The 6:20 Man, by David Baldacci

Eight stars

David Baldacci is one of those authors whose books pull the reader in, no matter the subject matter. While I do enjoy the series he has written, I also find a great deal of happiness reading standalone thrillers, as this one appears to be. Baldacci hits the mark with this piece, intertwining some military background with a crime thriller that is sure to keep the reader up well into the night. I’m happy to see such a variety coming out of Baldacci, but am also looking forward to more of his series to build on the excitement.

Travis Devine is a financial grunt who has the same routine every day before work. Riding the 6:20am train to the heart of New York, Devine preps for another day as an analyst, peering out the window for a sliver of excitement. While is days are usually full of the mundane, when he receives a cryptic email, all this turns on its head. One of his mentors is found hanging and what originally looks like suicide is soon deemed a likely homicide.

While Devine is panicked as to what is going on, the evidence soon points to him as being the murderer. Sure that he will need to stay ahead of the game to exonerate himself, Devine is pulled into a parallel investigation by people from his military past, hoping to reveal something highly sinister. Who might have killed Sara Ewes and for what reason?

As Devine digs a little deeper, he realises that someone is targeting him and trying to ensure the police do as well. Trying to gather minute pieces of evidence, Devine forges ahead with some theories of his own, only to find himself tangled in the web of his employer and a powerful man at the top. There’s no doubt that Devine is one step away from disaster, but he will have to work fast ensure he gets the answers he needs to provide a pathway for the truth.

When others begin dying as well, Devine surmises that this is more deadly than first he thought. There is someone out there, trying to silence a select few about something that could cause financial chaos should it leak. Armed with his intuition and some help from roommates he hardly knows, Devine will pull out all the stops to prove his innocence and get to the root of Sara Ewes’ murder. Another winner by Baldacci, sure to impress those who enjoy a good thriller.

One need never worry when David Baldacci is at the helm, as the story always flows with ease. Baldacci’s seemingly endless ideas weave together and provide the reader with something well worth their time. Strong characters and a developing plot keep things on pace as the story crescendos to its climax. I am eager to see if there will be more standalone novels, or if Baldacci might weave Travis Devine into some of his other writing.

Key to a successful story is the narrative that leads the reader along. Baldacci has mastered this and provides a strong foundation for a powerful piece. With characters who are as interconnected as they are individualistic, Baldacci uses them to push the story along with ease, without getting too wrapped up in minutiae. A few plot twists to keep the reader from guessing too much provide great turns for all to enjoy. While I do love the series work that Baldacci has developed, I cannot help but enjoy some of his individual books that provide something refreshing for fans. I am eager to see what’s to come in the next few months.

Kudos, Mr. Baldacci, for another great book. I know those fans will find something in here that they can enjoy.

Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There (Alice #2), by Lewis Carroll

Eight stars

Continuing to fill a small gap in my reading schedule, I thought to continue my trip into a wonderful world by Lewis Carroll in a sequel to his classic tale. With more wonderful narrative moments and vivid descriptions, I re-visited the world young Alice discovered previously, this time while gazing through a mirror. Carroll intrigues his readers once more with this follow-up story that adds something for all ages.

Alice is back, having missed her adventures in Wonderland. As she peers through a mirror, she is transported back to the world where nothing is quite as it seems and where animals show personalities all their own. As Alice trudges along, she finds herself in the middle of new challenges, including engaging with royalty once more. The Red and White Queens wish to educate her, while showing off their mental abilities at every turn.

Alice meets some friends from her last adventure, as well as new individuals, friendly and fierce alike. Tweedledee and Tweedledum offer her many an insult, but it pales in comparison to Humpty Dumpty, who is anything but kind to Alice. All the while, Alice is intrigued with how things are going, though finds herself overly flustered at numerous points as well, all before waking up in a haze. Another winner by Lewis Carroll, which offers picture-perfect images of a world just out of arm’s reach.

How pleasant it was to put aside a busy day to find Alice once again. Lewis Carroll adds to the magic of his original story with this sequel, delving a little deeper for his fans to enjoy. A clear narrative, at least for the time, with some wonderful characters pushes the tale along, offering many moments of thought-provoking storytelling and vivid imagery. While these are the only two stories of Caroll’s that I have read, I will have too dig a little deeper to see if there are others that might pique my interest.

Kudos, Mr. Carroll, for another piece that got curiouser and curiouser the more I read!

Wayward (Wanderers #2), by Chuck Wendig

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Chuck Wendig, Ballantine Del Rey and Random House for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

While many found Chuck Wendig shone in the series debut, I was not as captivated as I would have liked. However, with this ARC in my possession, I wanted to give things a chance to see if I could be drawn into the middle of things with the sequel. While I was not, I surmise that it could be my own personal issues and not Wendig’s abilities throughout this detailed novel.

It was five years ago when a number of everyday Americans began randomly sleepwalking across the country. The reason was unknown, though the malady caught the attention of many. Making their way to a specific place, these sleepwalkers were followed by people, self-identified as shepherds, in an effort to protect them as they wandered in their trace-like state.

Upon arriving in Ouray, Colorado, the group began setting up their outpost, as though they were the chosen ones and all others were set to perish. While a militia sought to destroy them, the sleepwalkers remained diligent in their mission, advised that this was only the first step in a slew of significant changes to come.

Those who are setting things up in Ouray include a scientist who tries to piece together a plan to lead, a former police officer with ideas on how to protect a select few, and a teenage shepherd who is still trying to come to terms with what’s happened to her and what awaits the world. While outside forces continue to push around the outskirts of Ouray, many will have to sacrifice it all to protect themselves. From ruthless politicians to those who do not fully understand the special nature of the sleepwalkers. At the heart of it all is Black Swan, an A.I. program behind the entire ‘end of days’ scenario. Wendig does well to stir up the reader’s emotion throughout, even if it did not impact me as much as I would have hoped.

While I have only read the series debut by Chuck Wendig, I have tried other books in the genre, so there is a general understanding of the premise. Wendig provides a strong foundation and keeps the reader wondering throughout the narrative. Continuing with the apocalyptic theme, the story clips along and will likely grab many readers. For me, my mindset was not entirely into the experience, though I can see Wendig’s abilities clearly.

The story continues with a great narrative that serves to guide the reader. Bleak when needed but also well-paced, the story adds more surprises and roadblocks found in the debut novel. Using strong characters with their own personalities helps to shape the story once more. Plot twists emerge to offer some excitement as things take a darker turn. Some may get lost in the premise of this novel or simply not like where Wendig is headed. While it was not for me, I can see how many would really enjoy this series and find themselves excited by this new publication.

Kudos, Mr. Wendig, for a thought-provoking piece that is sure to impress your fans.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Alice #1), by Lewis Carroll

Eight stars

With a gap in my reading schedule, I thought that I would take a trip down a rabbit hole all my own to enjoy this classic by Lewis Carroll. Full of tantalising narrative moments and stellar descriptions, I tackled the world young Alice discovered when she followed a rabbit down its hole and into an underground world. Carroll does well to keep the reader engaged and wondering what will follow, though there is no predicting what awaits after every turned page.

Young Alice is sitting with her sister before drifting off for a nap. In her dreams, Alice follows a white rabbit, caught muttering about being late for an important event. Alice finds herself stuck underground, where she’s met with different foods and drinks, each of which changes her in surprising ways. As the adventure continues, Alice comes face to face with a number of animals, each with strong personalities of their own, ready to teach her a thing or two.

As Alice continues to explore this wonderful land, she comes upon the Queen of Hearts, a woman whose sole interest appears to be removing the head of anyone who dares challenge her. As Alice witnesses a series of odd events before the royal family, she comes to realise that she’s the odd girl out and must leave before she becomes the Queen’s next target. A wonderful tale that swept me into a world of magic and mystery for a few hours.

How pleasant it was to leave the busyness of the day and find Alice ready to lead an adventure. Lewis Carroll crafts white a story with this piece, offering a clear narrative that the younger reader can enjoy, while injecting some chilling aspects that will entertain adults as well. Strong characters and well-developed themes throughout keep the story moving and the reader on their toes. Carroll does not rest on his laurels at any point, providing the reader with things that get ‘curiouser and curiouser’ as the tale continues, with an abrupt ending to keep the confusion on high. I am eager to see how the sequel will complete this piece and leave me with a sense of excitement that equals today’s reading adventure.

Kudos, Mr. Carroll, for quite a strong story tat never seems to wane, no matter the subject matter.

Contracts for Sale, by Edward Izzi

Eight stars

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

Always eager when Edward Izzi hands me an ARC of his newest book, I took it upon myself to devour this novel in short order. As usual, Izzi provides the readier with a stellar piece of writing that is full of strong writing, powerful themes, and building on past novels, while remaining a standalone piece for anyone to enjoy. Those who discover the work of Edward Izzi are in for a treat and should not hesitate to find one of his books soon.

After reporter Paul Crawford begins investigating the disappearance of a corporate executive, he’s unsure where it will take him. Working for the Sun-Timesin Chicago, Crawford is used to the unusual and everything has a whiff of mob activity. A little research shows that a number of people are disappearing into thin air with no trace or apparent reason. A lack of any forensics or video surveillance leaves Crawford to wonder if these are well-executed professional hits. Working in tandem with his friend and fellow reporter, Chaz Rizzo, Crawford cannot make any solid headway, save for referring to those who have gone missing as ‘Houdini Victirms’.

Meanwhile, Mark Stetler has been working behind the scenes as CEO of Eradication, Inc. a company that specialises in providing murder for hire. While the fee is high, the result is usually to the client’s desire, as nothing is left to chance. Meeting in secret, the Board of Directors for Eradication, Inc. reviews submissions and delegates the work to their two hired assassins. Members of the group are in it for life, with dire consequences for anyone trying to leave the fold. Stetler is sure that this will continue to become a lucrative business, as long as those who seek their services to not have loose lips.

When Crawford and Rizzo get some intel that points to the possible existence of Eradication, Inc, they begin digging deeper, alerting some within the group that the cover nature may soon be blown. It will take a great deal of effort and determination for Eradication, Inc. not to let everything come crashing down around them, especially with two nosy reporters on the prowl. The grit and determination shown by Crawford and Rizzo is something few in the Chicago reporting world have seen.

Scrambling to put the pieces together and alert the CPD, these two reporters ramp up their competitive side while working to bring down this organisation. It will take everything they have, but someone must act or Eradication, Inc. will continue these brutal murders and turn Chicago into a city with blood flowing down the streets. Another stellar piece by Izzi that only proves even more why I enjoy this author.

While I have been around for each of Edward Izzi’s novels, it took me some time to get used to his style. Izzi writes in a gritty fashion and pulls the reader in from the start. While each novel is a standalone, the setting and characters overlap, such that a reader of all the books will find threads that connect each storyl and add to the enjoyment. Izzi keeps getting better and shows that he is one author worth noting, particularly for the reader who needs something fast paced.

Izzi provides the reader with something intense and yet easy to read, with a strong narrative that keeps the story on track. With short chapters and strong plot development, there is little time for the reader to rest as they make their way through another Chicago-based thriller. As mentioned before, Izzi writes standalones, but some of the charcaters return from book to book, permitting those who have read many of Izzi’s books, as I have, to enjoy some development throughout the overall ‘series’ experience. I cannot say enough about Izzi or his writing and can only hope that there are more to come soon, as I eagerly await his emails with ARCs attached.

Kudos, Mr. Izzi, for impressing yet again! I look forward to what you have to come.

Wanderers (Wanderers #1), by Chuck Wendig

Seven stars

After receiving an ARC for Chuck Wendig’s second novel in this series, I thought it best to begin with the debut novel, in hopes of getting proper context. Part science fiction, part psychological thriller, Wendig offers readers a thought-provoking look into mind control and how science both views it and tries to control it. Wendig digs up some intriguing ideas on which readers can ponder or posit, depending how invested they wish to be in the experience.

After Shana wakes to discover her sister in some trance-like state, she’s worried. This does not appear to be simple sleepwalking, as the younger girl cannot be woken from the state. As the two girls begin a journey walking to an as-yet-unknown destination ,Shana realises that her family is not the only one in the middle of this oddity. Before long, Shana comes to see that many others are sleepwalking in the same manner, with ‘shepherds’ to keep watch over the slumbering individuals.

All the while, a scientist who thought his active work at the CDC was over has been brought back to help on a Black Swan experiment. While this is nothing like any previous scientific endeavour on American soil, secret or publicly known, there is an element of fear woven into Black Swan, such that no one is entirely sure of the endgame.

As the sleepwalking begins to catch headlines, the curiosity turns to fear and people rally against this group that appears destined for a single goal. A militia is formed to exterminate anyone sleepwalking, which only creates more of a dystopia in an already fragile world. The truth behind everything could bind the country together or tear it apart at the seams. Only time will tell and Shana is not ready to wait. Wendig does well to stir up thoughts and controversy within the pages of this book, which is sure to entertain some readers.

While I have not read anything by Chuck Wendig, I have tried other books in the genre with mixed success. Wendig does well laying some groundwork here and keeps the reader guessing as to how things will play out, when the pieces do fall into place. Working on a dystopian/apocalyptic flavouring, the story progresses well and is sure to capture the attention of many readers For me, it was a bit much for the reading mindset in which I find myself at present.

Wendig uses a strong narrative to paint a picture for the reader throughout this piece. At times bleak, while also fascinating, the story weaves its way through surprises and roadblocks along the way. Strong characters with unique personalities cannot be discounted throughout the reading experience, making some readers want to delve deeper. Plot twists emerge, on many fronts, and fuel a story that does not seem to have a clear A to B delineation. That said, for many it follows a path they can handle. Others, like me, may get lost in the slow reveal that is the essence of this novel. While it was not for me, I read the book to get to the ARC, which I will attempt next. Full disclosure, I am already on guard, which may work against a completely neutral review of the latest publication.

Kuds, Mr. Wendig, for concocting something worth talking about. I am eager to see what others think of it and how my views fall on the spectrum.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson

Eight stars

Always ready for something a little spooky, I dove into this classic novella by Robert Louis Stevenson. Exploring the world of dual personality, Stevenson presents the reader with quite the story that resonates throughout. With high-brow narrative description and sensational attention to detail, Stevenson offers the reader insight into the mind, the duality of personality, and the struggles to keep it all in a neat package. Perfect for those who want something spooky without the gore.

London is electric and the population is abuzz. John Gabriel Utterson has been working on many a legal matter but it is a personal one that has him tied up in knots. His friend, Dr. Henry Jekyll, usually quite the sociable fellow, has stopped emerging from his home. Others have seen a man they do not entirely recognize, whom the house staff call Mr. Hyde. While all this seems mysterious enough, the fact that the doctor is letting this lone man inside his home is all the more baffling.

As the days pass, a gruesome murder of a prominent politician occurs and all the signs point to someone matching the description of Mr. Hyde. Is there a way for Mr. Utterson to coax Hyde out, once and for all, or will the mystery continue? Worried that Dr. Jekyll is in grave danger, Utterson and others make a play to enter the home and get to the truth. What they discover will baffle them all and thicken the plot even more. A great piece that can (and was) read in a single sitting, sure to chill the bones and explore the early analysis of dual personality.

I remember reading this piece in high school, many moons ago. While i use the ‘Jekyll-Hyde’ moniker often when I see people acting strangely, I did not remember the nuances of the piece until I re-read it. Stevenson paints quite the vivid image in clear English, leaving the reader to want more and surely getting it throughout this piece. Well developed and full of an English stuffy-collared narrative flow, the piece is easily devoured by the curious reader.

While I have never been one to read classics or even understand how one gets a book listed under this label, I can see how Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella would be given the honour. The narrative flows well, skimming over a number of topics to get the heart of the matter slowly and with obvious momentum. The characters, all of whom depict Victorian fellows, provide some entertainment as the reader can see how their dialogue posits many hypotheses as to the situation with Jekyll and Hyde. While the theme of the story was to be expected, I tried to put myself in the shoes of those who did not know what was coming and found myself quite impressed with the dénouement and Stevenson’s means of addressing the as of then unknown dual personality disorder. I’ll likely try to read it again around the Hallowe’en season, as I have with other books of the same nature.

Kuds, Mr. Stevenson, for a spooky tale that had me thinking a little more.

This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden and the Battle for American Democracy, by Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns

Nine stars

While the 2024 US Presidential Election is still a while way, the mid-term congressional elections for 2022 are just around the corner. This makes it the perfect time to sink my teeth into this book by Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns. Martin and Burns provide the reader with an insightful piece that explores the doomed final year of the Trump Administration—complete with scandals and riot—before turning to examine the first year or so of the Biden White House. With a number of first hand accounts and interviews, the authors provide the reader with a scintillating read, at least for those who enjoy the subject matter.

There is no doubt that the Trump Administration, and 45th president himself, transformed American politics into an embarrassing circus. The authors use the opening chapters of the book to explore the final year of that doomed Administration, riddled with lies, panic, and an inability to cope with the COVID outbreak. Crazy home remedies splashed across the headlines of major news outlets, with The Donald spouting his odd-ball comments at every turn. He used this to catapult him into the 2020 presidential election, where he was sure he would win, no matter his opponent. Democrats had another idea and, after much cat-fighting of their own, chose a viable candidate in Joe Biden, longtime politicians in DC and former vice-present. The gloves came off and, as many will know, things did not turn out well for the Republicans in the White House, or either congressional house.

While rhetoric flew and people spewed rigged elections, the Biden team had to prepare to take over the White House, looking to create a sold group that could take America out of the quagmire it found itself and return things to stable ground. Biden and his closest associates found the transition period tough, as they tried to appease many they met on the campaign trail, while ensuring that they did not lose their base. Clinging to the smallest of majorities in the House of Representatives and a virtual tie in the Senate, which could be broken by VP Kamala Harris, Biden had to walk carefully in who he chose for senior roles.

While the riots of January 6, 2021 rocked the Capitol, lawmakers began to see just how crazy things could get under Trump and how fresh ideas might be the answer. Biden’s early attempts at reunifying the country fell short, both because many of the electorate still fell for the lies of rigged elections and fake results, but also because of the razor-thin majorities both Houses gave him. With two senators who appeared ready to wear the Democrat hat only when it suited them, Biden had to ensure he compromised, but even that was not enough. While the Republicans were in a Trumpian Civil War, the Democrats were imploded just as much, having stretched themselves too thin and trying to be too inclusive.

As the authors recount the struggles for any sort of meaningful legislation, Biden was beginning to show cracks on his own. His memory gaffes could only accentuate his age and many wondered if he would be a place keeper for the next star within the Democratic Party. Who that could be was anyone’s guess, as VP Kamala Harris was not shining on her own, though some feel this was because she was not given anything with which she could do so. As the authors point to many weaknesses, they remind the reader that neither party appeared ready to effectively lead America further into the 21st century. Age, infighting, and an inability to see America’s needs over their own, politicians turned to protecting themselves and leaving America to the dogs.

Building on the issues that both parties possess, the authors depict an America that is ready for change and newness, though without a light to guide them. Can this solely be because of the Trump years? Certainly not, though many of his decisions resonate throughout the tome’s narrative. Could Biden have been the elder statesman on paper but really not a man able to lead the country out of peril and into a new Promised Land? It would not be a stretch to profess that. However, change is coming, immediately in the form of mid-term congressional elections, which are sure to reflect the electorate’s beliefs in how things have been run, as well as though who have yet to toss aside the yoke of falsehood and panic. One thing is for sure; it will be a hell of a ride up to the 2024 election, with primaries paving the way for what could be the fight of a lifetime. I’m ready for it and can only hope I have to stomach to handle the drama.

Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns do a fabulous job at laying out the groundwork for what is sure to be a raucous next few years, offering not only insight into the end of the Trump Era, but also how wobbly things appeared to be when Biden took the reins. Instability is the name of the game and, through a number of well-crafted chapters, the authors weave a tale of despair, worry, and outright nonsense as politicians sought to define themselves or hide in the shadow of a man whose only interest is in himself. The arguments were strong and portrayed both parties as troublesome, while pulling no punches about how Biden has not been the saviour many had hoped he would be. There are fissures in the Democratic Party, large enough that they ought not be able to withstand the onslaught in November 2022, but there is still hope that 2024 is not lost. Exploring things from many angles and discussion so many actors whose roles are pivotal to understanding the larger story, both authors shone and left me wanting more on the subject. As I read the news and see how troubling things are getting South of the Canadian border, I can only wonder how rocky a road it will be for the next while. As a lover of all things political, I am ready, popcorn in hand!

Kudos, Messrs. Martin and Burns, for a stellar piece of work, I cannot wait to read more by you and on this subject matter.

Murder at Black Oaks (Robin Lockwood #6), by Phillip Margolin

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Phillip Margolin, 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.

A long-time fan of Phillip Margolin and his work, I was eager to read this latest in the Robin Lockwood series. Margolin uses his strong ability with legal thriller and mixes in a murder mystery to create a doubly impressive piece for everyone. Full of great drama and some strong storytelling, Margolin impresses while never losing the momentum that this series appears to have with each new novel.

Frank Hardy was a stellar part of the DA’s office, able to push for convictions on many crimes. He even went so far as to put a man on death row for a heinous crime. After leaving for private practice, Hardy discovers that one of his clients was actually behind the murder, but knows the rules of attorney-client privilege keep anyone from being the wiser.

Years later, Hardy summons up-and-coming defence attorney, Robin Lockwood, to his palatial estate in the Oregon mountains. Hardy reveals what he knows and pushes Lockwood to see that justice is done, allowing an innocent man to go free. Lockwood does all she can, while also baffled about Hardy’s residence, the Black Oaks manor. Many a mysterious thing happened at the original manor, in the heart of England.

After Lockwood is successful in getting Jose Alvarez free from prison, they make their way to Black Oaks for a celebratory meal. Alvarez has made it clear that he holds a grudge towards Hardy for the delay in acting to set him free, even over the rational arguments made by his attorney. When Frank Hardy and others are murdered during the party, many wonder if the curse of Black Oaks has reared its ugly head. Robin finds herself scrambling to find a killer and try to piece it all together before too many others fall victim to a murderer and the curse of Black Oaks. Margolin dazzles with this piece and proves his versatile nature.

Phillip Margolin has proven his ability time and time again, luring me in with a well-developed story and a cast of characters well worth the reading time. This story moves things away from being strictly legal and into the realm of mystery, as if Robin Lockwood must temporarily resurrect a character from an Agatha Christie novel. Working on building a strong connection to the story and characters alike, Margolin proves he has what it takes to entertain the reader throughout.

Margolin develops a strong narrative and uses this to propel the story forward. With a strong foundation, the story clips along at a rapid pace, helped by short chapters and a handful of strong characters. The plot twists move the story from a legal thriller to a mystery, taking the reader along for an exciting ride. Building on a series that has already garnered a great deal of positive feedback by fans, Margolin is set to keep things flowing with ease, well into the future. I cannot wait to see what’s next for Robin and her legal team!

Kudos, Mr. Margolin, for a great piece that had me binge reading and enjoying every moment.

Exposed (Splitsville Legal Thriller #2), by William Bernhardt

Eight stars

Always keen to read anything by William Bernhardt, I returned to this new series to see how the worlds of divorce and murder collide. (No comments from the peanut gallery, please!) Bernhardt spins quite the story and gets to the root of many topics that are abuzz in society, while also using his stunning writing style to keep the reader entertained throughout. Another winner from an author who has shown he has the magic many authors seek.

As a competent divorce attorney, Kenzi Rivera works well in her family’s practice. However, she is still living in the shadows cast by both her father and brother, leaving Kenzie eager to carve out her own niche. When she lands a high-profile divorce case, she’s sure that it will help her define an already exciting career. When a two members of a thruple reach out for assistance in a divorce case, Kenzie is eager to help. Wading into the world of polyamorous relationships, Kenzie realises just how poorly versed she, and most of the legal community, tend to be on the subject.

After a scandalous set of photos leak during the divorce proceedings, Kenzie must be on guard for what could happen next. When one of the women in the thruple turns on the other and accepts a payout, tempers flare and accusations are made, but things really take a turn when the jilted wife is accused of murdering her fellow wife by strangulation.

Kenzie is forced to change gears and leave divorce proceedings behind as she defends her client on charges of murder. The evidence is stacked against her, but Kenzie is not yet ready to toss in the proverbial towel. Working her way through the trial, Kenzie wonders if there is more to the thruple than meets the eye and whether someone might be trying to push all the blame on her client.

All the while, someone has been targeting people along the streets of Seattle, strangling them and leaving their bodies for the authorities to discover, while others simply vanish into thin air. Could the Seattle Strangler be behind the murders, leaving Kenzie’s client in the clear? It will be a major uphill battle, pitting Kenzie against some ruthless DA who is seeking to advance his career. However, determination will be one of the tools in Kenzie’s legal quiver she will have to use effectively. Bernhardt at his best, stirring up legal matters to educate his readings fans!

I have long enjoyed the work of William Bernhardt, finding his approach to legal writing to be both intriguing and highly educational. Bernhardt always hits the nail on the head and shows how complex legal matters can be. Using new and unique angles to the law, the reader is able to immerse themselves in all that Bernhardt has to offer, taking much away from each novel. Well-paced and full of drama, this is a series I am surprisingly enjoying more than I thought I might.

William Bernhardt has a way with writing, such that the reader is pulled into the middle of the legal drama and never loses their interest. The momentum builds with a strong narrative and develops as plots and characters add depth to an already intriguing piece. Chapters of varying lengths keep the reader guessing what awaits them and they can usually find momentum in forging onwards as the book gets more intense. Bernhardt uses legal and societal matters to grease the wheels, keeping the reader in an ever-learning situation. I am keen to see how the next (and last?) novel in the series will play out for fans.

Kudos, Mr. Bernhardt, for another winner in a long list of wonderful novels.

The Collector (Kaldan and Schäfer #2), by Anne Mette Hancock

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Anne Mette Hancock, andCrooked Lane Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

After her series debut piqued my interest, I returned for another ARC by Anne Mette Hancock. A Danish psychological thriller, the story works in ways that force me to look outside my traditional expectations for novels in the genre. Full of local flavouring, Hancock develops a piece that is sure to intrigue many readers, though I am not sure if the original Danish was more impactful from a linguistic point of view.

After the disappearance of a young boy from his school, the authorities in Copenhagen are on high alert. Lukas was gifted in ways that exceeded academia; he obsessed over pareidolia, where one sees faces in inanimate objects. After scouring Lukas’ possessions, they discover a photo of a barn door with what could be a face in the shadows. Might this be a clue to his whereabouts? Journalist Heloise Kaldan thinks that she might be able to help, but struggles with locating the source of the barn.

After the grisly discovery of Lukas’ jacket, the forensics points to a former soldier with a mountain of issues all his own. Could Thomas Strand have abducted Lukas for some twisted reason? What was the endgame in all of this and how did it all take place? While Heloise Kaldan works with the authorities, including Detective Erik Schäfer, little comes together, However, once Strand is found executed in his apartment, the case takes on deeper and more sinister panic.

A missing child, an executed soldier with mental health issues, and this lingering pareidolia. How did it all come together so swiftly? While Schäfer and Kaldan try to piece it all together, they have some personal demons that must come to the surface or risk ruing their ability to successfully manage the case. In a gripping piece that has moments where the reader will surely gasp aloud, Hancock creates a chilling tale with a tense ending for all to enjoy!

While I do read a number of Scandinavian thrillers, I would not call myself an expert, That said, I know what I like and which books I am happy to push to the side. Anne Mette Hancock has all the ingredients for a strong piece, though there were times I felt it lacking. I contemplated what it could be and wonde if the translation was not as crisp as I would have liked. I know that with many books that face the translation mountain, I cannot tell where the seams are located. However, with this one, they were all too apparent, leaving things slightly jilted.

The key to a strong thriller is to begin with a bang. Hancock does that with the disappearance of a young child, as well as some of the subplots related to the protagonists. She pulls the reader in and uses her narrative abilities to build on the story from there. Once things are strong from a foundational point of view, Hancock is able to incorporate strong characters and key plot twists to keep the story moving. I felt as though I were on the streets of Copenhagen throughout and never left the scene of the crime, which exemplifies Hancock’s abilities. I am eager to see if there will be more to this series, which I may give one more chance, as the translation proves a yoke to my overall enjoyment.

Kudos, Madam Hancock, for another intriguing piece. I am curious where things are headed now.

The Prisoner, by B.A. Paris

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, B.A. Paris, and Macmillman Audio for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

After reading the dust jacket blurb for this piece I was eager to get my hands on B.A. Paris’ latest novel. Full of some chilling psychological twists, Paris provides the reader with an addictive thriller that is sure to keep them up well into the night. Paris builds her story effectively and provides a clear path towards the unknown. Well-paced and surely something for fans of this genre!

Amelie is a woman with a great deal of resolve, having faced adversity from a young age. She’s lost both her parents while living in Paris and has now made a life in London, hoping for something fresh. Slowly creating a life for herself, Amelie gets caught up in a posh lifestyle and catches the eye of Jed Hawthorne, a man who has significant money in family wealth.

When Amelie wakes up in a dark room, she tries to piece together what’s happened to her. It takes a while, weaseling information out of her captors, but Amelie discovers that both she and Ned are being held prisoner. While Ned feel certain that Amelie is dead, he makes choices that prove that she is but a pawn to him. This leaves Amelie to wonder whether she has anyone backing her, or if she is left to her own devices. As the days advance, Amelie learns more about her supposed husband and his family, though it is anything but exhilarating. A chilling story that proves Paris has what it takes.

While this may be the first of B.A. Paris’ novels I have read, it will likely not be the last. Paris constructs a great piece, full of psychological thrills that are sure to impress the dedicated reader. Slow at times, the story has many ups and downs, but ends up working well, with a great ending that will keep the reader gasping late into the night.

Paris uses a great narrative to develop the story, keeping the pace throughout while leading the reader down many a rabbit hole. With chilling twists, the story evolves and turns into somethingthe reader will likely remember for a long time. Great characters and a setting that adds needed flavouring, the story is able to grow through these pathways. While I struggled with some slow parts, the overall experience was redeemed by the end and left me wanting to try more of Paris’ work. This audio version of the book allows the reader to use their imagination to picture what’s taking place, as the narrator weaves the layers of the story together for an impactful conclusion

Kudos, Madam Paris, for a great piece that is sure to impress many.

Monsters Amongst Us (Interrogations #0.75), by Krishnaraj HK

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Krishnaraj HK for providing me with a copy of this short story, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

I was pleased to be handed another ARC by the author for a new short story, also highly entertaining. Always enjoying a great police procedural, I eagerly devoured this piece, which uses an Indian perspective. Well-paced and peppered with twists, I was yet again impressed.

Dev Shinde, Senior Superintendent with the Bombay Crime Bureau, has a file sitting on his desk, which is sure to be the proverbial hot potato. Tina Rakesh arrived at the police station, intoxicated and admitting that she shot her husband and his lover. She is happy to assist the authorities in any way she can. Shinde knows that this is sure to be first degree murder, with serious consequences if she is found guilty. Additionally, Tina’s parents are established members of the law enforcement community, muddying the waters even more.

After SS Shinde approaches Tina, he learns of her drunken escapade and reads some of the early forensics. Something does not make sense and the more Tina speaks, the more SS Shinde wonders if she’s been set-up. A deeper investigation proves that the pistol shots were not the same for the two victims and that CCTV coverage makes it hard for Tina to have been on the scene. If that’s the case, who is the culprit and why are they targeting Tina Rakesh? SS Shinde delves even deeper, using his skills and the assistance of all the evidence to cobble together a truth that could target the real killer or killers. Krishnaraj impresses once more with a gritty short story!

I usually find it a great risk when an author approaches, seeking feedback on their work. While there is pressure, I keep things honest for all involved. I enjoyed this police procedural short story by Krishnaraj and it did once again whet my appetite for the upcoming novel with the same cast of characters. The story proves strong and creates great twists throughout, allowing the reader some surprises. There was less character development in this piece, but I am still eager to learn more about those who surround SS Shinde, as well as the police detective himself.

Many police procedurals rely on strong narrative direction, particularly for readers not familiar with the local customs or system of law. Krishnaraj keeps things moving at a brisk pace and the reader is able to follow with ease. Characters are plentiful and one can hope they will reappear in the full-length novel to come. Plot twists throughout keep the reader on their toes, as mentioned before, while also providing some ‘aha’ moments. I am glad that I took the time to read another of these shorter pieces and await the full novel.

Kudos, Mr. Krishnaraj, for reaching out yet again. I am eager to see how well you write full novels in the same genre.

The Palace Papers: Inside the House of Windsor- the Truth and the Turmoil, by Tina Brown

Eight stars

With the recent passing of HRH Queen Elizabeth II, it was fate that this book by Tina Brown became available around the same time. Always one to enjoy a bit of historical explaining when it comes to royalty, I was intrigued to see what Brown had to say about the royals and some of the characters who have made headlines in the last few years, scandals and successes alike.

Brown presents the book as being a great means of exploring the backstories and more recent happenings of a number of royals. She seeks to give the reader a better understanding of the context into which the current tabloid headlines base their comments. This permits the reader to better fit the pieces together and provides a concrete understanding of how these royals lived such over-the-top lives.

While Brown’s book does delve into a number of the scandalous activities a handful of royals found themselves, I feel that it would be a waste of time to list them. Those who are interested in reading this book, as I was, are surely aware of the gist surrounding these events, but seek more of the details or context. Brown does well to offer that, providing the reader with great anecdotes.

The structure of the book seeks to explore each of the royals on their own, but also to show how their lives intertwine. There are certain moments where the likes of Charles, Andrew, and William are all compared, though there is an effort to present their differing views as part of the larger picture. This enriches the narrative and provides the curious reader with a better all-around analysis of a single event.

While there is no way to dodge that there are some scandalous moments depicted within the pages of the book, Brown seeks not to make it smarmy or overly controversial. Rather, she provides the reader with some great insight and seeks to delve a little deeper to help the reader better understand what took place, rather than sensationalize the event at hand.

As the book was published earlier in 2022, much of the comments surrounding the future of the royals comes into greater clarity now that HRH Queen Elizabeth II has died. With the ascension of Charles III to the throne, some of the expectation of the royals have shifted, or their roles become more important. While Brown could not have predicted the reality when she penned this book, a great deal is coming to pass now, as I watch the news and see how things at Buckingham Palace have changed. An oracle without necessarily knowing it.

When taking a look at the book itself, the reader can feel a sense of enjoyment as they learn about the central royals without feeling the need to take a shower to cleanse themselves from all the disgusting reporting. Brown paces the book to explore a number of the key royals in a respectiful and courteous manner, without treating them like glass figurines. In full chapters, Brown addresses characters and themes that enrich the storytelling experience. She pulls on a number of key events and gives context, which provides the reader with a better view of the horizon before them. I found her writing clear and concise, making me want to learn a great deal more when time permits.

Kudos, Madam Brown, for a highly insightful piece. I am ready to learn more about the royals and you seem to be a wonderful vehicle for my education.

The Cellar, by John Nicholl

Eight stars

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

When approached by John Nicholl to read his latest novel, I was pleased and cleared my schedule. Nicholl is known for his succinct and yet terrifyingly realistic depictions of the depravity that the world can produce. With short chapters and a punchy plot, the story flows well and keeps the reader enthused until all is revealed.

Marcus Gove has had issues for many years, something that has been whispered about by those who spend time with him. However, he’s never been caught and keeps some of his deepest secrets to himself. He captures women and stores them in his cellar, particularly those who will not be missed. He enjoys sick forms of torture, dismembering his victims and ensuring their parts are found by others.

After Gove, who refers to himself as Moloch in public, tries to entice a young Lucy Williams to come paint him home, she is intrigued. The daughter of the local Member of Parliament, Williams is pleased to see her artistic talents are being noticed by those in West Wales. When Lucy is lured to Moloch’s home, she soon realises that she’s in way over her head. Being held captive, she will have to hope that someone notices she’s gone missing.

When Lucy’s father calls on the police to help with his disappearance, the West Wales force begin their investigation. Part of that includes calling DI Laura Kesey back from holiday. Working with the few clues at her disposal, DI Kesey begins learning a little more about this Moloch and how serious things could get for Lucy if she’d not found soon. It’s a race against time with a ruthless murderer hiding in the shadows. Nicholl does it again with an impactful novel sure to chill all readers.

John Nicholl is one author I can be sure will entertain me with his stories. Set in Wales, the novels offer that wonderful flavouring, while also tapping into some great storytelling of the darker side of society. Nicholl is back to present a piece about a sadistic killer who is on the hunt for more victims, with a police force ready to delve in and keep the peace. I enjoyed this one again and hope there are more to come soon.

Nicholl knows how to spin a tale, using a strong narrative base to provide the reader with something easy to follow, Adding a handful of strong characters who are able to flesh out the narrative foundation, Nicholl adds another element that keeps things moving. With a plot similar to some of his past pieces, Nicholl must try to make this piece stand out. He did so, while also using the traditional ‘police hunt’ tactic that many novels in the genre tend to prefer. While everything seemed to go really well, I was a little disappointed with what appeared to be a quick resolution. A swift act within the cellar and the police come rushing in, then the story ties itself up in a few more pages. I would have liked something a tad more suspenseful and developing in the climax.

Kudos, Mr. Nicholl, for another winner. I am always happy to see when one of your books lands in my inbox.

The Fall Girl, by Marcia Clark

Seven stars

Always eager to read the legal fiction she writes, I turned to the latest novel by Marcia Clark. While some readers will remember her from the early 90s—when a certain iconic sports hero got away with murder—Clark has reinvented herself as a great writer of legal thrillers, pulling on her experiences, both personal and professional. Clark weaves an intriguing story that adds layers as the story progresses, though it lacked some of the impact I came to expect in both her previous series. A decent novel, though not yet at the level I have come to expect of Marcia Clark.

Charlie Blair has been trying to reinvent herself in the Santa Cruz DA’s office, having left a great deal in the dust. While she’s been trying to forget her past life in Chicago, she’s been finding the ability to self-medicate usually takes the edge off. However, all that comes crashing down when she’s handed the file of a recently murdered bail bondsman, Shelly Hansen.

When Charlie is paired with the new hot-shot prosecutor, it could be a great match. Charlie hopes to learn much from Erika Lorman, who has a way with juries and is riding a high after putting away a celebrity chef for murder. However, Charlie notices some cracks in the case and cannot help but wonder if there was something more than legal maneuverings taking place.

With a prime suspect in Shelly Hansen’s murder in the crosshairs, Charlie will have to decide if she can pin the murder of a teenage girl. Things seem to be stacked up against her, but even Charlie cannot believe everything she’s reading. When a distraction from her past puts Charlie on the edge, there’s no telling how the present case will be affected. A chilling legal thriller that has many of the needed elements to make a great story.

When I discovered that Marcia Clark was writing legal thrillers, I had to given them a chance. I could not put them down once I started, as the stories are as intense as they are gritty. A strong plot keeps things interesting for the reader, while Clark uses her legal knowledge to paint quite the picture. While this one waned a bit, there is hope that it was simply the standalone jitters that left me feeling a tad underwhelmed.

The key to a great thriller is to find the crime and build on it from there. I feel as though Marcia Clark has been using all the needed ingredient to make a great story, from a foundational narrative on up. Proving to be a key pathway to the story’s success, the narrative uses both past and present to tell the story of Charlie Blair, filling in gaps for the reader along the way. Great characters help paint the scenes well, though I was sometimes confused as the time period changes from chapter to chapter. The plot kept things interesting, both in the courtroom and out in the community. Even with two time periods, things appeared to come together nicely. It may have simply been me and the headspace in which I currently find myself, but I felt a lack of spark throughout the piece. There were great moments, but my attention waned as I forged through the book, which is not what usually happens when Marcia Clark is at the helm. I will chalk it up to a lot on my plate and see what others feel about this book before casting my views too heavily.

Kudos, Madam Clark, for another good book. I hope others find a great deal to enjoy in your writing as well.