Toxic Train by Jennifer Oberth

Toxic Train

Toxic Train

by Jennifer Oberth

Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery, Short Story

Four Stars

Ella Westin is a young newlywed on a train ride with her new husband, Joe, meeting new people and trying to enjoy what should be a peaceful journey. However, with her typical luck, Ella must solve a murder that occurs right before her eyes. Poison hides somewhere on the train, waiting to eliminate anyone who uncovers too much of the murderer’s plot. Can Ella protect her hapless husband, Joe? Can she fool her fellow passengers long enough to prevent another murder and stop the culprit?

Jennifer has created an exciting mystery with an interesting surprise. Ella’s unique personality and approach to life in a time where women held second-class status gives the tale a modern feel.

I haven’t read any other books in this series, but I could still enjoy the story and understand the characters and plot without that background. Hints appeared to previous adventures, which interested me but didn’t detract from the story at hand.

I was surprised and disappointed to find almost no character or scene description in Toxic Train. Too much description is a problem I see most often, but I do need enough to know roughly what characters look like, how old they are, and how to distinguish one from the other. Jennifer’s characters managed well with scant description, which is an accomplishment, but the missing scenery gave a hasty and dry feeling to a tale that could have had so much more richness to it. Without any description, the story lost its historical feel and blended into any other time period. A large part of my enjoyment in reading historical fiction is the transport to another time and the things I learn from it.

I’m not one to try to guess “whodunit” before the story ends, but I’m also not one to ignore the possibility. I didn’t guess ahead of time, and I enjoyed the surprise and the ensuing adventure that the killer’s identity prompted. Toxic Train is a fun and entertaining read with some good challenges to convention to make the reader think, fun setting, and interesting mystery.

I approve this title for Awesome Indies. http://awesomeindies.net

I received this book from the author for the purposes of an unbiased review.

Buy on Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/166124

and Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Toxic-Train-Ella-Westin-Mysteries-ebook/dp/B0086O20Q4/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1392245816&sr=8-6&keywords=jennifer+oberth

Bluff by Susan Yanguas

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Bluff

by Susan Yanguas

Genre: Mystery, Crime Fiction

ThreeStars

Abby Ford is an ex-lawyer who has embarked on a surprising new career as a massage therapist. One day on her run she encounters a man bending over another man in a driveway. Later she discovers that she has become the only witness to a murder. Salvatore Santavillagio, a new detective on the local police force, takes her testimony about the strange sight. Unfortunately, she didn’t wear her glasses on her run. Still, her chance encounter draws her into a construction deal gone badly and a conflict between progress and nature preservation. Her involvement with the case unfolds into danger, intrigue, threats to her work and life, and maybe even romance.

This book was a lot of fun to read. The mystery, plots, and setbacks worked well with the characters and kept the book interesting. I liked the way the character of Abby rises out of her fear and uncertainty to fight evil and stand up for herself. Susan wrote Abby as a dynamic character with a lot of interesting life changes and inner conflict that connects me to her as the reader. Her side characters had a lot of variety and personality, which I also enjoyed.

I found the first half of the book a bit slow moving, but that problem could be repaired by removing excess details such as the two kindle pages that describe how each of the policemen eat eggrolls.

I also felt confused over whether the author intended the story to focus around Abby or Salvatore, nicknamed Fish. We learned many of Abby’s inner thoughts and feelings, but a large part of the book shifts to predominantly follow Salvatore. I found Salvatore’s role as a main character one I couldn’t connect with. The story hinted a little about the reasons for his standoffish, closed attitude but gave few endearing reasons why I as a reader should expect that. Even his fantasies seemed stifled. With no look behind his facade, he became a vehicle instead of a relatable person. In chapter 15 we began to glimpse a tiny bit of the man beyond the physical description, but never connected much deeper than that. I felt hints at a future book where I might learn more about him, but felt the attempt to keep revelations about his secrets for the next book to hurt this one.

The ending of the book improved over the slower beginning, increasing the stakes to the conclusion. Unfortunately the funeral scene at the end brought back an excess of detail that didn’t really connect to the story just finished. Once I powered through it I enjoyed the treat of the last few pages.

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Deep Blood by Phillip Thompson

Deep Blood

by Phillip Thompson

Genre: Mystery, Contemporary Fiction

Four Stars

This story is a gritty, manly murder mystery tale, written about a time and place when men don’t cry and folks don’t take a picture of their dinner with Instagram. Everything fits to make messed-up characters, crazy backstories, and wonderful life to everyone in the story. Every character has character from Colt to Mr. Wofford, the kooky witness who looked like a “bloated version of Raggedy Andy”. “Just a little bit on the country side”, they called it. The main character’s description of spitting his chewing tobacco, the pleasure it gives him, and the satisfying irritation it causes in his father is a great example of the little, relevant details of the story. Somehow Phillip has made even the little things like this enrich the atmosphere .

Under the colorful atmosphere lie deep themes of shame, abuse, racism, family sins, and blame. Colt keeps his wounds to himself, but they follow him wherever he goes and color all his actions. Most characters are the same and it feels like a special treat when each one opens up. No character escapes the pain and scarring of a life in a poor town where racism and poverty have affected everyone.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would recommend it to adults (some language, sensitive themes, and sex). I read the whole thing on a Saturday and every time my kids or the dog interrupted me, I couldn’t wait to get back to Deep Blood. I wanted to read more about Colt at the end. I hope Phillip decides to write more books about this character!

After reading Deep Blood, I realized how meaningful the title is. No, I’m not going to explain. Read the book! I approve this title for Awesome Indies. http://awesomeindies.net I received this book from the author for the purposes of unbiased review.

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Syd and Marcy by Beaird Glover

Syd and Marcy

by Beaird Glover

Genre: Thriller, Crime, Mystery

Five stars

This book is FREE for Kindle on the review posting date of this review 5/30/2013!

Syd and Marcy have found one another and seem to complete one another. Hollywood and fame call their names and anyone who gets in their way can just die. Literally. The clerk at the Zippy-Doo did, and look what it got him. Armed with a camera and a desire for renown, Syd and Marcy take Memphis by storm. But when Marcy appears on the news in a security camera video from the Zippy-Doo, the two begin to see the consequences of their recklessness. Syd’s backwoods family in Yalahoma Township, Mississippi seem like the perfect refuge. Syd’s uncle Enid is too much like Marcy’s abusive father, though, and before they know it, Enid has a bullet in his brain. Enid’s daughter/wife Sardis, mentally unsound and nonverbal, remains the only witness to the crime. Yalahoma Sheriff Litton Shaw gets involved when he accidentally hits Sardis in her panicked flight around town. Litton brings his good friend Blaine on to help solve the case. But Blaine seems to take it all too seriously. Litton just wanted to help the poor troubled Sardis, after all.

After some brilliant detective work by Blaine and some stupid mistakes on Syd and Marcy’s part, Blaine gets them in his sights. But will Blaine turn them over to Litton and the justice system with very little evidence to convict them, or will he take the law into his own hands?

This book was not at all what I expected. A tale of young love and idealism, this book is not. The cover and synopsis seemed to promise a crazy romp with a mischievous couple. But the story held a lot of depth. Each character seems to symbolize an important aspect of morality, acting out the natural result of their outlook. The bad parts are bad and compassion for everyone (except maybe Blaine) grows with each chapter. The characters screw up and do some bad things on purpose, and then feel remorse. Despite their strong link with their predominant trait, the characters are all very believable as people also. I felt my own connection to each one and the innate human similarities between us.

The mystery of the story is unique because it isn’t whodunit or how, but will Syd and Marcy get caught. Part of the time I hoped they would, but then the author would show more about why they did what they did and I would feel compassion for them. Even the villain, who wasn’t the one we suspected, suffered from a radical dysfunction. Beaird did a great job of making me wonder who was really the “bad guy” and then see that, like life, it was all of them and also none of them. Beaird Glover has crafted a smart and fascinating read. I approve this title for Awesome Indies. http://awesomeindies.net

I received this book from the author for the purposes of unbiased review.

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The Footloose Killer by Michelle Johnson

The Footloose Killer

By Michelle Johnson

Genre: Mystery, Law Enforcement

Lexi Sawyer and Morgan Pryce are a team of detectives for the Virginia Beach Police Force. They’ve been searching for eight years now trying to solve the case of the Footloose Killer. The heat is on and the Mayor demands answers as yet another dismembered right foot washes up along the shore. It’s been the same story at this time of year each year. They can’t let their personal problems overshadow this case or they could be out of a job. With the Chief threatening to put the blame on them if the case isn’t solved, Pryce battles his demons of alcoholism while Sawyer pines for her missing Navy Seal fiancé. Can they crack this case with no leads? Will their deep friendship blossom into something more in all the stress?

This was a great, quick read; short but sweet. The characters were well developed and I could identify with them (especially Pryce’s coffee addiction). I enjoyed Pryce and Morgan’s relationship and their hint of attraction to each other. There was a lot of case discussion over a restaurant table, which made me worry about the detectives’ waistlines.  I also enjoyed the way the plot unfolded and the great side characters that adorned it. The Hills were priceless! The action was all wrapped up in the quaint package of a resort town where the locals recognized their waitress.

This book was tight and well-thought. There was a ton packed into the small space, but I never felt like I missed out on anything. It was beautifully done. Bravo!

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Island of Illusions by Jennifer L. Jennings

Island of Illusions

by Jennifer L. Johnson

Genre: Mystery

Sara Woods is a masseuse with a budding new career as a private detective. Richard, the pro showing her the ropes, sends her and her husband on a faux golfing trip to Oahu, Hawaii so Sara can secretly help him track down the kidnapper of baby Toby. Will Sara’s crumbling marriage  stand the test of a vacation and the truth? Will she give into the mutual attraction between her and tech expert on the team, Max Stevens? Can they still crack the case when Murder gets thrown in the mix?

This was a well-crafted, realistic mystery with plenty of twists and turns. Through the story I wondered what was going to happen next and how they were going to figure it all out. I appreciated the realistic ending, not tidy black and white, but complicated, like life. The action flowed and the scenes were laid out just right.

Though the story stood by itself and I could easily discover the characters and their relationships, I think I missed out on a lot of the subtleties having not read the previous books in the series. Some relationships were unclear and some of the fallout of past interactions flew over my head.

I have mixed emotions about Sarah as a main character. I kept wondering why a masseuse would be better at detective work than a pro, and conversely why such an intelligent woman would choose a career as a masseuse. I identified with her feelings and her place in life, being the same age, but I had a lot of trouble liking Sarah as a character amid the ugliness of indifference in her marriage. Her eagerness to jump into another man’s…er…arms right away didn’t win her any sympathy from me either. I also didn’t trust the too-soon love interest Max. He  was just too conveniently eager for me to believe he was the catch Sara thought him to be. The tang of adultery ruined their romantic moments for me.

Sarah’s love of food gained me a pound just by reading them and her coffee moments made my mouth water. My own love of Hawaii was reflected in her delight at her surroundings, too. I don’t blame Richard’s wife for being upset she didn’t get to join them.  The details of this book were beautiful, and the attention to the subtle things really made this into an intelligent mystery.

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Life in Death by Harlow Drake

Life in Death

By Harlow Coban

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, African American

Kari Marchant is a Social Worker caught in a deadly web of secrets and murder. During a crunch of cases when one social worker goes on her honeymoon, a little girl falls through the cracks. Detectives Nicolet and Cobb step in to follow the clues and find the person who killed Patience. The farther they delve, the stranger things become and the more people die. The murders are gruesome and the motives are worse. Can they find the killer before the there are no witnesses are left?

This was a fun read with interesting characters and a cool and surprising plot. Harlow kept me guessing about who did it and why throughout the book, and hit me with a lot of big surprises. The main phrase I’d use about the book, though, is “More, please.” I wanted more background on the characters and on the Liberian angle. I wanted more detail about the actual deaths and the investigation. I wanted to learn more about the terrifying villain and his sick agenda. I wanted more tension and detail about the budding romance between Nicolet and Kari. I wanted humor in those little places where it screamed for it, but was left out.

Life in death is an entertaining read with an ending that made me think wow, that was weird, but it could have been a really thrilling and gripping story if there was more of it.

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