Bella

Title: Bella
Author: Steve Piacente
ISBN: 978-1451571615
Publisher: CreateSpace

It is quite safe to say that Bella, the enchanting debut novel by journalist-turned-author Steve Piacente, is nothing less than a literary masterpiece on so many levels. From its punchy and witty prose to its utterly appealing and irresistible heroine, Piacente has charmed us with a bold and inventive novel the effects of which will linger in your minds for a very long time.

Told through the eyes of the male protagonist, a Washington journalist named Danny Patragno, the story centers on the beautiful and elusive widow Isabel ‘Bella’ Moss who has a way of getting what she has put her mind to. After receiving an anonymous phone call that rattled her, Bella is determined on proving that the U.S. military has lied to her and to the world about her husband’s death during the war, and she will stop at nothing until she finds a way to find the truth and tell it to the world.

She lures a reluctant Patragno into the investigation, charming him with her alluring personality. It was her resolve more than anything that drew Patragno’s attention. Of course, her beauty is a whole different story. Along the way as newfound evidences and witnesses resurface, Patragno is more and more convinced that there is more to the story. So much more than even Bella herself knew.

At the same time, Danny’s life is on the line at home with his wife when he finds himself falling for Bella, her powerful attractiveness pulling him like a magnet to the extent that Patragno is pretty much helpless in the presence of Bella. Working together, they were tested by the power of temptation and the consequences that followed, threatening to alter the course of their lives forever.

The rich, involving narrative is knotted together with an adept hand populated by memorable, life-sized character that gives the novel more reality than real life itself. As he piles on the suspense of what’s coming next and the romance that is brewing on the sideline, Piacente takes us across Washington to Florida, along the way meeting some very influential people in politics and military.

One of the most striking themes of the novel is Piacente’s intriguing take on ethics as a former journalist. Burrowing from his extensive experience in journalism, Piacente thoroughly investigates the fine line between the rights and wrongs of journalism ethics and personal morals with a sharp, focused and perceptive eye.

With an original voice that has so audaciously knitted such an enticing yarn, Piacente has proved himself that he is a writer in a league of his own. A highly engaging and an equally marvelous read, Bella comes with the highest recommendation. I can hardly wait for Piacente’s next.

Reviewed by Hamdhoon Rashad for Bookpleasures.com

Someone’s Watching

Title: Someone’s Watching
Author: Sharon Potts
ISBN: 978-1608090136
Publisher: Oceanview Publishing

If you are looking for a thriller that is quite admirable for both its visual prose and quick pace, then Sharon Pott’s latest crime flick “Someone’s Watching” might just be the thing for you. Not only does it keep you on the edge with its pulse-racing speed but it guarantees you a seriously chilling thrill ride.

It is not until her estranged father suddenly shows up on her doorstep asking for her help that bartender Robbie Ivy learns she has a half-sister, Kaitlin “Kate” Brooks, who went missing along with her best friend, Joanne Sparks in Miami. Robbie seeks help from her ex-boyfriend Jeremy Stroeb who suggests she should consult Detective Judy Lieber, and Robbie made it her mission to locate her sister.

Robbie is frantic when she learns that Joanne’s body was found drowned in India Creek and the whereabouts of Kate remains unknown. With each passing moment, Robbie knew in her heart that the chance of finding Kate alive is getting slimmer by the minute. Racing against time, Robbie intensifies her search, often going against Lieber and coming close to breaking the law. Along the way, Robbie meets self-help author Gina Fieldstone, wife of politician Stanford Fieldstone, who volunteered to help Robbie to find her sister.

Then, a local congressman commits suicide following a visit to a popular bar the same night Robbie was there. She believes there must be a connection to the events to what happened to Kate and she starts digging deeper only to confront a terrible reality that could put everyone she loves at risk.

