Book Review: Quarter Past Midnight

quarterImagine a life where every debauchery you desire is available to you, safely and discreetly, for a fee. Oral sex by women young enough to be your granddaughter? No problem. Love life feeling a little stale and you want to spice things up outside the marriage? It’s all yours, if you desire, and no one need know of our predilections. Your reputation safe.

This is the world C.J. Asher brings to life in his novel, Quarter Past Midnight. Kate is a young woman in between jobs, who as a last resort begins to work as a dancer at Silhouettes, a popular Philadelphia gentleman’s club. Not quite earning enough to cover her expenses, she desperately spends her free time looking for a full-time job in the accounting field. That all changes with a recommendation from her boss.

She is introduced to Gretchen, a reclusive entrepreneur, who caters to her client’s baser needs. Gretchen operates a lingerie shop for wealthy clientele who might other wise not wish to be seen entering a sexual-oriented business. Behind the scenes, she realizes the elite’s fantasies, creating any scenario her customers require.

She hires Kate as an assistant, first to inventory lingerie, but soon introduces her to the seedier, and decidedly illegal, aspect of her business. When an unexpected tragedy happens, Kate is caught between leaving the life behind or becoming further entangled in the business. She can walk away or accept the risk, and the potentially lucrative rewards thereof. But first she has to decide, and then convince a reluctant clientele to accept her. As stake is a potential fortune and her life is at risk should she fail.

Quarter Past Midnight is an intriguing read. It deals with human sexuality, and the currency that sex elicits from able. Sex sells, and the idea that people often profit from the sale of fantasies makes most people uncomfortable. But it’s available, from adult book stores, to strippers and gentleman’s clubs, to the proliferation of adult sites on the web, sex is big business. Too often it’s a business fraught with legal and personal risks.

That’s why I like the idea of a ringmaster such as Gretchen, who pulls together elaborate fantasies for her clients. There’s intrigue as to whether Kate can learn the business and manage to keep it running. There’s also a question of motives from the other players involved, from Gretchen, Alan the accountant, and Gretchen’s’ sister.

I found the story to be entertaining and suspenseful. The sex scenes added enough spice to the book without becoming gratuitous. The protagonist’s journey from a rookie dancer trying to find some semblance of control to a woman willing to risk all for the opportunity to become her own woman was enthralling.

All in all, it is a great read and I give it a solid four star rating.

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Book Review: 41 A Portrait of My Father

22761137I don’t write much on politics or the lives of politicians. That’s not what I’m about, but that doesn’t mean I’m not fascinated with political figures, especially with the lives of the American Presidents. These forty-four men have assumed a mantle of power and authority that we can scarcely imagine.

The Bush family is only the second family in American history to set a father and son into the executive branch. The other of course is the Adams family, John Adams (March 4, 1797 – March 4, 1801), and his son, John Quincy Adams (March 4, 1825 – March 4, 1829). A book written about a President from his son, who himself assumed the same office had me intrigued. I knew I had to read it.

George W. Bush, the 43rd President of the United States, wrote a loving tribute to the man who shaped his life and set him on a course into business, politics, and eventually to the White House. The question is why? Many others have and will write retrospectives on the 41st President, so why do it? The author himself confessed that the book is not objective but is “a personal portrait of the extraordinary man who I am blessed to call my dad.”

41: A Portrait of My Father is a collection of stories, a narrative of a lifetime of a remarkable man, born into privilege but eschewed the family script to pursue his own story. From the front lines of the War in the Pacific during WWII, to the dusty lands of West Texas, to Houston, D.C., China, and eventually the White House. This isn’t a story of privilege but one of hardships and perseverance.

This is a glimpse of the other side of the man, a man we thought we knew, a man who as President had to endure the constant glare of the camera. This isn’t about the politician, the diplomat, or the business man, this is the story of a man and how he shaped his own course, and in doing do, shaped his families as well.

In writing about him, the author humanizes his father, makes him relatable to the reader. The book is engaging, touching, and poetic. It made me laugh a few times, and I shared in the griefs the family had to endure. While the book may not be objective, it is an honest portrayal as lived by one of the subject’s sons.

It’s hard not to come away from the book without feeling that you know him a little better, and unless you’re a die-hard partisan, you come away liking him. I often wonder what makes a man endure the barrage of criticism just for a fleeting moment of glory a top the pinnacle of world power, and it’s not power for the sake of power, but a sense of duty, a duty he accepted as a fighter pilot which led him to become the Commander-In-Chief.

It’s a great book, and one I highly recommend. Again, there’s no pretense for objectivity, but that fact notwithstanding, it’s a book anyone interested in the lives of our leaders should read. I rate this book 5 stars and you needn’t ask, but I enjoyed the book tremendously.

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Book Review: Ensnared

22447220I just bought, and finished A. G. Howard’s final book of the Splintered series, Ensnared, and I have to admit, it was worth the wait. For those not familiar with the series, it is a new take of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, told from the point of view of Alice’s great, great, great-granddaughter, Alyssa Gardner.

It would be all but impossible to review the third book without alluding to the previous novels, so consider this a warning that there will be spoilers, though I promise to do my best to keep those to a minimum. That said, onto my review.

In the final installment of the series, we join Alyssa as she attempts to break into Wonderland. The portals to the realm have shut themselves due to her actions in the previous book, but not without first taking her mother, and the two young men vying for her affection.

To do so, she had to enlist the help of her father, a man who had been taken into the land as a child, but rescued and had his memory erased. Knowing no other way, she begins the quest by restoring to him his lost memories, and in so doing, discovering that his own familial destiny was intertwined with the realm, and therefore to her own.

With her father’s memories restored, Alyssa, along with her father, begin the almost Quixotic quest to attempt to rescue their loved ones, restore balance to the Kingdoms of Wonderland, and restore Alyssa’s rightful place as the Red Queen. Alyssa has to battle not only the spirit of Queen Red, a spirit of malice intent on remaking Wonderland in her own twisted image, but first has to try to bridge the gap between Jed, the mortal she loves, and Morpheus, the Netherling who also has a claim on her heart.

The war for her love is very much at the center of the story. She is by birth a halfling, both mortal and a Netherling. The evil queen takes advantage of her dual heritage and curses her heart, splitting it in two. Her two halves are at war and are in danger of tearing itself as she tried to decide to whom her love belongs, the mortal or the immortal.

That love is key because it also speaks to her love of the human world but also to her desire to be the queen her realm deserves. That love threatens not only her life, but the future of her loved ones, and all of Wonderland. Their fate rests on her making peace with her decision, but also on Jeb and Morpheus coming together to do what is best not only for their kind, but for the woman they both claim to love. Together, they must find a way to make her whole, or risk the destruction of all they hold dear.

What I fell in love with is that this series is very much a story about growing up. If you take away the fantasy aspect, it’s about learning to take responsibility for one’s actions, and that those actions have consequences. It’s a tale of perseverance, that even when things don’t go right, giving up isn’t an option.

I found the story to be mesmerizing, as was Ms. Howard’s imagery of a forbidding landscape, that is at once dangerous as it is beautiful. I loved how lunacy trumped sanity, that only by embracing her own madness could Alyssa come to terms with her power and fulfill the destiny she once tried to forsake.

So, I give Ensnared five stars. It’s a wonderfully written book that took a story that has become part of our popular consciousness and gave it new life. A. G.  doesn’t simply continue Carroll’s story, she reinvents it, making it a wholly unique take on a classic tale. For anyone who loves fantasy, and all lovers of books, I highly recommend that you put this on your reading list. You will not be disappointed.

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Book Review: Through Kestrel’s Eyes


Through Kestrel’s Eyes © 2013 Yvonne Hertzberger

Through Kestrel’s Eyes is the second book of the Earth’s Pendulum Series by Yvonne Hertzberger. I reviewed the first book, Back from Chaos back in August. All the major characters are back, except in this book, the story is a first-person narrative as told by Klast and Bresna’s daughter, a seer named Liannis.

Liannis is a young woman, newly come into her responsibilities. Chief among her abilities include the gift of foresight, usually given to her in a series of dreams from Mother Earth, and the ability to truth-tell, which she uses if a prisoner needs to be interrogated, of if someone’s loyalty is called into question.

The seer works for Earth, a goddess personified, who uses Liannis as an intermediary to maintain balance. Earth’s ability to provide for her inhabitants is strained by man’s refusal to live in harmony with one another. War, and man’s desire to subjugate a defensless populace, causes Earth to suffer, which in turn leads to drought and famine.

The book is roughly a two year span, between Liannis’ taking up the mantle of seer from her mentor, and the trails Bargia, her home, faces with the neighboring demenses, (what we would think of as a kingdom.) Though she has pledged no allegiance to any lord, having grown up in Bargia, she works primarily with Lord Gaelen and his allies.

Trouble comes to Bargia on two fronts, first from Lieth, where a weak lord is disposed and a ruthless despot assumes power, abusing the populace for his own enjoyment. Then from Gharn, where the lord has also been deposed but Dugal, his heir, seeks to reclaim his birthright. Lord Gaelen must choose where to focus his attention, Bargia not strong enough to fight two separate battles, though both threaten not only Bargia’s safety, but Earth’s ability to provide.

Through the conflicts, drought plagues the lands, putting further hardships on the land, making achieving a lasting peace all the more important. Liannis works tirelessly, even putting not only herself in danger, but also her loved ones, all for the sake of Mother Earth. At risk is not only her home demense of Bargia and her allies, but the survival of all mankind.

First let me say that trying to summarize the book is almost an impossible task, as there’s so much going on, with a cast of characters that come together to create a rich and complicated story. At its heart is our seer, Liannis, aided by a young man Merriest, who had the misfortune of losing a leg in his first battle.

There’s also the added dynamic of the seer and her parents, her father Klast, Gaelen’s most trusted adviser and spy, and Bresna, Lady’s Marja’s best friend. Woven into is her familiarity with the ruling family, and her duty to remain impartial for the service of Earth.

The story is much more about about the necessary evils a country must fight in order to achieve a lasting peace. It’s about the suffering her people endure, and how dependent the population is to her leadership for their survival.

But for me, the crux of the book is the Liannis’ personal relationships, not only with family and friends, but all those she serves. There’s a depth of warmth that is at once real and moving. She cares, and through her made me care. She loves, and I came to love her and the rest of the characters as well. The added friction of a potential romantic attachment, one that she believes to be taboo, is familiar and should resonate with everyone.

Through Kestrel’s Eyes is a well-written novel, as is the rest of the series. It moved me to laughter and to tears. I loved it so much that I immediately read the third -though you have to wait for my review – and I immediately wrote the author to tell her how much I loved her books.

It should be no wonder that I should rate this book highly, 5 out of 5 stars. Even after reading it for a second time, I couldn’t contain my emotions, my eyes tearing up from Liannis trials, that I had to stop often to dry them. It isn’t to often that a book does that to me. I cannot recommend this book enough.

Yvonne Hertzberger
Back from Chaos

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Book Review: Dark the Night Descending


Dark  the Night Descending © 2014 Jennifer Bresnick

Arran Swinn is a captain without a ship, a man who is trying to rebuild after an unfortunate disaster at sea. After securing enough money, he buys an old ship, The Tortoise, and begins to look for a crew, though securing cargo becomes his next challenge.

When Elargwyd, one of the Neneckt – a race of sea-dwelling creatures who have the ability to change their appearance – comes to the captain, looking for passage, he reluctantly accepts the job, though one passenger isn’t much of a cargo. Arran looks for an old client in the hopes of securing something profitable, but he is turned away. He is  therefore surprised when packages mysteriously arrives from the client. Arran accepts the payment without regard to what the packages are.

That decision begins a series of disasters, each pushing Arran further along a path where he is no longer in control. The shipment put Arran in the cross-hairs of the Guild of Miners, a group regulates the trade of red iron, a scarce and precious commodity, and a target for counterfeiters.

Arran is forced into hasty alliances in the hope of clearing his name, and finding the a way to pay a debt to a mysterious creature, a payment whose forfeiture would result in his death. After betrayals and shifting alliances, Arran is confronted with his destiny, one that put his life and death in his hands. His fate, and the fate of mankind, may rest in his decision.

I’m familiar with Jennifer Bresnick’s work, having read a few of her short stories, and I even reviewed her first book, The Last Death of Tev Chrisini – the 2012 winner of the Shelf Unbound Contest for Best Independently Published Book. In this novel, I see a great improvement in her writing and storytelling.

In Dark the Night Descending, I found her ability to create a world uniquely her own as good as ever. Her world is inhabited by men and other super-human beings, creatures that have to power to terrorize mankind. It is not a safe world, and the terrors she writes are not unknown to the thoughts of men.

I can relate to Arran as a man trying to fight his way back after suffering a professional setback. He’s a man who finds himself dragged into a situation beyond his ability to cope, and his struggle is complicated by a cast of characters that have their own agendas, ones that finds Arran as dispensable.

Our hero has choices to make. Does he despair and accept defeat, or does he fight on, railing against the powers that seek to use and ultimately destroy him? When his allies betray him, to whom does he turn? Is there anyone left to trust?

The idea of a person finding that he has a greater destiny is nothing new, it’s a well-worn device in literature. What Jennifer does so well is that there is nothing remarkable about our hero, no super power or great ability that sets him apart. He is an every man, somebody who wants to make an honest living and do the best he can with what he has.

To me that’s the heart of the story, that though many powers have tried wrestle control of his life from our hero’s hands, what they can’t take is ability to choose for himself. He is unpredictable and thus he makes himself a dangerous power in his own right. That’s the lesson I take out of it, that we are ultimately in control of how we react to life’s surprises.

I have to give her effort a well-deserved 5 out of 5 stars. The story is entertaining and never predictable. As a reader, I never knew who I could trust, or even like. I was left wanting more and having to wait for the next installment to be written and published. I can’t wait!

Dark the Night Descending is the Book One of the Dreamer’s Shadow Series. You can find this, and her other works on Amazon or Smashwords. Please check her out on her blog Inkless and on Facebook.

Jennifer Bresnick
The Last Death of Tev Chrisini

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Next review – Through Kestrel’s Eyes
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