The Beekeeper's Secret

by Sally Fernandez

Advance copy review by Michael DeStefano

In the breakthrough character of Maxine Ford from her novel Climatized, Sally Fernandez has done it again!

Taken by the parallel of Basil Rathbone’s Holmes going head to head with George Zucco’s Moriarty, Max (Holmes) once again crosses swords with her elusive adversary, the director of the Consortium (Moriarty), as the POTUS (Mycroft Holmes) warns of impending danger at her personal Reichenbach Falls.

And the similarities to Conan-Doyle’s renowned sleuth don’t end there.

From the outset of this next chapter in the Max Ford saga, we find Max (some time after the events chronicled in Climataized) seeking the assistance of “Old Mr. Jim Beam” to drown her inactivity (instead of a seven-percent solution of cocaine). She needed to take her mind off recent tragedies that robbed her of the people closest to her, particularly Noble Bishop and Jackson Monroe. Though unprepared to launch into a new investigation, a midnight phone call from another friend carried news of another death, another friend and United States senator, of a suspected heart attack.

Her investigation takes Max (and her new partner, a former CIA agent named Sam) from the interior jungles of the Amazon to an apiary in New Mexico. To help her connect the disparate series of random dots, Max engages the aid of her former lover and head of the POTUS’ secret service detail, Jake Stanton. But the closer she and Sam get to doing so, they’re warned off the case. Max doesn’t do well at all when people tell her to back off, especially when it involves the deaths of numerous physicians known for using homeopathic methods, an unobtrusive beekeeper stung to death by the bees he kept, and conspiracies involving the FDA, big PhRMA,… and one of two people in the world who once knew her as Claudia Irving, her brother and chief assassin for the Consortium, Daniel.

Twists and turns abound as Fernandez precisely knits facts with imagination to entertain and to educate in a genuine page-turner too irresistible to put down. And though the story is fictitious, the evidence laid bare is eye-opening, provocative and factual. The author treats us to a disquieting synopsis of how corruption at the highest levels can, and most likely is, operating near the periphery of our very own government. Call it Deep State if you like, but Sally Fernandez’ fiction has a disturbing way of ripping facts from current events to solidify our suspicions that more is going on than we will ever be told by self-proclaimed authority.


Sleeping with the Blackbirds

by Alex Pearl

Review by Michael DeStefano

At first blush, the title of Pearl’s original fairytale of a bullied pre-teen and his feathered protectors felt more like Ramsey Campbell vacationing in Bodega Bay; hinting toward the familiar La Cosa Nostra metaphor, sleeping with the fishes. But unlike Hitchcock’s inexplicable avian menagerie, the title was meant to describe something that actually occurred in the story as these birds’ ultimate motivation was benevolent, not malevolent.
Pearl puts the fairytale aspect on full display, allowing the reader to ‘hear’ what the birds were ‘saying’ to each other. Enhancing the fantasy, the author assigns a specialize affinity to each species; the geese are the muscle, the magpies, thieves (I couldn’t get Rossini out of my head after reading that), and the blue tits, the interpreters of human speech. The leaders, as the title suggests, are the blackbirds.
The main protagonist, 11-year-old Roy Nuttersley doesn’t have an idyllic home life. His parents are invested in their self-absorbed priorities, chief among them is arguing with each other. To escape their incessant verbal contests, Roy seeks the solace of watching birds. He likes it so much, he built several bird feeders and hung them out for the birds to enjoy. Sensing Roy’s depressed emotional state, the intuitive birds take to following him to see what other influences are distracting the boy. If he becomes too depressed, he just might stop filling the bird feeders. The problems he experiences from an indifferent father and an obsessive compulsive mother are compounded when Roy goes to school. The class bullies, Harry Hodges and his friends, have targeted Roy for harassment and each day gets worse and worse. The last time, Harry had stolen Roy’s precious bird-watching binoculars.
For Harry’s part, stealing Roy’s binoculars wasn’t brazen enough to draw attention to his schemes, until one of his buddies suggested upping the ante; kidnapping Roy. As the reader quickly surmises, the birds will have none of this. 
I don’t wish to give the game away by revealing too much of the plot. Suffice to say the ending results in a positive outcome for our protagonist, though the ending was a pleasant surprise for the reader. Even the bully’s well-drawn introspection, results in an optimistic resolution. It’s also a given that a fairytale is generally carried by the narrator, so hold that thought as you take in the story. One discordant note in the narrative were pronouncements to ‘global warming’ which didn’t appear to have anything to do with the plotline or the moral of the story. As a plot device, its inclusion had no relevance for the characters or the reader and struck me as gratuitous and unnecessary.



by Sally Fernandez

Review by Michael DeStefano

It’s a tricky thing to lay facts over a fictional canvas to relate a story of such realism. An author who can paint that canvas convincingly enough for the reader to ask, Did this really happen?, can truly say they’ve created a compelling piece of fiction, especially when the subject is something as hotly contested as global warming. Bringing any clarity to the “climate change” debate is problematic at best when the essence of true science is denied; that being, to question everything.
A naturally collaborative enterprise, true science is not validated by consensus. It’s demonstrated to be irrefutable through experimentation. A theory may enjoy the support of many, but it’s still just a theory until it’s proven beyond doubt. When mounting evidence casts suspicion over that theory, and this same evidence is suppressed by powerful forces, it becomes exhilarating fodder for a political thriller.
Global warming skeptics have been threatened for daring to stand up to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as the so-called climategate scandal made inroads to delegitimize the anthropogenic global warming theory. But is there any genuine evidence the IPCC was wrong? Despite the many persuasive non-fiction books citing lettered scientists and physicists of standing who validly question the IPCC’s methods, the false narrative the science is settled still remains; championed by unqualified politicians and celebrities.
Hollywood is quite adept at utilizing the power of motion pictures to drive home a concrete narrative regardless of its subject or accuracy. They rely on emotional appeal, holding that the exception is the rule and not the other way around. Their views become prone to advancing a preconceived (and ofttimes misleading) agenda. Perhaps, what is needed, is a fresh perspective; where cold, unemotional facts are argued through the adventures and investigation of realistically conceived fictional characters enmeshed in that political thriller.    
Enter Sally Fernandez and her latest novel, Climatized.
Fernandez introduces Maxine Ford to the pantheon of fictional sleuths; a dogged investigator who uses her experience within the DC cesspool to press her investigation into places the Barons of the Beltway hoped she wouldn’t go. As former deputy director of the States Intelligence Agency, Max had barely opened her private investigator doors when she runs into activity mere blocks from her office.
The body of Senator Sherman Spark is found on a park bench; an apparent suicide. Yet inexplicably, the capitol police haven’t closed the case. Tied to his death, four scientists using a specific formula (written on the back of a family photo in Spark’s office) have discovered a revelation that could derail the trajectory of climate change funding. One that was supposed to be addressed in senate committee, headed by Spark’s political rival, Senator Winston Erog (Yes, she did. That’s Gore spelled backwards). The first scientist, a Frenchman, is killed in a climbing accident before he can offer testimony to this committee. The second, a Swiss scientist, dies in an apparent traffic accident. The third has a suspected heart attack while eating at a swanky DC restaurant. The identity of the fourth, an Italian scientist whose initials are A.M., remains unknown, to Max and her antagonist.
Engaged by her first client, Isabelle Spark, who believes her husband’s death was no suicide, Max finds herself fighting the very bureaucracy she, herself was a part of. It’s a race against time for Max to determine who silenced Senator Spark and the scientists he invited to the committee before they have the opportunity to silence her. For good.
Though she enjoyed greater access in her previous position as assistant director of the SIA, she’s temporarily stiff-armed by the capitol police chief, an acquaintance named Ray. But Max is not without resources.
She deftly employs her numerous, high-level associations; The reluctant capitol police chief. Her former lover, Stanley Stanton, head of the secret service detail charged with protecting the president. Her current lover and former boss, SIA director Noble Bishop, and finally, her friend and junior partner of her PI firm, ex-CIA agent, Jackson “Jax” Monroe. It is with this array of qualified assistance, Maxine Ford is thrust into a maelstrom of conspiracy, deceit, and murder.
Fernandez successfully intermingles her characters with actual people (with bonafide positions like the former NASA veteran and chairman of The Right Climate Stuff research team, Dr. Harold Doiron and the Hudson Institute’s Dennis T. Avery), presenting established facts with imaginary characters and situations to weave a fictional, action-packed murder mystery. Fernandez’ convincing mix of levity, romance, and action makes for a suspense-filled page turner, whose sobering, real-world consequences provide genuine food for thought. Provided, of course, one has an open mind.