The lively South Beach club scene in Miami was portrayed so vividly that its gives the feeling you are right there to witness it all. Peopled with sinister characters, Potts delivers a gripping narrative that will keep you hooked until you have reached the very end of this bone-chilling mystery. Be warned that by the time you get there, you will emerge breathless. An utterly zesty read, “Someone’s Watching” is a terrific crime thriller that should win Potts more fans.

Reviewed by Hamdhoon Rashad for Bookpleasures.com

Did Not Survive

Title: Did Not Survive
Author: Ann Littlewood
ISBN: 978-1590-587454
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press

Truth be told, a mystery laden with multiple layers of pulse-quickening drama does not get any better than this. Did Not Survive, the second zoo mystery by Ann Littlewood, could only be hailed as just another knock-out. Who would have thought that a zoo, of all places, would be a habitat for such harrowing episodes as depicted in this fascinating mystery. Only Ann Littlewood could so effortlessly pull such an original plot out of the mundane details involving a small town zoo with a heroine who has a knack for playing the detective.

The narrative opens at Finley Memorial Zoo in Vancouver, Washington when zookeeper Iris Oakley, now pregnant and widowed, stumble upon the scene where her boss Kevin Wallace is being mauled to death by a zoo elephant, Damrey. While the whole zoo staff is rattled by the tragic incident, Iris, who is still recovering from her husband’s murder, thinks there is a lot more to the whole story.

As Iris continues to put together the missing pieces, she uncovers a number of suspects within the four walls of Finley Memorial Zoo with motives to kill Wallace. Could one of them have committed the murder or is it really the doing of a mad animal?

The list of suspects grows as it turns out that the elephant care at the zoo has been under criticism from animal rights activists who are staging protests outside the zoo. The new veterinarian seems suspicious enough and Iris starts to keep a close watch on her. To make matters confusing, a new foreman to replace Wallace shows up. Add to that are a series of other disturbing events, including the theft of a zoo van and the discovery of a dead tiger. Iris is sucked into the vortex of the unfolding drama as the police keep dropping by and the animals disappear into thin air.

In this well-plotted mystery, the expertly sketched characters come alive with an appealing heroine who will win you over. The carefully detailed behind-the-scenes at the zoo is complemented by the fascinating portrayal of animal care and human failings. With its nuanced and crisp writing and the page-turning pace, Littlewood has delivered a smart mystery that will leave you staggered with awe. Wildly entertaining.

Reviewed by Hamdhoon Rashad for Bookpleasures.com

Buffalo West Wing

Author: Julie Hyzy
ISBN: 978-0425-239230
Publisher:Berkley

In her latest culinary thriller Buffalo West Wing, Julie Hyzy concocts a perfect blend of excitement and nail-biting suspense with the terrifying concept of terrorism thrown in together amid a delicious array of food. As everyone’s favorite White House chef Ollie Paras makes an exciting comeback, Hyzy cleverly plots out yet another roller-coaster adventure within the four walls of the official home of world’s most powerful man and his family. You won’t have time to prepare for what’s coming as Hyzy will grab your attention before you know it and keep you hooked until you have seen it to the very end.

White House executive chef Olivia Paras is busier than ever as she prepares for a new First Family to move into the White House. While Ollie recounts the good times she had had with the previous First Family, Ollie is also excited to win over the new residents with her culinary magic. Before she could start on her mission, an ugly turn of events sends things spiraling downwards. It all started with the delivery of a mysterious box of take-out chicken wings to the White House explicitly addressed to the First Kids.

Not having a clue about who the sender was or how did the take-away box made its way into her kitchen, Ollie thinks it is strange for someone to anonymously send the kids their favourite take away snack. Ollie being Ollie, she politely refuses to serve it to the First Kids until she knows for sure – even when the kids asked for it. Ollie suddenly finds herself in a tough spot as she steps on the wrong foot with the First Lady, whose approval she has been counting on.

