Books are food for my soul! Pull up a beach chair and stick your toes in the sand as the Jersey surf rolls in and out, now open your book and let your imagination take you away.

Friday, February 23, 2018

The Amendment Killer by Ronald S. Barak (VBT: Book Review / Contest Giveaway)

In association with Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours, Jersey Girl Book Reviews is pleased to host the virtual book tour event for The Amendment Killer by Ronald S. Barak!

Book Review

The Amendment Killer by Ronald S. Barak
Book 1: A Brooks / Lotello Thriller
Publisher: Gander House Publishers
Publication Date: eBook - Oct30, 2017 / HC, PB - Nov 1, 2017 / AB - Jan31, 2018
Format: Hardcover / Paperback / eBook / Audiobook 
Hardcover: 978-0982759059 / 570 pages
Paperback:  978-0982759097 / 570 pages
Audio: B079DW954L / 10 hours, 58 minutes
Kindle: B073PZDYZG / 631 KB
Nook: 2940155425830 / 670 KB
Genre: Legal Thriller / Political Thriller

Buy The Book:

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the author/publisher in exchange for my honest review and participation in a virtual book tour event hosted by Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours.

Book Description:


That’s the text message Supreme Court Justice Arnold Hirschfeld receives as hearings commence in the U.S. Supreme Court to determine the fate of the 28th Amendment – enacted to criminalize abuse of power on the part of our political representatives.

In court to defend the amendment, retired U.S. District Court Judge Cyrus Brooks observes his old friend and law school classmate Hirschfeld acting strangely and dispatches veteran D.C. homicide detective Frank Lotello to find out why.

In the meantime, Hirschfeld’s precocious and feisty 11-year-old diabetic granddaughter Cassie, brutally kidnapped to control her grandfather’s swing vote upholding or invalidating the amendment, watches her insulin pump running dry and wonders which poses her greatest threat, the kidnappers or the clock. As Brooks is forced to choose between saving our nation or saving the girl.

Editorial Reviews:

THE AMENDMENT KILLER is tense, timely, and terrific!”
-Lee Child, #1 New York Times Bestselling author of the Jack Reacher novels

“With an unparalleled sense of terror forewarned on the opening page, Ron Barak’s THE AMENDMENT KILLER is a high-speed, tense political thriller about one of today’s most fundamental issues, the integrity of our SupremeCourt.”
– Andrew Gross, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The One Man

THE AMENDMENT KILLER is a high concept, hybrid blend of a political, psychological and action thriller all rolled into a smooth, savory, and suspenseful mix. Ron Barak manages to channel the best of John Grisham, David Baldacci and even Steve Berry in this amazingly timely tale cast with a SupremeCourt backdrop. As prescient as it is thought-provoking and as much fun as it is factual, this is reading entertainment of the highest order. I’d be shocked if this book doesn’t become a bestseller.”
– Jon Land, USA Today bestselling author of Strong Light of Day

“From its electrifying opening line to its powerful conclusion, THE AMENDMENT KILLER is a ripped from tomorrow’s headlines story of law and politics set against the backdrop of the Supreme Court. But more so, it’s a story about the lengths we will go for the ones we love. Timely, fast-paced, and heartfelt, you’ll mourn the turning of the last page. Ron Barak is a writer to watch.”
– Anthony Franze, author of The Outsider

“Ron Barak’s THE AMENDMENT KILLER is easily the best high stakes legal thriller we’ve read in 2017.”
– Best Thriller Magazine

Book Excerpt:

Chapter 1

Tuesday, May 6, 6:30 am

We have your granddaughter. Here’s what you need to do.
Thomas T. Thomas III reviewed the language. Again. He closed the phone without hitting send. Yet.
He stared through high-powered binoculars from atop the wooded knoll. As always, the girl hit one perfect shot after another.
Cassie Webber. Age 11. He’d been tailing her for three months. It seemed longer.
She was chaperoned everywhere she went. Two-a-day practices before and after school. Her dad drove her in the morning. He watched her empty bucket after bucket and then dropped her off at school. Her mom picked her up after school, ferried her back to the practice range, and brought her home after daughter and coach finished. Mom and daughter sometimes ran errands on the way, but always together. Even on the occasional weekend outing to the mall or the movies, the girl was constantly in the company of family or friends. Having someone hovering over me all day would have driven me batshit.
His childhood had been different. When Thomas was her age, he walked to school on his own. And he lived a lot farther away than the girl. His daddy had never let his driver chauffeur him around. Wasn’t about to spoil him. Spare the rod, spoil the child. Didn’t spoil me that way either.
He kept telling himself patience was the key. But his confidence was waning. And then, suddenly, he’d caught a break. The girl’s routine had changed.
She started walking the few blocks between school and practice on her own. Dad dropped her off at morning practice and Mom met her at afternoon practice instead of school. Only a ten minute walk each way, but that was all the opening he needed.
Everything was finally in place. He would be able to make amends. He would not let them down.
This time.
She completed her morning regimen, unaware of Thomas’s eyes trained on her from his tree-lined vantage point. No doubt about it, he thought to himself. She was incredibly good. Driven. Determined.
And pretty.
Very pretty.
He relieved himself, thinking about her. A long time . . . coming. Haha! As the girl disappeared into the locker room, he trekked back down the hill, and climbed into the passenger side of the van. He returned the binoculars to their case. He removed the cell from his pocket, and checked the pending text one more time.
Moments later, the girl emerged from the locker room, golf bag exchanged for the backpack over her shoulders. She ambled down the winding pathway, waved to the uniformed watchman standing next to the guardhouse, and crossed through the buzzing security gate. She headed off to school.
Without taking his eyes off her, Thomas barked at the man sitting next to him. “Go.”

Chapter 2

Tuesday, May 6, 7:00 am

Eloise Brooks stared at Cyrus and shook her head. After more than 50 years of marriage, she understood everything about him there was to understand. Still: “I take the time to make you a nice breakfast. The least you could do is eat it while it’s hot.”
She held the warm cup of tea in both hands. “And can’t you talk to me, Cyrus? Why do you treat me like I’m not here? Like I’m some kind of a potted plant.”
Cyrus moved the eggs around on his plate. Speared a bite of fruit, swallowed it, but showed no visible pleasure in it. “I’m eating. What do you want to talk about? You think the couple cut from Dancing With The Stars last night deserved to be sent packing?”
“Should have got the hook weeks ago. You dance better than he does. Even with your two left feet.”
He didn’t answer. She knew why. “What’re you thinking about? Esposito? Whether 50,000 is enough? Your two left feet?”
“All of the above.”
She gazed at him but said nothing. Notwithstanding his apparent disinterest in the plate of food in front of him, his appetite—and his imagination—were never-ending. He loved upbeat music and dancing. And sports. He couldn’t carry a tune or dance a lick. Except for an occasional round of golf, his sports these days were mostly played out in front of the television. But that didn’t stop him from daydreaming. He danced like Fred Astaire. He sang and played guitar and harmonica like Bob Dylan. He moved around a tennis court like Roger Federer.
However, Eloise knew his real passion in life was the law. He had enjoyed a distinguished legal career, first as a trial lawyer and then as a U.S. District Court judge. Now retired from the bench, writing and teaching, and occasionally trying a case that got his hackles up, when it came to the law, those who knew Cyrus Brooks knew he was second to none. Amazing how sometimes he exuded that—with confidence bordering on arrogance—but at other times did not. More so since Frank Lotello had been shot, and barely survived.
Brooks sat there fidgeting restlessly with the newspaper. Eloise reached over and put her hand on his. “You’ll be great, Cyrus. I need to walk Ryder and get dressed, so we can drive into Court together. Please make sure Maccabee’s dishes have enough water and dry cat snacks.”
Arguments in the case were scheduled to commence in barely two hours. The chance to appear before the United States Supreme Court was rare, even for Brooks, but to do it in a landmark case that could permanently change the U.S. political landscape was unparalleled.
When they were first married, Eloise often attended Cyrus’s court appearances, both to show her support and because the judicial process was new to her. Now long accustomed to Cyrus’s legal adventures, Eloise was a less frequent visitor to the courtroom. Given the importance of this case, she told Cyrus the night before that she planned to attend.
He looked up absently with a gentle, distant smile, still fixed in some far-off place, no doubt grateful for her efforts to distract him, and bolster his confidence. “Macc’s snacks? Sure.”
Chapter 3

