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

Advertisements

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

Quill of the Dove, by Ian Thomas Shaw

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Ian Thomas Shaw, and Guernica Editions for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

New to the world of Ian Thomas Shaw, I jumped at the opportunity to read one of his books, which mixes some powerful political drama surrounding the Middle East with some heartfelt emotional growth by his protagonists. In a story split between two time periods, the reader is introduced to two journalists. One, Marc Taragon, is a young man who has travelled to the Middle East in the mid-1970s to learn Arabic. However, with the outbreak of civil war in Lebanon, the region is turned into a war zone and Taragon cuts his teeth on some of the most sensational and difficult to describe journalism of his life. The other, Canadian journalist Marie Boivin, who is coming of age in 2007 and has been sent to write a number of articles about Taragon. Her time with him is spent mostly around Europe, but shrouded by an Israeli-Palestinian clash that could soon get out of control. While both journalists face issues as they cover their stories, the region remains a powder keg, with brother turning against brother, in an attempt to bring religious and political stability—and superiority—to a head. As the story progresses, it becomes apparent that there is more than the politics to be solved, with both Taragon and Boivin harbouring their own inner angst and desire to understand something within themselves. While the region remains volatile and the groups continue to shift, one can only hope that some clarity will come to provide a ray of hope that progress can be made, personally, if not politically. A refreshing and raw look at Middle East politics with heartfelt drama and intrigue throughout. Those who enjoy a weightier political thriller will likely want to get their hands on this book.

This being my first foray into the world of Ian Thomas Shaw, I was unsure what I ought to expect. He is able to weave together a complex story with ease, pulling not only on strong political themes that have made splashes across newspaper headlines, but also give life to his characters that pose as vessels through which the story can move from one point to the next. Marc Taragon is a strong-willed protagonist whose development throughout the piece is evident. His youthful ways shine through in the early stages of the narrative, in the region to learn the language, but his inquisitiveness is also present, helping him not only as a journalist, but also a character with whom the reader can relate. As the story progresses and he becomes the guide with sagely advice, his character seems to grow and become more respected, even though he is still but a pawn in the region as a whole. Marie Boivin has flashes of the Taragon gumption throughout, though her inquisitiveness seems primarily focussed on her subject and landing the best interview possible. I got the feeling that the Middle East backdrop was secondary for her, which turned important as radical change took place and she was thrust into the middle of something chaotic. The reader learns much about both characters as the story progresses, both their public image as well as the inner workings of their minds. Many of the other characters sprinkled throughout this piece prove effective at creating a wonderful story that tells of some of the less glorious sides of the Middle East clashes. Shaw speaks of religious and cultural clashes throughout the narrative, breathing life into these themes by giving his characters important roles. The reader is able to see the struggle through these men and women, sympathising with them throughout, while making connections with others at times. Shaw shows that he is able to develop a strong story that works on many levels, speaking to the political and cultural situation in the region, as well as the questions displacement leaves in the minds of many. I could not pull myself away at times, as the story became enveloping and kept me on the edge of my seat. Shaw depicts the clashes and the ever-vigilant people so well, while pulling on the reader’s heartstrings to sense the importance of what is going on. This is truly one the of great parts of this piece, in that it seeks less to inform and more to help the reader to feel what is taking place, a true asset. A mix of short and longer chapters provides the story with a wonderful mix to propel the reader forward, hooking them and then giving detailed accounts of the goings-on. This is an effective use of the narrative and exemplifies Shaw’s great writing style. I am extremely interested in seeing what else Shaw has out there for readers and if some of the other work is just as involved as this strong piece of literature.

Kudos, Mr. Shaw, for a wonderful glimpse into the world of Middle East politics with a human touch. I was quite impressed with the balance throughout and hope others find the book just as engaging.