When the trust has apparently evaporated between Ollie and the First Lady, the family’s personal chef was brought in to prepare the meals for the First Family. Ollie fears that her much-loved position as the executive chef is threatened and she might be replaced by the obnoxious new arrival. Then the chicken turns out to be poisoned and soon it becomes clear that the First Kids are the targets of what appears to be a terrorist attack. How did it land inside White House? The nagging thoughts at the back of her mind have been right all along and Ollie finds herself involved in a messy situation. Will she emerge heroic once again?

A scrumptious slice of a novel, Buffalo West Wing is as delectable as a take-away box of buffalo wings. From the fast-pacing plot to the headstrong yet lovable protagonist, this is the kind of book that you will crave for more even long after you have finished reading it. Just like the way you crave for your favourite snack or you go for a second or even a third helping of your beloved dishes you would be begging for more. Those of you who had high expectations and hopes will not be disappointed. Dive right in!

Reviewed by Hamdhoon Rashad for Bookpleasures.com

With Thoughts of Jason

Title: With Thoughts of Jason
Author: Caleb A. Mertz
ISBN: 978-1424114535
Publisher: Publish America

Caleb A. Mertz’s coming-of-age novel With Thoughts of Jason explores one young man’s struggle to come to terms with his sexuality and the fateful repercussions of his eventual coming out. Mertz thoughtfully investigates the complex issues of homophobia and hate crimes with a bold yet sensitive take on the intricacies of such social problems.

Jason has always been extra-sensitive to what people might think of him if he reveals his true sexuality. The fear has prevented him from doing so and Jason continues to live a closeted life, a life of misery with silent suffering. To add insult to injury, Jason is constantly bullied at school with name-callings and other defiling acts.

Turning his life around with the help of his close circle of friends, Jason gradually builds enough self-confidence to accept him for who he is. Over the few years that follows, Jason evolves from a closeted loner to a confident young gay man. Jason’s social life takes off from there as he meets new people, people with new interests, people who are like him. That’s when Jason meets Danny. With their instant connection, Danny eventually becomes a vital part in Jason’s life.

Through thick and thin, Jason and Danny struggle to survive in a world they are not fully accepted. Over time, Jason moves away from his family as they turned their back on him and friends he once knew abandoned him. To Jason’s eyes, it is the world against him. Life takes a tragic turn for Jason and Danny when a chance encounter leads to an unfortunate event.

As Mertz navigates us through the inner conflicts of the protagonist, it is quite evident that the writing comes straight from the author’s heart. In effect, Mertz expertly guides us through Jason’s pain and vulnerability, and eventually towards the tragic fate that lurks in the shadows. The sensitivity with which Mertz approaches around the subject is highly noteworthy, as exploring the fragile concept with such finesse could not have been as easy as it seems. If anything, it is proof that Mertz is rapidly making a mark in the literary world as a writer with a fresh, distinct voice.

The highpoint of this engrossing page-turner is its devastating finale that is unbelievably shocking, deeply moving and devastatingly sad. The finely-woven plot is not only satisfying but also heart-breaking. In sum, With Thoughts of Jason is a highly complex and equally thought-provoking novel that is both fresh and original. It makes you pause and take a moment to wonder about the cruelties of life and as you read the final words of the novel, you will be left hoping that no one will have to endure such cruelties regardless of who you are.

Reviewed by Hamdhoon Rashad for Bookpleasures.com

The Collectibles

Title: The Collectibles
Author: James J. Kaufman
ISBN: 978-0982587300
Publisher: Downstream Publishing

The premise of James J. Kaufman’s enthralling debut The Collectibles largely draws from life’s frailties and the power of human connections. In this regard, touching other people’s lives and changing them for the better plays a significant role throughout this captivating novel, teaching us a valuable lesson or two along the way.

An orphan hailing from the Adirondack mountains, Joe Hart is a self-made attorney highly-regarded and respected in his field. While on a hunting trip with his uncle when he was a teenager, Joe has once saved the life of a rich kid from New York, Preston Wilson, unaware at the time that their paths will cross once again in life.

