Water (Zack Wilder #1), 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 yet again excited when N.J. Croft asked me to read a beta copy of her latest publication in the Zack Wilder series. This one proves just as exciting as the novella series debut, with a massive mystery and a number of potential suspects. When FBI Special Agent Zack Wilder has something go horribly wrong during some undercover work, he’s whisked off to help with a case of water contamination that has claimed the lives of many. Confused as to why he might have been personally chosen, Wilder works with a local EPA agent to get to the bottom of things. What begins as some corporate finger pointing turns sinister, especially after the chairman of the local company thought responsible turns up dead by an apparent suicide. Wilder receives anonymous texts demanding that he shut things down or his secret will be revealed. When more mass water poisonings take place, Wilder is sure there is something more to the story. He’s equally worried that someone will learn of his position within the Fulcrum, an organisation he has been a part of since age 4. Working both cases, Wilder discovers that nothing is quite as it seems and he may be the prime target. A brilliant piece by N.J. Croft that kept me enthralled throughout.

FBI Agent Zack Wilder is working undercover with his partner, but things go horribly wrong when a botched raid leaves her dead. This is the second of his partners who have died in the line of duty over the last few months, leaving him a little leery. What’s worse, he is quickly shuttled off by his superior to help with a water contamination case, something about which he knows little.

As Wilder begins working with EPA Agent Dr. Olivia Bishop, they learn that the contamination in the water could not have been a simple dumping from the local factory, as its concentration levels are far too high. Rather, it must have come at the hands of an individual seeking to make a point. Dr. Bishop’s ex-husband is part of an environmental group and has a motive, but she is sure that he was not involved in any of it. Wilder receives an anonymous text warning him to close things down or his ‘secret’ will be revealed to all, which likely means his role in the Fulcrum. Wilder wants to keep that under the radar and does his best to close the case, just as a local businessman commits sluice and claims responsibility for the contamination.

No sooner than that case is closed off, than another contamination takes place and Wilder rushes off with Dr. Bishop and his newest partner. Things continue to make no sense, with contamination levels higher than could be naturally occurring. When another business owner suffers a brutal and apparently self-inflicted death, Wilder is told again that he must shut things down. Is there someone out there who knows of his role in the Fulcrum? Could all of this be Fulcrum related and there is a rogue member seeking to end him?

After being given a lead that Hoover Dam might be a subsequent target, Wilder rushes there, only to find himself caught in the middle of a trap. He’s left to protect himself and almost dies when concrete comes crashing down around him. Now, Wilder is sure that someone wants him dead and that there has to be a Fulcrum connection. Reaching out for help, Wilder learns little, but knows that he will have to watch himself or risk dying. Who is behind all this and how will Wilder uncover the truth? A thrilling piece by Croft that has me begging for more!

I have long have an interest in the work of N.J. Croft, as she pushed me outside of my comfort zone while tackling issues of science and scientific discovery. There is a degree of science to this book, in that the discussion of water contamination weaves its way into the early portion of the book, but it is not technical, nor are the issues overly complex. Rather, it is a book filled with a wonderful narrative and strong character development, while also allowing the reader to delve a little deeper into the Fulcrum and what that means for Zack Wilder. After reading the opening novella, I was very eager for this piece and am happy that I got to read it so quickly.

Special Agent Zack Wilder is back with more and keeps the reader highly entertained with both his curious backstory, as well as some wonderful development in the present. His lack of relationships may leave some baffled, but he is by no means a stranger to the ladies, as things progress in an interesting manner within the pages of this book. All that being said, his focus in the job, as well as keeping his secret about being part of the Fulcrum. Grit and determination fuel him throughout and his is not prepared to let anything stand in his way from getting answers, while always being leery about who or what awaits him around every bend. I cannot wait to learn more about him in the next year or two.

As with the introductory novella, there was much action throughout to keep the reader attentive and curious about what is to come. The limited backstory served to keep Zack on point and yet there is much about the Fulcrum that Croft will have to share in the coming novels. A swift narrative keeps the reader engaged from the outset and allows them to wonder about what awaits for Zack and others. The plot was complex enough that it could not be easily predicted, while not tangling anyone up in knots as they made their way through it all. Short chapters keep the reader on point and forging ahead, allowing me to say “just a little more” on numerous occasions. I cannot wait to see what else is to be revealed for all to see in the coming years and. how the Fulcrum will play a key role in it all.

Kudos, Madam Croft, for a great series that keeps me curious and wondering with each flip of the page.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens (a holiday re-read)

Eight stars

What a way to continue my annual Christmas reading…

If there is one story that is synonymous with Christmas, it would be Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. How I have gone so long in my life never having read this story, I do not know. I quite liked the movie from the early 1950s and always used that as my benchmark for what the story is all about, but chose to take the plunge and read Dickens’ actual words, yet another tradition that comes from the Victorian era. 

As miserly Ebenezer Scrooge heads home late one Christmas Eve night, he is visited by the apparition of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, dead seven years. Marley’s apparition tells that Scrooge will be visited by three ghosts who will show him essential things that he needs to know. 

While Scrooge scoffs at the entire process, he is startled when the first ghost appears to take him into the past. This experience shows Scrooge some of the events from his past and how he became the man he is today. A second ghost explores current decisions Scrooge has been making, including some of the most miserly choices he could have made. Quite startled by this point, Scrooge does not want the third visit, but must see life as it would be after his passing and how others will speak of him. This is enough to help bring about an epiphany for the elderly Ebenezer, who sees the world for what it could be. A Christmas classic that I will definitely add to my annual read list, this one is recommended for anyone eager to explore Christmas and its true meaning.

Many of my friends on Goodreads have read this book and are as astounded as me that I had never done so myself. I found myself enthralled from the opening sentences and remained captivated throughout. I will admit that I chose to let the stellar voice of Tim Curry guide me through the Audible version of this tale, which brought the experience to life for me and will be used each December, of that I can be sure. Dickens is a master storyteller and many renditions of this story have emerged over the years, all of which have their own spin on the story. The themes that come up as Scrooge explores his life are sensational and there is little about which any reader could complain. Divided into five distinct staves, Dickens pulls the reader in and keeps their attention until the final sentence, never letting things lose momentum. I can only hope to find more exciting tales in the years to come, to add to my December collection.

Kudos, Mr. Dickens, for a stunning story that touches the heart of each reader in its own way.

The Truth You’re Told, by Michael J. Clark

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Michael J. Clark, and ECW Press Audio for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Having read Michael J. Clark’s debut novel a few years ago, I was happy to return for another crime thriller. Set around my hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba, I can enjoy Clark’s writing not only for the genre, but also because it reminds me of things from my youth. When a woman settles down in a cabin to get the literary juices flowing, she comes upon an old family mystery that she never knew existed. How well did she know her father and the past he was said to have lived? Sam Hutchings and her teenage daughter begin poking around, only to learn that there is more to family folklore than meets the eye, including something with traces to the Cold War. A great piece that shows how well Clark can recount a tale and keep the reader enthralled!

Having spent the last number of years as a newspaper journalist, Sam Hutchings receives her walking papers and must reinvent herself. Choosing to live the cabin life outside Winnipeg, Sam decides to start a writing career, while balancing a summer with her teenage daughter, Meg. While they iron out the wrinkles and learn to live the simple life, they remember the stories of Sam’s father and his enjoyment of the area.

After a small accident opens new questions to the life Gerry Hutchings lived, Sam and Meg begin poking around a little more. Could he have been more than the accountant he claimed to be? If so, what did he do and how did it change the reality for their Hutchings family? Sam’s curious journalist brain goes into overdrive and Meg is happy to tag along, as best a teenager can.

With flashbacks throughout the novel, the reader is also pulled into the middle of the story and how Gerry lived a life about which few knew a thing, growing throughout the latter decades of the Cold War. It was only a matter of time before danger and risk met a brick wall of reality. However, the truth can be more painful than the familial fairytales that are told to calm others. Might a fake story be more appealing than the harsh reality that awaits Sam and Meg? Clark does a wonderful job throughout to keep the reader guessing, though somewhat informed as the truth is peeled back for all to see.

I always enjoy finding books that not only showcase great writing, but have a Canadian flavour. I am proud of where I live and enjoy when I can feel that much closer to the action. Michael J. Clark not only highlights the ‘eh’ nature of the humble Canadian, but also brings Winnipeg and surrounding environs into the narrative, allowing me to remember growing up in Manitoba’s capital and passing through some of the rural communities. I was tickled peach (or pink) throughout and could not help but smile, partially by these memories, but also because the book was so captivating. I just hope others feel the same when they give it a chance.

Sam Hutchings proves to be a great protagonist. Having been through a great deal over the past number of years, her backstory comes to light in this standalone thriller. Clark ensures there is enough of her past mixed into the present character development to keep the story moving and leave readers begging for more. Surrounding herself with great supporting characters, Sam is able to tap into her investigative nature while also fanning the flames of her own memories. While I know this is a single-novel experience, I almost want to see more of Sam in order to delve deeper into her life.

Canadian crime thrillers are surely plentiful if you dig deep enough, but I was pleased to have this one fall into my lap. Clark does well from the opening chapters to set the historic scene for a wonderful story. Weaving past and present into flashback narratives, the story moves forward effectively and kept me guessing as more truths surfaced. The characters were on point, infused with just enough Canadianness to assuage me (Canadians alone may understand what I mean here, eh), I was happy to see many locales that warmed my heart and left me smiling. With just enough twists to keep the story from being too easy to decipher, Clark makes the reading experience rewarding for all, from start to finish. I loved the debut, found this one intriguing, and will gladly add Michael J. Clark to my ‘authors to follow’ list for more Canadian (read: Manitoba) flavour in the future.

Kudos, Mr. Clark, for a wonderful reading experience. I miss Winnipeg and area very much. You sparked some of the reasons why yet again. I cannot wait to read more!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Waiting for Santa, by David Baldacci (a holiday re-read)

Eight stars

Tucked away in the back of Baldacci’s The Christmas Train, he offers up an extremely short and touching piece around the holidays. After losing his wife in childbirth and his day-old daughter, Sara, on Christmas Day, the narrator recounts how he would take the annual trek down to the mall to watch the children queue up with parents to whisper their desires into the ear of the ever-patient Santa. Eight years into this experience, he meets Sara, who has lost her parents in an accident. While they wait in line, Sara tells of how she misses her parents a great deal, basking in the love they had for her, even if she cannot remember them as people. Sara wants nothing more than to be adopted and have new parents, a wish she has been telling Santa for as long as she can remember. With an aging grandmother, Sara is not sure what her future brings, but hopes she can eventually feel the love of two families, the one she lost and the one out there for her. This touching experience leads our narrator to explain how he found love and had a son of his own. When he arrives at the mall to introduce young Timothy to Santa, he remembers his encounter with Sara and feels the connection his life has, as well as the love of two perfect families. A great story that I never noticed in all the years I read (and listened to) Baldacci’s holiday classic. A wonderful read for the reader who is looking for something as the coffee (or cocoa) cools slightly on December 25th.

Baldacci shows another side of himself in this Christmas story, seeking to pull on the heart strings of the reader who is used to fast-paced crime and thriller pieces. He is able to pull the reader in with so few words, exemplifying how wonderful a writer he has become. This piece was sandwiched between his entire writing career and, while penned over a decade ago, still evokes emotion and curiosity in the open-minded reader.

Kudos, Mr. Baldacci, for yet another piece I will add to my annual collection of Christmas stories to read. I am thankful for the family I have and this story helps solidify these sentiments.

The Christmas Train, by David Baldacci (a holiday re-read)

Nine stars

I love this holiday classic, even if it is totally cheesy. It is one of my annual reads at this time of year and I hope it can be added to a holiday TBR list for others as well.

Baldacci brings his readers a holiday classic sure to stoke the fires of the heart and keep the holiday season on track. Tom Langdon is on a mission, to get from New York to LA in time for Christmas. After a slightly intrusive and highly problematic search by airport security, Langdon finds himself on a red-flag list, still needing to get to the City of Angels. As a seasoned journalist, he tries to make the most of his issue and decides to take to the rails aboard Amtrak’s best and brightest, writing all about his adventures. His multi-day journey puts many interesting and unique characters in his path, as well as some highly humourous adventures and even a mystery or two. As the miles fly by, Langdon discovers that there is more to the train than a slower means of getting from A to B. When someone from his past appears on the journey alongside him, Langdon discovers true meaning of the holidays and how the heart is the best guide on any of life’s trips. A nice break for Baldacci thriller readers, the book is a wonderful addition to the annual holiday traditions.

I would be remiss if I did not agree with many that this book is not cut from the usual cloth Baldacci presents. That said, its hokey nature is offset by the wonderful story Baldacci tells and the humour he is able to weave into the larger narrative. I have read this book many time before and love it each time, finding some new aspect to cherish. Baldacci is a master at storytelling and this book is proof positive that his flexible ideas can stand the test of time and genre diversification.

