Smashwords book reviews by DIANE DONOVAN

  • The Woman in Black on Dec. 22, 2014

    Savina Thompson is on a mission of investigation… that's why she's reluctantly impersonating a call girl: to help a detective solve a mystery that has kept his investigation at arm's length. But her mission is about to become a lot more complicated; not only because a new speech emulation program is enabling her to pull off the switch so far, but because she is also becoming more involved in the detective's already-complicated personal life. And this is the tip of the iceberg. On the face of it, The Woman in Black is a mystery. It's also a thriller and a novel of psychological suspense, as each protagonist has lot to win - and a lot to lose - in a complex game that is revealed in bits and pieces, chapter by chapter. Like a good game of chess, moves and countermoves result in each side holding key pieces - but not the ability to make the winning move that will definitively end the standoff. And that's what makes The Woman in Black so compelling: in the end, it's all about the standoff. The unpredictability is what counts - and what makes this story such a winner. It's rare for a seasoned mystery/detective reader to say one can't quite see it coming until the end - but it's the case here, and the winning gambit that makes The Woman in Black more than a cut-and-dried case of investigation, romance, or crime.
  • The Loves and Tribulations of Detective Stephen Carlton on Dec. 22, 2014
    (no rating)
    It's relatively rare that a single-line title pretty much sums up the story line; but such is the case with The Loves and Tribulations of Detective Stephen Carlton, the saga of a detective who encounters not one but many loves in his life, and who finds himself on a whirlwind path of romance that ultimately leads him in the wrong direction. The story line is as much about his position and the various reasons why one love and then another don't work as it is about his constant pendulum-like swings between love, loss, and devotion to his job as a New Brunswick constable. After several thwarted relationships that leave him with three boys, he becomes as immersed in work as ever - but life is about to hand him romance connected with his job when he's charged with hunting down Livia, a fugitive charged with murder who has escaped to Venezuela. Now, laws of romance and laws of the land are two very different things. One has logic and rules; the other often rejects them. One comes from the heart; the other from a series of imposed sanctions and objectives that stem from an interest in control and social order more than the processes of emotion. So Stephen finds his blossoming relationship with Livia more than he would ever have anticipated, and when Stephen enters a situation where Livia must care for him, true purposes and personalities evolve. It should be noted that your typical romance reader who anticipates light passion will find The Loves and Tribulations of Detective Stephen Carlton something different: it combines elements of thriller and detective worlds into its overall focus on love, and it creates a complexity between romance and ethics that is a delightful dance between emotion and moral insight. Yes, there's a crime/mystery to be solved - but deeply embedded within the process of detective work is an attention to personal feeling that is not usually evident in mystery/detective sagas. Yes, there's romance - but Stephen's attitude towards his job and its importance underlies all his approaches to love, and it takes a major mind shift to accept a potential pairing with a wanted criminal. Solving this mystery may mean, however, that he loses her for good - for her own good, as well as his motivations for solving crimes. And this is the heart of the story, which is an unusual, powerful blend of romance and detective work that is recommended for readers who enjoy works in both genres.
  • Razor King on Oct. 07, 2015

    Alaska in 2080 is a very different place than the frozen tundra of our times: the icebergs have almost completely melted, and the ice is being hacked away in search of something long-buried. In parts of the world (such as Australia) the ozone is completely depleted, and a small nuclear war has completed what mankind began - so, for its own safety, the world is being run by quantum computers, which have taken over and prove to be somewhat unstable. This book isn't about climate change or computers gone awry, however: these are just the backdrops for an even stranger scenario in which organ harvesting has run amok and the 'Razor King' is terrorizing the night with his vicious harvesting. It will take a madman, a genius, or a hero to stop him - and 'Captain Matagon' is all three, charged with bringing down The Razor King. It should be evident by now that The Razor King is not just another dystopian read: it adds elements of intrigue, mystery, and suspense that places it on the crossroads of three genres: science fiction, thriller, and mystery. Another bonus: more than a dose of high-tech atmosphere adds surprise and depth, while philosophical injections of perspectives on the human condition provides thought-provoking moments throughout. The Razor King could have collapsed under the weight of all these facets under a different hand; but the mark of a superior production is its ability to seamlessly draw all elements together in a smooth, gripping read, and T.W. Moore achieves this in a saga of DNA resurrection and the costs of being human, while leaving the door open for possible further variations on the original theme. Thriller, sci-fi and mystery readers alike will find it realistic, compelling, and hard to put down.
  • Warrior Kids: A Tale of New Camelot on Dec. 17, 2015

