HILL OF SECRETS by Michal Hartstein

hill-of-secretsA really nice detective mystery, set in the outskirts of Tel Aviv.  That would be Israel, for any of you who are geographically challenged.

A thirty-ish single woman leaves her lucrative attorney’s job to become a police woman, much to the dismay of her mother.  In their community, the highest calling is to get married and produce four children.  Her two sisters are well on their way, leaving Hadas Levinger divorced and working in an unusual job.  She actually divorced her husband because she absolutely did not want children, and he did  and he thought he could eventually changer her mind.  But alas for him, nope.

The book starts out:

A month before Meir Danilowitz got up in the middle of the night to shoot his entire family and then himself to death, I divorced my husband.

All righty!  I’m in!

It seemed to be a locked room mystery, all doors and windows locked from the inside, but it was so uncharacteristic of  Danilowitz that the Police Chief assigned Hadas to investigate a little more.  Well, that investigation revealed that there was more to Meir than being in terrible debt with a wife who didn’t love him and only wanted to spend spend spend, and we find out that there was more to the local clown who did children’s parties, etc on weekends and was a high tech exec by day.

Beautifully written, and unique-ish because it was set in a religious community in Israel, (not a lot of regular murder mysteries set in Israel that aren’t connected in some way with ancient artifacts, documents, etc.) and because of its wonderful lady cop, who interweaves her personal life and musings with the people she meets on the case, and her family, etc.

It is not clear, but I believe it was written Israeli and then translated to English, but no credit is given to a translator, so Mz. Hartstein may have done the translation herself.  Other reviewers have complained about the typos, etc, but the version I have was clean and altogether delightful.




IN TIMES LIKE THESE by Nathan Van Coops

times-like-theseHow do you stand on time travel stories?  Me?  Usually one a year is my limit.  But in times like these, you need a good get away book, so I went for In Times Like These.

Fun book!   Five young adults, all friends,  are playing softball one typical summer evening in St. Petersburg,  Florida.  As usual, a storm comes up, and they are sitting it out on the dugout bench when lightning strikes something, a wire goes down, and it would seem they are electrocuted.   But danged if they don’t wake up ….. in 1985.  How could that happen?  Well, it seems that

the Temporal Studies Society suffered an explosion that released the gravitites into the environment around [them] by way of electricity.  That is crucial to the events, because electricity acted in this case as not only the medium in which [they] were exposed to these particles, but also the catalyst for the reaction that ensured.  the unique particles, called gravitites were sent into the environment around the lab by way of the electrical power lines.  When that power line broke free of the pole and hit the bench, it transferred not just the electricity, but the gravitites as well.

Time travel stories have to have some kind of scientific explanation that is slightly incoherent to the normal mind.  So, I would say, so far, we are right on track.  And anyway, I know you want to know more about those little gravitites.

These particles act as disruptors to the way individual cells stay anchored in time.   The cells of your body and in all the things around you have a gravity of sorts that keeps you in sync with the flow of time, stuck in the river with everything else that’s floating with you.  All of it is flowing at the same speed.

Well, so THAT explains it.  Getting out of sync with the flow of time could certainly play havoc with the framastam and your combobulator big time!  What I want to know is if these gravitites have calories.   Because, well, you know,   if you have too many gravitites, do you gain weight?  Because that, too, could explain a lot of things in my life.

I remember the 80s very well.  Big hair.  Leg warmers.  Ugly clothes.  These guys:


Turns out that a serial killer who was on his way to jail in a Sheriff’s van also ended up in this same Florida city on the exact same day!  Talk about time traveling coinkydink!  Whew!  He kills the two sheriff’s guys, leaving a very confused 1985 police force, seeing as how the van has not even been manufactured yet.

I love that the city has a Temporal Studies Society.  And a director who hops around from time to time.  The book uses quotes from his diary and they are fun.   So now the big thing for the five friends is to get back home to 2009,  but it also turns out that there are infinite time streams, little slivers of time streams, kind of like the string theory for time travel, and they do get back, but daggone, they are in the wrong time stream, and meet up with themselves, and find the one friend they left back in 1985 because he wanted to stay with his grandfather who died in his other time stream, but anyway there he is, having arrived in 2009 the hard way, by living it out, and he is now 25 years older, and is married and has kids, while his friends are still their original ages,  But the other friend they left there to keep an eye on friend one got murdered so they go back to try to find the right time stream and get that other friend unmurdered and if you think this precis is confusing, you should read the book!

