Ripple (Breakthrough #4), by Michael C. Grumley

Eight stars

Michael C. Grumley returns to further explore the evolution of mammals, as well as their interconnectivity in this stunning series. Pushing a little science fiction alongside his captivating narrative, Grumley takes the reader on a deeper and more intense journey with each new novel in the collection. The action is intense, as the Russians are now eager to get their hands on whatever is rocking the genetic world, while the Chinese remain on guard and want what they felt was theirs all along. While Alison and John try to settle in Trinidad, they realise that it is Africa (specifically Rwanda) that might hold the key to this life force, while also helping them to better understand the evolution of the human race all those millennia ago. There’s also some understanding of what the foreign DNA source can do for humans, which has both positive and negative side effects for all involved. This is surely another winner by Michael C. Grumley, perfect for series fans and those who want an impactful novel that will open the mind and eyes simultaneously.

There is no end to the chills that have filled the past two novels, particularly when the Russians realise that there is something going on under their noses. While one of their submarines was destroyed as they watched Chinese officials collect some plant life, they are certain that it can be something beneficial to them. The Russians, still lurking under the water, prepare to strike and take what they feel is theirs to possess, but they do not yet fully understand it or what powers it could possess.

The Chinese know all too well what this is and they want it back. In a new and intensified geo-political fight, Chinese authorities are ready to take what they feel was theirs to begin with, using force and whatever they can to ensure no one else gets hold of their prized biological (and botanical) find. It is sure to cause some trouble, but the Chinese are ready to do whatever it takes.

All the while, Alison Shaw and John Clay are part of a new and highly secretive team tasked with better understanding some of their earlier discoveries with communication, life outside Earth, and some of the aforementioned highly sought-after intel. When aliens came to Earth all those years ago, they left the lifeblood of humanity, weaving it not only into some early mammals, but also depositing it in a vault of sorts. This is why dolphins, gorillas, and humans have so many similarities, something that Shaw and some of her other biologists are discovering again as they watch the interactions with their respective subjects. Dolphins Sally and Dirk appear to be making headway in their communication with one another and Alison, but adding Dulce, a gorilla, to the mix opens even more avenues of study.

While Shaw and Clay concentrate their time in Trinidad, it is not long before they realise that it is the African continent that holds all the secrets they must uncover. Trekking there, it is first thought that Ethiopia is where they ought to be, but soon discover that Rwanda, still teetering on the brink from recent civil war, is where the true discoveries exist. Working to further some gorilla research that has taken place, Shaw and the IMIS team venture to the region, where they learn more about gorillas and their impact on the larger mammalian advancements on Earth.

The stakes are high with both the Chinese and Russians ramping up their efforts to take what they want and leave a massacre if that is what’s needed. Shaw and Clay are not safe, nor are the discoveries they have uncovered. Add to that, a young woman, Lei Na, remains a sought after commodity in her native China, as she possesses a unique strain of DNA inside her, saved by her father before he died doing what he felt was right for all. It’s more intensity in a series that has never lacked it. And there is so much more I did not cover, best revealed by the reader when they dive in!

Michael C. Grumley baffles many as he constructs a highly-detailed and easy to digest series with this collection of well-paced novels. Each book pushes the limits of scientific possibilities without becoming too ‘out there’, even as some readers whine because it is not cut and dry enough for them. Science fiction has never been my strong suit, but I have made an effort to relax my guard and allowed a moment to learn, which has been effective in allowing me to become highly addicted to this series. I am drawn to the plots with a great deal of action, particularly as they include strong characters. Grumley has discovered a great recipe of captivating plot lines, unique scientific discoveries, and much action to keep the reader fully engaged.

The book offers series fans many characters on which to connect, some being series-long protagonists, while others are minor folk who have stepped into the limelight. I thoroughly enjoy how Grumley has been able to balance development with an ever-complex plot, not losing the reader with so many personalities to juggle. Some great story arcs are emerging, both in the scientific world and personal development of some, especially Alison Shaw and John Clay. I continue to watch their advancements, as well as some of the interaction they have with others, all while trying to keep everyone straight and clear without a formal flow chart. It may be tough, but the challenge keeps me on my toes.

The secondary characters Grumley peppers throughout the story have become the political actors. They serve the primary role of advancing the ego-political clashes that technology that reap, keeping the reader who enjoys that aspect of writing on their toes. While I can never be sure if there will others, an American-Chinese-Russian political triangle can do enough damage and I am keen to see how Grumley will handle it.

Grumley keeps the story strong and the ideas flowing in another novel that interconnects with the previous three. The narrative advanced well and kept the reader seeking more with each chapter, providing moments of education in the scientific aspects of the plot. There is so much to digest, though it is not tossed at the reader simultaneously, permitting a great development over all four novels, though for some it might be a little much to take in. There’s great character development, both in the narrative and strong dialogue, allowing Grumley to craft those the reader will surely enjoy, while there are others who will surely be despised for their own reasons. Grumley again uses a mix of chapter lengths to trap the reader into staying up well into the night, stringing them along at key moments. I remain baffled as to why I am so enthralled with this series, but have no complaints whatsoever.

Kudos, Mr. Grumley, for another strong read. Where are you taking us next?!

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

Catalyst (Breakthrough #3), by Michael C. Grumley

Eight stars

Michael C. Grumley is back with another thrilling ride that further explores nature and the secrets it holds. Picking up soon after the previous novel ended, Grumley pulls the reader in with new excitement as geo-political conflict increases against a backdrop of a sensational new discovery in a remote jungle. With a handful of key players doing their part, it will be a race for answers, while keeping things somewhat secret until it can all be synthesised. There is action and even some sorrow, but something electrifying is pushing the story forward, into a world of extreme unknowns. Another winner by Michael C. Grumley that will have series fans on the edge of their seats, demanding more!

The tense nature of the previous novel’s end comes crashing into the opening pages of this piece, as the story kicks into high gear. The Chinese are baffled as to what’s happened to their warship and can only surmise that it must be the Americans who have tried to foil their plans. However, there is the added confusion as to what was going on in South America that has high-ranking officials even more confused. Someone’s been hiding something essential and it could mean weakness, even a political coup gathering momentum. To allow such a crack would be unheard of within the communist hierarchy.

On the other side of the world, someone’s killed a powerful man in South America likely because he knew something of some importance. While US Navy investigators John Clay and Steve Caesare are aware, they must dodge accusations that they might have been involved, while also getting to the root of the issue. It surrounds a group of capuchin monkeys, some of whom are showing some highly unique qualities pertaining to prolonged life. Could there be something in their DNA that holds the answers many have sought for centuries to locate? Caesare takes on the task of learning what he must, while dodging those who would do him harm all the while.

In Puerto Rico, marine biologist Alison Shaw continues to work with her two dolphins, Sally and Dirk, learning much about their life experiences through some of her high-tech communication software. Shaw has also discovered the healing capabilities of these two, when a young girl who has been diagnosed with a severe illness emerges unscathed from a swim in their tank. Shaw has also been working on expanding her communication tool, working with a young gorilla, Dulce, which has helped to expand the parameters of understanding between the species.

While John Clay travels to learn some of the secrets behind the veil of secrecy in China, Steve Caesare focuses his attention on the South American adventure. Both find themselves in a great deal of trouble as they peel things back a little more, understanding that the properties of some plant in the Guyanese forests could hold the answer for everyone. However, the revelations come with new risks and added dangers that could, and will, leave someone dead. This is sure to send shockwaves across the team and leave Alison to wonder if she has taken one step too many in her quest to better understand what’s going on in the world and how other animals can piece together than which humans do not fully comprehend.

And then there is the vault that’s been located on a remote island… and a second one that is filled with embryos. What is it and who built it? It’s a mystery that adds new layers of excitement and thrills to an already complex story!

Michael C. Grumley continues to construct a strong series that pushes the limits and possibilities, keeping some readers on the defensive. While science fiction has never been an area of particular interest for me, I’ve found myself drawn to the stories, plots, and even some of the characters. Grumley mixes together thrilling plots, curious scientific discoveries, and great development to keep the reader pushing forward.

The book offers series fans a great look at a number of protagonists, each pushing their respective plotline forward. John Clay and Alison Shaw have had some time in the limelight, but their growth continues in this piece, both in their own spheres and together. Each holds onto the reader’s attention as they progress through the story, captivating it with ease. Additing Steve Caesare to the mix provides some interesting flavour to the narrative and offers another perspective to keep the reader’s attention hooked. His grit and determination, partnered with some well-deserved humour, keeps things light when it serves him well, while never missing a chance to show his abilities.

The secondary characters Grumley peppers throughout the story keep things on point. Returning characters are especially important for this piece, as the action connects with the previous novel, though there are new faces and flavourings that keep the story from getting too repetitive. There are some who complement the political undertone of the story, while others make their impact through the science side of things. There is surely something for everyone in this piece, with a supporting cast sure to appeal to a large cross-section of readers.

Grumley offers more great plots and decent characters in this bridging novel. The narrative flowed well where it needed to keep the reader engaged and educated in the scientific aspects to provide a new spin and something a little ‘out of this world’. Wonderful dialogue highlights some of the strong characters Grumley developed, provided needed humour and moments of tension to enrich the reader experience. A mix of chapter lengths works to lure the reader in and strings them along, allowing them to feel a strong part of the building action. I continue to surprise myself by finding such an interest in this series, as sci fi is something I usually leave to others.

Kudos, Mr. Grumley, for another intense read. Let’s see what else is out there.

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

Invocation (Nick Ballard #2), by Anthony Steven

Eight 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.

Anthony Steven returns with another explosive thriller that is sure to grip the reader from the opening pages. Building on his series debut, Steven takes the reader much deeper into the mind and troubles of Nick Ballard, with a few new faces to add depth to the world of premonitions and spirit communication. DCI Kate Garvey is still trying to come to terms with a close brush with death while apprehending a serial killer in Scotland. With a new superior, Garvey is tasked with working through a chilling case, as a handful of women are dumped on a rural road, after being tortured and brutally murdered. She seeks help from Nick Ballard, a man who can visualise those who are being attacked, but the man is not up to the game. With some issues in her own personal life, DCI Garvey will have to collect her thoughts in order to make it all work, all while someone is watching her every move and criticising each mistake she makes.

It’s been a rough go for Nick Ballard since he returned from Scotland. Self-medicating so that he can no longer have the visions that haunt him, Ballard has developed quite an addiction that has him in rough shape. Add to that, he has spent much time thinking about a woman who tried to help him with his premonition abilities, Susan Carver. While Susan is dead, her daughter has kept up a loose relationship with Ballard and introduced him to another fellow with some other eerie abilities. John Rennick seems to be able to communicate with those in the afterlife, a seemingly unique trait that has brought him mixed results.

