Book Reviews by Dark Matters

He Will Be My Ruin

by K.A. Tucker

DarkMatters review — Four Stars

Heiress Maggie Sparkes leaves her charity work in Africa and heads to NYC to perform one last favour for best-friend-since-childhood Celine who died of an apparent overdose of Xanax and booze.

As she packs away Celine’s belongings, Maggie comes across her BFF’s diary and other clues that shatter the image of who her friend had become. The revelations lead her to believe the open and shut case isn’t the simple suicide police reported. Celine was murdered.

The women come from different worlds but grew up as close as sisters. Maggie was guilt-ridden over her family’s energy wealth while Celine came as part of the package when her mother took over as the Sparkes family nanny.

Maggie’s investigations show Celine had been ambitious, smart, and possessed a fabulous eye for detecting bargain antiquities at garage sales and low-key estate sales.

But she discovered a darker side that led her friend into a risky lifestyle and a secret relationship that Celine predicted in her diary would not go well: “He will be my ruin.”

He Will Be My Ruin is an easy-to-read, fast-paced, sexy whodunit that maintains suspense as Maggie unwraps the events leading to Celine’s murder. I would rate the novel as a five star read except for the one item I couldn’t buy into despite the author’s attempts to explain it.

Celine’s dark sideline pushes her into dangerous territory and triggers the circumstances that lead to her death.

Given her connections, talent, and spectacular eye for antiquities, there was no need for the sideline when a phone call to Maggie or a bit of added detective work on the antiquities side might (and did but too late) achieve the same end. Without the sideline, none of the situations that led to her murder would have occurred.

I Am A Truck

Novel Written by Michelle Winters

DarkMatters review — Four Stars

It’s taken me awhile to write this review. I forgot about it but I wanted to do it because it’s my favourite SK book of this millennia.
Stopping the JFK assassination has been oft-tried by time-travellers. If memory serves me, I think Superman tried to intervene at Dallas or maybe it was Lincoln or both. At any rate, not a new subject and even the Kryptonian failed.
What made 11/22/63 work for me was the mystery that surrounded its start. Why did the MC’s friend Al Templeton look so terrible.
I love the whole idea that when an average person acquires superpowers or special access to something like a wormhole that bores through time that there’s a price to be paid.
The cost to school teacher Jake Epping was the same as that paid by diner-owner Al yet both men were compelled to keep trying to make things perfect.
King imbues his fictional characters with angst that rings true and leaves a little mystery on the table for the reader to puzzle out e.g. the yellow card man – a caution card as in soccer?
For the historical figures and environment of the era, he was meticulous in his research while allowing his imagination to fill in the blanks.
It takes a master writer like King to maintain the suspense when we know the outcome. Right up there with The Stand.

DarkMatters review — Five Stars

I was a bit afraid of a let down after the literary high that Noble Smith put me on in Sons Of Zeus, book one of his historical fiction trilogy set in ancient Greece.

Spartans at the Gates delivers and in astonishing ways. Smith paints an amazingly detailed picture of the intricate politics, military drum beating and alliances among the Greek states at the start of the Peloponnesian War.

At the heart, however, is a truly human story of the nobility of his central characters’ struggle against adversity and love (perhaps) conquering all. Smith’s characters are at once believable and surprising. There are twists, bloody clashes, and political intrigue aplenty for this to be considered an action spy/thriller that renders the Jason Bourne series dull and slow.

True to history, the ancients – good and bad guys – are merciless with their enemies and have few qualms about using extreme methods to extract information. Suffice to say, waterboarding isn’t among their techniques.

It was tough for me to get over my admiration of ancient Spartans and to view them as bad guys but Smith had me rooting every time a red cape went down.

I’m a stickler about neat endings and, again, Spartans at the Gates concludes in a smart and satisfying way. I’m reminded of James Clavell’s clever and possibly best writing coming at the end of his best-selling historical fiction adventures.

There are lots of places to go with the third and final part of the series but for now Smith has shown he respects the reader’s need to keep things tidy today before allowing all hell to break loose in the next adventure.

Well done.

15 Seconds

Written By Andrew Gross

DarkMatters review — Four Stars

 

The life of a wealthy plastic surgeon Henry Steadman falls apart after he’s stopped by a cop, hassled beyond any reasonable level, and then, after other cops arrive, is allowed off with only a warning. Steadman is steaming because he’s late for a golf date with a buddy but his problems are about to get a lot worse.

After the other cops leave, the first cop is shot dead. Steadman tries to pursue the shooter, the first in a series of bad decisions that digs him a gigantic hole.