Time streams branch out, infinitely, so it is a wonder that anything happens on time at all.

Like I said earlier, it really was fun, and if it makes your brain hurt a little bit, that’s all right, because that’s what reading is for….. to stretch your intellectual muscles. And also to take up time while you are sitting on the pot.

Yeah, because I want to do a lot of fast, hot, sweaty exercising with a thong up my b..... never mind.

Yeah, because I want to do a lot of fast, hot, sweaty exercising with a thong up my b….. never mind.


POISON PEN by Sheila Lowe

poison-pen(A Forensic Handwriting Mystery).  Cool premise.  A young woman has a degree in handwriting analysis, which has some kind of fancy name which at the moment escapes me… oh, yeah, graphology, that’s it.  She has a successful free lance business doing work for lawyers, employers, etc. needing info which can be garnered from studying someone’s handwriting. 

She has a female friend with whom she had a falling out years before, because the friend was nasty, yada yada yada.  She gets a call, the ex-friend has apparently committed suicide by hot tub or something, so she goes to the funeral.  There, the business partner of the dead friend asks her to come to the office/home of the deceased, and there shows her a note purportedly written by the quick before she became the dead, but in block letters, printed.  He does not believe the woman committed suicide and hires Claudia to find some other samples of the handwriting or printing so he can get the police to call it a homicide.  Guess what, oh big surprise, the insurance company does not want to pay out for the suicide, hence the investigation.

So off she goes, the investigation proceeds apace, we get a lot of interesting info on graphology and what can be learned about a person’s personality from their handwriting, etc., and all in all, it was a nice read.  Not exceptional, you understand.  Too formulaic what with the attractive single homicide detective assigned to the case, who takes her with him to interview suspects!, yeah like that really happens in Real Life.  And if I had actually been paying more attention, I might have figured out the Real Killer, because the clues were offered a little heavyhandedly, but I have no one to blame but myself for my failings. So in spite of any criticisms I might have expressed, I read the whole darn thing all the way through to the last word, so really, how bad could it have been, right?

The author herself is a degreed graphologist, so the info we are offered is the real deal and pretty interesting.

Here’s a sample of my block printing:



HERO FOR HIRE by C. B. Pratt

hero-for-hireYou know, sometimes ya just gotta read a book about a Thracian dude in ancient Greece because, well,  Greek mythology!  That’s why.

Eno is a big guy.  No, really, a B.I.G. guy, rough, tough, and his services are available for a fee to get rid of mythical beasts (well, mythical to us, but to those guys back in the day, they were pretty non-mythical and in your face), spells, goddesses both minor and major, and all kinds of annoyances.  So when he wasn’t busy heroing, he was busy…. well, actually he was always heroing, you know, one of those A-type personalities.

It was a really fun read, witty, and just chock full of Greek mythology lite, and really, you just have to love the way people turn into beasts, and vice versa, and goddesses are just the way they are today, bossy and provincial.

It ends with a lengthy episode in the underworld, which seems to be de rigueur for anything remotely having to do with mythology, or even as I recall, witchy people, etc. , but really, you can’t say it was formulaic.  hahaha

I think there are a couple of further volumes, but maybe they were only in the planning stages.

Great writing, fun characters, interesting setting.  What’s not to like?


hal-space-jockI like my sci fi sciency and with lots of robots.  I mean, really,  I want robots in my life, not just the kind that assemble car parts and deliver packages.  I like the kind of robots that wait on you, clean your house, and are good at clever repartee.  Kind of like Jeeves with replaceable parts.

In this third in its series, Hal Spacejock, free lance space freighter pilot extraordinaire is running out of options and money.  The only jobs available on  Planet Cathua are shady, illegal — not that that’s a bad thing, mind you — but ones pretty likely to land him in hot water, but now that the local loan shark is after him, using for their muscle a huge unpleasant robot with a penchant for destruction, he is forced to take an iffy job from the biggest robot builder on the planet.  That job would be delivering a sealed shipment to a distant yuk-a-toid planet where there is an operation that refurbs parts and reships them.  Along for the ride is an elderly robot, a bit rusty around the seams, but who (which?) still has all his brain parts functioning very well. 

Unfortunately, the place for repairs on that planet turns out to be a chop shop, and poor Clunk, the robot, is supposed to be chopped up, not given a class on modern technology.  Well, Hal can’t let this happen, especially when his return load is all refabbed parts, not the new ones the robot company claims to use.

So there is lots of thriller stuff, lots of funny conversation, and frankly my dears, Clunk is way smarter than his dented parts would suggest.

A totally fun read, a quasi thriller that doesn’t take itself too seriously, so neither should we.  But be prepared, I am neck deep in a Peter Watts sci fi series, and that DOES take itself VERY seriously.

OK, dear ones, see you on the flip side.

FAT VAMPIRE by Johnny B. Truant

fat-vampireI know I shouted from the rooftops that I would never read another vampire book, that the genre was played out, yada yada yada.  But….. a FAT vampire?   How can you resist?  Well, you can’t, and neither could I.

Reginald, and please don’t call him Reggie, he hates that,  is tipping the scales at about 350 pounds.  No friends, no lovers, no nada, just an IT job with coworkers who tease and bully him.   But there is one coworker who doesn’t do these things.  His name is Maurice, he wears a black hoodie all the time, and a cape, for pete’s sake, and a sword.  He works the night shift, but he and Reginald pass in the break room from time to time, say hello, and eventually decide to like hang out together one night before Maurice has to go to work.  They agree to meet at the local bowling alley.

While there, three strange characters walk in looking for Maurice, and they and Maurice have a confrontational conversation, and all end up out back, where the two very strange woman attack Reginald.  There is blood everywhere and just as he is about to die,  Maurice saves him by turning him into a vampire.  Yes.  In case you haven’t guessed it, Maurice is a many thousand year old vampire.

Vampire life is very different these days.  It is total bureaucracy,  there are rules, and not just anyone can be a vampire.  The days of randomly turning mortals is over.  They have to apply, take tests, study, prepare, and go through a physical boot camp, because as a vampire, you spend eternity in the age and shape you were when you were turned.  And now here we have this unauthorized obese person as a new vampire, out of shape, and clueless as to what to do.  Thank goodness for Maurice, who is working to overthrow the current head of the vampires.

It is all very funny, and even if there is a torture scene near the end, we readers don’t take it all that seriously, because there are something like six more books in the series, and how could the story go on if they all die right in the first volume?   And anyway, this is a vampire tale that doesn’t take itself all that seriously, either.  It is fun, clever, and makes you think….. as you are about to bite into your second chocolate covered doughnut of the morning…. about having to spend eternity in clothes that don’t fit and being out of breath all the time.

You will love the other titles in the series: Value Meal; Tastes Like Chicken; All You Can Eat; Harder Better Fatter Stronger,

MARLENE AND SOFIA by Pedro Barrento

marlene-and-sofiaThe author himself tells us: 

The initial draft was written in Portuguese but the book was developed and fine tuned in English and parts of it were written directly in English. There isn’t even a Portuguese version at the moment. I must go back to the Portuguese draft and update it so that it becomes the same as the final English version. So I guess this is an English book although written by a Portuguese author.

I love this, because it has the same layers and convolutions as the book itself.

Any writer, in Portugal in a sort of alternate modern time,  has to apply to the Guild for a genre and basic outline of a book.  The writer cannot just write any old thing, because the Guild wants to ensure that the book is published, read, and is a hit.

Our writer is assigned a romance, but set in the slums along the bank of a river.   He begins writing, but veers off course, submits his work, and several new chapters which he did not write are returned with an outline for the following chapters, and he is chastised for not sticking to the script.  But again, he writes his own version, adding additional chapters and submits it.

His own version is about two women, friends, from different strata in the society.  Sofia is the daughter of a Marxist revolutionary in his younger days.  He owns a small piece of worn out land, and gives it to Sofia on which to construct  greenhouses, with subsidies and loans from the government, and a great deal of help from a wealthy lover.

Marlene is a gal of the streets, a ‘working girl’, who also works part time for Sofia.  They become friends, and their fates intertwine.

Theirs is a great story, a real page turner, and we start to forget that it is a story within a story, the megastory being the writer who is on the hot seat for writing unauthorized story lines.   It turns out that the president of the Guild, who is the only person not permitted to write, is feeding him those mystery chapters, hoping he will write her book and it can get published using his name.  Meanwhile, a secretary at the guild is doing her best to help our writer.  Which becomes yet another love story.

Oh, it is all so clever!  I loved it.  It is a mishmash of love stories, all interwoven, and you will totally enjoy it, because all the world  loves a lover, right?