Years later, fate sends Preston tracking Joe, the one attorney who might be able to save him from his impending financial failure. Joe reluctantly agrees but not without extracting a promise from Preston that he will fulfill an irrevocable condition. A desperate Preston agrees without giving it much thought.

As agreed, Joe strategically helps Preston turn his life around both financially and emotionally, and soon Joe summons Preston to call in his favor. Joe tells Preston that he must meet, get to know, earn the trust of and care for a group of his friends whom he referred to as his ‘collectibles’; Johnny, a mildly mentally challenged dishwasher, Missy, a former dancer in Las Vegas now working as a waitress who is a victim of domestic abuse, Tommy, who has a serious gambling problem, Harry, a professional photographer who is also bipolar, and Corey, a skillful carpenter at the onset of Alzheimer’s.

Joe tells Preston that each of his ‘collectibles’ has a serious personal problem and Joe has become involved in their problems. Now Joe asks Preston to take over what used to be his responsibility to take care of them. Does Preston really have a choice?

Drawing from his extensive experience in law, dealings in the world of business and his interaction with people from diverse backgrounds, Kaufman successfully crafts a tale that is as entertaining as it is inspiring. Not only are the ordinary characters easy to relate to but they create extraordinariness right out of their ordinary lives.

A thoroughly enjoyable work of modern day fiction, The Collectibles triumphs on all counts. The expertly-drawn plot-line will hook you right away and you will find excitement at every turn of the page. Do not miss this one!

Reviewed by Hamdhoon Rashad for Bookpleasures.com

The Damage Done

Title: The Damage Done
Author: Hilary Davidson
Publisher: Forge
ISBN: 978-0-7653-2697-3

Delivering on all counts, Hilary Davidson’s startling debut The Damage Done is so much more than what meets the eyes. As you turn the pages of this pulse-rating crime fiction, Davidson deftly transports you to a mystery-laden setting where you will be plunged into a deep, dark tragedy that will leave you breathless until you have reached the final written word.

On hearing that her deeply troubled, drug-addicted younger sister Claudia has been found dead in her apartment in New York, a shock-stricken Lily Moore rushes home from Spain. A successful travel journalist, Lily made her escape to Spain a year ago to get away from the troubles in her life, namely her sister Claudia who has been living on the edge of life.

Lily was soon, however, baffled to learn that the body at the morgue belongs to a complete stranger, who has been impersonating Claudia. The whereabouts of her sister therefore remains unknown and the new turns of the events sends her into a state of utter panic. What has happened to Claudia? Where has she disappeared to?

And so, the frantic search for Claudia begins in earnest and when Claudia transforms from victim to suspect in the eyes of the police, Lily becomes determined to find out the truth behind all the baffling mysteries surrounding the disappearance of her sister. In her quest to search for her sister and the person responsible for the tragic situation, Lily makes sure that not a stone is left unturned.

Through all the chaos that ensue, Lily confronts her own past and a string of people who might have any information about Claudia including her next-door neighbor, Lily’s former fiancé, and even Claudia’s obsessive ex-lover. Then there is the life of Claudia’s impostor that Lily has to dig through to find answers. What emerges is a terrible truth shocking beyond belief that ultimately threatens to take a toll on Lily and those she loves.

With haunting details and heart-quickening twists that you won’t anticipate even in the slightest, The Damage Done explores the issue of identity theft in a new light, cautioning us about the threat it poses. The cleverly-woven plot sends you spiralling down an unknown path, as Davidson guides us through her heroine’s family secrets as well as the peculiar bond between the two sisters and their dysfunctional relationship.

Easily one of the most refreshing crime thrillers to emerge this year, Davidson’s The Damage Done is a first-rate mystery debut that is thoroughly entertaining and highly satisfying. So sit back and enjoy this racing thrill ride of a novel full of mystery and suspense that guarantees escapism at its best.

Reviewed by Hamdhoon Rashad for Bookpleasures.com