Kudos, Mr. Baldacci, for this holiday treat that ranks right up there with shortbread and eggnog.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Twenty Years Later, by Charlie Donlea

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Charlie Donlea, RB Media, and Recorded Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Having stumbled upon this latest novel by Charlie Donlea, I thought that I would take the risk and hope for the best. This is a curious story that straddles two time periods and is highly impactful throughout its development. An investigative reporter returns to New York to look into some new DNA technology that has uncovered the identity of a new victim from September 11, 2001, but there is more to the story. Victoria Ford was accused of killing her lover in a brutal manner, but all that was forgotten when the Towers fell. Now, Avery Mason is keen not only to get to the bottom of the case, but also uncover truths that were left to dissipate when the world turns its attention to the terrorist attack. She is determined to find truths, even two decades later! A great story that has me wanting to find more Donlea novels in the near future.

While the events of September 11th, 2001 are etched on the minds of many, the number of unidentified remains continue to pose an issue for those tasked with bringing closure to the lives of grieving families. After new technology emerges and a fragment of Victoria Ford is identified, it’s newsworthy. Avery Mason, host of a popular television newsmagazine wants to air the discovery around the time of the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack.

As Avery digs a little deeper into the life of Victoria Ford, she uncovers a goldmine. Victoria was accused of murdering her married lover by hanging him over a balcony, left to appear like a kinky sex act gone wrong. However, after her arrest, Victoria proclaimed her innocence and sent a final voicemail to her sister on the day of the attack, pleading that she was not guilty of he crime. Now, Avery has a copy of the recording and is keen to discover what actually happened and how the truth might have been buried.

Hoping to make this a smash hit for herself and the ratings, Avery contacts the former investigator in the Victoria Ford case and has him return to New York. The case seems pretty open and shut, but Avery refuses to believe it is that simple. She digs deeper and revisits much of the evidence, only to learn that nothing is quite as it seems. She’s hoping that she can blow things wide open and show that a greedy state’s attorney pushed the case along without examining the evidence properly.

While Victoria’s DNA is all over the crime scene, something does not seem right and Avery is keep to find that missing link before someone else does. All the while, she is juggling keeping her own past a secret so that she won’t have to admit hard truths that have loomed over her for years. When Avery uncovers an old and dusty manuscript, something clicks and she racing along to see if that might be the beginning of something that could exonerate Victoria Ford once and for all. This is more than ratings or stardom, it’s the honour of a woman whose life ended on September 11th, but left a family behind tarnished by the accusations. A chilling tale by Charlie Donela that has me hoping for more soon and kicking myself for not discovering his writing sooner.

I often surprise myself when i discover a new author, only to learn that they have been writing and impressing others for a long time. Such was the case with Charlie Donlea and this thriller. There is so much to enjoy with this piece, from the well-paced narrative to the great plot twists that took time to develop. I can only hope that many of his other books are as intense and I will surely find some soon, adding them to my list of must reads (rather than simply to be read).

Avery Mason is a wonderful protagonist with a great deal to offer the reader. Her backstory is both complex and ever-evolving throughout the novel, leaving the reader to see some of the struggles she faced and how she tackles them now. She does, however, not simply live in the past, but finds herself developing throughout the novel, presenting struggles both with the mysterious murder before her and the need to carve out a niche for herself in the world of television news programming. She can hold her own throughout this piece and I would love to see her in action once again, even if one-offs might be more Donlea’s style.

A great thriller uses a foundation of strong writing to begin, building on that to entice the reader throughout. Such can surely be said of this piece, as Charlie Donlea provides a stellar piece of writing here. His ideas layer together well and keep the reader on their toes as they progress throughout the piece. The mystery grows as the narrative gains momentum, allowing the plot to lead the reader down many a curious path. I cannot say enough about the ability that Donlea has to spin multiple plot lines together and keep the reader curious until it all comes together effectively. I wondered and guessed my way through this book, filled with teaser chapters that begged me to keep reading a little longer. I am quite eager to find more books by Charlie Donlea and am open to suggestions by those who have some to make!

Kudos, Mr. Donlea, for a fabulous novel. I cannot believe it took me this long to find you. I won’t wait too long before I return, of that you can be assured.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The First Christmas: A Story of New Beginnings, by Stephen Mitchell

Eight stars

Always one to enjoy some unique reading during the festive season, I turned to this short piece by Stephen Mitchell. It pulls upon the Nativity story, told in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, and offers a more thorough and first-hand account of some events surrounding that period. While Mitchell explains that these are some of his own thoughts put into dialogue and a well-paced narrative, something resonates in them and it makes sense.

Mitchell captures many angles of the Nativity narrative, from those major players many will know (Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the wise men), as well as some who were surely essential but receive only a mere mention in biblical passages (the ox and donkey). These perspectives weave together not only a well-developed narrative, but provides the reader with some insight as to how each felt about the event, a well as some of the lead up to things that occurred that cold night. It leaves the reader to ponder a little more what they know and surmise about that story that, for many, is so well known.

Between each chapter (and on occasions, within them) Mitchell offers some of his own analysis of events and how they fit into the larger story. This is almost an annotation or extensive footnoting for the reader to better understand why he wrote things a certain way. I was please to have this, feeling it added to the overall experience and left me feeling a bit better if there were parts I did not understand.

While I am no scholar or expert on the subject matter, I count myself as someone who knows the story fairly well. I was eager to see this approach to better understand the story without being made to feel that this was an academic piece or even one that required heard thinking. I do enjoy challenging myself from time to time and will not stop with this piece. I’d love to see if Mitchell (or others) have other pieces like this, where I can explore new perspectives on long-told and remembered stories from my past.

Kudos, Mr. Mitchell, for a great piece that I devoured in a single day. I’ll keep my eyes open for more of your work and see if I cannot latch onto it as well.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The President’s Daughter, by James Patterson and Bill Clinton

Nine stars

Never sure what to expect when his name dons the cover of a book, I reached for this James Patterson thriller with some trepidation. After reading just a few pages, I was hooked and could not get enough of this collaborative effort with former US President Bill Clinton. The story was both intense and well-structured, with details that added to it throughout. Patterson and Clinton write well together and keep a political, emotional, and dastardly high throughout the plot, leaving the reader to wonder what’s to come. I could not put it down and can only hope that they will collaborate once more, in the coming years.

The presidency of the United States is a delicate balance of decision-making and appeasing the masses, as Matt Keating has come to discover. On one fateful night, while trying to extract some soldiers in a far-away land, President Keating made a fateful mistake and caused a gaffe that resonated around the world. The fallout of this led to his own vice- president challenging him for re-election and Keating was sent packing from the White House.

With a new Administration in control, the Keatings return to some semblance of order in New Hampshire, trying to recapture a life of solitude and normalcy. However, Matt Keating’s past can never entirely separate itself from him. While out hiking one day, Mel Keating, the former First Daughter, is come upon by a group of men. They take her into their custody an set off a series of panicked calls. Mel Keating has been kidnapped and the Secret Service meant to protect her has failed.

What begins as a small panic soon turns disastrous, as ransom demands are made by a powerful terrorist group, claiming retribution for an attack in Libya years before. Matt Keating is beside himself and does all he can, but the new POTUS stands firm with her decision not to negotiate with terrorists. After a video of Mel Keating’s execution is broadcast, things turn dark and the world takes notice.

As a former Navy SEAL, Matt Keating cannot sit idly by and wait for fate to take its course. He vows to do al that he can to find the man responsible for the kidnapping and murder of his daughter, seeking his own form of retribution. Working back channels and avenues no politician could be expected to know, Keating travels to the far reaches of Africa in search of a man who has also lost a great deal. Two fathers, a similar sentiment in them both… one fate. A stellar piece of writing from both Patterson and Clinton, which kept me flipping pages and gasping.

While I have had mixed results when it comes to novels by James Patterson, this was one book that did not disappoint in the least. The writing was top-notch and the story continued to develop throughout the reading experience. I could not get enough of things and kept pushing to learn more with each moment I had to enjoy. Patterson and Clinton make a formidable duo and their style is sure to impress many who enjoy the thriller genre. Mixing politics with personal passions, the story was truly impactful and sure to be talked about well into the future.

While Matt Keating is the obvious protagonist, the story pulled on the first hand accounts of many throughout the experience. The struggles of being a world superpower cannot be dismissed, but it is Matt Keating’s role as father that fuels much of his development in the novel. Having had to make some tough decisions, it is all on his shoulders to right a wrong, or at least save his family from the fallout of his choices. His grit and determination is like no other, as he faces down many who would again wish him to fail. The love of a father cannot be overlooked, on both sides of the coin.

Experiences drawn from the Clinton White House surely flavoured parts of this book, but they can only go so far to create a stunning thriller. The writing must take the reader that extra step and create a story that is worthy. Patterson and Clinton do that here quite effectively, pushing the limits with political backstory and emotional development. The narrative worked well to drive things forward, gaining momentum with each passing chapter. The plot did not remain stagnant or follow a linear path, but rather twisted at the right moments and kept the reader on the edge of their seats. Strong characters on both sides emerged, as well as a third party with their own ideas on how to capitalize on the situation, making for added intrigue when the time was right. I could not get enough of this piece, which still included the Patterson-esque short chapters to tease the reader throughout. I can only hope there is more to come by these two men in the foreseeable future.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Clinton, for a winner. Just what I needed to pick me up at this time of year!

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

https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Crusader’s Cross (Ben Hope #24), by Scott Mariani

Eight stars

It’s a great day when I can get my hands on a novel by Scott Mariani, particularly when it advances the Ben Hope series. While the novels continue to pile up, there is no lessening to the action or Ben Hope’s determination to protect that which he holds dear. After an accident, Ben is home for Christmas to protect La Val, his training facility. A group of thugs chooses to target him and take one of the prized possessions he recently discovered. What a mistake, as Hope has more gumption than patience. When the dust settles, a single thug has escaped and there are bodies all over. Hope takes matters into his own hands and hunts him down, crossing France and into Corsica. Armed with determination and a desire to get back what belongs to him, Ben Hope will stop at nothing to right a wrong. Mariani does a masterful job once again and kept me hooked until the final page turn.

After an accident left former SAS- soldier Ben Hope in a cast, he’s taking it easy this holiday season. He’s recently discovered a passageway under his rural training facility, La Val, which includes a valuable item from the time of the Crusaders. This cross, while also being quite old, has value in its decorative nature and secret weapon. It would seem that news of the cross made its way to town, and beyond, as a carload of Corsicans choose to target La Val when they know Ben will be at his weakest.

Doing his best to fend off the attackers, Ben is able to defend himself and neutralise the gang, save one, Petru Navarro. Using violence and a ‘shoot first’ mentality, Navarro steals the cross and is able to flee before Hope can catch him. Now, all that’s left around the compound are dead gang members and number of dogs that Hope held dear. This lights a fire inside Hope like nothing else, as he is determined to seek revenge, alone!

Tracing Navarro across the rest of France, Hope tries to make headway and stay under the radar. He removes any impediment he has and follows Navarro to Corsica, knowing that this will make things much more difficult. However, Hope is not afraid and has nothing to lose. He will not allow someone to come onto his property and get away with killing. Slowly and methodically, Hope will find Petru Navarro and delivery justice. An electric novel in the series that goes to show that some characters can stand the test of time and many adventures.

I discovered Scott Mariani and the Ben Hope series a few years ago and have not been able to get enough of them since. I usually mark my calendar when a new book is set to be released, knowing that I will be in for a treat. The action is always high and the impact on point, leaving me to lose myself in the well-paced narrative. Scott Mariani seems never to run out of ideas or scenarios for Ben Hope, in an ever-changing world.

Ben Hope remains a strong protagonist and has certainly grown on me over the years. Much of his backstory has been developed and he is free from too much change nowadays. Still, his grit and determination remains high, choosing to help those who matter to him. Ben is eager to discover relics or things of value, but his true investment is defending what belongs to him. I am eager to see how the series will continue, as this was almost a Ben Hope solo affair, while there are many others who impact the series in their own way.

Less a holiday novel than one that happens to occur over Christmas, this is yet another powerful instalment of a series that never seems to lose its momentum. Mariani develops a strong narrative that pushes the story along and keeps the plot twists coming, this time using a continental chase between Hope and a crazed Corsican. The character development enriches the story, though this one was more about Hope versus Navarro than many of the others who have graced the pages of past books. A strong story that clipped along had me enthused to keep reading and learning more about Hope, his situation, and how he would remedy it. I cannot wait for what is to come and how things will work themselves out.

Kudos, Mr. Mariani, for another winner. You never seem to tire of putting Ben in situations that seem almost ‘hope’less, if you pardon the pun.

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

https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Opus Dictum (Father Michael Dominic #5), by Gary McAvoy

Nine stars

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

Always eager to read the work of Gary McAvoy, I rushed to begin the latest featuring Father Michael Dominic, which did not disappoint. Exploring another angle of Vatican-based politics and sinister goings-on, McAvoy takes readers through a historical event and provides strong modern action to support it. In this case, all relates to a more recent event, where a mysterious briefcase finds itself in the Vatican Archives. What it contains could not only reveal the existence of a powerful group thought defunct, but also change the path of the Catholic Church forever. It will be up to a handful of dedicated individuals to stop this before it’s too late. Another winner by Gary McAvoy that will have those ho love a good thriller on the edge of their seats.

It was early morning one June day in 1982 that Roberto Calvi was discovered hanging under a bridge in London. A man with quite the reputation, some called Calvi “God’s Banker,” for his ties to the Vatican Bank, though it was some of his other connections that left many to wonder if he had upset the wrong person. Missing from the scene was an important briefcase Calvi had the night before, filled with important documents that could cause a great stir if they were revealed. The mystery was never solved, leaving many to wonder if these incriminating documents might still be out there.

Fast forwarding to today, Father Michael Dominic is excited to have a new assistant working with him in the Vatican Archives. There are so many documents in need of reviewing and digitizing that he cannot be sure where to begin. When the Calvi briefcase turns up, it opens quite the conundrum for all involved. Father Dominic knows a little about the briefcase and upon discovering some of its contents, he is eager to learn more. There is proof that a powerful Catholic organisation, Opus Deus, and an outlawed Masonic group P2, have been working together. Not only that, but a safe deposit key could hold the answers to a great deal more.

Working as quietly as they can, Father Dominic and his team try to uncover the mysteries from the briefcase, discovering a cache of diamonds and gold, as well as digital breadcrumbs to more. Before they can make their move, others learn of the discovered cache and make their move to get it back, hopefully to silence any chance that the secret will come to light.

While Father Dominic must head to Geneva to help rescue an old friend, one of his nemeses finds a way out of prison and plots revenge on the priest. With the backing of Opus Deus and P2, Father Dominic’s life could be in danger, especially with what he knows. Upon the discovery of a document called the ‘Opus Dictum’, a truly horrifying plan could soon be in motion, which will deeply change the Catholic Church for the foreseeable future. After the surprise announcement of a new conclave—the election of a pope—causes a stir, Father Dominic knows that his time is limited. Should the Opus Dictum come to fruition, the face of the Church will forever change, and not likely for the better. As cardinals gather and the ceremony begins, two men stand at odds and hope to become the new voice for the Church. Gary McAvoy does a sensational job with this piece and left me eager for more. I cannot wait to see where things go from here.

I have followed Gary McAvoy on this journey since its inception and never found myself straying. The themes that emerge are on point and I am regularly pulled in by the approach of his plot lines. The Vatican is a complex and multi-layered organisation, as is the Catholic Church in general. McAvoy finds ways, through history and artifacts, to bring the story to life and create thrilling adventures for all to enjoy. His characters grow exponentially throughout and the stories connect well together. This is a series that gains momentum with each novel and never seems to lose its way.

Father Michael Dominic continues to impress as the protagonist of the series. His backstory is a little complicated, as series fans will know well, but it is matched by some of the awkwardness he hides in the present that keeps it all highly exciting. A devout Catholic who loves working in the Archives, Dominic finds mysteries fuel him and will stop at nothing to uncover the truth before him. While he may not hunt out danger, there are those around him who seem to attract it, creating an adventurous journey through each of the novels in this series. I am eager to see, with some of the revelations made in this book, how things will change for Father Dominic moving forward and whether there will be a significant shift in his role.

The key to a strong thriller novel is whether the reader can feel themselves begin a part of the action, rather than a passive bystander. Gary McAvoy creates an electric buzz around his stories and puts the reader right in the middle of everything that is going on. His narrative builds with each passing chapter, developing more mysteries and curiosities, while the plot twists repeatedly to keep anyone from knowing exactly what will happen. Intertwining modern events with historical goings-on makes for an explosive story that could go one of many directions. Strong characters, particularly those who reappear and build on their past developments, help create an emotional connection for the reader, as they are swept up in everything that is taking place. While McAvoy packed this book with history and highly descriptive settings, I know this is not the end. While I will have to patiently wait for the next instalment, it will surely be well worth it to see how things continue to play out for all involved.

Kudos, Mr. McAvoy, for another stunning story. You never cease to amaze me with your writing.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons