Fragments of Fear, by Carrie Stuart Parks

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Carrie Stuart Parks, and Thomas Nelson Fiction for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

One can usually expect something intense when Carrie Stuart Parks is writing, spun with the uniqueness of her forensic expertise. I did not feel as much of that here with her one-off novel and wish for more of the series that pulled me in while teaching me all about forensic artists. Evelyn McTavish is suffering, having just buried her fiancé. ‘Tavish’ to many who know her around her New Mexico home, has to find some normalcy in her life. When she receives an odd phone call from the local dog pound, Tavish is pulled into the middle of a series of events that could put her in much danger. Somehow identified as the owner of an acquaintance’s dog, a man who soon appears murdered in his own home, Tavish must try to get answers while dodging those who would seek to hurt her. As the story progresses, more becomes known about the larger story and how Tavish may have stumbled into the middle of things inadvertently. All she thought she knew goes up in a puff of smoke, leaving more confusion. As the tension ramps up, no one is safe and any hope of a peaceful solution goes out the window. In a piece that left me feeling very distance and detached, I pined for the Parks from her past novels. While I may have missed out on much by not feeling connected to the story, I cannot offer a strong recommendation, but do hope readers will look to her past work for something I would highly suggest checking out soon.

Sometimes authors have hit or miss moments, much like a well-rounded readers who travel through the world of fiction and non-fiction over long periods of time. I know that I enjoy Carrie Stuart Parks and her writing, but felt as though there was something missing from this piece. Tavish is an interesting woman with an artistic background, but I never found myself able to fully connect with her. She seems to have found herself in the middle of a larger mystery and by doing so, she struggles to find which way is up. It could be that the story rushed by and I never ‘caught on’ to her as a character, but it was almost as though I was waiting for the big Tavish reveal to hook me. Others found their place throughout the story and kept me wanting to find just a little more to pull me into the piece, but I was sadly unable to latch on. The premise, from what I ascertained, was decent, though the mystery did not get to the depths I had hoped it might. I know that established authors with strong series are sometimes judged based on that as a yardstick, which is surely what I am doing here, but I cannot help myself. I needed more and while I may be in the minority, as a reader, my own opinion matters as much as the major reviewers and slew of those on Goodreads or other sites. I can hope that this was an anomaly for me and that we will return to the powerful and addictive novels before too long.

Kudos, Madam Parks, for the effort, as I know there was much that went into this piece. It was likely not my cup of tea, which surely happens. Not all readers can be enamoured all the time!

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

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I’ll Never Tell, by Catherine McKenzie

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Catherine McKenzie, and Simon & Schuster Canada for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

One can usually expect something stellar when Catherine McKenzie is at the helm and this book was no exception. Layering family dynamics with an over-arching mystery from years ago, McKenzie offers readers a wonderful treat as the story progresses. The MacAllister family have long been associated with Camp Macaw, the staple summer retreat they own and run for children in the Quebec Townships. However, with the death of the MacAllister parents, the adult children gather together on the property to discuss what is to come of the land they knew all too well as teenagers. Will it be sold or portioned off and who will have the final say as to what happens? At the reading of the will, the group is surprised to learn of the parameters around which all this must be decided, something that Mr. MacAllister devised to unite and divide the group one final time. This rag-tag group must decide if their one brother, Ryan, should be permitted to inherit something, but the choice must be unanimous and they have forty-eight hours before the vote. This brings to mind a tragedy from two decades before, when a young camper, Amanda Holmes, was found, assaulted on a distant part of the camp’s property. The scandal caused ripples that almost shut the facility down and Ryan was deemed responsible. Though he denies being involved, it was largely a foregone conclusion. Now, with the family back together and grown, they must face the gruesome facts again and get to the truth, or bury it once and for all, while also letting their formative time at Camp Macaw drift away on the summer breeze. With flashback chapters that help build the Amanda storyline as well as present-day struggles, this story will keep the reader at the centre of the action and leave them wanting to cast their own decisions before all is said and done. A great mystery that entertains in short order. Recommended for those who love Catherine McKenzie’s work and the reader who enjoys stories where family secrets turn truths upside down.

