Malorie (Bird Box #2), by Josh Malerman

Seven stars

After enjoying The Bird Box a great deal, I was eager to get my hands on this sequel by Josh Malerman to see how things progressed. In a story that offers some interesting continuity and progression, Malerman did some things well and others that I could have done without. Malorie has been living at The Jane Tucker School for the Blind over the past number of years. With all the protections in place, her children, Tom and Olympia, have come to accept that this is how things will be forever. When census data comes to the school and Malorie learns that her parents are listed as still alive, she is overjoyed. With a little convincing, she agrees to take Tom and Olympia on the journey to reunite with them. It will be dangerous and the Creatures are still out there, sure to target them. Using as much safety as possible, they begin the journey across Michigan. It is slow and arduous, but Malorie is able to learn a great deal about herself, while also remembering the ‘old days’ and living with her family as a girl. When they discover a train system running throughout Michigan, they agree to ride it, though there are soon some revelations that cause things to ‘go off the rails’. Tom exerts his teenage angst relating to the prison in which he feels he lives and Olympia seeks to push boundaries she is sure need a nudge. Will Malorie make it to her family home with her own next generation, or will the Creatures strike her independently-minded children and cause chaos for everyone? An interesting addition to the highly popular novel, though it might be one of the few times I felt a sequel did not pull me in just as much!

There are some novels that end on such a cliffhanger that the reader begs to know more, scrambling to see if another novel will tie things off and provide some closure. While Josh Malerman was surely looking to do that with this follow-up piece, I wonder if this is one sequel that should never have been penned. The attentive reader will always posit what should come next or will likely occur to solve some of the situations that are left dangling, as is common at the end of a novel. The means by which Malerman sought to fill in the gaps and offer his own conclusions (or extend some of the threads) were less exciting for me than I might have hoped. There is a great deal of backstory in this piece when it comes to Malorie, offering the reader some insight into her life as a child and the way in which she grew up. This is projected forward as Malorie must now parent her two children and hope for the best. There are ups and downs throughout, though Malorie has the added worry of Creatures ready to turn her children (or anyone they might encounter) mad and ruin a good thing. There were a number of interesting characters found herein, which kept the story moving along, but I did not feel the creepiness that I had hoped to discover. While I admit the ‘bird was out of the box’ in this piece, the wonder and eerie nature of the narrative seemed almost tame and everyone acted as though there was a chance they could live or die, without the worry or paranoia that came front and centre in the first book. While Malerman held my attention throughout, I wanted something more… something scarier that would leave me panting by the end. Instead, I was left nodding my head and wondering if the sequel interpretation might have been better left in the minds of those who adored The Bird Box!

Kudos, Mr. Malerman, for a valiant effort. Alas, I ended up in the review group that was somewhat underwhelmed!

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

The Shadows, by Alex North

Seven stars

Eager to get my hands on the latest novel by Alex North, I prepared for a spine-tingling piece that would keep me thinking well into the night. While the reviews have been mixed, I tried not to delve too deeply into what others have said so that I might create a narrative all my own to present to others. Paul Adams was accused of murdering one of his fellow classmates when he was a teenager. It was only when another classmate confessed that Adams was released, but the bitterness of being targeted lingered. Adams left for university and never looked back, rarely thinking of the events of those school days. Twenty-five years later, Adams returns when his mother has taken a serious fall and is hospitalised. Back to the small English town proves to be a sobering experience, creating a slew of flashbacks from his youth. The narrative explores a group of boys with whom Adams spent time in school, led by Charlie Crabtree. Charlie convinced the boys to document their dreams and they would gather to speak about them, the more sinister the better. Charlie taught the boys about instilling reality into their subconscious moments, while also recounting tales of Red Hands, one of the local ghosts that inhabit the forest. It is said that Red Hands is one of The Shadows, a group of ghosts responsible for evil happenings around town. While Adams remembers this and many other events, he is all but sure that Charlie orchestrated that murder years ago to summon Red Hands himself. Meanwhile, Detective Amanda Beck is working a grisly case in which two boys are accused of murdering their classmate. Her research brings her to discussion about Charlie Crabtree and his dream journal, which discusses some planning of a murder years ago. Beck sees the similarities and wonders if there might be a copycat killer on the loose, or if Crabtree has resurfaced after disappearing all those years ago. When Beck comes to town to talk with some of those who might remember the earlier murder, she discovers that Paul Adams is anything but helpful. What might he know and could his memories be the key to solve multiple murders? An interesting thriller that lacked the psychological edge I hoped to find that would have made it stellar. Recommended to those who enjoy a story full of well-timed clue reveals, as well as those who need a little whodunit (and how) to fill their reading experience.

