Credentials: An Economic Duel (Lost Book 3), by Rand McGreal

Seven stars

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

Always one eager to expand my reading horizons, I chose an ARC of this novel to see if I could make heads of tails of what Rand McGreal sought to profess. Labelled an ‘economic thriller’, McGreal explores the fast-paced world of economic policy set against the backdrop of a monetary conference hosted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Canada. A little-known economist, whose theories are controversial and not widely accepted, finds himself in the middle of a clash with the economic establishment. The clashes spill outside of the conference rooms and onto the streets of Victoria, leaving a bloody wake as some try to scrub out any competition in this cut throat world of economic policy-setting. A decent read for those who love economics and a well-crafted piece of fiction.

Peter Barrie never saw himself as a superstar in academia, but his economic theories are something he holds dear. Branding himself as a New Market economist, Barrie works at a small community college, but has made quite the stir in his recent publications, analysing and being highly critical of policies put forth by the many who espouse monetary policy. His exploration of post-disaster rebuilding and views on the government’s role in the economy leave many scowling and shaking their heads, but his obscurity has left Barrie out of too many substantial discussions on the topic.

When Barrie is asked to make the closing speech at the IMF’s conference on monetary policy, he is overjoyed. With events being held in Victoria, the provincial capital of British Columbia, Barrie prepares to attend and hopes to peddle his newly finished book as well. While his publicist is a tad leery, Barrie convinces her to attend as well, promising that there will be others at the conference who might be in need of some literary aid.

As soon as Barrie arrives, he connects with some of his fellow New Market clan, knowing they will be vastly outnumbered by the mainstream Keynesians. Barrie seeks to make his mark, but knows that he is a wanted man, both because of his views and due to the fact that he has no solid academic credentials. After befriending a Chinese economist with a long history of alternate views, Barrie tries to forge onwards and make the most of his experience at the conference.

As expected, the clashes begin from the outset, where economic viewpoints are plentiful. However, Barrie is pushed into the middle of some major skirmishes, both within the conference and on the streets of Victoria, all in hopes of hurting him, reputation and body alike. Barrie will have to rely on his wit and new-found friendships to protect him, though it may not be enough. Economists may look stuffy, but there’s a darker side when they views have been maligned, as Peter Barrie is about to discover. Rand McGreal keeps the story moving in what can only be describes as a strong economic thriller.

I will be the first to admit that economics have never been of great interest to me. That being said, I am always open to new avenues of learning, even if it is embedded in a piece of fiction. Rand McGreal certainly does add a great del of education in this piece of fiction, bandying around some strong economic theories as he develops a strong thriller narrative throughout. This is surely a piece for those who love the world of economics, or at lest understand them, though McGreal does a nice job explaining things along the way for the reader.

Peter Barrie proved to be a decent protagonist in this piece. McGreal offers up some great insight into his life and thoughts, though he does not dwell too much on personal backstory. What could be called character development is more Barrie’s ability to survive, as he is targeted numerous times for his views and sentiments. The reader can connect with Barrie easily and might even grow to admire him by the time to book comes to a close.

McGreal develops some strong secondary characters throughout the piece as well. Used not only to espouse the Keynesian theories, these others push a strong villainous agenda, offering a decent balance to Barrie’s thoughts. The reader can learn much about economics by understanding these characters, who find themselves on both sides of the argument. There is something intriguing here, though I was not drawn to any of those who graced the pages of the book. Still, it was an eye-opening experience for me to see all the perspectives on offer.

McGreal develops a great narrative from the outset, keeping the reader involved from the early pages. While there is no getting around the economics-rich writing, McGreal develops a great narrative that moves along at a decent pace. Wonderful characters and an ever-advancing plot cannot be discounted throughout the piece, even if I got lost in many of the economic discussions found herein. Using shorter chapters, the story propels ahead as the reader is educated repeatedly. McGreal uses some added pizzazz by creating press clippings to report on the progress of events in Victoria, keeping the reader feeling fully involved in the entire endeavour. While the content was not entirely to my liking, the book seemed to flow pretty well and will surely impress a specific cross-section of readers.