Tuesday, May 6, 7:20 am

Cassie left the practice range, looking momentarily at the clock on her phone. School began at eight. She had plenty of time.
She strolled along the familiar middle-class neighborhood route to school, sticking to the tree-hugged, concrete sidewalk. Well-kept houses on modest-sized manicured lots, one after another, adorned both sides of the paved street that divided the opposing sidewalks.
Mouthing the words to the song streaming through her earbuds, she made a mental note of a few questions from her morning practice to ask Coach Bob that afternoon.
Using her ever present designer sunglasses—a gift from her grandparents—to block the sun’s glare, Cassie texted her best friend Madison:
Hey, BFF, meet u in cafeteria in 10. Out after 1st period to watch ur mom & my poppy in S Ct—how dope is that? 2 excited 4 words!
As she hit “Send,” she was startled by the sound of screeching tires. She looked up from her phone and saw a van skid to the curb a few houses ahead of her. A man in a hoodie jumped out and charged straight at her.
She froze for an instant, but then spun and raced back in the direction of the clubhouse. “Help! Help!! Someone help me!!!”
As she ran, she looked all around. No one. She saw no one. The guard kiosk was in sight, but still over a block away. Does he want to hurt me? Why? Why me?
Hearing the man gaining on her, she tried to speed up. If I can just get close enough to the gatehouse for someone to help me. She glanced back, shrieking at the top of her lungs, just as the man lunged. He knocked her to the ground, shattering her glasses in the process. “What do you want?! Leave me alone! Get off me!!!”
She saw him grappling with a large syringe. “No!” She screamed even louder, clawing and kicking him savagely—until she felt the sharp stab in the back of her neck. Then nothing.
Excerpt from The Amendment Killer by Ronald S. Barak. Copyright © 2017 by Ronald S. Barak. Reproduced with permission from Ronald S. Barak. All rights reserved.

Book Trailer:

My Book Review:

In The Amendment KIller, author Ronald S. Barak utilizes his legal knowledge and experience to weave a riveting legal thriller that takes the reader on a suspenseful adventure set in Washington D.C. with the backdrop of the prestigious United States Supreme Court.

From its traumatic beginning to climatic ending, The Amendment Killer is an action-packed and fast-paced gripping tale that follows Supreme Court Associate Justice Arnold Hirschfeld as he is faced with a serious conundrum, whether to uphold or abandon his true judicial beliefs and vote against the 28th Amendment in a landmark case for personal reasons in order to save his eleven-year-old granddaughter Cassie, who was kidnapped as an innocent pawn by someone who wants the USSC Justices to find standing and invalidate the 28th Amendment.

As a fan of legal thrillers, especially when they revolve around a political and judicial theme, I was eager to read The Amendment Killer, and I wasn't left disappointed! Author Ronald S. Barak weaves a powerful and compelling tale that has enough drama, suspense, intrigue, and surprising twists and turns that easily engages the reader to follow how Associate Justice Hirschfeld and retired US District Court Judge Cyrus Brooks approach the landmark case as it is being heard and decided in the Supreme Court, while Washington D.C. Detective Frank Lotello investigates the kidnapping and tries to beat the clock and find Cassie before it is too late!

I really enjoyed how the author utilized his legal knowledge and experience to transport the reader into the fascinating inner workings of the political and judicial world that is Washington D.C. When you add in the hidden secrets and dark political and legal dealings within the District, and the suspense and danger of the kidnapping investigation, you get an explosive story that takes you on one hell of a thrill ride and a book that you won't be able to put down!


About The Author

Described by his readers as a cross between Agatha Christie, Lee Child, and John Lescroart, bestselling author Ron Barak keeps his readers flipping the pages into the wee hours of the night. While he mostly lets his characters tell his stories, he does manage to get his licks in too.

Barak derives great satisfaction in knowing that his books not only entertain but also stimulate others to think about how things might be, how people can actually resolve real-world problems. In particular, Barak tackles the country’s dysfunctional government representatives—not just back-seat driving criticism for the sake of being a back-seat driver, but truly framing practical remedies to the political abuse and corruption adversely affecting too many people’s lives today. Barak’s extensive legal background and insight allow him to cleverly cross-pollinate his fiction and today’s sad state of political reality.

In his latest novel, THE AMENDMENT KILLER, Barak calls upon his real-world legal ingenuity and skill to craft a 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution criminalizing political abuse and corruption that Constitutional scholars across the country are heralding as a highly plausible answer to the political chaos destroying the very moral fiber of the country today. It’s difficult to read THE AMENDMENT KILLER and not imagine what could—and should—be expected and demanded of those political leaders who have forgotten they are there to serve and not be served.

