Glide, by Alison Jean Lester

Six stars

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

I always enjoy discovering new authors, something that comes with the territory as an active book reviewer. When asked to read the latest piece by Alison Jean Lester, I obliged, keeping an open mind and sense of curiosity. The novel explores human connection on a variety of levels, including how deep it can run, even with the impediment of memory loss. Lester leaves much for the reader to consider throughout.

Leo is excited that his wife, Liv, will soon be home from her trip to Norway and has been preparing for her arrival. It’s also Liv’s birthday, something else to celebrate. When a knock comes at the door, Leo finds himself face to face with Morten, Liv’s half-brother. Not wanting to appear rude, Lee invites Morten inside and they await Liv’s return. All the while, Leo cannot shake that he has heard nothing about Morten in all the time Liv has been in his life.

When Liv is delayed for unknown reasons, Leo and Morten get to know one another a little better and take some time to travel around New England, a day trip that proves somewhat fruitful. The days pass, and still no Liv, though she does call and leave a message that she will be home soon. Leo is still unsure what’s going on, as this does not seem to be the wife he’s known.

When Liv does arrive back in Boston, she has no memory of anything, unsure what’s happened to her. Leo takes her in for some tests and discovers that it is some form of amnesia. It could take days or weeks to rectify things, but Leo will not give up. This may explain the oddities, though Leo is determined to get all the pieces back in order as soon as possible.

Due to her memory loss, Liv knows nothing about Morten, which is to be expected. However, something seems off and Leo cannot entirely put his finger on it. During an explosive moment of memory regeneration, Liv is able to connect the dots and remembers Morten, though not as he has presented himself. It’s up to Leo to synthesise it all and determine what’s going on, as well as how best to move forward. It is only then that Leo learns the truth about Morten and how significantly this man has disturbed things.

There is no doubt that Alison Jean Lester can write, as her story flowed fairly well throughout. The premise was strong and kept me intrigued throughout. It is a well-paced story set in Boston, with strong Norwegian undertones throughout. Lester leans on this at times, keeping the reader wondering how strong the European connection will be to the overall reading experience.

Leo remains the protagonist throughout, discovering much about himself and those around him. He struggles with a past that is full of peaks and valleys, though is also trying to come to terms with much in his present life, things that he could not have expected to experience. Slowly, he comes to terms with these bumps in the road, though it is not entirely clear how well he can cope with too many unknowns floating around him.

The story moved along well, keeping the reader entertained as the narrative gained some momentum at various spots. The twists and plot reveals kept things from being too predictable, though there were no gasping moments in my opinion. With decent characters and a clearer plot line, I cannot fault Lester on her efforts. However, the entire experience came off as a little too folksy for me. Perhaps I am too used to cutting edge thrillers and mysteries that offer grit, but it lacked some chilling drama that the pretence of the story left available. Things seemed too calm and docile, particularly when the revelations that come to the surface. There was a moment in the latter portion of the book, but it, too, fizzled into a form of resolution before too long. Again, that could be on me, though I was hoping for something a little more intense and chilling, rather than gliding from one revelation to another, if you pardon the pun.

Kudos, Madam Lester, on a well-written piece. I hope others take note and enjoy the twists you embed into your writing.

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

Crimson Lake Road (Desert Plains #2), by Victor Methos

Eight stars

Victor Methos is back with another explosive legal thriller that pits a sharp prosecutor against a killer whose penchant for art is likely only surpassed by the outward unlikelihood of their being capable of the crime. Methos knows how to tell a story, which is apparent yet again, keeping the reader on the edge of their seats throughout this piece, set in the heart of Nevada.

Having done all she feels is possible as a US Attorney, Jessica Yardley has decided to retire, or at least take on a new position elsewhere. However, all that is put on hold when the body of a woman is found, mutilated. The eerie nature of the scene is heightened when it’s discovered to replicate an African artist’s painting.

A month later, one of Yardley’s own friends is attacked and barely escapes alive, likely a potential victim of the same killer. As the case mounts, a suspect emerges, one Dr. Michael Zachary. Yardley agrees to prosecute the case and begins putting everything together, even though Zachary is a pillar of the community. The evidence does not lie, at least as far as Yardley’s concerned.

Pitted against a young and stellar defence attorney, Yardley will have to do everything she can to ensure a win, including consult her ex-husband, a serial killer himself, to get insight into how a murderer thinks. If this is the only way to ensure success, Yardley’s not past take that route. When the case takes a significant turn, Yardley begins to second-guess her choice to lead the prosecution, but it’s too late to bow out now.

Victor Methos is one of those authors whose books I stumbled upon quite by accident. It only took me a few chapters of the first book to realise that this was an author I could easily come to enjoy ad I have keep my eyes open for his work ever since. Methos mixes stellar narrative work building a strong crime before turning things over to the courtroom, where the real magic happens. Those who enjoy that mix of crime and legal ramification will thoroughly enjoy this piece by Victor Methos.

Jessica Yardley plays a central and intriguing role in this novel. Balancing work as a US Attorney with being the mother to a mathematical genius, Yardley’s life is never dull. Add to that, her ex-husband was convicted and is serving time for serial murder. The reader can see great character development throughout, with the odd foible here and there, as well as some backstory related to a time in life when things were simpler. Methos does well with his protagonist and keeps the reader wanting more.

The recipe for a great legal thriller is to have the reader feel the need for intervention through the commission of a crime or wrong and then taking the story through the courts to show how it can be adjudicated, not always turning out as expected. Methos does that well and keeps the reader wondering what legal twists await as the case progresses. While there appears to be a slam-dunk case here, nothing is guaranteed. The strong narrative pushes things along and thickens the plot, while the handful of key characters breathe energy into the story. Working a few subplots into the larger story, Methos keeps the reader’s mind always spinning and wonderful what awaits them. Highly entertaining, to say the least!

Kudos, Mr. Methos, for another great legal thriller. I cannot wait to see what else you have in store for fans.

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

Old Blood (DI Jamie Johansson #3), by Morgan Greene

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Morgan Greene for providing me with a copy of this novel, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Picking up immediately after the last novel came to a screeching halt, Morgan Greene provides readers with an explosive continuation to this stunning series. DI Jamie Johansson has grown so much in the past two novels (as well as her prequel trilogy) that series fans can only wonder what she will do with some of the news she garnered while almost dying in the middle of the ocean. Greene writes so fluidly that it is hard to believe that he’s not Scandinavian himself. A chilling piece series fans have come to expect!

DI Jamie Johansson has so many questions after almost dying, many of them related to a powerful and secretive organisation that may be responsible for killing her father. As Johansson prepares her next move, she must come to terms that Imperium Holdings will stop at nothing to remain in the shadows, even if that means killing those who pose a risk.

Forced to take on a new partner, DI Johansson struggles with this, as well as the apparent suicide of her superior officer, something that stinks of Imperium intervention. While she appears indifferent, Johansson wants nothing more than to race out and pull back the curtain on this group.

After losing her position within Stockholm Polis, Johansson begins her covert mission, travelling to other parts of Scandinavia. She’s immediately targeted, but it only lights a new fire under her to get answers before she can be snuffed out as well. Working an angle in Norway, Johansson pairs up with some unlikely individuals to try getting to the core of the Imperium organisation. It is only then that Jamie Johansson learns how deep and wide the group has become and what secrets they hold in their possession.

I remember stumbling upon the first novel in the prequel series, hoping that Morgan Greene would be as talented an author as some of the early hype led me to believe. I could not get enough of Jamie Johansson, who was working within the Met, and I soon became addicted to the series. When things moved to Sweden, as newly-promoted DI Jamie Johansson was seconded while she looked into her father’s apparent suicide, I became even more obsessed and Morgan Greene was one of my newest favourite authors. His writing moves from being well-crafted police procedurals to ranking right up there with some of the great Scandinavian noir authors I have had the pleasure to read. This guy is the real deal for sure!

DI Jamie Johansson has come a long way in these three books (as well as the prequel trilogy), both on a personal and professional level. Her attention to detail is matched with a grittiness that will not permit her to ignore a lead. Able to hold her own, Johansson sometimes has a difficult time following direction, but it is usually because she is determined not to let evil win again. I can only imagine where this series will take her, or what else Greene has in store for his protagonist, but I am eager to be a part of the journey.

For those who have read a number of Scandinavian noir novels, especially those that have been translated, there is a sense of fluidity to the narrative. I often comment that I am baffled that the likes of Jo Nesbø, Søren and Lotte Hammer, and Jørn Lier Horst can write so easily in another language and have their translated work come across as smoothly. Greene follows in their footsteps, without the need for a translator, telling complex stories in plot-heavy novels and keeping the reader thoroughly captivated until the final page turn. Not only is the narrative strong, but there are great characters, a strong sense of forward momentum, and powerful story arcs that do not fizzle at the end of the novel. Greene can tell a story but always leave the reader thirsty for more, something that I have found since discovering his work in October 2020. This is one author worthy of putting on your radar, if you have not already.

Kudos, Mr. Greene, for another stunning novel. It’s only been a year, but I am eager to see what the next twelve months of reading your work will do to me!

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

Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law, by Mary Roach

Nine stars

Any reader who stumbles upon the work of Mary Roach may begin by being baffled, but is soon enthralled to learn some of these little-known scientific discoveries or actions being taken around the world. In this latest book, Roach explores the world of animals and their ‘bothersome activities’, as well as how humans have come to react. While it may seem odd at first, once the reader gets into the book, it becomes apparent what has been going on, even if some of the human reactions are unique or downright far-fetched. Peppering the narrative with great editorialising and some humour, Roach pens another winner that will educate while entertaining the curious reader.

Murder is rampant in the animal kingdom, and not just among animals. Roach uses the first few chapters of her book to explore how animals and humans have come to collide and the results when humans straw the short straw. From bears roaming around in forests and mountain ranges in Canada to trampling elephants in rural India, animals have taken their share of victims over the last number of years. It’s such an issue that there are reactionary teams tasked with tracking down the offending animals and, at times relocating them, though capital punishment is not always off the table as well. Human-animal interactions have long occurred outside the traditional hunting mindset and the results, when humans are not properly equipped, can be downright devastating.

Roach also takes readers on an interesting exploration of how smaller animals, fowl and four-legged, have caused havoc in a variety of ways. From flying buzzards who end up in the engines of planes to small rodents who target farmers’ fields, Roach documents the ways in which animals have come to become more of a pest than their beauty offsets. While she cannot always surmise a rational reason, she shows that there are many scientists working around the world to study or offer countermeasures, some of which are truly alarming, if you pardon the pun. Part human invasion on animal terrain, part curiosity on the part of creatures, Roach has the reader chuckling as they push through these chapters with glee.

Discussion of humane ways in which humans have come to rid themselves of these pests is at the forefront of the discussion, though Roach saves it for the latter chapters. While the types of reactionary measures humans have when ‘pushing back’ against anima,s is almost inexhaustible, there has to be a degree of humanity, so as not to turn culling into torture. Roach takes the time to explore this, from use of glue traps to tasers designed to stun an animal. Technology has allowed a number of new products to flood the market, many of which take humanity into account. However, there are still those who prefer the ways of their ancestors, which may include arcane items sure to kill or mortally maim an animal and send it into agony for the hours it will take to succumb. Another perspective few take into account, but a formidable area for education.

As with many of her other books, Roach presents her findings in a serious manner, while added some frivolity to the experience. This helps offset some of the darker or more troubling sections of the narrative, as well as permitting many readers to visualise that which they have not seen before. Roach writes in such a way that the narrative becomes a well-painted picture of what she is trying to express. Organising her findings in clear chapters helps to keep the reader engaged without drowning in too many details. Still, there’s something to be said about how vast the subject matter proves to be, as Roach is able to fill her book with anecdotes and lived experiences, not simply research she culled from books over the years. With a light-hearted presentation, Roach has made yet another reading experience one that I enjoyed and left me wondering where she will take readers next. Wherever that might be, I am happy to have a front row seat!

Kudos, Madam Roach, for another stellar exploration on some of the lesser-known scientific areas of everyday life. I applaud you for your efforts and cannot recommend you enough to the curious reader.

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

Mirror (Alex Madison #3), by Adam Southward

Eight stars

The work of Adam Southward is both chilling and addictive, as I have come to discover with the first two books in this series. There is more than the ‘thrill of the hunt’ found within the pages, as Southward explores things on a psychological level, educating the reader on the nuances of the human mind and how little we know about its true workings. The story is strong and pulls the reader in, while discussing some of the most horrid ways humans treat one another, using depravation and abuse to instil control. A dark, yet captivating, read for any reader willing to take the plunge.

When Eva Jansen disappears from a psychiatric ward, no one takes notice, not only because she is simply a patient, but because her records have been expunged from the system. The history of the woman is known to few, but those who notice are assured that there is something sinister going on.

A covert meeting with a nurse from the ward with forensic psychologist, Alex Madison, yields many questions and concerns. Madison wonders about what is going on within the walls of that facility, especially when he discovers one of the doctors has been overseeing the release of a number of female patients before their treatment is complete. Madison also learns that Eva possesses a unique ability to read minds, pulling thoughts to the surface that are buried deep inside.

All this pique’s Madison’s interest, as it sounds a great deal like a criminal group he’s been chasing for years, with deep pockets and connections around the globe. Madison’s worked previous cases of people with mind controlling abilities. Might Eva be in their hands, her abilities a weapon that could be more useful than a crate of guns or an unstable chemical?

A number of events lead Madison to feel he’s being watched and his family is in danger. He must get to Eva before something horrible happens, particularly as he is one of the few who is aware of what’s happened. Working with a group of police officials, they follow a lead to Spain, where Madison learns that Eva is an item in a highly secretive auction that disperses women and girls to the highest bidder around the world. It’s a race to get answers and free Eva before she disappears for good.

Adam Southward is able to pull the reader into the middle of his stories with such ease, painting a vivid picture with a simple narrative. While some may applaud this feat, it must be noted that the images conjured up from the story are rarely uplifting or positive in nature. There is a true sense of depravity throughout, but the underlying attempt to help sweeps away the utter despair that serves as a theme throughout.

Many of the characters who appear throughout are well-constructed and serve a purpose. Fans of the series will know Alex Madison well and the struggles that he has had to endure, from addiction to marital strain and trying to connect with a daughter who is able to love and despise him in equal measure. Madison’s character develops well throughout, complemented by many of those who surround him throughout the different points of the book. Eva Jansen, suffering her own horrible life, offers up some intriguing backstory and development, though some might see a degree of regression as well, particularly in the latter portion of the novel. The author does an amazing job at portraying the characters in such a way that the plot is regularly enhanced.

Southward uses some excellent scientific and psychological angles to serve as underlying themes throughout the book, some of which Alex Madison comprehends, while others are mysteries that appear in some of the darker portions of the narrative. The story flows well and moves along with ease, aided by chapters that educate the reader while propelling things in a forward direction. There is so much to take in, from the struggle Madison has with his ongoing desire to topple the criminal organisation through to the treatment of Eva and many others, leaving the reader to try to keep pace. Not your typical ‘quick read psych thriller’, but maybe that’s for the best!

Kudos, Mr. Southward, for another stellar novel. I marvel at how much I absorbed throughout this reading experience.

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:

The Last Days of John Lennon, by James Patterson, Casey Sherman, and Dave Wedge

Nine stars

While I have struggled with James Patterson’s writing for a number of years, there are times that he comes up with a gem, this book being one example of that. While it strays from his usual fare, Patterson has collaborated with Casey Sherman and Dave Wedge to pen a non-fiction piece about John Lennon and the Beatles. The authors pull together a succinct, yet comprehensive, history of the group, with a primary focus on Lennon, documenting his rise to fame and tragic murder in December 1980. Easy to digest and packed full of exciting details, this is a great book for those who love all things Beatles or those, such as myself, who know little but have always been curious.

The book takes readers as far back as the early days when found Liverpudlian youths were jamming around and trying to make music. It was the 1950s and society had yet to catch-up to the new craze of rock n’ roll, with many clubs and the older generation passing it off as scandalous and even devilish. The authors explore how these four boys came together to make music and solidified the new sound to appeal to the younger generation.

As the book progresses, the rise of Beatlemania takes over and many of their key moments are explored, both within the music scene and through their personal lives. The authors present a wonderful summary, getting into just enough detail to leave the reader wanting more. It is understandable how these four young men swept the world with their own style of music and how it captivated their fans in a variety of ways.

There is no shortage of post-Beatle exploration, particularly how the overpowering Yoko Ono arrived on the scene and all but led to the end of the group. However, it is not that simple, as the authors argue within the pages of this piece. The attentive reader will see the breadcrumbs and follow everything that happened to bring this about, culminating in four solo careers.

An eerie moment throughout the book are the short chapters focussed on December 1980, where Mark Chapman is plotting what he will do to John Lennon. While not entirely clear most of the time, Chapman has his reasons and impetus to target Lennon, as well as a piece of literature to fuel his fantasies. This is a great mix within the larger narrative and provides the reader a wonderful balance between what is going on and how it will all come to an end. I enjoyed the mix and its foreboding made the book even better.

While I am no music aficionado, I have often wondered about the history of the Beatles. Trying to comb through documents to see how they came to be, rose to power, and came crashing down all appealed to me, as well as some of the underlying commentary related to Mark Chapman. The narrative flow was perfect, offering just enough information to pique my interest, though not drowning the reader with dates, details, and name dropping as well. Short chapters offer that Patterson tease that fans of his work are used to seeing, pushing the larger story along. Well-rounded and full of interesting moments about which I had no idea helped keep me connected to the piece and wanting to learn more, at my own pace. I’m happy that I took the time to explore this book and everything I took away from the experience.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson, Sherman, and Wedge. Your investigative work with this piece really caught my attention. This is a great collaborative team for non-fiction, investigative writing.

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

Should We Change How We Vote?: Evaluating Canada’s Electoral System, edited by Andrew Potter, Daniel Weinstock, and Peter Loewen

Nine stars

As Canadians head to the polls to cast ballots for their federal representatives, I thought it apt to take some time and sharpen my mind with an academic discussion of voting in Canada. This book is a collaborative effort and amassed a number of short essays on voting in Canada, presented at two conferences in the fall of 2016. While the discussion is robust, the attentive reader will not find a definitive decision within, but rather the theme that many speak of electoral reform, but no one can clearly take the leap. While strong on the ‘academic flavour’ it is a good read for those with a passion for the subject.