Kudos, Mr. McGreal, for a decent piece. I admit that I won’t be rushing out to read the other two novels in the Lost series, but I can see you know your stuff and can transmit it to those who love this genre!

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

Warning Light (Jake Keller #1), by David Ricciardi

Eight stars

Having been handed the ARC for the latest novel in this series, I thought it a great idea to read all that David Ricciardi has to offer. I do love a good spy thriller, particularly when there is a unique twist. Ricciardi presents an exciting story that is sure to pull the reader in and keep them excited throughout the reading experience. When a CIA operative finds himself aboard a passenger airline that has to make an emergency landing in Iran, it’s no major issue. Zac Miller is prepared to play the tourist, while he tries to get a better look at what the Iranians are hiding within the country. However, his innocent ‘photographing’ of the countryside raises red flags for some local officials and he is taken into custody. Vowing not to be found out, Miller is able to escape and finds a way out of the country, only to be met with new troubles when he cannot substantiate who he might be. Trying to make it back to Paris, he soon discovers that his issues are not put to rest, as he is a wanted man, with no one to vouch for him. A stunning series debut that has surely caught my attention and has me wanting to delve deeper.

Zac Miller is a CIA operative who’s been called into duty at the last moment. He leaves Paris en route to Singapore, sitting on a commercial airliner as it travels across Asia. When the plane is forced to make an emergency landing in Iran, things definitely take a turn for the local authorities, who do not want any visuals made of their military capabilities. However, once the plane lands, Miller and the other passengers deplane and spend time waiting to be collected for the next leg of their journey. The airliner’s emergency landing may not have been all that innocent after all, and Miller has been tasked with using his time wisely to help his superiors. Using his time to capture some of the local scenery, Miller does his duty before making his way back to to the airport to await news of what is to come.

When the Iranians take time to question Miller about who he is and what he’s been doing, he pleads innocence and refuses to admit to being anything other than a passenger. Howeever, someone is on to him and the local authorities try to be as persuasive as possible to extract some admissions. Torture and various threats are issues, but nothing comes of it, as Miller holds firm, vowing to get out of there in one piece. When the chance arises, he flees and travels across the countryside, in hopes of making it out of the country and back to safety, armed with details the Americans will need to know soon.

While Miller sets his sights on the UAE, the Iranians have tried to cover their antics and place a ‘plant’ on the outgoing airliner, in hopes of smoothing everything over and ensuring that no one is the wiser. It seems to work for the time being, but they will have to find Miller before he is able to reveal what he’s discovered. As Miller arrives inside the UAE, he is able to steal a boat and hopes to check in with the American authorities. However, he’s captured again, due to his lack of Agency finesse, and brought it for more questioning, which only leaves him even more troubled than before.

Making another harrowed escape, Millier will have to get back to Paris to ensure his protection. Little does he know, someone’s framed him for murder there and the authorities are looking for him. The one person he was sure he could trust is no longer sure of his innocence. He will have to clear his name, if he can make it there alive. Zac Miller is holding onto an explosive piece of information, but it will mean nothing if he cannot make it somewhere safe. David Ricciardi offers a stunning piece with a character that could be called the new Jason Bourne. Perfect for those who love the genre and need a little pep to keep them going.

There’s nothing like a debut novel to really provide the reader with something to judge and David Ricciardi does that repeatedly here. This aptly titled novel does offer a warning light to readers that there is a new author ready to stun fans of the style and perhaps rise to the top before too long. Ricciardi has all the elements I sought and kept me hooked throughout, even as things did get a little far-fetched on some occasions.

I enjoyed the development of the Zac Miller character and am eager to see how he progresses, should he return in Ricciardi’s second novel. While he knows what he is tasked with doing, Miller is surely out of his element in this piece and is trying to stay one step ahead of those who would destroy him. There may be little personal backstory injected into the narrative, but it leaves much room for subsequent novels, where the other side of Zac Miller could come to light. I am intrigued and curious to see what the series will bring, including returning characters and larger story arcs.

The cast of secondary characters did well to keep the story moving. From the keen-eyed passenger sitting next to Miller on their flight into Iran, through to the military and police officials across other countries who had the CIA officer on their radars. The attention to detail was present and kept me wanting a little more, never letting me down throughout the process. I am intrigued to see if there will be some returning faces as I get deeper into this series, hoping to find some links that will build as the novels progress.

The story was strong and help my attention throughout. I did enjoy the early Jason Bourne novels and this has that same feel, though one can hope that Ricciardi will not allow things to stray too much and turn things into a repeated game of cat and mouse. I love action, but I also need some progression in my writing, something that Ricciardi has done to date. The mix of chapter lengths kept me wanting to read a little more, if only to discover what awaited the protagonist. I am happy to keep reading, so that I can get to the aforementioned ARC that awaits me. Let’s see what’s to come and who might appear.

Kudos, Mr. Ricciardi, for a stunning series debut. I am surprised that this is your first novel and cannot wait to see what else this series will bring.

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

Echo (Breakthrough #6), by Michael C. Grumley

Eight stars

Michael C. Grumley has taken series readers on quite the adventure, positing much in the realm of science, sci fi, and even evolutionary beliefs. In what started as an attempt to bridge the communicative gap between humans and dolphins, Grumley has used the series to connect on a deeper level with where it all began and what influences may have been present, as well as how human evolution may have included species never thought part of the mix. With the IMIS team still using a cloak of secrecy, one of the senior members of the US administration is killed, perhaps for what he knows. John Clay and Steve Caesare are asked to look into it, only to discover that someone has been working to develop a powerful and unstoppable force that could make America more of a superpower. While Alison Shaw continues to work with her dolphins, she learns that they have more of a communicative interest than first imagined, about a vast array of topics and in much depth. When news that the next piece of the evolutionary puzzle exists in Europe, the team travels there, only to discover that it is much more complicated than at first glance. Another stellar piece of fiction with hidden truths the reader will have to decipher for themselves. Grumley is amazing and makes it all come together seamlessly. Series fans will love this newest instalment, though I would caution no one to use this as a starting point, as they will be completely flummoxed.
The fact that the IMIS team has been able to keep their missions and abilities to speak with other species completely secret is surely baffling to many. Through the use of a complex computer program, speaking to dolphins and, more recently, gorillas, has helped reveal some of the evolutionary truths that humans had yet to realise. However, when a senior official in the US Government is murdered, there are concerns that the truth may have leaked out and things could go sideways. It will be up to former Navy SEALS John Clay and Steve Caesare to get to the bottom of it all.
After following a few leads, it would appear that someone has been using some of the revelations and technological discoveries to create a super soldier, one who can not only withstand a great deal of injury, but also morph its DNA to better adapt to any situation. While the early tests have not been entirely successful, there is one out there, seeking some form of retribution on those who did them wrong.
All the while, marine biologist Alison Shaw continues to work with her dolphins, Dirk and Sally, as well as many others, trying to learn more about their intelligence and the evidence of an alien presence over the past millennia, leaving clues to the originis of Earth and species evolution. Shaw, having seen the magic of the life-enhancing substance the aliens left behind, seeks to use her connection with the dolphins to understand the narrative they offer, as she crafts a better understanding of human existence and where things are meant to go. 
Sally and Dirk appear to have a larger interest, seeking to interact with Li Na, a Chinese teenager who was given an injection of the alien substance and whose abilities seem heightened. The curiosity to seek communion with Li Na has Alison wondering what her dolphins know or wish to understand. Li Na herself has been showing some odd premonitions, things that show a cognitive connection to other species that is, as yet, completely misunderstood by the scientific community.
After Clay and Caesare return from their mission, they are told that the next piece of the alien narrative lies in a small European city, one that houses a relic that could help explain the evolutionary story. Travelling first to France and then to the African continent, Clay leads a team to uncover some old religious and historical artifacts, only to become more confused along the way. While the truth is out there, it is certainly not in plain sight. With moments of intense adventure and others of contemplation, this is another piece in Michael C. Grumley’s series that will have readers wondering and demanding more. The final novel in the series (as I was led to believe)? One can hope not, as there is much yet to be understood! Michael C. Grumley keeps the reader on the edge of their seat while crafting a collection of detailed novels where complex plots are the only thing that can be assured. The simple idea of inter-species communication has ballooned into something much more complicated, yet also highly intriguing for those who are patient and can handle a little science fiction with their thrills. This is yet another book that pushes the limits of the reader’s imagination, weaving together some portions that may be a tad fanciful with a great deal of history and science to keep the mind spinning. The narrative is ever-evolving and advancing, which adds another spark to the series and keeps me coming back for more. Keeping track of everything may be a little much for the reader seeking a superficial read, but those who want adventure and to think as they flip pages, this is a series perfectly catered to your desires.
Grumley has does a wonderful job in developing his key characters throughout the series, adding depth to their personalities, as well as roles. There is a great deal of development as it relates to the larger narrative and where each character fits, but the personal connections between those who grace the pages of the book are not forgotten. Friendships, romance, and even some deeper banter create a wonderful contrast to the struggle for understanding of the larger human evolution theme that the series presents. Grumley has found the perfect balance and those readers who like to enjoy their characters will find the author has not skimped when it comes to that part of the series advancement.
Rather than focusing on secondary characters here, I thought I would mention that Grumley has been able to effectively push history, science, and philosophical thought in the novel, which has also been present in the entire series. The reader cannot sit idly by, flipping pages, and hope to absorb all that the book has to offer. There is a strong ‘active reading’ expectation, though the benefits pay off exponentially for those who invest themselves. While not written in a highly technical manner, there is a lot to digest and comprehend, pulling on threads from past plots and novels. The story is ever-advancing, but requires acute attention to detail to understand things properly. Fair warning to readers (though, by this point, one should have read the previous five novels to understand 99% of what I have written).
Grumley has ensured that the narrative advances continually for those who seek action and thrills in their reading experience, peppering in the science and history needed to illicit some ‘aha’ moments. The strong characters continue to reveal themselves in new and exciting ways, but do not impede the larger narrative as it relates to science, technology, or evolution. While there are some eye-rolling moments, I was able to set those aside and completely lose myself in the writing, which never leaves the reader feeling less than enthused by what is presented. Puritanical readers may want to stay away, as Grumley has created a more… realistic presentation of dialogue, which does include the odd naughty word. This is a strong series and keeps the reader thinking, begging to better understand where we (humans) came from and what connection we have with other species on more than a superficial level.

Kudos, Mr. Grumley, for another stunning read. While rumours that this was the final novel made it to me, I am prepared to retract that statement, as much remains unsolved! I cannot wait to see what you have to say next.

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

Mosaic (Breakthrough #5), by Michael C. Grumley

Eight stars

This series by Michael C. Grumley uses his captivating narrative to keep exploring the world of life beyond humans and how our evolution is strongly tied to the animals around us. Peppering in a little science fiction alongside his strong plots, Grumley transports the reader on a journey like no other. Gathering up the threads from past novels, this story pushes ahead in many facets. Alison Shaw continues to make amazing discoveries alongside her two trusty dolphins, leading to some interesting revelations off the coast of Trinidad. A young gorilla and capuchin monkey shed much light on life in Africa for another biologist, keen to see new parallels between humans and other species. All the while, a young Chinese girl holds a powerful secret inside her, one that could revolutionize the understanding of inter-species communication and connectivity. Packed with action, there is little time for the reader to catch their breath. Meant solely for series fans (as there is no way one could pick this book up as a standalone), Grumley does a masterful job filling in the gaps and creating new ones for those who seek more.

The IMIS system is getting to be quite the commodity, especially as other agencies learn that communication between humans and animals (dolphins and gorillas for the time being) is possible. Marine biologist Alison Shaw and her team see the perils and choose to hide it as best they can, while still honing its power to the best of their abilities. Shaw is able to work with Sally and Dirk, her trusted dolphins, learning more about them and some of the hierarchy that exist. This includes a special dolphin who appears to exhibit a number of powerful traits, all of which baffle Shaw to no end.

Off the coast of Trinidad, the team has discovered a portal left on the ocean floor by other beings. They seek to better understand it and try probing deep inside, only to have an accident cost the safety of a team member. Deemed lost, everyone gives up hope, but the dolphins know otherwise and communicate a plan to help extract the missing team member, in hopes of turning disaster into something positive.

Meanwhile, young Li Na is still recovering from the injection her father gave her, which appears to have instilled a number of strong powers into her body, not the least of which is youth and a strong connection to the animals around her. However, such power comes at a consequence and she is kidnapped again, in hopes that someone will be able to use those powers for their own good. Li Na and her fellow captive must wrest control away from the kidnappers before they become disposable in the eyes of everyone.

On the African continent, a young gorilla, Dulce, and capuchin monkey have opened the eyes of their handler to many new connections with humans. It would appear that other mammals hold keys to human evolution, some of which have been out there and never connected over the centuries. There is surely so much more to understand about animals that has not been discovered, making these small steps only the start of a powerful journey for everyone to enjoy.

As the actions ramps up and truths are revealed at every turn, Grumley takes readers on a journey that is as intense as it is masterful. I cannot say enough about the books and the story, thought they are not for the feint of heart. This series gets better the further one explores, though the intensity is also something that must be balanced. So much is going on that I have almost come to need a flowchart to keep it all straight.

Michael C. Grumley keeps developing highly-detailed novels whose complex plots are becoming harder to digest without full concentration. What began as a ‘novel’ concept has exploded into a powerful series that requires all my attention to understand how the pieces come together effectively. The books push the limits of science and social interactions, while also being highly entertaining and completely educational. Still, there are some readers who bemoan the literary freedoms used to keep the story moving. While I never expected to be, I am addicted to the plots where there is a great deal of action. I find myself listening particularly closely to the science, in hopes of understanding at least some of it, but am also accepting much of what I read, as I cannot parse some of the ideas into reality and complete fiction. Grumley has discovered a great recipe of fully engaging his readers and I cannot fault him at all.

The book again offers fans of the series a glimpse into the lives of many characters familiar to them throughout. While things began with only a few sharing the limelight, there are now more than can be effectively hashed out in a review. I will say that I thoroughly enjoy how Grumley balances character development within the plot, while also adding some personal growth as well. This is important, as it is not always running and shooting and scientific discovery, but personal connections that keep these characters relatable.

There are some interesting developments in the animal world as well. Grumley has used some of the narrative to add personality to those who are not humans. The reader can connect and feel that personal growth of the likes of Sally, Dirk, and even Dulce. It’s a wonderful sight to see me looking to know more about these types of characters as well, showing that Grumley has taken the time to make them more than simply add-ons to the story for the reader to see as mere ‘pets’.

Grumley has kept the story strong yet again and has many ideas flowing together, which bridges the novels effectively. The narrative advances at a clipped pace and keeps the reader wondering where things are headed. There are numerous moments of education for the scientific aspects of the plot, with a great deal of humour peppered throughout. Grumley does not make this an easy or light read, though it is thorough educational and opened my eyes (and mind) numerous times. As mentioned above, there is great character development, both through the narrative and dialogue. Grumley uses this to craft characters the reader will surely enjoy. That being said, some will bemoan the ‘natural language’ that begins creeping into the text. While sex and gratuitous violence are not present, I admit, the odd salty word makes an appearance, though it seems to fit the context well and is not overdone, for puritanical lovers of the series. Grumley again uses a mix of chapter lengths to engage the reader well into staying up well into the night. This being the penultimate novel in the series (so I am told), there is much to be resolved in the final novel.

