Book Review: Miguel’s Gift

Miguel’s Gift

By Bruce Kading


This fantastic debut novel takes the reader on a tour of the world of immigration, illegal immigrants, and the law enforcement people who work with them. It’s a story from an insider’s viewpoint that will stay with you long after you put it down.

Agent Nick Hayden is a new officer with INS, in a section called Area Control in Chicago. He has a mysterious motive that the reader gets clues about here and there, but we don’t see his secret revealed for some time. This builds up the tension well. The novel deals with the human side of immigration – the officers and the emotional side of their reactions to their jobs and the things they see, as well as the immigrants and their perspective. It is a timely novel and one that opens your eyes to the real-life complexity of the stories behind the headlines.

Over the course of the novel, Hayden goes through changes and has a sort of redemptive experience. Miguel plays a role in that redemption. Early in the book, Hayden’s training officer, Charlie McCloud, reminds him that he is dealing with human beings and that they deserve respect, something he says that many of the agents have lost. This becomes a central idea of the book.

Set in the 1980’s, the agents raid warehouses which employ a lot of illegal immigrants. They also investigate things like document fraud. First, Hayden gets paired up with Tom Kane, whose unorthodox methods are well known. Then, he gets partnered with Joe Willis, another man who does his own thing. He has what McCloud calls “gladiator syndrome.” The gladiator is a man who takes the job so seriously that he will overstep his authority and often get away with it. Eventually, he feels invincible. He takes the attitude home with him and his relationships suffer. McCloud advises Hayden that he can be more of a philosopher than a gladiator and it will benefit him a lot.

As Hayden gains more experience, he begins to find himself experiencing the gladiator syndrome. For him, the redemption comes when he realizes this and makes changes.

Miguel comes to American from Guadalajara after he finds that he can’t make enough money to support his family. He finds work in Chicago and obtains fake identification documents. The fake documents are apparently easily available and sold out of bars and street corners. These documents allow illegal immigrants to find employment, even though the managers of the warehouses all know they are fake. There is a big ring of document forgers at work in the area and it falls on the INS agents to investigate this.

The author is a former INS agent and knows the realities of the job. That knowledge shines through in his novel. The characters are all very realistic and portrayed in a believable manner. The reader can understand their motivations and the things that bother them. The plot moves along smoothly and interweaves with the subplot quite deftly. The reader comes away with a lasting impression of this novel. I recommend it to anyone who wants to learn more about how immigration enforcement works from the inside, as well as anyone who enjoys police procedural novels.

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Book Review: Nothing Stays Buried

Nothing Stays Buried

By P.J. Tracy


This thriller brings the Monkeewrench crew to Minnesota, where a killer is murdering women and leaving playing cards on their bodies.

Homicide Detective Leo Magozzi and his girlfriend, Grace MacBride are going to have child, making him a first-time parent. She works for Monkewrench, which is assisting Magozzi’s investigation. When a farmer in Buttonwillow asks for Monkeewrench’s help in finding out what happened to his daughter, who has disappeared in the woods, they head there in their RV. The RV is called the Chariot and has computers and other equipment they use in their work. Farmer Walt has an unusual guest who lives in his field, an African lion, an animal that escaped from a wildlife rescue facility.

Magozzi and his partner, Gino Rolseth, cope with a journalist who is nosing into their investigation, and the FBI.

The characters are all interesting and quirky in their own way. The action is fast-paced and the dialog is witty. The characters have a great sense of humor and I had some laugh-out-loud moments when reading. I loved the huge spider on the wall scene. Funny stuff. There is plenty of humor sprinkled throughout the novel and the story itself holds the reader’s attention well. There are subplots as well, so the reader has plenty to ponder.

The authors are a mother-daughter team. This book is number 8 in a series featuring the Monkeewrench characters. I have not read the other books in the series, but plan to. I enjoyed this one a lot. The authors did a great job and I am interested in learning more about these characters in the other books in the series.

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Book Review: Proper Goodbye

Proper Goodbye
by Connie Chappell


Proper Goodbye is a poignant story of love and loss. A mother mysteriously disappears and the family left behind spends years wondering what happened. Resolution comes from an unlikely source.

Abigail Walker is mother to a nine-year old daughter, Beebe. Her husband works in a cemetery. Abigail becomes injured in an accident and becomes addicted to painkillers. Working as a nurse in the nearby hospital, she becomes the subject of a scandal when she is caught stealing drugs. She leaves town, never to be seen again by anyone. Beebe and her father go on with their lives. Beebe becomes a pastor in a church in Kansas, and her father keeps his same job. Due to a complicated situation, Beebe ends up quitting her job and moving to Maryland, where she takes a job as a grief counselor.

Meanwhile, a man named Yates Strand transports a homeless woman named Terri Miller to a town called Larkspur, Michigan. She is dying of AIDS. Yates drops her off at a senior center, where she insists he leave her. Yates has known Terri for many years. He grew up learning many things from her. She saved his father’s life after a car accident. She was a wanderer, but she would end up in his town each summer. But Terri was there for his family during the loss of his mother too. Terri is taken in by the senior center, but dies soon after. Her last wishes are carried out by the man in charge of the center, Vincent Bostick. Eventually, Yates ends up working at the center as well.

The story involves how Terri’s last wishes become important to Beebe and her father and how they deal with this. Yates and Vincent help and so do others who knew Terri. It’s a very emotional story and readers should be prepared for lots of tears. But, it’s also a story of redemption and how people get closure. It’s complicated, but flows very well and is incredibly well-written. It explores the things that deeply motivate people and the way we have of hiding our secrets and burying them under the deepest emotions.

The book is very good and I enjoyed how well the author weaved the plot together by the end. It took a lot of work and it was done extremely well. The characters are all very realistic and have plenty of emotional depth to them, as well as thorough backstories. Dialog and flow of the story are excellent. The writing is top notch.

I give this book a very high rating. It was one of the best books I read all year.

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Book Review: Land of Wolves

Land of Wolves: The Return of Lincoln’s Bodyguard
By TJ Turner


This is a book of revisionist history that posits what would have happened if Abraham Lincoln had lived? What if he was protected by a bodyguard and the assassin failed? The characters are made up of some real people and some fictional.

The setting is 1874 in Tennessee. Lincoln (called the Old Man in this novel) is living with the bodyguard, Joseph Foster, and his wife, Molly Ferguson. There is a group after them, called the Consortium. It is composed of rich men who want to get the president impeached – meaning President Andrew Johnson. The Consortium is rich because they are all industrial barons who use free child labor in their factories, which is allowed under the “Draft.” In this version, Lincoln did not die in office; he resigned. Joseph’s daughter, Aurora, is missing, and he suspects the Consortium had something to do with it, so he heads to New York to look for her. Here, he encounters a gang called the Black Murphy’s, and an Army General named Dorsey. Joseph is forced to flee from the bad guys and he and Molly head west. Here, they encounter more real historical characters, like Jim Bridger and Sitting Bull. The group goes to the land of the Lakota, where they are captured by Rain-in-the-Face and his warriors. They live with the Lakota and learn of their plight over time. But, even here, Dorsey has followed them. Battles ensue, in which General Custer is killed, three years before he died in reality. In this version of history, this sets up a plot where Lincoln can go before Congress to try to get help for the Lakota and force the government to honor its treaties with the tribe. The government agrees and creates a protection act to protect the tribe’s lands.

This version of history is much preferable to the real one in many ways. I enjoyed reading this book and speculating about what could have been. For this reason, historical fiction is interesting. As an imaginary exercise, you can dream up all sorts of scenarios about real characters and come up with totally alternate histories.

The characters were well-rounded and you don’t really need to have read the first book in order to learn about them. We get some glimpses of what happened previously, enough to make this a stand-alone novel. The settings are described well and the atmosphere is easy to imagine from the author’s descriptions. The bad guys are thoroughly evil and despicable. The pace of the story is just right. There is plenty of action all the way through.

Overall, I give this book a high rating for originality and characterization. The story is well thought out and written well. It makes a good solid read and is entertaining enough to hold a reader’s interest. I recommend it to anyone who likes historical fiction.

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Book Review: Dead Spider

Dead Spider (A Loon Lake Mystery Book 17)
by Victoria Houston


In this mystery novel, the richest man in Wisconsin, Chuck Pfeiffer, is somehow murdered during the awards ceremony of a kids’ fishing tournament. The Loon Lake police are baffled by the case, since the man was sitting out in the open surrounded by hundreds of people. Yet, no one saw a thing. How could a man surrounded by people be shot with no one seeing or hearing anything?

The investigation is led by Loon Lake police chief Lew Ferris, and Doc Osborne, the deputy coroner. Doctor Obsorne also was a popular dentist in the community and knows many people. The investigation gets off to a start when they interview the man’s wife. Then, Osborne’s granddaughter, Beth, and some other kids are caught with marijuana. Is Beth going to fall in with the wring crowd? Then, the local senior home is robbed of drugs and cash. The little Loon Lake police department is getting busier with all this going on. Then Beth disappears. Can the investigators get Beth back safely and solve the crimes too?

Overall, this was a well-written murder mystery with a subplot that ties into the main plot neatly. I thought the author did a good job with characterization. Each of the characters has plenty of backstory and interests that makes them real and believable to the reader. The detective work is interesting and the way they solve the crime brings out a lot of history that gives depth to the setting of the little town of Loon Lake. It’s an interesting read and a good solid mystery. I enjoyed it.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the advance reader copy I received in exchange for my honest review.

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Book Review: Rants from the Hill

Rants from the Hill

By Michael P. Branch


The desert is not the place you usually think of when you think of humor. It seems like this barren wasteland where nothing can live except cactus. But, people do love deserts and they live there. The author of “Rants from the Hill” is one of them. They call themselves desert rats. And the desert is indeed full of humorous anecdotes, as this hilarious collection of essays will attest. Originating as a series of monthly columns for High Country News, this eclectic collection will appeal to just about everyone.

Some are serious. Some are laugh-out-loud funny. All deal with the desert environment in a unique voice. I found the author’s sense of humor to be wonderfully dry at times and even sarcastic.

I loved the story of the Mary Kay lady. The shoe tree and “Desert Insomnia” were my other favorites. There are many to choose from. All of them are enjoyable and funny. This is a book you can pick up and read whenever you need a short burst of humor to brighten your day.

I enjoyed how to author combined his environmental knowledge with the stories. Not only do you learn some facts about desert life, plants, animals, history, and more, but you get a story to go along with this knowledge. He and his wife are raising their two kids there and some of the stories are from the perspective of parents, and tell tales many parents can relate to. There is something for everyone in this book.

Overall, I give this book a five-star rating. The author has an excellent sense of his audience and the writing is smooth and each essay just the right length. None of them are boring. The book can be read quickly or you can take your time and savor it, one essay at a time. Any way you read it, I think you will enjoy it.

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Book Review: Girl in Snow

Girl in Snow
by Danya Kukafka


Lucinda Hayes is well-liked by most everyone who knows her in the small suburb where she goes to school. She has a secret admirer in an odd boy named Cameron Whitley, who lives nearby. Her rival for babysitting jobs, Jade Dixon-Burns, doesn’t like her much because they are opposites in many ways. She is popular at Jefferson High School. So, when Lucinda is found murdered on a playground carousel, there are plenty of secrets that will be revealed as police investigate her death.

One man on the investigation team is Officer Russ Fletcher, who was once partners with Cameron’s father. Cameron is a very talented artist, and also prone to wandering the neighborhood at night, watching people through their windows, including Lucinda. He calls these his Statue Nights since he stands as still as a statue while he watches. Due to his odd behavior, he gets harassed at school, especially when a popular girl tells a teacher that she thinks Cameron is the type of kid who would bring a gun to school and shoot people. As a reader, you feel bad for the kid because he seems to have such a hard time. But, you also think, could he be a suspect?

Jade is an intelligent girl who has a bad relationship with her abusive mother. She’s also a talented writer who dreams up imaginary screenplays in her head. Her best friend, known as Zap, was dating the murdered girl, giving Jade a reason and motive to hate Lucinda. Could Jade be a suspect too?

As the investigation gets under way, more and more details come out. The suspicion falls on various people at different times, including Cameron, and the art teacher. Officer Fletcher recalls more details about Cameron’s father, who left town for some reason. We gradually learn the backstory on this too.

The book is told from the perspective of these three people, Cameron, Jade, and Officer Fletcher. Through their eyes, the reader learns about the secrets held by various characters who make up the town. The story moves along at a good pace, but not so fast that you feel like the author is just throwing facts at you. She takes time to develop the characters fully and give them well-rounded backgrounds and histories. The ending is a surprise and I didn’t see it coming at all.

I liked the fact that the characters had depth and were not just cookie-cutter characters populating the pages. They are real people to the reader, with real lives and real quirks. Flawed, just like we all are. The story is complex, but not so much that you can’t follow along. The new clues that are introduced as you read further help keep the story exciting throughout the whole book. Overall, I thought it was well done and polished. There is a moodiness to the story and the setting that the reader picks up on too. Things are not perfect in this town and the people that live there are not either. It’s quite a good book and a good solid read.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the advance reader copy I received in exchange for my honest review.

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