Barak is also a committed and strident advocate of finding a cure for diabetes. One of the primary characters in THE AMENDMENT KILLER is the feisty and precocious 11-year-old diabetic granddaughter of the Supreme Court justice holding the swing vote in a case in which Congress is challenging the validity of Barak’s hypothetical 28th Amendment. It is no small coincidence that Barak is himself a diabetic. Or that he has committed 50% of the net proceeds of THE AMENDMENT KILLER to diabetes research and education.

Barak is singularly qualified to have authored THE AMENDMENT KILLER, which will appeal to political and legal thriller aficionados alike. Barak is a law school honors graduate and a former Olympic athlete. While still in law school, he authored a bill introduced in Congress that overnight forced the settlement of a decades-long dispute between the NCAA and the AAU to control amateur athletics in the United States.

Present-day politicians would do well to read THE AMENDMENT KILLER and not underestimate the potential of Barak’s 28th Amendment. You can read his 28th Amendment at You can also read his occasional political blogs at

Ron and his wife, Barbie, and the four-legged members of their family reside in Pacific Palisades, California.

Contest Giveaway

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Ronald S. Barak. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Gift Card. The giveaway begins on February 1 and runs through March 4, 2018.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Virtual Book Tour 

Tour Schedule:

02/01 Review @ CMash Reads
02/01 Showcase @ The Reading Frenzy
02/02 Interview @ CMash Reads
02/03 Interview @ A Blue Million Books
02/04 Showcase @ Bound 2 Escape
02/05 Review @ sunny island breezes
02/06 Guest post @ Loris Reading Corner
02/07 Showcase @ The Pulp and Mystery Shelf
02/08 Review @ Cassidys Bookshelves
02/09 showcase @ The Bookworm Lodge
02/12 Review @ Book Reviews From an Avid Reader
02/13 Interview @ Quiet Fury Books
02/15 Guest post @ Writers and Authors
02/16 Review @ Tome Tender
02/16 Review @ Tome Tender
02/20 showcase @ Aurora B’s Book Blog
02/22 Guest post @ BooksChatter
02/23 Review @ Jersey Girl Book Reviews
02/26 Review @ Cheryls Book Nook
03/01 Review @ Brooke Blogs
03/02 Review @ A Room Without Books is Empty
03/03 Review @ Mystery Suspense Reviews

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Tic Tac Love by A.M. Willard (Book Cover Reveal / Contest Giveaway)

In association with Foreword PR & Marketing, Jersey Girl Book Reviews is pleased to host the book cover reveal event for Tic Tac Love by A.M. Willard!

Release Date: March 14, 2018
Cover Design: MadHat Books

Book Synopsis

For as long as I can remember, I've been in love with Paxton West. I've planned our wedding in my head a million times. What our babies would look like. How we would grow old together and still play our favorite game— Tic-Tac-Toe.

However, we have one problem. Paxton doesn't believe in true love, soul mates, or happily ever after. Oh, did I also tell you he doesn't want kids? It also means I can't explain to him that he's the only guy for me, or about my—our—current situation. The past started with a game of X's and O's. Then came the miles and miles that kept us apart. Next came tequila shots... They're never a great idea. Now, more than ever, the future scares the crap out of me. If my plan backfires, I could not only lose my best friend but the love of my life. Dang those tequila shots.

Preorder Links


New Release Alert:

Book Excerpt

Stepping out into the hallway, I head toward my door with my shoes and keys in my hand. All I can think of at this moment is stripping down out of these clothes and face-planting into my pillow where I can sleep the many drinks off. Right as I open the door, I hear the faint ding echoing down from the elevators. Shrugging it off, I enter my apartment and lock up behind me. I guess I find it odd that someone else would be wandering the halls this late or early. I’m never out at this time and have no idea what the neighbors do after I fall asleep. A new male neighbor moved in a few weeks ago. I already had the pleasure of bumping into him while trying to not spill my coffee one morning. I still deny that it was his looks that threw me off.
I drop my keys into the bowl next to the door before heading straight to my room where I lose my heels and strip out of my shirt and bra. Right as I unbuckle my jeans, I hear a faint knock, so low that I’m not sure if it’s my door or a bump against the wall from next door. Knock… knock… echoes again. I grab my shirt from the floor, slide it over my head, and go to investigate the sound that’s causing the hairs on my neck to stand. Rounding the kitchen island, my feet dig into the ceramic tile as the lock on my door twists. I’m frozen in place… Unable to move anything on my body as I hold my breath waiting to see what’s happening. It’s now that my mind races with all the horror movies I’ve screamed at over the years. The ones where the girl is either running up the stairs to hide from the intruder instead of outside to safety. Or where they just stand there as if a target is placed on their chest. Just pick one, because I’m that girl at this moment. My face is frozen, ice coursing through my veins. The hairs on the back of my neck are at full attention as if we are standing to pledge to the flag. My eyes stare straight ahead as the door opens in slow motion. Saying a little prayer, I close my eyes and wait for what’s going to happen next. Fear overtakes me, consuming my body, mind—everything.
“Belle, what are you doing?” I hear his voice, but then I’m afraid to open my eyes. Could it be possible that two people in this world have the same husky voice that makes me weak in the knees?
With my eyes still squeezed shut, my other senses go on high alert. The drop of a bag, the tap-taps of a set of shoes against the tile grow louder and louder as the person gets closer to me. “Belle, open your eyes and breathe before you pass out.”
Slowly, I do as he instructed. That’s the moment that I lean against the counter for support as I thank God that it wasn’t a killer that had a key to my place. Paxton’s face scrunches up as he reaches over for me.
“What were you doing?”
“I thought you were here to kill me; I was bracing myself for the worst.”
“What have I told you about watching those horror movies, huh? You let them get to you, and why would a killer use a key?”
“I don’t know; they could’ve made a copy when I wasn’t paying attention, or it could’ve been the security guard—who knows… What are you doing here?”
“Not the welcome I thought I’d receive, but my plans changed. You were more important to come see.”
I let Paxton’s statement set in before I smile up at him. Stepping closer, I wrap my arms around his neck and breathe him in. The faint hint of the stale airport, his earthy spice, and lemon soothes my nerves.
“Are you just getting home?” he inquires, and I notice his voice hints to a bit of jealousy. That confuses me as he’s never been the jealous type. One to worry about my well-being—yes, but not curious about where I’ve been or with whom.
“I am,” I answer as I pull away from him and step over to the fridge. Opening it up, I grab a bottle of water before glancing back over to Paxton. His hands are gripping the edge of the countertop, face blank not revealing any indication of what he’s thinking. “Want something to drink or eat?” is the only thing that I can think to ask.
“No, I’m good. I think I’m just going to head to bed.”
“Paxton,” I let his name slip from my mouth to stop him. He slows his stride over to his bags, turns to look at me and, before I can say anything else, wanders over to me.
“Belle, get some sleep, and we’ll chat in the morning,” is all he says before placing a kiss on top of my head. I stand here in the middle of my kitchen with a bottle of water in my hand, watching his back retreat from me to the spare bedroom. I’m not sure how long I stand here, confused and unable to move. It’s the sound of the shower turning on that breaks me from my thoughts. Causing me to realize that this isn’t a dream. Instead of sulking from the blow off that I just received from Paxton, I force myself to go to my room. Closing the door behind me, I pad over to my dresser, pulling out a pair of boxers and a top to change into. The sound of the water still running through the pipes on the other side of my bedroom causes my heart to beat faster. I can’t explain the way I feel right now. How I’m confused about what I should be feeling. I’m blaming the amount of alcohol that’s in my system. It’s not like he’s never showered here before. It’s more the fact that he blew off an assignment to come see me. That’s something Paxton’s never done. Work has always come first for him. No matter what, he’s never turned down a job; well, for as long as I known him. My head hits the pillow, but my eyes refuse to close. The wheel’s spinning a million times faster than it ever does. With the water off, the apartment is quiet, and I can hear his footsteps down the hall and how they stop outside my door before going to his. The door clicks shut, finalizing that there won’t be a conversation tonight. Unless I pull a trick out of the old handbook.
I roll over, grab my phone from the nightstand, and power it up for the first time since I shut it off in the elevator. It’s then that I notice the messages from Paxton. I listen to his voicemail and read through his text. I can’t scroll up to where I left the short, clipped response to him canceling this weekend.
Me: Are you okay? I know you’re tired, but something seems off.
I could crawl into bed and lie next to him, but taking the chicken way out of this is better tonight. I don’t trust my mouth, and I’m pretty sure that I’d slip up and say something that I’d regret tomorrow. I’m sobering up, but the way he made my heart restrict tonight from the pain that was washed over his face out of concern for me is causing me to expect the worse. Did he come here to tell me something’s wrong? Was that why he canceled his trip?

Contest Giveaway

Win One of Five ARC's for Tic Tac Love

About the Author

Bestselling Author, A.M. Willard resides in Savannah, Georgia. She joined the Peach State many years ago after leaving the crystal blue waters and sugary white sand behind from the Panhandle of Florida. She's also known for being a wife, mother, and caretaker for her farm animals. A.M. loves anything sassy, glittery, and is a sucker for the Hallmark Channel. That last one might be the reason she believes in soulmates or it could be because she married her high school sweetheart for twenty years ago.

After releasing her first novella series back in 2014, A.M. set out on a new goal to bring her readers a broad range of romantic stories from her desk. This includes Romantic Comedy, Contemporary Romance, and from time to time some Sexy Romance. A.M. is an active member of RWA (Romance Writers of America).

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Friday, February 16, 2018

Twenty-One Steps Of Courage by Sarah Bates (VBT: Book Review)

In association with Virtual Author Book Tours, Jersey Girl Book Reviews is pleased to host the virtual book tour event for Twenty-One Steps Of Courage by Sarah Bates!

Book Review

Twenty-One Steps Of Courage by Sarah Bates
Publication Date: March 31, 2012
Book Format: Paperback - 280 pages
                         Audiobook - 7 Hours 23 minutes
                         Kindle - 550 KB
                         Nook - 664 KB
ISBN: 978-1614349570
ASIN: B007V98EU6
BNID: 2940014524605
Genre: Literary Fiction / Military Fiction

Buy The Book:

Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book from the author / publisher in exchange for my honest review and participation in a virtual book tour event hosted by Virtual Author Book Tours.

Book Description:

In 2006, with wars in Iraq and Afghanistan raging, Rod Strong enlists in the Army to achieve the goal his father sought before he tragically died in the Gulf War. His objective: The Old Guard regiment, the elite Soldiers who stand as Sentinels at the Tomb of the Unknown in Arlington National Cemetery. Rod overcomes the obstacles that litter his path until an unexpected firefight in Afghanistan changes his life forever.

Praise Twenty-One Steps of Courage by Sarah Bates

“Sarah Bates professes not to know much about the military yet she tells an inspiring story that captures the true essence of what the military is all about — love of country — unit esprit de corps — family values — personal courage. Every high school student, every parent and all of the politicians in this country should read this book.”- Lloyd N. Cosby, retired Tomb Guard (Alexandria, VA, US)

“I…read the book and I cried A LOT–it was very heartwarming and extremely interesting. When you described the part about him fighting and saving his brother–I felt I was there–a sure movie deal I hope.”- Detra Hoffman (Los Angeles, CA)

“The book covers a lot: what to expect in boot camp and after, the amount of control that the military has over your life once you join, and the responsiblities and hardships that your decision to join places on your loved ones. It also explores camaraderie between soldiers, the pride that attends possessing a strong sense of duty and of self, and the rewards of follow-through. Twenty-One Steps of Courage is a well balanced story about military life. Not too left or right, it’s a good read, one that I would recommend to anyone.”- Caradae Linore (San Diego, CA)

“The author did a wonderful job portraying the feelings of an 18-year-old man. Although I’ve seen the soldiers marching at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, I was unfamiliar with the training and precision involved. I didn’t understand a lot of the military acronyms but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this story.”-Midnight Reader, Amazon Review

Book Excerpt:

The moon was high when they reached the site of the accident. The Humvee lay on its side across the road. Rod approached it cautiously, tracing the burned out carcass with the small mag light he carried. Every bit of debris from the blast had been picked clean.

"Listen!" Murphy said, holding up his hand.

The two men ducked into the protection of the blackened metal, their ears tuning out the sounds of the earth settling. Faint voices were coming from the hills beyond.

"Someone's laughing," Rod whispered. "Taliban or ANP?" he asked.

"Wanna find out?" Murphy asked then took a long swig of water from his canteen.

Rod nodded. The two men were almost totally visible in the light of the full moon, their shadows disappearing into the wreck. It had grown cooler, and Rod pulled his handkerchief up over his mouth to keep warm.

Rod and Murphy started in the direction of the sounds drifting from a copse of low trees nestled against the mountainside, carefully picking their way around the boulders and scrub that dotted the landscape. Soon the sounds of voices became louder, and the smell of horses wafted toward them. Beyond a low hill, the light of a small bonfire flickered, throwing shadows of many men against a wall of rock protecting their encampment. Murphy motioned for Rod to drop down, then waved him forward to crawl nearer on their bellies.

Standing close to a group of ten or so people in Afghan robes and baggy pants, a tall bearded man with his head wrapped in a black turban hectored loudly. Murphy frowned.

"Taliban?" Rod murmured.

"Think so." Murphy nodded.

Rod pulled out his binoculars and inched closer to get a better look. Off to the side, near a group of horses tethered to a stake, a soldier sprawled, his head down. A dirty bandana wrapped around his face hid his eyes but the top of his head glowed copper-bright in the light of the fire. The man's filthy Army uniform appeared torn, as if he'd been dragged.

With a shock Rod recognized the soldier.

He turned and motioned frantically for Murphy.

"My brother!" he whispered.

Murphy's mouth gaped.

"We gotta get help," he murmured.

Rod nodded, then looked again. Mike hadn't moved.

The two men scrambled back toward the road, keeping low to the ground, moving as silently as possible. They reached the wreckage of the Humvee in a crouched run, and then stopped to lean against it, their chests heaving from the effort.

"I'm going to call in," Rod said, grabbing his radio.

"Wait!" Murphy warned. "Who you gonna get? We're not supposed to be here."

"Sarn't Morgan. I trust her. She'll know how to contact the 82nd patrol. They may be near," Rod replied.

He began to speak into the radio, muffling the sound of his voice with his sleeve.

Before he got a response, Murphy grabbed his shoulder, spinning him around.

"Look!" He pointed in the direction of the road they'd just traveled.

Moonlight shimmering on a line of darkened vehicles indicated a convoy moving in their direction.

Rod punched the radio OFF and the two men knelt down in the shadows. Murphy flipped down his night vision goggles and motioned Rod to do the same.

Slowly the convoy rumbled closer. When the front end of the lead vehicle reached the Humvee, it stopped. Two men exited the vehicle, popped open a cyalume stick and held the infa-red light close to a map.

"Patrol. Maybe the 82nd," Rod whispered.

"Yeah, and if we can see them, Hajji can too," Murphy said, heading out of the shadows toward the convoy.

Rod followed. Behind the up-armored armament carrier Humvee in the front, three more of the 13,000-pound vehicles emerged.

Murphy nudged Rod.

"Lookee there, lots a fire power."

Rod stared hard to make out the silhouettes of the big machine guns. Looming low against the banked sides of the road, the battered camouflaged vehicles resembled craggy elephants on their knees. From a distance they could easily be mistaken for rock outcroppings.

"Who goes there?" Rod heard first, then the click of an M-16 safety latch releasing.

"Murphy and Strong, 25th MPs," Murphy called out.

When they reached the two men standing in front of the vehicle, Rod recognized their Airborne insignias.

"You looking for a missing soldier?" Rod asked.

"Affirmative. And why are you here?" The man who spoke moved closer. "Sarn't Devore. Corporal Emerson, my RTO," he continued, gesturing to the radiotelephone operator who stood beside him.

"The man you're looking for is my brother, Sarn't," Rod said. "We know where he is."

"I asked why you're out here," Devore repeated.

"Looking for him too," Rod admitted.

"Your Sarn't know where you are?"

Murphy broke in. "We're sort of on our own."

"I see," the sergeant said, shaking his head.

Murphy pulled the crumpled trip ticket from his sleeve pocket and flashed it quickly in front of Devore's face.

"Damn!" the sergeant said, and then turned to Rod. "You know where he is, huh?

"Over there," Rod said pointing in the direction of the rock outcropping. "Hajji's got him." Rod glanced quickly at Murphy.

Devore motioned Rod and Murphy into the shadows beside him and told the driver to kill the cyalume. At once the string of vehicles and men seemed to blend into the landscape.

In a hushed tone the sergeant questioned Rod and Murphy, focusing on specific details.

"Let me show you," Rod said, kneeling.

He pulled out his knife and drew a map in the soft dirt. In the moonlight, the rough lines cast shadows in sharp relief against the pale sand.

"Twenty minutes ago, tops," Murphy said. 

"Weapons?" Devore asked.

"AK-47s, a few 74s that I could see," Rod said.

"Everyone had a weapon," Murphy added.

"There's probably a watcher keeping tabs on the camp," Devore said. "You see anyone near the trail?"

Murphy shook his head.

The ambient light surrounding the convoy grew brighter and Devore looked up at the moon with its bright halo and frowned.

He turned to the RTO standing by his side waiting for orders. "Radio the 25th MPs at FOB Miracle and let 'em know we've got their two weekend visitors here. Tell 'em we're short and we're going to keep them."

"You two stay up here with me," Devore said. "You'll scout." He turned his head and muttered into his radio. Within seconds two soldiers joined their small circle.

"Corporal Ruiz, Corporal LaRussa, team leaders", Devore explained. 

Devore turned his binoculars toward the clutch of mountains where the Taliban hid.

"They've likely seen us," he said. "If they haven't scattered, we'll have to move fast."

Devore and the team leaders squatted to look at Rod's crude map.

"Alpha team," Devore said, pointing right, then "Bravo, there," he said, indicating his left.

Ruiz and LaRussa disappeared into the shadows. The whisper of desert boots rose as gunners scuffled to security positions at the trucks. The rest of the two squads, bristling with weapons, vanished in a tumble of activity. SAW Gunners and riflemen along with grenadiers shouldering M-4s with 40mm grenade launchers scattered into position.

"Move out," Devore said, motioning Rod and Murphy forward along with the radioman, like ducks in a row.

The troops advanced along the rocky terrain, crouched, keeping low, blending with the brush and scrub.

Rod's heart raced as he ran, open mouthed, gulping air.

The four men rolled onto their stomachs at the ridgeline where Rod and Murphy first saw Mike's captors.

Rod rested his chin in the soft dirt then pushed his helmet back to get a closer look. 

"Some of the men and horses are gone, Sarn't," Rod said. Alarm tinged his voice. He swallowed hard. In the shadows he spotted Mike's crumpled form.

Devore leveled his binoculars and scanned the scene below, then motioned for the men to deploy their night vision goggles. Once again the landscape took on an eerie green glow.

Just then Rod spotted a glint against the rocky cliff above the campground.

"Look!" he pointed.

"Guard!" Devore murmured, nodding to the men behind him in the direction where Rod had seen a reflection off the barrel of a weapon in the green luminescence.

"Pull back," Devore whispered, then summoned his team leaders.

Rod scrambled back down the slope to find the two soldiers waiting. 

"Okay, here's what we're doin'," Devore said. "Ruiz, put your Alpha SAW gunners beside LaRussa's at the south. LaRussa, you take your medic and one of the grenadiers, secure the rear. Keep your radio open. You're going to control the SAWS. I'll take six of your men with me; we'll sweep the camp from the west and go get our guy."

Ruiz and LaRussa nodded, then melted into the night.

A bullet screamed past them and ricocheted off a boulder behind Devore, followed by a loud crack.

Rod hit the ground, his helmet smacking a rocky outcropping.

"Shit!" he said, dragging his weapon up to his shoulder.

To his right, Murphy flattened against the ground, weapon poised.

"They see us! CONTACT! 100 METERS 12 O'CLOCK!" Devore yelled.

My Book Review:

In Twenty-One Steps Of Courageauthor Sarah Bates weaves a riveting military story that follows Rod Strong's journey as he follows in his late father's footsteps and enlists in the Army with the intention to achieve his father's goal to become a Sentinel of the Old Guard.

The author's thorough, realistic and authentic research into the Army process from enlistment to the elite Old Guard Regiment that guards the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, provides the reader with a captivating story about one man's vow to uphold his deceased father's legacy by achieving the commission as a Sentinel of the Old Guard.

Rod is a driven young man determined to achieve his lofty military goals. From enlisting on his eighteenth birthday through basic, Infantry, Ranger and Old Guard training, the reader can't help but cheer on Rod as he embarks on a personal journey full of courage, determination, pride, and a sense of duty.

Twenty-One Steps Of Courage is a well-written story that flows smoothly from the beginning; it is realistic and full of riveting suspenseful twists and turns that easily draws the reader into Rod's admirable and courageous military journey. I would highly recommend this book for those readers interested in the military literature genre.


About The Author

Award winning author, Sarah Bates’ fiction has appeared in the Greenwich Village Literary Review, the San Diego North County Times (now the Union-Tribune) and the literary magazine Bravura.

She is the author of ‘The Lost Diaries of Elizabeth Cady Stanton’, published in 2016, and co-author of the 2005 short story collection, ‘Out of Our Minds, Wild Stories’ by Wild Women. Bates was an English Department writing tutor at Palomar College in California for ten years. She privately tutors academic and creative writing students and is writing a new novel.

She is a Military Category Finalist for ‘Twenty-One Steps of Courage’, Next Generation Indie Book Awards, (2013) and 2nd Place Finalist, for ‘The Lost Diaries of Elizabeth Cady Stanton’, Unpublished Novel-Category, San Diego Book Awards (2015). It has since been published.

Sarah Bates lives in Fallbrook, California.

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