Next of Kin, by Kia Abdullah

Eight stars

Kia Abdullah returns with another chilling thriller that is sure to stir up many sentiments for the attentive reader. Pulling on some family emotions, the story centres around two sisters and a tragedy that tears them apart. Leila Syed is a busy woman, but helps her sister whenever possible. When she’s asked to take her nephew to nursery, Leila obliges, which is when things go horribly wrong. Forgetting young Max in her vehicle when a work emergency arises, the little one is left to overheat. He succumbs to vehicular hypothermia and a manslaughter case begins. Now, Yasmin Syed must wonder if her sister did this on purpose as a means of retribution for having no children of her own. Leila is charged and a court case is pending, where the truth will come out, slowly, for all to see the truth behind the dynamics between the Syed sisters. Abdullah does a masterful job in this piece, sure to leave the reader torn between which side they feel could be telling the truth.

Since raising her younger sister for most of their formative years, Leila Syed has tried to make a name for herself. Now a successful architect in London, Leila remains busy with her life, but is still fairly close to Yasmin. When Leila receives a call from her brother-in-law, Andrew, asking that she help by taking young Max to nursery, Leila obliges and collects Max for the short drive. Only later, when Andrew calls to say that Max never arrived at the nursery, does Leila realise her horrible mistake. Young Max was left inside her vehicle for the entire time, on the hottest day of the year.

After trying to revive him, medics rush Max to the hospital, where he soon succumbs to vehicular hypothermia. With a dead child on her conscience, Leila cannot face what will come. Yasmin is beside herself with grief and baffled as to why Leila could be so careless. While Leila vows it was an accident, some begin to wonder, what with her lack of children and a marriage that recently turned rocky. Leila is soon charged with manslaughter and a court date is set for all to be sorted.

When the trial begins, Leila is put on the defensive from the outset, as her personal life is magnified for all to see. While Leila did raise Yasmin after her parents’ death, some begin to wonder if the strain on having to be a quasi-parent might have been too much. Other truths come to the surface that only make it more apparent that the elder Syed had a great deal of animosity within her. Still, could Leila actually have left her nephew in the car to perish as an act of retribution for the bitterness in her own life? The truth will come out eventually and justice must be served, though it is not entirely clear on which side it will land. It is only after the trial that other, more sinister realities come to the surface. Kia Abdullah mesmerizes the reader with this stunning story that tears a family apart and opens up a plethora of new questions.

Since discovering the work of Kia Abdullah, I have been an ardent fan, trying to get my hands on each of her novels as soon as they are available. This was no exception, as the writing is intense and the story is as heart-wrenching as one could imagine. The familial bonds are torn apart with his piece and the reader is forced to watch it all play out, leaving them to play the role of ‘thirteenth juror’ in a way, asking that they weigh the evidence of Leila Syed’s guilt in the matter of her dead nephew. I found myself transfixed by the story and rushed to find out what happened and how it all came together. Perhaps one of Abdullah’s best pieces to date!

Leila Syed does play a central role in the story, her life put on trial for all to see. Leila struggles with some of the experiences she has had, not the least of which having to raise her sister, Yasmin, after the death of both parents. While there are some great moments of backstory development, it is primarily the mindset that Leila has in the present that remains the crux of the novel, putting her on trial for her apparently careless act. What transpires is a complete analysis of Leila as a person and the struggles she has to keep it all together.

A novel’s impact is one of the key ingredients I look for when I read. If the story lingers and the characters resonate within me, I feel that I have found something worth recommending to others. I have had that happen many times when reading Kia Abdullah’s work and this was no exception. The narrative flows well and takes a turn at just the right moment, thrusting Leila Syed into the spotlight for reasons she would likely prefer not have happened. The plot advances well and twists at poignant times to leave the reader unsure of their sentiments towards all those involved. Could Leila have been simply careless or was there more to it? As the story advances and truths surface, the reader must use their own intuition and pass judgement on what might have happened and who could be to blame for it all. The final portion of the novel exposes real truths that never made it into sworn testimony, which adds new flavour to an already explosive thriller.

Kudos, Madam Abdullah, for another stunning novel. Your writing keeps getting better the more I read.

