Justice Gone by N. Lombardi Jr: Timely and Compelling

Justice Gone

Justice Gone

by N. Lombardi Jr

Kindle Edition, 336 pg.
Roundfire Books, 2019

Read: September 27-30, 2019


I’ve mentioned before here that after I decide to read a book I forget what its about (if I even know) to keep myself coming from being disappointed by preconceived notions. It worked this time, I really had no idea what it was about when I opened it on my Kindle last week.

Which made the opening pages, featuring the killing of an innocent and compliant veteran by the police, as shocking as they could’ve been. But they also led me to believe I was in for a grim, adult version of The Hate U Give. So when that story took a hard turn a few chapters later with the murder of some of those police officers, I was reeling as much as Lombardi could’ve hoped for.

That sensation kept repeating at each new phase of the action in Justice Gone—”Oh, so this is what the book is about.” Until I finally got that the book was about all of these things—not just one or two themes. It was actually pretty effective in that way, more than I might have thought possible in the abstract. It’s difficult to enumerate them without revealing too much, so I’ll be vague here—the central question is about the place of (and possibility of) seeing justice in our current politicized climate given the high level of suspicion of the police (and their suspicion of the general public) coloring everything, and apparent interference by government officials (especially those elected to office) on criminal investigations and prosecutions.

Sadly, in the mix of all those themes and ideas, the incident that set all of the rest in motion is forgotten about when not overshadowed by the events that spiraled from it. I wish Lombardi had been able to keep the focus on it while telling the other story, because that really is something tat needs to be told. Not that the rest doesn’t, don’t misunderstand. It’s just we’ve all seen several variations of the rest of the novel, and haven’t seen nearly enough of that.

One thing I really appreciated was the focus on the jury’s deliberation toward the end of the novel. Lombardi’s not afraid to introduce new characters—twelve of them, in fact—as the book wraps up. Occasionally, a legal thriller will take a peak inside the Jury Room, but never to this extent. Now I wonder why not.

Lombardi does slip into melodrama more than a few times. He gets out of it pretty quickly and easily, but it’s there. His characters could all use a little more work to not be so forced, and be a little more believable—except for the accused, I never had a problem with him. But Lombardi’s a good enough story teller that the problems with the writing and characters are swept under the carpet and ignored as long as you can focus on the story unfolding.

It’s a book that feels timely and important—the kind of thing that will spark reflection on the part of the reader, and hopefully discussion. Justice Gone is the kind of compelling novel we need more of.


My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including a copy of the novel) they provided.

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Teaser Tuesday: Witches Protection Program by Michael Okon

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Fantasy
Date Published: 09/30/2019
Publisher: WordFire Press
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Wes Rockville, a disgraced law-enforcement agent, gets one last chance to prove himself and save his career when he’s reassigned to a 232-year-old secret government organization. The Witches Protection Program. His first assignment: uncover a billion-dollar cosmetics company’s diabolical plan to use witchcraft for global domination, while protecting its heiress Morgan Pendragon from her aunt’s evil deeds. Reluctantly paired with veteran witch protector, Alastair Verne, Wes must learn to believe in witches… and believe in himself. Filled with adventure and suspense, Michael Okon creates a rousing, tongue-in-cheek alternate reality where witches cast spells and wreak havoc in modern-day New York City.

EXCERPT

The narrator filled in more information. “It wasn’t until this land became my land that the government decided to create an organization to protect women at risk. The Davina Doctrine went against everything that the Willas stood for. Even though they ran the risk of persecution, the Davinas chose to work with law enforcement to expose the evil deeds of the rival sisterhood. President George Washington established secret legislation under Title VI of the Control Act of 1792. The law was enacted to protect the good witches that exposed the evil deeds of their sisterhood.”

The screen went dark. There was only a chair in the center of a dimly lit stage. A single spotlight focused on the top of the blond actress’s head. Wes was right; it was the actress he’d suspected. She had a hit sitcom and two Emmys, and there was some recent Oscar talk about her last movie.

“Yes. There are witches. Living among us. They are women who believe in using their power to protect love and life. And then there are some who use their powers for all the wrong reasons.”

The camera came to rest on her beautiful face. She winked saucily as she placed a triangular witch’s hat on her head. “Welcome to the Witches Protection Program.”

Alastair smiled broadly. “I love that part.”