    Warrior Kids: A Tale of New Camelot is set in New Camelot, where eighteen-year-old Lance and his Earth Warriors are battling climate change. It would seem unlikely that a youth-led movement can save the earth from its own inhabitants, but Lance's movement is spreading across America, attracting friends and making enemies alike. The question is: can they really make a difference? It's unusual to see a middle-grade novel steeped in different themes often directed to adult audiences: political struggle, climate change, and the process of becoming a leader in a turbulent world. Such themes would seem to preclude the audience Warrior Kids is intended for - and, indeed, the subject and approach promises not a light leisure thriller, but a story offering more depth than most. That's one of the strengths of Warrior Kids: set within the 'Children of the Knight' universe, it combines elements of Arthurian legend and futuristic struggle to create its own unique world where young adults have power and learn how to wield it. Chapters discuss the kinds of wars movements spawn, the strengths needed from a determined leader of any age, and the types of enemies that are born under such circumstances. They follow the rise of 'kid power' in previously-adult political circles and they use many of the trappings of Arthurian times (Excalibur, knights, etc.) to explore rhetoric, political structure, and how determined kids could possibly make a difference in their world - if it's not already too late. While Warrior Kids is might be considered a middle grade read, it's really a better read for high school, with its older teens and their social and political savvy. Such an audience will find it a refreshingly different world that poses many questions about ethics, morality, and human interactions with the planet; all presented under the unusual focus on 'kid power' and the ability of individuals and grassroots communities to change the world.
  • Success through Super Systems- A Single Dynamic to Steer You through Your Life’s Decisions on Dec. 24, 2015

    Success Through Super Systems: A Single Dynamic To Steer You Through Your Life’s Decisions comes from a veteran management consultant who has worked with companies throughout India, creating and applying products and management approaches for various companies. His survey of success opens with reflections on what constitutes success and how to measure it, creating a foundation for analytical applications before moving on to identify the basics of 'super systems', identified here as systems between businesses and customers and the kinds of verifications that take place between them. Communication models for improving self-awareness, identifying and understanding the latent powers in the 'Hidden Self' and how to use them, and taking R&D and other linear management approaches and tempering and improving them with a healthy dose of psychological insight are just a few of the approaches used in Success Through Super Systems, a model of thought that requires more than a small dose of psychological introspection from the business managers while considering its special attributes. Quest Systems has developed a wide range of these models and applications and their philosophy is embedded in chapters that are as precise about their potential as they are about the common pitfalls of typical business approaches. The tips also incorporate spiritual reflection and discussions of how to overcome obstacles to success on different levels. From perceived values and preferred values to examples drawn from Indian literature, spirituality, and business traditions, Success Through Super Systems outlines an approach that considers the roots of success and failure in a variety of systems and encourages a fluid understanding of how to identify the correct 'Super System' for a particular role or goal. The reader who will gain the most value from Success Through Super Systems won't be the business manager used to linear thinking and problem-solving, but those who can appreciate the added value brought to the table by a blend of psychology, spirituality, and cultural understanding. This is a text that should not be hastily digested, but slowly absorbed for its ability to offer lasting food for thought and discussions of not a single system, but a variety of 'super system' options. The dynamic promised may seem singular at first; but its wide-ranging concepts strive for clearer thinking and include examples for both business and life pursuits in a complex, thought-provoking read filled with powerful opportunities for change.
  • Fairalon on Jan. 29, 2016