I am still trying to get a handle on Alex North and the writing style that comes from these novels. They are well written and I have no issue with the narrative development, but there is not enough eerie undertone for my liking. There are crumbs, to be sure, but I need more. Paul Adams is perhaps too innocent a protagonist to work effectively in the scare factor. He teaches creative writing and has always had a passion for the written word, even as a teen. His return to town provides the reader with a massive backstory and offers up some interesting character development, parts quite concerning for the attentive reader. Adams struggles to handle what happened in the past with revelations his mother delivers while she is convalescing. He sifts through it all and tries to make sense of it, without plunging himself back into the horrors of his youth that led to his quick departure. Other characters provide some interesting perspectives throughout this piece, some adding attempts at making the plot a little darker, while others forge ahead to solve the crime that sits at the centre of this narrative. The banter between many of the characters keeps the narrative moving and the plot thickens as it needs to, but never reaches that jaw dropping stage. The story was sound and North does well to develop it throughout, though I struggled with the past, present, and Detective Beck present, perspectives that bounce around throughout. I wonder if this is one reason I felt a lack of a psychological thriller factor to this piece. There are some wonderful reveals that North embeds throughout the novel and I applaud that approach. I enjoyed the novel and the story, even if it did not reach the scare factor I hoped to find herein.

Kudos, Mr. North, for another entertaining. I am eager to see what else you have in store for us and hope the mixed reviews do not get you down too much.

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

Captive (Cal Rogan #6), by Robert P. French

Nine stars

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

Returning for the sixth instalment of the Cal Rogan series, I could not wait to get my hands on Robert P. French’s latest book. Full of grit and balancing two impactful plot lines, French shows that he is an author to be reckoned with in this genre. Things are quite busy at Stammo Rogan Investigations, with two complex cases arriving in one day. The first involves a CEO who says that he’s being blackmailed for something he did a decade before in order to garner some quick cash. It would seem a video of the act has surfaced and someone is after a large sum of money. The second involves a man who reports that his two adult children have gone missing in Hong Kong. Zelena Gutkowski and her friend won a trip and made their way over there, but she disappeared and her brother’s attempts to find her proved fruitless. Cal Rogan agrees to head to Asia to get a handle on what’s going on, leaving Nick Stammo to mind the business and work the blackmail case. When Cal lands in Hong Kong, he works a few angles given to him in the background he received while still in Vancouver. He connects with a local PI in hopes of continuing some of the work done during the early stages of the Gutkowski family investigation. Rogan discovers that Zelena may still be alive, but that her social media presence is surely nothing but forced postings to divert any fear by friends. There is a seedy underbelly within Hong Kong and when Rogan gets too close to some answers, someone strikes to send a message. Back in Vancouver, Stammo finds himself in some hot water when the blackmail case turns out to be a ruse to frame him for something else. After a night in jail and some significant misunderstandings, Stammo and the rest of the team begin to peel back the layers to determine just who might be trying to stick it to them. Creating a ruse of their own, they can only hope to lure someone from out of the shadows before bringing down the hammer. As Rogan discovers just how much trouble Zelena Gutkowski finds herself, he must figure out how to get her back and safely to Vancouver before he disappears as well, which can only lead to certain death. A stunning story that pulls the reader into the middle of an intense narrative. French dazzles again and is sure to impress series fans with this one. Recommended to those who have enjoyed the previous novels in the series, as well as the reader who likes Canadian content in their crime fiction.

I discovered Robert P. French earlier this year and devoured all five of his past novels consecutively. That experience permitted me to develop a decent idea of Cal Rogan the character and how he might fit into the larger story of each novel. Rogan has a sordid past, though has been able to rise above it all and prove his worth as a private investigator. While he still struggles with addiction and having lost his wife and daughter when he put the drugs first, he is trying to rebuild his life and develop new ties to his family. His gritty approach to investigating helps him leave no stone unturned and provides superior work for his clients. While he is a risk taker, he likes to think that he knows what awaits him around the corner. Others in the book help to flavour the story in their own way, especially Nick Stammo, who has been dealt some tough cards, though he never lets that get him down. French effectively weaves in the Rogan-Stammo characters throughout the book to add depth to them without taking away from the central story. There are some wonderful returning characters and intriguing first timers, all of whom add to the story and keep the plot moving along. Series fans will see the progress and larger roles some of those secondary characters have come to receive, which shows that French is able to effectively build some advancement into those who support the aforementioned protagonists. The story itself is well-crafted and takes the reader into a challenging position, not only because both cases are developing simultaneously, but also with effective plot progress on two continents. French juggles this masterfully and keeps the action coming without losing any of the impact. His use of multiple narrative perspectives is also genius, as it permits the reader to crawl inside the heads of many who play key roles and hear what they are thinking, rather than the single omnipotent narrator. A mix of chapter lengths keeps the reader guessing what is to come and how things will resolve themselves, without fully being able to guess before the final reveal. Much praise is due Robert P. French and I can only hope many readers of crime thrillers will stumble upon this series and see just how strong it is, especially when weighed against much of the books out there today!

Kudos, Mr. French, for another winner. I cannot say enough about your work and am eager to see the reaction that others have to what you’ve published.

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

Susan Carver: A Novella (Nick Ballard #0.5), by Anthony Steven

Eight stars

After reading Anthony Steven’s debut novel, I turned to this novella that was on offer (for free!) through his website. The piece sheds some light on one of the minor characters from Catechism, while provided a little backstory about how another’s psychic abilities came to light. Susan Carver was a community nurse back in 1987, making her rounds to see various patients. When she entered the home of one elderly man, she knew something was amiss, primarily because he lay murdered in his home hospital bed. Susan found herself face to face with a madman who took her captive and locked her away with a number of other murdered women, wrapped in polythene. Called ‘Sally’ and ordered to answer questions to save her life, Susan thought back to an earlier time, when she approached a fortune teller at a fair back in 1978. There, she was told that she had abilities deep inside her that were waiting to be tapped. As she awaited certain death at the hands of this madman, Susan pulled on those hidden powers to find a solution to this dilemma, which was sure to have dire consequences if she could not act quickly. A great little piece that offers a little backstory for the Susan Carver character that meets and engages with Nick Ballard in Steven’s debut novel. Recommended for those who enjoyed Catechism, as well as the reader who needs something to fill their coffee break time.

While I read the aforementioned novel in a single day, I was able to complete this novella in one sitting and feel that it went well for me. Steven has a wonderful grasp of writing and presents his ideas clearly while keeping the reader guessing throughout. There is little time for much character development when it comes to Susan Carver, but Steven gives just enough for the reader to care and want more. Touching on her first experience with the psychic world, Susan dismisses it at the time, but comes to see its importance when she is face with imminent danger. The banter between Susan and her captor provides the story with an added edge and served to fill some of the pages of this piece that has little time to lag. While the story does not connect officially toy Steven’s novel (and will likely play no bridge to the second, as readers of the first novel will understand), it proved to be on point and effective in conveying some needed backstory for the curious reader. Quick chapters and forthright storytelling keep the reader engaged and wanting more, though I am unsure how long until the second in the Nick Ballard novels emerges to lure yet more fans of the series. Now then, how to spend my time waiting?

Kudos, Mr. Steven, for a great piece that took no time at all to read and enjoy! What else have you got in store for everyone?

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

Half Moon Bay (Clay Edison #3), by Jonathan Kellerman and Jesse Kellerman

Eight stars

Returning for another father/son collaboration, Jonathan and Jesse Kellerman present the third novel in their Clay Edison series. Adding depth not only to their protagonist, but to the plot, the Kellermans left me remembering why I enjoy this series and their writing. Father to a young daughter, Coroner Clay Edison is called out to a park in Berkeley after a construction crew unearths the remains of a young child. Edison does what he can in a professional capacity, though this does not appear to be a new body dump, which makes things a little more complicated. After learning that the body dates back over fifty years, Edison takes a personal interest in the case and works it as best he can. Identifying the remains and sifting through some independent media sources from 1969, Edison makes some connections to the parents of the child, paying a visit to a father who has no idea what is going on. However, Edison commits to hashing out the story and continues down many a rabbit hole. What first appears to be an abandoned body soon turns into something a great deal more complicated, which includes an FBI angle that muddies the waters. Torn between this pet project and his own young daughter, Clay Edison will have to do everything he can to put a face to the victim and develop a foundational story to provide the authorities so that it is not another forgotten case left to gather dust. An interesting addition to the series by two accomplished authors in their own rights, which builds on the protagonist to lure in new series fans. Recommended to those who like their crime thrillers that tackle the genre from a different perspective, as well as the reader who is a fan of either (or both) Kellerman authors.

I have a history reading Jesse Kellerman and was pleased to have the chance to see how well he meshes with his father’s style. The two work well together and provide the reader with an interesting approach to crime thrillers that skirt the borders of a police procedural. Clay Edison emerges from this piece with a great deal more emotional connection to the reader, particularly because the central victim and his own daughter were both so young. The reader can see the strains the case has on Edison, who remains strong and focussed on the task at hand. There is a great deal of character development here with little time to look backwards. I enjoyed this, as it kept things moving in a forward direction and left me wanting to know even more. There are other characters who play central roles throughout this piece and help to strengthen the foundation of an already decent story. These influences create a wonderful mix for the Kellermans as they build on a case that spans five decades. The story itself was quite well paced and kept building as the plot thickened. I enjoyed the contrast that Edison is forced to offer between the case and spending time with his daughter, which was a brilliant thing for the authors to do. The action never stops and even when things seem to hit a dead end, there is something there to resurrect them and new pathways are forged to keep the reader hooked. With some social commentary about identity in an era before computers, the authors educate readers while entertaining them throughout. While this was a quick read for me, those who wish to take a little more time will not loose the impact of the story. The mix of chapter lengths can only help create a buzz that will have the reader coming back for more with each page turn. I can only hope that there are more novels in the series to come, as this is surely one I will follow for as long as there are ideas to hash out.

Kudos, Messrs. Kellerman, for a wonderful addition to the series. I am hooked and hope others find this series to their liking as well!

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

Catechism (Nick Ballard #1), by Anthony Steven

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Reedsy Discovery and Anthony Steven for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Eager to try something new with religious undertones, I turned to this debut thriller by Anthony Steven. A little police procedural with a peppering of psychic intervention, Steven seeks to carve out his own niche in the supersaturated genre. Nick Ballard is a former television psychic who all but lost everything when his wife died. Now, he has these odd visions that put him in the body of murder victims, allowing him to feel their pain the moment of their deaths. When Ballard goes to the police, DCI Kate Garvey is not sure what to make of it. At first, Garvey suspects that Ballard might be involved, as he seems to know too much with details not released to the public. However, she begins to see that he might know something useful and could be an insight into the actual killer. With a killer who leaves biblical references at the crime scenes, Garvey can only wonder if this is a man on some sort of cleansing mission. Seeking help with his psychic abilities, Ballard reaches out to someone who might be able to explain it, though it is by no means the answer he expected. When the killer’s rampage continues, things take a horrifying turn and Garvey must risk it all and trust in Ballard to help bring things together before they come crashing down around everyone. A decent debut with some great action, Steven does well to make his mark. Recommended to those who like their police procedurals from a different approach, as well as readers who need something quick to pass the time.