This book fulfils Topic #5: Wild About Books! for the Equinox #6 Book Challenge

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

The Persian Gamble, by Joel C. Rosenberg

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Joel C. Rosenberg, and Tyndale House Publishers for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Joel C. Rosenberg is back with another political thriller that is quite timely, knowing current geo-political situations. With Marcus Ryker inside Russia, he is on a mission to bring an agent planted inside the Russian Government to safety, where they can discuss much of what he has learned. However, with the recent assassination of the Russian President and head of the FSB, there is a really good chance that this mole (and Ryker) are behind the killings, making the manhunt to find them all the more intense. When even the US Government is leery about helping, Ryker knows that he will have to reveal some of the intel to ensure their safe extraction from the edges of the Russian border region. It would seem that the Russians have made a secret military alliance with the North Koreans, which could help both sides in the event of aggression from other parts of the world. Other intel includes Russia’s plans to annex some of its former Soviet satellite countries, thereby beginning a war with NATO that is surely to devolve into a bloodbath. Add that to the news that the recently neutered Iranians have been covertly communicating with the North Koreans to obtain key pieces necessary to create a nuclear arsenal, and things could not be worse. With nuclear capabilities, the Iranians could be used against Israel, the Americans, and any others who seek to disrupt them. As Ryker fights to help out however he can, he remembers his strong Christian ties and wrestles with the increased amount of violence that will soon take place to end these political nightmares. As he tries to justify it, Ryker is sent to Japan to prepare for another mission, covertly scouting out the North Korean warheads being shipped to their Iranian partners. With bodies piling up all around them, Ryker sees friends and foes alike lose their lives, which only tests his religious beliefs, forcing him to question his role in the entire affair. A well-plotted novel that always takes politics to a new level. Fans of Rosenberg will surely want to get their hands on this piece to devour the political banter, if nothing else.

I always enjoy a good Rosenberg novel, as he is not only on point about the political situation, but has an uncanny way of predicting the future with the plots of his stories. A few past novels have been spot-on with their predictions, leaving the reader with an eerie sense of ‘could it’ as they devour each new book. Marcus Ryker plays an interesting protagonist in this book, struggling to do his job and find a balance with his religious beliefs. Rosenberg does not inculcate the reader too much with this book, but there is mention of biblical scripture and Ryker ponders what it all means. He has lost his family, so there is little but his own life to ponder, making him an unpredictable character in the field. Many of the others around him prove highly entertaining as well, their beliefs and sentimentalities key to keeping the story on track. Rosenberg is masterful at his ability to create strong characters throughout the piece and keep them growing throughout. The plot was not only plausible but also highly in touch with what is going on in various political spheres. There is little chance that Rosenberg is completely off base with some of his ideas, though just how real they could turn out to be is sure to jolt some readers when the time comes. The chapters were quick and kept the reader pushing forward, while never losing interest. One can only hope that there is more to come, be it in the series or with Rosenberg’s writing, as he is able to weave a tale like few others I have seen in all my years of reading. Politically gritty with that softer Christian passivity when it suits the plot, this is an author about whom readers should take note, if they are not already familiar with his work.

Kudos, Mr. Rosenberg, for such a great new piece. I liked much about it, even if I try not to get too bogged down by the Christian aspects of your character development.

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

The Last Woman in the Forest, by Diane Les Becquets

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Diane Les Becquets, and Berkley Publishing Group for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Diane Les Becquets presents readers with an interesting thriller that straddles two timelines to potentially track a serial killer’s path. Marian Engström loves working with tracking dogs and has been employed on a number of sites to locate movement patters of a number of animals. While on a site in Northern Alberta, Marian meets Tate, one of the coordinators. Their connection is strong and they grow closer at a rapid pace. During one of their post-coital chats, Tate reveals that he’s seen a dead body while on the job, one of the victims of the Stillwater Killer, a serial murderer who has been targeting women across the western United States. In a flash forward segment, Marian approaches one of the long-time investigators of the Stillwater Killer, Nick Shepard, to reveal this information. In a constant flip-flop between the present day and months ago, the reader discovers the ongoing closeness that Marian and Tate find, as well as the current investigations that Nick uncovers as he pokes around this Tate revelation. What follows is a series of coincidences that neither Marian and Nick can ignore, especially as they relate to Tate’s whereabouts during four concentrated killings over the past few years. When Nick delivers some of his chilling news, Marian can only wonder if she really knew the man she came to love and what her role might have been in the larger web Tate wove for himself. A chilling tale that keeps the reader wondering until the pieces all begin to fit together. A decent read, recommended to those who like criminal thrillers with a nature flavouring.

Having never read Diane Les Becquets before, I was not sure what I might expect, though the dustcover blurb did pull me in quickly. The premise of the story worked for me and I felt a strong connection to the characters throughout. Marian proves to be an interesting protagonist, whose passion for dogs and nature seeps from her in many ways. The reader is able to learn much about her through the actions she takes in camp and the conversations she has with others. That she has struggled of late is not lost on the attentive reader, though there is much to be said for her passion to do right by those around her, human and canine alike. Others within the story offer interesting flavours, particularly Tate and Nick, pushing the story in interesting directions to keep the reader wondering what is going on. I can only surmise that Les Becquets was trying to offer up an eerie sentiment with her writing, which succeeded as she spun a wonderful tale for all to discover. While the story was strong, it seemed somewhat disordered. I understand the concept of flashbacks and revelations, but there seemed a jilted ‘ping-pong’ effect, bouncing the reader through trying to keep information straight. I found it somewhat confusing to continue the flip-flop, especially as the revelations could have been revealed in ‘real time’ and then a few small remembrances used to refresh the reader’s memory. Les Becquets does offer something interesting when speaking of the stories related to the murder victims, drawn loosely on some of her own experiences. While the preface was the tale of one such young woman, there are summary chapters to give the reader a better understanding of how the other women met their demise and what choices they might have made. Quite effective on the writer’s part and it keeps the reader connected throughout. A decent piece whose only downfall is what I felt to be a lack of smoothness in its narrative delivery based on chronology.

Kudos, Madam Les Becquets, for your great piece that really gets to the core of a chilling tale. I would like to try some more of your work to see if it is as intriguing.

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

The Eighth Sister, by Robert Dugoni

Nine stars

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

While Robert Dugoni is the author of two successful series, his standalone novels grip the reader just as effectively. There is something refreshing about an author who has so many ideas and whose name is indicative of stellar writing and plausible storylines. Charles Jenkins has been out of the spy game for many years. After serving as a CIA field agent in Mexico City, he left abruptly and eventually began work on his own security company. Four decades on, Jenkins has found solace in his wife, Alex, as well as a son, with a second child on the way. When a former Agency colleague pays a visit, Jenkins knows that it is not a friendly check-in, especially after all this time. Jenkins soon learns that a number of Russian women are turning up dead in and around Moscow. While this is nothing concerning on the surface, they were all feeding secret intel to the Americans, part of a group called the ‘Seven Sisters’. While these women were excellent at their jobs, none knew they were anything but isolated individuals defying Mother Russia during her time as the USSR. With the rise of Putin and a new authoritarian regime, whispers of the Seven Sisters re-emerged, especially since Putin was once a KGB officer and keenly interested in the rumours. Now, it would seem that there is an eighth sister working for Putin and the FSB; one who is tasked with sniffing out these traitors. Enter, Charles Jenkins, who is being sent to Russia under cover of checking up on one of his client’s former offices, to seek to have the newest sister reveal herself and let the Americans take it from there. However, when Jenkins’ mission is compromised, he becomes the hunted inside Russia, while the CIA denies any knowledge and will offer no help. Back in America, Alex is given instructions by her husband to leave their home and seek out David Sloane, a friend and established Seattle attorney. While Sloane and Alex know nothing of what is going on, they can only hope that Jenkins still has the antics he possessed forty years ago to extricate himself from this mess. Little does he know, his fight to get away from the FSB is only the start to the headaches that await him. Another stunning novel by Dugoni that reignites old Cold War drama, alongside some stunning legal developments. Recommended for those who love stories of espionage, especially the reader who is a longtime fan of Robert Dugoni’s writing.

I always flock to a new Robert Dugoni novel, knowing that I will not be disappointed. Even his standalone pieces keep me intrigued, helping to fill the void that arises when I have to wait for the next instalment of his popular Tracy Crosswhite series. Dugoni enjoys filling his novels with details that are more poignant than fillers, keeping the reader educated as well as entertained from the opening paragraphs until the tumultuous final sentences. The development of his protagonist, Charles Jenkins was quite effective, hinting at a past within the Agency without offering up too many details. Pulling on this and linking it effectively to the Cold War-esque storyline helped the reader see the connection, as well as seek to know a little more. As the story progresses and Jenkins finds himself on the run, the reader learns a little more about Jenkins and his family, a core part of why he has stayed off the grid for so long. The story also tests Jenkins’ resolve to better understand just how far he can go as an agency plant to extract needed information with ease. Working with that is a handful of characters, both in Russia’s FSB and back in America, trying to help Jenkins flee the trouble in which he finds himself. Dugoni effectively juggles both sets of characters, developing a strong espionage theme throughout as the race to safety (or elimination) mounts with each passing page. Of particular note in the inclusion of David Sloane into the story. Longtime fans of Robert Dugoni will know that this was the author’s first series protagonist and an effective lawyer he was. I cut my teeth on that series and respected Dugoni the more I read of it. Sloane, still a Seattle attorney, plays an effective and essential role, giving fans a jolt of excitement to see him back on the page. The story was quite strong, particularly in an age when Russia is back to play a key role on the international political and spy scene. Dugoni keeps the chapters flowing and the action mounting as the struggle for freedom becomes more desperate. Dugoni is on the mark with this piece and it goes to show just how masterful an author he has become.

Kudos, Mr. Dugoni, on another splendid addition to your writing list. I am always eager to see what you have in store for fans and was not disappointed with this effort.

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

The Malta Exchange (Cotton Malone #14), by Steve Berry

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Steve Berry, and St. Martin’s Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Steve Berry returns with another Cotton Malone thriller, sure to impress series fans that those readers who love peeling back some of the mysteries history has left unsolved. Cotton Malone arrives on Malta with a mission to intercept a collection of letters that could ruin Britain if they see the light of day. These letters were written between Winston Churchill and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini during the Second World War, pertaining specifically to the possession of Malta. While this mission does not seem too difficult, there is more to the story than meets the eye, particularly as it relates to Malta. Long guarded by a security force, the Knights of Malta, the country has been the gem sought by many autocratic leaders, including both Mussolini and Napoleon Bonaparte. However, it is not simply the land they seek, but a secret that could change the face of world domination. This secret, Nostra Trifectà, holds information that many within the Vatican have long hoped would never be found, as its contents could change the Church forever. Vatican City is abuzz, with the death of the recent pope and a conclave about to begin. Over one hundred cardinals are making their way to cast ballots to elect a new leader for the world’s Catholics, but there is a twist. One contender seeks to use a great amount of information he has amassed to turn the tides in his favour, while using the secret enforcement arm of the Vatican to keep all hurdles out of his way. While Malone discovers what is going on, he is joined by others from his former employer, the Magellan Billet, to stop this and finally uncover the Nostra Trifectà. It will take more than brains and a little brawn to discover the secrets hidden in Malta and bring them to Vatican City before the doors of the Sistine Chapel are closed for the commencement of the Papal Conclave. Will this be one adventure through history’s lesser-known mysteries that even Cotton Malone will not solve? A highly captivating story that will hold the reader’s attention until the final pages, as they seek to decipher fact from fiction. Recommended for those who enjoy Steve Berry’s work, as well as the reader who finds solace in historical mysteries where much of the accepted truths are put to the test.

There’s nothing like a Steve Berry novel to get the brain working. He is able to pull on the lesser-known parts of major historical events, pulling the reader into the middle of an adventure, where there is much to learn. Berry’s protagonist, Cotton Malone, has been a wonderful staple throughout the series, moving from an active role as a Magellan Billet agent to a quiet bookseller with a passion for rare documents. While Berry does not offer a great deal of back story or development, Malone is effective in this book by showing his attention to detail when it comes to ciphers and hidden codes. Malone is able to lead his group through mysteries while always flexing his muscles when needed. Berry’s use of a number of secondary characters, both returning from the series and unique to this book, to help move things along, particular as it relates to those who serve as antagonists throughout. The story is interesting on multiple levels, as it tackles some of the events surrounding Mussolini’s fall from grace, the history of the island of Malta, as well as papal conclaves and the role the Catholic Church has long played in the world. Juggling these plots, Berry is able to advance many interesting historical possibilities, as well as injecting some history that may not be readily known to the reader. As with all of his novels, Berry embeds both fact and fiction within the narrative, leaving the reader to decide what to believe, at least until Berry sets the record straight at the end of the story. Tackling the power of the Catholic Church and how a collection of documents, Nostra Trifectà, could derail much of what is known or expected, as well as the power that the pope and his entourage. Set against the mysterious island of Malta, I was able to enjoy the second book in as many months on this island that lays between Italy and the African continent. I am eager to see what else Berry has in store for Malone and the other members of the Magellan Billet in the coming months. It’s always nice to see something that bears Steve Berry’s name, as the reader is guaranteed a jam-packed read.

Kudos, Mr. Berry, for another winner. I learn so much with you at the helm and your ability to tell stories is second to none.

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

Vermin, by William A. Graham

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, William A. Graham, and Black & White Publishing for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

William A. Graham seeks to impress with his debut novel, set in the heart of Scotland, with an interesting investigative twist. Allan Linton is a private investigator with a great deal of sleuthing experience. Before grabbing his magnifying glass and tweed coat, he worked as an investigative reporter for one of the dailies in Dundee. Now, he’ll take on most any case that crosses his desk. When a gentleman darkens his door, Linton is not sure what to expect. Handed a school photo of a young woman, Linton is asked to locate her as soon as possible. The gentleman before him is acting as a go-between, so Linton cannot even tell who is client might actually be. While he and his ‘associate’ begin looking into the case, other locals reach out for assistance on a variety of matters, including Linton’s own daughter, Ailsa. As Linton scours through records and pulls on all his contacts to locate this woman, the reader discovers much about the story that brought Allan Linton into his current employ and how he almost lost it all to Ailsa’s mother. When Linton thinks that he may have a lead in the case, things take a turn for the worse and it’s a mad scramble to ensure that he, and Ailsa, remain safe from some of Dundee’s criminal element. Graham does well to keep the reader intrigued with this debut novel. Recommended for those who like a quick investigative thriller (does such a genre exist?) that can be read in a few hours!

I will admit, it was the dust jacket blurb that caught my attention with this one. I knew nothing of Graham and shelved this piece closer to its publication date. However, as soon as I started, I will pulled into the middle of the story and learning about Allan Linton. A fairly down to earth guy, Linton proves to be the perfect protagonist for this short piece. He offers much back story in a few long and meandering chapters, giving the reader some context throughout the novel. With his own development, both on cases and in his personal life, Linton easily becomes someone the reader can enjoy throughout this piece. Those around him prove also to do well at entertaining and offering some of their own flavouring. Should Graham allow this to launch a series, I can see some definite character development happening in upcoming novels. The story was simple and somewhat hokey, but in a good way. Simply put, it went from A to Z with a few offshoots, but keeps the reader’s attention throughout. Complex plots and numerous twists are kept from the pages of this book, but its entertainment value cannot be matched. I can only hope William A. Graham returns soon with more to offer the reader, for I will certainly queue up to see what else he plans on publishing.

Kudos, Mr. Graham, for a great debut. I can see much potential and I hope others will jump on the bandwagon as well.

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