    Eleven-year-old Iris already has strikes against her: she's the new kid in town, and her quirky behaviors involve repetitive rituals and actions that have, in the past, been labeled an illness. Now she knows they're something more: they are instinctive reactions to her strange and evolving abilities, and they hold the power to alert her of future disasters. That's why she was able to save a young girl from a peculiar car accident, and why she sees things others don't. The first thing to note about this captivating fantasy is that it's liberally peppered with full-color (and well-done) illustrations that enhance its story line. From autos in the woods to strange mischievous beings, Fairalon is packed with visual interludes that enhance the story without taking it over completely. Middle-grade readers will thus appreciate the enhancements which create visual interest in Iris's adventures. The second notable feature of Fairalon is an attention to supplementing a fantasy adventure feel with the realistic saga of a young girl's evolving perceptions of her powers, her world, and whom she can trust. Fueled by strong psychological insights and solid character development, it's a story young readers will empathize with as they read about Iris's unusual challenges. Fairalon excels in a steady plot that offers several twists and turns and much insight on not just the origins of inherited traits, but choices in how power is wielded. Middle school fantasy fans will be enthralled as Iris' world expands in unanticipated directions. It should be mentioned that its conclusion paves the way for more books, yet completes her story in a manner that is satisfying and exact, making for a fine introduction to what might become a series. An exciting blend of adventure, psychological insight, and beautiful illustrations make Fairalon a prime pick in its genre.
  • The Grave Concerns of Jennifer Lloyd on June 27, 2016

    As most fiction writers know, characters don't typically spring from an author's pen to page as full-blown concepts: they evolve, like a sculpture from a piece of clay, as the story moves on. This wasn't the case, however, for author Ian Kingsley as he wrote The Grave Concerns of Jennifer Lloyd. His protagonist, Jen, 'built herself' and poured from his pen already developed as a strong and humorous lead character with whom the reader can readily empathize: one filled with zest and always ready to confront new situations. Kingsley's other characters are equally interesting and well-drawn, and the English country estate where the mystery is set sounds gorgeous. There is even a romantic angle. From its first paragraph, The Grave Concerns draws readers in with a flash and a bang: "I plan to start with a murder. That should get me noticed. I'm after headlines and television news. Or, to put it more bluntly: fame." Jen's job in freelance television involves creating lead stories, conducting interviews, and cultivating a nose for trouble. It's the latter that drives Jen into a dangerous situation, even though her job largely consists of developing wildlife and documentary pieces and educational works. All this is about to change as she confronts something far more sinister. Her troubled past comes back to haunt her and she discovers that her talents and instincts may be no match for her adversaries. As Jen's secrets and lack of credentials are exposed, threatening everything she's built, she finds herself recreating a new life through alternate avenues that bring her into contact with different experiences and individuals. Can a TV reporter who has invented her career path solve murders that have baffled the police? What happens when she truly has to face down a murderer and confront her own ethics by possibly destroying a man's carefully-built facade of a life that he, too, has reinvented in a creative manner? Murder mystery and thriller readers will relish The Grave Concerns of Jennifer Lloyd. The feisty and conflicted world of Jen and how she chooses to navigate her obstacles makes for a powerful, compelling read that's hard to put down.
  • The Jimarian Bible on Nov. 22, 2017

    The Jimarian Bible explains the inner consciousness of both the author and Jimar, making a case for 'bigger picture thinking' as it points out that individuals may experience 100 years on the planet, so have numerous opportunities to make a difference in its evolution. With that in mind, The Jimarian Bible moves on to explore not only underlying purposes in human life on Earth, but the perspectives of Judaism, Christianity, Taoism, and other major world religions and their guidance on the subject. As chapters unfold, a wide-ranging discussion of belief systems turns into pointed considerations of self and moves into wider concerns, from an over-populated world and the risks and rewards of parenting to human psychology, expanding the underlying probe (why humans are on Earth) to consider how people interact with the universe. Be forewarned: this is no light treatment. There are 10 books wrapped into this Bible, and each one addresses a different set of concerns. Each holds its own table of contents, making it easy to locate topics; and each moves from individual concerns to family, community, and social issues after building a spiritual foundation for the journey. Its surveys ranges from how societies construct laws and administer justice to artistic portraits of experiences as influencers on the progress of humanity. From 'holy constants' to the gods of man and choice, readers receive several things from The Jimarian Bible: a sweeping blend of spiritual application and social inspection, admonitions presented in large print and bold type that reinforce the more powerful points throughout, and an attention to details that link the microcosm of individual experience and purpose to the macrocosm of social and spiritual impact. The ideal reader thus should be those already on a spiritual path that embraces social reflection and change - and one who is not stymied by complexity. Some grammatical improvements would make for a smoother, error-free read. Enlightenment is not a process of speed-reading or quick absorption - after all, other religious documents receive lifetimes of inspection and consideration. The Jimarian Bible deserves no less, and will benefit from the open minds and hearts of readers intent upon changing not just their lives and perspectives, but their purpose on Earth.