I stumbled upon this piece, unsure what to expect. While I was not blown away, Anthony Steven did keep my attention throughout, enough that I powered through this piece in a single day. There is a great deal going on in here, particularly with the two main characters. Nick Ballard has been gifted with his psychic abilities, though they have been a curse for him since he was a lad. Able to read minds and happy to share what he sees, Ballard has found himself in more trouble than the talent seems worth. With some interesting backstory, Steven tells of Ballard’s struggles before it all came crashing down, leaving the protagonist to fall into a bottle as he tries to drown the pain. His interaction with Susan Carter is an interesting part of the novel, a character Steven promises to explore more thoroughly in a free novella available on his website. DCI Kate Garvey has her own story that flavours the piece. Building on her single mother backstory, Garvey is trying to do it all while holding down a senior position within the Metropolitan Police. Her work comes first, though she tries to find time for her adult son who is all but ready to disown her. She is sceptical about Ballard, but must trust him to some degree if she wants to make progress and remove her head from the proverbial noose. In a story that mixes religious messaging with psychic undertones, Anthony Steven spreads himself a little thin and dabbles a little in both, diluting what could have been an even more powerful and edgy piece. While the narrative is saved with quick chapters that push things along, I sought more ‘creepy’ factor to really get to the heart of the matter. I hope the aforementioned free novella offers a little more, as I can only wonder what the second full novel in the series (listened on Steven’s website) will become without some added pep. I will continue with the series, but want more action and deeper connection to the characters. There is a definite plot pathway, but something to pull me and leave me hungering for more.

Kudos, Mr. Steven, for this debut effort. I need more, though I found myself wanting to keep reading repeatedly throughout this one-day adventure.

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

The Wall, by N.J. Croft

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to N.J. Croft for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

With the political circus in full swing across America, N.J. Croft’s newest book looks to provide readers with some insightful foreshadowing (and foreboding) of what could come, should ‘The Wall’ become a reality. With a chilling plot and some great characters, Croft offers readers a glimpse of the dystopia that awaits if America’s four year nightmare does not end on January 20, 2021. In the not too distant future, America stands on its own. After the Loyalty Party swept into power, President Harry Coffell, Sr. took the helm and began enacting some essential laws, including the building of a wall to protect the country from outsiders. He justified that after the recent pandemic, closing the country down would keep citizens free from disease, something Coffell touts as being the best way to return America to its past greatness. With the literal wall comes a digital one, where outside signals are blocked and ongoing technical research is banned. The only change at the top comes in the form of President Harry Coffell, Jr., who is happy to continue his father’s legacy with new and stricter rules to keep America for Americans. Within this administration, Kate Buchanan is at the helm of threat assessments for Homeland Security, looking for issues and passing them up the line. She’s personalised a secret program to synthesise the threats that emerge and offer some predictive analysis about what might be coming down the pipeline should certain things occur. What she discovers is something that could really rock the country. Meanwhile, Gideon Frome has returned to take up a senior position with the Secret Service, after being removed from the capital and sent to defend the Wall. Gideon has an interesting past, with a brother who went missing and labelled a rebel to American advances. After Kate devises a plan to trick Gideon into providing an essential piece of information, she is able to unlock additional databases within her program. With this knowledge, the ultimate plan of both POTUS and the Party emerges, which is even more terrifying than first thought. As Kate and Gideon begin to see that anyone who stands in the path ends up ‘accident prone’, they must race to dismantle an all but certain plan to keep democracy at bay and allow President Coffell to hold firm to power for as long as he desires. Soon the horrid epiphany comes to the surface: the Wall is not only meant to keep others out, but to keep Americans in, forever. Chilling in its approach and poignant in today’s political arena, Croft gives readers something to consider before November 3, 2020 and well into the future. Recommended to those who love political thrillers, as well as the reader who finds dystopian novels to their liking.

I discovered N.J. Croft earlier this year and cannot get enough of these novels. Not only are they poignant, but also provide the reader with something to think about throughout the reading experience. This piece utilises two protagonists to push the story forward, each bringing their own perspective to the story. Kate provides the reader with her insights into what America is becoming, based on the revelations of her computer program and the whispers that emerge through predictive reasoning. Her backstory provides the reader with some context about the larger storyline of a sister and pulls in her fellow protagonist. Kate’s character development comes to light as she better understands what I call the Coffell Doctrine—plan to see America remain under Martial Law and away from democratic elections—and uses her knowledge to attempt a derailment of the entire system for the love of her country. Gideon, on the other hand, has a vastly different backstory and his life experiences surely shape the man he has become. Interrogated and sent to defend the Wall, Gideon has war stories and injuries all his own, as well as an awkward dislike for the Coffell Administration, yet has been given a ‘crown jewel’ position within the Secret Service. While he is tasked with protecting the president, Gideon sees what is going on, if only with Kate’s help, and must decide which is more important to him. There are other characters who make an impact on the story and keep things moving in some very interesting directions. Croft creates those on both sides of the struggle and does not hold back in filling in many gaps as they relate to the larger plot developments. The story was quite strong and on par with some of the ‘crazy times’ America is experiencing under its current POTUS 45 administration, though this book certainly takes this a lot further. One can only guess that there is a degree of tongue in cheek here, though it does provide the insightful reader with some ideas of how far things could go if given the chance to push martial law and suspect elections. All that being said, there will be some who surely feel that Croft has gone too far, but they are also those who tend not to see the slippery slope on which they are standing or hope that blind faith will solve all the political and social woes that have befallen America. In a novel that propels the narrative forward with strong chapters of various lengths, Croft uses quotes by past US president to flavour what is to come in each new section. This keeps the reader guessing while also showing how presidential foreshadowing can effectively shed light on where things have gone at present. However one takes it, this is an eyebrow raising piece and I am pleased to have had the time to read it and ruminate before I watch Americans go to the polls (or mail in their ballots) on November 3rd. The rest is up to them!

Kudos, N.J. Croft, for this piece which kept me thinking throughout. I applaud your work and am so pleased to have tripped upon your writing by scouring Goodreads and locating some great recommendations.

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

The Jerusalem Assassin (Marcus Ryker #3), by Joel C. Rosenberg

In the stunning continuation of his latest Middle East politics series, Joel C. Rosenberg takes readers deeper into the battle to find peace in the region, as well as the new and intensifying groups that will stop at nothing to derail anything that benefits Israel. Marcus Ryker continues to keep an ear to the ground when it comes to rumblings in the Middle East. He is still forced to watch his back after taking significant action against the Russian leadership not long ago and has been covertly hired by the CIA to help them better understand the new threats against America in the region. When Ryker’s own church is the target of a terrorist attack, he’s shaken and reveals as much to the President of the United States. While compassionate words are exchanged, POTUS is still planning to unveil a major peace initiative for the Middle East on a trip to Jerusalem, in hopes that the Israelis and Palestinians will join him in finally making some headway. Subsequent blasts in DC and the American Embassy in London proves devastating, but POTUS remains focussed on his plan. Meanwhile, hidden away from the eyes of many, an all-out fatwa on both the US president and the Israeli prime minister is offered, with Islamic notoriety sure to follow. A new organisation rises from the ashes where many have failed, sure to take its opponents by storm. Kairos seeks to wrestle control of the Muslim world from those nations who are weak in their opposition to anything anti-Israeli and their latest idea could rock the region and change the balance of power. When the Palestinians scoff at the American peace plan, a new and shocking Islamic replacement in the form of Saudi Arabia emerges as a potential mouthpiece. With the secret summit inching closer, Ryker must ensure that Kairos is not able to strike with their newest weapon, as it will mean disaster for everyone. With intel trickling in, Ryker and his group think that they have the target in their sights, only to learn that nothing is quite as it seems. Is peace in the Middle East a possibility, or will bloody attacks that see a high casualty rate be all the media reports on in the coming days? Rosenberg proves that he is a stellar writer and has a handle on this sub-genre of political thrillers. Recommended to those who love Middle East politics, as well as the reader who desires a high caliber piece with significant research to support fictional claims.

I discovered Joel C. Rosenberg’s writing a number of years ago, finding his depiction of the Middle East situation quite poignant. I suspect I am not the only one, as many have commented on Rosenberg’s uncanny ability to forecast and forebode some of the goings-on in the region, particularly in his first series. Marcus Ryker is the protagonist of this fourth series with similar undertones, though the action has not abated whatsoever. His commitment to his country is fuelled by the fact that he lost a wife and child years ago. His dedication to his personal faith is also something that drives him to seek success, though he seems less likely to inculcate fellow characters than others in past series. Determined not to miss any clue that could work to help America forge a lasting peace, Ryker works tirelessly to make a difference, no matter the cost. The handful of other characters within the book offer wonderful flavouring to the overall plot and narrative, providing different regional perspectives that are essential to better understanding the tensions and the hidden agendas that fuel the animosity on both sides. Rosenberg pulls no punches and is able to educate the reader as they delve deeper into this masterful series. The story was yet again top-notch and offered some unique approaches to the Middle East peace process, while still pushing the thread of Israel being recognised as a regional partner. Rosenberg’s past work in the region shines through in his writing and his use of short chapters pulls the reader in and makes them want to know more as the plot thickens. Another wonderful book in a series that has me on the edge of my seat, I can only wonder where Rosenberg will take things from here. That being said, it’s surely somewhere worth going, though I will have to be patient to see what twists emerge.

Kudos, Mr. Rosenberg, for another wonderful novel. You captivate and speak so frankly while writing in such a way that the entertainment value is never lost on the curious reader.

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

Conspiracy, by Jacob Ganani

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Reedsy Discovery and Jacob Ganani for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Dabbling in the world of account balances and spreadsheets, I turned to Jacob Ganani’s latest financial thriller to get the blood pumping. With a number of great subplots and delving into the banking world, I took the plunge in a genre I would normally have left to gather interest elsewhere. Elijah Levi has issues in his personal life that he’s discovered cannot be handled on his own. His wife has been struck with a muscular disorder that is not only crippling, but also costs a great deal. While he has been employed with General Citizens Bank for many years and kept a spotless record, Levi uses his knowledge to scam Israel’s third largest bank out of a great deal of money through a complex embezzlement scheme. While doing so, Levi discovers something even more troublesome that the bank has been doing, which includes cheating the US Government out of a significant pile of its own cash. When the red flag goes up on Levi’s actions, officials within the bank are ready to terminate him and let the police take the appropriate action. However, Levi presents them with a deal to protect himself and keep the bank out of hot water. Officials are shocked that he would have the temerity to do or say much of anything, calling him nothing but a crook. Meanwhile, US officials think that they are on to the scam and trace General Citizens Bank back to some interactions with a Swiss financial institution, but they must tread carefully. As Levi knows too much, he will have to be handled before everything comes crashing down, but to do so may leave General Citizens Bank in hot water and create political turmoil between two political allies. An interesting take on a financial conundrum in this fast-paced thriller that will have the reader checking their bank balances soon after finishing. Recommended to those who enjoy stories with a financial spin to them, as well as the reader who finds pleasure in thrillers outside of the typical domain.

This was my first novel by Jacob Ganani, which introduced me to the world of financial thrillers. Ganani leads the reader on quite the adventure with this piece, targeting the intricacies of the banking world and how easy it can be to pull a fast one on unsuspecting clients. While the book offers up a few key storylines, Elijah Levi does prove to be the central character. His long career with the bank makes him a model employee, knowing the ins and outs of the system, which is potentially how he has been able to work his scam so effectively. Levi has a personal problem that can only be solved with money and has his eye on the millions that cross his desk on a daily basis. His love of a sick wife forces him to take action, though he tries to do so in as sly a manner as possible. He’s also able to see the bigger picture and the practices that General Citizens Bank is taking on, using that as leverage. While I would not say he ‘grows’ as a character, it is interesting to see how Levi uses what little power he has to turn the tables on his employer. A handful of secondary characters work their way into the story effectively, both in the Levi embezzlement plot and the larger scheme by the bank. Ganani offers up these characters both to entertain and educate the reader, which is done quite effectively. The story is flavoured not only by those characters, but also the setting for me. Israel is one of those places that I know or hear little about, outside of its political struggles in the region. Ganani offers a different spin to keep the reader interested, while not weighing them down with too much excessive editorialising. In a book well outside my usual genre, I was able to keep up with detailed chapters that explained some of the goings-on, as well as shorter ones to keep the plot moving effectively. There may be some technical aspects to the story, but Ganani shies away from alienating readers (like me) who do not have a strong financial background or a passion for the banking world. The writing was crisp and the narrative flowed well, using dialogue effectively to get the point across. I’d gladly suggest Jacob Ganani’s work to anyone looking for a different type of thriller that still keeps the tension and chills of any crime or legal one.

Kudos, Mr. Ganani, for a great piece. I will certainly recommend you to others and promise to be back to try some more of your work in the months to come.

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

Near Dark (Scot Harvath #19), by Brad Thor

Seven stars

Never one to turn away from a Brad Thor thriller, I turned to the latest in the Scot Harvath series. In a novel that picks up where the last conveniently ended, Thor thrusts the reader into the middle of yet another tactical battle. When Carl Pedersen is found murdered, Scot Harvath can only wonder if it has something to do with one of his past missions. News emerges that Harvath has a massive bounty put out on him, forcing him to take significant precautions. This is an open bounty, where anyone who is successful collects a massive sum, leaving Harvath to always peer over his shoulder. Without knowing where his enemies await, Harvath must forge ahead with reckless abandon and hope for the best. When Harvath finds himself in Lithuania, he learns a little more about Pedersen and some of the missions he undertook in the past. There are some whispers that the Russians might have taken action in retribution for a recent dust-up, but Harvath cannot rest on his laurels. Working with a sly agent whose background comes from the Scandinavian countries, Harvath seeks to extract as much information as he can in order to neutralise the largest threat. With the bounty still in play, he will have to be careful not to make a misstep, for it may be his last. A must-read for series fans, though this one lacked a little of the spark I had hoped to find. Recommended to those who enjoy Harvath and his thrills, as well as readers who like a little international flavour to their novels.

Every series has its best before date and it is up to the writer to keep things fresh, or tap out before they expire. While the first eighteen books in this series proved to be ‘edge of your seat’ thrillers, Brad Thor may have let his foot off the gas with this one, sure to displease ardent fans. Harvath has lived a long and productive life, as can be seen by those who have long followed the series. He has had victories and utter failures in his personal and professional lives, all of which are recapped here throughout a constant flashback narrative. With little to develop except that which is before him, Harvath loses some of his appeal, as though he is simply going through the motions and trying not to die. If I can be so bold, it seems as though Harvath is at the point where it might be time to hang up the tactical vest, as he is no longer able to forget the scars and the numerous aches. The list of strong secondary characters include some returning faces and many new ones as well. Thor hints at some possible new leaders or spin-off series with some who receive both backstory and character development, which might help revitalize the larger Thor universe and breathe new life into his writing. There was nothing overtly wrong with the writing or inherently poor with the plot, but it lacked the depth, sharpness, and twists that series fans have come to expect. I can only surmise that Thor is wondering if he wants to go in a new direction and yet seeks to tie things off before departing, or if this was a last kick at the can in hopes of getting one more book out of Harvath. There is no shame in moving on, but one can hope that Brad Thor will effectively shift things to a new series and not leave his fans with an abrupt cessation after a score of novels bearing Harvath’s presence.

Kudos, Mr. Thor, for another interesting book. I have a feeling this book was meant to convey something to your fans without you bluntly putting it out in a press release. Am I wrong?

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