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

One Will Too Many (Julia Fairchild #4), by PJ Peterson

Eight stars

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

When I received an ARC of this novel, I could not help but be both excited and uncertain. Usually, it is the complex, hearty crime thriller or mystery that piques my interest, though I have found a few gems when I can turn off my brain and let a ‘cozy mystery’ entertain me. I took the leap, though chose to read the three previous novels beforehand, devouring them in a handful of days. Peterson won me over early and I could not stop the momentum of this quick read series of novels. Dr. Julia Fairchild is home and enjoying her medical practice, when she’s asked to attend a fundraiser at the local theatre. Learning of some controversial goings-on at the event, a local banker is soon found dead in his home. The situation surrounding the death proves to be suspicious, fatal alcohol poisoning, but not the variety usually found on the liquor shelf. Further inquiries show that there may have been many who had a beef with him and with the reading of his will, things could get really messy. Always the sleuth, Julia dons her cap again to help get to the bottom of it all in short order. Peterson does a masterful job at impressing the reader once again with this piece.

Dr. Julia Fairchild enjoys jet-setting, but sometimes there is nothing better than staying close to home. When she is inviting to fill a last-minute vacancy at a charity auction in town, she hesitantly agrees, but not for the reasons one might think. While there, she rubs elbows with some of the local upper crust and discovers a little more about a local banker, Jay Morrison. His life is full of secrets and being recently divorced, those skeletons are sure to march out of the closet.

Morrison’s girlfriend calls Julia the next day to say that she cannot reach him. Julia is happy to help and they go in search of Jay, who seemed to be having quite a good time at the fundraiser. It’s only then that they discover Jay’s body in his home, dead for reasons unknown. What could have been a massive medical incident is soon ruled a homicide by the coroner, opening up some interesting discussions with Julia in the centre. Always one keen to unravel a mystery, Dr. Julia Fairchild is on the case, albeit in an unofficial capacity. What did Jay Morrison do to cause such grief to someone that they may have wanted him dead?

Working on the assumption that it was some type of alcohol poisoning, Julia tries to piece it all together, only learning that the secrets Jay held were even more complex than first thought. His ex-wife has no love loss for him, there are some who held him responsible for massive losses with certain accounts at the bank, and someone emerges to claim a family connection and seek restitution for being kept out of a previous inheritance. Who was Jay Morrison and what was he keeping from everyone?

All this, while Jay Morrison’s will is about to be read and monies dispersed. Julia will have to work fast, using a nephew who is on the police force, to find the killer before it’s too late. Money has a way of mucking things up and this may be the messiest situation Julia’s come across yet! PJ Peterson pulls the reader in and entertains them in short order once again. Brilliant and just what I needed this week.

PJ Peterson succeeds yet again with one of her novels, without needing a complex storyline to keep the reader enthused. A simple story with great characters and a plot that never rests on its laurels, Peterson presents the reader with something well worth their while. I can only hope that there are more of these books in the works, as I cannot wait to learn more about Dr. Julia Fairchild or some of those around her.

Dr. Julia Fairchild continues to develop as a strong protagonist, using more of her backstory to shape the novel and flavour the narrative. Series fans will revel in learning more about her personal life in this piece, though there is also much to be said about her development throughout this piece, particularly with the story’s focus in Parkview, Washington (yes, we finally learn when she lives!). While Julia is the ultimate amateur sleuth, she is also trying to solve the mystery of her personal connection in a romantic sense, as the reader is introduced to Alex, her latest beau. There are some key moments around this relationship, which Peterson handles well as she uses it to formulate a decent subplot. A well-rounded character who seems full of surprises for the attentive reader.

PJ Peterson offers up another strong cozy mystery, which competes well with many of the other books that fill the genre. It’s highly entertaining without being overly frilly. There is a depth to it that keeps the reader wanting to know more, though does not drag on, allowing its completion in a day or two. The narrative flows well, as did the other novels, building from the opening pages. This early momentum serves as a great pace and keeps the reader turning pages while losing track of time. The plot offers a few twists and is not overly predictable, without blurring the lines between plausible and far-fetched. Strong characters and quick dialogue make for an enjoyable read. Peterson can surely write and keep the reader’s attention until the final page, where a cliffhanger teases at more to come soon. Overall, it makes the reading experience all the more enjoyable and guarantees that I will reach for the next novel as soon as it becomes available!

Kudos, Madam Peterson, for another winner. Thank you for reaching out with this novel, as it allowed me to discover a new series that I have placed on my reading radar!

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

Pickled Pink in Paris (Julia Fairchild #3), by PJ Peterson

Eight stars

I recently received an ARC of the latest PJ Peterson novel and found myself excited, yet unsure what I ought to expect. I usually look for the complex, hearty crime thriller or mystery, though I have had some success when turning off my brain and letting a ‘cozy mystery’ entertain me. I took the risk, but stuck to my guns and found the other novels in the series, which I could try first. It helps with context and a little momentum building. Peterson won me over early in the first novel and here I am, having read the first three in short order. I made it through to this, a story set in Paris, where young doctor, Julia Fairchild, and her sister are spending a week, alongside a friend of Julia’s. While there, the ladies attend a cooking school, while Josh attends to some business. When a man turns up poisoned in the hotel and eventually dies, Julia’s amateur sleuthing skills come in handy. Who would have wanted him dead and for what reason? This is only the tip of the mystery, as a week in Paris turns into a major investigative event. Peterson pulls out all the stops here and dazzles repeatedly.

Dr. Julia Fairchild knows how to balance her professional and personal lives quite well. After making arrangements to meet an old friend in Paris, she heads over the Atlantic with her sister, Carly. They are to meet Josh, a businessman, who may have caught Julia’s eye a while back, especially since they reconnected in Amsterdam the previous year.

While Paris has all the excitement that Julia looks for in a city, it is not only the art and nightlife that have pulled her in. She and Carly agree to attend some cooking classes at a Cordon Bleu school, honing their skills and seeking to impress the people back home. While they meet a small group of English-speaking students, it is their instructor, Francesca, who makes a real mark. She agrees to help them create some dazzling items for a small party Josh is hosting back at the hotel.

After a successful cocktail party, one of Josh’s partners goes missing, only to be found, collapsed, in the hotel bathroom hours later. Rushed to the hospital, all he can utter is ‘mushroom’, one of the items at the party, but not something Julia or Carly created. It would seem that Francesca brought a tray of stuffed mushrooms, though no one else got sick. A mystery begins to develop, which is only heightened when the victim dies from acute poisoning.

As Josh tries to salvage a business deal, Julia and Carly begin to poke around to discover what’s taken place, only finding themselves more tied up in knots. Someone was trying to kill the businessman and Josh seems to be a primary suspect. How do mushrooms tie into it all and where does Francesca connect the dots, especially when her name and number appear on a piece of paper in the victim’s pocket? It will take all their energy and remaining time to piece it together, but Dr. Julia Fairchild loves a good mystery. Peterson does it again and held my attention throughout this piece!

I was yet again dazzled by PJ Peterson, without needing a complex storyline. The plot sustained itself as the narrative gained momentum and the reader found themselves in the middle of the story without needing to stretch their imaginations too much. Peterson appears to coax the reader into something effortlessly, which makes for a smoother delivery and more exciting piece of writing. These cozy mysteries surely have pulled me in and left me wanting more!

Dr. Julia Fairchild is a wonderful protagonist, using some of her past life experiences to shape the novel effectively. Series fans will have known a bit about her personal life, though it is still not really revealed here. References to the past novels and ‘holiday mysteries’ occur, adding some depth to the character, though a great deal is spent on development within this piece. Peterson focuses some of the attention on the Julia-Josh connection, though it does not get overly saccharine, helped along by Carly, who is not there for romance and gushiness. Julia’s sleuthing skills continue to impress and her ability to get information from people helps to keep the story moving. One might call her a modern Jessica Fletcher though, as death seems too follow wherever she might be.

PJ Peterson offers up another stellar cozy mystery, which offsets some of the heartier mysteries on the market today. It’s fun and intriguing without being too silly or sugary. There is a nice depth to it, though the story is compact, therefore it can be read in a day or two. The narrative flows well from the opening pages, setting the scene and getting right to the point. The reader can use this early momentum to pace their progress. The plot offers a few twists to keep from being overly predictable and yet does not become too far-fetched. Strong characters that are highly relatable make for an enjoyable read. Peterson can write and keep the reader’s attention, which is an added bonus. It makes reading these pieces in short order all the more enjoyable and has grabbing for the next one a foregone conclusion.

Kudos, Madam Peterson, for a story I thoroughly enjoyed. I made it to the ARC and am prepared to dive in, hoping it is as impressive as these past three novels!

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

Over My Dead Body (Detective William Warwick #4), by Jeffrey Archer

Eight stars

Jeffrey Archer is back for another thrilling adventure with William Warwick at the helm. This series, rich with plots and character development, is sure to catch the eye of the reader who enjoys a ‘full in’ experience, using wonderful narrative twists to keep the story advancing until the final paragraph. Warwick is ready to tackle a new adventure, or a few of them, as a new ‘cold case’ squad is assembled within the Metropolitan Police. There, he will travel around Europe, trying to piece together some of the cases that no one else has been able to solve. All the while, one of his greatest nemeses continues to work off the grid, seeking to build an empire while appearing to have already died. Archer does a masterful job of taking the reader along for the ride and showing that he is a true master when it comes to writing.

While every police officer must work hard to earn their keep, William Warwick knows the importance of rest and rejuvenation as well, choosing to take his wife on a cruise across the Atlantic to New York. During their voyage, Warwick and his wife, Beth, encounter some drama, as the ship liner’s owner dies aboard, potentially in less than innocent circumstances. Befriending a young man who seeks to follow in his footsteps, Warwick helps to uncover some truths that might not have been revealed otherwise, showing that a detective is always ‘on duty’.

Warwick has seen a great deal during his time with London’s Metropolitan Police, but he is never sure what to expect when he arrives at the office each day. Upon his return from holiday, he’s put into a new and intriguing Unsolved Murders Unit, known colloquially as ‘the Cold Case Squad’, to help bring to justice those who have slipped through the cracks. Working with a former undercover agent, Warwick begins tackling the pile of cases, in hopes of earning the favour of his superiors.

At the top of the list is trying to nail down the elusive Miles Faulkner, a millionaire with nefarious ideas who is said to have died a few months before. Warwick cannot deny that many can attest to the man’s death, but something does not sit right with him. Duplicity was never something from which Faulkner strayed and there’s something off about what’s been going on of late.

While Warwick finds himself racing across Europe to work through the cold cases, he’s always on the lookout for new or clues as to where Miles Faulkner may have landed, as well as how he is trying to build his empire anew. Warwick must act swiftly in order to earn his keep, but also try his best to be aware of how he might entrap his greatest nemesis once and for all. A brilliant piece that keeps the reader enthralled until the very end, as per a usual Jeffrey Archer story!

I have long been a fan of Jeffrey Archer’s writing, shelving any of the personal controversies people may bring up in conversation. His stories are not only well-plotted, but they have a great deal of adventure and build off one another effectively. There is a richness to them and this series has not lacked any of the impact throughout its development. With a proposed eight novels in the series, Archer has penned half of them, with a lot of ground to cover yet. I am eager to be a part of it, as I know there are many twists yet to be revealed.

William Warwick continues to climb the ranks within the Met, even if some of those around him are sure he will stumble. It is his tenacity that makes him alluring to the reader, though he also has a great wit and numerous detective skills needed to showcase his abilities. Warwick’s personal and professional growth in the novel is apparent, allowing series fans to see changes in him as the novels progress, while also dazzling those who are new to Warwick and many of his nuances.

Anyone entering a Jeffrey Archer novel should be ready to succumb to a vast array of narrative twists, sub-plots, and truly dazzling writing. There is much that comes to light in each novel, requiring a great deal of attention as the story progresses. Archer develops his narrative quickly and does not stop throughout the story, adding momentum with each plot twist and character development moment. Always adding layers of new characters, Archer provides more names to following and connects them to the larger story arc. There is a buzz around this series, as I can never tell what is to come and how William Warwick will react to what’s put before him. Still, it’s great to know that Archer has ideas and drafts of future novels ready, showing that it is only a matter of time before my curiosity is sated.

Kudos, Lord Archer, for another winner. I am eager to see what is to come!

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