“That was Jennifer Anis—”

About the Author

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Michael Okon is an award-winning and best-selling author of multiple genres including paranormal, thriller, horror, action/adventure and self-help. He graduated from Long Island University with a degree in English, and then later received his MBA in business and finance. Coming from a family of writers, he has storytelling in his DNA. Michael has been writing from as far back as he can remember, his inspiration being his love for films and their impact on his life. From the time he saw The Goonies, he was hooked on the idea of entertaining people through unforgettable characters.

Michael is a lifelong movie buff, a music playlist aficionado, and a sucker for self-help books. He lives on the North Shore of Long Island with his wife and children.

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Appetite for Risk by Jack Leavers: An Unusually Realistic Thriller

Appetite for Risk

Appetite for Risk

by Jack Leavers
Series: John Pierce, #1

Kindle Edition, 352 pg.
Book Guild, 2019

Read: September 13-16, 2019

It’s 2004, Saddam Hussein is out of power and the focus is shifting to rebuilding Iraq (few have any idea of the insurgency just around the corner), which sounds great to John Pierce. He’s a former Royal Marine trying to support his wife and two kids. He’s done the typical security/investigations work, but that isn’t really satisfying to him. He does have a few good contacts in or related to Iraq and decides to try to build a business there.

I intended to provide consultancy services to international companies, using local support and knowledge to help them win a share of the reconstruction contracts. Iraq needed everything after the West had sanctioned and bombed it to a ruin over the previous decade.

It’s not a safe place to be at the moment, but it seems to all that stability is just around the corner, and even after an eventful first trip that might dissuade some from following that path, we’re told:

Despite the risks, there was never any real doubt I would go back. The siren call of adventure was drawing me inextricably to Baghdad. Now I’d started down this road, I remained determined to see where it would lead, hoping desperately that success would be quick to arrive.

The book follows Pierce’s endeavor to find that success from January 2004-December 2005. We travel with him to various locations in Iraq (and surrounding nations) and back home in England. As with most fledgling businesses, there’s a lot of ups and downs, signs of success and trouble alike—when you consider the risks involved in trying to start something in Iraq in 2004-05, the typical struggles of a new venture pale in comparison. Quite inadvertently, Pierce gets the attention of both British and American intelligence and they secure his aid with little regard to the effect that’ll have on his livelihood.

It’s hard to think of this as a novel—it really doesn’t read like one. It reads like a memoir. It may be fiction, but it reeks of authenticity and bears few of the marks of a thriller (or any other kind of novel). This is both a fantastic achievement and a frustration for a reader who expects certain kinds of things from a thriller.

The level of detail is intense—I wouldn’t have thought I’d ever learn anything about how one goes about finding contacts or establishing working relationships in the middle of a war, relying largely on translators and practical strangers to help navigate through the city/populace. On the one hand, it was intriguing and I quite enjoyed being exposed to this kind of thing. On the other hand, there were large stretches where it seemed like nothing was happening—like the dominoes were being set up and instead of knocking them down, the line kept getting longer and more twisty.

I never got bored, but I spent a lot of time wondering “where is this going?” While not every detail or anecdote ended up paying off, enough did to justify reading it and again, the level of detail made it really seem like you were reading the recollection of someone who’d been there. And while the initial 50-60% of the book could be called slow (after the initial chapters, anyway, which dropped the reader into a tense situation before backtracking a few months to establish things), once things picked up, they really picked up.

I don’t know that I ever really made any emotional connection to Pierce—I was pretty unmoved by his marital or financial woes or triumphs. I still wanted to keep reading about what he was going through, but any trouble or danger he encountered didn’t grab me (other than as an obstacle to whatever he was trying to accomplish). I don’t know if this is something Leavers was trying to accomplish, or if it’s the sign of a new author—I tend to think it’s due to the non-fiction-y feel of the work, and I rarely get that connected to actual people I’m reading about.

I think I’m safe when I say that you haven’t read a thriller like this before—it’s a slow burn, but it’s consistently interesting and you certainly feel the imminent threat constantly around Pierce. Once the action kicks into a higher gear, it’s a pretty fast read, but you’ve got to work a little before then. It’s a satisfying read, and one that will reward the time you put in. I recommend it for someone open to an atypical read where the suspense comes from sources you’re not used to encountering (and a few that everyone is used to).


3 Stars

My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials (including a copy of the novel) they provided.

EXCERPT from Appetite for Risk by Jack Leavers: South of Baghdad

From Chapter 10 South of Baghdad

Taken from the start of Chapter 10, this extract sees John Pierce sharing one of my entertaining days in Iraq that occurred exactly as written. It concerned me that editors might want the chapter cut, whereas I think it show in a microcosm the hope, mistrust and deep-rooted anger that permeated Baghdad back then.

‘Look at his face. Can you see his face? He hates you.’ Mr Saleh had suddenly turned from an urbane, confident businessman into an excited Willy Wonka as we’d driven through the gates of his factory to the south of Baghdad. It made a striking change from the recent days spent with the cagey Faris and his crew.

General Imad had introduced the two of us over a phone call from his place the previous day and we’d met up that morning and spent the day together. Instead of focusing on the business set-up, it gave me a chance to spend time with a wealthy businessman and discuss discernible business opportunities.

Lunch had been delicious fish cooked over hot coals in a tented restaurant with an open fire pit by the banks of the Tigris. And Mohammed was right: masgouf was delicious. The place was hired for our exclusive use and his private goon squad sat in a car immediately outside, watching over us and the superbly maintained vintage black Mercedes we’d arrived in.

This wasn’t just for my protection. Local kidnappings were rampant and anyone with money was fair game as were their families. During the war the previous year, most of the prison inmates had ended up free to roam the city and get back to business. With the economy shot to pieces and the scarcity of jobs, crime was about the only sector showing rocketing expansion. Mr Saleh wasn’t taking any chances.

As I checked out the faces of the workers in the compound, I wasn’t feeling the love from any of them. A good job the goon squad were following right behind us or this might have got unpleasant. An especially furious-looking individual with wild hair and wilder eyes stood out. If there was anyone looking angrier than this guy, then I probably needed to be drawing the Makarov.

‘All his family were killed in an American air strike. He hates the Americans. He hates you. If I wasn’t here, he’d try to kill you.’

Why this was said in such an enthusiastic manner I couldn’t quite grasp.

‘Well let’s keep him at a distance. I don’t think it will help productivity if I have to shoot him.’

Mr Saleh’s head turned so fast I thought he had to have done himself an injury. ‘Of course. You have nothing to worry about. I apologise. You are safe here.’

That remained to be seen.

We were about half an hour south of Baghdad at Mr Saleh’s drinks factory. He was giving me the grand tour after I’d explained to him over lunch how I was looking to bring leading Western brands into Iraq and here on the search for suitable local partners.

‘Bring me Coca Cola and all our dreams will be realised,’ he’d told me.

As I inspected the dusty compound, run-down buildings, and forlorn production line, it was difficult to envisage the Coca-Cola quality control people ripping his hand off to sign on the dotted line.

I tried to introduce a diplomatic reality check. ‘Coca-Cola is likely to already have partners here or in Jordan.’ Drinks manufacturing was a sector I knew precious little about and, with no advance warning about the type of business he owned, I’d had zero time to conduct any background research.

Mr Saleh swept my negativity aside. ‘I want you to find me a new production line in the UK or Germany. Send me some details and we can refurbish this factory and make it fit for the big companies. Anyway, we shall expand our water production and become the best brand in Iraq.’

He was thinking big. Provided he had the money, then this could be worth a closer look.

***

‘He’s outraged I brought you here.’

Mr Saleh reverted to being Willy Wonka as we headed back out through the gates. He drove the highly polished Mercedes himself with only me in the car alongside, the goon squad bringing up the rear in the other Merc. Not exactly low profile but the goons bristled with weapons and ammunition, ready for a fight rather than just for show.

The dirt road leading from the factory wound through some undulating terrain on its way to the main road. We rounded a sandy hillock to be confronted by a pickup truck manned by four armed balaclava-clad men bearing down on us. As it slewed to the right, I could see a fifth balaclava behind a large pintle-mounted anti-aircraft gun, a 12.7mm (.50 cal) DShK, or ‘Dushka’. My eyes must have popped out of my head like something from a Looney Tunes cartoon.

I drew the Makarov and hoped they hadn’t spotted me through the tinted windows. Mr Saleh put his arm across.

‘No, Mr John. It’s okay, these are security forces.’

He stopped the car and opened the window to shout a greeting to the vehicle commander as I tried to bring my heart rate back under control. I was going to need a drink tonight.

 


Read the rest in Appetite for Risk by Jack Leavers.

My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the opportunity to participate in this tour and the materials (including the book) they provided.

A Few Quick Questions With…Brian VanDongen

This post is a team effort: the good people over at iREAD Book Tours provided the questions, Brian VanDongen provided the answers, I provided the . . . er, well, intro? I really want to read this book after reading this, hopefully you have the same reaction.

What made you write a book about play?
I feel that there is a “play deficit” in today’s society. For children, with the reduction of recess in schools in favor of more classroom time to focus on standardized testing and the increased “professionalization” of youth sports, free play is diminishing. As a recreation professional, I know the value that free play has on everyone’s life. I wrote this book to try to reframe the value of play and provide helpful stories and tips on how to live more playfully, and why living playfully will help people live a better life.
How did you get those stories about play for the book?
Fortunately, there are a lot of great organizations and initiatives for play across the country and around the globe. These organizations are very willing to share their stories and successes, because they want people to live more playfully, too!
Did you have a favorite story you came across during your research?
Wow, that’s a tough question. All the stories are great in their own right. I particularly enjoyed learning about an exhibit in the Children’s Museum of the Lowcountry, where children used real tools to build things. I’m sure you’re thinking, “real tools for kids!? Wouldn’t someone get hurt?” Well, yes, but it may not be who you think!
Seems dangerous.
As I note in the book, in two chapters, there’s a difference between risky play and dangerous play. But through risky play, children learn how to assess and manage risk, a key adult, real-world skill.
Do you have a favorite place to play?
Being in New Jersey, it’s easy to find places to play. We have mountain ranges with beautiful trails (including part of the Appalachian Trail) and gorgeous beaches. You’re not far from a place to play. Of course, the world can be your playground if you look hard enough!

Read the book in question, Play to Live: Life Skills and Joy Through the Natural Talent to Play by Brian VanDongen.

My thanks to iREAD Book Tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.

GUEST POST: A Cunning Plan by Andrew J. Harvey

As usual, I can’t hear that phrase without thinking of Baldrick and Blackadder…which, actually, is kind of fitting given where Andrew J. Harvey goes with his. I enjoyed this, hope you do to:

A Cunning Plan

It was during the process of developing the trailer for my Alternate History novel, Nightfall, the first book in my Clemhorn Trilogy, that I was shocked to discover how badly I had underestimated the general public’s knowledge of history.

I have always been interested in history, even taking one unit at University when I was studying there, and had perhaps foolishly believed that like myself, people were interested in the past. Particularly given George Santayana’s warning that: “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Given the myriad mistakes and failings that humans are so susceptible too, the blindness to history’s lessons seems particularly dangerous to me.

I was realistic enough to understand that it was unlikely that most people would have, as I did, entire bookshelves filled with history books, and the occasional alternate history novel, but I did at least expect that one or two history books would be displayed somewhere. As I said, I was quickly disabused of this while testing the book trailer for Nightfall, with the following teaser:

In 1884 the world stood on the verge of war. Once again the Russian and British Empires faced each other across the Mississippi.

And discovered that the person I was speaking to had no idea that in our own history the Russian and British Empires had never, ever faced each other in America, let alone across the Mississippi.

This resulted in the following rewrite:

In 1884, in a history very different from our own, the world stood on the verge of war …

As an aficionado and writer of Alternate History this was particularly disappointing given that Alternate History is a genre of fiction where stories are set in worlds in which one or more historical events unfold differently from how it did in our world. It is better appreciated with at least some modicum of how the historical event the author is writing about actually unfolded in our own reality.

But I now have a cunning plan, and hope that anyone reading Nightfall will be interested enough to investigate how some of the alternate histories I portray in the novel actually played out in our history (hint in Nightfall the Mainline split from our own when in 1451 the Serbian Emperor Uros III captures Constantinople, triggering a Serbian rather than Italian renaissance). And of course if they continue to read the series, they continue to meet other alternates, and with fifty-four lines making up the Cross-Temporal Empire there’s more than enough to keep a reader delving into all sorts of histories for quite some time.

Along these lines I leave you with a paraphrasing of George Santayana’s words, that is: “those who cannot remember the past may be brought to appreciate it by the ‘what ifs’ posed by alternate history.”

Read the novel that’s part of this cunning plan, Nightfall by Andrew J.Harvey.

My thanks to iREAD Book Tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.