While the beginning of the book caught my attention and seemed to be coming together well, Steadman’s initial idiocy went beyond the bounds of credibility. The rest of the story seems contrived to justify why Steadman can’t do the obvious. That may be true by the halfway mark but the easy answer was simply to not leave the scene of the crime and give police a chance to track down the shooter’s car.

I found the ending the most disappointing part. After reading the bad guy’s rationale, I didn’t get it. It didn’t hold up as justification for the multiple murders nor in any way did it explain how a loser who can’t seem to make a go of life could concoct or have the moxie to pull off such an elaborate scheme.

 

Prophecy (Antigone: The True Story Book 1)

Novel Written by Coreena McBurnie

Before reading a word of Prophecy – (Antigone: The True Story, I had trepidations about first-time author Coreena McBurnie’s retelling of the Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex through the eyes and voice of Antigone, King Oedipus’ teenage daughter.

After all, Oedipus Rex is a classic. It’s a foundational work of Western civilization and gives us moderns insight into the ancient Greeks. Rewriting a tragedy of this proportion in the context of a YA novel might be overstepping decorum if not sanity.

I needn’t have worried. McBurnie possesses a great respect for the original story and

holds faithfully to all elements of plot, character and setting of the classic tale. However, she adds a few wrinkles to make it enticing for not just a YA market but all readers. It works superbly.

Those dusty Theban values, laws and beliefs are made understandable and credible told through Antigone’s experiences, feelings and sense of betrayal. It also opens the door for more books in the series.

I don’t feel compelled to hold back on any spoilers from the original work. McBurnie lays out Sophocle’s story in a note to readers at the beginning. Let’s face it, one way or another you’ve heard about the Oedipus complex and know the basics of this story, unless you’ve been buried in a pit your entire life.

Confession. I’m a fanatic when it comes to Greek mythology. I’ve read a few books in Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series and find them amusing but light on the connectivity with the Bullfinch myths and Homeric tales I know and love. Not a criticism of the series but just not what I’m looking for. Riordan would probably note that I’m not part of his demographic anyway.

The genius of Prophecy (Antigone: The True Story) is McBurnie’s understanding that this is an amazing tale. No one has to tart it up to improve it. If YA readers thrive on teenage angst, how can any character suffer more than seeing her life, family, and kingdom torn apart by revelations of incest, parental murder, the suicide of her mother and her father plunging sharp things in his eyes.

Sort of makes losing a boyfriend or the theft of a lightning bolt kind of a yawner.

Where McBurnie takes license and makes the story her own is the detective work and revelations that Antigone can tap timeless powers that even the gods fear.

Antigone leaves Thebes with her disgraced and blinded father for what can only be a life without hope. Or is it? The gods, who she revered and now despises, destroyed everything Antigone loved as if it were a game.

Does Antigone have the ability and moxie to take on the gods? I can’t wait for the next in the series to find out.

Disclosure: I received a copy of Prophecy in exchange for an honest review.

 

Sons of Zeus: A Novel (Nikias of Plataea) 

A Novel Written by Noble Smith

DarkMatters review — Five Stars

Wow! I’m a Greek history buff and a fan of action novels. I got a heaping helping of both in this tremendously well written, well researched and well executed work. It truly is a Noble piece of art.

I loved the characters – so many that I’ve already started re-reading it to get them all straight – and their heroic actions and attitudes.

Smith even handles his villains with grace and understanding. Like great authors before him, Smith leaves us annoyed at the end that so many important things are unresolved, the perfect come-on to drag the reader to the next book in the series. Well done.

 

1434: The Year a Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaissance

Novel Written By Gavin Menzies

DarkMatters review — Four Stars

I read 1434 before I read Gavin Menzie’s first book on how the Chinese discovered America before Columbus. What really struck me was how much all of this made sense.
Several years ago – before I picked up the book – I toured the Doge Palace in Venice and became perplexed by a map pre-dating 1430 on one wall that showed the coastline of Europe, a great expanse of sea and then a blob of land on the other side that could only be the Americas. This map was dated 60 years before Columbus set sail.
I tried to ask about it and no one seemed to understand my question (I don’t speak Italian) or didn’t want to understand my question.
In the book, Menzies writes that at one point Columbus faced an unhappy crew when the ship seemed to be getting nowhere. Columbus whipped out a map and showed them they didn’t have far to go to reach landfall.
Menzie ruffles more than a few feathers by suggesting – horrors – that Leonardo da Vinci’s flying machine and underwater gear may have been partly cribbed from drawings left by Chinese visitors?
Menzie’s next writings – Atlantis – have knocked the wind out of his credibility but I believe his previous works – 1434 and 1421 – continue to have merit.

 

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