Starring… John Dillinger

Starring… John Dillinger

by Bill Walker and Brian Anthony

A review by Abby Lane

A reformed American gangster exchanges gun fire for a movie script, in this Hollywood blockbuster novel.

The book opens with Robert Butler and his daughter Lizzie meeting the notorious gangster, John Herbert Dillinger. On the run from the law, Dillinger intends to turn himself in to the authorities, but the plan goes amiss when two police officers unknowingly enter the scene.

When two Federal Bureau of Investigation agents capture rather than kill John Dillinger as he leaves the Biograph Theatre, an alternate history unfolds. After four weeks at trial, Dillinger is sentenced for his crimes. When he’s handed ten years in solitary confinement, his fate seems certain, but the judge’s ruling can’t pin him down and Dillinger plots the greatest escape of all through a public service film.

And I quote: “John Dillinger in front of a camera was as deadly as a Thompson submachine gun, and J. Edgar Hoover had just made the biggest mistake of his life.” After seeing Dillinger’s directorial debut, Jack Warner, a film exec, believes Dillinger has something in him that will attract the masses. He wants to put this outlaw in the movies and to achieve this end, Warner intimidates the likes of J. Edgar Hoover.

The novel Starring…John Dillinger is a captivating portrayal of an American gangster reimagined into a movie star. It was obvious from the beginning of the story that the book has a boatload of talent, but the movie pros were portrayed more thoroughly than the criminal’s mind. I enjoyed this novel and highly recommend it, but as this book is based on a true to life character, I would have valued more insight into Dillinger’s psyche.

The showtime appeal is evident. The novel is beautifully written; the prose certainly does an outstanding job of conveying and picturing a classic time period of Hollywood cinema. The 1930s language contributes to the silver screen appeal, which carries the action forward. Still, I found myself asking questions about Dillinger that the novel didn’t or couldn’t answer. Maybe this author wanted to experience John Dillinger’s exploits, even the outlaw holding a gun, or what he might have felt while fingering the trigger. These curiosities shouldn’t concern readers as you will certainly fall for the outlaw, but a glimpse of Dillinger’s ‘killer instinct’ may have made for a stronger ending.Readers who love alternate histories will find value in Bill Walker and Brian Anthony giving John Dillinger a second chance at life. I encourage readers to dive into this page-turner, and after reading this novel, I recommend watching Leonardo DiCaprio in his role as J. Edgar Hoover.

Abby Lane is a Reedsy Discovery Reviewer. She received this novel in exchange for an honest review. The original review will be published on November 11, 2021 and can be viewed here.

Jiving with a Royal

Jiving with a Royal

by Tomi Tabb

A review by Abby Lane

Amanda Collins has had a crush on the Prince of Wales for years. When she stumbles into him, she least expects her dreams to come true.

In book two of the Unexpected Royals series, the story opens with Amanda, Prince Edward, and his protection officers in California. A spirited woman and an amiable prince surf in La Jolla near San Diego. They find magic in one of my favorite places on earth…Disneyland. After reading this novel, readers might be inspired to revisit Beach Boys music or watch vintage episodes of I Love Lucy, an American sitcom. But a couple’s fun, fun, fun…comes to an end when Edward returns to England to take up his responsibilities in His Majesty’s Household Cavalry.

Amanda hopes to spend more time with her prince so searches for an opportunity to travel to England. The airline does not support a transfer, but a route opens for an overseas flight. Amanda accepts the opportunity and jets off to the UK. Once she arrives in London, something unexpected happens, leaving Amanda in a hurtful place.

In the second installment of the Unexpected Royal series, Tomi Tabb pens a sweet and sometimes humorous story on royalty, friendship, and love in her Jiving with a Royal novel. The author shows promise as an emerging writer. Her prose is written in a wholesome, straightforward, and easy to read manner. The novel has many highpoints, such as Prince Edward’s military training and his secretive lessons undertaken for Amanda. Even so, I felt like something was missing, and given how much I love real life royals, I would have liked a deeper and more in depth look at this couple. The story would be stronger if it focused more on the hero and heroine, specifically with more scenes together.

Though the author’s portrayal is realistic, given a prince has responsibilities which would keep him apart from his girlfriend, the military focus, while necessary to the plot, weakened the story.

The novel has a satisfying conclusion and a happily ever after for now ending. For readers who enjoyed Clara and David in book one, you’ll enjoy their return in book two.

This book is great for readers who love Royalty romance.

Abby Lane is a Reedsy Discovery Reviewer. She received this novel in exchange for an honest review. The original review was published on July 2, 2021 and can be viewed here.

The Normandy Club

The Normandy Club

By Bill Walker

A Review by Abby Lane

A German blitz brings war to America. Can two imperfect heroes erase an alternate history to restore the past?

When nine old men change the name of their club, a suspicious member burglarizes the office only to learn the impossible: one man plans to reshape World War II history by traveling into the past. The resultant journey shifts time, achieving horrific results: a German blitz conquers lands beyond Europe and warfare comes to America.

Years later, a Nazi regime occupies Avalon, formerly known as the United States. There’s no hope for minorities in this alternate future, but when Jack recalls the past, a partnership with Denise Malloy ensues and they race through difficult circumstances to correct the wrong. Threatened by SS officers and a man named Krueger, they’re soon traveling through time. But can they wrestle history into its proper alignment?

The Normandy Club has a cunning and original premise. Presented through Jack and Denise and Wiley and Chessman, the alternate history delivers a thrilling race through time, reawakening past events in calculated and warlike ways. Although the novel is fictional, the narrative delivers true-to-life historical perspectives through believable characterization and authentic settings.

I connected with this suspenseful novel in a personal way as I’ve journeyed to Auschwitz and a once German-occupied Poland. I’ve visited an internment camp, and an underground shelter well-depicted in the book. While the novel doesn’t delve deeper into atrocities, preferring to name rather than describe, the author fires the imagination with enough words strokes to have effectively hooked this reader early in the story. You’ll want to know whether Jack and Denise escape the powers who pursue them.

The Normandy Club delivers on its promises. It’s perfect for history buffs and those who love political suspense novels.

Abby Lane is a Reedsy Discovery Reviewer. She received this novel in exchange for an honest review. The original review was published on June 14, 2021 and can be viewed here.



By Blue Spruell

A Book Review by Abby Lane

A story of myth and mythology with a narrative depth as sharp as a samurai’s sword.

In a world ruled by the sword, Tarō escapes the blade and certain death due to his mother’s quick thinking. Yama Uba finds the boy and assumes a mothering role, keeping him safe from harm while giving him an unusual vigor. After four years under her care, Tarō wrestles with his identity as well as his animal friends, who include Tanuki. A quest begins to uncover Tarō’s past. He faces obstacles and gains new friends like Kamehime. But if a boy is to become the brave samurai his father wanted him to be, he’ll have to take risks while also facing his father’s nemesis, Lord Monkey.

The novel  Tarō reimagines three Japanese Folktales: Kintarō (Golden Boy), Urashima Tarō (Island Boy), and Momotarō (Peach Boy). The story takes readers on a mythical journey where sword and sorcery are strong elements. I was drawn in from the moment a mother placed her son in a basket. Lady Takeda’s dialogue stayed with me throughout the read: “Courage, Tarō!” or “Hide!” which are effective hooks in the heart of this story.

Tarō is a well-written novel, with a narrative depth as sharp as a samurai’s sword. In places the prose might be overly descriptive for some, and for others heroic…especially during swordplay and battle scenes. I particularly enjoyed the friendship between Tarō and Tanuki, loyal friends who added comic relief throughout the story. A female audience will also revel in the fearlessness of Kamehime (think Mulan), a young woman drawing her sword in a male dominated world.

Tarō is perfect for Myth & Mythology fans.

Abby Lane is a Reedsy Discovery Reviewer. She was given this novel in exchange for an honest review. The original review was published on May 15, 2021 and can be viewed here.

The Cleaner

The Cleaner

By Mark Dawson

A Book Review by Abby Lane

One question will engage readers attention and keep them turning the pages of Mark Dawson’s novel, The Cleaner. Why does John Milton risk everything to help Elijah and his mother?

This thriller novel starts with a poignant shot, soon ushering readers into the poorest streets of London’s East End, a place where young boys get caught up in gang life. Enter John Milton, an assassin at a crossroads in his life, who saves a mother from desperate straits and then chaperones her son, guiding him toward a better future. But with Control and a sharpshooter lying in wait, John Milton might have to face his own bullet.

I enjoyed the novel. Mark has a descriptive, rhythmic style that drives the pace like a well-lubricated engine. The narrative weaves a compelling story. Vivid depictions and a language style that encourages the plot to bounce off the page, especially in terms of secondary characters, Elijah, Pinky and Bizness. While the Cleaner has thrilling moments, this book reads more as a literary work to me. Regardless, a brilliant start to the John Milton series, and a perfect novel for fans of Jack Reacher.

Dancing with a Royal

Dancing with a Royal

By Tomi Tabb

A Book Review by Abby Lane

A ballerina takes the trip of a lifetime, finding happily ever after in the arms of her unexpected prince.

Claire Little receives an unexpected honor, when she’s asked to replace a prima ballerina in the Wedding Pas de Deux from the classical ballet, The Sleeping Beauty. She travels to the UK where she’ll perform at the Royal Opera House, but one misplaced step, alters her plans.

The royal prince, David Leeds, travels to the U.S. to rescue his royal cousin, but he’s pleasantly surprised at the airport when Claire assists him. The couple accidentally meets again at an English hotel, but an accident sends Claire into the arms of this handsome prince. A love at first sight romance now takes center stage.

Readers who love the ballet and royal life will enjoy this heartwarming story. I was drawn in from the start by Claire’s career as a dancer, as I have a fascination for Sleeping Beauty. I enjoyed this part of the plot, given that my daughters have taken ballet and I’ve experienced many performances. The author effectively describes the dance scenes, which made me feel as if I was part of the viewing audience.

While some readers will find the ending predictable, this love story reveals itself in a clear and concise manner. The novel would have been stronger if more conflict had been utilized, in keeping with the struggles a royal prince might face when choosing a commoner as a life partner. In my opinion, David’s family, particularly the Princess Royal, may have been too receptive to his choice. Even so, love wins in this romance, and the characterization in no way lessens the sweet impact of this story.

The novel is a page-turner and is overall well-written. The author is to be congratulated, as in Tomi’s first novel, it’s apparent the author achieved a worthy work of fiction. Readers will be excited to learn the author is writing book two in the Unexpected Royal series. I certainly am intrigued to read the next compilation in the life of this royal family.

This novel is well-suited for fans of royalty romance.

Abby Lane is a Reedsy Discovery Reviewer. She was given this novel in exchange for an honest review. The origin review was published on February 27, 2021 and can be viewed here.

Battle of Brothers

Battle of Brothers

by Robert Lacey

A Book Review by Abby Lane

Battle of Brothers is a biographical masterpiece of two brothers and their royal family. At the novel’s root, it’s a history lesson; the naughty prince who highlights the morning pages of the daily news, and the nice prince who stands in the background, guarding a personal life and kingly future, his earlier behaviors seemingly unnoticed by the press.

Robert Lacey writes a respectful accounting, drawing the reader into the narrative and keeping them connected with each diligently written word. The author has an impressive track record as a British historian and consultant to The Netflix series, The Crown. His words render emotional, sometimes humorous responses, such as “Major ‘Poker’ Bowles”, and other times poignant, depicting a portrait of care and compassion for the royal sovereigns, which include the wives, the family, and “The Firm”. I’ve always had a fascination for the inside story of the royal family, so it’s a pleasure to read a book that acknowledges a family’s history in an insightful, professional, and graceful manner.

Five stars for this brilliant novel!

Finding Freedom

Finding Freedom

by Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand

A Book Review by Abby Lane

Authors Omid Scobie and Carolyn Durand deliver an evocative commentary in “the making of a Modern Royal Family” with their keen observations of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in the royalty biography, Finding Freedom.

The cooperative narrative draws “on hundreds of hours of conversations and interviews with more than one hundred sources (Finding Freedom, Authors Note),” potentially compromising boundaries in royal protocol, which at times the narrative reads in such a personal and private nature, the authors effectively place the reader in the couple’s life from their first meeting, various travels, engagement and wedding day celebrations, the birth of Archie, their role as working royals; and an all-important meeting with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Charles and Prince William.

The conversation personalizes this accounting, but is also suggestive, leading this reader to wonder if Harry and Meghan participated in the writing of this book, either knowingly or unknowingly. The narrative in “the book” sometimes feels as if too-close associations are being revealed, as the authors disclose private meetings and communicated knowledge that perhaps should not have been published in such a bookish manner, especially in a disclosure of Prince William, Prince Harry’s brother. However, Finding Freedom seems like an honest exposition of a couple’s struggles within the monarchy’s structure while enduring unjust criticism from media sources and Meghan’s own distant family.I enjoyed reading this thoughtful and well-written novel. While I ponder the novel’s true motivation, the queen’s released statement holds notable value: “My family and I are entirely supportive of Harry and Meghan’s desire to create a new life as a young family.” One might reflect on the queen’s wisdom while also being supportive of a royal couple who hopefully will find new meaning for their lives within their newly found freedom.

Abby Lane weaves a colorful tapestry, intertwining her narrative with nostalgic threads that fantasy readers can relate to. She’s the author of the dark fantasy series A Reign of Blood and Magic and her novels are available at your favorite online and brick and mortar bookstores.

On a bitterly cold day

Chapter Two: King Lowell

On a bitterly cold day, lacking of warmth or human compassion, the kingdom of Velez faced the queen mother’s treachery. The people prayed a god might intervene to deliver them from her madness, thereby preventing Wodensday from dawning, but their prayers went unanswered and the morning dawned anyway, as mornings always do, although graver than expected.

A thick white haze crept in from the sea, smoking the lower hills and denying a shaft of sunlight from penetrating the eastern horizon. Perhaps the god of war didn’t understand the situation, as he had not done his part to grace the land with protective magic.

King Lowell didn’t welcome pagan gods and had ignored the Privy Council’s warning. Preparing himself for a sentence that must be carried out, he stood in front of a golden reflecting glass, appraising his shoddy appearance. A strained forehead, grizzled cheeks, and tense worry lines darkened the hollows beneath his steel blue eyes. He searched for the likeness of his father in the reflecting glass, considering the blue of his own eyes while remembering the emerald green of the former king. His father’s visage had begun to slip away, blurring with the passage of time, but the man’s opinions still carried weight.

If the choice were yours to make, Fatherwould you have decreed the same punishment?

Lowell supposed it didn’t matter what a former king may have reasoned; he was dead, helpless to support the actions of the new king either way. The opinions of his royal parentage or his king’s men—or anyone else’s, for that matter—shouldn’t concern him. He alone must face his reservations and live with the consequences.

Still, the deed he must bear witness to brought him no joy. He did not smile as he withdrew from the mercuric glass. Good humor would not find him smiling on this sickening day.

The Ebony Queen, book two in the series A Reign of Blood and Magic, is available for preorder and releases on July 14th, 2020.

A Preface from the series, A Reign of Blood & Magic

An author includes a Preface at the beginning of a novel to give the reader insight into why a book was written. I include preliminary descriptions in some books to honor the story. A story and/or character originates from a seed of an idea, but a story concept is not only shaped by an author’s imagination, but also by life experience. The Preface for The Scarlett Mark, the first book in A Reign of Blood & Magic series, explains the inspiration behind my dark fantasy series. I hope you enjoy it.


The Scarlett Mark was an abstract idea during the summer of 2012, in that a story hadn’t taken shape yet. At that time, I was employed as a bookseller at Indigo Books & Music, and though I had written several manuscripts, I wasn’t writing at this time. In fact, I’d given up on writing a book, let alone publishing one. Yet, I worked in the bookstore for years, waiting for inspiration to bear words. Participating in Harry Potter’s and then Stephanie Meyer’s book releases, always waiting, hoping, the muse would strike again.

And then: The first season of The Game of Thrones aired on HBO. The story hooked my imagination to such an extent, I was soon reading the series: A Song of Ice and Fire. I appreciated George R. R. Martin’s writing style, especially the way he shared his prose, offering up one character at a time. Now, some readers might be upset by a character’s demise, and I certainly was too, in some cases, but history proves that humanity is unkind, so what I see as a realistic approach to characterization or being true to one’s narrative, is what I admire most about George.

And then, bam! My imagination sprouted a seed of an idea.

A Reign of Blood and Magic (not the original series title) began with Scarlett, Ruby, and Rose. One day at work, I’m in the lunchroom and three names pop into my head. I’m mindful of the color red, from the beginning. It isn’t long before I’m writing their story. This story.

My favorite character to conceive is Cynara. The story begins with her and if she ever dies, the series will end with her, too. I love her capacity to act. To not accept strife from anyone. To go where no other woman has gone before, regardless of the consequences.

I published the first edition in 2015. An early reviewer and close friend said this book seemed as if it was written from a childhood heart, and I think that’s true. The author in me who love’s fairy tales, especially Sleeping Beauty and everything Disney, wants to connect with real life heroes and heroines in a fantasy way, wrote this story.

I hope you enjoy it!

If you’re interested in learning more about The Scarlett Mark, click here: