The Future is Yours, by Dan Frey

Eight stars

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

What would you do if you created a piece of technology that could peer into the future and demonstrate what life would be like, scanning emails you have yet to write and seeing search engine results for events that have yet to occur? Such is the premise of Day Frey’s novel, The Future is Yours. Two young men create a system that can project ahead, hoping that it will help people see the path they are bound to take, a likely goldmine. However, the road is fraught with unforeseen (or ignored) paths, such that the future is more likely to ruin, rather than reinforce, life as you know it. A thought provoking piece that touches on the technology, while offering an insight into why one might not want to peer behind the elusive curtain. Recommended to those who love a little tech in their thrillers.

Ben Boyce and Adhvan (Adhi) Chaudry had an irresistible bond in college, fuelled by their love of technology. They worked together on an idea that would create a system that could look into the future, allowing the user to forecast what lay ahead for them and the world at large. While many scoffed at the idea, Ben and Adhi forged on, using their determination to make it work.

Money proved to be elusive, but this could not deter the two men from pursuing their dreams. Ben was the business-minded one, while Adhi worked through the quantum computing, finally coming up with something that could be feasible. Their system, dubbed The Future, caught the eye of many in the tech and business worlds, though there was still a great deal of reticence by those who did not like dabbling into the future.

After Ben brought his wife, Leila, on to act as legal counsel, everything appeared to be running smoothly. However, the system itself needed some strong parameters in order to function well. Could seeing into the future allow someone to alter their destined path? Might this glimpse allow for illegal and unethical decisions to be made? Falling into the wrong hands, might this prove to be an issue of national security? Ben and Adhi are forced to wrestle with this, as well as some of their own personal quibbles, all while The Future rises in prominence.

As emotions run high and business decisions are made, someone will get left in the dust. It becomes a bloodsport to juggle The Future with what the months ahead will bring, including being summoned before Congress to answer for the technology. Ben is armed with foreknowledge of what is to come, but nothing will prepare him for The Future, including the future itself.

This book caught my eye when I saw the dust jacket summary, as I am always intrigued about what forecasting ahead would do for the world. While America has just gone through a political abyss where they wished to see how to make America great after authoritarian rule, many have not seriously thought or hoped to know what awaits them on the other side of the proverbial horizon. Dan Frey offers readers an insight without getting too tech-heavy or delving into the world of sci-fi.

Ben Boyce and Adhi Chaudry offer up wonderful co-protagonists in this piece. While they come from vastly different backgrounds, their passion for technology and looking into the future binds them together. There is some backstory woven into the narrative, mostly to explore how the two met and what brought them here, with a great deal of the focus in the present (and future, to a degree). Ben is the business-minded one whose eye is on the prize, while Adhi struggles with being the tech-savvy geek who is pushed aside and forgotten. These two men grow, independently at times, together in other instances, but surely apart as well. Their personal and professional struggles are front and centre in this piece, as the reader is forced to choose which of them is the more relatable and perhaps liked.

Frey does well to develop some strong supporting characters, some of whom emerge throughout the piece, while others are blips on the radar of this book. The present/future mix allows the reader to see how certain people will influence things throughout the novel, steering the story in directions for a time before letting fate take the lead. This is done so effectively and many of those who grace the pages of the book become influencers of the story’s future, in a unique manner.

While I am not usually a fan of sci-fi, this book really connected with me. It does have the element of looking into the future and using technology to dictate the path, but it does not get too heavy in that regard, keeping it readable and fun for the masses. Frey writes in such a way that concepts are easy to understand and fun for the reader throughout. This is not your typical story, in that it is retold through emails, memos, congressional testimony, and text messages. The narrative flows well using these forms of communication, exhibiting the emotion one might expect from strong narrative and dialogue. The plot is strong and pushes ahead, forecasting and foreboding throughout, as Ben and Adhi face professional and personal struggles throughout. If Dan Frey’s novel says anything, it is that his future is sure to be successful, and one need not look into any piece of technology to predict that!

Kudos, Mr. Frey, for a strong piece of writing that captured my attention throughout. I am eager to see what others think of it and where you will take readers next. The future awaits…

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

The Shadow Man, by Helen Fields

Eight stars

After developing a strong DI Luc Callanach series, Helen Fields sets about dazzling her readers with yet another superb standalone novel. The Shadow Manis not only a great police procedural, but also pushes the genre to the limits with one of the most unique serial killers I have come across in all my years reading. Steeped with action, suspense, and some psychological chills, Fields proves that she is a force to be reckoned with when she puts her mind to it. Fans of her past work the genre in general will surely find something captivating in this piece, though it will also keep them up well in to the night.

Dr. Connie Woodwine has been called in to help work a case within Police Scotland’s Major Investigation Team (MIT). An American, Woodwine brings her experience as a forensic psychologist to a baffling case and is teamed up with DI Brodie Baarda, based in Edinburgh. A woman’s found slain in her bed and the best friend who had arrived to see her is kidnapped from the driveway. Woodwine and Baarda have no idea where to begin, as the forensics are scarce and the leads non-existent. 

After word comes over the wire that a teenage girl was abducted in plain sight by a gangly, skeletal man outside a library, Woodwine and Baarda try to determine if this is another abduction or an extrapolation of their own case. Still, there is little on which to go, save the eerie description by another youth. Still, it’s something for the time being.

Meanwhile, in an undisclosed location, the two victims begin to see that they are playing parts in a sick a sadistic game with a man who fancies himself already dead. His emaciated body is disgusting enough, but the ‘play acting’ he has them perform while in captivity takes things to a whole new level. He almost encompasses the role as head of a family, one that meets his every needs. As the kidnapper continues to add to his brood, his more violent side comes out, making him a threat in an entirely new way.

Woodwine and Baarda begin to piece things together, though extremely slowly. It is nothing that will guarantee solving the case, but this sliver of information could help expand the search parameters, while they wrestle to comprehend the killer’s physical and psychological anomalies. They’ll need to stay on top of things if they hope to save those who have been taken and find justice for those whose lives have already been extinguished.

I got a kick out of reading the comments made by some about how ‘pleasantly surprised’ they were to see this novel come from Helen Fields. In my humble opinion, this is Fields in and out, pushing the boundaries and bringing police procedurals to life with strong narratives and stellar characters. Set again in Scotland, the reader gets that brogue feel within the banter as a killer seeks to exact their own form of tortuous behaviour to allay their own fears.

Connie Woodwine and Brodie Baarda definitely share the spotlight in this piece, with the former’s ‘foreignness’ definitely receiving a little added focus. Woodwine’s own backstory adds something to the story, after she suffered a brain injury as a teenager and ended up as an achromat, unable to see colour whatsoever. Living her life in black, white, and shades of grey, Woodwine is able to get to the core of the case with her exceptional determination throughout the piece. Her banter with Baarda’s whose past seems much less exciting, proves to be a key element to the novel’s success. This is a duo that works so well together, one can only imagine if it will spin into a series to rival DI Luc Callanach.

By and large, the secondary characters are wonderful with the central antagonist, Fergus Ariss, proving masterful. His body is plagued with an illness that is only revealed in the latter part of the novel, though his mental rationalisations prove baffling throughout. Ariss uses those who fall into his clutches so well and creates this secondary world that readers cannot help but discover in the well-paced narrative. Ariss does well to keep the flow of the story going as he tries to build up his familial empire one victim at a time. There’s little time to rest as the story’s flavour gets deeper and more alluring as the chapters flow. Those who support both the protagonists and the antagonist find themselves perfectly placed, developed effectively throughout.

Kudos, Madam Fields, for another great read. I am eager to see what else you have in store for your fans.

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

The Fight for Free Speech: Ten Cases that Define Our First Amendment Freedoms, by Ian Rosenberg

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Ian Rosenberg, and NYU Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

When it comes to discussions surrounding free speech, Americans look to the First Amendment to their constitution to protect themselves. Ian Rosenberg explores the nuances and elasticity of this part of the US Constitution to show just how versatile it can be, as well as how it has been used and adjudicated over the last number of years. Free speech and expression is surely a hot button issue today, not only in America, and Rosenberg does a masterful job of presenting key legal arguments in lay terms, such that anyone can easily understand and process the topic, should they choose.

Ian Rosenberg has a legal background and has used some of the more recent goings-on in America to explore they hot button issue of free speech and how it came to be defined. He chose ten recent situations, from Madonna’s outburst that she would like to blow up the White House to Colin Kaepernick’s ‘taking a knee’ during the American anthem, as well as a woman offering President Trump a ‘friendly finger’ while jogging to the Complainer-in-Chief vowing to sue for libel when the late-night shows speak poorly about him. These are all highly intriguing issues and worth a deeper look.

Rosenberg does not only dissect the current issues and put them into context, but looks back in time to see what major legal battles occurred to permit (or limit) the various forms of free speech in America. Rosenberg effectively presents the full story of each case before delving into the legal battles that led to historic decisions that shape First Amendment use in America today. Some issues turned out I would have expected, while others were surely cloaked in historical context, such as US patriotism during the Second World War or Vietnam. In all ten instances, a thorough exploration of the legal and societal matters provides a wonderful narrative for those who may not be professionally or scholastically well-versed in all the minutiae.

Using twenty legal vignettes over ten chapters, Rosenberg tells of the various uses of the First Amendment, from its wide interpretation in some regards to strict interpretation in the highest American court. There were some highly humorous aspects, particularly when the ‘stuffy shirt’ Justices heard the case of a man protesting the Vietnam War with ‘Fuck the Draft’ on his jacket. What some would call the most basic right of a free and democratic country is not as black and white as it might seen. That being said, Rosenberg makes it easy to comprehend and keeps the reader engaged throughout. His extensive use of endnotes, while sometimes appearing overbearing, shows that he is determined to provide the most detailed information possible, relying on many outside sources. Yet, the writing is clear and easy to digest, making the book much more relatable for the lay person. There are countless revelations throughout and a handful of ‘aha’ moments that showed me that I am not as knowledgeable as I might have thought. This pleases me to no end, as I love to learn new things about topics that appeal to me.

Kudos, Mr. Rosenberg, for a well-paced book that stirs up the political, legal, and societal arguments around expression in all its forms. I will keep an eye out for more of your writing in the coming months.

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

Deep into the Dark (Detective Margaret Nolan #1), by P.J. Tracy

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, P. J. Tracy , 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.

After thoroughly enjoying the development of the Monkeewrench series, I was eager to see P.J. Tracy return with a new publication. A standalone, or perhaps a germinating series, this book differs greatly from the cold streets of Minneapolis. Rather, it’s a hot mystery set inside LA, with a killer who targets women and a recent Afghan vet whose battle with PTSD is one that is not going well. Tracy offers up a quick mystery with some interesting development, though Deep Into the Darkfails to resonate for me yet, as the Monkeewrench novels did repeatedly.

Sam Easton is back in the States, after a harrowing time serving his country overseas. What he saw and experienced in Afghanistan is enough to leave any man with wounds, something Sam does not lack. However, it is the marks that cannot be traced with a finger that cause Sam so many issues. His PTSD is severe, causing him horrible nightmares and blackouts that no amount of prescribed medication or visits to his psychiatrist can aid.

Sam’s taken up a job tending bar while he tries to piece his life back together., The city’s abuzz with a string of killings, as young women are found brutality killed in out of the way fleabag motels. While the LAPD are on the case, it’s a giant mystery as to where they ought to begin.

LAPD Detectives Margaret Nolan and Al Crawford are tossed the case, though they are slow to make any progress. After a few more bodies are found, one Sam Easton becomes a person of interest, as his ex-wife is one of those left slain. While Easton eschews his innocence, offering up a flimsy alibi, he cannot be sure where truth ends and possibility begins. His bouts of terrors and blackouts continue with increased intensity, forcing him to wonder if he could be living two lives, as he acts out what’s seen in these vivid dreams.

As Detective Nolan tries to give Sam the benefit of the doubt, she cannot ignore all the evidence that stands before her. However, there seems to be something that no one can ignore, which includes someone lurking in the shadows, almost seeking to pin the crimes on Sam as a distraction for a larger plan. While Sam’s terrors become all the more vivid, he will have to find a way to push the target off his back, or go down as a scapegoat.

I usually really enjoy the work that P.J. Tracy puts out. The moniker referred to an explosive mother-daughter team throughout most of the Monkeewrench series. When the elder passed on, it morphed into a fine-oiled machine headed by an experienced writer who knew her way around the streets of Minneapolis. With this new series, things seem a tad disjointed still, though there is the possibility that a fresh approach is still working out the kinks. I’d like to stick things out to see how the characters develop and whether Tracy can keep the momentum going.

While reading, I was apt to call Sam Easton the protagonist, as his bouts of PTSD cannot be ignored. However, it would see the reader should be focussing their time on Margaret Nolan and her glass ceiling breaking experiences within the LAPD. There are a number of building blocks P.J. Tracy has laid out to develop her character, including her fight to make a name for herself as the struggles with PTSD inside her own family. Nolan was not, for me, as memorable or central as I would have hoped a protagonist to be, though her presence cannot be ignored. Tracy has begun developing the Nolan character carefully, though there is still a great deal that needs to be done to showcase her effectively.

The use of a number of secondary characters keeps the story flowing. As I mentioned before, Tracy confuses things by offering Sam Easton more of the spotlight than a supporting character might normally receive, but I was pleased to see how intricate the development was to add depth and flavour to the story. The reader is able to see interesting side perspectives of veterans returning from the battlefield and how things are mishandled, leaving many to medicate (either under a doctor’s care or on their own) to dull the pain. The reader is treated to a number of other characters as well, all of whom provide something to keep the story from going flat.

Looking at the overall reading experience, Tracy provides the reader with an interesting mystery and an intriguing police procedural. While the narrative focuses more on the Sam Easton angle, there are moments that Margaret Nolan is permitted to shine in her own debut. The writing is strong and pushes the story along quite effectively, helped with short chapters to capture the reader’s attention. With a narrative that seeks to guide and dialogue that helps to show the way, P.J. Tracy lays the groundwork for what could be a decent series, though her fans will surely play the comparative game against the long-established Monkeewrench novels, as I did. In the end, it’s a great start and there is a lot of room to grow, perfect for those who need something that will intrigue, yet not full engross them just yet!

Kudos, Madam Tracy, for a nice start to something new. I’ll stick around to see what else you have in store for us soon!

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

The Survivors, by Jane Harper

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Jane Harper , and Macmillan Audio for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Jane Harper is back with yet another stunning Australian thriller, sure to grab the reader from the opening pages. A small Tasmanian community is pulled into the middle of new mysteries and a man who has come back home must relive the horrors of a past he hoped to compartmentalised. Harper does it all in The Survivors, while showing how versatile she can be with a slow reveal plot and all the elements for a wonderful book.

Kieran Elliott has come back to Tasmania to visit family. Alongside him is his girlfriend, Mia, and their infant daughter. What should be an exciting time with family quickly sours when a body turns up on the shore. This stirs up memories for Kieran of an accident twelve years before, one that saw his brother and a young woman die in a storm, with the latter’s body never recovered.

As Kieran processes it all and tries to help, he must revisit many of the secrets he kept about the events in his earlier life. Everyone remembers, but no one chooses to talk about it. If that were not enough, Kieran is trying to come to term’s with his father’s early onset dementia, which does not act as a decent distraction.

As with many small towns, everyone is involved the business of others. With the dawn of social media, online posts fuel fires and reopen old wounds that were best left to heal. Kieran cannot hide from it, though he has tried to protect Mia and their daughter from as much of the blowback as possible. Still, even as a survivor from a past tragedy, Kieran has not been able to escape the tar and feathering of some locals, only leading to new questions about the most recent victim.

Jane Harper has never shied away from controversy when she writes, though she is keen to provide her own spin on things. Be it discussions about social issues, criminal matters, or the flavour of a small community, Harper is always spot-on and provides the reader with her valuable insights. This was on offer again here with a fabulous tale that patches together two time periods under a single narrative.

Kieran Elliott is a wonderful protagonist, though he seems not to want to limelight shone too intensely on him. Having left Tasmania years before, Kieran hoped to return to help his parents and introduce his own family to where he came of age. There is some backstory that weaves its way into the piece, creating the angst that projects itself in the present. There’s also a little character development for Kieran, who is forced to utilise a past he tried to ignore in order to make sense of the present. While he seeks to fade into the background, Kieran’s force is felt throughout this piece.

Harper uses strong supporting characters to tell her story as well. Without the likes of the townsfolk, there would not be that sense of ‘chit-chat’ and gossiping that are essential parts of the process. Some complement Kieran well, while others seek to offer flavouring that creates strong clashes throughout the narrative. I was eager to see both, as I felt that it added depth to the story and jolted things at those moments when the narrative slowed to a crawl.

As many have already ready, the pace of the book is not swift, by any means. However, there are times when a slowly reveal permits the reader some time to develop a connection to the story, its characters, and the subtleties of the overall narrative. Jane Harper did well with this and kept the reader guessing until the final reveal. Tasmania may be a small part of Australia, but it comers to life in this piece, with wonderful depictions and narrative flourishes. Harper keeps the reader moving along in the slow pace of the story with a mix of chapter lengths and strong moments of self-reflection. I cannot wait to see what else Jane Harper has in the works, as there is never a let down when her name appears on the cover.

Kudos, Madam Harper, for another winner. I cannot wait to see what others feel about this piece as well, since it is sure to garner some great discussions.

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

Last Call: A True Story of Love, Lust, and Murder in Queer New York, by Elon Green

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Elon Green , and Celadon Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

There’s nothing better than a riveting piece of true crime, especially when it’s written by someone who can artfully present the story. Elon Green does well with Last Call, where he explores the murder of a handful of men whose connection to a gay bar in New York City eventually led to locating a killer no one suspected. Full of great descriptions, both of the victims and the LGBTQ+ scene in New York in the 1980s/90s, Green keeps the reader wanting to know more until the final reveal. Likely a piece true crime fans will want to add to their collection.

It all began with the discovery of a dismembered body along a Pennsylvania highway. When the authorities discovered the body, cut into pieces and bagged multiple times, they knew this was something that needed their undivided attention. With the help of some identification, found in a trash can up the road, the search began to better understand the victim and why he might have been targeted.

Green explores the victim and his ties to the LGBTQ+ community, which he colloquially calls the ‘queer scene’, and some of the local establishments in the early 1990s. This was at a time when gay rights were still not prominent and the police had less respect for an overall protection of citizens, no matter their orientation. There was also a comprehensive discussion to the ‘secret life’ lived by the victim, likely part of the veiled persona gay men presented at the time, while also holding down a job in a profession where homosexuality was not as accepted.

When a man is found killed and dismembered in New Jersey, officials are equally as baffled, but also quite intrigued at the attention paid to dispose of the body. This was not a simple slash and dump, but a detailed understanding of the body and how it is ‘assembled’, thereby providing key steps to cut and properly package a body before leaving it to be collected. The authorities noted this attention to detail could only have come from someone in the medical profession, or with access to the various tools.

Green circles back to explore gay rights and the LGBTQ+ scene in the early 1980s, particularly in the early years of HIV/AIDS. The detail offered about how medical professionals were downplaying it and then labelling it as a disease of homosexuals offers the reader some insight into how the community was treated and branded by the larger American society. Green depicts this so well and keeps the reader wondering as he slowly discusses progress and the emergence of gay rights amongst local and state politicians.

Green comes around to explore how one man’s long history of luring and attacking gay men as far back as the 1970s played a role in the identification of a person of interest. The meticulous planning and playacting to lure victims to his home helped to create a sense of calm, only to be destroyed after drugging and attacking these men. While the ending came together quickly in the final few chapters, the reader can see how a single lead, in the form of an expunged record of forensics, brought the case together, providing a termportary sense of relief to those who felt themselves constant targets.

While I am not a regular reader of true crime, I can respect those who enjoy the genre. Elon Green does a decentr job of piecing together the story and filling in many of the gaps he discovered in news coverage. Many of these cases are from close to three decades ago, when reporting was less thorough and not as easily accessed. As Green stresses throughout, it was also a time when ‘gay crimes’ were seen as more ‘unfortunate events’ than being on par with those of the heterosexual community.

While discussion of the crime scenes was great (who does not like to hear how the body was discovered in eight layers of bags?), it was the social commentary on gay rights and the HIV/AIDS situation in New York that had me quite intrigued. I wanted to see how things would progress and how little was done at a time when America (and much of the world) was still trying to come to terms with violence against some, while the authorities did nothing. Green effectively presents the struggles and issues with class, educating the reader throughout the book.

Green writes very effectively and efficiently, providing the reader what they need to understand how things fit together. There is some great social commentary on the legal acceptance of gay rights and how hate crimes were slow to catch up, all while HIV/AIDS became the face of the LGBTQ+ community. With chapters that vary from overviews of the situation to highly detailed, Green offers the reader what they need, told with a strong narrative that pushes the story along.

If I had to find a downside to the book, it would have to be the abrupt end to things. The last few chapters became more of a halting train than the smooth ride that the book presented beforehand. Once the killer’s identity became known, it was a rush through the legal process and the reader was left to sigh that this was not added to a pile of cold cases. Green’s great build up seemed almost trumped by that anti-climactic end.

Kudos, Mr. Green, for an interesting look into this series of crimes. I will have to see what else you’ve penned that may be of interest.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/review-last-call/

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

Angle of Attack (Alex Morgan #1), by Leo J. Maloney

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Leo J. Maloney, and Kensington Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

After a harrowing run with Dan Morgan, Leo J. Maloney turns to the next generation of gritty agents tasked with helping keep the world safe. Alex Morgan is set to step out of her father’s shadow in Angle of Attack, her first full-length novel. While she knows the ins and outs of Zeta Group, Alex could not have prepared for this mission or those lurking in the background that will stop at nothing to bring her down. A great piece for fans of the Dan Morgan series, as well as readers who love a female protagonist who can hold her own with aplomb.

While Alex Morgan prepares for her first full mission within Zeta Group, she is shocked to see her father finally taking some time off. It’s been years since Dan Morgan could play the role of public citizen and enjoy things without a pretence of being on guard. Alex is being sent to Monaco to look into whispers of something monumental taking place during the Grand Prix event there.

Things begin with an explosive start as the private jet on which she is travelling watches its hanger explode moments after taxiing. Zeta Group is put on the defensive, but Alex refuses to back down, citing the need to move ahead with the mission.

Meanwhile, two other agents answer a call to a potential situation in Malaysia, only to discover that someone’s neutralised the terror group and left the bodies for Zeta Group to find. Could there be a turf war taking place, one in which a new group is seeking to distract Zeta before handling the situation, wasting valuable time?

After intel sends Alex Morgan to the vaults of the grand casino in Monaco, she discovers the bomb has been diffused, but its radioactive material is missing. This could be Ares Group at work again, luring Alex into the trap and then showing that her time and efforts are wasted, keeping her from the real target.

When news that there is something planned at the next Grand Prix event in Montreal, Alex is there, again acting in a quasi-undercover capacity. She’s ready to strike, though it does not help that she has no idea who or what she’s trying to neutralise. This could be a type of danger no amount of stories heard on Dan’s knee could help prevent. With so many people at risk, there is no time to play a game of cat and mouse with Ares, or is there?

I have always enjoyed the work of Leo J. Maloney, as it not only offers up something full of action, but also keeps the characters working in a somewhat relatable environs. Having spent time in both Monaco and Montreal, I could see things as they progressed, while also being completely drawn in by everything that’s taking place.

Alex Morgan does a wonderful job as protagonist in this piece, easily filling the shoes her father left out. She’s gritty and determined, without being reckless. Alex knows what is expected of her and yet she is one who will bend things a little if it helps her make needed progress. Fans of the Dan Morgan series will have seen some of her backstory emerge, though it is not discussed in any detail here, forcing new readers to piece things together on the fly. Alex keeps herself busy and develops effectively throughout the story, but has left much of herself open for further growth, so long as Maloney keeps the series going for a time.

The use of strong supporting characters is key to the success of a novel. While there are a number of names and faces from the elder Morgan adventures, those who make their first appearance here work well to create a foundation that allows Alex Morgan to shine. The antagonism is prevalent throughout, though it is not as blatant, forcing the reader to sense that evil though a number of characters in passing. This is a great technique that keeps things from diverting from Alex Morgan’s growth.

The story was quite straightforward and kept the reader engaged. Maloney uses some unique perspectives and situations to help differentiate from some of the earlier novels, while never lessening the sense of action. There’s a mix of chapter lengths to set the scene and develop the narrative, as needed in this fast-paced book. Never a lull in the action, which permits the story to propel itself forward until the very end, but even at that point, there are some unresolved moments. I am eager to see how Alex Morgan grows in a lead character role, having sat in the shadows throughout her formative years.

Kudos, Mr. Maloney, for another winning story. I am eager to see what you have in store for your next Morgan protagonist.

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

The Opium Prince, by Jasmine Aimaq

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Jasmine Aimaq, and Soho Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

As a reader, there are always books that one comes across that appear out of this world when perusing the dust jacket blurb. However, once you get into the thick of the story, things take you to another place entirely, not always for the good. This is likely why someone coined the phrase about judging a book by its cover. The premise sounded highly alluring and I could see myself loving this piece of historical fiction, not least because there was so much action that was described within its pages. However, I could not find myself able to push through the early part during three sittings. This is indicative of a pass for me.

For me, Jasmine Aimaq’s piece was well written, to the point that I was not entirely lost in the opening pages. However, it failed to grab me when I needed the story to hold onto my collar and shake me. It could be that my head was not in it. It might also be because the publisher ‘gifted’ this book to me seven days after it was published and the review window was only a day before NetGalley locked it away, forcing me to rush to begin. It might also have been because I was simply expecting one thing and got another. That’s why I have to mark it as DNF and move along!

Whatever it is, I am surely in the minority here and don’t hold it against the author, the publisher, or anyone else who loved the book. This just happened to cross my path at the wrong time, under poor review-time restrictions, and I could not deliver for myself or others. It happens to the best and worst of us!

Kudos, Madam Aimaq, for penning what might have been an epic novel for many.

Girls of Brackenhill, by Kate Moretti

Eight stars

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

When seeking a story guaranteed to offer strong plot lines, stellar characters, and twists at every turn, one need look no further than the work of Kate Moretti. She uses these and other ingredients to keep the reader on the edge of their seat in her latest thriller, Girls of Brackenhill, where a woman is forced to return to her past in order to put her present in order. Recommended to those who need a surprise or two in their reading experience.

It was a call out of the blue that shocked Hannah more than anything. Her Aunt Fae had been in a horrible car accident and Hannah’s presence was urgently requested. Agreeing to take the six hour journey, Hannah and her fiancé make their way to sort things out, which includes time spent at the Brackenhill, an isolated piece of property that locals call a haunted castle, but Fae and her partner call home. Brackenhill has a long and sordid history as being home to many mysterious goings-on over the years, which may be why the locals have given it such an ominous reputation. It is also the last place Hannah’s sister, Julia, was ever seen.

Once Hannah learns and comes to terms with Fae’s death in the accident, she must determine how to deal with her uncle, who has been clinging to life for a long while and still lives in Brackenhill. Hannah agrees to stay at on the property to put things in order, though the past comes bubbling back to the surface. Over a number of summers, Hannah and Julia spent their time here, getting into teenage trouble and finding love. However, after Julia went missing, Hannah left and never returned. It’s been seventeen years, yet for Hannah it seems like yesterday.

When Wyatt McCarran arrives at the door, another layer of Hannah’s past comes crashing back. While Wyatt is now a police officer investigating Fae’s accident, he was Hannah’s first love and the boy who broke her heart. Awkward and yet trying not to let it engulf them, Hannah and Wyatt seek to put the past in order while also deal with the issues at hand. This is further complicated when a jaw bone is found on the Brackenhill property, leaving the possibility open that it could belong to Julia.

As Hannah spends even more time at Brackenhill, some of her troubled past comes to the surface and she begins to question much of her life over those summers. New mysteries emerge and Hannah is not prepared to ignore things, which proves troubling to many. Hannah learns more about some of the gaps she could not have understood as a teenager, though these prove to be more painful than she could have predicted.

Hannah’s troubles with sleepwalking return while she is at Brackenhill, causing her more grief than she could have imagined. While trying to settle her uncle as he slips into his final days, Hannah remains determined to discover what happened to Fae and how it may relate to Julia’s disappearance. Brackenhill may have a sordid history, but it is a handful of locals who hold the key to solving the mystery, each possessing their own piece of the puzzle. It’s up to Hannah to bring it all together before she falls apart!

Having read one of Karen Moretti’s novels before, I knew a little of what I ought to expect with this piece. That being said, there is a constant curiosity as to what the narrative will bring and how things will come together in the end. Moretti strings the reader along with some great work in two time periods, meshing them together effectively when needed to add impact to her work.

Hannah’s role as protagonist is obvious, but there is a lot about her that remains veiled in mystery. The reader slowly discovers what they need to know throughout the narrative, which splits between present day and flashbacks. This builds a solid foundation of backstory, though the gaps are plentiful and the reader is forced to piece things together for themselves. Hannah’s growth in the present time hinges on her understanding of that past, as she reestablishes old connections and tries not to let them cloud her judgement.

Moretti’s use of supporting characters helps solidify the strength of the novel, in my opinion. The two timelines can be difficult to juggle while also being essential to understand the central plot. These characters both support Hannah in her discovery, as well as impede her on occasion. Moretti creates great development for all involved and injects effective banter to offer depth to her plot, without confusing the reader with too many threads to manage.

The story works well and builds throughout, using the two timelines to weave a strong foundation. There are moments the reader is thrust into the middle of one mystery, only to find themselves learning about another. The intensity of the narrative never dissipates, which is fuelled by Moretti’s use of short chapters to keep the reader on their toes. There is no time to breathe, let alone put the book down, which adds to the book’s allure. Mysteries intertwine and a set of characters leave the reader guessing about how Brackenhill might tie it all together. Those familiar with Moretti’s work and curious readers alike will take something away from this book, likely solidifying their desire to find more by the author in short order.

Kudos, Madam Moretti, for another strong piece. I can rely on you to always bring something unique to my reading experience.

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/review-girls-of-brackenhill/

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

Serial Killers at the Movies: My Intimate Talks with Mass Murderers who Became Stars of the Big Screen, by Christopher Berry-Dee

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Christopher Berry-Dee, and Ad Lib Publishers for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

There’s something about the chills that race down the spine when speaking about serial killers. While their actions may leave some feeling a tad ill, there’s that pull towards knowing more, at least for many of the people I know. Christopher Berry-Dee, an investigative criminologist who has spent a number of years studying and writing about serial killers, takes that knowledge to pen a book exploring how well serial killers are depicted on the big screen. Packed full of information and references, those who love the world of serial killers and true crime may want to give this tome a gander.

Berry-Dee pulls not punches throughout the book, making it clear to the reader that not all serial killer movies get it right. By that, he means that some are complete flops in their delivery, while others seem quite outlandish or poorly depict the killers they are supposed to represent. This is a problem for true fans of the genre, as a great serial killer is one who is not only a master at their crimes, but who can scare the reader/viewer with ease.

In his study, Berry-Dee explores some of the big screen’s best-known killers and tries to hash out some of the real life influences that may have led to their depiction. Few can fault the emergence of Hannibal Lector or Norman Bates, though there is more to them than the creative minds of the authors who put them in a book. They were an amalgam of some great killers over time, though rarely can a literary or cinematic killer be attributed to a single person, sometimes for legal reasons. Berry-Dee draws some wonderful parallels and invites the reader to sit back as he presents what knowledge he has on the subject.

There are some great interpretations of notorious serial killers who make it directly onto the big screen, including the Zodiac Killer and the antagonist from Se7en. These killers emerge as both creepy and downright geniuses, leaving the reader to wonder where the writers came up with such a great idea. The former was, surely, a killer of some regard in the 1960s and 70s, though they have never been formally named or caught. There is a significant psychological aspect required to pull the viewer in, rather than a great deal of gore and death.

Berry-Dee is also first to point out the poorly devised cinematic presentations when it comes to serial killers, those who were either shortchanged when their stories made it to the screen or a delivery of their crimes was somehow lost in translation. Berry-Dee models himself as quite the critic and can see a dud a mile away, choosing to point these out repeatedly for the reader. While Ted Buddy and John Wayne Gacy were chilling killers of the 1970s, when someone chose to depict their kills for a viewing audience, it was either too cheesy or simply a boring rendition, which lessens the impact and keeps the reader from feeling what really happened.

Christopher Berry-Dee surely knows what he’s writing in this piece, taking the time to extract the truths or tie-in some of the research that he was able to complete. There is a strong narrative in the opening few chapters, as he tackles some of the best known serial killer movies (series, actually). He builds up the discussion of both the film and the true events, drawing the needed parallels for the reader to digest, then leaves it for some quiet contemplation before moving along to the next topic of discussion. This is helpful, particularly those of us who are not fanatics, but simply fans of the dark and macabre world of serial killers. The book began with some great chapter lengths and discussions, though this petered off, as I will mention below. With lots of outside references, the curious reader can surely find more to whet their sadistic appetites, which is always helpful.

If I had to offer a critique the book, it would surely be that Berry-Dee seeks to pack too much into the tome, offering as many killers as he can, rather than going into great detail with a handful. By the middle o the book, he offers an ‘intermission’ section, where some editorializing can occur. Thereafter, it seems to be a rush of movies and short commentaries as the book must fill a quota of pages. I would much rather have felt an impactful collection of strong movies with thorough analysis, rather than a few pages here and there of some films who have either made it or fell short.

Kudos, Mr. Berry-Dee, for this interesting look at the world of serial killers on the big screen. You reference some of your other work regularly, which I will have to explore, when time permits.

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