The Unusual Suspects (Grimm Sisters #2), by Michael Buckley

Eight stars

Needing a short filler novel and wanting something lighter, I turned back to Michael Buckley and his Sisters Grimm collection. The stories pull on some of the characters that have emerged in the Grimm fairytales and place two modern sisters in the middle of the narrative, tasked with uncovering various criminal acts. Sabrina and Daphne Grimm have been living with their grandmother for the better part of three weeks. While they have already uncovered a significant crime in Ferryport Landing, they have not been enrolled in school. With a threat to send them back to foster care in New York, the girls are marched to the local elementary school and placed in classes. While Daphne is sent to be taught by Ms. (Snow) White, Sabrina ends up with a crotchety old man who wants nothing more than to rid himself of the students in class. Sabrina has a rough first day of class and ends up staying after school, only to discover her teacher murdered and the classroom filled with odd webs. Working alongside their grandmother, the Sisters Grimm begin poking around and bring their friend/foe Puck along to offer his own insight. Drawing blanks, the sisters turn to the age-old clash of humans versus Everafters—the latter group being those who gained fame in a Grimm fairytale, but are not able to escape Ferryport Landing under any circumstances—which could account for this dastardly attack at the school. Sabrina forges ahead and sticks her neck out, not caring who she offends, to get to the bottom of it. What she discovers leaves everyone clueless and powerless to stop the plan that could wipe Ferryport Landing off the map once and for all. Full of wonderful fairytale characters and interesting banter, Buckley has fashioned this YA novel into something that readers of all ages can enjoy.

I read the series debut not long ago and enjoyed the premise that Buckley presents. While not my normal reading, the series has an entertaining aspect to it, particularly when I need something short to bridge me through. The premise of the Grimm sisters is interesting and while it is not explored completely here, there is a little character development to whet the appetite of the ever-curious reader. Sabrina is the sarcastic pre-teen who is not happy with the pat on the head, needing to know things and refusing to listen to authority. Her younger sister, Daphne, is still pie-eyed and wants to love everything, but the jaded views spewing from her sister leaves her beginning to question everyone. Peppering the narrative with fairytale characters, some of whom do not match their depiction in the stories we all know well, the reader is able to enjoy a flavourful story that keeps things interesting and provides twists at just the right spots. The story, a YA mystery, is decent and the plot paces itself effectively. There are moments I found myself more connected to the story than I might be with many adult thrillers that I regularly enjoy. Buckley has a way of mixing sarcasm with plot development to keep the narrative intriguing and allowing the reader the chance to chuckle between scenes. Lengthier chapters keeps the reader pushing forward, if only to reach the next benchmark before turning in for a while. Buckley has an entire collection of novels in this series that I will have to discover before too long. A nice cliffhanger left me wanting to know a little more.

Kudos, Mr. Buckley, for another great addition to the series. I hope teens and adults alike discover this series and enjoy it as much as I have already.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Full Disclosure, by Beverley McLachlin

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Beverley McLachlin, and Simon & Schuster Canada for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

In her first piece of published fiction, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada Beverley McLachlin storms onto the scene with this courtroom thriller that will keep the reader guessing until the final chapters. Jilly Truitt is trying to establish herself as a competent defence attorney in Vancouver. Having been brought up in the foster care system, Jilly has seen just how dark things can get and found a way to move towards the light. Having been mentored by the best when she was fresh from law school, Jilly now finds herself face to face with the same man who taught her how to shape the law to her favour. When millionaire Vincent Trussardi hires her to defend him on a murder charge, things do not look good, but Jilly is up for a challenge. Having been accused of killing his wife, Laura, Trussardi proclaims his innocence and will not accept anything less than being fully exonerated. As soon as she begins preparing for trial, Jilly is warned by many to drop this legal hot potato as fast as she can, as there are secrets and mysteries that could easily trip up her defence. Still, Jilly sees potential and will use this to springboard her to greater success within the Vancouver legal community. However, with the case progressing, Jilly hits a few snags but cannot be deterred; she is in for the long-run. At trial, Crown Prosecutor Cy Kenge will do whatever it takes to bury his former protégé, forcing her to see that some people do not deserve their day in court. With the city watching and everything on the line, Jilly must decide if Trussardi’s defence is worth all she has to offer. McLachlin does well with this, her debut novel, and will have those who love the genre raving about this for years to come!

Having followed former Chief Justice McLachlin throughout her time on the High Court, I was ecstatic at the opportunity to read her first novel, a wonderful career change since her recent retirement. McLachlin uses all her legal skills and injects the perfect amount of realistic plot and dialogue to help the reader relate to the story, be they from Canada or not. Jilly Truitt is a wonderfully crafted character, whose backstory is somewhat murky, but is revealed throughout the narrative. Jilly seeks not only to better understand herself, but the world around her, as well as how her clients could get into the messes in which they find themselves. The reader will notice some character development throughout the piece, both inside the courtroom and with her personal life. McLachlin surely knows how to breathe life into her characters, which is equally exemplified in the others who populate the intense narrative. Working together, there are enough crumbs left that the attentive reader could see a series emerging, giving just enough to pique curiosity. The plot is strong and the crimes believable to the point that they are realistic. The story moves through case preparation and into the courtroom, where McLachlin utilises her legal expertise to deliver banter where needed and testimony summary at other times. While the chapters are not extremely lengthy, there are some who bulk up the narrative, though they pass with ease as the reader forges ahead and makes the most of the experience. The reader is ready for all McLachlin has to offer and finds themselves treated to a wonderful legal thriller. There is enough Canadian content to give it a wonderful flavour, though the Canadiana does not inculcate the reader at every page flip. Highly recommended and one can hope that there is more Jilly Truitt to come in the near future.

Kudos, Madam Former Chief Justice McLachlin (is this the correct title, anyone?), for such a stellar debut. I will be encouraging anyone who enjoys the genre to read this and judge for themselves.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Red Alert (NYPD Red #5), by James Patterson and Marshall Karp

Eight stars

Working to continue their successful series, James Patterson and Marshall Karp return with a fifth novel in the NYPD Red series. The premise of NYPD Red is to protect or investigate the city’s most elite, offering a protective barrier from the masses. Detectives Zach Jordan and Kylie MacDonald are well versed with the job and have seen almost everything the city has to offer. While serving as part of the mayor’s security detail, Jordan and MacDonald witness a bomb explode at a fundraiser, killing one man and sending shrapnel all over. Working with few leads and at a significant disadvantage, Jordan and MacDonald try to find answers where none exist. As they are headed home, awaiting some of the evidence to be processed, the detectives are called to the scene of another potential crime. A high-profile New Yorker known for her kinky sexual interests may have died during auto-erotic asphyxiation, though there are a few indications that the safety measures were not in place and she was murdered. Dog-tired and unable to piece anything together, Jordan and MacDonald agree to meet after a few hours’ rest, when they can think straight. Upon returning somewhat rejuvenated, they learn that wiring at the scene is the trademark of a well-known Aussie bomber who has been locked away in a Thai prison for over a decade. Soon another bomb explodes and all hell breaks loose. While Jordan and MacDonald try to make sense of it all, their ‘sensual’ case gains legs when a video surfaces involving the victim and a respected judge with a request for blackmail money. The judge seems not to care, proud that he’s been caught on tape but NYPD Red cannot let this go without some action. A bumbling attempt to pay the random and trap the killer goes wrong, but there is little time to waste, as a new lead sends Jordan and MacDonald to the other side of the world for some interviews they never thought possible. With two key crimes on their plate and the mayor screaming for closure on both cases, NYPD Red will so whatever it takes to up their solve rate, even if it costs them their jobs. Patterson and Karp are brilliant in their delivery and series fans will surely love this story that does not let up until the final page.

I have long been a fan of the series and feel this is one that Patterson has done well over the last few years. The delivery is both succinct and detailed at the same time, keeping the reader engaged and guessing as the cases unfold. As always our protagonist detectives offer up their witty repartee while also finding themselves in the middle of some personal development. The platonic and sexual tension builds throughout and keeps the reader wondering if something will happen and both sides will finally acknowledge what has been brewing for so long (and was in place for a while). The secondary characters keep the crimes charged and permit the reader to see the cases develop in unique ways, allowing the story to ebb and flow as needed. Newer crimes and unique presentations keep the story from going stale. Patterson’s trademark short chapters allows the reader to push through this piece in short order, keeping them entertained without being too fanciful. Karp does well in the collaboration and the reader can surely hope for more in the coming years by these two, who have a wonderful series that continues to gain momentum.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Karp, for another great addition to the series. I hope to see more in the series soon, which seemed to take a hiatus for a while.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Hangman (Detective William Fawkes #2), by Daniel Cole

Seven stars

Daniel Cole is back to continue his thriller series that had readers gasping at the cliffhanger ending. Riding the wave of his debut success, Cole presents this follow-up that appears to lack the intensity and grit of DS William Fawkes’ initial case. With Fawkes away and on the lam, all eyes turn to newly-promoted Detective Chief Inspector Emily Baxter. While the Ragdoll killer is safely locked away, the case lingers and everyone remains on edge. When a call come in from New York City, where a body identified as ‘William Fawkes’ has been found, Baxter agrees to travel and investigate this oddity. Before she makes it out of the country, she visits Belmarsh once more to see the Ragdoll, only to be trapped in the middle of an event that leaves him dead and Baxter significantly spooked. Upon her arrival in NYC, DCI Baxter liaises with some of the local and federal authorities as more murder scenes emerge, victims bearing ‘puppet’ and ‘bait’ inscriptions on the body. Might there be a connection to Ragdoll that’s crossed the Atlantic? Baxter is equally baffled when news from the Met reaches her that other killings of a similar style have been taking place in the UK. How can all these killers be connected without a clear threat to bind them? As Baxter continues to investigate, she follows a lead that turns the case on its head, but media outlets have chosen to broadcast it before it can be properly analysed. Might there be a central leader who has ordered these murders, as odd and unrelated as they seem? Witnesses have recounted that the killers seem almost detached from the events, leading many to wonder about some form of mind control. Religious symbolism and the talk of cultish behaviour begin to flood Baxter’s investigation, forcing her to come to terms with the fact that this might be more than just tracking down a killer, but someone who holds a handful of strings and can make followers dance on command. Cole surely has devised an interesting way to ‘string along’ the reader, though to substance of the story is not as strong as I would have hoped. Fans of the debut will likely want to take the plunge, if only to discover what Cole has planned, but all the hype this book has received is lost on me.

It is disappointing to find a writer dedicate so much of their time to a debut that skyrockets, only to find the follow-up limp along. I was captivated by Cole’s first piece and could not wait to get my hands on this one (which had been getting some great reviews), but found it fell short of the mark. The story had potential, as did the characters, but delivery of both seems to have been rushed or not cultivated enough to pique my interest. With DS Fawkes gone (spoiler alert?), the narrative pulls DCI Emily Baxter into the spotlight. She has strong ties to Fawkes, but is also trying to make a name for herself in the Met, where women are still rapping on the glass ceiling. Her energetic attitude and interest in getting dirt under her nails is unequally balanced by her desire to fill shoes that do not fit. I found myself constantly trying to like Baxter as a character and investigator, but nothing stuck for me, either in her personal or professional life. This is unfortunate, as the protagonist is the one who leads the reader along through the case at hand. A smattering of other characters on both sides of the ledger also lacked the complexity that I felt this book needed, especially with the set of crimes being offered up to the reader. I needed to feel angst and confusion as well as determination to let nothing stop justice from making its mark. Instead, I felt things kept circling the drain, hoping to find some action or sicko moment that would spring the narrative to life. Cole had all the ingredients for success, but the mix did not work for me. Others will surely agree and I can defer to them. The story had much possibility, especially utilising two venues, but fell flat and left me wanting more and needing to feel a stronger connection. Even the central mastermind became beige, leaving me wishing I had known this before rushing to seek enjoyment with this second novel. Perhaps I needed to let Ragdoll ferment before rushing into this one, but whatever it was, this did not work and I am sorry. A third novel in the series is surely a while off, so I will have time to gather my thoughts before then.

Kudos, Mr. Cole, for attempting to keep things running effectively. If you had to have a less impactful novel, thankfully it was this second, as your debut is the net that will catch you many fans. As I know your potential, I’lol likely come back for another read and hope for better things.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Against the Law (Edward Hall #1), by Jay Brandon

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Jay Brandon, and Severn House Publishers for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Jay Brandon has crafted this wonderful legal thriller that pulls the story into the courtroom, where a woman’s life hangs in the balance. Edward Hall is startled to hear from his sister, Amy, who finds herself in some legal hot water. Dr. Hill is accused of killing her estranged husband, Paul Shilling. Amy admits to being at his home, though is adamant that she did not gun him down. Edward may be compassionate to her plight, but has issues of his own. Edward recently served jail time for a crime committed at the Houston courthouse when he was an up and coming star in the DA’s office. As such, he has had his licence suspended and is still technically not able to practice law. That does not deter Amy in hiring her brother, who is sure that he can offer some much needed advice. As the trial approaches, Edward realises that he may be put in the position of defending his sister and will have to face the ramifications of his legal issues later. When they are assigned a strict judge for the murder trial, Edward cannot help but remember that this woman was once his colleague at the DA’s office and is intricately tied to the crime he committed. Giving it his all, Edward must face insurmountable odds to defend his sister, though her defence is weak and a key piece of evidence has been placed before the jury, sure to tip the scales against them. Facing a potential death sentence if she is convicted, Amy must hope the brother she has always idolised can pull out a miracle in the courtroom, where he’s made quite a name for himself. Brandon does a wonderful job with this story, pulling on heartstrings and legal manoeuvres alike. A wonderful read for anyone who enjoys a legal thriller with the courtroom as the key setting.

This is my first Jay Brandon novel, but I am sure it will not be my last. He writing strength comes not only from his legal descriptions, but also the detailed characters and delivery throughout this piece. Edward Hall is a wonderfully complex character that shapes the direction of this novel on numerous occasions. The backstory on offer is well balanced with some of the development throughout the novel, as short as the timeline might be. Seeing not only the legal drama that Hall has overcome but the personal and familial struggles he suffered do pull the reader into the middle of it all, perhaps in hopes of trying to personalise him and tipping the scales in his favour. Amy Hall Shilling is another wonderful character who seems to undervalue the extent of the legal hot water in which she finds herself, more focussed on her innocence than the trial and pitfalls that continue to crop up. Brandon does well to portray her as the lost sheep, seeking her brother to guide the way, even when he is barely able to keep his head above water. The story is intriguing, and what it lacks in uniqueness it makes up for in its alluring legal antics. The story flows well and keeps the reader guessing until the very end, hoping that Edward will be able to pull a rabbit out of the proverbial hat when faced with such trying odds. Brandon has done a masterful job and keeps the narrative moving such that the reading experience will surely lead to late nights for the reader.

Kudos, Mr. Brandon, for this powerful piece. I am eager to read more of your work in the coming years.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Ragdoll (DS William Fawkes #1), by Daniel Cole

Seven stars

Daniel Cole emerges on the scene with this thought-provoking debut thriller that will have readers wondering until the very end. Detective Sergeant William Fawkes has recently returned to the Metropolitan Police Force after a significant absence. After one of his cases—the Cremation Killer—went to trial and the accused was found not guilty, Fawkes took measures into his own hands. The loss still haunts him and he feels the pain of it every day. When his colleagues are called to a murder scene close to his home, Fawkes is curious what’s turned up. What they discover is as sadistic as it is curious; a body of parts sewn together to create a single whole. Fawkes is pulled into the middle, hoping to identify the various parts and discover if they are other murder victims. When Fawkes’ ex-wife, a journalist, receives a list of future murders and dates they will be completed, everyone takes notice. Most interesting of all, Fawkes is listed as the final victim, a fortnight away. The team rushes to locate the potential victims and provide protection, though this killer is conniving and has a way around all the usual measures that are taken. With each passing day, another victim is that much closer to being crossed off the list, including Fawkes, who has no clear idea what awaits him. This might be one killer who cannot be stopped until the ultimate revenge has been accomplished. Cole offers up a wonderful story that keeps the reader’s attention throughout. Solving the crime is only half the battle and those who enjoy the genre ought to give this one a try.

I enjoy new authors who wish to elbow their way onto the scene in sensational fashion. Daniel Cole does just that, though there are some who surely cannot stomach his work. I’ve always said that not all books are to the liking of everyone, which does not diminish either the book or the reader. In this instance, Cole seeks to pull William Fawkes into the middle of this story and show his merit. Fawkes is a man who is addled with guilt for past failures while also being determined to get to the root of the case, no matter its level of difficulty. He does not like to ‘colour in the lines’, but does seem to get results, even when things seem hopeless. This could be both his greatest asset and most significant downfall. Others around him help create a tension-filled experience, working in unison at times or providing firm roadblocks around which Fawkes will have to navigate. Cases such as these require a strong villain, one who can fan the flames and keep the reader wondering what awaits them as the narrative continues. The sensational discovery of the ‘rag doll’ is surely something that hooked the reader, though it is the intricacies surrounding the various victims makes for an interesting sub-plot. The story is decent and flows well, though there are times when things become slow and some readers (mentioned above) may have chosen to bow out when the going got rough. Still, there is significant intrigue, which kept me wanting to push forward to discover how it all ‘stitched’ itself together. Cole has done well to lay the groundwork for an interesting series and I will read the follow-up novel to see how things progress with Fawkes and the rest of the Metropolitan crew.

Kudos, Mr. Cole, for this wonderful debut. You’ve received a great deal of hype and I can see how many have come to love you work. I am eager to see if the second novel is as exciting as this one became.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell, by Robert Dugoni

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Robert Dugoni, Lake Union Publishing for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

In his latest standalone novel, Robert Dugoni shows just how versatile he can be with his writing. His dazzling prose and wonderful ability to convey a story will warm the heart of many readers throughout this powerful novel. Sam Hill was born just outside the Bay Area to two loving parents. As he tells in the early part of the story, the love his parents showed him was unlike anything else in the world. However, Sam was born with a unique feature—red irises, called ocular albinism—which would come to haunt him in the years to come. Though it did not affect his ability to see, Sam was scorned by other young children and faced a significant issue trying to get into the local Catholic school. However, his persistent mother never lost the faith and Sam was soon enrolled alongside the other pupils. His eyes did cause many an issue, helping him develop the moniker, Sam Hell. This did not deter him, though kept the other children from playing alongside him. Friends with Ernie Cantwell, a young black boy—the only in the school—Sam discovered that some children take things to extremes and was severely bullied. As hew grew, Sam and Ernie remained the best of friends, soon adding Michaela ‘Mickie’ Kennedy to their brood. As the story progresses, the reader learns of Sam’s older years and how things developed for him, allowing life lessons and personal epiphanies to shape his way of life. With each part of the book flashing forward to 1989, the reader is able to discover a ‘modern’ narrative and how Sam has used all those lessons to shape what came to be his greatest moments, influenced deeply by his mother. Those fans of Dugoni’s work will marvel at this personal story that has all the ingredients his police procedurals as well. Those seeking a touching story that does not get too sappy will also love this and may develop a love of Robert Dugoni’s writing in general.

I have long loved the writing that Dugoni puts out and find myself completely captivated by his current series set in Seattle. However, it is wonderful to see an author step away from his/her comfort zone and develop an ability to write with an entirely new set of characters and plots. Dugoni does this so effortlessly and pulls the reader in the middle of an emotional story that holds the reader’s attention until the very last phrase. Sam Hill is a wonderful character whose maturation is a fundamental part of the story. His backstory and ongoing character development provides the reader with a rich understanding of the issues that he faces as a child with a physical trait that distinguishes him from others. Secondary characters, such as Ernie and Mickie provide a wonderful flavour for the story and are offset by the more grounded Mr. and Mrs. Hill, who have their own quirks. The vignettes that occur within each part of the larger story provide a wonderful collage of moments that, when sewn together, provided a powerful set of characters that convey a powerful message. I almost could not tell that this was Dugoni, so used to his mystery and police stories, though I am blessed to have seen how detailed he made the entire experience. Dugoni offers up some wonderful themes throughout the piece and arcs them together effectively, touching the reader at just the right moments. The short chapters help push things along and the spiritual nature of the narrative does not create a Christian inculcation, but surely serves as an effective theme in Sam’s life and the reader’s experience with this novel.

Kudos, Mr. Dugoni, for such a powerful book. I can only hope to read more standalone novels of this calibre in the years to come.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Collector (The Bone Collector #2), by Fiona Cummins

Eight stars

Fiona Cummins’ second novel holds all the intensity of the first, captivating the reader yet again. Picking up soon after the first novel ended, Cummins envelops the reader in this thriller, tantalising them with her wonderful abilities and cliffhanger moments. Clara Foyle is still missing, having not been found when the police raided one of the residences of the Bone Collector. In a gaffe during transport, the Bone Collector got loose and fled, remaining off the radar. These developments have been haunting DS Etta Fitzroy ever since, forcing her to come to terms with the horror of a child that has been lost. While she remains determined to find Clara, DS Fitzroy must wait for a significant clue to emerge. Meanwhile, after settling in rural Essex, the Bone Collector, now going by the name Mr. Silver, is trying to reestablish himself, much of his work still unfinished. He has found an apprentice who will be able to help him with his work while also trying to decide what purpose Clara might serve. Saul is a teenage boy forced to care for his alcoholic mother alone, after his father fled. Filled with angst and animosity, he is the ideal candidate to work alongside Mr. Silver, though he is still not entirely sure what is in store for him. After a new victim is lured to the beachfront house and killed for her bone anomaly, Mr. Silver has found his legs and is back in business. All that he needs to do now is tell the world he’s back, with a cryptic message affixed to the skeleton of a rabbit. DS Fitzroy is ready to resume the hunt, but will she be prepared for what Mr. Silver has planned now, and with someone to help? Cummins keeps up her electrifying story and leaves the reader stunned as they push through to see how it will all come to play out. Those who enjoyed the first novel in the series, as well as readers who love a good psychological thriller, will love this second piece.

Fiona Cummins has not lost the momentum she developed with the start of this series, pushing the genre out of its comfort zone. This only goes to show that Cummins is ready to use her ideas and reshape an already crowded genre, pushing her to the top of the list, amongst other powerful writers. Etta Fitzroy is still superb cop who has been processing the difficulties of a jaded work-home balance and a husband whose forced her to rethink her life choices. Armed with the failure to apprehend the Bone Collector once and for all, with Clara Foyle still out there, DS Fitzroy must work even harder not to botch the case again. The Bone Collector—Mr. Silver—has regrouped and sees the benefit of cultivating a new generation to continue his macabre museum of bones and medical anomalies. He’s found Saul and will do whatever it takes to ingratiate himself with the teen, hoping to fill a massive gap in the boy’s life. Still, there is much work to be done and many lives hang in the balance, as well as victims that must be culled around the country. Cummins offers some great backstory here to explore where the penchant for bones and murder might have originated, providing the reader with wonderful insight. The story is just as strong as before, flowing well through chapters full of information and cliffhanger moments. It would appear that date and time stamping each chapter poses the dual benefit of providing the reader some context and showing that Clara is still missing, and has yet to be recovered. This chill is not lost on the attentive reader, who wonders what is in store for the victim who has touched the lives of many characters in this book. Cummins does a magnificent job at injecting thrills and suspense into her narrative, leaving things hanging as she forces the reader to beg for more.

Kudos, Madam Cummins, for another award-worthy novel. I hope others will see what I have discovered and pick up this series in short order.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Triple Frontier (Jericho Quinn #7.6), by Marc Cameron

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Marc Cameron, Kensington Books, and Pinnacle for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

In his latest novella, Marc Cameron brings Jericho Quinn back for another high-octane adventure, this time way out of his comfort zone. The Triple Frontier—the area where the sovereign states of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay converge—is extremely dangerous. Drug running and human smuggling are common, creating a zone where the authorities have all but stopped trying to enforce the law. Bo Quinn is down in the region with a group of rich Americans to ride their motorcycles around the country. While travelling one morning, they are ambushed by a group of locals, though Bo is able to activate his SOS and GPS beacons before being tossed into the back of a van and led away. Back in America, Bo’s older brother, Jericho, receives word that the beacon has been activated, but cannot raise his sibling over the phone. Panicked, Jericho prepares to make his way down to South America, though his close friends will not let him go alone. On a rescue mission, Jericho prepares to head into the unknown, though is promised the help of a local when he arrives. Meanwhile, a ransom note comes in, seeking $3 million, only to be trumped by another offer of five million. Could rival cartels be using Bo and his clients as pawns in a larger battle? By the time they reach the Triple Frontier, Jericho and his entourage realise that this is one mission that will not end peacefully. When an unexpected individual shows up to offer Jericho added support, the mission takes on an entirely different flavour. Jericho forges ahead into the unknown in hopes of trying to clean up the mess that is this hostage situation without alerting the formal authorities. Faced with kidnappers who have nothing to lose and seek a major payday, the end result is anything but predictable. Cameron provides an entertaining addition to the Jericho Quinn series that fans of the collection will surely enjoy as they wait for the next full-length book.

Marc Cameron has done well crafting the Jericho Quinn series over the past numbers of years. While he has taken on some additional series work elsewhere, fans of the novels have been biding their time with some novellas, though their quality remains at the highest calibre. While much attention has been spent on Jericho and his interesting backstory, Cameron has only recently shed any light on the life of the younger Quinn, Bo. In this piece, the reader is able to see just how resilient Bo can be when faced with trouble, cool under pressure and ready to fight for what he feels is right. As the premise of the piece is an intense rescue mission, Jericho is still able to take centre stage in this story and does so, showing a compassionate side when it comes to protecting his family. Some of the secondary characters on both sides are able to keep the attention focused on the fast pace of the rescue mission, adding interesting flavours to the narrative. The story remains a ‘cookie cutter’ effort to save those who are being held captive, but it is the way in which Cameron approaches the story and how he is able to inject some much-needed humour into the dialogue to lighten the mood. With a narrative that clips along, the reader is swept up in this novella that has as much action as any of the stories that Cameron has published to this point. That being said, I eagerly await something longer in the near future.

Kudos, Mr. Cameron, for this entertaining piece. I can always count on something interesting and full of adventure when you write.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Deadly Secrets (Detective Erika Foster #6), by Robert Bryndza

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Robert Bryndza, and Bookouture for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Robert Bryndza is back with another Detective Erika Foster novel that takes the reader on a heart-thumping adventure in a thrilling police procedural. While headed out for Christmas lunch, DCI Foster comes upon a recent murder scene and decides to lend a hand. What she finds is a slain Marissa Lewis, her body frozen to the ground after having had her throat slit the night before. Lewis, a burlesque dancer who used the name Honey Diamond, was quite well known around the community, though not always liked. It would seem that she was quite popular with some of the local men, though used her wiles to blackmail them and pad her own bank account. With the investigation in full-swing, Foster begins using some CCTV footage and witness statements to determine that the killer was likely wearing an odd gas mask, a photo of which appeared in a document dump from emails of an early suspect. As a number of those on the police radar take drastic measures not to be fingered for the crime, Foster and her team hear of a man attacking people in a similar gas mask. Might the cases be connected? When an urgent call from Manchester pulls Foster away from the case, the team turns to DI Moss, who is unsure if she can handle the pressure of being in charge. With the case heating up and leads emerging from numerous parts of Marissa Lewis’ life, Moss takes a gamble to bring the case to a close, all while DCI Foster wrestles with demons from her past. Bryndza keeps the reader guessing throughout this piece, with captivating twists in a story that will keep series fans up late into the night.

I have long enjoyed the writing of Robert Bryndza, particularly his work with DCI Erika Foster. Some may call the series too superficial for their liking, but there are times with a quick read police procedural checks all the necessary boxes. As with the previous five novels, this piece allows the reader to develop a closer relationship to Erika Foster, foraging through her personal life to touch a nerve, while also helping to build-up her strong police presence. Bryndza also seeks to personalise Erika’s struggle to move on after the loss of her husband and the pitfalls of finding that balance between work and a personal life. Foster remains a sharp character who answers to no one and seeks to find the minutiae in each piece of evidence to determine its validity. The handful of secondary characters in this story continue to develop as well, as Bryndza does offer scraps of information to flesh-out their work and personal lives. Readers can enjoy seeing this growth, which provides interesting sub-plots and offsets the intensity of the crimes central to the narrative. The story is clear and flows well, taking a few tangents, if only to allow the reader to be befuddled alongside the coppers. Bryndza weaves his narrative around two sets of crimes and merges them at just the right moment, only to leave gaps that need to be filled to solve the larger murder investigation. Through his use of short and choppy chapters, Bryndza offers up a story that cannot easily be put down and forces the reader to forge onwards, begging to know how things resolve in this high-impact case. To call the story addictive would be an understatement, even if there are police procedural purists who remain bitter on the sidelines.