I have always come to find Catherine McKenzie’s work quite detailed and her stories hit home in ways I could not have predicted. Both the characters and the plot pulled me in from the get-go and I found myself fully committed before too long. In this piece, McKenzie offers up a quaint camp community, where a family has come to remember their parents and try to put all else aside. However, there is little chance of that, with the tragedy of years before facing them during the reading of the will. The reader meets the entire group, as well as a few adopted members of the MacAllister clan, all of whom have their own lives now, but also played key roles during the summer of 1998. What did happen to Amanda Holmes and how did things go so wrong? McKenzie offers interesting flashbacks throughout this piece to develop that narrative, as well as plotting the whereabouts of each character at key points during the night of the event. The reader can make their own presumptions, though it is the truth that seems to elude everyone. With strong characters who help shape the story and a narrative that pushes the plot forward, McKenzie offers a gritty mystery that is sure to keep the reader guessing and wondering until the very end. Camp Macaw’s future may be in doubt, but it is the strength of the MacAllister family that remains the real x-factor throughout. Brilliantly devised and executed, it is no wonder Catherine McKenzie has so many fans and seems to add more with each novel she publishes.

Kudos, Madam McKenzie, for another wonderful piece. I can only hope that others will see some of the nuances I found while reading this book.

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

Last of the Magpies (The Magpies #3), by Mark Edwards

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Mark Edwards, and Amazon Publishing UK for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

The series that first pulled me into the web of Mark Edwards’ writing is finally coming to an end. Perhaps one of his most eerie psychological thriller series, The Magpies, pushed an unsuspecting couple—Jamie and Kirsty Knight—to the brink. After a harrowing few pieces, this novella seeks to tie it all together. After their horrible experience at the hands of their neighbour, Lucy Newton,, Jamie and Kirsty are no longer on speaking terms, having gone their separate ways. Jamie is still trying to bring closure to things, made all the more difficult when Lucy escaped from prison in a past story. Now on the lam, Jamie seeks to find her, trolling through the various fan sites that have arisen, parsing through the comments of the ‘Newtonites’ to find the woman who has wreaked such havoc. Jamie turns to a podcaster with much experience bringing justice in a world where knee-jerk solutions appear to be the norm. As Jamie and Emma Fox begin their trek to find Lucy, the official story remains untold, at least from the victims’ perspective. Lucy published her tell-all, citing innocence, which the public devoured in short order, but Jamie has yet to really seek to tell his version of events. When he approaches Kirsty with the idea, she is anything but happy, even though she would love nothing more than to put the Lucy narrative to rest. When Emma follows a lead and falls off the grid, Jamie cannot help but wonder if she has finally found Lucy. Now it’s time to decide, follow the digital breadcrumbs and potentially face Lucy, or ignore it and hope Lucy truly does disappear forever? The choice is surely not easy! Edwards does well with this finale, though using the novella format, he may have inadvertently rushed things and left series fans a little deflated. Still, I’d recommend this one for fans of the Magpies collection, if only to get a sense of closure.

Mark Edwards does well with his writing, usually able to pull the reader into the middle of things from the get-go. His Magpies series seems to have garnered the most fame for him, as I have seen scores of people speaking about it and anticipating new work on the subject of Lucy Newton. He’s gone so far as to reference her in his other work, for the attentive reader. With this piece, Edwards must not only tie-off loose ends, but also work to deliver new information to keep the reader hooked. Working with the Jamie Knight and Kirsty characters, their past pain and anguish is less of a discussion point here, but rather the attempt to get closure. The reader has little time to really see what they have been doing to bide their time since the last instalment, as it would seem trying to bring normalcy is the sole item on the agenda. Lucy Newton’s character finally gives us some of the context series fans have been searching for. Edwards injects unpublished chapters of her memoir into the novella, offering backstory about her childhood and courting by Chris Newton. While brief and sometimes only tangential, the curious reader can learn something here and is able to find a nugget or two on which to feast. The story flowed well and seemed rapid, taking the reader on quite the ride in a short time. That being said, I almost would have liked more meat, more spine-chilling action as things progressed to a final reveal, where all is decided once and for all. I cannot say more, for it would spoil things, but perhaps the haste to get this to readers left Mark Edwards churning out something swiftly between projects, rather than a stunning and mind-blowing psychological thriller we all expected. Still, it was enjoyable, with its short chapters and teasing about the backstory of Lucy Newton.

Kudos, Mr Edwards, for a great finale. Maybe I am alone in my criticisms, but it does not detract from the pleasure I have for this novella and series in general.

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

The Dark Bones (A Dark Lure #2), by Loreth Anne White

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Loreth Anne White, and Montclair Romance for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

At a time when the thriller genre is supersaturated by authors who wish to peddle their wares, Loreth Anne White enters with a few unique qualities, one of which being the novel’s setting in rural Western Canada. Add to that, the slow development and eerie quality of her writing and the reader is in for a treat as they devour this, the second novel in her new series. The disappearance of two local teenagers two decades before has always been a cold case that nagged at Noah North, a retired cop. When he came upon some new information that may lead to a re-opening of the case, he wanted the world to know, including his daughter, Rebecca, who now resides in Ottawa. When Rebecca speaks to her father, he tells her, a little less than sober, that he knows she was not telling the truth those twenty years ago about what she and a friend were doing. Dismissing it, Rebecca returns to her life, only to receive a stunning call that her father’s committed suicide, shooting himself in the head with a shotgun. When Rebecca returns to her rural British Columbia community, she sees that much has changed and much remains the same. Trying her best to understand what’s happened, Rebecca is pulled into the middle of the case she thought everyone had forgotten, particularly when there is evidence that her father might have been drugged and therefore incapable of killing himself. Opening the old case file, Rebecca begins to piece a great deal together, including examining her friendships and relationships at the time. With the locals all coming to pay respects and opening a past she had compartmentalised, Rebecca North faces many harsh truths, while trying to see if the rumours of a pregnant teen girl fleeing to California still holds weight. With mounting evidence that someone is trying to silence a resurfacing of the case, Rebecca must race to get answers, if only to put her father’s death to rest. White stuns readers yet again with this great follow-up thriller that will please those who enjoyed the debut, and likely hook a new set of readers. Recommended for those who love a thriller that paces itself nicely and keeps the reader wondering.

I read the series debut quickly so that I could sink my teeth into this advance copy. Both proved to be stellar reads for me, my first experiences with Loreth Anne White’s work. The story was strong and developed without losing momentum, while the reader learned more about a new collection of characters from this remote community, while also getting updates on those from the debut. Rebecca North takes centre stage in this piece and keeps them reader enthralled with her development. In a novel that straddles two time periods, Rebecca’s backstory and character development occur almost simultaneously. A teen struggling to find herself, she fled for the other side of the country, only to be pulled back with her father’s death. The reader can see the great contrasts, as White uses her narrative to show both time periods. Other characters find their way onto the page and build both the present and 1998 narratives effectively, from teens to responsible adults who have made something with their lives. White plants wonderful characters of many flavours to add depth to the story and these people feed off one another so well. White uses a different technique here, with short chapters and interspersed flashbacks to a time that is then revealed in the present story. These quick chapters worked well and contrasted nicely with the debut novel, which sought to use longer chapters with smaller ‘perspective break’. The reader will surely enjoy the momentum gained by these brief story breaks that propel the larger narrative forward. Much is revealed and the reader will surely enjoy the underlying mystery that proves to entertain and educate in equal measure.

Kudos, Madam White, for another stellar novel. I am eager to see if you will build on this series, as you have a real fan in me. I hope others discover this series 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 45th, by D.W. Buffa

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, D.W. Buffa, and Polis Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

At a time when presidential politics suffers an indelible stain comes a book by D.W. Buffa that will shake the core of American political leadership. In the midst of a divisive campaign for the Republicans to choose their next presidential candidate comes a dramatic turn of events that few could have predicted. Majority Leader of the Senate, Louis Matson, leads the Michigan delegation to the Republican National Convention with the power to serve as kingmaker. When Matson is chosen to chair the convention and offer its keynote address, both candidates—Trump and Cruz, no less—seek to pander to him, in hopes that he will offer them the needed delegates to win. Matson is unsure what he ought to do, but knows that it is time to make a big splash with his speech. Knowing his limits, Matson turns to a long-time friend and current political recluse, Julian Drake. A visit to Drake’s California home leads to long-winded and deep political discussions with Matson, helping to shape what will be the speech of a lifetime. When Matson returns with the speech Drake penned for him, he refuses to let anyone see it ahead of its delivery, knowing that it has the ability to blow the field wide open. On speech night, a set of events begin that sees the speech delivered and minds opened. The content of this speech not only puts everything Republicans have held in jeopardy, but also seeks to reexamine how politicians interact with the electorate and Americans on a larger scale. Drake leaves the convention a new man with a mission, leaving traditional politics behind him. With the role of 45th President of the United States on the line, it is anyone’s game, though the rules have changed dramatically. A thought-provoking novel for any who have an understanding of the US political system and its hypocritical nature, Buffa leaves the writer with much to process. Recommended for those who wish to read and think outside the box with a political thriller of sorts that is as diametrically opposed to the current Administration.

Political thrillers tend to focus on the machine and how it is manipulated in order to churn out the most conniving and ruthless winner. Buffa seeks to suspend this norm as he posits what might happen if someone had the knowledge and ability to buck the trend and offer some insightful thoughts on the US political system. Pushing views long held in philosophy and in ages past, Buffa challenges much of what the reader understands of the current political system and what it chooses to label as important. With much of the book’s focus on Julian Drake and his return from obscurity, the reader is able to learn a little of what drove the man to disappear in the middle of a congressional campaign and how he used a decade out of the limelight to develop thoughts and skills that many would say are from a bygone era. With a determination to speak the truth rather than spin, Drake comes across as somewhat idealistic, perhaps what Buffa prefers at a time when many are jaded. His desire to look to the past to shape a future for America is likely the most refreshing aspect of the novel, though it may be lost in the need for mudslinging. There are others who make their mark in the novel—thankfully, Trump and Cruz make only brief cameos—and help to push this alternative mentality forward throughout. Buffa uses his cast as vessels to show all that is wrong and could be changed with the system at a time when it seems the rule of law is but a phrase sewn on a throw pillow. The story was surely not what I expected, particular with the title and early mention of the GOP’s two Neanderthals from 2016, but shaped up into something that resonates with me as I look forward to 2020 and all that is to come. Refreshing and quite controversial at the same time, Buffa delivers something that will have readers talking well past the book’s publication.

Kudos, Mr. Buffa, for keeping me thinking throughout and wanting to get my hands on more of your work. Well done, indeed!

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

The Fourth Courier, by Timothy Jay Smith

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Timothy Jay Smith, and Skyhorse Publishing for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review. 

After having been asked to read this book by the author, I could not wait to see just what Timothy Jay Smith had in store for his readers. This thriller, set in 1992 Poland, has all the elements of a Cold War classic without the Iron Curtain. However, remnants of the Soviet-era dominance remain, both in the story’s setting and its narrative delivery. The story focuses on a group of recently slain individuals who appear to have been smuggling nuclear material from the former USSR out of the country to help build weapons. While this would seem to be a local matter, FBI Agent Jay Porter arrives when the fourth victim is discovered, killed in much the same matter as the others. These victims or ‘couriers’ seem to have been contracted to help smuggle items out and deliver them to a physicist. Unfortunately, the scientist has also disappeared, making it all the more important to locate him and learn of the intended destination of the nuclear material. General Drako Mladic of the Yugoslav Secret Police soon hits Porter’s radar. Mladic is sadistic and ready to kill anyone who stands in his way, as well as residing in one of Europe’s most unstable regions. Porter will have to work alongside the most unlikely of partners to end the courier route and stop what could be a new international disaster. In a story that mixes thrills, espionage, and the darkest of characters, Smith offers the reader a glimpse into something terrifying, had it actually come to pass. Well-written and captivating, anyone with an interest in Cold War spy thrillers will likely want to add this to their reading list. 

I will be the first to admit that I had troubles connecting to the book at times. While Smith is a great writer and keeps the reader enthralled, I found myself weaving in and out of complete comprehension, though the gist did come to me and by the end. FBI Agent Jay Porter proves to be an interesting addition to the story, offering some interesting ‘American flavour’ to the newly freed Polish setting. His attention to detail as he struggles to get his feet under him proves to be highly entertaining to the attentive reader, not to mention the odd pairing he has when investigating. This is a case that challenges traditional police work and being in a foreign country only adds further hurdles. But, Porter pushes onwards and uses some odd connections to help reveal clues to point him in the right direction, even if it will take a miracle to close this case swiftly. Other characters help to shape an already interesting plot, adding conflicting personalities to a dark tale, which can muddy the waters unless the reader is able to focus their attention throughout. A decent premise keeps the story moving forward and the intrigue high. I was never a Cold War thriller reader, but I can see the allure, as there are so many layers to comprehend and many pieces to fit together. Smith does this well and keeps the reader wondering what is to come, as well as seeking to keep an eye peeled for anyone lurking in the shadows. I’ll surely keep an eye open for more by the author and may return to try this book again down the road to see if it leaves more of an impact.

Kudos, Mr. Smith, for a well-paced piece that kept my attention throughout. I hope many discover some of the nuances I missed this time around.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/…

War of Shadows (Dan Morgan #8), by Leo J. Maloney

Seven stars

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

I have been a fan of Leo J. Maloney since he began the Dan Morgan series years ago. The stories are a mix of military-type thrills and international espionage rolled into one. That being said, sometimes things take an odd turn and the story falls flat, as it did this time for me. Dan Morgan is on his way to his Massachusetts home when he sees it explode before his eyes. As a husband and father, panic sets in, with the potential that his wife and daughter are inside. However, his Zeta Group mind kicks into high gear and he knows that he must find the perpetrator immediately, as this could be the first in a series of attacks. While neighbours scramble to make sense of the Morgans home, Dan slinks away and follows an unrecognised vehicle, following it towards the local Zeta Group HQ, which subsequently explodes as well. Who is targeting Morgan and how will he be able to stop this before he, too, is killed? As Morgan begins to assume the worst, he cannot let the likely death of his wife derail him. Fighting for answers, Morgan soon discovers that his daughter—and fellow Zeta Group agent—Alex, is alive and well, having been warned out of the house by her mother’s voice. Dan tries to make sense of this, presuming Alex is having a break with reality, but there is little time to contemplate this. As the Morgans realise that someone is trying to dismantle Zeta Group, they scramble to safety, only to be taken across the world on a mission to get to the core of the situation. Garnering much information in Taiwan, Dan Morgan discovers that there is an anti-Zeta Group seeking to replace them, with a potential mole inside his own organisation. This group is dead-set against leaving anyone or anything to chance, hoping to exterminate Morgan and his team in short order. Vowing not only to seek revenge for those who would see Zeta Group destroyed, but also to bring Jenny’s killers to justice, Dan Morgan will do all he can to ensure retribution is both final and bloody. A decent addition to the series, though things got a little too tech-heavy for me in this piece. It’s a toss-up if series fans will applaud or speed through this latest novel.

As I said above, I have been with Maloney throughout this entire journey. Most of the stories are well-crafted and quick to impress, though there is the odd one that seems to focus on a mission that does not pull me in. Dan Morgan remains an interesting character, who has only recently admitted his actual Zeta Group position to his wife and allowed Alex to join the crew. His loves his family more than anything, even the country he vows to defend, but there is something that pushes him to continually forge ahead and risk his life. With little to lose, Dan seeks retribution, though a paced and calculated one in this case. Series fans have come to know Alex Morgan a little better throughout this series. From the young girl, Alex has matured into a powerful force in Zeta Group, using her skills to offset what some might say is a lack of raw strength. Her presence is felt throughout the book, allowing the reader to witness her ongoing character development. Like her father, Alex has all the grit and determination that one could expect in a strong protagonist. There are many other characters, both regulars and one-offs, who serve to help push the story forward. While Maloney has chosen well, the presence of these individuals does not always clarify the tale, but rather adds confusion during my reader experience. With an interesting story that seeks to weed out a traitor, the excessive travel and numerous sets of characters did little for me. However, I can see how some would enjoy this and to those people, I say, ‘you have just what you want’. Not a bad read, but not one of my favourites in the series.

Kudos, Mr. Maloney, for keeping the Dan Morgan series alive. I see a teaser chapters included, so there is surely more to come sooner than later.

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

A Good Enough Mother, by Bev Thomas

Six stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Bev Thomas, and Penguin Random House Canada for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

The title and premise of this novel caught my eye from the outset, as Bev Thomas pulls on the heartstrings of the reader while offering up a mysterious tale of love and loss. Ruth Hartland is a psychotherapist at a highly specialised facility in London, handling severe cases of trauma. Her professional life is full of accolades, both those that adorn the walls and the high regard in which she is held by those around her. However, there is something deeper and darker that she shares with no one; the disappearance of her son, Tom. Ruth has waited two years for something, but there is no news, not even a notice that he may be dead or hiding away from her. Ruth’s marriage is being held together by a thread and her daughter has made herself scarce. Could the bubbly exterior soon falter as Ruth’s inner self is riddled with trauma of its own? When Ruth agrees to take on a new patient, she is soon left with a sobering realisation that Dan is so very much like her disappeared Tom. Can Ruth keep her professional boundaries high enough to be able to help him without sucking Dan into her own drama, replacing the missing Tom with his new-found presence? Much will be revealed in this piece that pushes the limits of a mother’s love with a need to come to terms with loss in a therapeutic manner. Likely of interest to those who like a deeper and more emotional mystery, though I struggled throughout to make sense of much.

One should never judge a book by its cover. While this is used primarily about criticising a book deserving of one’s time, I seek to offer up that not all books that seem to be ‘unputdownable’ are just that. I struggled from the outset with Bev Thomas’ novel and never felt that I truly found my way. Meandering throughout, I picked up only the barest of literary crumbs in order to formulate some semblance of order with this book. Ruth Hartland proved to be the struggling protagonist who wants nothing more than to appear placid while she tears apart her insides, seeking something to right her way. Be it the loss of her son, alienation of her other family, or that she cannot practice what she preaches, Ruth is the epitome of hypocrite and it shows from the reader’s omnipotent perspective as they read. Others who grace the pages of the book prove to be interesting secondary characters, pushing the narrative to its limits while offering the story some flavour, though I still found it somewhat difficult to navigate. Perhaps it was the style of writing or that I could not connect to the characters from early on, but I struggled repeatedly to find my groove in this book. Thomas has no issue stringing together ideas and placing them in a seemingly cohesive manner, but I found myself floundering to make sense of the story, the nuances found within the narrative, and could not affix myself to any of the characters. I struggled to care throughout, making this read all the more tiresome. While I see others found nothing but praise for the piece, I suppose I could have missed out on what many others found. Alternatively, Thomas may just have failed to hook me in my efforts to ride a wave of sensational books. Either way, it’s a toss up for the curious reader.

Kudos, Madam Thomas, for seemingly winning many others over with this piece. I suppose there have to be those outside the trend to balance things.

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

Perfect Crime (DI Callanach Thriller #5), by Helen Sarah Fields

Eight stars

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

In a series that keeps finding new ways to impress, Helen Fields captivates the reader’s attention yet again. While on a short holiday from work, DI Luc Callanach finds himself at a care facility, where he comes face to face with one of the residents, riddled with dementia. The reason for the visit is to allow Callanach to confront one of the two men who raped his mother many years ago. Barely able to hold his emotions in check, Callanach wants to make it clear that he will never forget the horrible things his mother was forced to endure, even if he may be facing his biological father at present. Upon returning to Police Scotland, Callanach and DCI Ava Turner are called out to a crime scene next to a castle wall. They are baffled to discover why they might be involved in what appears to be a clear-cut jump. How quickly suicide turns into a homicide, as some of the injuries discovered in the post-mortem are surely the work of someone else. Seeking to better understand the victim’s backstory, Callanach and Turner learn he visited a counselling centre to help with suicidal thoughts, but this brings them no closer to understanding what took place. When a second victim turns up dead with another suicidal presentation, Callanach and Turner wonder if there is a killer on the loose, seeking to turn thoughts into action. Meanwhile, the man Callanach visited turns up dead the same day as the aforementioned visit, smothered with a pillow. Could Callanach have taken out his aggression on a man who could not fight back? DCI Turner seeks to keep her underling’s ties to the victim off the radar, but does wonder if a temporary leave may help from muddying the waters too much. When a third victim is discovered, Callanach and Turner know that they must act fast, not only finding the killer, but also honing in on potential targets before their psychological worries cause a loss of life. Might there be someone lurking in the shadows who acts as a conduit for those who seek death already, or perhaps someone with a sinister game-plan, seeking only pawns in their sadistic adventure. Another stellar addition to the series that will have readers rushing to learn more. Recommended for those who have come to enjoy the nuances of the series, as well as those who love multi-layered police procedurals.

I remember randomly stumbling upon Helen Fields and this series, seeing much of the hype it was getting. As soon as I allowed myself a chance to delve in, I was hooked. From its interesting cases through to its characters who offer multi-faceted approaches to make the narrative even better, there is something for everyone . DI Luc Callanach again takes centre stage in this piece, working through some of the revelations of his personal life, while also trying to advance his career in Police Scotland. Series fans will know he is the ‘pretty boy’ of MIT, but his dedication and determination are second to none. His ongoing interaction with his friend (and now superior) DCI Ava Turner gives the reader something to enjoy as a secondary storyline in this novel, serving as character development for both. Ava Turner proves to be an interesting character in her own right, offering the story new and interesting flavours as she seeks to come to terms with a handful of conflicting emotions as they relate to Callanach. Turner is also trying to keep her team together, even as the commanding officer looks for any holes to tear her apart. With interesting characters who serve in many capacities, Fields keeps the reader’s attention throughout, helping to enrich the story’s growth. The story was a wonderful spin on the usual police procedural, with a killer whose intention is to offer a ‘shove’ for someone already on the precarious edge of life. Adding some development in the Callanach saga can only have interesting fallout for the protagonist, in this and future novels. One can hope that there are more books in this series, whose momentum never stops.

Kudos, Madam Fields, for another wonderful novel. I cannot wait to see where you will take DI Luc Callanach in the near future.

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

The Catherine Howard Conspiracy (The Marquess House Trilogy #1), by Alexandra Walsh

Eight stars

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

Alexandra Walsh storms onto the scene with this intriguing piece of historical fiction that opens new questions about the Tudors and Catherine Howard. While attending a dig, archeologist Dr. Perdita Rivers is alerted to some startling news; her estranged grandmother, popular Tudor historian Mary Fitzroy, has passed away. Even more alarming is the fact that Perdita and her sister, Piper, are now the rightful owners of Marquess House, a massive estate that Perdita never knew was part of the family. Surveying her new property, Perdita begins sifting through everything her grandmother left behind, including massive amounts of research relating to the Tudors. The deeper Perdita delves, the more she discovers. Of particular interest is an unpublished work on Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife. The story flashes back to the time of Catherine’s life, exploring her time as a lady at Court. Catherine surrounded herself by Anne of Cleves, the foreign princess sent to marry Henry VIII. Young and quite beautiful, Catherine catches the eye of the king, especially when his hastily arranged marriage goes stale soon after it is solidified. However, Henry VIII is anything but a compassionate lover, using violence and his title to demand submission, both in and out of bed. Once Henry VIII is in search of a new wife, Catherine is the obvious choice. She soon fears for her life when the violence escalates as she is not quick to produce an heir. As Perdita reads more, she begins to piece together some highly controversial information. Could it be that Catherine Howard was never executed? If so, who stood in her place and what happened to this young woman? While Perdita seeks to uncover more, additional mysteries behind her grandmother’s death and a group that has been following her are revealed. This further explains the estrangement between Mary Fitzroy and her granddaughters for a quarter of a century. Filled with adventure and historical revelations, Alexandra Walsh pulls the reader into the middle of this opening novel in an expected trilogy. Recommended for those who love historical mysteries and fiction, as well as readers with an interest in all things Tudor.

I eagerly accepted the chance to read Walsh’s debut novel, as it provided me the opportunity to explore some Tudor history intertwined with a great historical mystery. Walsh develops the first of this trilogy with an interesting premise, whose importance becomes more apparent the more the story develops. Dr. Perdita Rivers proves to be a wonderful character who comes into her own throughout this piece. An archeologist by training, Rivers is well-versed with historical discoveries, though is quite surprised when she uncovers much of the research her grandmother left her. The reader learns a little more about the estrangement period, as well as Rivers’ own backstory and some development, both familial and personal, throughout the piece. Walsh lays the groundwork for some interesting future adventures, both as they relate to the Tudors and life within the Marquess House. Others help to flesh-out the story effectively, none more than Catherine Howard herself. Long deemed flighty and quite promiscuous—like her cousin, Anne Boleyn—Catherine Howard’s brief marriage and eventual execution seem a foregone conclusion. However, Walsh injects some interesting twists into the story, while building a wonderful narrative to offer new and potentially insightful aspects to Tudor history. The story worked quite well and serves both to entertain as well as educate the reader. There is much development of a mystery, both in Tudor times and during the present period. Readers are left with many questions, sure to help lure them into wanting to find the next books in the trilogy. Walsh has definitely offered much on which the reader can posit, including secret societies created to protect and veil those historical anomalies that have not made it into tomes. I am eager to see what Walsh has coming down the pipeline and will keep my eyes peeled for the second book when it has been published.

Kudos, Madam Walsh, for a wonderful opening novel in this series. You have me curious and hoping the intensity stays high throughout the trilogy.

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