Kudos, Mr. Grumley, for another strong read. I cannot wait to see where you end things with this stunning series.

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

The Truth about Lies: The Illusion of Honesty and the Evolution of Deceit, by Aja Raden

Nine stars

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

Everyone lies! Let’s get that out of the way before we get any further. Aja Raden sets out to explore the world of lies that seems to have woven its way into our moral fabric, offering the reader some insight in to why we lie, how it has become commonplace, and what lies have become supposed truths over the centuries. While she attempts to divide the types of lies into three categories, she is able to show that some lies have turned to accepted truths, though many are oblivious to the fact that will is constantly being pulled over their eyes. With straightforward writing and insightful research, Raden provides the reader with a great exploration of how truth and lies are interconnected on so many levels.

Raden uses the first part of the book to explore the world of lies and swindles that some have used to tell others. Her example of a man travelling from Europe to ‘settle’ a territory in the Americas, only to sell tracts to unwitting people shows that some people will believe something because it is so far-fetched that it must have a grain of reality. Raden hashes out how and why people believe these types of large-scale cons, explaining that the extravagance is too large to trick people, so it must be true. Yet, people fall for the cons each and every time because they are hard-wired to trust in others. Shell games, where someone is to guess the location of a pea under a shell, are also prime examples of putting trust in others. The expectation is that one of the shells will hold the sought after pea, while in reality, a sleight of hand means that none of the shells possesses the item in the long run. Trust and deception are intertwined here, providing the con artist the greatest advantage throughout.

The book continues by exploring the large-scale world of deception of the masses through lies, deception, and guilt. Raden uses some wonderful examples, the greatest of which is the promotion of medications of all sorts. The reader learns of the origins of ‘snake oil salesman’ and how the masses are duped into trusting that their ailments can be cured with one item of another. Scientific studies show the effect of placebos to the individual, debunking the need for the miracle cure if the personal inherently trusts that what they are putting in their mouths (or elsewhere) is the cure all. This can be extrapolated to the world of televangelism, where the only path os the one used by the speaker on the television, whose needs to ‘save’ are wrapped in a pricy donation. People fall for this because they cannot see past the wonders of salvation or healing, however dubious or backwards it may look on the outside.

Raden’s final section tackles the topic of lies on the grandest scale, the con, where it is society who is the targeted victim of falsehoods. Using platforms of media and mass information distribution, Raden shows how there are certain soapboxes that have been used to push an idea to the masses, all in the hopes of spreading a falsehood that is so vast that it seems real. While many readers may have lived through the time where #fakenews was a daily cry, Raden explores what it means and how it works, amongst other areas of societal duping. She also offers the reader insight into how to create a great con by insisting that lies can be used, brick by brick, to create a false truth that everyone seems to follow. Fascinating throughout and definitely perplexing when put in those terms.

I do enjoy a mix in my reading, usually to keep me on my toes and my brain sharpened to some of the non-fiction topics of the day. Aja Raden did a masterful job presenting this piece as being one that is not only relevant, but also highly intriguing. The psychology, sociology, and plain history that emerges from the pages of this book are not over simplified, but used effectively to keep the reader learning at every page turn. With a strong narrative, peppered with some saltiness to lighten the mood, Raden offers a wonderfully relatable piece that will keep the rewards enthused and laughing in equal measure. Lies have a way of pulling people in, wanting to see where they were duped and how others fell for something so simplistic (in hindsight). Raden does this perfectly and kept me wanting to know more. Quite the book, sure to pique the interest of many. My only question…how much of it was true?!

Kudos, Madam Raden, for a great piece. You had me hooked from the opening pages and I learned more than I thought I could on one (vast) topic. I cannot wait to get my hands on your other book, which I hope is just as informative.

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