The Composer's Legacy
2nd edition advanced copy

by Michael DeStefano

Review for Readers' Favorite by Divine Zape

The Composer's Legacy by Michael DeStefano is a beautiful work of fiction, based on a historical personage, that combines the arts with the great skill of storytelling to offer readers an amazing treat. David Whealy is a renowned California music professor who tumbles on an unexpected inheritance. It all starts with a simple, short letter that reads: “You have been named sole beneficiary to the estate of Mr. James Burton West. Further instructions will be forthcoming in accordance with the wishes of the benefactor.”

David’s life changes suddenly as he finds himself catapulted to the other side of the country, digging into the significance of his inheritance from one of the world’s best music composers. He finds more than unpublished music, and it seems to David that his benefactor didn’t even know the extent of his own wealth, guarded in the family from one generation to another since 1724. Now, he’ll find out about his colonial ancestor and an iron key that opens to a secret that could even change the destiny of the entire nation.

The Composer's Legacy is a great work, brilliantly plotted and intelligently written. The reader will enjoy the appreciation of fine music, the excellent writing, and the gripping plot. Michael DeStefano is a great storyteller and his writing features some of the finest literary styles, including a masterful use of the epistolary, great dialogues, and an engaging narrative style that will have the reader gripped from the beginning to the end. The cast of compelling characters, the well-handled themes, and the strong storyline are elements that set this novel apart as a work of great entertainment.

The Dead Dance Faster

by Julie Ann Hacker

Review by Michael DeStefano

Using the conversational first-person narrative of the protagonist, Hacker’s heroine, Jael Mancuso, lays before us an eerie suspense yarn worthy of Rod Serling.

Dysfunctional family relationships, a family history shrouded in secrecy, a cultist-style church with strong ties to town politics, and a pansophical being in the person of the town’s preeminent citizen, Pastor Thomas Jude, provide the appropriate backdrop as an innocuous request from Jael’s mother propels this rolling potboiler forward.

Annalise Mancuso insists her daughter, Jael move from their hometown of Pittsburg to a place hours away called Seven Hills to take a job with Pastor Jude. Events quickly move into the realm of the bizarre when the out-of-wedlock birth of Jael’s stillborn baby (Orchid) combines with strange and unexpected reactions from all who surround her. Even her mother, who comes to Seven Hills for a visit, appears disquietingly accepting of Orchid’s fate. Annalise’s over familiarity with Jude, a person Jael only just met, sparks concern in the young woman who is determined to find out what really happened to her baby.

As expected, Jael’s former boyfriend, Shane reemerges to buttress Jael’s courage during her investigation. The two endeavor to find out what’s really going on within the cultist divide of this unusual church and the unnatural hold it has over its parishioners. The prospect of a rekindling of their relationship may have been predictable, but certainly not the way the reader expected.

Though titled as book one of a planned series, this quick read is an enjoyable stand-alone. Taking the requisite time to establish the pace and to introduce the main characters, Hacker’s disarmingly loquacious prose becomes addictive as the story progresses. The die-hard suspense addict sequestered on their favorite sofa will find this one an excellent read to curl up with.        

No Ordinary Killing

by Jeff Dawson

Review by Michael DeStefano

The outset of the Second Boer War sets the stage for Dawson’s intriguing period play that delves into the never-ending saga of class privilege, the state of human prejudice in the world at the turn of the twentieth century, and the comparative value of human life. Oh, and there’s a “spot of bother” about the murder of a drunk RAMC officer whose body was left only yards from his temporary lodgings in Cape Town.
Three seemingly unique story lines converge into one, satisfying whole as the author first raises the curtain on the opening skirmish at Magersfontein, Cape Colony. Nearly everything that transpires is plainly revealed to the alert reader as the clues are subtlety sprinkled throughout, but central to figuring out the mystery of who murdered the RAMC officer and why, is Dawson’s main protagonist, Captain Ingo Finch.
A doctor with the Royal Army Medical Corps, Finch is infused with the natural curiosity of a detective, the compassion of a doctor and a dry but quick wit. Even has a run-in with fellow RAMC medico and celebrated Holmes author, “A.C.” Doyle.
Phillip Glass-styled sentences with the echo of poetic cadence characterize Dawson’s literary canvas with a functional minimalism. Exceptional use of vocabulary not only adds depth to the storytelling, but also to the enjoyment of the reader thirsty for fresh, expressive language (not just accent-infused dialogue, which Dawson pens with faithful accuracy to the location and the period). Verbal exchanges where one character would initiate a thought, is immediately finished by the second, which effectively conveys humorous intent as well as relaying crucial information. To lay down anything further within this review would give the game away.
I so enjoyed the effort in following along with Finch, Miss Jones, and Mbutu, trying to solve the mystery on my own, I won’t spoil your fun here. Suffice to say, the character Albert Rideau, offered the most appropriate comment for the reader’s appraisal of Dawson’s work; They must “absolutely have to give (Dawson) full marks” for such an exciting and detailed period mystery-adventure.
Looking for a thrill-ride of non-stop, pulse-pounding proportions? Then you really must take up Dawson’s impelling tale, No Ordinary Killing or you’d “(throw) a damned good lunch…”
A jolly good yarn, what.

The Yugoslavian
The search for Mara Jovanović

by The Black Rose

Review by Michael DeStefano

The breakup of Yugoslavia provides the backdrop for this tale born of war, but driven toward redemption, mainly for the two principal characters; the roguishly handsome rebel leader named Ivan Đurić and the head of an American-based Children’s Writing Foundation, celebrated novelist, Tess Fordel.

In the process of reviewing submissions for a writing contest, Tess comes across a lengthy, but poignant story penned by a 7-year-old Croatian girl caught in the middle of the conflict. Since the little girl, Mara Jovanović writes no English, the story is translated and submitted—along with a cover letter—by the girl’s protector, a man called Iđy. Touched by Mara’s story, Tess decides Mara is not only the winner, but that she must present the prize to Mara in person. Against the advice of her publisher, she ventures to Belgrade to find Mara before the deadline. That’s her bit.

Ivan Đurić, on the other hand, is introduced as the non-Nationalist resistance fighter with a demonstrated ability to dispatch his enemies, if needs must, without a second thought. Ivan hates war and hates killing, but his leadership and God-fearing conscience guides his compassion as he prosecutes the war against the Nationalists and, by proxy, the outside influences of other nations. (On only one occasion, he executes a prostrated prisoner, but for a very specific reason.)

Before Tess’ arrival to Belgrade, Ivan is informed that a very beautiful American woman—a spy—is coming to try to locate and identify The Black Rebel (a.k.a. Ivan, a.k.a. Iđy). Ivan decides to intercept this woman, and if necessary, do what is required to ensure the safety of himself, his men and his Cause. This woman says she’s only here to inform Mara she won the writing competition and to present the little girl with her prize. In offering to help Tess find Mara, Ivan does his best to prevent that meeting from happening until he can determine if Tess is either the spy he was warned about or she is what she says she is. He never thought meeting Tess would awaken feelings he thought long dormant within his heart. That’s his bit.

