, the subject is much tougher.

Published by Random House, the book is 529 pages and a whopping 12610 KB. Originally published in November of 2010, the book has now been made into a motion picture. It’s not for kids.

As for the Kindle edition, it is $11.99, which is why I read the $9.89 paperback, sorry trees. On the readability side, it is long and very detailed, and certainly not lite fare. I could probably have done just fine with about 150-pages less. Still, you won’t go away unmoved by Louis Zamperini or the author.

FIVE STARS

 

Rita Carla Francesca Monticelli “The Mentor”

the-mentor

The Mentor, by Rita Carla Francesca Monticelli, is a fast-moving Crime/Detective novel originally written in Italian and translated into English. That does leave the reader struggling a bit from time to time with specific words used in the text, but those aside, the writing translates well into a  good novel, providing you don’t mind the story and characters sounding like this is happening in some random US city and not London.

This work was published by Amazon/Crossing in November of 2015. The text is 226 pages and on my Kindle, there are 3015 positions.

As the story begins, Eric Shaw is a forensics detective who investigates a triple murder and finds a small child, still alive, under a bed. Why this child is never interviewed about the murders is a mystery to me. So this is Mystery, more than a Detective story.

There are plenty of twists in the plot, and in the minds of the bad guys, but the most twisted mind is the main character, Eric Shaw, since he manipulates his own forensics work to punish and convict criminals when they can’t otherwise bring them to justice. This isn’t Jack Reacher taking the law into his own hands as a private citizen, this is the head of the department presenting falsified claims. Hmmm.

Characters are sometimes presented and forgotten but for the most part, at least the “good” guys have some backstory and aren’t just cardboard cutouts. Unfortunately, I had no respect for the protagonist. That makes this review tough. However, if you are reading this to see a bunch of false reasons to read this, forget it. If you want a quick read with some gore and plot twists, the book is $5.99 at Amazon Kindle.

As for the police and forensics work, well, the author does admit:

“Although I included some real information about the organization of police forces in London, I nevertheless took full artistic license concerning professional positions of numerous employees, as well as the logistics and procedures utilized by the Forensic Science Service Laboratory and Murder Investigation Teams of London’s Metropolitan Police Service in order to better adapt them to the plot.”

I don’t think every book can be perfect, and some “poetic license” is always fine with me, but I’ve grown to expect a little more specific about actual procedures, and I love to learn something new, providing it is accurate.

FOUR STARS

Characters: 15 Honesty: 13 Originality: 14 Plot and Pacing: 16 Storytelling: 14

CHOPS Review total on a scale of 100: 72 Points

Star grading: up to 19 points = 1 star, 20-39 points = 2 stars, 40-59 points = 3 starts, 60-79 points = 4 stars, 80-100 points= 5 stars

 

 

Robert Masello “The Einstein Prophecy”

the-einstein-prophecy-coverRobert Masello’s World War II epic, The Einstein Prophecy reads a bit like Indiana Jones, not quite as campy, not quite as cute, but it carries the same time frame and involves a college professor lured into the action by an ancient sarcophagus that everyone wants, especially the Nazi’s. Granted, we do have some prominent figures like Albert Einstein – home in Princeton, NJ – to spice things up, but then I kept thinking about the movie IQ with Meg Ryan and Tim Robbins. Wahoo.

Masello tells a good tale, moving well from location to location, and there is certainly plenty of motivation for all characters since there is a very true-to-history race to be first to develop the atomic bomb.

Whether a World War II novel needs demons, since the world was already dealing with Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini, is up to the reader. On the whole, readers have had many opinions about the book and it has sold quite well.

This novel was published by 47North – Amazon Digital and is 338 pages. In Kindle speak, that’s 4741 positions on my Kindle. Overall this is an enjoyable read and leads to an exciting conclusion. Keep in mind that this is a novel, not a historical fiction, since the author does take some liberties with historical figures and their place in time. And since Einstein was included, I have a feeling he would have understood the significance of the events as they unfolded, otherwise, he wouldn’t be Einstein.

FOUR STARS

Characters: 14 Honesty: 15 Originality: 14 Plot and Pacing: 14 Storytelling: 15

CHOPS Review total on a scale of 100: 72

Star grading: up to 19 points = 1 star, 20-39 points = 2 stars, 40-59 points = 3 starts, 60-79 points = 4 stars, 80-100 points= 5 stars

 

Jane Paterson “Gatekeepers of the Grapevine”

gatekeepers-of-the-grapevineAuthor Jane Paterson’s first novel, Gatekeepers of the Grapevine is a solid offering. It offers a look at the lives of several women as their struggle through relationships, time and the fortunes of living in Cape Town, Africa. Paterson, herself born in South Africa, has a natural flair for the vernacular, and her storytelling is good.

This novel is considered women’s literature, or women’s fiction, only because the main characters are all women as if that negates men from having an interest in the story. Right now the book is available on Kindle for $2.99 and runs 258 pages, about 3650 positions on my device.

This isn’t Out of Africa, nor a James Michener tome, so don’t expect a narrative deep in African culture.  Instead, consider it lighter fare, perhaps equal to the 1980’s US TV hit Dynasty, with the main characters all female and the gatekeeper of Vintner’s Estate, the puppet master.

Pacing is moderate, a good novel to sit and enjoy a cup of tea with, and the plot stays steady. The characters and their traits are established early, although not in great depth, and the story begins in

FIVE STARS

Characters: 15 Honesty: 15 Originality: 18 Plot and Pacing: 16 Storytelling: 16

CHOPS Review total on a scale of 100: 80 Points

Star grading: up to 19 points = 1 star, 20-39 points = 2 stars, 40-59 points = 3 starts, 60-79 points = 4 stars, 80-100 points= 5 stars

Emily Kendricks “Badge Without Honor”

badge-without-honorBadge Without Honor is a new Detective Thriller from author Emily Kendricks.  Previously, Kendricks authored The Fantasy Maker, an Erotic Thriller, but this time she gets down in the dirt with hard-boiled cops and killers. Available on Kindle right now for $2.99, the book runs 250 pages. That’s 3460 positions on my Kindle.

Kendricks sets up a good story, using her working knowledge of New York and police sciences to mold a believable story.The protagonist, Detective John Bocello, cuts his teeth in Brooklyn as a homicide detective before moving out of the city and heading to what he hoped would be is a slower, more productive life in the small town  of Darlington. Of course, things don’t work out that way.

He’s linked up with fellow Detective Steve Parson’s, who provides the annoyance and worry factor for Bocello. Parson’s a friend as well as a detective, but he has trouble keeping his mind on his work. That’s not a good thing, since what starts out as a simple robbery turns into much more, including cold cases that have lingered for years and a modern-day Jack the Ripper.

Is the killer trying to leave a message with his work? The detectives aren’t sure, but Bocello’s life is further complicated by his own interest in a local widow, who may herself be in danger.

FOUR STARS

Characters: 16 Honesty: 15 Originality: 16 Plot and Pacing: 16 Storytelling: 16

CHOPS Review total on a scale of 100: 79 Points

Star grading: up to 19 points = 1 star, 20-39 points = 2 stars, 40-59 points = 3 starts, 60-79 points = 4 stars, 80-100 points= 5 stars

 

James Malone “Rainbow Gardens”

rainbow-gardens-book-coverRainbow Gardens by James Malone is more than a World War II epic, it’s a mixture of historical fiction, fantasy and social remembrance of things  that went right, and things that went wrong in the past. And, just as our service men and women made a commitment to defend our country, readers must make a commitment to the size of this novel: 614 pages.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t likely to be a book you struggle through, it’s just a whopper. Had the author split the book into two parts, most readers would have been happy to purchase the second half after finishing the first.

Personally, I was surprised by the content after seeing just the cover. I don’t read the blurbs and notes by the author, I just start reading, so imagine my surprise when the story starts with a troll named Franco who is struggling through the New Mexico desert trying to make it back to his cave. Hmmm.

So, if you think this is all about war and destruction, think again. The story is much larger than that. This is life, the world of the early 1900’s, where it when wrong, where we could learn from mistakes to make it right. It’s about people, beliefs, attitudes, prejudices – and the foolishness of man as seen through the troll’s eyes – and those who would set the tone and attitudes of the future.

I can’t help but think that many readers of fantasy and science fiction might pass this book by, viewing the book as just a World War II story. That’s a pity.

FIVE STARS

Characters: 17 Honesty: 17 Originality: 20 Plot and Pacing: 16 Storytelling: 16

CHOPS Review total on a scale of 100: 86 Points

Star grading: up to 19 points = 1 star, 20-39 points = 2 stars, 40-59 points = 3 starts, 60-79 points = 4 stars, 80-100 points= 5 stars

Henry Simpson “Joey Costa’s Law”

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Henry Simpson’s sixth Joey Costa novel is a revelation. Mostly because this fast-paced novel takes us back fifteen years to a time when Joey was finishing college, well before his exploits got us hooked on the character and forced us to turn the pages as quickly as possible!

The best part of Joey Costa’s Law is seeing the character development of Joey Costa.He’s still getting his feet wet, hasn’t hit his stride, but the clues to his life are there to glean from the pages.

Joey is lingering between college and law school and literally bounces into a job at a Hollywood nightclub. A not very safe club with many colorful Hollywood characters including drug dealers, bikers, pretty dancers, hookers, and of course his employers, the Carbone family. They aren’t connected; they are the connection.

There are many characters, so they aren’t always as developed as one might want, but the main characters are, and therefore you get Joey, the prequel, and we now know him well!

FIVE STARS

Characters: 17 Honesty: 17 Originality: 18 Plot and Pacing: 17 Storytelling: 17

CHOPS Review total on a scale of 100: 86 Points

Star grading: up to 19 points = 1 star, 20-39 points = 2 stars, 40-59 points = 3 starts, 60-79 points = 4 stars, 80-100 points= 5 stars

 

Matthew Milam II “The Jesus Command”

The Jesus Command - cover

On any given Sunday, church-goers can listen to sermons on what the bible says and how to interpret its passages, and for readers, Matthew Milam II offers his interpretation of just what Jesus left us through his teachings.Matthew Milam II is a deacon serving on the pastoral staff of South Side Gospel Church and is the founder of Hands of God Ministries and his book The Jesus Command is an examination of the underlying basis for Discipleship and the starting point for Christian living.

“Love one another, as I have loved you; …By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples…” (John 13:34-35 NIV). That’s the basis of Milam’s model for individual study of The New Testament. He starts with the words Jesus left with the 11 men of His inner circle after the departure of Judas, explaining that “Jesus didn’t mince words” with his disciples, he gave them powerful, specific commands, but even to this day, some followers have difficulty understanding His words.

What Milam gives us is a condensed look at passages of the bible, how they affect us all in our day to day lives, and how our ability to live peacefully with one another could literally change the world. The Jesus Command is well-written and laid out for the reader, providing guidance, inspiration and much to ponder as we gather more insight into His words.

For people who have never read the bible, Milam’s bible companion is an excellent start, giving readers an understanding of what Jesus was saying to his disciples and what they left mankind to try and grasp in our own lives.

Four Stars

Anne Kelleher “Protecting Donald Trump”

Protecting Donald Trump Cover shot

Anne Kelleher has a new release in her Celebrity Supernatural group called Protecting Donald Trump. It’s a strange mixture of teen-angst and supernatural fun, although the main character, Yelena, is actually a 23-year old woman. Kind of.

As with Kelleher’s other Celebrity Supernatural book, this novella isn’t really all about Donald Trump, any more than Walking with Elvis is about Elvis Presley. Kelleher just kind of conjures them up in each story. But this one is different from the rest. Perhaps because of Yelena’s brutality. She’s stinky and sloppy and strangely vulnerable for someone who thinks constantly of hunting rabbits and squirrels in Central Park. And not with a gun. You see, Elena has a little issue with Lycanthropy, and being a werewolf isn’t what she wanted to be when she grew up. Silly girl.

Although Elena is annoyingly brash and her speech is peppered with profanity, you do accept her for what she is: one of the biggest misfits in a whole town of misfits. And, the harsh characterization of her very words draws us to want more from this woman-child-wolf. What we get is a hard-boiled type of ‘40’s detective hired to stop an attack on The Donald. Weird.

Kelleher, meanwhile, gets top grades for characterization and telling us immediately and intensely, just how tough life is as a funny, satirical woman scratching fleas. Alright, there are no fleas, but this chick has got issues! End game – this is a good read. You’ll be sorry later if you miss it.

Five Stars

Characters: 20 Honesty: 18 Originality: 18 Plot and Pacing: 17 Storytelling: 17

CHOPS Review total on a scale of 100: 90 Points

Star grading: up to 19 points = 1 star, 20-39 points = 2 stars, 40-59 points = 3 starts, 60-79 points = 4 stars, 80-100 points= 5 stars

John A Heldt “The Mine”

COVER-The-Mine

John A. Heldt is an imaginative writer. He takes us on a visual tour of his character’s surroundings and floods our senses with colorful descriptions. Some of which are important for later reference. I was very intrigued by the main question of the story, which is: what would you do if you found yourself in another place and time, in love, and then found out you were able to return home? Yeah, that’s a toughie.

No author is perfect, and I was frustrated by a few stumbling blocks, such as the beginning of the novel where two college buddies devour their meals, including a pastie and a 24-ounce porterhouse, hit the road for almost an hour, and then synchronize their watches to 11:35am. No, the times don’t match up, unless they entered the steakhouse at 8:00am. Sorry, I can’t let that pass, it irks me. Fortunately for us, Mr. Heldt’s story is easily strong enough to ignore what is actually a minor glitch that probably doesn’t bother anyone but me. And then it gets really good.

Although The Mine starts with college buddies Joel and Adam at a diner, the turn-back-the-clock happens quickly, and Joel finds himself abandoned and alone after exploring an old mine. It takes a while before he realizes everything has changed. He’s gone back 60-years to a time when his cell phone isn’t of much use. Since Joel is fairly bright and fairly sure of himself, he takes no time bemoaning his new fate because he’s always ready for another adventure.

The pacing of the story is just right and you don’t have to wait very long for the next event to capture your interest. Descending into the past brings Joel to a new appreciation for life and love, and those he meets have importance to his future, whether he says buried in the past, or finds a way home. For readers, each person in the book is important and has a character and persona of their own. That’s important for any book and doubly important here.

Five Stars

Characters: 17  Honesty: 16  Originality: 16  Plot and Pacing: 17  Storytelling: 17

CHOPS Review total on a scale of 100: 83 Points

Star grading: up to 19 points = 1 star, 20-39 points = 2 stars, 40-59 points = 3 starts, 60-79 points = 4 stars, 80-100 points= 5 stars