Death at the Dakota by M.K. Graff: A pleasant little near-cozy mystery/romance that’s sure to earn some fans

 Death at the Dakota Death at the Dakota

by M.K. Graff
Series: Trudy Genova Manhattan Mysteries, #2

eARC, 336 pg.
Bridle Path Press, 2019

Read: April 29 – May 1, 2019


So Trudy Genova, a nurse turned TV medical advisor, is acting as the on-set medical staff for a made-for-TV movie. She’s primarily supposed to be keeping an eye on the star to help with her undisclosed pregnancy, but she’s available for everyone. Things are going swimmingly for her on set, everything seems fine with the pregnancy, etc. Until towards the end of shooting, the star doesn’t come back from lunch and isn’t seen for a couple of days. Not long afterward, another member of the cast ends up murdered. Trudy, a would-be mystery novelist, has a Nancy Drew streak compelling her to look into both the disappearance and murder on her own.

Meanwhile, the NYPD Detective she met in the first volume of the series and has been dating, Ned O’Malley and his partner have caught a pretty grizzly murder on top of the string of burglaries they’re investigating. The murder investigation soon turns to a wealthy family and their potential prodigal son. They’re also tasked with the missing person’s case (and then the murder) giving plenty of opportunity for Trudy’s antics to be discovered and disapproved of. Although the fruits of her time are used by the same detective that doesn’t want her getting them.

Either storyline would be enough for a novel, but combining the two of them is a pretty strong move that allows Graff to keep things moving and see these characters in very different worlds. Trudy’s chapters are told in 1st person and have a strong sense of immediacy. Ned’s chapters are in the third person. The change in voice is subtle, but it’s there, and adds to the effect of telling the two stories in the same book. It’s like getting two S. J. Rozan Lydia Chin/Bill Smith novels mixed together. For me, the Ned chapters are the most appealing part of the book — as are his cases. But this is the Trudy Genova series, and the weight of the book falls on her adventures (and I think most readers will find her chapters more appealing)

I had a few issues that I can’t not mention in the interests of full disclosure. I’m not opposed to the characters in mystery novels I enjoy having a love life, and even spending a lot of the book talking and thinking about their significant others (or potential significant others). Robert B. Parker was too formative for me to have a problem with that — and I’ve seen it done well too often since then to really have a problem with the idea (from noir to cozies and all stops in between). But here the romance story was a touch too much for my taste, I don’t need all the space devoted to Trudy’s angst over the right wardrobe for her romantic evening and so on. But that’s me, I can see a lot of readers loving it.

Dialogue isn’t Graff’s forte, too often it seems like she learned dialogue writing from Law & Order or Blue Bloods — particularly the more cop-talk passages. For example, lead detective to his partner: “Sometimes people don’t want to get involved, worried about testifying to what they saw.” Because his partner somehow made detective in one of the most competitive departments in the world without noticing that. The sports banter the two detectives reads like someone who knows nothing about baseball imagining what fans saying to each other. As long as you think of this as a TV procedural, you can get through this kind of thing without too much bother beyond a quick eye-roll. But novel dialogue should be better than that — if you feel you have to hold your audience’s hand that much, move those observations to interior monologue.

I think the writing could be a little tighter, another grammar pass would be a good idea, and there were a few too many awkwardly phrased sentences for me to not mention it. When I find myself quoting Inigo Montoya, “… that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” repeatedly, I’m taken out of the story — forced to analyze rather than just enjoy. Especially when I’m bothered enough that I have to stop and look something up just to see who’s right, the author or me. These technical matters didn’t ruin the novel for me, but it certainly detracted from my appreciation. I’ve had a run lately of novels ruined by style and technique, and that wasn’t the case here — I didn’t once regret reading this (what a nice change), I just wish Graff had done better by her own work.

Yes, this is a sequel, but it’s easy to read as a stand-alone — you’ll pick up everything you need to know. It’s completely accessible for anyone who hasn’t read the first — but people who dig this will undoubtedly enjoy Trudy’s previous adventure. This was a fine little mystery novel with some fun characters. Ultimately, it’s not really my thing — but I can think of a half-dozen people in my immediate circle who’ll really enjoy this and will want more (some of whom I buy books for occasionally, and think I will make gifts of this). Whatever problems I had with character or writing are forgivable and easily passed over — the characters and writing have a charm and it was a pleasant read. I’m not saying I wouldn’t read more Graff or Trudy, I’m sure I’d have a pretty good time. I’m just not going to rush out and look for them.

—–

3 Stars
My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.