DCI Kate Garvey is also reeling from the events in Scotland, lucky to be alive and have her son, Rob, as well. While she tries to put it all back together, DCI Garvey has to work with a new commanding officer, one who demands more each day. While Garvey has reached out to Ballard, he’s not responded at all, as though there is some animosity between them. When a handful of women are found on the outskirts of London, DCI Garvey must take the lead and could really use Ballard’s help to piece it all together.

Lurking in the shadows is a serial killer, the likes of which few have ever encountered. With a horrible childhood disfigurement and an appetite for vengeance, a ploy to lure young women away from the streets has been working, though the results are less a saviour of the troubled and more a means of scratching an itch that has been building for the killer. The latest target, a young woman with a baby she never wanted, proves to be one that will resonate with many, putting DCI Garvey on the defensive while she seeks to keep her professional demeanor. It will take not only a sober Nick Ballard to help, but also might require the help of another man, John Rennick, whose skills with those who have passed on are invaluable, to locate the killer and find justice for the vulnerable.

It’s a race to find a faceless killer, one who lurks on the dirtiest streets and has a message to broadcast, much like the Bible Verse Killer did in years past. DCI Garvey has her work cut out for her in this one, which demands leadership, swiftness, and attention to detail. The pressure’s on and the clock is surely ticking. Anthony Steven does well in this follow-up thriller that builds on the past novel, as well as two novellas/short stories, all of which provide needed pieces for this chilling thriller.

After stumbling upon the series debut, I was unsure what to expect. I was not blown away, but was happy to give Anthony Steven another try when he reached out with an ARC for the second novel. I can see much growth and the writing works well, particularly if readers have taken the time to also devour the two novellas that are available on Steven’s website (have a look!). There is depth and a great deal of action, leaving the reader to connect early and often with the likes of Ballard, DCI Garvey, and a few new faces that make an impact throughout.

Ballard and DCI Garvey are both in fine form throughout this piece, putting their personal and professional lives out there for readers. Both have suffered a great deal since their time in Scotland, though Garvey has been able to pick up the pieces, while Ballard has fallen down a dark hole and turned to Ativan. The struggles that both protagonists show are definitely not lost on the reader, though it is how they each find an effective turning point that truly excites things as the story progresses. Nick Ballard has much to prove to himself and those around him, though he remains his own worst enemy. DCI Garvey, on the other hand, must impress a new superior and juggle the strains of some jarring personal news that could knock her off her proverbial perch.

Steven does a wonderful job adding depth and flavour to the story with a handful of keen supporting characters. There is much to tell in the area of backstory and these characters do a masterful job at highlighting key plot points throughout the process. Some, like John Rennick, are memorable because they have already shone some of the limelight on themselves with a novella about their early exploits. Others complement Ballard and Garvey, while there are some who help keep the likes of Susan Carver (a minor character in her own right in the debut) alive through dialogue and memories. Steven definitely does not suffer from a shortage of characters, leaving it up to the reader to keep things in line.

Anthony Steven may be guilty of having too many balls in the air at one time, but he handles it a great deal better than he had previously. There is a great deal to process and handle, but I felt more prepared this time around. The narrative is strong and keeps the reader enthused as they inch their way into the middle of a major crime scene, interspersing the larger story with narratives directly about the serial killer. This approach offers wonderful eerieness to the story and kept me wanting to know a little more. The characters were on point and the plot evolved effectively for me as I made my way through this piece. A mix of chapter lengths left me wanting more and kept me pushing ahead, leaving it only to be work and the need for sleep that forced breaking this up a little more than I would have liked. I was quite impressed with this piece and will be keeping my eyes open for more by Anthony Steven in the coming years.

Kudos, Mr. Steven, for a great novel that will garner many fans for you, of this I am sure!

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

Six Weeks to Live, by Catherine McKenzie

Eight stars

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

Emerging with another unique psychological thriller, Catherine McKenzie shows why she is at the top of her her genre. Mixing mystery with real-life situations, McKenzie presents the reader with a story that will surely hit home for many. Recently diagnosed with terminal cancer, Jennifer prepares to live her final weeks with family. However, she comes to discover something odd in a past blood test result and wonders if the cancer might have had some ‘help’ emerging, leaving her to speculate who might have targeted her to die. Another winner for McKenzie fans and those who love books with slowly revealed ‘aha’ moments.

Jennifer Barnes could not have expected the news when she went to the doctor about a series of headaches. Told that she has brain cancer and only a handful of weeks to live, Jennifer tries her best to come to terms with it and make the most of her time remaining. With adult triplets and a few grandchildren, Jennifer is ready to bask in the love they have for her as she wrestles for answers inside herself.

However, among the papers her doctor handed over, there is an old blood test result that denotes a spike in lead levels, something about which she knew nothing. When the doctor’s office has documented proof that they called her for additional tests and she communicated by phone that she wanted a second opinion, everything thinks it has to be related to her forgetfulness and a bout of migraines from last year. Jennifer in not convinced and begins digging a little deeper.

At the time of her aforementioned migraines, her husband had begun asking for a divorce, the next step after he had admitted having an affair and left the marital home. Might he be responsible for the anomaly in her blood test? Could he have wanted to kill her all along?The plot thickens as more is revealed and new layers of the family drama come to the surface.

While Jennifer’s time is running out, she refuses to take it sitting down. She must learn the truth and who has been trying to harm her over the last year. While the cancer progresses and she must make amends with the life she has lived, Jennifer refuses to die before knowing what really happened last May and who within her circle she can truly trust. Chilling and emotional at the same time, Catherine McKenzie keeps the reader guessing until the very end.

I have been a fan of Catherine McKenzie and her work for a few years now, having discovered her books while reading other reviews. Each of her books that I have taken the time to read proves to me that she is the real deal and knows how to spin a tale that will captivate the reader wholeheartedly. This is another stunning piece that seeks to weave a tragedy within a mystery and encapsulate it in a psychological thriller, where the protagonist cannot tell who can be trusted. A stellar piece, if ever I have read one.

Jennifer Barnes plays the presumptive protagonist throughout, offering the reader an insight into her life and how she’s come to have only a few weeks left. Her struggles as a mother, a wife, and a victim of adultery all come to the surface, while she refuses to lay down and let her world come crashing in on her. While she has only a limited time left, she is determined to discover the truth behind her lead poisoning and who could have acted so brashly as to try to kill her. McKenzie creates moments where Jennifer exposes the relationships she has with each of her triplet daughters, her own mother, and the husband who betrayed her, leaving everyone as a potential suspect, even if one name rises to the top throughout.

The collection of secondary characters are, to a degree, not as supporting as one might think. McKenzie’s storytelling is such that all three daughters could share the limelight with their mother and it not be a stretch. There is much to learn about them and their differences, even though they share a birthdate. Deception and duplicity are mixed with moments of compassion, as McKenzie contrasts how each connects with both parents in different ways. The story is richer for it and the twists even more impactful. This is the sign of a really great piece of fiction, where lines are blurred and the reader must decide who to like and hate.

The story itself was fantastic, which might help explain how I was able to read it in a single day. McKenzie tells things in such a clear manner within getting too wrapped up in the frivolous details. There is so much to learn and it comes out in a strong narrative that forges ahead, alongside great character development and quick dialogue. As is McKenzie’s style, there are many twists that the reader might not expect, which keeps the reader on their toes as they push forward to discover the truths that await them. Telling a multi-layered story is not easy, but Catherine McKenzie does it with ease, without revealing too much and letting the reader guess what is to come. I cannot say enough about this piece or the quality of Catherine McKenzie’s writing.

Kudos, Madam McKenzie, for another winner. You hooked me with the opening chapter and I could not stop reading from that point onwards.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

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

Rennick (Nick Ballard #2.1), by Anthony Steven

Eight stars

As a means to promote his newest novel (which I was asked to read ahead of publication), Anthony Steven penned this short piece about one of the characters I suppose will play a role in the novel. Steven pulls the reader in from the outset and shows that those with special abilities can and do leave an indelible mark on others. A chilling tale of a boy who is labelled as mentally ill but whose connection with the other side could help solve a crime. Add to that, it’s free on his website, so have a gander.

John Rennick could not have imagined what awaited him when he attended his first day of school. An apparition made itself known, much like his Grandad, and offered a warning. Later that day, John returned home to discover tragedy in his house, which forced him into foster care. Before departing, John offers a warning to DC Andrea Davies and her partner, one that seems ominous and out of context. Still, it sticks with Davies for years to come.

When a boy goes missing in John’s group home, the police come around to investigate. DC Davies happens to be one the case and remembers Rennick, mainly because of his prophecy. When he tells of another communication with someone who’s crossed to the other side, Davies is keen to listen, in hopes that it might shed some light on the case.

I only encountered Anthony Steven last summer when I was asked to read one of his novels. I was impressed enough to be keen to accept the assignment yet again with the second novel in the Nick Ballard series. Before delving in, this short piece seemed the perfect introduction to what would be to come. Steven offers readers a great piece that begins with a bang and whose intensity never dissipates. There is some great character development and decent backstory that will surely serve me well when I tackle the novel in the coming days. Short chapters pushed the story along, while there were some wonderful cliffhanger moments. This has me excited to see how Steven has improved his writing style and attention to detail in the complemented full-length novel. A wonderful appetizer to whet the reading appetite.

Kudos, Mr. Steven, for a great short piece. You have me excited and ready to go.

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

The Buzz Boys, by Edward Izzi

Nine stars

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

Seeing a new novel by Edward Izzi always brings much excitement, as I have been able to enjoy each of his previous publications a great deal. While this piece does not delve into Vatican corruption or the legal world, per se, there is some Izzi magic in the piece that again centres around Chicago. Izzi tells a wonderful story of a group of five boys who are connected through their scholastic endeavours and common household issues as they come of age through the 1960s and 70s. When a tragedy befalls one in a parking lot in 2019, it is the introduction to a long and storied past that brought the Buzz Boys together, as well as highlighting how they were torn apart over the years. Another must-read for those who enjoy Izzi’s work, as well as the reader who finds something exciting in a ‘coming of age’ piece.

Marco Pezza had a long history with the Chicago PD the day he arrived at the bocce club to greet his father in 2019. Though they had been estranged for many years, the elder Pezza took the time to speak with his son, decorated and popular around town. What followed was a murder-suicide that rocked the city and left everyone shocked. Reading the news soon thereafter, attorney Robert Mazzara was saddened by what his friend had done, though by no means surprised.

Mazzara takes the reader on a slow and detailed journey back to the 1960s, where he grew up in a Chicago suburb. Attending parochial school, Mazzara soon befriended four other boys and they became the best of friends. Connected, not only by their attending the same school, these boys could recount a troubled upbringing of abuse at the hands of cruel fathers, some of whom were also molested. However, none of the boys let this taint their connection to one another.

This connection grew over time, as did the stories of abuse in their respective households. Eventually dubbed the ‘Buzz Boys’, each had their own unique take on life and the hand they had been dealt. As the years progressed, these boys became men, suffering their own problematic lives, with the pall of childhood abuse lingering over them. The narrative explores how each of the boys took matters into their own hands, with Mazzara there to pick up some of the pieces while juggling his own issues.

As the years progress, tragedy fills the narrative of the Buzz Boys’ lives, with Robert Mazzara there to do what he could to pick up the errant pieces. He uses all these stories gathered over the years as a salve to heal many of the wounds, while also pitying each of the others, including Marco Pezza, and the troubles they faced. Like a band of inseparable misfits, the Buzz Boys live on, even as they are all gone. It’s left to Mazzara to decide how to ensure the legacy is not erased, with so much to show over the past six decades. Heart-warming and tragic in equal measure, this is one story of Edward Izzi’s that will stick with me well into the future.

I have yet to encounter an Edward Izzi novel that I did not enjoy. Scrap that, as enjoy is too superficial a word, but rather, loved! His attention to detail and ability to pull the reader into the middle of the action is like few others. This piece takes the reader away from the thriller genre that has been central to much of his past writing, allowing for thorough exploration of the character development and coming of age of those central to the piece. For me, this is the litmus test that Izzi is not only a great writer, but that he can step outside the genre for which he has made a name for himself and truly shine!

While Robert Mazzara plays the narrative role throughout, he is not the only character who shines in this piece. Rather, it is all five Buzz Boys: Robby, Marco, Johnny, Petey, and Billy. Each grows throughout the piece, offering their own spin on life in their respective abusive households and how they handled it. The piece hovers not only around their individual growth and self-destruction, but also the connection the five made together, proving that friendship can sometimes help overcome all adversity. Each Buzz Boy had their own issues, walls built around them that could be traced back to the beatings and abuse suffered at home, though the reader is able to connect and mourn each of them as they years progress. By the end, with only Robert ‘Robby’ Mazzara left, the reader is forced to contemplate the impact these five had on one another and society as a whole.

Izzi does a masterful job at painting the picture of life in Chicago in those formative years for the boys. The abuse, the lack of action by families who wanted to turn the other way, and the Church that was the lifeblood of the community. Sorrow and grief emerge throughout the telling of the book, but it is the connection the Buzz Boys have that makes the story rise above the negativity. The connection, even as tragedy befalls everyone, is a glue that keeps these boys together. In true Izzi fashion, there are some ‘cameo’ appearances of characters from past novels, connecting the books in a loose manner.

While I usually turn to the more action-based novels, this was a refreshing departure for me (and Edward Izzi). I was able to slide into a strong narrative from the opening pages and develop a connection to the characters. Their individual stories are not lost in the larger storytelling, though it is their personal struggles that makes the Buzz Boy connection all the stronger. Told in a series of interconnected vignettes, the reader discovers much about the boys and their struggles as the years go on, with Robert Mazzara there to offer his spin, while he also portrays his own issues. Short chapters keep the reader coming back to learn more, as the years advance to the present. There is something within the story that makes it well worth the reader’s time, all while recounting the less than uplifting moments each of the five suffered in childhood, adolescence, and into their adult lives. Izzi is truly a master of his craft and this book proves to me that he has a magical ability to churn out winners, no matter the topic. I loved it, plain and simple!

Kudos, Mr. Izzi, for another winner. Thank you for allowing me to explore the more personal side of your writing and how character development can be a key ingredient to a sensational story. I see there are two more novels on the publication horizon and cannot wait to sink my teeth into them.

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

Bone Rattle (Arliss Cutter #3), by Marc Cameron

Nine stars

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

Marc Cameron is back with the third in his Arliss Cutter series, a collection of novels that get better with each new addition. Cameron’s background as a former Deputy Marshall serves him well in this piece, where the action is ever-mounting and the reader is pulled into the middle of a sensational story from the opening pages. Arliss Cutter enjoys his work on the Fugitive Task Force, but has no interest in any management position. When he and his team are sent to Juneau to help with a high-profile trial, things go south soon enough. Cutter is pulled into a situation and must find a young woman who is the target of a crooked businessman, all in rural Alaska. It’s a story that will keep the reader flipping pages well into the night. Another winner from Marc Cameron for sure!

Arliss Cutter loves his job as Supervisory Deputy Marshall up in Anchorage, though there are surely times he misses his native Florida. Working hard all day, capturing those who have tried to evade the law, Cutter and his team within Alaska’s Fugitive Task Force do all they can to help balance the scales of justice. There are bumps and scrapes along the way, but it’s all in a day’s work. When he returns home, it’s to help take care of his twin nephews and teenage niece, a handful on their own. Still, he would not have it any other way.

While there are some odd goings-on in Anchorage, Cutter and his partner, Lola Teariki, are sent to Juneau to help in a high-profile trial. The jury is about to be sequestered and the judge is in need of protection, as the defendants are part of a gang that prefer to take justice into their own hands. With the trial being covered by a sharp reporter, everyone is wondering where she’s getting her scoop. Lori Maycomb is not prepared to say much of anything, as she wants to keep her information under wraps and her informant out of the limelight.

When things at the trial go sideways, Cutter knows that he will be put to work hunting rather than simply protecting. There’s more to the story than a simple confidential informant, but a crooked business owner has plans of his own for the local territory and he’s not prepared to let anyone stand in his way. Even when a valuable artifact is found that might impede a money-making transportation venture, it’s no impediment to progress, as long as the right people can be silenced, permanently.

With a young woman in hiding up in the Alaskan hills, Cutter will have to work quickly to get to her, or at least keep those with a mission to scrub her out from arriving first. It’s a race against time and through a series of hurdles, including a mining area. Cutter knows it won’t be easy, but he’s not prepared to simply let a young girl’s life be silenced to pad the pockets of a corrupt individual. Justice must be done, no matter the cost!

I have long had an appreciation for Marc Cameron and his work, which pushes the reader to think outside the box. Not only is the Alaskan setting unique, but the writing delivers something that is not entirely in line with many novels in the genre. It is a different type of gritty, one that leaves the reader wanting to know more. So much is going on in this book, though it never feels overwhelming. This is definitely a series for those who love trillers and quasi-procedurals. While some applaud this as a decent standalone, I cannot think why anyone would not want to grab the previous two books to have the full context of this sensational series and its protagonist.

Arliss Cutter has grown on me over this trio of novels and there is nothing like seeing how his progression has developed. I love a mix of personal and professional growth in a character, something that Cameron offers in spades throughout. Cutter may be a saviour to his family, after the death of his brother, but he is also one who allows his sister-in-law to take on the primary role, while injecting some of his own familial life lessons when they are needed. On a professional front, Cutter works well with his partner, Lola Teariki, but does not force her to conform to what he does at every turn. The richness of the Cutter character develops well throughout this book and in the previous two novels, making him one that many readers can admire, given the time.

Marc Cameron has done well in this piece to really add some standout supporting characters. From those who recur throughout the series to the people who are one-offs to add depth to the story, there are few who do not make an impact. I thoroughly enjoy how Cameron crafts those who appear on each page, honing their personalities to flavour the narrative and enrich the plot where needed. There is something to love or hate with each person the reader encounters and this is precisely what I needed after reading some novels where things are brushed over too swiftly. While not a dense read, the book is by no means superficial and the characters help add some weight to the final product.

This is the second of Marc Cameron’s series that I have read, neither of which have left me feeling disappointed. The writing is strong and there is something that makes me want to keep reading every time I pick up one of his books. The narrative flows well, offering wonderful twists throughout, without tying the reader up in knots. The characters have depth and prove to be intriguing no matter what they have going on in their lives. Cameron teases the reader with shorter chapters at times, as if to coax them into settling down for the longer and more detailed parts of the book, which allow plot development. I enjoyed the banter through dialogue, which added something to the book and helped me imagine things playing out on the screen with ease. I cannot wait to see what’s next with Arliss Cutter, as there were a few threads left loose, which is another of Cameron’s great abilities, as the reader begs to understand what’s to come!

Kudos, Mr. Cameron, on another stellar piece. I cannot get enough of your writing and hope Arliss Cutter will be back soon!

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

Leap (Breakthrough #2), by Michael C. Grumley

Eight stars

Sticking with a strong recommendation by a dear friend, I chose to venture deeper into this series. Grumley is back with the second full-length novel in his Breakthrough series, sure to pique the interest of those who want something with a little sci-fi alongside some true action. Grumley has spent a great deal of time looking at how politics and biological issues meld together in a fast-paced book that is free from the tirade of profanity to express opinions. After a stellar series debut, Grumley returns to explore the expansion of linguistic interpretation between humans and animals, as well as something of international drama when a country is found to be secretly extracting items in the Caribbean. Grumley dishes out some wonderful storytelling and keeps the series on its toes, with a few more novels to follow.

After having relocated to Puero Rico, marine biologist Alison Shaw and her team have been taking in all the publicity they can handle. Sally and Dirk, two dolphins who are able to communicate through a piece of high-tech software, have been enjoying their time and ability to interact freely. However, there is a new challenge on the horizon and it will not be easy. As humans are closely related to gorillas, it would make sense that they communicate with one another. This has been possible through some tweaking and with new technology. Affixing a vest to the wearer, it’s now possible for humans to speak with their primate cousins, something that has caught the attention of a billionaire with a mission in mind for Alison and her crew.

Down in South America, the US Navy has become alerted to an experimental submarine, part of Russia’s fleet, having resurfaced off the coast of Brazil. Thought to have been dismantled, this sub is still fully functional and ready to show off what it can do. US Navy officers John Clay and Steve Caesare arrive to investigate and report back what might be going on. Clay and Caesare discover much, none of it uplifting, during their short time in the region. Clay and Caesare learn that a handful of soldiers have been disappearing into the jungle at night, using the cover of darkness to masquerade their true intentions. When a Chinese warship becomes part of the situation, it’s a new level of panic for all involved. This is sure to rock the Navy as they try to determine what’s next.

While Alison and her crew embark on a mission to save a fellow scientist and locate a monkey, there is more to the story than meets the eye. Technology is sometimes a richer commodity than money and its capabilities can be deadly if they land in the wrong hands. All the while, Clay and Caesare realise just how troubling new discoveries can be, particularly when they are done in secret and the scientific realities are not revealed to the general public. Some significant decisions will have to be made to fend-off what is sure to be a massive international clash in the coming days. Tensions are high, as this is something that could change the world as we know it, forever!