From their initial meeting, Tess and Ivan gravitate towards each other, not fully knowing each other’s motives. The author’s use of omniscient third person helps the reader understand each character’s motivation, yet at times, the actions of the two main characters are in direct conflict with their respective trains of thought. This especially occurs each time Ivan and Tess commence an argument As Ivan and Tess’ relationship grows, the overuse of this technique tends to get a bit maudlin and unnatural. Of course, it would be, if their budding relationship didn’t occur smack dab in the middle of a shooting war. When each character’s respective back story comes into focus, we can better appreciate their reticence to fully commit to feelings they can no longer deny.

There were times, when each got angry with the other for what appeared to be no logical reason, I wanted to climb into the pages and box their ears, myself. Upon reflection, it’s a true testament to the author’s ability to engender strong feelings within the reader for—or against—a character.  

Journalistic Fraud
How the New York Times Distorts the News and Why It Can No Longer Be Trusted

by Bob Kohn

Review by Michael DeStefano

Reviewer’s Note: As I was researching colonial newspapers for my latest novel, I discovered something remarkable: Integrity and the liberty of a responsible press corps meant something to the publishers of the day.
“Fondness of News may be carried to an extreme…great Care will be taken that no Facts of Importance shall be published but such as are well attested, and these shall be as particular as may be necessary.”
– From the inaugural issue of the New Hampshire Gazette by Daniel Fowle, October 7, 1756.

“The SALEM MERCURY: Political, Commercial, and Moral.”
– In the title frame of the SALEM MERCURY, October 14, 1786.
– In the title frame of the PROVIDENCE GAZETTE, June 28, 1788.
“Beneath the Eagle’s Wings, Columbia Rise: Say, Wisdom’s Goddess, where the balance lies.” 
– In the title frame of the Impartial Herald, January 31, 1798.
“A Free PRESS maintains the MAJESTY of the PEOPLE.” 
– In the title frame of the BOSTON GAZETTE , September 17, 1798.
Then, I ran across this:
I deplore with you the putrid state into which our newspapers have passed, and the malignity, the vulgarity, & mendacious spirit of those who write for them.”
Based on the daily, non-stop betrayal of our alleged “main”stream media, this could easily have been said or written today. In fact, it would appear to sum up the feelings of the majority of those polled by Gallup in 2014 regarding the public’s opinion of today’s news media. Surprisingly, it was penned two centuries earlier, in 1814 by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to a Walter Jones.[1]
If we are to be honest brokers, we must firmly reject the labels the purveyors of social engineering find irresistible to arbitrarily place upon us. If we can’t shed these labels (right, left, liberal, conservative, etc…), how can we truthfully address the mountain of issues our country currently faces? Likewise, if you don’t think journalistic integrity is important or you can’t check your political identity at the door, then the following review will be meaningless to you.
Journalistic Fraud
by Bob Kohn
That more and more people are distrustful of the august members of the Fourth Estate is not a well-kept secret. Yet, they insist on openly infusing straight news with their bias in support to their own political or personal agendas. Despite the media’s assurances of objectivity, the preponderance of evidence printed in their own newspapers or aired on their own broadcasts would tend to convict them of perjury.
And how can we easily decipher this bias within a given news story? Author Bob Kohn has selected the “gray lady” herself and examined specific articles from the New York Times (mostly of their crusade against President George W. Bush) and demonstrated for us exactly how publishers Howell Raines and Arthur O. Sulzberger, Jr. used various methods of social engineering to steer public opinion toward their own views. 
Taking on the New York Times (and by extension, other like-minded news outlets) Kohn defines the problem in the first two chapters (calling the Times out for their bias and what a newspaper is supposed to stand for). In the successive chapters, he examines the mechanics of fraud perpetrated by the Times, in particular, the various methods consciously designed to misrepresent hard news; distorting the lead, the headlines and the facts to fit their narrative. Other techniques, proficiently demonstrated by Kohn as used by the Times, involve distorting with loaded language, polling data and placement of salient facts within the story. 
As author Bob Kohn asserts, “The Agenda is Everything.”[2] If it doesn’t pass the litmus test of Sultzberger’s agenda, then it’s buried, scrapped or otherwise discounted. What’s truly outrageous is not that a litmus test exists, but that it’s based solely on ideology, not a bonafide examination of the story itself. An honest reader substituting Obama’s name for Bush within these stories would be outraged at the treatment of the 44th president, yet no such outrage exists for Bush 43. Don’t believe it? Examine the headlines for yourself of both presidencies during similar circumstances. Exchange each president’s name and see if you don’t find wholesale bias within each story; one glowing with praise, the other with derision. Now ask yourself if ideological advocacy is what a “news”paper is supposed to stand for?
Having taken in all the journalistic slight-of-hand employed by the so-called “paper of record”, the idea that the Times even has an opinion editor is superfluous really, when you consider the methods they used to color hard front-page news with their opinion.
“'Never argue with a man who buys ink by the barrel.' -Attributed to William I Greener, Jr.”                                                           
– The Wall Street Journal, September 28, 1978.[3]
And I’m betting those barrels are filled with yellow ink.

[2] Bob Kohn, Journalistic Fraud, (Nashville: WND Books, 2003), p. 13.

Rising Tide: Dark Innocence

by Claudette Melanson

Review by Michael DeStefano

I read this book knowing absolutely nothing about it other than being drawn to its ghastly apocalyptic portrait of an otherwise attractive teen. Her glassy, onyx-colored eyes and ghostly visage is reminiscent of Sandra Locke’s self portrait in the Dirty Harry outing, Sudden Impact (this description is from Melanson's original bookcover). Thinking of Locke’s portrayal of a deranged killer and having purposefully ignored the synopsis and any posted reviews, I wasn’t thinking vampires when I began the book.

Though I felt a bit out of my depth in this genre, I still managed to find Melanson’s dialogue convincing with a credible storyline that held my interest the entire weekend.

The author adroitly navigates this evenly-spaced “coming of age” tale. A seemingly normal teenager, Maura DeLuca, must deal with her feelings of isolation, both at home from an overprotective single mom and at school from the usual politics of being an outcast high school teen.

Melanson immediately sets the tone for this gamer-nerd whose low self-esteem, aversion to sunlight, unusually cold skin and pallid complexion make her an easy target for Katie Parker, the bully next door and the “beautiful people” clique.

But as Maura begins to experience the onset of puberty, so too, does she begin to notice more than just teenage hormones running amok. She also notices characteristics developing within her that are definitely not normal or healthy. Even more disturbing is her mom, Caelyn’s behavior (the unstated reason for the move to Vancouver, purchasing more raw meat than two people can eat, manipulating dental appointments, etc…). Taken in totum, her machinations become clear by the time we get to the plot twist cliff hanger at the end.

The first of three parts, Melanson has provided us with many tantalizing threads of storyline just waiting to be explored further in her subsequent volumes (and with any luck, Katie Parker and company will face a colorful bit of retribution, courtesy of a fully indoctrinated teen vampire).

Melanson’s sympathetic treatment of Maura’s character is done so superbly that most teens would be able to identify with her (well, everything except for gnashing the daylights out of raw meat right in front of a potential boyfriend with mom looking on or the odd hollow canine trick at the dentist office). Maura’s occasional use of her mom’s name, Caelyn, when talking about her with others, was a bit confusing, until you factor in the teen rebel element. In a move the reader doesn’t see coming, the author treats us to the identity of the person who reveals to Maura exactly who and what she is.

This time, the fangs are on the other gender! And fans of the genre will find Melanson’s female teen-turning-vampire approach a refreshing one.