The impetus for such a book (and the essays within) came from a 2015 campaign promise by the Liberal Party of Canada that, should they win, it would be the final election fought under Single-Member Plurality (‘first part the post’ in the vernacular). However, as soon as the party ascended to power, they completed a half-hearted effort before shelving it. While discussion surrounding electoral change is nothing new in Canada, actual serious consideration at a legislative level has been far from resonating.

The collection of essays within explore the current electoral system used in Canada, while also touching on many of the alternatives, most popularly Proportional Representation, Single Transferable Vote, and Alternate Vote. So as not to cause readers of the review to suffer severe eye glazing, I will not delve into the specifics, but I surmise that many who enjoy this type of reading will know the systems well.

Arguments surrounding the feasibility or desirability of changing from our current system are plentiful, with some academics exploring that there is more to the discussion than simple ‘fairness for all’. Constitutional discussions arise, as do those about how ‘fair’ and stable an alternative might be to creating a government that could serve effectively and keep Canada on track. While this area of Canadian politics has long been something I enjoyed, new and intriguing discussions arose, making me think again about some of my foundational thoughts about electoral reform.

The collection is a great cross-section of thoughts, ideas, and perspectives when it comes to elections in Canada and the need for reform. Nothing is entirely clear-cut, especially in a country as diverse and cleaved as Canada. While the country strives for strong, majority governments, there is something to be said for those who must rely on the support of other parties, ensuring a larger support base across the country.

At the time of posting this review, Canada awaits news of its 2021 General Election, with the likelihood of another minority Parliament. I sit here, working at one of the polling stations, where single-member plurality is being used. I will continue to follow the discussion on electoral reform at all levels of government and keenly read about many of the options and possibilities that arise. Democracy at its best when people can cast a ballot, even if some feel certain ballots offer a muted result. If you have not fallen asleep reading this yet, you likely know to what I refer.

Kudos, contributors of all stripes, for opening my eyes to all the possibilities when it comes to electoral reform in Canada. I’m sure the discussion will be long, divisive, and varied.

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

The Red Book (Black Book #2), by James Patterson and David Ellis

Eight stars

I admit that I have have struggled with James Patterson’s writing for a number of years, as books appear for sale faster than anything I have ever seen. Quality suffers, but money surely flows into the Patterson bank accounts, causing those who respect a good book to feel a slight offence. Whenever Patterson works alongside David Ellis, the quality appears high and there stories rise above many of the other novels that adorn the Patterson name. This was another stunner, keeping the reader gripped until things come to an abrupt halt in the closing chapters, resonating long after putting the book aside. Ellis surely makes it clear that some Patterson collaborations are worth a second look!

Detective Billy Harney has been through a great deal over the last while and all he wants is a strong distraction. He’s pulled into the Chicago PD’s Special Operations Section (SOS), an elite group that looks to bring hope to a city that has been ravaged by crime and corruption. It’s a start, and after many of the things that Harvey has seen, it’s just what the doctor’s ordered.

After a drive-by shooting on a known drug corner leaves a woman dead, Harney is keen to use his position on the SOS to help find answers, some of which are deeply seeded in politics, something on which Chicago thrives. Harney and his family have a strong presence on the CPD and use finely-tuned instincts to work cases that do not appear as straightforward.

Harney learns that there are numerous victims lying in the morgue, all with a common tattoo. What looked like a drug-deal gone wrong now has a deeper and perhaps more sinister criminal element. All three were women, working the streets. While a pimp angle is possible, these women are foreign, leaving Harney to wonder if human trafficking might me more the crime of the day.

As Harney is keen to ask the tough questions, he turns over a few rocks that reveal more than answers. By working this case and confronting those who may be behind the killings, Harney has to face a dark secret of his own, one that could cripple him forever.

The Patterson-Ellis connection has never let me down in the past and this novel proves the chemistry between them remains strong. Well-paced writing and a sensational plot prove to me that there’s a great deal of potential when the reader invests time in this sort of novel. While I am not convinced that Patterson has changed his ways (alas, the book titles keep flooding the market), I know how to hone my searches to find golden nuggets.

Billy Harney impresses in this book and connects with the reader from the opening lines of the novel. His grit and determination emerge, assisted by a strong cast of characters begging to be noticed. While police procedurals are a dime a dozen, the authors craft a protagonist the reader wants to know better. Great backstory is balanced with some development throughout, even as Harney’s darkest secrets come out.

With so many novels on the market, set in the ‘big city’, it’s tough to make a mark on readers who seek something unique. The authors may not have something that will leave an indelible mark, but their style is sure to impress the reader who loves the genre. A strong narrative flows throughout and keeps the reader on their toes, with momentum increasing with every page turn. There’s something dark, yet hopeful, as the story progresses and I could not get enough, devouring the book as swiftly as time permitted. I’ll keep my eye on these two authors, as I have in the past for their collaborative efforts, and hope the series continues in the coming years!

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Ellis, for high quality and easy reading!

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

The Fulcrum (Zack Wilder #0.5), 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 novel, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

I was pleaded and excited when N.J. Croft asked me to personally read a copy of her latest publication, a novella to begin a new and exciting series. Always one to push the limits of science and add a powerful thriller to propel the story forward, Croft has again found success in this piece. When FBI Agent Zack Wilder is contacted by an old Army buddy, he’s intrigued. The man was the sole survivor of a plane crash that is not quite as it seems. Pushing a little deeper, Agent Wilder discovers that there were some experiments being undertaken by a group known as The Fulcrum, one Wilder knows all too well. After coming face to face with a woman from his past, Wilder realises that there’s more going on and no one is safe unless success is guaranteed. A chilling tale that paves the way for Croft’s new thriller series.

FBI Agent Zack Wilder wants nothing more than a decent partner and regular work. Both of those wishes are stymied when he is assigned a new partner who has targeted him for harassment and outright criticism. When Wilder receives a random call from an old friend he knew during his time in the military, it’s time for a meeting. Little does Wilder know, but it’s about to open a can of worms like no other.

Sergeant Ethan Hawkins tells the story of a mysterious plane crash that killed everyone else on board, all members of Wilder’s former military unit. While it’s being reported as an accident, Hawkins is sure there is more to the story and that it was an attempt to wipe everyone out. Wilder listens and discovers that Hawkins had been subject to debilitating headaches prior to the trip. Could there be a connection?

While trying to keep Hawkins safe, Wilder and his partner seek to put some of the pieces together. They soon encounter Layla Perrault, who is an old friend of Wilder’s and is the first to blow the lid on his ‘orphanage upbringing’. Wilder and Layla were both handed over by their parents to The Fulcrum, a group seeking to hone the intelligence of families, particularly their children. It would seem The Fulcrum has been using soldiers in some of their new technology testing, seeking to create those who have no free will and can do anything they are told.

As Wilder digs a little deeper, he discovers that it’s got something to do with controlling the brain with a tiny device. This may seem innocent enough on the surface, as the technology has been used to help others in a variety of situations, but in the hands of the wrong people and it could be deadly. Wilder must try to bring The Fulcrum down, knowing full well the power they possess and the implications of his learning too much. A wonderful way to begin a new and exciting series for N.J. Croft.

While science and scientific discovery has never been my area of greatest interest, N.J. Croft has always piqued my curiosity with the books she writes on the subject. There is much to her storytelling, which mixes scientific explanation alongside controversial uses, always sure to generate a stellar thriller. The story moved quickly and has just enough twists to keep the reader intrigued, particularly with the ending.

Agent Zack Wilder storms onto the scene effectively, offering a little backstory and some development to whet the appetite of any curious reader. He’s gritty and determined, but also hungry for answers, which propels his investigation and the story forward. Croft has left many threads dangling, which i hope will be handled as the series progresses.

Strong supporting characters offer the reader some insight into what’s going on, while also pushing a number of questions to the forefront. There’s so much to learn and so many moving pieces, Croft hints at what is to come and challenges the reader to guess at the direction things will take.

While this was only an introductory novella, there was much action throughout. The backstory is developed well and there’s much left to the imagination for the time being. The narrative moves at a quick pace and allows the reader to gather some of the basic information, while also wondering what’s to come. Short chapters keep the reader on point and forging ahead, while the twists throughout keep the story from being too linear. I found the pace just to my liking and the ending opens up many possibilities about where The Fulcrum is headed and how the series might progress, given time.

Kudos, Madam Croft, for a great start to a series. I hope you have more with these characters soon, as I am quite curious.

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

Gated Prey (Eve Ronin #3), by Lee Goldberg

Eight stars

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

Having discovered the world of Lee Goldberg a few years ago, I have been pulled into the middle of this great series. The reader is sure to remain on the edge of their seat throughout. Goldberg’s television background shines through in the narrative, providing a story that would be perfect for the small screen. Eve Ronin is a detective used to fame, though she’s had to struggle with how that stardom has strained the relationships she has with colleagues. Goldberg does a masterful job in short order with a police procedural sure to tug on the heartstrings.

Eve Ronin has had a meteoric rise within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, having made detective faster than anyone else in recent memory. This comes with some issues, as many believe that she leapfrogged over others who have been putting in time and effort. While she’s happy with her position, it is still a daily struggle to be recognised as worthy.

Ronin and her partner, Duncan Pavone, are working undercover to capture some violent home invaders in a honey trap, who have been targeting rich couples within gated communities. When the sting yields a band of bandits, things go sideways and the suspects’ bodies lay in pools of blood. Surely not what Ronin and Pavone had in mind.

While some would call this an open and shut case, Ronin is not so sure. The targets might be part of a larger crime ring and Ronin is determined to get some answers. Working inside the gated community, she stumbles upon a young woman who gives birth to a stillborn. What seems like a horrible, yet simple, situation soon gets more complicated when the M.E. makes a startling discovery.

As Ronin digs a little deeper on both cases, she cannot help but wonder if this is a trap and whether someone’s targeted her directly. She’s trying to stay focussed, but even Pavone cannot lock Ronin into being positive. Something’s got to give as Ronin tugs on numerous threads in order to get to the heart of justice.

Lee Goldberg does well with his storytelling, leaving the reader to feel as though they are part of a great television drama. Strong writing with just enough humour to keep the reader from getting too bogged down, this series is coming into its own and flows extremely well. One can hope that Goldberg will keep things moving for the foreseeable future, as there’s something special about what he’s started.

Eve Ronin continues to dazzle and show her gritty side as she progresses in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Squabbles aside, her rise in the ranks has been helpful for her, as she makes a name for herself and slowly earns the respect of her superiors. Her dedication to the job is apparent and she’s surrounded with some strong supporting characters, some of whom have made appearances in the previous two books. Goldberg has a wonderful way of developing his characters so that they seem quite relatable to the reader.

In a story that seems ripped from television, Goldberg keeps the energy high throughout. A strong narrative that keeps gaining momentum throughout, Goldberg is able to spin a tale that can easily be visualized by the attentive reader. Shorter chapters push the story forward and begs the reader to ‘try just a little more’ before putting it down. This is a great series and I can only hope that Goldberg has more in store for Ronin in the coming months.

Kudos, Mr. Goldberg, as you continue to impress me with what you publish.

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:

Prisoner, by Ross Greenwood

Eight stars

Having enjoyed some of Ross Greenwood’s writing before, I was eager to get my hands on his latest novel. While Greenwood has always had an edgy and detailed writing style, this latest piece offers something even more intriguing. Pulling on his past working as a prison guard, Greenwood explores life for those behind bars, as well as the guards who spend time with them on a regular basis. A wonderful story that has a little of everything, Ross Greenwood shows how a little personal experience can go a long way when writing a novel.

Jim Dalton is a prison officer, working on the male side of HMP Peterborough, one of the few locations where both men and women are housed. Having worked in the prison for many years, he’s used to much of the bravado and the emotion-fuelled outbursts that take place on a regular basis. Dalton is no-nonsense and has been able to earn the respect of the inmates, at least to the point that no one’s coming after him.

Dalton’s personal life is not as smooth sailing, with a wife and two children who seem more to tolerate his work shifts, leaving him feeling on the outside of his own household. When a relative is sent to HMP Peterborough, Dalton is transferred to the female wing, ensuring there will be no favouritism. It’s an eye-opening experience for him, not only because these are all women, but he has been placed with some of the youngest offenders. It’s a chance that Dalton hopes will jumpstart some other changes in his life.

As his home life begins to deteriorate, Dalton focuses all his attention on work. He begins to see that working with young women is not as easy as it would seem. It’s not the work that causes him grief, as much as the temptations and flirtatious nature of the inmates. Faced with making a decision that could have major ramifications, Dalton takes a leap, knowing it could be one he will soon regret.

While I am used to Ross Greenwood telling stories about serial killers and trying to hunt them down, this novel’s change of pace is welcome and held my attention throughout. Pulling on his personal experiences, Greenwood takes readers inside the British prison system and ensures nothing is left to wonder. With strong storytelling and detailed interactions, Greenwood does well to captivate the reader from the opening pages.

Greenwood’s personal experiences surely help him to create a handful of great characters for the book, on both sides of the bars. Jim Dalton is relatable and surely someone with whom many readers will connect, even if some of his decisions are a tad problematic. The female prisoners bring their own issues to the story and are placed perfectly within the narrative, their characters developing throughout the piece.

Greenwood pulls on life experience to bring the story some added depth, keeping the narrative moving throughout with ease. The reader is pulled into the simplicity of the storytelling and cannot hep but want to know more about Dalton and what he experiences. With great characters and a plot that is easy to follow, the story works well and the reader can easily latch on to what’s being recounted. Prison novels are usually dark, though this one had more drama and even the odd hint of hope, something that will hep Greenwood stand out when readers compare this book to many others in the genre.

Kudos, Mr. Greenwood, for another winner. I thoroughly enjoy the adventures on which you have taken me and cannot wait to see what’s next.

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

Wolf Point (Ashe Cayne #2), by Ian K. Smith

Eight stars

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

Ian K. Smith is back with another gritty investigative thriller where nothing is quite as it seems. Ashe Cayne knows the world of private investigating quite well and Smith has developed him into a strong character who is prepared to turn over every stone to get to the truth. While the series is still coming into its own, the foundation is strong and sets Smith apart from many within the genre, which permits the reader to sit back and enjoy some stellar writing and suspenseful plot twists.

Corruption is rife on the streets of Chicago, something that private investigator Ashe Cayne knows all too well from his time on the CPD. When the adult children of prominent political figure Walter Griffin turn to Cayne, he’s not sure what he can do. Griffin was found dead in a seedier part of Chicago, but it was clearly a suicide. That said, neither of Griffin’s children believe that their father could have done this and implore Cayne to get to the truth.

Two years after the fact, Cayne must work extremely hard to cobble anything together, while also fighting against the suicide label. What he discovers not only refutes the official cause of death, but opens up new problems that could easily provide a list of suspects. Might it have been the Russians? A political figure Griffin wronged? Someone with a secret who wanted to ensure it never saw the light of day? Cayne is busy tracking down all the possibilities while trying to keep himself from being a new target.

While Ashe Cayne knows his city well, there’s something going on that even he could not have predicted. Nothing is coming together, leaving him to wonder if there’s a cover-up in place. Cayne owes it to Griffin’s family to find the truth, even if he ruffles a few feathers along the way.

I remember being highly impressed with Ian K. Smith’s series debut, feeling that the book took private investigation to a new level. This was not the hokey investigator looking into simple cases to appease an insistent family. Rather, Ashe Cayne dives headlong into the dark underbelly that is Chicago’s most dangerous neighbourhoods, seeking answers that are likely best not revealed. The grit oozes from every page and Smith keeps the reader wanting to know more, particularly as new twists take the story in unforeseen directions.

Ashe Cayne continues to reveal himself throughout the story, adding a little more to his backstory while forging ahead with abandon. Well-known to some of the richer parts of the city, Cayne does not mind getting his hands dirty if it helps a client, especially one he trusts has been wronged. Surrounded by a number of strong characters who bring the streets of Chicago to life, Cayne is sure to be a memorable protagonist for as long as the series continues.

This was another strong effort by Smith, who has a way with words and description. The narrative moves swiftly and keeps the reader trying to match its pace, while never being truly predicable. Smith peppers the story with unique characters and plausible plot lines, all while developing an air of mystery until the final reveal. Ashe Cayne may know Chicago, but even he is sometimes surprised just how corrupt its politicians can be when trying to vie for ultimate control. This is a series worth noting, as Ian K. Smith has laid the groundwork for something spectacular, provided he continues with the effort he’s invested into these first two novels.

Kudos, Mr. Smith, for delivering yet again. Readers are sure to take note and see that the genre has a new master.

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:

Later, by Stephen King

Seven stars

When it comes to Stephen King, few expect to find something straightforward and easy to digest. Such is the life of a man with a million ideas, racing from one side of the page to the other. While King certainly stands alone in the genre, he can sometimes come up with some gems that stick with the reader for years to come. Other times, it seems as though he simply needs to open up his head and get the idea out, a sort of mental spring cleaning. This piece appeared to be somewhere in the middle for me; entertaining with a slice of ‘well then’.

Jamie Conklin wants to grow up as normally as he can, though that is is not in the cards. His mother is raising him alone and struggling each step of the way, though provides the best she can for Jamie, even with the secret the young boy possesses. While it’s to remain a secret, Jamie can communicate and visualize those who have passed on.

This proves to be quite troubling for Jamie, as he cannot turn it off and on, but rather must live with the consequences on a daily basis. As Jamie inches into adolescence, the skill gets even more intense and he’s pulled into a scenario where his abilities could help others, while ruining himself at the same time. Jamie’s got to master the art of developing the skills without letting it subsume him.

After someone on the NYPD learns of Jamie’s ability, it could be a major benefit, particularly with a killer on the loose. Could Jamie lead the authorities right to the doorstep, using the ability to speak with victims in order to ascertain who’s behind the killings? Anything’s possible when Stephen King’s at the helm!

I have usually enjoyed reading Stephen King’s work, more because it is varied and one never knows what is waiting around the corner. His vast array of ideas and characters makes any read something unique and highly unpredictable. However, I cannot connect with every story or plot, making some pieces less alluring to me than others. I find myself in a grey area here, not sure what I thought or how to react to the experience.

As with many of the characters King develops, Jamie Conklin was an interesting individual with his own backstory and quite the active life. He’s seen a lot for a kid and does not hold back when speaking to the reader. The maturity he possesses is great, though it is matched with some bombastic and outlandish choices, some of which leave him in a great deal of trouble.

Those who have read a fair bit of the Stephen King collection will know that he rarely enjoys being succinct. Adding tangents upon tangents, King can spin a tale into a massive tome or take the reader down what appears to be a rabbit hole, only to turn it into the main theme of the novel. Doing so can create odd narratives that appear out of nowhere, as happened at times in this book. I sought something a little more straightforward, but got this. While there was strong narrative progress, it just did not go in the direction that I wanted and left me hoping for more. What that ‘more’ is, I cannot be entirely sure, but it is an itch that has not been scratched. King’s prose is strong and creates vivid images in the reader’s mind. Those who are new to King will have to learn that patience is the greatest tool in order to find answers within his stories.

Kudos, Mr. King, for an interesting take on the ‘child with powers’ theme. Not one of my favourites, but I applaud the effort.

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

The Mighty Johns: A Novella, by David Baldacci

Eight stars

Fans of David Baldacci know that he possesses a great versatility when it comes to writing. I have experienced a variety of his work and enjoyed most of it. This is a unique novella, a mystery four decades in the making, with college football as an underlying theme. Baldacci keeps things sharp for the reader who has only a short time to invest, or those seeking a ‘bridge piece’ between two longer reading commitments.

Draven Univerisy prides itself on its football team, the Mighty Johns. Their most prominent player, Herschel Ruggles, is still spoken in the halls and many who are old enough remember where they were during one of his award-winning catches. Four decades ago, Ruggles made an astounding touchdown catch and then simply disappeared into the bowels of the stadium, never to be seen again. No one was able to make heads or tails of it, adding to the lore.

The disappearance is still mentioned and it is only when a new player— Merl North—begin shattering the Ruggles records, that the mystery resurfaces. North has a penchant for science and must have answers, beginning his own investigation into the disappearance. What North finds only adds to the mystery, though this is one problem that demands a solution, even if it costs North all he has. It’s an eerie intervention that may point in the direct of truth once and for all.

While I am used to gritty mysteries that include the US Government, Baldacci is able to move outside of his apparent comfort zone and dazzle the reader with ease. There’s something about the writing style and narrative flow that keeps me interested, as I flip pages with ease to get a little deeper into the story. Originally penned as part of a collection of shorter writings, Baldacci’s piece works well as a standalone publication.

With little time to waste, Baldacci develops his characters from the opening pages and keeps adding to their backstory as the mystery builds. This is not uncommon and the reader is forced to keep pace or risk being left behind. Many of the faces that appear in this piece could just as easily be used as secondary characters in any of Baldacci’s prominent series.

While the book opened with a strong scientific analysis of football, things soon fell into place and I was able to enjoy the narrative without investing too much devoted concentration. The plot emerged and the mystery gained the needed momentum to create something the reader could latch onto quickly. With a little flashback here and there, things definitely caught my attention and held it until the final reveal. While I do enjoy some of the more intense Baldacci thrillers, this was a great treat that filled a short gap in my reading list.

Kudos, Mr. Baldacci, for tossing a Hail Mary that worked well!

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

The World Played Chess, by Robert Dugoni

Eight stars

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

While I have long had an affinity for Robert Dugoni’s series work, he is extremely talented, enough to pen some stunning standalone novels as well. This is another of those, taking the reader through three time periods as the characters explore themselves, the world around them, and struggles of young men in various situations. Dugoni’s theme of struggle is further strengthened by his depiction of one soldier’s view of the Vietnam War, sure to impact many readers who take the time to connect with that particular narrative. A wonderful piece that shows how versatile Dugoni can be in his writing.

Vincent Bianco has high hopes for the summer of 1979. Having just graduated high school, Bianco is hoping to make some pocket money before heading off to college. When he’s given the chance to work with a construction crew, he soon learns just how hard the work can be. He connects with two of the men, William and Todd, just enough to realise that they have quite the history themselves. Both served in the Vietnam War, with stories of their own. Throughout the summer, Bianco finds himself trying to emerge from teen to young man, while also seeing how different his struggles are from those of his coworkers, whose time in Asia eleven years before left an indelible mark, as well as remnants of PTSD.

In a parallel narrative, modern-day Vincent Bianco watches his own son, Beau, come to terms with life after high school and the choices he will make to shape his own future. The elder Bianco tries to steer his son in the right direction, but realises, thinking back to 1979, how important self-discovery can be. Beau suffers his own issues and must make sense of them as best as possible, while striving to better himself, both scholastically and as a young man.

A third perspective emerges in journal entries from William’s personal documentation in 1968 in the jungles of Vietnam. The young man questions himself, the choices of his fellow Marines, and the war as a whole. Seeing horrors unlike anything he could have imagined, he wonders how much is actually making it back home, where people read newspapers and see television news reports of the fighting. Death is everywhere, something no eighteen-year-old could have fathomed a few years before. All while the world seems somewhat ignorant to the real story.

Robert Dugoni is a master at the written word and is able to pull the reader into the middle of each story with ease. His standalone novels always resonate a little more with me, as the themes emerge independently from the series he has has crafted over the years, getting to the core of the reader and forcing them to reflect on what they’ve read. While stories of espionage and police procedurals are great, it’s nice to take a deeper plunge at times as the reader must come to terms with their own feelings, rather than read on autopilot.

The three young men featured in the piece could not be more different from one another, yet rate also so very similar. Just out of high school, each has a plan that is stymied by life events outside of their control. William, Vincent, and Beau all must have epiphanies to see what life means and how they want to leave their mark, wondering at times if they matter at all. The attentive reader will see these three struggles as well as a commonality between them, sure to bind the story together by the closing pages.

I have never had an issue with narrative momentum when it comes to Dugoni’s writing and this was no exception. The story takes hold of the reader from the opening pages and carries them along throughout. There are moments of humour alongside deeply pensive times, forcing moments of contemplation, all while keeping the story clipping along. Each chapter contrasts a longer narrative, set either in 1979 or 2016, with a journal entry from 1968. This permits the reader to contrast and compare effectively as they get to know the three protagonists. While some will bemoan the overly serious nature of the novel, many readers who can take a step back and enjoy something a little ‘meatier’ will likely want to delve deeper and see another side of Robert Dugoni. I loved it, as I needed something to pull me out of my drone reading, forcing me to take notice and ponder my own choices, as well as those of my young son.

Kudos, Mr. Dugoni, for taking the time to write this. Your efforts do not go unnoticed and I am eager to see what else you have in store for your fans in the coming months.

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:

The Madness of Crowds (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #170, by Louise Penny

Nine stars

I can be assured of something sensational when Louise Penny pens a Chief Inspector Armand Gamache novel and I was not disappointed with the latest offering. Penny develops a strong story and layers it with narrative twists that take the reader on an adventure, without venturing too far from the bucolic community of Three Pines. Gamache juggles another homicide and some family issues as he focuses his attention on that which many overlook. Penny provides some of the best descriptive writing I have seen in years, entertaining and offering social commentary along the way. I cannot offer enough praise to her for what she’s done with this novel and series.

The rural community of Three Pines, Quebec is in the festive season with the New Year on the horizon. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, of the Sûreté du Québec, is looking forward to spending some time with family only to have it cut short by an odd request. When a visiting Professor of Statistics arrives to deliver a lecture at the local university, she’s in need of some security. Abigail Robinson has made a name for herself and causes a whirlwind of sentiment wherever she goes. Enter, Gamache.

During the lecture, shots are fired and Professor Robinson is whisked off to safety, leaving Chief Inspector Gamache to determine what’s happened and how security has been compromised. While the shooter is identified and taken into custody, Gamache is not ready to rest on his laurels. As New Year’s Eve celebrations begin, Gamache cannot help but wonder if the shooting was planned well ahead of time.

After a body is discovered in town early on New Year’s Day, Chief Inspector Gamache opens up the investigation. The body is soon identified as Professor Robinson’s assistant, leaving some to wonder if it was a case of mistaken identity in the pale moonlight. However, nothing is as simple as that and Gamache pulls together his team of Homicide investigators to comb through all the evidence.

With a number of subplots taking the investigation in a handful of directions, Gamache must pay close attention to what’s before him and peel back the layers to get to the heart of the matter. With the usual Three Pines residents adding flavour to an already busy story, it’s no doubt that the madness of crowds will cloud Gamache’s thoughts on a regular basis.

It was a few years ago that I stumbled upon Louise Penny and this stunning series, which grips onto the reader and will not let go. Penny develops complex storylines and lively characters throughout the novel to educate and entertain in equal measure. Many have applauded Penny’s work and this novel falls in line with many of the preceding books, making it well worth the reader’s time and effort.

While Chief Inspector Armand Gamache remains front and centre throughout, Penny brings back many of her core characters to offer a number of perspectives and lighter moments amidst the heartier narrative. Many of the familiar faces are past offering backstories, though there is some minor character development in the piece, primarily in the realm of Gamache’s own family. This provides some interesting subplot development and Penny does not shy away with the controversy there. Those familiar with Penny’s writing will likely enjoy her introduction of some new faces throughout this novel.

I have read a number of novels lately that allow me to push through in short order. However, Penny’s novels always force me to pay close attention and listen/notice the nuances offered throughout the narrative. The story moves quickly and the reader is pulled into the middle of it all, never losing its momentum throughout, though there is so much going on, making it difficult to enjoy without investing my full attention. Strong characters appear throughout and keep the reader on their toes. Some novels appear to lose steam the longer the series progresses, but Penny is able to defy the norm and has me begging her to keep writing years into the future. I can only hope that this collection of Canadian mysteries receive their due and readers from all over the world take notice.

Kudos, Madam Penny, for showcasing Canada so effectively. Brilliant work, sure to impress readers who take the time to enjoy your novels.

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

Missed Me (Mabel Davison #2), by Trevor Wiltzen

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Trevor WIltzen for providing me with a copy of this novel, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

After I enjoyed his debut novel so much, it was a pleasure to hear from Trevor Wiltzen, asking that I read and review the second in the Mabel Davison series. Wiltzen brings his unique private investigator back for another case, using the plot of the previous novel to build on another chilling crime. Mabel Davison has her hands full with work, though she cannot deny loving the sleuthing she’s been able to do. It seems to come together nicely, as Wiltzen crafts another sensational story around her work and the small community of Blue River, Washington. Mabel is pushed to the brink in this piece, taking the reader on a harrowing journey to keep her family away from a cruel individual. There will be repercussions, perhaps permanent ones!

Mabel Davison has made a home in Blue River, Washington, where she raises her two sons and niece. It’s 1987 and the community is tight-knit, relying on Mabel’s diner to spread local gossip. However, after inadvertently getting into the private investigator business a while back, Mabel is back at it, helping a down and out single mom with her drug-addicted teenage daughter. Some say the girl ran off to live amongst her drug dealer and his white supremacist soldiers, but Mabel’s being asked to look into what could be an abduction.

Juggling work and this sleuthing on the side, Mabel seeks to penetrate deeper into the criminal underbelly of the region, where raves are thrown and young girls are lured into a life of illicit activity. What Mabel discovers shocks her, though she is not able to keep it on the down-low and is warned to stay away. As the investigation gets more intense, Mabel’s niece, Kerry, tries to take matters into her own hands. This could prove dire, as Mabel’s greatest weakness is revealed, her family!

While I cannot precisely put my finger on it, there’s something about Trevor Wiltzen’s writing that has me wanting to keep reading. It could be the ease with which he writes a gripping crime thriller in ‘pre-tech’ days, forcing the story to rely on grit, rather than apps and text messages. It might also be that he has a wonderful way of developing characters that complement the plot so well, or even the bucolic depiction of rural Washington that makes the story all the more relatable to the reader who prefers life away from traffic chaos. Whatever it might be, Wiltzen pours it all into his work and develops something well worth the reader’s time.

I often find myself trying to picture characters in my mind as I read, seeing how the author portrays them in the narrative. Wiltzen does a fabulous job with Mabel, leaving me to see the sweat on her brow and the glow of her smile. There is also an easy means of visualizing the less than noble men who make up the criminal element throughout the story. Wiltzen presents a handful of supporting characters who add depth and intrigue to the piece, some of whom are back from the debut novel, while others are new faces with personalities to match. Wiltzen makes them easily likeable or despised depending on the reader’s inclination.

While I do enjoy novels that take me deep into a case, there are times when something a little easier to digest is also wonderful. Wiltzen’s writing is easy to follow and his storytelling makes it a quick read. The flow is such that there’s no issue with devouring the novel in a sitting or two, depending on how much time the reader has to dedicate. The narrative flows well, with a plot that keeps things moving until the climactic ending, which the reader will not want to gloss over. Wiltzen tends not to focus on too much frivolous storytelling, keeping the thriller on a single plot track. I cannot wait to see what’s next for Mabel and how the fallout of this novel will tie into the next. I’ll need to use my patience, something I find difficult when I discover an author that I thoroughly enjoy.

Kudos, Mr. Wiltzen, for showcasing your abilities yet again. Nice to know that there are some who write with passion and yet remain humble.

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

Odd Numbers, by J.J. Marsh

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, J.J. Marsh, and Saga Egmont Audio for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Having never read anything by J.J. Marsh, I had no idea what to expect. It was certainly an interesting thriller, exploring not only the events on one cold New Year’s Eve, but the fallout over the next two decades. Marsh does well to keep the reader guessing and building on her characters, even if the core event that pulled everyone together is soon left in the past. With a great twist in the latter part of the story, Marsh has a wonderful way of storytelling and I am eager to see how this compares to some of her other work.

It was a biennial tradition for a number of college friends to gather on New Year’s Eve somewhere in the world. In 1999, it was the Czech Republic, where the cold and some unique activities would take certain group members by surprise. After an evening of drinking and cavorting, one of the group ends up in the water and disappears. The pall of his disappearance and suspected drowning hangs over them all as they process the truth.

As the narrative continues, the reader learns of subsequent New Year’s encounters, as each of the five remaining friends grow and develop in their own ways. Some begin to come out of their respective shells, while others turn away from college memories and try to forge their own personalities. Soon, it’s been two decades and some cannot believe that fateful time in 1999 has been left in the past, without proper resolution.

It’s on this 20th anniversary that old wounds are torn open anew, when a revelation comes to pass. Everyone discovers that what seemed a foregone conclusion could not be further from the truth. It’s only when the fallout is realised that new truths must be forged.

While the book plays out in a unique way, it’s by no means hard to digest. J.J. Marsh does well to build up narrative momentum in the early stages of the novel, only to turn down the pressure for most of the remaining story. With a mix of unique characters, the reader can attach themselves to someone of their choosing, seeing their growth over the twenty years, but also realise the stagnant nature of life at times. Mid-length chapters keep the reader wanting to know more, particularly as the narrative switches to explore various perspectives and timelines. Marsh weaves a curious tale with strong psychological undertones that surface in the most tense manner during the climactic portion of the story.

As this was sent to me as an audio ARC, I had better make some comment on the narration. While using two narrators, the story came to life, with great personalities emerging and accents to add to the creative presentation. I enjoy a well-casted audiobook and it would seem those chosen for this piece fit the bill perfectly. I’ll have to keep my eyes open for their work when next I am trolling for an audiobook to help pass the time.

Kudos, Madam Marsh, for an intriguing novel that is both impactful and succinct. I’m eager to see what some of your other writing might be like.

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

We the Fallen People: The Founders and the Future of American Democracy, by Robert Tracy McKenzie

Eight stars

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

As a former student of politics and one who enjoys the analytical side of things, I grabbed this tome by Robert Tracy McKenzie with great interest. His basic premise is that America is neither GOOD, nor GREAT in its current political state, even as politicians would espouse this falsehood freely. While one could look at insurrectionist activities, the treatment of certain races, or even the state of protection from the pandemic that some state governments offer their people, McKenzie chooses to look at the political core, democracy.

McKenzie asserts clearly that the democracy embedded in the US Constitution is not what is being practiced today, nor has it been throughout the ages. McKenzie does not pretend that even the original democratic foundation in America was perfect, nor does it have the fluidity of a textbook presentation. However, the Founding Fathers worked with what they had and could not have foreseen every eventuality, some of which were abused in years to come. A number of democratic shortcomings are explored in the tome itself.

The general sentiment that there is a need for proper democratic input and output holds true, though it is impossible to run a country in a vacuum. McKenzie presents some of the struggles with trying to run a new country that sought to forge its own rules, pitting democratic ideals with everyday goings-on. Protecting the minority in a system where majority rules was one such example and there is significant ink used to explore this. The balance is both essential and complicated, though McKenzie makes fair points about its implementation.

McKenzie would be remiss if he glossed over some of the larger democratic abuses in the early stages of American democracy. His focus on the treatment of Indian resettlement during the Andrew Jackson presidency is a blight on the entire process. This continued when Jackson sought to wrest control of the banks during his time in the White House. McKenzie clearly espouses that there are gaping holes in democracy, which Jackson used to his advantage.

An interesting contrast emerges when McKenzie pulls in the analysis that Alexis de Tocqueville made when he came to America and penned his magnum opus, Democracy in America. Tocqueville spent numerous months in the country and sought to present his findings for all to synthesise. However, as McKenzie argues, the end result was a massive tome that was completely indigestible for the common person and remains so today. Tocqueville offered some poignant comments about how America ran its political affairs and some key lines have been taken out of context while also falsely presented in the years that followed.

McKenzie makes clear that there are problems, and that America is in need of some major changes. He is not of the opinion that it is impossible to rectify, though it is not as simple as reading the book and gloriously shaking off the shackles of the past. There is work to be done, beginning at the grassroots. Whether this is something someone wants to undertake is another matter. That said, “democracy isn’t intrinsically intolerant and authoritarian, but it can be”, given ongoing ignorance.

While I have read my fair share of political non-fiction over the years, the span of ‘readability’ is not equal. Some books are able to boil things down to the basics and make it easily digested by the layreader, while others are more academic and seek a deeper understanding to comprehend the detailed analyses. McKenzie is part of the latter group, though I did not find this to be a deterrent. I need to flex my brain at times and really get to the heart of the matter. This makes it a denser read, which is fine if I am expecting it. McKenzie offers strong arguments with many core examples to substantiate them, without belabouring too many points. In a handful of well-structured chapters, McKenzie makes his thesis clear and keeps the reader engaged. If I had to offer any critique, it would be the layout of the footnoting, though the sloppiness may simply be a part of the ARC I received. The mish-mash took away from the flow throughout, though I suppose some readers prefer easy access to citations as they read.

Kudos, Mr. McKenzie, for a decent read and some strong arguments. My brain is buzzing and it’s just what I needed.

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

Jack of Hearts (The Hunt for Jack Reacher #15), by Diane Capri

Eight stars

There’s nothing like a good Diane Capri thriller to bring out the excitement for me, particularly when I am waiting for the next of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels. The ‘man with no fixed abode’ continues popping up in small towns across America, while Capri crafts stories around locating and capturing him once and for all. The FBI wants to talk to him, people he has harmed seek to get retribution, and the reader can see how Reacher stays one step ahead, usually.

FBI Special Agent Kim Otto is still getting used to a new partner, which has not been easy. However, she has bigger problems, as she is almost certain that she saw Reacher die in a plane crash…almost. While nothing is absolute, the hunt for him continues, which leads to Otto and Burke making their way to Nebraska. Reacher was there at one point, having saved a local woman and a handful of Thai girls from a man who had human trafficking on the mind.

As the story progresses, it becomes clear that this woman has been targeted anew, with no Reacher to protect her. Otto will have to intervene as best she can, but it is sure to put her into significant danger. From Nebraska, it’s off to Denver to work through some of the clues and try to make sense of things. Otto is all about the case first and safety afterwards, which has both her current partner and the man who held the role before slightly concerned.

When things get tense, Otto finds herself falling into a trap and almost dying, only to the rescue and back on the trail of these re-captured women. It’s all part of a larger plan, and a powerful man who resides in Las Vegas, hoping to coax Reacher out of the shadows again, where a bullet awaits him. This is one storyline Otto could not have predicted.

I’ve long enjoyed Lee Child and his books, which was only augmented when Diane Capri began using them as background for her own series. This thriller series that pits two FBI agents against the wiles of Jack Reacher has all the ingredients for a successful series and has never let me down. Each Capri book is loosely based on events Reacher experienced in own of his own novels. This story is pulled from the pages of Worth Dying For, one of the series’ bests. Reacher fans out to explore some of all of Capri’s work to complement their love of what Lee Child developed.

FBI Special Agent Kim Otto keeps up her great work as protagonist. Struggling to come to terms with her new partner, Otto must accept him while trying not to rely too much on the man who used to be at her side. This has been a struggle in the past two novels and really comes to a head in this piece. Otto is, however, razor focussed on trying to make it all work, in hopes of finding Jack Reacher once and for all.

The series is quite entertaining, particularly for those who have developed an affinity for Jack Reacher’s nomadic ways. The narrative pushes the story along effectively yet again, paired with strong characters that accentuate nice plot points. While the Reacher novels are not affixed to any specific time, all of Capri’s novels have taken place over 7 months, adding intensity to the manhunt and series development. While I suppose they could be read as quasi-standalone, why would anyone ever wish to parachute in and not see things as they progressed over time?

Kudos, Madam Capri, for keeping me enthralled throughout. I cannot wait to see what’s next and how Reacher will make an impact from the shadows.

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

The Missing Hours, by Julia Dahl

Eight stars

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

Having never read anything by Julia Dahl, I was eager to give this standalone novel a try. Dahl writes in a gritty and fast-paced fashion, perfect for those who love a story that never gives the reader time to enter a lull. When Claudia Castro realises that she’s been raped, it is a mix of embarrassment and determination that fuels her to move forward. With the help of an unlikely dorm mate, Claudia soon realises that she’s been a target of revenge porn, as a video of the act surfaces. Now, she’s determined to get her own retribution and make a statement that she is not to be treated so poorly. With a little help, she’s able to put the wheels in motion to show that she is stronger than any boy who thinks she can be used for their own pleasure! A great piece that has me eager to see what else Julia Dahl and penned!

When Claudia Castro woke in her dorm room, she knew something was the matter. The night before had been a haze, but the burning sensation between her legs was indicative of something, and she could not remember consenting. With the place almost empty because of Spring Break, Claudia is left to stew, but comes across Trevor, who seems eager to help however he can.

While Claudia comes from a family with money, Trevor has lived the simple life in Ohio before making his way to New York City. Together, the unlikely pair connect, though never romantically, as they maneuver their way through Claudia’s rape and how to handle it. Having missed her sister giving birth, Claudia knows that she will have to tell her family one thing, but she has yet to cobble together a story that will fit the bill.

When Trevor receives an anonymous text with a video of the rape, he’s enraged. It’s two boys that Claudia knew from her time at NYU, more trouble than they are worth. While they are content to say that it’s ‘just Claudia being her slutty self’, Trevor takes offence and lets Claudia convince him that they need to act. With money burning in her pocket, Claudia has a plan, but it will take time and precision to work.

As Claudia and Trevor work to exact their own form of revenge, they are fulled by the fact that this was no simple act of young people goofing off. It’s time to show that the victim need not wait for the legal process to run its course. The missing hours may still be blurry, but Claudia intends to make those who participated feel her wrath. A jolting story that sped along at a wonderful pace.

The premise of the book left me curious and yet slightly unnerved, though I was intrigued to see how Julia Dahl might handle it. Having written a few thrillers before, I knew Dahl would jump headlong into things and she did well to capture my attention from the outset. This is a story that is sure to keep the reader flipping pages, if only to see how everyone plays a part in the larger whole and what sort of revenge can be expected.

Dahl uses a wonderful collection of characters, depicted well throughout the narrative. Contrasting the rich with the more ‘grounded’ provided the reader with great comparisons as to the tools available for retribution. Backstories and development occurred in equal measure throughout, keeping the reader attentive so as not to miss anything being offered. The flippant nature of some who play a role in the story made it all the more believable, especially when the narrative explores so many perspectives. That said, Claudia and Trevor surely steal the show as strong and multi-faceted protagonists.

Dahl uses her skills to explore the themes effectively throughout the narrative. Perhaps her greatest feat in a story of this type is to use varying narrative perspectives, bringing many of her characters into the central role and telling events from their own experiences. This helps quicken the pace of the plot and keeps the reader aware of all that is going on throughout the development of events. Chapters flowed freely, usually quick and to the point, leaving the reader to desire more as the story unfolds. I was captivated with it throughout, even if the subject matter got dark or sometimes quite violent. Told over a few weeks, the plot never lost its intensity or left the reader feeling less than satisfied with the end result, which comes in the final pages of this well-paced novel. I am eager to explore more of Julia Dahl’s work before too long.

Kudos, Madam Dahl, for a great introduction to your writing. I am definitely going to explore some of your other writing to see if it is just as captivating.

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:

Jack Frost (Hunt for Reacher #14), by Diane Capri

Eight stars

Diane Capri continues her unique spin on Lee Child’s popular Jack Reacher character and the series of novels that made him a household name (almost ruined by Tom Cruise). The elusive ‘man from nowhere in particular’ continues traversing small town USA, while Capri uses some of the information to create her own thrillers where he is the target. An FBI agent does her best to piece together loose sightings of the man, but always seems to get herself embroiled in local issues. It’s a great way to complement to the Reacher series, particularly for fans who have an affinity for his smooth arrival and departure from any situation.

FBI Special Agent Kim Otto has been assigned a new partner, something that fills her with an uneasiness. While she loves her former partner, change is not something she’s come to handle quite well. Still, she’s focussed on the trail of Jack Reacher, who has been sighted in rural America, making the journey one of great importance. The Feds find themselves in South Dakota, more specifically Bolton Correctional Facility. The hope is to find anyone who might have clues as to where Reacher has gone. He made an impact when last he was there, leaving only one person alive, a crazed gangster with a sharp mind.

While Otto cannot be sure if Reacher was behind the murder of many in this small town, she knows that talking to the one survivor and his lawyer could prove helpful. There’s a problem, though, as a cargo plane crashed onto the property and started a massive prison escape, leaving everyone scrambling to collect the inmates as quickly as possible.

Otto and her know-it-all partner, William Burke, join forces with local law enforcement to capture the gangster, as he may be the key to locating Reacher. However, he’s not keen to return to custody, traversing across the barren lands of South Dakota, with his lawyer and a few others in tow. It’s a race to locate him, in hopes that he won’t make it to Canada and slip away for good, eh?!

I’ve been a fan of Lee Child and his books for many years. When I discovered that Diane Capri was working under the blessing of Child to create this offshoot series, I gladly accepted the chance to read it as well. Capri ensures that series fans understand the backstory and how it complements this piece, though admits that she takes some liberties of her own, as she wields the proverbial pen. This story is pulled from the pages of 61 Hours, a great book on its own. Take a look to see how Capri added depth and excitement to her own thriller.

FBI Special Agent Kim Otto serves as a stellar protagonist once again. She has a lot going on, besides the hunt for Jack Reacher, seeking to balance it as best she can. The story connects her with a handful of well-developed characters that help develop the plot lines and provide insight into the location of one Jack Reacher. However, there is the added connection that Otto has with William Burke, her new partner and a man she cannot fully trust. Burke has a past, something that Otto has discovered by pulling some strings, making the connect between these two Feds strained at best. Capri uses one-off characters effectively while borrowing some of the backstory Child laid down in the aforementioned Reacher novel.

The novel—and the series, to be honest— is entertaining, particularly for fans of Reacher and his nomadic ways. The narrative pushes the story along effectively while characters shed light on plot points that keep the reader guessing throughout. A mix of chapter lengths provide the reader with some teasers and begs them to keep reading, of only to find resolution. While I admit that I do not remember the intricacies of each Reacher novel, nor do I re-read it afterwards, Diane Capri’s book remind me of key points and cement the belief that these two series complement one another so well.

Kudos, Madam Capri, for another winner. I cannot wait to see what story you pair your next novel with, and how close a Reacher-Otto encounter might be.

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

Full Metal Jack (The Hunt for Reacher #13), by Diane Capri

Eight stars

Diane Capri has started something exciting, at least for fans of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher. While the elusive former soldier continues to have exciting adventures in small town USA, Capri has spun past Reacher novels into her own captivating thrillers. This series has made hunting Jack Reacher a quasi- Olympic event, keeping readers scrambling to remember plot lines from past Child novels loosely tied-in with Capri’s intended twists. Always a pleasure to see the synergy these authors bring when intermeshed.

FBI Agent Kim Otto is partnerless, but still on the trail for Jack Reacher, who constantly eludes her. Otto finds herself in Carter’s Crossing, Mississippi, where Reacher ended his long career in the US Military. While there, turning over every stone she can find about Reacher, Otto comers face to face with an old crime that’s happened once again. A woman’s been killed when a train runs over her. However, as in 1997, the victim’s throat is cut, leaving the possibility that a killer staged the railroad outcome to cover something up.

Otto seeks to dig u other dirt on Reacher, but is pulled into the middle of the case, only to come face to face with a local sheriff who has a great deal to say about the crime and a lot to add from 1997. Otto begins to feel that Elizabeth Deveraux could be the key to both investigations, though she’s stonewalling as best she can. It’s up to Otto to peel things back and get to the core of the matter before it’s too late.

Having been a longtime fan of Lee Child, I was pleased when I discovered this series. The fact that Diane Capri has Child’s blessing makes it all the more enjoyable, as breadcrumbs from the former Reacher novel emerge throughout this piece. Pulled from the pages of The Affair, Capri adds new depth and an excellent analysis for fans of her work.

Kim Otto headlines a collection of wonderful characters that help keep the book exciting from the opening pages until the very last sentence. Riding solo after her partner retired, Otto will have to work perspectives she knows well while using intuition to fuel her passion for answers. As with Child’s work, Capri brings one-off characters from the shadows and into the limelight to shape the story quite effectively.

The piece is highly entertaining, particularly for those who have a history with Reacher and his nomadic ways. A strong narrative pushes the story alone while well-developed characters allow things to come to life from off the page. Chapters that pull the reader in balance themselves with those teasing new and exciting moments to keep the plot developing. I’m always left a little more curious when I finish a Capri novel, having caught new angles that may not have been as prominent for me when completing the Reacher experience. This was no exception.

Kudos, Madam Capri, for helping me re-live Jack Reacher in a roundabout way! I cannot wait to explore the next novel in the series to delve into another adventure.

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

1979 (Allie Burns #1), by Val McDermid

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Val McDermid, Grove Atlantic, and Atlantic Monthly Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Whenever I see a piece by Val McDermid, I know it will be a rollercoaster ride through the world of thrills and mystery. This series debut was no exception, as McDermid not only introduces the reader to a gritty investigative journalist, but takes things back to a time before the technological breakthrough made journalism a 24/7 reporting game. Allie Burns is a well-balanced journalist, but has come to realise that working in Scotland in the late 1970s is not as easy as she would have hoped. It’s 1979 and she’s stuck writing about issues that are important to women, rather than getting bloody in the real issues of the day. When Allie meets fellow reporter, Danny Sullivan, they decide to take Glasgow by storm. Their work reveals some real winners, including a tax fraud scheme that is sure to rock the country. However, it is a political piece that could really make a difference, while putting them both in the crosshairs of some troublesome individuals. Allie soon faces a significant setback, but is determined not to let this derail her passion or gritty personality. An intriguing start to a new series for Val McDermid.

Allie Burns had hoped that 1979 would allow her to get off on the right foot, but things were not looking too great. The year started with a massive blizzard and she was tasked with reporting it, as well as sundry other ‘light’ stories that her editor thought she might be able to handle. As an investigative journalist, Allie Burns had hoped to uncover the major stories in and around Glasgow, but she was relegated to the fluff, things that ‘women would want to read about’.

Danny Sullivan had issues of his own in 1979, but it was not a lack of action. Rather, he’d uncovered a major tax fraud scheme taking place, where businessmen could siphon off their money and invest it in an offshore bank on the other side of the world. What’s worse, Danny’s own brother was in the thick of it, making the story all the more delicate. Slow and steady, he told himself, all in the hopes of making the headline and earning a decent byline.

When Allie and Danny began working together, they proved to be unstoppable. Both full of grit and determination, the pair were able to turn up every stone and get to the heart of the matter, impressing editors and readers alike. While they worked on the tax story, news arose about something else in the lead up to the Scottish Referendum on Devolution. Danny made inroads with a group who sought to turn up the heat and bring a little violence to help things along.

Sitting on the story, both Danny and Allie knew they’d need to take action if there was any chance of catching the exclusive. Danny worked from the inside, befriending the group and discovering their ties to the IRA, while Allie used her superior writing skills to pen the story they’d present for publication. It was around this time that Allie learned another secret that Danny had been keeping, one that could really cause him grief. However, this was one story that Allie vowed to keep under her hat.

When the stories broke and the accolades came tumbling in, Allie set about to celebrate with Danny, only to discover that he’d been murdered in his flat. Who could have done such a thing and for what reason? While Allie was well aware that they had both made many enemies, she could not surmise who would want to take such drastic action. Donning her investigative hat, this was one story she’d have to write alone, fuelled by the need for answers and a truth that was hiding in the shadows. McDermid does well with this piece, keeping the reader hooked until the final page turn.

While I have long enjoyed the work of Val McDermid, I am usually arriving well after the series has started and playing catch-up. It was nice to get an early peek at this series and see that it is sure to pack quite a punch for the reader and anyone else who takes the time to enjoy it. McDermid has done well to develop the series and keep the reader on their toes throughout. I have high hopes for this novel and the series that is to come.

Allie Burns plays a strong protagonist throughout, though she dies share the limelight for most of the novel with Danny Sullivan. Both have great backstories and find the time to develop throughout this piece. Their connection is primarily with work, but there are personal moments that show a deeper and more meaningful linkage. Complemented by others who grace the pages of the book, McDermid adds characters who matter and whose placement provides a flavour for the narrative that keeps the story on track.

While there are many angles a thriller can take to deliver on crime and confrontation, McDemid always seems able to find a new approach. Readers can revel in that and find something that they can take away for themselves, finding a degree of excitement. The narrative flowed well throughout, keeping the story moving in a forward direction. Characters kept the piece exciting and intriguing, not least because of their Scottish slang that was peppered throughout. McDermid puts Scotland front and centre throughout, providing a treat for those who are not from the region. I quite enjoyed the grittiness that emerged as the story developed and cannot wait to see how Allie Burns will emerge into the 1980s, scarred but not broken.

Kudos, Madam McDermid, for another winner. You always seem to find a way to impress me with your writing.

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:

Ali Cross: Like Father, Like Son (Ali Cross #2), by James Patterson

Eight stars

While I have struggled with some of James Patterson’s writing over the last number of years, I always enjoyed the Alex Cross series. Patterson has come to spread himself too thin and uses his name to sell books, rather than inserting quality into his writing. However, he finds a back on occasion to surprise me. When I discovered that he was expanding the Cross series with a YA collection by young Ali Cross, I took note. I enjoyed the series debut and thought that I ought to give this second novel some of my attention as well. I must say, Patterson did well and kept me hooked throughout.

After solving his first case, Ali Cross is riding a slight high, much to the chagrin of his father, Metro PD Detective Alex Cross. The younger Cross is also getting a tad mischievous as he ages and tells a white lie to get himself out with friends at a music festival. Everything was going smoothly until Ali and his friends witness a stunning crime.

After shots are fired, Ali’s friend, Zoe is struck. Her injuries are not the only concern, as Zoe is being quite sneaky and covering for someone. Ali cannot accept this at face value and begins poking around, which only uncovers more and makes it seem as though Zoe is keeping secrets.

While Ali refuses to back off the case, he is more concerned with his friend than anything else. Accepting some counsel from his father, Ali does his best to connect the dots and tries to help Zoe at the same time. A shorter is out there, a secret Zoe wants kept may come out, and someone will be held accountable.

I found myself quite impressed with this Patterson solo effort, a style of where he strives. The story, while somewhat simplistic, worked well and is perfect for the target audience. It’s just as gritty as many of the other Cross novels, adding humour and some family tenacity to keep the reader engaged.

Patterson creates some great characters that keep things moving along well. While the piece is short, there are some wonderful personalities that fill the narrative, including the Cross family who are definitely a handful of their own. The reader is re-introduced to some of Ali’s friends, who are sure to continue playing a key role as the series progresses.

Patterson pens a nice little story, sure to impress his Cross fans, as well as YA readers who need a little mystery. It was well-paced and flowed well, keeping the reader wondering without unnecessary twists. With great characters and a decent plot, Patterson impresses readers in this budding series, which I can only hope will continue for years to come.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson, for a nice little story to appease readers of all ages. Now, let’s hope the elder Cross series can return to its former glory.

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