Michael C. Grumley has been working hard to develop this series and this book surely pulled me in a little deeper. Science fiction has never been an area of interest for me, but this book has something that I cannot explain, leaving me wanting more and needing to get to the bottom of what’s going on. Grumley spins a tale and peppers it with some great science, as well as a dose of drama, all while keeping the political and international thriller angles in high gear for those who love that sort of thing.

The book is split between Alison Shaw and John Clay, whose adventures are mostly separate but do venture together on occasion. That these two have an interest in one another cannot be dismissed, but both have grown throughout this piece and the series to date. There is a great deal of character development within the pages of this book, keeping the reader curious about how they feel about Shaw and Clay. Hints of where things may lead can be found throughout, helping to enrich further development in the novels to come. I am keen to see how things transpire and where these hints will go, as well as what blossoms.

With a handful of central secondary characters, Grumley keeps the reader connected to the series throughout. There are those who have returned from the debut novel, though the new faces are just as exciting and provide the reader with more to enjoy. I found all those who made an appearance added to the story on some level, though there were some i hope never to see again, as they did little for me. Mixing the various genres in this book, the type of characters cannot be blended into one. There were some strong political characters that will surely keep things going into the forthcoming novels, but it is the science that really has me curious, especially since I am by no means well-versed with that realm.

Grumley does well to keep the reader on their toes throughout this piece, offering up some great plots and a decent collection of characters. The narrative flowed well and kept me intrigued until the very end, left to guess in which direction things would develop. Strong characters pushed the piece along, using wonderful dialogue to keep me learning as I forged deeper into the piece. A mix of chapter lengths had me rushing to learn more on some occasions, while I was pulled into the story with the more detailed sections as well. I am surprised to be so interested in this series, since this is not a genre to which I flock regularly. That being said, you can never judge a book by its cover, or dust jacket blurb..

Kudos, Mr. Grumley, for another captivating piece! I cannot wait to see what’s to come.

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

In Her Tracks (Tracy Crosswhite #8), by Robert Dugoni

Eight stars

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

Robert Dugoni is back with another Tracy Crosswhite police procedural procedural, but adds a certain twist to keep the reader guessing. It’s been a tough go for Seattle PD Homicide Detective Crosswhite, but she is not one to let bumps in the road derail her work. Returning from maternity leave, Crosswhite is forced to take a position she does not want, but tosses herself into the work. She discovers an intriguing case that appears to be without strong leads. When Crosswhite is pulled into an active case, she finds her spark again, much to the chagrin of a captain who wants her under his foot. The missing and presumed dead have a voice in Detective Tracy Crosswhite, but she will have to breathe life into their cases before they go cold.

While she loves motherhood, Tracy Crosswhite cannot wait to get back to work. Returning to the Seattle PD’s Homicide Team, Crosswhite hopes to have her position back. However, her wily captain has other ideas, citing that they need to fill the spot while she was on maternity leave. Offering her a position as the cold case detective—one that everyone is sure Crosswhite will decline—it’s a chance for Tracy to decide what she wants next. A pep talk with the retiring detective leaves her willing to give it a shot, if only to scuttle the plans of her nemesis for a while longer.

Crosswhite scours the list of cases and finds one that piques her interest. A little girl went missing when her father took her to a corn maze and was never seen again. Part of a bitter custody battle, the little girl made numerous comments about how her parents fought before the separation. As a beat cop at the time of the disappearance, the father pulls on the heartstrings of Crosswhite, but she must remain objective.

Working on a few of the leads that go nowhere, Crosswhite is pulled into the middle of a fresh investigation with her former partner. A young jogger has gone missing in a local park and no one saw anything. Canvassing the neighbourhood, Crosswhite comes across three brothers who live together but seem to be hiding something. With nothing concrete to assert her claims of guilt, Crosswhite will have to pursue a few options on the sly.

While her missing girl case is going nowhere fast, Detective Crosswhite finds herself fixated on this jogger and how she could have disappeared into thin air. There’s something that is not adding up and those who know Tracy Crosswhite understand that she is not one to let opportunity slip through her fingers. She’ll use all her resources to get to the bottom of it, even if it means putting her future in jeopardy with a captain who wants her head on a platter.

There’s something about this series that has always kept me fully engaged and wondering. Robert Dugoni has crafted a stellar cast and writes so fluidly as to keep the reader on their toes. New ideas emerge with each novel and the series gets better the deeper into the characters Dugoni pulls the reader. I can see this being one series that will not get old any time soon.

Tracy Crosswhite is a stellar detective in her own right, having grown effectively over the last number of novels. Her grit and determination are like no other and she keeps her eye on the prize throughout, hoping to make the most of what is offered to her. Balancing work with motherhood has been tough, but Crosswhite has found a balance, even though it has come at the cost of her preferred job. It will take all she has inside her to solve the cases placed at her feet, while dodging the obstacles of suspects and a captain with an ax to grind. There is mention throughout her cold case investigation about how a missing child can tear a family apart, something Crosswhite knows all too well from her sister’s disappearance. Guilt is nothing new for Detective Tracy Crosswhite, which makes her all the more intriguing as she strives for truth.

Dugoni creates a string of strong secondary characters in this piece that complement Crosswhite when the need arises. Pulled from a variety of sources, those who fill the gaps and keep the reader intrigued offer their own spin on these missing persons cases. Some are straightforward while others prefer to present deceptive fronts, all of whom work well to keep the reader wondering what’s to come. The recurring cast is always welcome, but I also enjoy how Dugoni has created new and one-off characters that keep things exciting for all readers.

There’s something to be said for the novels in this series, as they take police procedurals to a new level. While there are the essential elements found throughout, Robert Dugoni uses his strong writing abilities to create a certain magnetism that pulls the reader into the middle of the case and won’t let go. The narrative pushes along effectively and keeps the reader on their toes until the very end, when the pieces finally come together. It’s a piece that may reveal itself slowly, but once the momentum is started, there’s not tapping on the brakes. Short to mid-length chapters propel the reader forward and keep the story on track, as much is revealed with each page turn. I can only wonder what’s to come and how Dugoni will continue to shape his core set of characters with new and exciting hurdles.

Kudos, Mr. Dugoni, for another winner. Your work is some of the best in the genre and I can only hope you have many more ideas to share soon.

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

Breakthrough (Breakthrough #1), by Michael C. Grumley

Eight stars

Working off a strong recommendation by a dear friend, I chose to venture into the world of Michael C. Grumley and this series. Having sped through the prequel short story, I was intrigued to see how it would all come together. It’s hard to slot this book into a specific genre, as it is part science fiction, part action, and even part biological. However one might label it, Grumley did well in its delivery and has me wanting to know a little more. Alison Shaw has been working at an aquarium for the past five years, focussing on two dolphins. Slowly, but surely, a scientific breakthrough is made that could change the way humans see the dolphin world, but it is still too soon to reveal it all. Meanwhile, a nuclear submarine goes missing and the US Government is keen to learn more. Might the technology that Shaw and her team possess be essential to finding the sub and learning what happened? Grumley certainly piques the interest of the attentive reader with this first novel in a jam-packed series.

Deep in the ocean, a US submarine goes well off course and no one aboard can tell what’s happened. It’s panic all over the place and there is nothing that can be done. Radar shows the anomaly and yet no one can properly explain the phenomena. It is only later, when two Navy Seals find an odd ring on the ocean floor that possible theories begin to emerge.

Alison Shaw has been working at a Miami aquarium for the past five years, hoping to make something of herself. Her work with two dolphins looks promising, so much so that the latest project has her highly excited about what is to come. By recording and synthesising much of the communicative speech patterns, Shaw and her team have been able to effectively engage in two-way dialogue with the dolphins. Through a high-tech computer, basic interaction between humans and dolphins seems possible, which will surely create a stir in the scientific community, as well as with the general public.

When members of the US Government learn of the dolphins’ abilities, they come knocking, if only to tap into this new resource. Using the dolphins to probe what might be taking place deep on the ocean floor could have a numerous benefits, particularly as there is now a means by which communication is possible. However, Shaw and her team are not ready to rent out the dolphins to the highest bidder, making them more of a circus act than they appear to be to attendees of the aquarium.

On the other side of the world, a massive ice quake rocks Antarctica. A number of scientists are killed and early detection explores the possibility of a major tsunami that could rock both sides of the Atlantic, should something not be done. Early signs point to a phenomena that is not quite understood, though it might all relate to that ring on the bottom of the ocean. Who is behind the ring and what will it mean for those in military and political power? Is there a new enemy emerging, one the Americans have yet to fully respect? Grumley poses this and many other questions in this thriller that pulls on many interesting threads while keeping the reader engaged throughout.

I am the first to admit that science fiction is not usually my cup of tea, but this piece had something that pulled me in from the get-go. It might have been the realism that Michael C. Grumley presents, or even that there was a grounded science and even loose political aspect to the piece, but I am happy to have accepted the recommendation to read this book and want to know more. Grumley pushes reality up against the supernatural and presses a case for what might be out there and how current technology may be on the cusp of greatness, which boggles the mind and makes it all the more exciting.

Alison Shaw serves as the likely protagonist in this piece, pulling on much of her work to guide the book’s plot. While she has been snubbed by the US Navy before, stymying her research, she tries to keep an open mind when it comes to using this linguistic technology. She is adamant that her dolphins are not playthings for use by the highest bidder, but she is also keen to help where she can. Her drive for success can be seen throughout the piece, never overshadowed by stardom. It is a push for the truth over all else that keeps her in the middle of the story and I am eager to see what comes of her character in subsequent novels.

Grumley certainly develops a strong supporting cast in this piece to keep the reader on their toes throughout. There is so much going on throughout the various subplots that the reader is forced to entertain many names and characters whose roles play a vital part of the overall story. Grumley does well to differentiate them one from the other and never loses the momentum needed to keep everyone of interest to the reader. There are hints that some may appear throughout the series while others are surely one-offs, used to propel the plot forward.

The story was great and kept my attention throughout. While I am not fully engaged with writing that pushes things too far out of the realm of reality, I allowed myself a little reprieve in order to entertain what Grumley wanted to pass along to his readers. There is much to learn from the story and the themes emerge throughout. A strong narrative guides the story along, layered with strong characters and realistic dialogue. Grumley uses a variety of chapter lengths to keep the reader engaged, filling them with knowledge at some points and rushing them from point to point on other occasions as well. I am intrigued with where things are headed and can only hope that Grumley has something equally as exciting to come in the next novel, for which I am reaching as I finalise this review.

Kudos, Mr. Grumley, for this intriguing perspective that gets the story going. I have many questions that I hope begin to receive answers as I push forward.

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