Kudos, Mr. Bryndza, for another captivating novel in the series. I am eager to see how things will continue to evolve with DCI Erika Foster and her team in the coming novels.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Rattle (The Bone Collector #1), by Fiona Cummins

Eight stars

Fiona Cummins’ debut novel has all the ingredients of a captivating thriller and keeps the reader hooked until the final chapters. After Clara Foyle is abducted outside a sweets shop, the community is swept up in the panic and a search commences. Detective Sergeant Etta Fitzroy is used to this panic, but must work quickly to nail down some leads before the trail goes cold and Clara is all but forgotten by the public. As she pokes around the crime scene, DS Fitzroy comes upon the skeletal remains of some animal, something she eventually learns is a rabbit. Affixed to the rabbit’s foot is a message, some code that might refer to a biblical passage, related to bones. There is surely an abductor out there, but no leads to offer anything concrete. Fitzroy is still haunted by another child abduction on her plate, one that has yet to be solved, though the family remains hopeful. When another young boy disappears, this time from his hospital bed, Fitzroy discovers another set of rabbit bones and is certain there is a connection. Who might have done this and for what reason? The only connection between Clara and Jakey Frith is their age…and that they both suffered from a bone anomaly. Poring over the evidence and family histories, DS Fitzroy concludes that the abductor must have an interest in bones. Meanwhile, lurking in the shadows, the Bone Collector has both children held captive, prepping them to add to his macabre personal museum, passed on to him by a curious father. With Clara and Jakey almost ready for their induction into the bone museum, DS Fitzroy has no time to lose. The smallest clue could crack the case wide open, but one false move and two children may soon become medical specimens. A brilliant novel that exemplifies just how ready Fiona Cummins is to break onto the scene. Fans of a ‘bone chilling’ thriller will flock to this and stay up late trying to race to the finish.

I always enjoy discovering new authors who seek to push their way onto the psychological thriller scene, perfecting their craft with a few strong novels. Cummins has done so with this single novel, laying the groundwork for a wonderful series with detailed plots and strong characters. Etta Fitzroy is a decent cop who has been trying to come to terms with a work-home balance and failing miserably. However, home is but a distraction as she is elbow-deep trying to trace the path of a serial killer/abductor who has an odd fascination. This drive pushes Fitzroy to break away from the mould her father—also a copper—left her, in a world where female strength is still in its infancy. The Bone Collector, that curious man in the shadows, has an interesting backstory and drive to continue his work. Able to plant himself into society, he has a history that is as detailed as it is horrific. Trying to continue his work, the Collector seeks to find the most interesting cases and display them, though only the most macabre will ever come to view the specimens on offer. The story is strong and flows easily from chapter to chapter, helping the reader to find their footing in short order. Short teaser chapters with time prints bridge the larger and more exploratory ones, all in an effort to keep the reader engaged until the very end. Cummins does a magnificent job and has left things hanging, if only to keep the reader begging for more. Depending on the depth that Cummins wishes to explore, I can see this series developing into something addictive for readers who enjoy the darkest side of police procedurals.

Kudos, Madam Cummins, for introducing fans to your work and showing that you belong in this genre. Your ability to spin such gruesome tales could catapult you shifting to the top, amongst some of the best in the field.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Macbeth (Hogarth Shakespeare), by Jo Nesbø

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Jo Nesbø, Hogarth, and Crown Publishing for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Contributing to the Hogarth Shakespeare collection, Jo Nesbø has created a modern retelling of the Bard’s Macbeth. Set around 1970, the story opens with a police raid on a local gang running narcotics. When the authorities bungle things exquisitely, leaving blood and bodies scattered around the clubhouse, heads must roll within the police force. During the shake-up, Macbeth is brought on as the new head of Organised Crime, set to turn his men into a respectable arm of the force. Learning of her husband’s new position, Lady Macbeth encourages her husband to continue his climb, which is further supported by a high-level crime boss, Hecate. During one of Macbeth’s visits to Hecate, three substance-altered prostitutes foresee Macbeth’s rise to the position of Chief Commissioner, at the top of the entire police force. With a number of officials ahead of him, Macbeth is unsure how he will accomplish this, happy to run Organised Crime for the time being. Lady Macbeth can see a clear path to the top and knows her husband has it in him, if only he will bend the rules to better his chances. She convinces her husband to murder the current Chief Commissioner and frame another official, which he agrees to do while under the influence of narcotics. From there, one murder begets others to cover-up the trail being left. Even when the sought-after position is achieved, neither Macbeth or his wife are satisfied. However, their paranoia force more cover-ups and the need to constantly look over their shoulders. It would seem that power is the most addictive drug of all, one that cannot be sated by a simple snort or needle. Might the rise to power lead to a devastating crash into oblivion? Nesbø weaves quite the tale, using the framework Shakespeare made famous, providing his fans and those who enjoy the Bard’s work quite a great story. Hogarth did well picking Nesbø to explore this dark tale.

Nesbø has quite a dark side when writing for his adult audience, though is also well-versed in creating police thrillers that keep the reader engaged. Some love his writing—as well as the darker side of crime that emerges from the narrative—while others find his work too dense to enjoy, as it is not easily digested. I found myself straddling both camps here, though was able to forge ahead when I gained enough momentum (and time to read!). Macbeth is, of course a central character in the piece and Nesbø does a wonderful job portraying this man as someone who is in touch with his passions, but soon becomes swept up by all the power that is laid at his feet. One can only presume that it is the influence of his power-hungry wife and the influence of narcotics that led him down such a difficult path, one that would be paved in gold, only to reveal tarnished brass by the end of the book. Other characters emerge to support and block Macbeth’s climb to power, adding depth and flavour to the narrative, including those who see Macbeth for the corrupt leader he becomes. The story is strong and ties nicely into the original narrative laid out over four centuries ago. Using the same characters and most of their fates, Nesbø stays true while also modernising the story in an effective manner. Fans of Shakespeare will surely find their own weaknesses, but in an effort to entertain effectively, Nesbø is spot-on with his storytelling. Mixing short and longer chapters, the reader is able to develop a connection to the story and its characters, as long as a steady momentum is kept. As with all Nesbø pieces, the translation does not take away from the power of the message found within and, if anything, provides an even stronger piece.

Kudos, Mr. Nesbø, for another excellent piece of writing. While your style is an acquired taste, those with the patience for it are surely in for a wonderful adventure.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Wave of Terror, by Jon Jefferson

Seven stars

Jon Jefferson has created this intriguing science-based thriller that stirs up some interesting possibilities for 21st century terrorism. While completing some research on the Canary Islands, astronomer Megan O’Malley is angered to see that her telescope images are blurry and the placement of the instrument is constantly bumped out of place. However, when she places some calls, she is baffled to learn that there are not anomalies with the telescope and no seismographic documentation to explain any earth tremors, the usual suspects for such erroneous images. Megan is sure of what she’s seen, the photos acting as concrete documentation that something’s happened, no matter how minute. Digging a little deeper and running some of her own tests, Megan soon learns that the official seismic information has been altered online, helping to hide the actual tremors, but from what? Discussing these findings with a British academic, Megan learns that there has been chatter about some tsunami-like waves bound for the Eastern Seaboard of the United States. Security experts have downplayed this as hogwash, as there is nothing to suggest that there are any seismic shifts that could bring this about. FBI Special Agent Christopher ‘Chip’ Dawtry seems to feel that there is more to Megan’s story than many will admit and begins to follow the trail, even when he is ordered not to give it any credence. Tracking her down and coming to offer his assistance, Chip works with Megan to reveal the truth before they can be targeted for extermination. As they learn just how deep the plot runs, Chip and Megan must convince the authorities before the seismic technology creates an act of terror that would make September 2001 seem like a warm-up act. Jefferson does a decent job with this End of Days thriller, mixing the right amount of science to keep the reader wondering about how plausible this might be in the coming years. Those seeking a lighter fare in their reading may enjoy this piece.

I have read a number of Jon Jefferson novels, though he was always collaborating with William Bass in the Bone Field series (with their great ‘Jefferson Bass’ moniker). The story proved to be entertaining and the premise quite engaging at a time when terrorism has become stale and any mention of ISIS or Al-Qaeda has many readers walking away. Jefferson creates quite an interesting character in Megan O’Malley, whose passion for the skies is matched by her inability to get her point across in social situations. Megan remains the academic damsel in distress, unable to defend herself effectively when the guns and blades come out. She comes across as passionate, even though the reader may find it hard to connect to her throughout the narrative. Equally complicated is Chip Dawtry, who has a dedication to his work and a passion for security that clouds his ability to be as open and engaging as the reader may like. Sticking the two together, and peppering many other secondary characters, makes for an interesting story that keeps a decent level of energy throughout. The premise of the story is decent, a new form of terrorism hidden within scientific occurrences, as well as some developing organisations to strike against the Americans, though I felt that the overall piece failed to grip me to the extent that I had hoped. The story had some decent foundations, though it seemed only to skim the surface when it came to creating a thriller sensation. The science is strong but the narrative needed more to push things into full-fledged panic mode. Perhaps I am trying to compare Jefferson’s solo work against his collaborations, which I enjoy tremendously. Jefferson’s past work with Bass is surely a stronger effort, though I am sure this is only an anomaly and there is more to come in the next novel. Catastrophic thrillers do tend to have a hard time not becoming too cheesy in their delivery.

Kudos, Mr. Jefferson, for a valiant effort on your own. I like what you have and hope you’ll be able to sculpt something even better next time around.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Kremlin Conspiracy, by Joel C. Rosenberg

Nine stars

Joel C. Rosenberg is back with another stellar novel that explores the current international political climate with stunning accuracy, leaving the reader to wonder just how close to non-fiction the story might become over the next few years. Aleksandr Ivanovich Luganov is the prime minister of Russia in 1999 when numerous apartment bombs have been exploding across Moscow. With an ailing president, Luganov assumes the role and chooses Oleg Kraskin to be one of his senior aides. Kraskin, shocked by this, is honoured and admits in the early narrative to be dating Luganov’s daughter. He hopes to marry her in short order and broaches the subject with Luganov in the early chapters. Working with Luganov, Kraskin sees his boss assume the role of President of the Russian Federation with hopes of putting Mother Russia back in her place of prominence. Across the globe, young Marcus Ryker is living in Colorado and hoping to make a name for himself. When he witnesses the attacks on September 11, 2001, he sees a chance to serve the United States in its military efforts. A courageous mission sees him almost lose his life and he decides to find new (and safer?) ways to serve. With a wife and a young son, Ryker joins the Secret Service, hoping to find his niche. While Ryker is rising the ranks and protecting significant political players, Kraskin is back in Russia and watching President Luganov begin a game of political chess as he seeks to reclaim some of the old Soviet territories, with an eye on Ukraine and some of the other breakaway republics. Kraskin becomes leery of his father-in-law, particularly when even those closest to him seem expendable. A devastating crime in Washington forces Marcus Ryker to rethink his future, and pushes him to a crisis of faith, if only for a time. Ryker has much to offer, but is rudderless and drifting around in a mental fog. After devising a plan to strike three NATO allies and keep the Americans in the dark, Kraskin can no longer watch Luganov flex his political muscle. With the Russians prepared to begin their military attacks and armed with significant nuclear weapons, Kraskin must make a decision. Ryker is offered an interesting job that sees him use some of his past experiences, though no longer formally employed by the American Government. There, Ryker faces a decision could not only affect his future, but that of the entire US Administration. Can either man risk everything to save their respective countries from a nuclear End of Days that not even the Book of Revelation could have predicted? Rosenberg delivers a brilliant piece that fans of his novels will surely enjoy. As always, new fans will likely flock to this book, which may foretell an interesting next round in geo-political manoeuvres.

I have long enjoyed Rosenberg’s novels, not only for their content, but also because they have been close to spot-on with their predictions. He understands all the actors and the political temperatures, putting it all into a digestible novel for those who love stories ripped from the headlines. Here, Rosenberg provides what most will see as a veiled story of the rise of Putin in Russia, though there are enough vague descriptors to leave the reader some leeway in their interpretation. Ruling the country with an iron fist, Aleksandr Ivanovich Luganov proves to be not only a new Russian Czar, but also one who is prepared to poke the hornet’s nest in hopes of pushing the world to a new war. And while his predecessors may not have been ready to push the red button, Rosenberg creates this czar as happy to do whatever it takes, nuclear obliteration or not. Kraskin is an interesting character as well, though his timidity seems to work only at certain times. There is surely much to this man who tries to juggle his personal sentiments with the knowledge that his father-in-law is becoming a dictator as ruthless as Stalin. Trying to do what he feels is right may come at the ultimate cost, though Kraskin may be ready to lose it all, including his family, to save Russia. With both strong parallels and sharp contrasts, Marcus Ryker is the third central character in the novel. As Rosenberg shows throughout, Ryker grew into himself through a number of key life moments, all of which shaped the man he became. Like Kraskin, the reader is able to see Ryker’s development over the years through to the tumultuous climax of the novel. Personal loss and extreme emotional strain met Ryker head-on, though he never shied away from bearing it all in an effort to bring justice to a world riddled with disparity. The story is not only on point, but Rosenberg’s writing helps pull the reader into the centre; as though they are in the middle of each meeting, participating in every dialogue, and able to feel each sentiment the characters exude. Politically powerful, the ideological divide is clearly on offer, as is the attempt by Luganov to resurrect the Mother Russia persona in his own image, much as is being done currently within the Kremlin. Rosenberg is a staunch conservative and admits as much, but even he could not create a POTUS that would align with the Russian Czar and for that I am eternally grateful. We need some degree of fiction and this was surely a portion of the novel that does not parallel the current political situation. Rosenberg’s writing is some of the best I have read in the genre, though some readers will want fair warning that he also pushes a strong Christian theme throughout. Prayers, reference to Scripture, and even the occasional crisis of faith (whereby the character must turn to God and Jesus to overcome something). While I prefer to steer clear of this, Rosenberg has toned things down and no longer inculcates us heathen readers with seeing the Light as we try to enjoy a political thriller. Many of Rosenberg’s predictions in past series have come true, alarmingly not long after a book is released. If the same can be said of this piece, the world had best be ready for quite the showdown. Then again, should the US attack, who’ll be there to troll social media and corrupt another American election?!

Kudos, Mr. Rosenberg, for your thorough analysis and poignant arguments on this subject. I will recommend it to any and all who love a well-crafted political thriller, and hope your other series tempt them as well.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Escape Artist, by Brad Meltzer

Eight stars

Brad Meltzer is back with another thriller to appease his adult fans. With a story that dazzles and characters whose lives enrich the storytelling, the wait for this gem seems justifiable. Jim “Zig” Zigarowski works as a civilian mortician at the Dover Air Force Base, having seen much during his long career. After a plane crash in the Alaskan wilderness, the bodies begin their return for final preparation before being released to the families. While one of the victims is the Librarian of Congress, a close friend of POTUS, Zig is most interested in Sergeant Nola Brown. Memories from his past flood back as Zig remembers Zola from an excursion with his now-deceased daughter. Nola was a very quiet girl with a troubled past, though Zig remembers her heroics above all else. Zig’s investigation and preparation of the body seems to raise some red flags and a rushed identification leaves him to wonder if someone is trying to participate in a cover-up back in Alaska. Add to that, a note in the body’s stomach and Zig is sure that Nola is not the one before him, but why?! When the body is intercepted at Dover and the actual Nora emerges, Zig realises that there is a significant mystery surrounding the plane crash and those on the passenger list, including three individuals whose names have ties to the famous Harry Houdini. With Zig and Nora working together, they discover that something called Operation: Bluebook, which could be the impetus for the crash. The original Bluebook refers to a plan hatched by Houdini when he travelled into towns with his own team in the audience, garnering information to be used on stage. Learning that both their lives remain in danger, Zig and Nora work to uncover what’s been going on before they suffer the same fate as the others. Tying the clues together and discovering the Houdini inference, Zig and Nora try to remain one step ahead of this US Government covert sleight of hand. Another well-crafted novel by Meltzer that is recommended to his fans and those who want a little magic with their reading experience.

I have long enjoyed Brad Meltzer and his writing style, though I did sigh and shook my head when he turned to writing more for children. However, looking back on it, the anticipation of his thriller novels builds and this one was worth the wait. I am eager to see what else he has in store for Zig in the coming years, should this novel receive the praise it is due. It would appear that the Zig character is the start to a new series, which has some real potential, mixing civilian and military aspects quite effectively and Meltzer’s attention to detail is a significant help. Meltzer does a wonderful job creating a thorough backstory for Zig, especially as it relates to his daughter and the tragedy that befell her. The reader can feel a strong connection, while also being at ease with Zig’s current position as a mortician. Nola Brown’s character receives significant backstory throughout this novel as well, usually in the form of flashback chapters, which flesh out some of the nuances in her personality and explain that sense of independence. Her development in a ‘foster home’ becomes a central thread, as does her development into the woman she began when Zig met her again. There is surely much to be said about Nola and her resilience. Secondary characters are peppered throughout, which provides the reader with a pathway for better understanding how the story will develop. Meltzer adds his own flavour to these folks, injecting historical aspects as well as his own unique characteristics. The story and its delivery are stellar and keep the reader connected throughout, weaving together a few storylines to keep the reader guessing until the very end. Meltzer uses his love of history and intricate detail to fuel this piece, educating the reader as often as possible while not burdening them with too many intricacies that might slow things down. Well-paced chapters and those powerful flashbacks of Nola provide all that the reader needs to feel drawn to the story while hoping for another one in the near future. This is a successful reemergence for Meltzer, whose adult fans are surely pleased to see him back!

Kudos, Mr. Meltzer, for another wonderful piece of writing. I can only hope you’ll capture the attention of your fans and remind them why you are top of your genre.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Good Liar, by Catherine McKenzie

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Catherine McKenzie and Lake Union Publishing for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Catherine McKenzie is back with another novel that pushes the reader to think while enjoying this fast paced story. On October 10th at 10am (Triple Ten), an explosion rocked a building in Chicago, leaving more than 500 dead and destroying many families. This story surrounds the lives of three women with intimate ties to that explosion and the personal tragedy that befell them. Cecily has spent the last year coming to terms with the loss of her husband, Tom, and how she will raise two children on her own. Not only does she have that on her plate, but she was on her way to see Tom when the explosion occurred and her face was caught by a freelance photographer, making her the ‘face’ of the tragedy. Cecily has been forced to endure the faux-celebrity of being ‘that woman’, personifying the Triple Ten event for the last twelve months. Franny Maycombe has become a friend of Cecily’s over the last year, as they both sit on the compensation board for the families of the victims, in hopes of bringing some financial stability during these trying times. Franny lost her biological mother in the blast, an event that is still hard to digest. Franny was adopted as an infant and just recently discovered her birth mother who lived in Chicago, only to see her killed after such a short reunion. Franny’s story emerges in a series of interviews conducted by an eager filmmaker, trying to create a documentary of the Triple Ten event a year later. The more the reader learns of Franny, the more mysterious she becomes. The third woman who plays a key role in the story is Kate, who has relocated to Montreal and tried to put the events of Chicago behind her. Kate has a secret that no one knows and a family that presumes she is never coming back. With the anniversary of the Triple Ten, Kate is forced to come to terms with what happened and her role in the larger scheme of these. Cecily, Franny, Kate… three women who have suffered, though all have also been holding onto a lie from that day; a lie that could destroy them. Keeping it under wraps might be the only way they can come out of this as a good liar, if such a thing exists. McKenzie offers up another wonderful piece of writing that is sure to attract the attention of many, as it is thought provoking and leaves a definite aftertaste. Those familiar with her work will likely enjoy this piece, though new fans are sure to emerge as well.

I can admit that I thoroughly enjoyed this piece, even if I felt there was something holding it back. I kept thinking to myself that this book is on the cusp of being ‘great’ for me, but lacked something on which I cannot place my finger. As though superb is on the other side of a thin cellophane wall, but I was kept from it by McKenzie holding something back with the story and her characters. The three women who spend much of the time in the spotlight could not be more different and similar at the same time. Cecily is struggling with digesting Tom being gone and the strains within her marriage. Franny wants nothing more than to connect with her biological mother’s family, as well as slide into the middle of the drama that is Triple Ten mourning. Kate hides herself away, though has an interesting backstory for leaving and choosing to make her way up to Canada. All three propel the story forward, working with a handful of well-crafted secondary characters. The story is rich in both backstory and character development, a strong suit for McKenzie, and said pieces help form a strong foundation on which the story can rest. There is something eerie and yet heartwarming about the story and the way it develops. Struggle is woven throughout, though each of the three protagonists comes at it from a unique perspective. Added to that, the constant theme of lies and deception helps to imbue a strong sense of distrust between characters and forces the reader to judge the actions of those on the printed page, while also trying not to be too harsh. McKenzie uses some interesting techniques in the book to pull out the plot, with the direct approach that Cecily portrays, the more ‘interview-centric’ release of information that Franny utilises, and Kate’s thoughts and flashbacks to deliver her own personal angle. All three work effectively, as does the documentary that pushes the story along, though there seems to be something missing that kept me from proclaiming that this was another masterpiece. I suppose the slow development that led to an abrupt end, as though the reader was expecting a climax and had the carpet pulled out from under them. However, McKenzie’s writing is so strong and alluring that some weaknesses cannot take away from the overall pleasure that comes from reading this novel.

Kudos, Madam McKenzie, for dazzling and keeping things fresh throughout. I have encouraged others to read your work in the past and will continue to do so.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

All-American Murder: The Rise and Fall of Aaron Hernandez, the Superstar Whose Life Ended on Murders’ Row, by James Patterson, Alex Abramovich, and Mike Harvkey

Eight stars

Capitalising on some ‘pulled from the headlines’ impetus, James Patterson collaborates with Alex Abramovich and Mike Harvkey to bring readers into the troubled life of former NFL star Aaron Hernandez, exploring his rise to fame before he stumbled and crashed into a legal quagmire that would eventually lead to his suicide in 2017. While football may not have been the first thing people considered when mentioning Connecticut, anyone who had heard of Aaron Hernandez might feel differently. A powerhouse in high school, Hernandez excelled both on the field and along the basketball court. His phenomenal rise to fame saw college scouts attending many of his games, hoping to secure his talents with lucrative financial offers. However, Hernandez was not all about football in his small community. Both he and members of his family had ties to gangs and drug dealers, something that Hernandez used to his advantage throughout his high school career. After graduating at seventeen, Hernandez made the leap to college ball, choosing the University of Florida over local UConn, where he obtained an early taste of stardom. He could walk around town and be noticed, receiving freebies at every turn. Additionally, he could waltz into clubs and be the centre of attention, though this might sometimes lead to a flair in that Puerto Rican temper for which he was so well known back home. After numerous dust-ups and shady ties to local dealers, Hernandez began to subsist in a life away from football, where guns, weed, and other illicit items crossed his path on a daily basis. Still, as a star player, some of his failed drug tests were swept under the rug so that Hernandez could remain on the field. When it was time for the NFL Draft, Hernandez went in a later round, much to his dismay, but was chosen by the illustrious New England Patriots, a team on the verge of creating a dynastic powerhouse. His playing days were filled with receptions and his star continued to rise, still being protected by the team. However, Hernandez began to run in some very troubling circles, dodging being fingered at brawls and shootings by mere minutes. When a disagreement with an acquaintance went too far and the man lay dead from gunshot wounds, Henandez ended up with literal blood all over his hands and tried to play it cool, only to lead police to his doorstep. In a shocking revelation, the sports world was abuzz when Aaron Hernandez was arrested for murder, forcing the NFL and Patriots to rush in the other direction, their attempt to disassociate with him at soon as possible. Hernandez left evidence at the scene and created a tepid alibi soon dispelled by the prosecutor. Stunned, football fans watched as Hernandez went to trial for over two months before a verdict came in. From there, the spiral down seemed never-ending, with an abyss awaiting him, his future forever tarnished. While the NFL had dealt with many errant active players, the Aaron Hernandez situation might have been its largest stain to date. The authors run with this story and have created a wonderful read, easy for anyone with a passing interest to digest. Less the traditional Patterson fare, but still highly entertaining and a great filler read.

I have noticed that Patterson has been busy as he branches out in many directions of late, tapping into the world of non-fictional crime to broaden his horizons. Working alongside Alex Abramovich—a collaborator on some of his BookShot short pieces—and Mike Harvkey, Patterson brings to life this second famous individual who found a life of crime too tempting to leave on the shelf. Aaron Hernandez is the central character, obviously, and his rise to fame is shown effectively in the early parts of the book, as this young phenom gets an early taste of the limelight. His play on the field could not be discounted, even if individuals knew all about his extra-curricular activities. However, this quick intoxication and seeming ‘untouchable’ status is shown as the book progresses, allowing the reader to revel in the continues foibles. The authors illustrate this on numerous occasions as the reader can see red flags popping up throughout. The narrative builds effectively, offering the reader more detail with each chapter—short, in the Patterson style—and culminates in Hernandez’s personal realisation that he had lost it all, though the epilogue does open a new set of questions. The writing style is effective in a non-fiction sense and keeps the reader wanting more, without getting too outlandish. There are a significant number of facts layered throughout, though the pile is not overwhelming and permits the reader to digest it all. The impact of this helps push the story through to the end, attempting to secure the reader’s belief that Hernandez was guilty and deserved his incarceration. Unfortunately, in a way, there are many superstars whose lives could be detailed in such a book, leaving me to hope that Patterson will find more to publish in the years to come.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson, Abramovich, and Harvkey. This was an wonderfully entertaining piece and I hope more collaborations will permit readers to see other cases like this receiving their time in the spotlight.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The 17th Suspect (Women’s Murder Club #17) by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Eight stars

A longtime fan of the Women’s Murder Club series, I was pleased to get my hands on its seventeenth instalment. James Patterson and Maxine Paetro have been able to keep the momentum up throughout the years and keep the reader highly entertained. When ADA Yuki Castellano learns that a man is seeking to press charges of rape against his female superior, she’s intrigued and ready to take it to the Grand Jury. Believing that she can make the case, Yuki puts all her efforts into selling it, hoping to dispel the stigma that surrounds sexual assaults with male victims, while bringing justice to someone who feels violated. Meanwhile, on her way to the office, Sergeant Lindsay Boxer encounters a homeless woman who shares a disturbing tale; other transient people have been gunned down over the past month and the police are doing nothing. Boxer begins to look into this, only to discover that two homicide detectives appear to be dragging their feet due to the less than upstanding nature of the victims. Boxer is prepared to go to war and will stop at nothing, even when it dredges up old family politics. When Yuki heads to trial with the rape charge, she is left wondering if she made the right choice, as the evidence begins to muddy the original narrative, though she is not ready to give up just yet. Boxer seeks justice for the homeless, even as the killer lurks in the shadows and has developed a personal vendetta against her. With Lindsay and Yuki both facing personal issues of their own, they cannot let their home lives cloud the cases before them, for these are women who refuse to be victims. Patterson and Paetro deliver a wonderful addition to the series and keep fans quite impressed with the annual gift of another thriller. Recommended to those who enjoy the Women’s Murder Club, as well as readers looking for something light and entertaining.

While this series has been developing for years, it has not lost its lustre. Fans will enjoy having seen the foursome who dub themselves the ‘Murder Club’ grow and develop on their own. Patterson and Paetro not only keep their characters fresh, but also the crimes that fill the pages of each book, taking an interesting spin on events in San Francisco. Lindsay Boxer is, as always, the central character in the series and her dedication to the badge is never in question. She shoots from the hip and gets to the core of the matter, while always having something going on in her personal life to show the reader that she’s human as well. More personal development and a few spikes to keep her character interesting occur throughout, though the reader may be seeking a real shake-up before too long. Yuki Castellano moves to the forefront here, showing her legal skills and trying to impress not only her boss but the others in the Club. While usually a hardworking wallflower, Yuki has made a name for herself and keeps the reader hoping that she will succeed, even when things do not appear to be going her way. Some personal life struggles keep her from being the confident woman her friends know is within her, but it is surely within her grasp, given time. The story was decent and just what one might expect in a Women’s Murder Club piece. Two narratives running parallel that keep the reader entertained and the characters busy, helps pass the time, without taxing the brain too much. Incremental personal epiphanies help shape the central characters and have allowed the authors to keep stacking on new angles with each passing novel. Those familiar with the series (and Patterson) will be pleased to see those short, cliffhanger chapters that propel the story forward and keep the reader wanting to indulge in just a little more. Pleasantly, this is one series that Patterson has not allowed to go stale, with fresh ideas and a great collaborator working alongside him. One can only hope that as the novel count mounts, the stories will remain just as exciting.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madame Paetro, as you dazzle with yet another collaborative success. I am eager to see what else you have in store for us, Club or BookShot related.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Sleeping Beauties, by Stephen King and Owen King

Eight stars

Having long been a fan of Stephen King, I was curious to tackle this novel, which pairs the King of Horror with his Prince of Thrills (?), Owen. Working together on this massive piece, the reader is able to see the Kings’ respective writing styles and notice how well they mesh together. In the town of Dooling, the discovery of two meth cooks are found murdered seems to be a day like any other, though a stranger may be behind this bloody mess. Normalcy ends in this community when women around the world are going to sleep and not waking up. While in these comatose states, they are discovered with an odd growth on their faces, spindly white thread that soon becomes a cocoon that surrounds their bodies. Panic ensues and those who seek to remove this cocoon from family and friends are met with a rabid response, sated only by the violent murder of anyone who dare disturb the woman’s slumber. This odd occurrence is tied to sleep—but only of women—and is soon labelled Aurora Sickness. As the folks of Dooling do all they can to understand this phenom, the women are taking matters into their own hands to stay awake. Chaos reigns as caffeine and other stimulants—both legal and illegal—are sought by anyone possessing the XX chromosome, in an effort to remain awake. When rumours hit the internet about a scheme to ‘torch’ the cocoon-bearers, this only adds a new layer of concern in Dooling, where riots and vandalism have changed things for the worse. Tucked away in the prison is that aforementioned stranger, Eve Black, who appears to be immune to the cocooning and enjoys restful sleep without consequence. Does Eve have something to share with those left awake in Dooling that might bring an end to the madness? What happens to those who remain asleep in their cocoons? These answers and more await the reader as they flit through this massive novel—like moths on a summer night—and are enveloped in a story that has all the markings of a King classic. This joint effort should leave fans of the elder King quite pleased and raise interest in Owen’s own writing.

Having never read Owen King before, I must use my knowledge of his father’s writing to provide comparative analysis for this review. I will be the first to admit that reading Stephen King is not for everyone, though his novels as not as horror-based as they might once have been. Their uniqueness lies not only in the number of pages used to transmit a story, but also the numerous tangents taken to get from A to B. While that might annoy me with some authors, I find solace in the detail provided on the journey when King is at the helm. As King is wont to do, he supersaturates the story with scores of characters, all of whom play their own part in the larger narrative. While this may annoy some readers, I find it—bafflingly—exciting as I keep track of all the mini-stories that develop throughout. That being said, a few characters rise to the forefront in this piece and help bridge the story together. Lila Norcross proves to be a pivotal character, both in her role as sheriff and a level-headed player in town when chaos begins to rear its head. Lila has much going on and her character must face many struggles throughout the story, but she never backs down from what stands before her. Clint Norcross, Lila’s husband and prison psychiatrist at the women’s facility in town also plays an interesting role, in that he seeks to explore the lives and thoughts of those incarcerated, as well as serving as an important liaison for Eve Black, currently being detained in the ‘soft room’. Eve Black remains that character that King uses in most of his novels, the unknown individuals who brings chaos to the forefront while remaining calm and even endearing. No one knows anything of Eve, though her character becomes significant as the story progresses. Turning to the story at hand, it is both complex and simplistic, allowing the reader to pull something from it that might appeal to them. The curiosity surrounding the cocoon remains at the forefront of the plot throughout and why women are the only one’s being saddled with this remains a mystery. Both Kings seek to have the characters explore this anomaly throughout the novel, while also facing some of the concerns of a town disintegrating at the hands of its female population falling by the wayside, particularly when Eve’s immunity becomes common knowledge. There are many wonderful plots to follow within the story, which develop throughout the detailed chapters. The reader will likely have to use the character list at the beginning of the piece to keep everyone clear, though the detail offered allows a quick refresher for the attentive reader. The writing style is clearly elder King, with its meandering way and a narrative peppered with commentaries. It is for the reader to sift through it all and find the gems that will help them better appreciate the story. Chapters are broken up into numbered breaks, assisting with the literary digestion process, which allows the reader to better appreciate the magnitude of the story before them. I enjoy this style of writing, though am not entirely clear what flavour the younger King added to the story, as I am ignorant to any of his past published works. That being said, the collaborative King experience was one I thoroughly enjoyed.

Kudos, Messrs. King, for this excellent collaborative effort. I found myself enthralled until the very end and hope you’ll consider working together again.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Bishop’s Pawn (Cotton Malone #13), by Steve Berry

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Steve Berry, Minotaur Books and St. Martin’s Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Steve Berry is back to provide readers with another instalment of the Cotton Malone series. In this piece, things go back to the beginning, before Magellan Billet, when Malone was still a lieutenant in the Navy and working for the JAG. After a failed attempt to help a friend finds Malone tossed in a Florida jail, he’s approached by one Stephanie Nelle from the Justice Department. She can make the arrest and any charges disappear if he will help her with a secretive and very important mission. He must retrieve a rare gold coin and ensure it is returned to her as soon as possible. Having nothing to lose, Malone ambles down to the waterfront, where he finds the item, alongside a number of documents that appear to be highly classified. Etched with ‘Bishop’s Pawn’ on the cover, Malone is curious and soon discovers that these files are highly sought, when an agent of the Cuban Secret Police comes to fetch them in a less than courteous manner. From that point, Malone learns that there are many seeking the documents, including the FBI, who will stop at nothing to ensure they are not seen by anyone else. Malone soon realises that he’s stumbled into the middle of the Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination conspiracy and that these documents may reveal a narrative no one expected. Could there be more to the assassination than first thought? Might this ‘Pawn’ document prove that J. Edgar Hoover was behind the entire operation to exterminate King while the race riots and civil rights movement was heating up? As Malone dodges blood-thirsty people on both sides of the equation, he must decide if working for Justice and retuning the documents to Stephanie Nelle is the right move, or whether burying the narrative from the public is the best choice of all. Another brilliant piece by Berry, who digs up loose threads in history and weaves his own narrative in a magical way. A wonderful addition to the Cotton Malone series, it will keep series fans quite content. Those new to Berry and the series need not shy away, as it builds the foundation of a wonderful set of novels and may whet the appetite of those looking to explore this phenomenal collection.

I have read and enjoyed Berry’s work for as long as I can remember, having enveloped myself in the nuances of the Cotton Malone series and the tweaks to history for the entire journey. What sets Berry apart is that his writing and storytelling pits fact against fiction in such a way that it is sometimes indiscernible to the reader, forcing them to refer to the ever-present piece at the end it find out what was based in reality and where Berry sought to bridge things with some of his own creative writing. With this being the dawn of Malone’s appearance with Justice, there are none of the other characters that series fans know so well, allowing a stronger focus on the protagonist. Malone is given some brief backstory at the beginning and it builds throughout. His reckless ways are still fairly new, though his intuition is strong and the reader can see some of the early crumbs of what will become his unique personality in the novels to come. Malone is determined to do what he feels is right, though admits that he does try to follow orders, when they suit him. The narrative hints repeatedly at the issues in his marriage, something that develops in the series. This introduction to such a wonderful character paves the way for some wonderful future revelations by the reader, should they take the time to enjoy the entire collection of novels. Some of the other characters work well to build the dramatic effect within the story, serving as high-ranking members of the government or agencies central to the King assassination at the time. Shedding light on those tumultuous times, Berry utilises these people to expound on an America at the crossroads of internal disaster and race disintegration, with the apparent stop-gap measure before them. Turning to the story itself, Berry imbeds so many interesting pieces as they relate to the King assassination, as well as providing the reader with some interesting insight into what might have happened. While the entire event was seemingly an open and shut case, there were many whispers over the past fifty years that receive their due mention in the narrative. At a time when race relations are again teetering, Berry’s novel opens up the discussion and explores how those days in the 1960s changed the way the world looked at civil rights in America. And with the fiftieth anniversary of the King assassination on the horizon, Berry fuels the fires of discussion and analysis once again. Written from a first-person narrative, Malone’s story receives a much more personal touch, allowing Berry to introduce the man who has been so important over the years. The narrative, mixed with documents and references to flashback moments in King’s life, proves a rich story on which to build this modern piece. Additionally, placing the story in and around 2000 permits both Berry and the reader to look both back and ahead, straddling history and using that unique perspective of hindsight and forethought. I thoroughly enjoyed all aspects of this piece and can only hope that others will also find something worthwhile.

Kudos, Mr. Berry, for another winner. I cannot wait to see what you have in mind as you keep Cotton interesting and ever-evolving, even in his rookie days.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

A Murder of Crows: A Short Sequel to The Magpies, by Mark Edwards

Nine stars

Mark Edwards made his fans wait for a time, but the delay only churned up excitement for the formal sequel to his debut novel. After the horrors that befell him in his London flat, Jamie Knight fled the country and the long-reaching grasp of Lucy Newton. Now in Australia, Jamie is trying to piece his life back together. After running into an acquaintance and sparking a renewed interest in all things Lucy Newton, Jamie receives a message on a fan page from a distressed woman, someone who seems to be suffering the same plight as he did. Might Lucy be back at it, now that her charges have been dismissed? Jamie takes the plunge and travels back to the UK, seeking to help Anita with her neighbour issue, while also trying to reconnect with his former partner, Kirsty. Jamie can only hope that Kirsty has forgiven him for all the horrors they went through at the hands of that wretch, Lucy. After arriving and trying to help Anita coax Lucy out of her safe cocoon, Jamie realises that this will be just as difficult the second time around. Armed with new ideas and a stronger intuition, Jamie forges ahead, but Lucy Newton is not one to be messed with lightly. She is hungry for revenge, and Jamie is the ideal target. Edwards jams so much into this short story that the reader will barely have time to breathe. A sensational piece that will sate fans of The Magpies, while leaving them wondering.

Edwards has done it again, piquing the interest of his readers with this stellar piece of writing. I flipped back and confirmed that the first in this series (if one can call it that) was my first attempt at reading Mark Edwards. I loved it then and continue to enjoy the intricacies that are found within the story and narrative. While a shorter piece, Edwards is still able to imbue his characters with some wonderful attributes, especially as Jamie is saddled by the guilt of the original Lucy Newton debacle. Jamie is also seen to be that eternal superhero, helping both Anita and working to build on his past relationship with Kirsty, for what it’s worth. Lucy is, as many Edwards fans remember her, a wicked woman whose constant plotting and conniving had be seen with everything she does. The story earns some of its eerie nature as the renewed Jamie-Lucy clash is presented, though adding the likes of Anita into the mix only thickens the plot more. The story might be brief, but there is much to enjoy within the fourteen chapters, as the narrative forges onward through to a climactic ending. In true Edwards fashion, there is a dangling thread and fans can only hope that it is not forgotten or left blowing around for another five years. Those readers interested in this piece are encouraged to try The Magpies for the full effect. I became a quick fan of Mark Edwards by doing so and am sure many readers will follow in my footsteps.

Kudos, Mr. Edwards, for another brilliant piece. I cannot wait for your next novel and anything else you may have in the works!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution, by Yuri Slezkine

Three stars

It is truly a rare time when I will admit defeat and label a book as DNF (did not finish). However, after completing 22% of this piece, I have decided that I cannot continue, lacking the ability to affix sufficient attention to the narration or glean much of the author’s message. Some of this surely lays at my own feet, but as many have said on Goodreads, life is too short to be burdened with a book that leaves you feeling miserable as you trudge along.

Being a lover of history and revolutionary events steeped in politics, I was intrigued when I came upon Yuri Slezkine’s book. It was said to depict the intricacies of the Russian Revolution and told a strong story about it. While I know some publishers choose to spice things up with an eye-catching blurb on the dust jacket summary, I was led into something I was not expecting, much like the Tsar and his family. Slezkine spent a great deal of time in the portion of the book I read depicting the Russian Revolution and the Bolshevik takeover of the Soviet State as something akin to a new religion. Surely those familiar with the ideological underpinnings of the Bolsheviks and communist foundations will find some humour in this, but Slezkine does a decent job with the argument. While some may find it hard to find a comparison between Jesus, Moses, Joseph Smith, or Mohammed with the likes of Marx and Engels, the reader may see some interesting parallels found within the book. The struggle and clash of communism (youthful ideals) with well-established state ideologies (the old guard) shows how the Russian State was ready for a change and how easily it caught on with the masses. That said, much like the other major religious reformations over time, blood and violence preceded any change and it took a long time for the acceptance of this change. Slezkine reiterates his argument and pushes the reader to accept it through a form of inculcated repetition, much as the leaders of the Bolsheviks would have been able to instil this new means of thinking to the population. By this point of the book, I had tossed in the towel, as I was lost, both with the constant explosion of muddied facts, literary comparisons, and general circular arguments. While some who love Russian literature and writing style may love this piece, I cannot count myself as one of them.

I will be the first to admit that Russian literature is usually beyond my abilities. Be it the mindset or the dense style as thick as pea soup, I cannot be entirely sure, but I am sure that it is not simply something lost in translation. Slezkine does a masterful job at tying together history, politics, and literature, finding parallels between them all to sell his argument in favour of the revolutionary movement. I must applaud him there and can only hope that much of the remaining pages of this massive book continue to sell the details of the rise of the Bolsheviks. I could not find a thread to grasp as the narrative kept sinking deeper and deeper into a repetitive argument. The early religious parallels were truly interesting for me, but they lost their lustre quickly and I expected something more all-encompassing. For some reason, I entered this book thinking that it would be a piece of detailed fiction, whereby Slezkine would sell the idea of the Russian Revolution through his characters. Or perhaps a piece of non-fiction that would tie together some of the key happenings that led up to the fall of the Empire and arrival of Lenin and his fellow Bolsheviks to take control of the House of Government, the heart of the Russian State. I do hope some find solace in his massive tome, educating themselves with the details and the literary references. I’ll stick to my biographical pieces and educate myself with pieces more in line with my personal likes.

Thanks for the chance to try this, Mr. Slezkine, but I will steer clear of your work for the time being.

Wholeheartedly attempting to read this book fulfils Topic #3 (Book Set During a Revolution) of the A Book for All Seasons (Equinox #2) Book Challenge.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Baby Teeth, by Zoje Stage

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Zoje Stage, and St. Martin’s Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

In her debut novel, Zoje Stage has made quite a name for herself. Exploring some dark and disturbing areas of the parent-child relationship, the reader is forced to see a seemingly calm little girl turn against her own mother. Hanna Jensen appears to be quite the average four-year-old girl, with one glaring exception; she does not speak and never has. Countless tests and examinations have left her parents, Alex and Suzette, baffled, as there is nothing physical wrong with her. With her muteness comes the added issue that she is unable to acclimate into any scholastic situation, leaving Suzette to homeschool Hanna. While there is no verbal communication, Hanna’s comprehension and written word is advanced for her young age. What no one has been able to see is that Hanna has another side, a darker side that is focussed on tearing Suzette down in a well-planned manner. Hanna internalises her struggle, but is happy to show her mother an evil side and purposely sabotage any progress that is being made. What begins as simple defecating on the floor turns to barking and, eventually, full-on violence in a school setting. While Suzette tries to come to terms with this, Alex is oblivious and sees only the princess-like girl that Hanna presents on a nightly basis. After Hanna tips her hand and shows off an alter-ego, Suzette is no longer prepared to go at this alone, but Alex remains uncertain that Hanna is to blame for anything. Hanna sets out her own plan to get rid of Suzette once and for all, allowing her to have Alex’s attention forevermore. While Suzette knows it is coming, she is helpless to slay the monster before her, seeing it has taken the form of sweet Hanna Jensen. Stage weaves together quite the disturbing tale here, pitting parental instinct against base survival. Fans who enjoy a diluted psychological thriller may enjoy this one, as its presentation has rounded edges and light spine tingles.

When this novel was recommended to me by a friend, I wanted to give it my full attention, not only because of its subject matter, but also because it would fit perfectly into a reading challenge requirement. It would seem that Stage has found herself with a great deal of Goodreads activity where reviews continue to grow on both sides of the fence. I can see where both the five- and one-star folks are coming from, having been able to situate myself somewhere in the middle. The characters found herein are perfectly crafted and complement one another so well. Hanna is that young child who has a love of her father and inherent dislike of her mother, partially because there is a need to share, but also due to the fact that Suzette is her primary caregiver. Hanna manifests her dislike from disobedience through to full plotting of injury and death of the woman who has nothing but confused love for her. As the story progresses, Hanna’s character turns darker, especially with the revelation of an alter-ego, though things always bounce back when Alex is in the room, which only perpetuates the tug-of-war between the parental units. Suzette, on the other hand, is a woman who has suffered much medical and emotional turmoil in her life and has had to wrestle with a mother of her own who could not care about her. Suzette seeks to be a better mother and person, but Hanna seems to bring out the worst and they battle regularly. While Suzette may seem the paranoid one, her significant time and experiences with Hanna fuels this push to have her daughter examined by professionals, while Alex seeks to protect his offspring. Many of the secondary characters work well here, especially in peeling back the onion and seeing just how destructive Hanna can be, even if her father refuses to see it. The story itself is well-done, choosing to alternate chapters from the perspective of Hanna and Suzette. One could see where things were going, but it was a matter of how swiftly they would get there and how outlandish things could get by the end. Where I struggled with this novel was the intensity level. True, not all books have to have “psychopathic serial killers” to be successful, but I felt Stage wanted to unveil the truly demonic side of Hanna on a regular basis, but diluted it for reasons unknown. I wanted to be shocked and feel Suzette’s pain, but it almost seemed as though some of the narrative chose to gloss over things, lessening the impact. Still, for a debut novel, Stage kept me curious, especially with the ongoing symbolism that the attentive reader will gather as they forge ahead in this piece. Well constructed and I would surely give Zoje Stage another try, hoping that she and her publisher take some of the criticisms that are coming out, to heart.

Kudos, Madam Stage, for this very interesting debut. I can see much potential within the genre and hope you’ll keep writing. Your fan base is sure to grow exponentially, especially with all the popularity this book is receiving online.

This book fulfils Topic #4 (Title/Author Beginning with Q, X, or Z) of the A Book for All Seasons (Equinox #2) Book Challenge.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: