The Basement: Dark Past, by M. Marie Walker

Did not finish

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

Always eager to try something by a new author, I gladly accepted this ARC by M. Marie Walker. I went into the reading experience with some trepidation, as I do with many authors with whom I know nothing, but tried to keep an open mind as well. I tried to grasp onto the characters and the story, but could not find myself connecting on any level. Multiple attempts left me in the same situation, allowing me to see that this would not be the book for me.

I do not think that it was the content or the writing, both of which seemed to work for what Walker was trying to convey. I simply could not find myself caring enough to want to keep reading. I have no issue with violence in fiction (and find it quite silly to add ‘content warnings’, as though readers are children and cannot handle big people topics for themselves), which Walker handled well in her writing, nor does language bother me in any regard. I suppose it was just one of those experiences that I did not find myself tied to the story enough to keep picking the book up, no matter how I tried to prepare myself mentally. Surely others will find that connection and perhaps laud M. Marie Walker for her efforts. I am just not one of those readers.

Kudos, Madam Walker, for a valiant effort. I hope others find some connection to the piece and offer you praise for the experience.

The Jerusalem Scrolls (Michael Dominic #8), by Gary McAvoy

Nine stars

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

After a number of successful thrillers centred around religious history and antiquities, Gary McAvoy is back with his latest novel. Having been handed an ARC, I was pleased to get an early look at what McAvoy has been planning, as he helps his protagonist, Father Michael Dominic, in yet another adventure that hints at revealing more about the roots of Christianity, with a modern twist. McAvoy is stellar in his delivery and peppers fact and fiction throughout, forcing the reader to pay close attention as they attempt to splice truth from fanciful dream. Surely one of his best novels to date, which will keep series fans rushing back for more!

When two young boys discover a red clay jar in a hidden cave near the city of Qumran, they could not dream of what might be inside. Several scrolls are soon identified as being written by the Essenes two millennia before, depicting events before the Great Jewish Revolt, which includes talk of the Lost Treasures of Solomon, scattered across Jerusalem. All of these discoveries parallel some of the information from the Copper Scroll, found in the Dead Sea region back in 1947. Amongst this new collection is a scroll with writings from St. Paul himself, which could rewrite much of the core beliefs of early Christianity..

After Father Michael Dominic and some of his friends are called to Jerusalem to investigate these scrolls, it becomes clear just how serious things could be. While not on a mission for the Vatican, there is a sense of decorum and Dominic brings all the passion from his past adventures into this one. While Dominic and a long-time friend from his seminary days want to examine the scrolls and learn how the findings could influence Christianity and the Church, there are others in play who have a mission all their own.

A small sect known as the Mithraists—the chief rival to Christianity in the region until the fourth century—wants nothing to do with the scrolls or their findings and takes it upon itself to ensure it is lost forever. A televangelist with personal ambitions arrives in the region to ensure that he alone will bring the news of a new angle to Christianity and house the scrolls in his personal museum. Even the Isaraeli and Egyptian governments weigh in, wanting their piece of the pie. All this while Father Dominic tries to stay one step ahead of those with nefarious intentions.

With action and adventure, peppered with moments of dire trouble and dangerous clashes with those who will stop at nothing for their own outcome, Father Michael Dominic must discover what St. Paul had to say and how it could redefine Jesus and the heart of Christianity into the 21st century. Gary McAvoy does a sensational job in yet another thriller that is sure to leave the reader excited to see where things are going and exhausted from the journey found herein.

When I first discovered the work of Gary McAvoy, I was eager to see how an author would depict something with clear Christian undertones without making it preachy. Not only has McAvoy nailed the thriller genre, but his use of religious and regional history is highly educational without getting ‘soap box sermon-like’. McAvoy wants to educate and show the reader how much we don’t know, which he does through the guise of using Father Michael Dominic’s curiosities for all things historically Christian. There is nothing like a McAvoy story to leave the reader with many questions, as they flip to the back to see just how much is fact and where McAvoy uses creative freedoms.

The narrative flow of this book is not only strong because it points the way, but also because of its rich depiction of all things historical. There is so much to learn about the three Abrahamic religions, as well as the region where it all began. McAvoy imbues his stories with this and helps the reader grasp the intensity of the scrolls’ discovery, as well as the overall impact on many things. Strong characters, each of which flavour the piece in their own way, offer some great contrasts between the differing cultures and mindsets, be it about antiquities in general or regional politics and the possession of sacred knowledge. Plot twists occur throughout and find themselves wrapped in historical events, as well as moments when the thrills are at their highest. McAvoy has a wonderful handle on it all, yet is able to compact things into a quick read that many readers will devour in short order. For those who have yet to discover Gary McAvoy, this is your chance to do so. Start from the beginning to get the proper context and let your imagination soar as you deserve just how little Christianity in 2023 relates to things at the time of its inception.

Kudos, Mr. McAvoy, for another stellar ride through history and proof that there is so much we have yet to truly know about those early days in the Holy Lands.

Lest We Forgive (Detective Liz Moorland #1), by Phillipa Nefri Clark

Eight stars

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

Having read and enjoyed a previous novel by Phillipa Nefri Clark, I eagerly grabbed for this ARC. Clark spins a great crime thriller with this novel, combining a police manhunt with a family struggling to put the pieces back together. Set in Australia, there is an added flavouring to the story, though the setting is enough of a backdrop that the novel would work in any locale. Impactful until the final pages, Clark proves that she is one to watch in what appears to be the debut of a new series.

After a horrible car accident claims the lives of her parents, eight-year-old Melanie is left in limbo. Having been in the vehicle at the time, she suffers a number of physical and psychological injuries, but will also need a guardian to take care of her. Melanie’s grandfather, Vince, is a former detective and has disappeared into the bottle since his wife’s death, alienating his own daughter in the process. With Melanie needing someone, Vince steps up to help, thinking that family is Melanie’s best option.

While Vince begins to wonder about the crash and whether it might have been a targeted hit, he has an inkling that his son-in-law’s business partner could be up to no good. When Vince reaches out to Homicide Detective Liz Moorland, she is anything but pleased. With the recent escape of a murderer from the local jail, Moorland has her hands full and does not need any half-baked ideas clouding her focus. Vince refuses to stand down and does his own exploration into things, including the night of the fatal crash.

While Vince is trying to help Melanie acclimate to a life with him, he’s able to make some headway on the case. Detective Moorland is willing to take another look, though her attention remains focused elsewhere, as new bodies pile up the more the manhunt intensifies. The pieces begin to come together, as Melanie begins to come out of her shell. She remembers things about the night of the crash, things that could implicate people to a larger crime. Vince will not rest until he gets to the bottom of what is going on, whether Detective Moorland wants to help or leave him to his own devices. The truth is out there, though someone is lurking in the shadows, wanting to tie off any loose ends that appear, even if that means wiping Melanie off the map. Clark offers up a chilling story that mixes the hunt for justice with the slow and methodical healing of a little girl.

There’s something about an author that can juggle multiple themes effectively in their writing that has me very impressed. Phillipa Nefri Clark does that with ease as she tackles a debut novel in this series, sure to be crime thriller based. Clark uses all the tools she has to paint a great picture of what is going on in a small community, as well as the struggles for truth and healing that are inherent when an accident harms a handful of people. A great balance of police procedural, mystery, and emotional connection, Clark weaves them all together to keep readers impressed throughout the journey.

With a strong narrative base, the story is sure to impress many who are looking for something that will capture their attention. Clark does well to keep things moving and never lets the momentum wane as the story and its plots become more involved. A handful of key characters keep things exciting for the attentive reader, offering multiple perspectives to enrich the story. I can only hope that Clark keeps the same recipe for the next book in the series, as I am eager to see what is to come of Detective Liz Moorland and the rest of the Melbourne Homicide Squad.

Kudos, Madam Clark, for a great start to the series. I cannot wait to see what’s to come.

Boundary Issues, by Thomas Boxleiter

Nine stars

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

After I was approached with an ARC of Thomas Boxleiter’s novel, I could not help but be intrigued. The dust jacket blurb presented a novel full of action and with just the right amount of legal flavouring to be something that I would enjoy. Boxleiter did not disappoint at any point, providing a story that garnered not only my attention, but admiration for being so thorough. Mixing a number of areas together with just enough detail to leave the reader wanting more, Boxleiter has shown himself to be an author worth watching for in the years to come.

Dr. Hank Pressman has been running his psychiatric practice for years, with a number of patients who have achieved various forms of personal success. Beneath the surface, Pressman has a life that is a little more involved, from the death of his long-time wife, to bouts of infidelity, and even a blossoming addiction to alcohol. Still, he’s been able to keep things running smoothly.

When Marian Ash visits Dr. Pressman and demands that he take her on as a client, things begin to get a little more intense. Refusing to offer more than the bare minimum when it comes to information—as she fears her husband will find out—Marian speaks of an abusive relationship at home. She comes to the office with physical bruises, which only worries Dr. Pressman more. He does his best to help her, but Marian Ash has other ideas.

While Dr. Pressman is trying to get his life back on track with a new relationship, things take a turn one night when Marian shows up at his home. Soon thereafter, she’s taken into custody when her husband is found murdered. While Dr. Pressman has some of his own views on the matter, a series of events leave him wondering if he can serve as an expert witness to either help or hinder the defence. Faced with a mountain of personal and professional issues, Dr. Hank Pressman while have to decide what matters most to him and how he will look himself in the mirror once legal proceedings begin. A thrilling piece that is sure to make a name for Thomas Boxleiter!

I always enjoy new authors who make their way onto my radar. Thomas Boxleiter did so effectively and showed just how much skill he has with both storytelling and writing. The story, which may seem cookie cutter from the outset, actually delves into some wonderful themes and topics, all while educating the reader throughout the process. Boxleiter pulls no punches and keeps the reader in the middle, feeling as though they are right there with Dr. Pressman and the others. I look forward to reading more by Boxleiter, when the chance arises, and would encourage anyone looking for something refreshing and highly entertaining to try this novel for themselves.

Thomas Boxleiter offers up a strong narrative to guide the reader through the journey. Things begin well and build from there, providing a roadmap for a successful story. The characters Boxleiter uses throughout flavour things effectively and keep the reader intrigued about what is going on, without proving to be too over the top. I must applaud Boxleiter for developing Dr. Hank Pressman so well throughout the novel. There is significant progress for the character, who grows and expands in a variety of ways, such that the reader really feels as though they know his struggles. Use of plot twists keeps the story on point and allows the reader to feel a sense of not knowing where things are headed. While I cannot tell if there will be more for Dr. Pressman, or other novels in the same vein, I can only hope Thomas Boxleiter keeps writing and that I have the chance to read them. I was thoroughly impressed with this effort, which appears to be a debut novel!

Kudos, Mr. Boxleiter, for a great piece that kept me turning pages well into the night.

Hidden in the Shadows, by Angie Vancise

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Reedsy Discovery and A. D. (Angie) Vancise for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

After having A.D. Vancise reach out and request I read this ARC, I was both honoured and curious about what was to come. An eerie story that spans two time periods, Vancise takes the reader on a journey and jolts them with what they will discover. Part mystery, part horror thriller, the story develops quickly and leaves the reader wondering if they have any control over what they are reading. My first piece by A.D. Vancise and what a ride it was.

Evie Day is back in her hometown, five years after she vowed she would never look back. In Woodsville, Arkansas to attend her grandfather’s funeral, Evie discovers an old photo in his belongings. This leads to other oddities, including a vial of blood, presumably from a case he was working as a local cop many years ago. Now, Evie is pulled into the middle of the mystery that her grandfather left for her, albeit inadvertently.

While she delves a little deeper, Evie uncovers a secret life her grandfather may have been living, or at least a case that remained unsolved. What begins somewhat innocently soon unravels and keeps Evie from being able to stop herself. Mysteries abound and people she’s never heard of become the centre of her world.

Meanwhile, in a flashback narrative, the story of what happened back in 1933 comes to life, with horrible situations and a witness there to recount the tale. Torture, murder, and a taste for blood all come to the surface while a killer (or group) runs rampant around town. How will it all connect with Evie‘s discoveries and what does it all mean? A.D. Vancise has the answers, but demands patience and full attentiveness of her audience to discover the truth.

I try to keep an open mind when I discover a new author, in hopes that they will click for me. A.D. Vancise did so in some regards with this uniquely framed story that had me scratching my head throughout the reading experience. Some crime fighting and even more baffling revelations left me wanting to know more, while being jarred by what I was learning. I can only wonder if some of Vancise’s other books pack the same punch, as she is sure to have quite the following if this is the case.

It takes a strong narrative to keep the reader connecting with a piece through to the very end. A.D. Vancise does that in her own way, luring the reader with some jolting information and hopes that it will be enough. The pacing of the book proved useful to help digest some of the larger and more problematic parts of the storytelling, content, not delivery. Vancise uses a handful of interesting characters to portray the jarring effective of her story and left me asking myself what I was reading on more than one occasion. Plot twists and reveals helped keep me on my toes throughout and left me to wonder if there will be more in this vein, if not in the form of a series. Vancise is a new author for me, but I have not yet decided if I will be back for more, or if this is one novel I need to allow some digestion before committing to something else. Well worth a gander, if only to see what the hype is all about.

Kudos, Madam Vancise, for a unique journey well into the depths of the genre. I liked it, i think!

Played in Seattle (Dr. Julia Fairchild #6), by P.J. Peterson

Eight stars

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

Back with another Julia Fairchild novel, P.J. Peterson dazzles once more. A cozy mystery, perfect for a quick read, Peterson adds depth to her series with this addition that, as Julia Fairchild mentions throughout, ‘does not include a dead body’. Quick chapters and a narrative that flows with ease, P.J. Peterson shows that her writing ought to be taken seriously, or at least enjoyed by many.

Dr. Julia Fairchild and her sister, Carly, are away in Seattle for a girls’ week. While everything appears to be going well, they notice a man entering a cub one night, who turns up unconscious in the water the following day, a scrap a paper lodged in his hand. It will take all in Julia’s power not to play amateur sleuth, though Carly knows this may be a lost cause.

The plot thickens even more when Julia’s old college beau turns up, a professor of nuclear engineering, who has ties to an old Navy communication project that was shelved in the 1960s. When messages begin emanating from one of the Navy’s old beacons, no one is quite sure what to make if it all. It’s made even more problematic when whispers of espionage could be on the horizon, as intel appears to be going to the Chinese.

While Julia and Carly want to enjoy their time in Seattle, they become enmeshed enmeshed in the investigation, only to be stymied with the lack of progress. It will take a great deal of sleuthing and some risk-taking to get to the bottom of this case, while keeping Carly from getting too upset at the lack of sightseeing that’s being done.

The race to the truth leaves many trails, including a few missing people and a kidnapping of a small child. Whatever has happened, it’s sure to keep everyone on their toes and asking what awaits them. Julia and Carly have surely ended up in the middle of a major mess, but this seems to be just what the doctor (Julia) ordered for their vacation. A great mystery that will keep series fans begging for more!

I discovered P.J. Peterson through my connection to a mutual friend and devoured some of her early mysteries in short order. Now, as each book is ready to be released, I receive an ARC to offer my own views and have nothing but positive things to say. Peterson writes with ease and develops a story that works, without the need for a great deal of minutiae. Quick, enticing, and great for a mystery reader on the go, P.J. Peterson is one to take note of for all who enjoy the genre.

While my mystery reading tends to take me on the deeper trolls through crime scenes and police experts analysis, I thoroughly enjoy these shorter and cozier stories as well. Peterson develops a strong narrative that is easy to digest without all the extra that distracts the reader from the central plot. Quick chapters push the story along and keep the reader wanting to know more. Characters who develop with ease add something t the story, while the protagonist (perhaps we can add Carly too, as she has been in repeated novels) continues to add depth to a story that has been in the works from the beginning. Plot twists throughout help keep things from being overly predictable and leave the reader feeling entertained as they power through the book. I can only hope there are more to come, as Dr. Julia Fairchild is fast becoming a character whose adventures I impatiently wait for as I read to pass the time.

Kudos, Madam Peterson, for a great piece that kept my attention until the final page.

Contracts for Sale, by Edward Izzi

Eight stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Avignon Affair (Vatican Secret Archives #4), by Gary McAvoy and Ronald L. Moore

Eight stars

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

Gary McAvoy is back with more stellar writing, the primary reason I rushed to read the latest novel in the Vatican Secret Archive series. McAvoy again collaborates with Ronald L. Moore and they examine a new mystery that forces Father Michael Dominic to pull out all the stops, while evil forcers seek to take full advantage. McAvoy and Moore guide readers through a historical event shrouded in secrecy and show how a modern happening could be directly tied to its interpretation. With politics, action, and a little romantic triangulation, McAvoy and Moore offer up a cryptic story that is sure entertain a great cross-section of readers.

While in Paris for a funeral, Father Michael Dominic is called to Notre Dame Cathedral for a mysterious reason. A crypt said to hold the body of a fourteenth-century bishop has been recovered during restoration processes. What’s odd is that the skeleton has a cardinal’s ring on one finger and has two parchments hidden within the vestments. Baffled as to who it might have been and what secrets the parchments might hold, Father Dominic is asked to take them back to the Vatican to investigate.

All the while, major acts of terror rock the streets of Paris and its outskirts, proving that there is instability within the government. A high-ranking aristocrat calls for the French president to step down and allow the democratic process to choose his successor, while the country stands in awe. In a political vacuum, anything goes and this could be the perfect time for anarchy to reign supreme.

While Father Dominic seeks to better understand their mystery before him, a new King of France emerges and tries to wrest control of the country away from the political leaders, who have themselves sought to impose martial law; leaving little space for anything democratic to flourish. It’s only when Father Dominic uncovers some of the key mysteries about the body and parchments that France’s political turmoil becomes a little clearer and the play for power is central to the story.

As Father Dominic deciphers what is before him and France is torn, glimpses of what might be come to the surface, both for the country and with some of those with ties to the Vatican. Will something that took place during a temporary seat of the Pope prove to be the end to the Vatican as we know it, taking a country down with it? McAvoy and Moore weave a scintillating story that adds to the greatness this series has produced to date.

My relationship with Gary McAvoy’s writing began when he asked me to read his debut piece of fiction, which gripped me from the outset. The numerous themes develop a Vatican that proves complex and multi-layered, even when events take place well outside of Rome. McAvoy brings Ronald L. Moore back to collaborate, which proves a great choice, as the story finds new depth and complexity without getting overly heavy. Great character development, especially with the key people series fans know well, adds another aspect as to why the book should be read in short order.

There’s long been a spark surrounding this series, which exposes so many truths, fallacies, and ways to blend them together. The collaborative addition of Ronald L. Moore keeps the reader exploring new avenues of mystery while keeping themselves highly entertained. Laying the groundwork from the opening chapter, the narrative develops with each page, balancing historical happenings with modern goings-on, all of which culminates in a strong story that pulls the reader in. Explosive revelations, both political and religious, add depth to a series that has never lacked for adventure. Strong characters, particularly those who are back yet again and build on their past, help create an emotional connection for the reader. While there were some tense moments in the last novel about whether things might be coming to a close, the authors have spun new themes to keep the series going without any sign of letting up.

Kudos, Messrs. McAvoy and Moore, for another great piece in the series. I await your next adventure!

The Potrero Complex, by Amy L. Bernstein

Seven stars

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

After being handed this ARC by Amy L. Bernstein, I was curious to see how things would play out. Set in the near future, the story is a little mystery, with a peppering of dystopia and some self-discovery tossed in for good measure. Bernstein keeps things unique and memorable for the reader, even if the product may not have been something that gripped me as much as I would have liked.

Rags Goldner has been though a great deal after a pandemic has taken hold over the world for the last number of years. She’s seeking a fresh start and leaves with her partner, Flint, for a small Maryland town, hoping to find herself once more. The town of Canary offers much to Rags, including a missing teenager, who is all the talk of the town. Effie Rutter must be out there,but Rags must also cut through a bunch of emotional red tape to get to the truth. The mystery rages on with little hope of a simple answer.

While Rags and Flint try to pick up the pieces, they are faced with some daunting experiences that will push them to the brink. This is a new world, one where hope hangs by a thread and no one appears to know what waits around the corner. Both will have to pull up their bootstraps and face reality, even if it does not have all the answers they hope to find. Plus, with Effie still out there, someone has to care enough to push onwards and not let sensationalised journalism take over. Bernstein does well to paint a dreary picture, even if the content was not as tantalizing as I might have hoped.

Amy L. Bernstein has shown that she can write and has a great deal to say. Her delivery is strong and she has ideas to share, but it is perhaps the content that failed to grip me to its fullest extend. Dystopian novels are hit and miss for me, as are things surrounding some ominous larger event. Still, Bernstein does well to keep the story moving forward and kept me guessing how things might resolve themselves by the final page turn.

Good novels have a strong narrative, while great ones pull you in and won’t let go until all is settled. For me, Bernstein offered up something good and kept things flowing with ease. Her narrative is well-paced and allows characters to set their personalities as the larger story progresses. There are some wonderful plot twists and that helps the reader see how the protagonists evolve throughout the piece. I was not as hooked as the dust jacket blurb would have led me to hope, but that may be my short attention span these days. I needed something with more action and a quicker delivery. All the same, many readers may really enjoy Bernstein’s work and I wish them well!

Kudos, Madam Bernstein, for a great effort. I hope many find something wonderful in what you have to say and latch on.

Cult of Darkness, by D.W. Whitlock

Eight stars

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

Having been handed this ARC by D.W. Whitlock, I was eager to see if the core of the novel proved to be as enticing as the dust jacket blurb. Having read some of his other work, I was prepared for a thrilling and intense read, which would surely pull me into the middle of the action. I was not disappointed, as Whitlock told a story of great interest and kept me wanting to delve a little deeper.

While drugs continue to find their way onto streets and in the hands of the most vulnerable, there is a power struggle much higher up that is just as dangerous. Mexican drug cartels are battling not only to get their product onto the streets, but to control distribution and sales to any and all who find themselves needing a hit.

Of those groups who are wrestling for control, one has risen above all others: the Riviera. Headed by the ruthless Kukulkan, members of the cartel have begun peddling fentanyl, a drug more powerful than anything else on the streets. Bodies are strewn all around pristine Mexican communities, proving that this is one battle that will not end easily.

When the son of a prominent local businessman disappears, a call goes out to Alex Schofield, whose time in the Delta forces and investigative techniques are second to none. Schfield enters the landmine that is Mexico, in search of a boy who may have become involved in something more complex than he could have imagined.

While Schofield has made a vow to himself, he may have to break it in order to save one boy from imminent danger. However, there are other demons creeping up that could seriously harm Schofield on a more personal level. D.W. Whitlock weaves a chilling tale that will surely leave the reader on the edge of their seats throughout this great story.

While I have read the other novel published by D.W. Whitlock, this one was more captivating and enthralling than its predecessor. Full of action and wonderful character development, Whitlock proves that he belongs in this genre an should be noticed by those who love reading books of this nature.

The test of a great book is the ability to pull the reader in with ease as the story progresses. Whitlock does that well, as his narrative builds to a crashing crescendo and takes the reader on a journey like no other. With strong characters and some wonderful development to keep the reader wanting to know more, Whitlock teases the reader throughout the process, while tossing in some great plot twists to keep things interesting. There is no time to take a break between page turns, as the action culminates in something well worth the wait. I will keep my eyes open for more by D.W. Whitlock and hope others take notice.

Kudos, Mr. Whitlock, for another great read. I’m eager to see what’s to come!

Hooker Avenue (Jessie Martin #2), by Jadé Millman

Eight stars

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

Having been handed this ARC by Jodé Millman, I dove into the series debut first, in hopes that they would complement one another well and keep me intrigued until the final page turn. Millman does well and keeps pace in this second novel, which does not leave the reader tired at any point throughout the intense thriller.

Jessie Martin is back as a great legal mind in upstate New York. The young lawyer has a lot to prove and is ready for most anything that comes her way. While driving home in a torrential storm, Jessie comes across a woman who is in dire need of assistance. Thinking that she can be a Good Samaritan, Jessie tries to help, only to find herself pulled into the middle of something far more dangerous.

When Detective Ebony Jones answers the call and attends the scene, Jessie is torn while also filled with emotions. Ebony was once Jessie’s close friend, but something’s happened, an event that is best left shelved until things quiet down. Ebony and her partner have actively been persuing a number of sex workers who have up and disappeared, their bodies assaulted by some unknown assailant. With a live victim, things could be different, but Ebony will have to act fast, putting her row with Jessie to the side.

Jessie is offered a great new position in a law firm, one that will help her as a single mother. However, this comes as a significant cost and impedes her from being able to work the case alongside Ebony. When her employer becomes the attorney for the woman who was attacked, Jessie must straddle two worlds and hope that she can work effectively without putting added strain on her disintegrating friendship.

While working through the case, Jessie must also deal with a personal life that is in a spiral. One man seeking to win her heart and another wanting her dead for past legal transgressions, Jessie Martin will have to face things head-on, in hopes of making a difference in the lives of many. This is one time in her life that Jessie wished things were simpler and without drama. Millman does it again with a great piece that stirs up emotion and suspense in the same breath.

Jadé Millman offers readers something stellar to contemplate as they read this piece, mixing drama and legal matters into a single story. There is a great deal going on herein, providing the reader a great deal of excitement in a series that is gaining momentum. I have high hopes for Millman and her exciting protagonist, who is growing on me bit by bit.

Millman uses a strong narrative throughout the piece to keep the reader in the middle of all the action. With a decent amount of character development and some plot twists, the reader is drawn into all the drama with each turn of the page. Serving as a legal thriller on the one hand and a crime story on the other, Millman mixes them well, developing a constant depth to her protagonist, Jessie Martin. I am eager to see what comes of this series and how Millman will continue developing things for her fans.

Kudos, Madam Millman, for another great piece. You are evolving as the series progresses and I hope things continue to advance accordingly.

The Midnight Call, by Jodé Millman

Seven stars

After being handed the newest novel by Jodé Millamn, I thought it best to start at the beginning of this series. Millman develops a decent story for most readers, tapping into some emotional and high-intensity stuff from the outset. While it was not the most captivating legal thriller I have read, it was decent enough to pass the time.

Jessie Martin is a decent lawyer whose education helped pave the way to a successful career. Then, late one night. she got a call she was hardly expecting or prepared for, with chilling news. Jessie’s friend and long-tome mentor, Terrence Butterfield, seeks her help after admitting that he killed someone.

Sending Jessie into a spiral, she tries to compose herself while trying to come to terms with Terrence’s admission. Now she has a decision to make; should she help the man or stay a fair distance away? Jessie cannot turn her back on the man who made her who she is today, but doing so will certainly bring out a great deal of risk to all parts of her life.

As Jessie goes to help Terrence, she is pulled into something even more sinister when a body is discovered in his home. Might Terrence have been playing on Jessie’s emotions from the get-go, trying to get her to help him, while remaining a horrible monster all along? Jessie will have to trust her gut and legal instincts to get her out of this mess before too long. Millman does well with this series debut to paint quite a picture for the reader!

Many who know my reading likes would expect me to fawn over this book, particularly because of all the twists it appears to present. Jadé Millman offers readers something to contemplate throughout this piece, with some strong plot ideas and a decent delivery. I would not call it stunning, but it did keep me thinking and pondering what I might expect as the series continues.

Millman offers a decent narrative throughout the piece, keeping the reader in the middle of things as the story unfolds. There is a decent amount of character development and some plot twists that are sure to keep the reader wondering well into the night. While a legal thriller on the one hand and a crime thriller on the other, Millman is able to mix the two fairly well, without knocking me over with either. I am eager to see what is to come with this series and whether Jessie Martin will make more of an impact on me in the follow-up story, for which I have an ARC ready to read.

Kudos, Jodé Millman, for a decent debut. Let’s we where things go in the next novel!

Crux, by Robert Hamilton

Six stars

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

Having stumbled upon this book by Robert Hamilton, I was eager to give it a chance. It was the dust jacket blurb that piqued by attention, as it seemed Hamilton would use this book to explore a number of intriguing platforms. While he does do that effectively, I was not as mesmerized as some other reviewers, feeling as though I could not connect with parts of the writing and themes presented to me.

The premise of the book is that America is fraying at the edges and being left on the brink. From the vein of religiosity that flows through the country through to some of the barbaric means by which animals are treated to put food on the table, the country is teetering on the brink. The story’s central character, Dr. Thomas Pickett, wrestles with these issues and how he sees the country turning away from being a leader to covering things up for the almighty dollar. At the heart of the matter is the strain this puts on democracy, in its truest form, taking control from the voter to those with power and influence. Nothing new there, but the concept is as blunt as can be.

While the writing was easy enough to comprehend, I was not pulled in by it and felt the aforementioned blurb was more scintillating than what I was presented with throughout the reading experience. I can see what Hamilton sought to do, using fiction writing as a worthwhile soapbox to air his concerns and ideas. There is no doubt that Hamilton understands many of the issues he discusses, going into great depth at various points of the narrative. For me, it fell short and left me wondering if I had missed something. I noticed others lauding the book and its themes, but I cannot let others steer me into thinking I am the issue.

Short chapters worked for Hamilton, helping to gain momentum throughout the reading experience. I was able to sit and read chunks at a time without issue, but kept hoping something would resonate within me and leave me wanting more. This could be a one-off or just my personal struggles at this point in time. Whatever the reason, I remain unsure if I will seek more by Robert Hamilton to avenge this novel’s lack of a spark for me.

Kudos, Mr. Hamilton, for your efforts, even if it did not work for me. I hope others continue to find greatness in your writing.

Shot to the Heart (DS Jack Lisbon #4), by Blair Denholm

Eight stars

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

Having binge-read the DS Jack Lisbon series, I have finally reached the ARC that Blair Denholm requested I review. Things have been a whirlwind, allowing me to discover a little more about DS Lisbon, both as a police officer in Australia and the sordid past he left behind in the United Kingdom. Finally able to visit his daughter in the UK, Lisbon arrives and sets out on quite the adventure with Skye. When she is kidnapped in plain sight, Lisbon is distraught, but knows that he must be very careful. It’s likely that some of those he upset before fleeing to Australia have planned this and seek long-awaited retribution. Lisbon will have to work off the books, including getting some assistance from a colleague Down Under, in order to bring Skye back safely. Denholm does really well to add new layers to the series, exciting readers who have been waiting for a novel like this.

After many years away from his daughter, DS Jack Lisbon has finally returned to the United Kingdom. While his ex-wife is leery, she allows them out for a few days together. While in a park, Skye is kidnapped in plain sight and this leads Lisbon to panic. His sordid past has likely come back to haunt him, when he was suspected of killing a prominent member of the boxing community. Could this crime have been planned for years, simply awaiting Lisbon’s return?

Told not to contact the authorities, Lisbon is left with few options, but refuses to stand idly by. He reaches out to a few of his contacts from before he left the country to help him locate Skye quickly. With a ransom demand and a time limit, Lisbon will have to follow all the rules, while panicking on the inside. A few clues help get the ball rolling, but Lisbon will be some trusted assistance from a colleague back in Australia, well off the radar of the kidnappers.

Inching closer to a likely location for Skye, Lisbon and his ragtag team begin to formulate a plan, but have little guarantee that it will work. Skye’s life likely hangs in the balance, as these criminals have no morals and are willing to do whatever it takes to get what they need. Lisbon makes his move, fuelled by the love of a father, in hopes that it will be all that Skye needs to be returned to him safely. Denholm ups the ante once again and makes this the best novel in the series to date.

Blair Denholm has done a great deal with this series in short order. While I was not sure what to expect when I started the books a few days ago, I have seen a great deal of progress with the series and DS Jack Lisbon, specifically. Strong writing and great plot lines have helped create a captivating collection of novels sure to attract the attention of the curious reader who enjoys quick police procedurals.

DS Jack Lisbon has come full circle in this series. Those who have followed the novels from the start will know that Lisbon fled the UK under tense circumstances, but little has been fully hashed out about it, save some mention in a prequel novella. Now, Lisbon is back and able to spend time with his daughter, Skye, who has always been simply a passing reference in other books. Seeing a more personal side to his character, Lisbon exemplifies the love a father has for his child, stopping at nothing to bring balance once again. Denholm has built things up well and this novel was just what the series needed to add new depth to a tense collection.

Blair Denholm has mastered the art of storytelling and uses this series to catapult DS Jack Denholm into a new realm. With a strong narrative that pushes forward, while using personal angst to flavour the writing, the story gains momentum as the hunt for a missing girl reaches new heights. Great characters leave the reader wanting more, while also complementing the protagonist throughout this piece. I have waited for this plot line, ever since early mention of Skye Lisbon appeared in the first novel. The inevitable heartache Lisbon feels with the kidnapping of his daughter is matched by the tension between the copper and those seeking to destroy him. Denholm impresses yet again and leaves the reader wanting even more. I can only hope DS Lisbon will be back soon for more suspenseful investigating.

Kudos, Mr. Denholm, for adding new tensions to a great series. Thank you for having me read this series, which I devoured in short order.

Silent Slipper (Julia Fairchild #5), by PJ Peterson

Eight stars

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

After recently discovering the cozy mysteries of PJ Peterson, I call myself an excited fan. Peterson presents a lighter mystery in interesting climates, which provides the reader with something to pass the time and feel entertained. Julia Fairchild and her sister, Carly Pedersen, have decided to travel on a vacation, leaving their troubles and love interests back home. While out on the beaches of the British Virgin Islands, they find a woman’s body floating in the water, with a lovely necklace and single slipper next to it. Things soon heat up, as Julia and Carly work with the local police to see what’s going on and how a criminal enterprise might be up to no good. Peterson delivers another great story that I devoured in a single day!

Julia Fairchild has a knack for finding mysteries and murder whenever she packs a suitcase. She promises her sister, Carly, that things will be different on this, their anticipated girls’ getaway to the British Virgin Islands. Ready for the sun and sand, Julia and Carly stroll along the beach, only to discover the body of a woman floating in the water. While she is an accomplished doctor, Julia can do nothing and decided that it is best to document the scene and alert the authorities. They notice that the woman has only a single slipper and a medallion of sorts that apperars to be religious in nature. The etching is nothing that either Julia or Carly can read, adding to the mystery.

When Julia and Carly approach the police chief, he orders an autopsy to get some answers. The toxicology shows significant drugs in the victim’s system, leaving many to wonder if there might be a criminal element using the island to distribute their product. While she is itching to help Julia stands down and allows the authorities to take the lead.

While Julia and Carly wait to see how they can help, they come across a group filming a moving along the coast. Intrigued, they make friends with some of the actors and hope to score roles as extras, if only for a day or two. The costumes and footwear worn by the cast bear a striking resemblance to those the victim had on when she was found. Might there be a connection?

When a few of the extras chosen for the film go missing, Julia and Carly can no longer sit on the sidelines, itching to help find out what is going on. It is sure to be dangerous, particularly in a part of the world they do not know, but the sense of adventure is more than either can ignore. PJ Peterson keeps the reader flipping pages well into the evening, as she did with me once again!

I discovered PJ Peterson’s work through the Reedy’s site, after another author spoke highly of her work. I was taken with how easily I could read and review the previous books in this series and can only hope they will continue in the years to come. Peterson mixes an easily digested story with some dazzling settings to provide the reader with something intriguing that is sure to keep them flipping pages. Everything flows well and the end result is a cozy mystery that has just enough spice to keep things interesting.

Julia Fairchild is again in the driver’s seat for this novel, though her focus is more on the case at hand than swooning any men. She is becoming very ‘Jessica Fletcher-esque’ as she stumbles upon a number of mysteries wherever she might be, while also keeping things on point with her witty remarks. I have seen much growth in her (and Carly) over the series and hope it continues into the future.

The key to a great mystery is to have all the elements in order without revealing too much at the early stages. PJ Peterson has it all and uses her skills well to allow the reader to become one with the story without feeling too bogged down. A great narrative that clips along keeps the reader in the middle of the action. Plot twists find themselves developing with ease, though the reader is not lost when things take place. Fabulous settings, described in an effective manner, keep the reader feeling as though they are part of the action, with local characters adding to the flavour. I have devoured all the books in the series to date and cannot wait for more, whenever they might arrive.

Kudos, Madam Peterson, for another winner in my eye. I am so pleased to have been shown your work and am happy to read anything you put in front of me.

The Opus Dictum (Father Michael Dominic #5), by Gary McAvoy

Nine stars

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

Always eager to read the work of Gary McAvoy, I rushed to begin the latest featuring Father Michael Dominic, which did not disappoint. Exploring another angle of Vatican-based politics and sinister goings-on, McAvoy takes readers through a historical event and provides strong modern action to support it. In this case, all relates to a more recent event, where a mysterious briefcase finds itself in the Vatican Archives. What it contains could not only reveal the existence of a powerful group thought defunct, but also change the path of the Catholic Church forever. It will be up to a handful of dedicated individuals to stop this before it’s too late. Another winner by Gary McAvoy that will have those ho love a good thriller on the edge of their seats.

It was early morning one June day in 1982 that Roberto Calvi was discovered hanging under a bridge in London. A man with quite the reputation, some called Calvi “God’s Banker,” for his ties to the Vatican Bank, though it was some of his other connections that left many to wonder if he had upset the wrong person. Missing from the scene was an important briefcase Calvi had the night before, filled with important documents that could cause a great stir if they were revealed. The mystery was never solved, leaving many to wonder if these incriminating documents might still be out there.

Fast forwarding to today, Father Michael Dominic is excited to have a new assistant working with him in the Vatican Archives. There are so many documents in need of reviewing and digitizing that he cannot be sure where to begin. When the Calvi briefcase turns up, it opens quite the conundrum for all involved. Father Dominic knows a little about the briefcase and upon discovering some of its contents, he is eager to learn more. There is proof that a powerful Catholic organisation, Opus Deus, and an outlawed Masonic group P2, have been working together. Not only that, but a safe deposit key could hold the answers to a great deal more.

Working as quietly as they can, Father Dominic and his team try to uncover the mysteries from the briefcase, discovering a cache of diamonds and gold, as well as digital breadcrumbs to more. Before they can make their move, others learn of the discovered cache and make their move to get it back, hopefully to silence any chance that the secret will come to light.

While Father Dominic must head to Geneva to help rescue an old friend, one of his nemeses finds a way out of prison and plots revenge on the priest. With the backing of Opus Deus and P2, Father Dominic’s life could be in danger, especially with what he knows. Upon the discovery of a document called the ‘Opus Dictum’, a truly horrifying plan could soon be in motion, which will deeply change the Catholic Church for the foreseeable future. After the surprise announcement of a new conclave—the election of a pope—causes a stir, Father Dominic knows that his time is limited. Should the Opus Dictum come to fruition, the face of the Church will forever change, and not likely for the better. As cardinals gather and the ceremony begins, two men stand at odds and hope to become the new voice for the Church. Gary McAvoy does a sensational job with this piece and left me eager for more. I cannot wait to see where things go from here.

I have followed Gary McAvoy on this journey since its inception and never found myself straying. The themes that emerge are on point and I am regularly pulled in by the approach of his plot lines. The Vatican is a complex and multi-layered organisation, as is the Catholic Church in general. McAvoy finds ways, through history and artifacts, to bring the story to life and create thrilling adventures for all to enjoy. His characters grow exponentially throughout and the stories connect well together. This is a series that gains momentum with each novel and never seems to lose its way.

Father Michael Dominic continues to impress as the protagonist of the series. His backstory is a little complicated, as series fans will know well, but it is matched by some of the awkwardness he hides in the present that keeps it all highly exciting. A devout Catholic who loves working in the Archives, Dominic finds mysteries fuel him and will stop at nothing to uncover the truth before him. While he may not hunt out danger, there are those around him who seem to attract it, creating an adventurous journey through each of the novels in this series. I am eager to see, with some of the revelations made in this book, how things will change for Father Dominic moving forward and whether there will be a significant shift in his role.

The key to a strong thriller novel is whether the reader can feel themselves begin a part of the action, rather than a passive bystander. Gary McAvoy creates an electric buzz around his stories and puts the reader right in the middle of everything that is going on. His narrative builds with each passing chapter, developing more mysteries and curiosities, while the plot twists repeatedly to keep anyone from knowing exactly what will happen. Intertwining modern events with historical goings-on makes for an explosive story that could go one of many directions. Strong characters, particularly those who reappear and build on their past developments, help create an emotional connection for the reader, as they are swept up in everything that is taking place. While McAvoy packed this book with history and highly descriptive settings, I know this is not the end. While I will have to patiently wait for the next instalment, it will surely be well worth it to see how things continue to play out for all involved.

Kudos, Mr. McAvoy, for another stunning story. You never cease to amaze me with your writing.

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

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

Eight stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They Only Wear Black Hats, by Edward Izzi

Nine stars

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

Edward Izzi returns with another of his stunning thrillers, sure to captivate the reader’s attention from the opening pages. Taking this crime story down a dark rabbit hole, Izzi mixes history, murder, and a secret society to formulate a novel that will leave readers talking well into the future. Detroit PD Detective Mike Palazzola has enjoyed his work within the Third Precinct, but knows that crime will always be a part of his day to day work. When a string of odd murders are accompanied by the placement of black bowler hats, he’s sure a serial killer is on the loose. Little does he know the complexities tied to these killings, as a friend and journalist tries to uncover a group whispered to be called the Archangels. Directives will be made, people will die, and Palazzola will have to decide how to act before it’s too late! Izzi impresses once again with this scintillating story of secrecy and retribution.

Detroit has long been a place where crime runs rampant, something that DPD Detective Mike Palazzola knows all too well. Working out of the Third Precinct, he has been in the middle of a number of high-profile and gruesome murder investigations, some with children as victims. While the cases seem strong, when those accused make their way to court, they are released on a technicality, proving major flaws with the system. All Palazzola can do is grit his teeth and keep protecting his city. Soon thereafter, all those who were released turn up strangled to death, slices on their body, and a black bowler hat next to them.

While out with Justine Cahill, a gritty journalist, one evening, Palazzola notices a group of men wearing the same bowler hats entering the private back room of an Italian restaurant. Their mysterious nature raises some concerns with both Palazzola and Cahill, but the restaurant staff remain tight-lipped about who these men could be.

Unbeknownst to anyone else in the restaurant, these men are part of the Malizia Society of Detroit, an organisation dating back to 1927. While they use the cover of anonymous Archangels, doing charitable work around Detroit, they are actually a secret group doling out their own form of justice for those who slips through the cracks. Their meetings discussions are highly secretive and the use of three assassins to offer needed punishments keeps them from being identified.

Palazzola and Cahill begin their own sleuthing into who these Archangels might be and their history, the FBI leans on them to steer clear, as they, too, have been looking into them. While Palazzola knows when to take his foot off the gas, Cahill sees a story that could catapult her into national stardom, as well as revealing a group of murderous thugs no better than the mafia. These men are everywhere in Detroit society and it is not entirely clear who can be trusted.

As more bodies emerge, the story takes a darker turn, alternating between modern Detroit and the history of the Malizia Society, which has ties to a group from Italy back in the time of the Borgias. While Palazzola knows something must be done, he worries that one wrong move could mean a heap of trouble. He will have to act swiftly, but with extreme caution, not wanting to be the next person with a black bowler hat next to his murdered corpse. Izzi has done it again! A brilliant thriller that kept me intrigued until the final page turn, with something for patient readers in the last chapters.

It was a fluke that I discovered Edward Izzi’s writing a few years ago. While each of his novels is a standalone of sorts, this was completely independent from his loosely connected Chicago Vatican books. The writing is strong, with great plots that pull not only on duplicity, but also history to bolster their foundation. Izzi keeps coming up with strong ideas and I cannot recommend him highly enough.

Mike Palazzola plays a significant role throughout the novel, though he shares the limelight with Justine Cahill and one prominent original member of the Malizia Society. These three forge ahead, with their own backstories and development, working their way through the struggles they encounter. Therefore some wonderful revelations throughout the piece, as well as dicey moments when confronted by the truth of what these Archangels have been doing.

Edward Izzi seems never to run out of great plot ideas for his novels, which develop in numerous ways. The stories are usually dark and intense, with a graphic nature to them, but are not gruesome to the point of being stomach churning. The narrative flows extremely well and keeps the reader engaged, as much is revealed in due time. Chapters that propel the plot along are the centrepiece of the novel, with strong doses of history and flashbacks. While this will likely remain a standalone thriller, there is a chance that Izzi will utilise a technique he has for creating cameos of certain characters in other books of his. I would encourage anyone with an interest in a more complex crime thriller to check into some of his books, as you won’t be disappointed.

Kudos, Mr. Izzi, for another stunning novel. I may not be your loudest fan, but I can assure you, I am in the top five!

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

A Deadly Game (Jack Calloway #2), by Carmen Cady

Eight stars

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

Always up for a crime thriller with a twist, I returned to the latest novel by Carmen Cady. This second book in the Jack Calloway series offers new and intriguing crimes as Jack juggles a few cases on the streets of Seattle. With his own private quirk, Jack works through some of his own demons as he tries to help reveal the darkest side of the criminal world while trying to track down a young woman. Cady offers up another winner with this novel, sure to captivate the attention of the curious reader.

Jack Calloway has a long history as a private investigator for whoever needs his services. He’s happy to travel and uses a penchant for criminal profiling to make him perfect for any crime scene. When he finds himself in Seattle, Jack’s working to help a woman who sent him a number of emails, fearing that she was in imminent danger. Working through this, Jack seeks to connect with a reporter who may know something important, but that man’s been murdered. All of this makes Jack feel as though there is more going on, leaving him eager to get started on the investigation.

While working, Jack is approached by a gruff Seattle PD detective to consult on another case; one in which a number of women are turning up dead, all with a unique tattoo on their shoulders. There seems to be a foreign flavour to this, as well as the removal of kidneys, as though this is a sign or part of a larger criminal conspiracy. As the victims mount, Jack realises that there’s someone out there who means serious trouble.

While Jack works both cases, he makes a troubling discovery that could tie the investigations together. This only adds to his worries, as time is ticking and those involved in the criminal acts are not known for their methodical antics. In a world where people are treated like commodities, Jack will have to watch his every move, if he wants to live to tell of the experience. A quick-paced story that kept me wanting to know more the further I got into the book. Carmen Cady has a knack and is sure to do well with those seeking a dark thriller.

While I have come across many types of thrillers in my reading career, those penned by Carmen Cady have got to be some of the most unique. While I am not a fan of the supernatural, the angle she takes in these novels offers just enough of it to keep me curious without feeling as though things are too far-fetched. Her writing is strong and the story moves effectively, while leaving the reader to feel the impact of the victim’s plight.

Jack Calloway is a strong protagonist with a complex backstory that is developed a little more here. As a vampire who has seen his family slain, Jack has many demons that he must confront, as well as trying to live in the modern world and keep his secret. Cady does well to keep this in control, but does toss some personal angst in front of her protagonist as he seeks to solve another sinister crime. Jack is a stellar investigator and does not shy away from getting to the heart of the matter, though works in a calculated manner. His determination fuels him to always find answers when the opportunity arises.

Cady caught my attention with the series debut a while back and I was eager to get my hands on this second novel. The narrative moves forward and pulled me in from the opening chapters, leaving me to wonder where things might go. Her use of mid-length chapters provides the reader with some momentum to push through, without getting too wrapped up in the small things that occur throughout. I was pleased to see how easily I could get into the book and the plot evolved throughout, while also shedding some light on the Jack Calloway backstory, which adds the supernatural angle to the overall reading experience. I do wonder what’s next and I am eager to see what Carmen Cady has in store for her growing fan base.

Kudos, Madam Cady, for another great book. You know how to balance crime and personal growth well, appealing to a larger reading audience.

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

And Tyler No More, by Stan Haynes

Eight stars

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

A great fan of all things political, I was drawn to Stay Haynes’ novel about a political assassination. Political history can be quite intriguing, as there are usually so many moving parts that help sketch out goings-on from a variety of perspectives. After ascending to the presidency, John Tyler begins to govern as though he possesses the powers of an elected leader. Many disagree, including one man who sees the country going in the wrong direction. Plotting action against Tyler will take more than simply desire, but the blowback could be even more troubling. Haynes does well to capture the reader’s attention in his piece, mixing history with some great character development.

The death of President Benjamin Harrison a month after he took office in 1841 shook America. Never had a president died in office, forcing constitutional scholars to scour the document to determine what would happen next. In the short term, Harrison’s vice-president, John Tyler, assumes the role, as denoted in the US Constitution. It is what happens next that leads to a great deal of confusion.

As Tyler begins ruling the country, he alienates many within his Whig Party. His views and actions push some to the brink, including Henry Clay, a powerful senator from Kentucky. Working alongside Clay is Monty Tolliver, a young man who idolises his boss. Tolliver speaks opening about his disdain for Tyler and the actions taken, spreading his sentiments to his best friends, Ben Gaddis.

As the years pass, Tolliver and Gaddis concoct a plot that would see Tyler removed from office, not on a political scandal, but through his death. While assassination is treason, these two men cannot stand idly by as President Tyler eyes bringing Texas into the Union and fomenting more division over the question of slavery. They draw up a plan and thought it foolproof, only to have things go awry and leave Ben injured.

After Ben turns up dead a few days later, possibly by his own hand, Tolliver begins to process what he has done, only to learn that there was something not entirely right about his friend’s apparent suicide. Working with a Washington City detective, Tolliver tries to get to the root of what happened, as well as keep secret the plot of his attempt on Tyler’s life. An intriguing piece of historical fiction, indeed!

While I had not heard of Stan Haynes before this novel, I was quite impressed with his writing. There is something for everyone’s in this piece, which offers readers a glimpse into a time gone by, as well as some great historical backstory around a small piece in pre-Civil War times. I can only hope that there is more to come, as Haynes has me eager to add to my knowledge of US history.

Monty Tolliver plays a central role in the story, working through not only his impressionable years, but also some key moments of self-reflection. The story offers a little backstory, but much of it is about the development of Monty’s views and sentiments about making such a rash decision as to plot the assassination of a sitting president. Haynes keeps him as a strong character throughout and left me wanting to know more about the man who would one day rise to claim a seat in the House of Representatives.

I would suppose that the greatest issue with writing historical fiction is to keep true to the events, while also developing a spot for characters to thrive and carve out their own paths. Haynes does this effectively, keeping the reader intrigued not only with the goings-on that match this history books, but also offering a personal glimpse into events. The strong narrative helped to keep this going, while using a plot that is likely not entirely well known (if not fictitious entirely). Great characters and some poignant moments helped keep the story moving, especially through two timelines. Short chapters made me want to push through, if only to get to the climactic moments and see how they played out. I will certainly look into some of Stan Haynes’ non-fiction work, but am hoping for more in the fiction column as well.

Kudos, Mr. Haynes for a great foray into the world of historical fiction. I hope others with a penchant for the genre take note as well.

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

Jailed (Cal Rogan Mysteries #7), by Robert P. French

Nine stars

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

Picking up soon after the last novel, Robert P. French offers Cal Rogan fans another electrifying novel that tackles crime on the streets of Vancouver. A young man is stuck in jail when he is convicted of murdering his girlfriend. His sister hopes to exonerate him by hiring Cal Rogan, who’s recently left his role as a private invetigator. It’s a case that is more complicated than meets the eye and Rogan will have to use all his resources to help, while being targeted for his inquisitive nature. French keeps the momentum going with another thrilling novel, which shows just how talented he continues to be.

Cal Rogan has turned over a new leaf, one might say, choosing to pursue academics rather than stay as a private investigator at the firm he helped build. However, when he is approached by a student on campus, he is intrigued about the case, where a young man is in jail for murder, having been convicted on some evidence that may have been tampered with by a crooked cop. Rogan agrees to approach his former colleagues, feeling that there is something to the claims, but makes no promises.

When Rogan arrives, he is able to sell the case effectively and have the team looking into what could be a major frame-up. It turns out the woman he is accused of killing was his girlfriend, part of a strict Muslim family. While Canada is a fairly open society, many of the strict beliefs espoused by the woman’s brother are chilling, particularly when he praises her death for sullying the family name.

While the investigation takes off in many directions, Rogan finds himself crossing paths with some disturbing members of a radical organisation who would like nothing more than to erase his constant queries. All this leads to some truly devastating actions that could put Rogan and those he loves in serious danger.

When a new angle emerges in the case, it provides additional suspects that could be involved, while also tossing the victim in a new light. Just when Rogan thought he knew what was going on, this turns things on its head and makes the streets of Vancouver all the more dangerous. Robert P. French delivers again and keeps the reader on the edge of their seat throughout this stunning novel!

I stumbled upon the early work in this series by accident, but could not put the books down as soon as I started. They are so full of intensity and drama, while also set on the streets of Vancouver, one of Canada’s great cities. Shedding light on the Canadian angle made me want to read the books even more, as I felt a sense of home with each chapter. Add to that, French has such a way with words and there is no doubt that this is a series worth the attention of any reader who loves the genre!

Cal Rogan has been through a lot in this series, yet he’s never lost the grit that makes him a stellar protagonist. Series fans have seen his exponential growth throughout the series, while makes for some wonderful development, as well as a little backstory that never quite goes away. Revisiting some of the early struggles he’s faced, Rogan is also able to assess how far things have come since those early days as a washed-out cop who relied on heroin to get through the tough times. Rogan has also amassed some wonderful characters to surround him, many of whom enrich the novel in their own way.

French has always had a talent with his writing, even if he tells you that he struggles at times. The narrative is always on point and moves along at such a pace that the reader must remain attentive or risk falling behind. Short chapters propel the story forward effectively and left me eager to see where things were going. Using Canada as a backdrop adds to the story and keeps me wanting to read more, something that makes me happy as I have finally found a strong investigative thriller set in my own backyard. Working with multiple plot twists and injecting some poignant ‘current events’ with mention of COVID, French does an amazing job of electrifying the story and keeping the reader enthused throughout. I cannot wait to see what’s to come and how I can be a part of it!

Kudos, Mr. French, for yet another powerful addition to the series. These books keep getting better and your ideas seem endless.

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

Final Chance (Final Trilogy #3), by Van Fleisher

Nine stars

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

After delivering two impactful novels in a series that mixes politics with forthcoming technological advancements, Van Fleisher presents perhaps the last story in his Final trilogy. Sticking with what works, Fleisher creates a story that will have readers thinking and highly entertained in equal measure. Near future social, political, and technological issues converge into a well-paced narrative that provides a glimpse into what might be and how some will stop at nothing to stymie progress. A great apparent conclusion to the series for Fleisher.

After the impact of both COVID-19 and political unrest in America, it is time to turn over a new page. However, subsequent US Administrations cannot find peace and solace with what awaits them on the horizon, but rather new and difficult problems. One of these is the ongoing issue of climate change, which has shown to be causing issues around the world: rising temperatures, destruction of natural resources, and large-scale deaths of humans, not to mention flora or fauna.

Seeking to curb these issues, a system of domed cities becomes a priority within the White House, using America as a testing ground for other parts of the world. Investing billions into the project, new agricultural domes emerge to serve as testing grounds for enclosed areas where temperatures can be controlled and people can live. This expands to cities, some of which are inter-connected to allow travel with ease.

By the late 2040s and into the 50s, there are other advancements taking place, in hopes of creating a new and sustainable world for all. As with any new advancements, there will be those who profit, as well as a handful whose source of gain is curtailed by change. A small cabal of powerful individuals who seek to eradicate the changes meets regularly, in hopes of hatching a plan to cut the progress off at the knees.

Using various methods, this group covertly seeks to erase progress by the current US Administration. Assassination attempts prove fruitful, as does the release of a new bio-weapon, all while technological progress continues into the 2060s. A few key figures seek to ensure that these few will not succeed, while trying to reveal their identities in short order. It will take a great deal of effort, but it might be the final chance to ensure the world is safe.

The Final series caught my eye a few years ago and I have kept up with them whenever Van Fleisher publishes a new novel. While the ideas may seem a tad tech-lite, when the reader gets into the novels, there is a substantial narrative and strong themes. Fleisher offers opinions throughout, but they are substantiated effectively and this turned into quite the political thriller, while also being entertaining for those who invest the needed time.

The central characters change throughout the piece, but Fleisher makes sure to provide strong ties between them. Political, scientific, and social actors intermingle effectively to support the story and provide something that is easily processed by the reader. Characters and themes may bear a striking similarity to current times, which is likely no mistake on Fleisher’s part.

While there is a slight hokiness to begin the novel, this is soon replaced by some strong themes throughout the narrative. The story takes on some wonderful perspectives and the reader is taking on quite a ride as they learn about what could literally be on the horizon in the next while. With strong plots emerging, Fleisher permits the reader some time to think about what they are reading, while also getting lost in the ongoing action and developments. Short chapters keep the piece moving and the reader can only wonder what awaits them, as they forge ahead with ease. Even though it’s all in the future, Fleisher remains grounded and does not ‘robotocise’ the story, or instil anything too outlandish as it relates to daily life. If this is to be the final novel in the series, it will be missed, but what a great way to tie things off. Van Fleisher is to be commended.

Kudos, Mr. Fleisher, on a great novel and entertaining series. I could not ask for anything better. I wonder what you have in store for us next.

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

The Volkswagen-sized Hornets’ Nest and other Misunderstandings, by Steven Scott Wallace

Eight stars

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

The curious and adventure-filled time that childhood provides is like no other, something Steven Scott Wallace proves in this short story. Apparently a tale pulled from the recesses of his mind and teenage life, Wallace tells of a summer where a freak accident left him in search of a hobby. This hobby may have been dangerous, but also proved fruitful and left him with drams of stardom. A piece many will be able to finish in one sitting, Wallace shows how youth and a little ingenuity bring forth the best stories to tell for generations.

While most of America was fixated on something else in the summer of 1974, southern Oregon’s Josephine County had an issue they could not ignore. Hornets were all over the place and nothing was going to stop them. Steve ‘Wally’ Wallace knew this all too well, as he tried to come up with a solution.

It was only after a freak accident while helping his uncle that Wally found himself with lots of time on his hands (pardon the pun) and a mind running on thirteen-year-old overload. He gave the hornet issue some thought and used the library to devise a plan that could not fail. All summer, Wally found and handled hornets’ nest around town and had made quite the name for himself.

Once school started, he was full of stories, only the discover a new and massive nest that needed his attention. While he had handled angry hornets before, this would be the ultimate battle. Wally and his friend devised a plan to kill the hornets and preserve the nest for their science teacher. While it seemed to work, on the day the nest was to be brought to school, Wally learned that things went horribly wrong and he might find himself in a load of trouble. Could his stardom be drowned out by wanting to brag one time too many?

This quaint story appears to reflect on some of the actual experiences by Steven Scott Wallace during his youth, though that is entirely unclear. Whatever its providence, it reads easily and proves to be a nice means of entertaining the reader who wishes to put a pause on all things chaotic in their life. The narrative keeps the reader curious and wondering as the plot appears to thicken, or at least as much as it can for one eager teenage boy. With a nice twist at the end, Wallace allows the reader a ‘wink and a nudge’ moment while they wonder if this is one of many stories that might be published before long.

Kudos, Mr. Wallace, for a nice little reprieve from what I usually read. I would love to get my hands on more of these stories, should they exist.

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

Glide, by Alison Jean Lester

Six stars

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

I always enjoy discovering new authors, something that comes with the territory as an active book reviewer. When asked to read the latest piece by Alison Jean Lester, I obliged, keeping an open mind and sense of curiosity. The novel explores human connection on a variety of levels, including how deep it can run, even with the impediment of memory loss. Lester leaves much for the reader to consider throughout.

Leo is excited that his wife, Liv, will soon be home from her trip to Norway and has been preparing for her arrival. It’s also Liv’s birthday, something else to celebrate. When a knock comes at the door, Leo finds himself face to face with Morten, Liv’s half-brother. Not wanting to appear rude, Lee invites Morten inside and they await Liv’s return. All the while, Leo cannot shake that he has heard nothing about Morten in all the time Liv has been in his life.

When Liv is delayed for unknown reasons, Leo and Morten get to know one another a little better and take some time to travel around New England, a day trip that proves somewhat fruitful. The days pass, and still no Liv, though she does call and leave a message that she will be home soon. Leo is still unsure what’s going on, as this does not seem to be the wife he’s known.

When Liv does arrive back in Boston, she has no memory of anything, unsure what’s happened to her. Leo takes her in for some tests and discovers that it is some form of amnesia. It could take days or weeks to rectify things, but Leo will not give up. This may explain the oddities, though Leo is determined to get all the pieces back in order as soon as possible.

Due to her memory loss, Liv knows nothing about Morten, which is to be expected. However, something seems off and Leo cannot entirely put his finger on it. During an explosive moment of memory regeneration, Liv is able to connect the dots and remembers Morten, though not as he has presented himself. It’s up to Leo to synthesise it all and determine what’s going on, as well as how best to move forward. It is only then that Leo learns the truth about Morten and how significantly this man has disturbed things.

There is no doubt that Alison Jean Lester can write, as her story flowed fairly well throughout. The premise was strong and kept me intrigued throughout. It is a well-paced story set in Boston, with strong Norwegian undertones throughout. Lester leans on this at times, keeping the reader wondering how strong the European connection will be to the overall reading experience.

Leo remains the protagonist throughout, discovering much about himself and those around him. He struggles with a past that is full of peaks and valleys, though is also trying to come to terms with much in his present life, things that he could not have expected to experience. Slowly, he comes to terms with these bumps in the road, though it is not entirely clear how well he can cope with too many unknowns floating around him.

The story moved along well, keeping the reader entertained as the narrative gained some momentum at various spots. The twists and plot reveals kept things from being too predictable, though there were no gasping moments in my opinion. With decent characters and a clearer plot line, I cannot fault Lester on her efforts. However, the entire experience came off as a little too folksy for me. Perhaps I am too used to cutting edge thrillers and mysteries that offer grit, but it lacked some chilling drama that the pretence of the story left available. Things seemed too calm and docile, particularly when the revelations that come to the surface. There was a moment in the latter portion of the book, but it, too, fizzled into a form of resolution before too long. Again, that could be on me, though I was hoping for something a little more intense and chilling, rather than gliding from one revelation to another, if you pardon the pun.

Kudos, Madam Lester, on a well-written piece. I hope others take note and enjoy the twists you embed into your writing.

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

The Impostor (Pat Norelli #2), by David Temple

Eight stars

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

Discovering new authors is one of the things I like most about being an active book reviewer. When given the chance to explore David Temple’s work, I gladly obliged. Powering my way through the series debut, I was pleased to get my hands on an ARC of this novel, which continued the high-impact ride. Temple picks things up a year after the debut, with many of the chilling elements still resonating in the narrative. LAPD Detective Patricia ‘Pat’ Norelli is still coming to terms with almost dying at the hands of her therapist, Darius Tercel. Stung by the fact that he slipped away has haunted her ever since. When her best friend, who was also a patient of Tercel’s, turns up dead, Norelli is sure he’s lurking in the shadows. However, all the evidence points to Norelli, who is subsequently suspended. Norelli will not sit idly by while she is set to be accused of murder. She works the angles and finds herself travelling to every corner of the world to find Tercel and bring him to justice. That being said, this is not going to be easy, or safe… but Norelli has never been one to take the easy road. Another winner by Temple that is sure to keep readers flipping pages well into the night.

Detective Pat Norelli cannot sleep, still remembering how she was one syringe injection away from dying at the hands of her therapist, Darius Tercel. He got away, but the LAPD has not forgotten what he left in his wake. Now, Norelli is ready to return to work and tries to find some semblance of normalcy, a year later.

When reports of a death come into the precinct, Norelli recognises the address as being that of her close friend, Angie. What presents as a heart attack has Norelli baffled, as they were out only the night before. Further investigation shows that Angie died from an overdose administered by an injected narcotic, which screams Darius Tercel. However, much of the evidence points to Norelli herself, including a sizeable amount amount left in Angie’s estate.

As Norelli is being investigated by Internal Affairs and could face murder changes, she is suspended and forced to stew. Anyone who knows Norelli understands that she will not sit by, awaiting the kindness of others to solve the problem. Norelli decides that this is her time to find Tercel and bring him in, no matter what it takes.

Armed with some great colleagues who are convinced that Tercel is behind the death, Norelli tracks the psychopath to Australia, sure that he has been hiding there and blending into the local surfing scene, with a great deal of plastic surgery to help. This will be a slow and methodical game of cat and mouse, which finds Norelli learning more as she travels the country. New victims litter the path, but Norelli will not stop until she gets the answers she needs and has Tercel in cuffs.

Crossing the Pacific again, with IA close on her heels, Norelli takes a gamble and ends up in New York, sure that Tercel has plans there. She inches closer, but must not act too swiftly, or she will risk losing everything once again. Darius Tercel has one weakness, Pat Norelli, but he won’t simply walk into a trap without setting his own plan in motion. A chilling story that keeps readers guessing until the final page!

David Temple offers the reader yet another well-developed piece, presenting a strong police procedural that has an international flavour. Those who read the series debut are easily swept into the continuation of the story and find the intensity has not lagged, even a year later. The race is on and while the settings constantly change, there is an element of surprise in each chapter, which culminates in something truly captivating for those with enough patience. I am eager to see if Temple will keep the series going, as he has made a fan out of me in short order.

Pat Norelli remains a strong protagonist, still coming into her own. With a strong sense of personal struggle that emerges in the opening portion of the book, Norelli must get back on her feet and remember the grittiness that made her so effective in the first novel. She will not let Tercel define her, nor is she happy to let him continue to haunt her, which emerges in everything she does throughout this piece. A great balance of personal growth and strong police work push Norelli to the edge and leave her vulnerable when faced with the ultimate decision.

In any series that is still fresh, there are a number of supporting characters who make an impact. Temple does well to create individuals to complement Norelli regularly, while others serve well in a one-off role. Temple’s use of multiple settings provides him with a vast array of options when developing characters and his Aussie gang is particularly intriguing. Still, it’s a police procedural overall, so there must be some hard-ass coppers who reel things in. This is apparent throughout and these types grace much of the book in an effective manner.

David Temple does well in developing this story, particularly by picking up some threads from the first novel. While the genre is supersaturated, Temple finds his own way to individualise the experience for the reader. Pat Norelli was well presented and left me wanting to know more, especially with her life on the line and a killer still trying to impact her. A mix of chapter lengths propelled the story forward and definitely left me wanting to keep reading. Paired with a strong narrative that switched from first to third person, the book utilised some decent twists and yet did not tie everything off, so I need more. That is the sign of a strong writer and I am happy to stick with David Temple, provided he keeps developing Pat Norelli and this series in the coming years.

Kudos, Mr. Temple, for another strong novel. I hope others trip on this series and see your talent!

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

Credentials: An Economic Duel (Lost Book 3), by Rand McGreal

Seven stars

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

Always one eager to expand my reading horizons, I chose an ARC of this novel to see if I could make heads of tails of what Rand McGreal sought to profess. Labelled an ‘economic thriller’, McGreal explores the fast-paced world of economic policy set against the backdrop of a monetary conference hosted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Canada. A little-known economist, whose theories are controversial and not widely accepted, finds himself in the middle of a clash with the economic establishment. The clashes spill outside of the conference rooms and onto the streets of Victoria, leaving a bloody wake as some try to scrub out any competition in this cut throat world of economic policy-setting. A decent read for those who love economics and a well-crafted piece of fiction.

Peter Barrie never saw himself as a superstar in academia, but his economic theories are something he holds dear. Branding himself as a New Market economist, Barrie works at a small community college, but has made quite the stir in his recent publications, analysing and being highly critical of policies put forth by the many who espouse monetary policy. His exploration of post-disaster rebuilding and views on the government’s role in the economy leave many scowling and shaking their heads, but his obscurity has left Barrie out of too many substantial discussions on the topic.

When Barrie is asked to make the closing speech at the IMF’s conference on monetary policy, he is overjoyed. With events being held in Victoria, the provincial capital of British Columbia, Barrie prepares to attend and hopes to peddle his newly finished book as well. While his publicist is a tad leery, Barrie convinces her to attend as well, promising that there will be others at the conference who might be in need of some literary aid.

As soon as Barrie arrives, he connects with some of his fellow New Market clan, knowing they will be vastly outnumbered by the mainstream Keynesians. Barrie seeks to make his mark, but knows that he is a wanted man, both because of his views and due to the fact that he has no solid academic credentials. After befriending a Chinese economist with a long history of alternate views, Barrie tries to forge onwards and make the most of his experience at the conference.

As expected, the clashes begin from the outset, where economic viewpoints are plentiful. However, Barrie is pushed into the middle of some major skirmishes, both within the conference and on the streets of Victoria, all in hopes of hurting him, reputation and body alike. Barrie will have to rely on his wit and new-found friendships to protect him, though it may not be enough. Economists may look stuffy, but there’s a darker side when they views have been maligned, as Peter Barrie is about to discover. Rand McGreal keeps the story moving in what can only be describes as a strong economic thriller.

I will be the first to admit that economics have never been of great interest to me. That being said, I am always open to new avenues of learning, even if it is embedded in a piece of fiction. Rand McGreal certainly does add a great del of education in this piece of fiction, bandying around some strong economic theories as he develops a strong thriller narrative throughout. This is surely a piece for those who love the world of economics, or at lest understand them, though McGreal does a nice job explaining things along the way for the reader.

Peter Barrie proved to be a decent protagonist in this piece. McGreal offers up some great insight into his life and thoughts, though he does not dwell too much on personal backstory. What could be called character development is more Barrie’s ability to survive, as he is targeted numerous times for his views and sentiments. The reader can connect with Barrie easily and might even grow to admire him by the time to book comes to a close.

McGreal develops some strong secondary characters throughout the piece as well. Used not only to espouse the Keynesian theories, these others push a strong villainous agenda, offering a decent balance to Barrie’s thoughts. The reader can learn much about economics by understanding these characters, who find themselves on both sides of the argument. There is something intriguing here, though I was not drawn to any of those who graced the pages of the book. Still, it was an eye-opening experience for me to see all the perspectives on offer.

McGreal develops a great narrative from the outset, keeping the reader involved from the early pages. While there is no getting around the economics-rich writing, McGreal develops a great narrative that moves along at a decent pace. Wonderful characters and an ever-advancing plot cannot be discounted throughout the piece, even if I got lost in many of the economic discussions found herein. Using shorter chapters, the story propels ahead as the reader is educated repeatedly. McGreal uses some added pizzazz by creating press clippings to report on the progress of events in Victoria, keeping the reader feeling fully involved in the entire endeavour. While the content was not entirely to my liking, the book seemed to flow pretty well and will surely impress a specific cross-section of readers.

Kudos, Mr. McGreal, for a decent piece. I admit that I won’t be rushing out to read the other two novels in the Lost series, but I can see you know your stuff and can transmit it to those who love this genre!

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

Invocation (Nick Ballard #2), by Anthony Steven

Eight stars

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

Anthony Steven returns with another explosive thriller that is sure to grip the reader from the opening pages. Building on his series debut, Steven takes the reader much deeper into the mind and troubles of Nick Ballard, with a few new faces to add depth to the world of premonitions and spirit communication. DCI Kate Garvey is still trying to come to terms with a close brush with death while apprehending a serial killer in Scotland. With a new superior, Garvey is tasked with working through a chilling case, as a handful of women are dumped on a rural road, after being tortured and brutally murdered. She seeks help from Nick Ballard, a man who can visualise those who are being attacked, but the man is not up to the game. With some issues in her own personal life, DCI Garvey will have to collect her thoughts in order to make it all work, all while someone is watching her every move and criticising each mistake she makes.

It’s been a rough go for Nick Ballard since he returned from Scotland. Self-medicating so that he can no longer have the visions that haunt him, Ballard has developed quite an addiction that has him in rough shape. Add to that, he has spent much time thinking about a woman who tried to help him with his premonition abilities, Susan Carver. While Susan is dead, her daughter has kept up a loose relationship with Ballard and introduced him to another fellow with some other eerie abilities. John Rennick seems to be able to communicate with those in the afterlife, a seemingly unique trait that has brought him mixed results.

DCI Kate Garvey is also reeling from the events in Scotland, lucky to be alive and have her son, Rob, as well. While she tries to put it all back together, DCI Garvey has to work with a new commanding officer, one who demands more each day. While Garvey has reached out to Ballard, he’s not responded at all, as though there is some animosity between them. When a handful of women are found on the outskirts of London, DCI Garvey must take the lead and could really use Ballard’s help to piece it all together.

Lurking in the shadows is a serial killer, the likes of which few have ever encountered. With a horrible childhood disfigurement and an appetite for vengeance, a ploy to lure young women away from the streets has been working, though the results are less a saviour of the troubled and more a means of scratching an itch that has been building for the killer. The latest target, a young woman with a baby she never wanted, proves to be one that will resonate with many, putting DCI Garvey on the defensive while she seeks to keep her professional demeanor. It will take not only a sober Nick Ballard to help, but also might require the help of another man, John Rennick, whose skills with those who have passed on are invaluable, to locate the killer and find justice for the vulnerable.

It’s a race to find a faceless killer, one who lurks on the dirtiest streets and has a message to broadcast, much like the Bible Verse Killer did in years past. DCI Garvey has her work cut out for her in this one, which demands leadership, swiftness, and attention to detail. The pressure’s on and the clock is surely ticking. Anthony Steven does well in this follow-up thriller that builds on the past novel, as well as two novellas/short stories, all of which provide needed pieces for this chilling thriller.

After stumbling upon the series debut, I was unsure what to expect. I was not blown away, but was happy to give Anthony Steven another try when he reached out with an ARC for the second novel. I can see much growth and the writing works well, particularly if readers have taken the time to also devour the two novellas that are available on Steven’s website (have a look!). There is depth and a great deal of action, leaving the reader to connect early and often with the likes of Ballard, DCI Garvey, and a few new faces that make an impact throughout.

Ballard and DCI Garvey are both in fine form throughout this piece, putting their personal and professional lives out there for readers. Both have suffered a great deal since their time in Scotland, though Garvey has been able to pick up the pieces, while Ballard has fallen down a dark hole and turned to Ativan. The struggles that both protagonists show are definitely not lost on the reader, though it is how they each find an effective turning point that truly excites things as the story progresses. Nick Ballard has much to prove to himself and those around him, though he remains his own worst enemy. DCI Garvey, on the other hand, must impress a new superior and juggle the strains of some jarring personal news that could knock her off her proverbial perch.

Steven does a wonderful job adding depth and flavour to the story with a handful of keen supporting characters. There is much to tell in the area of backstory and these characters do a masterful job at highlighting key plot points throughout the process. Some, like John Rennick, are memorable because they have already shone some of the limelight on themselves with a novella about their early exploits. Others complement Ballard and Garvey, while there are some who help keep the likes of Susan Carver (a minor character in her own right in the debut) alive through dialogue and memories. Steven definitely does not suffer from a shortage of characters, leaving it up to the reader to keep things in line.

Anthony Steven may be guilty of having too many balls in the air at one time, but he handles it a great deal better than he had previously. There is a great deal to process and handle, but I felt more prepared this time around. The narrative is strong and keeps the reader enthused as they inch their way into the middle of a major crime scene, interspersing the larger story with narratives directly about the serial killer. This approach offers wonderful eerieness to the story and kept me wanting to know a little more. The characters were on point and the plot evolved effectively for me as I made my way through this piece. A mix of chapter lengths left me wanting more and kept me pushing ahead, leaving it only to be work and the need for sleep that forced breaking this up a little more than I would have liked. I was quite impressed with this piece and will be keeping my eyes open for more by Anthony Steven in the coming years.

Kudos, Mr. Steven, for a great novel that will garner many fans for you, of this I am sure!

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

The Buzz Boys, by Edward Izzi

Nine stars

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

Seeing a new novel by Edward Izzi always brings much excitement, as I have been able to enjoy each of his previous publications a great deal. While this piece does not delve into Vatican corruption or the legal world, per se, there is some Izzi magic in the piece that again centres around Chicago. Izzi tells a wonderful story of a group of five boys who are connected through their scholastic endeavours and common household issues as they come of age through the 1960s and 70s. When a tragedy befalls one in a parking lot in 2019, it is the introduction to a long and storied past that brought the Buzz Boys together, as well as highlighting how they were torn apart over the years. Another must-read for those who enjoy Izzi’s work, as well as the reader who finds something exciting in a ‘coming of age’ piece.

Marco Pezza had a long history with the Chicago PD the day he arrived at the bocce club to greet his father in 2019. Though they had been estranged for many years, the elder Pezza took the time to speak with his son, decorated and popular around town. What followed was a murder-suicide that rocked the city and left everyone shocked. Reading the news soon thereafter, attorney Robert Mazzara was saddened by what his friend had done, though by no means surprised.

Mazzara takes the reader on a slow and detailed journey back to the 1960s, where he grew up in a Chicago suburb. Attending parochial school, Mazzara soon befriended four other boys and they became the best of friends. Connected, not only by their attending the same school, these boys could recount a troubled upbringing of abuse at the hands of cruel fathers, some of whom were also molested. However, none of the boys let this taint their connection to one another.

This connection grew over time, as did the stories of abuse in their respective households. Eventually dubbed the ‘Buzz Boys’, each had their own unique take on life and the hand they had been dealt. As the years progressed, these boys became men, suffering their own problematic lives, with the pall of childhood abuse lingering over them. The narrative explores how each of the boys took matters into their own hands, with Mazzara there to pick up some of the pieces while juggling his own issues.

As the years progress, tragedy fills the narrative of the Buzz Boys’ lives, with Robert Mazzara there to do what he could to pick up the errant pieces. He uses all these stories gathered over the years as a salve to heal many of the wounds, while also pitying each of the others, including Marco Pezza, and the troubles they faced. Like a band of inseparable misfits, the Buzz Boys live on, even as they are all gone. It’s left to Mazzara to decide how to ensure the legacy is not erased, with so much to show over the past six decades. Heart-warming and tragic in equal measure, this is one story of Edward Izzi’s that will stick with me well into the future.

I have yet to encounter an Edward Izzi novel that I did not enjoy. Scrap that, as enjoy is too superficial a word, but rather, loved! His attention to detail and ability to pull the reader into the middle of the action is like few others. This piece takes the reader away from the thriller genre that has been central to much of his past writing, allowing for thorough exploration of the character development and coming of age of those central to the piece. For me, this is the litmus test that Izzi is not only a great writer, but that he can step outside the genre for which he has made a name for himself and truly shine!

While Robert Mazzara plays the narrative role throughout, he is not the only character who shines in this piece. Rather, it is all five Buzz Boys: Robby, Marco, Johnny, Petey, and Billy. Each grows throughout the piece, offering their own spin on life in their respective abusive households and how they handled it. The piece hovers not only around their individual growth and self-destruction, but also the connection the five made together, proving that friendship can sometimes help overcome all adversity. Each Buzz Boy had their own issues, walls built around them that could be traced back to the beatings and abuse suffered at home, though the reader is able to connect and mourn each of them as they years progress. By the end, with only Robert ‘Robby’ Mazzara left, the reader is forced to contemplate the impact these five had on one another and society as a whole.

Izzi does a masterful job at painting the picture of life in Chicago in those formative years for the boys. The abuse, the lack of action by families who wanted to turn the other way, and the Church that was the lifeblood of the community. Sorrow and grief emerge throughout the telling of the book, but it is the connection the Buzz Boys have that makes the story rise above the negativity. The connection, even as tragedy befalls everyone, is a glue that keeps these boys together. In true Izzi fashion, there are some ‘cameo’ appearances of characters from past novels, connecting the books in a loose manner.

While I usually turn to the more action-based novels, this was a refreshing departure for me (and Edward Izzi). I was able to slide into a strong narrative from the opening pages and develop a connection to the characters. Their individual stories are not lost in the larger storytelling, though it is their personal struggles that makes the Buzz Boy connection all the stronger. Told in a series of interconnected vignettes, the reader discovers much about the boys and their struggles as the years go on, with Robert Mazzara there to offer his spin, while he also portrays his own issues. Short chapters keep the reader coming back to learn more, as the years advance to the present. There is something within the story that makes it well worth the reader’s time, all while recounting the less than uplifting moments each of the five suffered in childhood, adolescence, and into their adult lives. Izzi is truly a master of his craft and this book proves to me that he has a magical ability to churn out winners, no matter the topic. I loved it, plain and simple!

Kudos, Mr. Izzi, for another winner. Thank you for allowing me to explore the more personal side of your writing and how character development can be a key ingredient to a sensational story. I see there are two more novels on the publication horizon and cannot wait to sink my teeth into them.

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

Blood Kills (Angelina Bonaparte #4), by Nanci Rathbun

Eight stars

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

Having devoured the three previous novels in this series in order to reach this ARC, I was pleased to get my hands on the latest instalment of the Angelina Bonaparte mysteries. Nanci Rathbun continues to develop a great collection of novels built on the tenacious PI Angelina Bonaparte, working around Milwaukee and helping those in need. Counting down the last days of her forced separation from a lover, Angie has ordered a special piece of art to commemorate their reunification. When she arrives to collect it, she discovers the artist’s body in his shop. One thing leads to another and his seedy past comes to light. Hired by a fellow business owner to get to the bottom of things, Angie has an eye on the likely murderer, but needs to connect the dots, as more bodies pile up. This will be one case that requires additional caution to keep her alive! A great addition to the series for fans of Rathbun’s work.

Angelina Bonaparte (add the ‘tay’ on the last syllable if you want to save a punch to the mouth) has been in agony since she and her lover, Detective W. T. “Ted” Wukowski, have been forced apart by Milwaukee PD brass. However, the days are dwindling down and she has a special treat in store for him, aside from the usually flirtatious lingerie she flaunts. While visiting a local metalsmith to collect a piece, she discovers Mick Swanson’s body. Some preliminary sleuthing provides some insight in the form of a letter from Swanson himself, pointing the finger at his own cousin.

While the murder has rattled Angie, the local business owners in the cooperative are equally jarred, worried that the recent violence will cause sales to plummet. One such owner, Debby Hill, admits that she is also Swanson’s executor and worries that she will be targeted. Angie agrees to take her on as a client and they begin to unravel the darker side to Michael (Mick) Lebedev Swanson, whose service in the Russian military opens up new and troubling facets to the investigation.

When Angie and Wukowski get an MPD reprieve on their complete separation, they are able to work together, albeit in a strained fashion, on the case. Detective Wukowski provides some added insight that Mick’s DNA was found at the scene of an Illinois politician’s murder, citing that the metalsmith was actually involved in the Bratva, the Russian Mob. Realising that she will make no headway with her paramour, Angie is forced to take matters into her own hands.

More bodies pile up and Swanson’s own attorney is attacked, with the probate documents stolen. Whatever Swanson has on his cousin must be significant and rests primarily on their time in the Russian Army during the invasion of Chechnya. Angie discovers that there is some family history here that could be playing into the larger motive for murder, but worries that it will all be erased before she can get to the bottom of things. Racing against time and tossing caution into the wind, PI Bonaparte will have to take some risks to bring the truth out, much to the chagrin of hard-headed Detective Wukowski. Will there be a romantic reconnection after all?

I enjoy binge-reading a series, as it permits me to explore the plots and character development on a deeper level. When handed this ARC, I chose not to dive right in, but rather get an understanding of the series and all that Rathbun had done to date. I am pleased that I did, as it permitted me to connect better with Angelina Bonaparte, though I admit it took a while. While I was not entirely hooked by the debut novel that Nanci Rathbun offered readers, Angelina Bonaparte‘s unique approach did eventually sink in for me, giving me a deeper appreciation of her style and I was rather excited to get my hands on this novel.

Angelina Bonaparte stays the course as a strong protagonist, forced to take on a great deal yet again. While there are some moments of familial backstory peppered throughout, the main focus appears to be character development, both professional and personal. Bonaparte is a risk taker, but she appears to ground most of her actions on fact-finding and strong sleuthing. Pulled into the case, she uses many of her connections in the field to reveal truths, though her stubbornness does sometimes lead to some hot water moments. Flirty and focussed on rekindling her love affair, she has her moments of cringe-worthy saccharine one-liners, but those are par for the course.

Rathbun continues with a strong collection of secondary characters, many of whom she admits come from people she actually knows. Those who grace the pages of the book help push the story forward and keep the reader entertained throughout. While there are always criminal elements in the novels, much of the plot development comes from understanding various angles these seemingly minor characters provide the story, only adding to the greatness of the overall piece. Rathbun has some recurring characters and a bunch of new faces, keeping the reader intrigued while learning what’s going on as well.

I can finally admit that Nanci Rathbun’s novels are growing on me. While it took me some time to find my niche, trying to wrap my head around this middle-aged PI‘s obsession with undergarments, the fact that there is a strong thriller is not lost on me. The book added some grit and looked again into some recent history to add a depth and flavour to the plot, while keeping the action coming in each chapter. Rathbun’s writing is engaging throughout, usually able to steer away from predictability, though there is an undertone of slight hokines, which works in this regard. There’s a decent balance of short and longer chapters to whet the reader’s appetite throughout, with wondering pacing. I enjoyed the mix of backstory from previous novels and the newness of this mystery, a great balance that is sure to keep the reader wondering what’s to come. While it was an advantage to binge the series, I know I will have to wait for a while now to see if Angelina Bonaparte is back with more Milwaukee fun!

Kudos, Madam Rathbun, for a winner. I am glad I took the gamble on the series and feel you have a fan in me!

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

The Magdalene Veil (Magdalene Chronicles #3), by Gary McAvoy

Nine stars

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

Always eager to get my hands on anything penned by Gary McAvoy, I was pleased to be handed an ARC of his latest novel, the final in the electrifying Magdalene Chronicles trilogy. While Father Michael Dominic and Hana Sinclair have been busy uncovering old biblical-era mysteries, there are some who want the secrets and possessions all for themselves. In this last piece, an old relic appears to have fallen into the hands of the Nazis, stowed away for decades. Now, a group seeking to revive old Aryan roots wants to utilise the artifact to create new and impactful change to the world. In a piece that spans two continents, McAvoy takes readers on his most intense journey yet. Perfect for those who have devoured the previous two novels, as well as the reader who needs a book that is unputdownable!

On his way to his execution, Jesus was stopped by a woman who helped wipe away his blood and sweat with a veil from around her head. Thankful for the act, Christ does so before being led to Calvary for his crucifixion. The woman, a devout follower, passes the veil along to Mary Magdalene, who ensures it is placed within the tomb where Christ is buried. When his disciples find the tomb empty three days later, there is the veil, complete with a facial outline of Jesus.

During the era of the Nazis, this veil was touted to be exactly what they needed to push forward and seek to vilify the Jews even more. When the veil was obtained by Heinrich Himmler, he made sure to stow it away in a secret location and left a riddle so that the next generation would be able to find it, though not with any ease. His plan was surely to revive the Aryan race through its most prominent member, Christ himself.

While in France for some educational purposes, Father Michael Dominic is approached by a young man purporting to be in possession of some significant information that could be of interest to the Vatican. Dominic soon learns that there is a diary of Heinrich Himmler that could reveal something significant. The young man, who admits his grandfather was a high-ranking Nazi who fled to Argentina, wishes to learn the secrets in the diary and perhaps uncover what is said to be a relic from the time of Christ.

Never one to turn down a historical mystery, Father Dominic broaches the subject with his friend, Hana Sinclair, whose job as a journalist is rooted in uncovering mysteries of all kinds. Working together, they locate the diary, which leads them to Argentina. They learn of a group, the Ahnenerbe, who pose as a social group, but have strong ties to Nazi-era membership. Whispers about possible neo-Nazi revival cannot be dismissed either. When Dominic and Sinclair are able to piece together the riddle left by Himmler, they learn that the secret, the Magdalene Veil, is hidden in an old German castle that was once a Nazi training ground.

Keen to retrieve the article for the Vatican, Dominic and Sinclair make arrangements to have it removed and brought to the Holy See. However, there are some who want it for themselves and will stop at nothing to retrieve it. When it falls into the hands of the Ahnenerbe, they hope to use it for their own means, as they develop a Kinderklinik, a place to foster a new era of neo-Nazis under the radar, while also using new techniques to begin genetic experiments. With the Veil in their possession, this group has plans to extract something and turn the Church on its head, while reviving old sentiments that will surely tear the post-War world apart anew.

While Father Dominic and Hana Sinclair are held captive, they learn that a high-ranking Vatican member might be pulling the strings to allow this power play, which could only ruin centuries of Church control of the message. It will take much determination and some key messaging to foil the plot and key the Magdalene Veil safely in the hands of those who cherish it, and wish to keep it secret once again. An explosive end to the series, but which direction will it take and how will the world change when all is revealed?

I stumbled upon the first book in this series last summer and could not put it down. When Gary McAvoy reached out to me to read the next two novels, I pushed all my other reading commitments to the side so that I could dive right in. I was thrilled and devoured the stories, as they tell such an alluring tale, so much so that I was up well into the night to flip pages and discover what was to come of the protagonists. It is that sort of story and a series not to be missed by those who love biblical mysteries of a kind.

Father Michael Dominic reprises his role as protagonist and does a masterful job. While his backstory is left mostly in the previous novels, the reader can see great development of his character throughout this piece. There is a gritty determination throughout, as he mixes his archivist past with a penchant for being a sleuth. His connections serve him well throughout this piece, though it is a sense of wanting to protect the Vatican that shines through, pitting secrets against keeping the peace for the Church.

McAvoy creates strong supporting characters throughout, using many of those who grace the pages of the book to connect the dots in history, as well as the revival of the neo-Nazi movement. There is a richness, not only in the characters, but also the history of which they speak, which flavours the narrative effectively and conveys the seriousness of the mission at hand. Spanning three eras, these characters tell a story that will pull the reader deeper into the plot as all is revealed in a timely manner.

The story was perhaps the more electrifying of the three novels, putting a sense of urgency front and centre. McAvoy’s ability to spin a tale is second to none and there were times I wished I had binge-read all three books back to back, if only to reconnect with all the nuances that appear in the text. However, this book packs enough punch and history to have kept me intrigued throughout. McAvoy uses short chapters to keep the reader propelling forward, peppering in history and anecdotes throughout to assuage the curious while still keeping a degree of mystery. The narrative moved at breakneck speed and there is little time for the reader to relax, as the story is not one that meanders at any point. McAvoy’s use of local language (Spanish, German, etc) helps to inject a sense of realism to the story, leaving the reader to feel as though they were right there. While things do come together in the end, it is the sense of panic and ‘what could be’ that keeps the reader wondering well after closing the book’s cover. McAvoy does ensure that those who wonder where fiction and fact come together are calmed with an Author’s Note to discuss it all. I can only hope that McAvoy has something similar for his next writing assignment, as I am hooked and want more of this sort of novel.

Kudos, Mr. McAvoy, for another stunning piece. With the trilogy done, I can only hope people will hear of these books and discover Father Michael Dominic for themselves. I am sure your fan base is about to swell very soon!

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

Crucible of Fear, by D.W. Whitlock

Seven stars

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

Always eager to try something away from my usual genres, I agreed to read this ARC by D.W. Whitlock. The novel poses as a thriller, with a strong tech undertone, perfect for those who like exploring the darker underbelly of online cyber crimes. When an advertising executive is targeted, his life is turned upside down and he soon realises that nothing is off limits when it comes to getting a pound of proverbial flesh. Whitlock leaves the reader thinking throughout in this chilling tale of tech-based blackmail.

Dante Ellis thought that he had it made. A successful advertising executive whose career was still climbing, Ellis was sure success was in his back pocket. When he receives an odd text message one morning, he’s not sure if it is a threat or some joke. However, things soon spiral out of control and Ellis is faced with some chilling realisations. Someone is prepared to go quite far to flex their muscle and bury Ellis’ reputation at the same time.

As the story progresses, the reader is introduced to a number of other characters, all of whom are met some some similar, if less intrusive, attacks on their lives. The perpetrator is soon identified as the faceless ‘Dark Messiah’, showing that nothing is off-limits when technology is used. Through the seemingly harmless use of a dragonfly drone, Dark Messiah is able to keep an eye on those it targets, stirring up trouble or nuisances at the click of a button, with its drones always on scene.

While Ellis continues to get wrapped up in the sticky web that is spun around him, Dark Messiah ups the ante and targets the younger generation. A single parent, Dante Ellis soon has to worry about his daughter’s safety, as Dark Messiah crosses the line and targets the young girl. Her life on the line, Ellis is left to do whatever is asked of him in order to ensure his daughter’s safety.

Who is this faceless entity that calls itself Dark Messiah? What is the reason for targeting these seemingly unconnected group of people? All is revealed in a chilling story that D.W. Whitlock presents to the curious reader. This is one debut that will have many flipping pages well into the night, if only to see who is behind all the mayhem, all while peering around, looking for dragonflies or other ‘watchful eyes’.

I liked the dust jacket blurb of this piece and was sure that I would get sucked in by D.W. Whitlock’s story. While the book started with a bang and never gave me time to breathe, I am not sure I was as sold as some. The piece clipped along and left me wondering throughout, but it was also not as gripping as I would liked. However, I cannot place my finger exactly on what was missing or might have been a means of solving this reading dilemma.

Dante Ellis is surely the central protagonist in this piece, though the story does offer a large collection of characters with which the reader can connect. Ellis finds himself on full display, his life and reputation slowly torn apart throughout the piece. There are glimpses of backstory needed to fill in the gaps of the narrative, though it is the development (or dismantling) of the character that remains the core of the novel’s impetus as it relates to Ellis. The reader finds themselves trying to piece together who or what might want to target the ad executive, while feeling some degree of sympathy for his continual downfall. Whitlock does well to create this connection for those who enjoy linking themselves to characters.

There are plenty of characters and subplots for the reader to enjoy throughout this piece. While the early portion of the novel presents them as unconnected, there is a sense that Dark Messiah has a purpose. The villainous antagonist is ever-present throughout, providing the reader with something to dislike as the story progresses. That being said, there is surely a degree of respect for the evil doing, represented by the seemingly innocent dragonfly drones.

I liked the story to a degree, but was not sold entirely by the plot. As I mentioned above, I cannot pinpoint what was missing, but there was a disconnect that I desperately wanted to see throughout the novel. The premise was sound and the narrative kept moving along nicely, but I could not find myself fully enthralled or connected with what continued to occur. That others loved the piece is no surprise to me. Whitlock has a knack for writing and his crisp chapters pushed the story along with ease. Offering multiple perspectives proves refreshing and adds a layer of ominous sentiment to the overall delivery; that it is not a single person—Dante Ellis—who is suffering at the hands of this faceless entity. I’d likely read something else by D.W. Whitlock down the road, just to see if it might be me and my current mindset that left me less than fully committed.

Kudos, Mr. Whitlock, for a strong debut. I can see many who will thoroughly enjoy this piece, though there needs to be a balancing out. I suppose I am one who offers that, in review form.

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

Triple M Murder (Jack Calloway Book 1), by Carmen Cady

Eight stars

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

While police procedurals and mysterious thrillers flood the fiction marketplace, Carmen Cady has been able to find a unique angle in this series debut. Jack Calloway is not only a private investigator and criminal profiler, but has a past that sets him apart from many. Few are aware of his great secret, something Calloway hopes will not change in the near future. When a serial killer stalks Seattle, Calloway is brought in to assist with the investigation, only to discover something sinister that floors him. A chilling start to what could be a great series. Recommended to those who enjoy unique takes on the crime thriller.

Jack Calloway has had a great deal of success as a freelance private investigator and criminal profiler, so much so that his name is bandied around many police organizations. His impetus comes from the fact that his family was murdered by a sadistic killer years ago, forcing him to hone his skills to find justice for all. When he is called to assist on a spree of killings in Seattle, Calloway returns to a city that holds many recent memories. Working alongside a forensic tech with whom he has a romantic history is daunting enough, but having to report to a detective who has no love loss for him makes things all the more difficult.

On the surface, the case appears somewhat cut a dry; young women have turned up murdered in Seattle. It would seem there are similarities in their age and the fact they all used a dating app, something that does not leap off the page for anyone. However, Calloway discovers some peculiar clues at the scenes, things that do not add up. Stymied, but not yet ready tho give up, Calloway follows his instincts and tries to make sense of it all.

While he’s trying to come to terms with his colleagues and they past they share, Calloway wrestles with another secret, something far darker and much more troubling. He has a long history—literally—and soon realises that the killer may have been targeting him for more than a few months, baiting him to get involved in the action. It’s soon apparent that Calloway could be a suspect in the killings, based on his connections to them, albeit in a vague manner. He must use this unique approach to his advantage in order to make sense of the victims, the killer, and the direction in which the crime spree will turn, all while trying to clear his name and hold onto the secret that could ruin it all.

Working the crimes without revealing too much about himself, Calloway tries to piece it all together and bring the killer to justice. However, there are delicate aspects that must be handled and clues that cannot be revealed to the general public, for fear that Calloway’s personal life comes to the surface. That would destroy everything, from his credibility through to his lifestyle. There is a killer on the loose, someone who has lured Calloway into this trap and must be stopped, after centuries of evil doing!

Carmen Cady does well to intrigue the reader with the premise of this story, without making things too supernatural. I choose not to reveal too much, permitting the reader to delve deep and see what they think. While the premise—killer must be caught by the protagonist—is traditional in nature, there are aspects to the story that make it a unique and curious read. Cady may be on to something here, if she can keep the momentum.

Jack Calloway is a great protagonist, revealing much about himself throughout the story. While he is a top-notch private investigator, there are personal aspects to him that come to the surface throughout this piece. Both his personal and professional lives come under scrutiny in the novel, with the reader receiving a front row seat to all the action. His secret remains his own, though Calloway will have to face many a demon throughout the story to make sense of what is before him, which only thickens the plot.

Cady offers up a wonderful cross-section of characters in the piece, each working in their own way to advance the plot. There are many subplots that develop, allowing Cady to hone her characters effectively and flavouring the narrative throughout. Calloway’s past and present are on full display here, with many complementing his character in their own manner.

The story, while not entirely unique in its approach, is great as the layers are peeled back. Cady knows how to build up some tension between her characters and uses plot to advance the story. The narrative, working in a number of time periods and through the eyes of numerous characters, proves strong and does not lose the momentum throughout. A mix of chapter lengths proves the perfect tease for the reader, goading them to keep going in order to piece the mystery together. There are many aspects to the story, appealing to a large audience, though their underlying truth about Jack Calloway drives the story along, forcing the reader to wonder just how long his secret will remain his own, and how that could turn the series on its head.

Kudos, Madam Cady, for an intriguing series debut. I will have to keep my eyes open for more of your work in the coming years. Jack Calloway certainly has me curious, as does his backstory!

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

Capitol in Crisis, by Kathy Roy Johnson

Nine stars

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

With an aptly titled book, Kathy Roy Johnson rushes onto the scene and makes her presence known. Johnson pens a fresh type of thriller with a political spin, making Capitol in Crisis one that many readers can enjoy without the vile imagery of a mob ransacking the heart of American democracy and an authoritarian leader inciting insurrection to hold onto power. Johnson focuses on a crisis inside the Capitol building when an explosion rocks the tunnel between the House and Senate sides, as well as the rush to assess damage and free those who are trapped. Anyone looked for a wonderful thriller with strong characters need look no further than this stunning debut novel.

Everything was quiet that morning on Capitol Hill, with coffee brewing and legislators preparing for another day. When an explosion rocks the inside of the building, no one is more concerned than Simone Perez, Architect of the Capitol. Worried that this might have been something planned ahead of time, Perez scrambles for answers, as everyone wants to know what is going on. With sparse information, Perez is able to ascertain that it was likely an explosion tied to the installation of a new power grid and not the act of a terror group, but that is the only relief that is to come anytime soon.

Initial assessments show that the tunnel connecting the House and Senate sides of the building is blocked by debris from the explosion and two men at the epicentre are trapped as well. Amidst those trapped in the tunnel is Addie Hutchinson, proprietor of the small café in the basement, as well as a handful of customers who were there at the time of the explosion. Addie is raising her three grandsons alone and has become like a mother to most everyone on the Hill, especially those who need their morning caffeine fix.

Simone Perez works quickly to assemble a committee of people from all aspects of Capitol life and some emergency groups, hoping to assess the damage and come up with a plan to rescue those who are trapped. This includes briefing the press and keeping them up to date on the progress of any efforts to end this catastrophe.

Working in harmony, various people develop plans to help those who are trapped and come to the aid of families who are seeing things unfold on their televisions. The pressure to communicate with those trapped falls on a maintenance worker by the name of Rob Tate, whose personal demons rise to the occasion and seek to deter him from his mission. Keeping things calm on the political side is Speaker of the House, John McIntyre, who wants nothing but the best and to be kept in the loop.

A harrowing rescue plan is put into action and the world waits as things inch closer to a successful end. However, when someone makes a major miscalculation, new problems arise and Simone Perez can only watch in shock as everything they have tried to do comes to a halt, with new and unforeseen dangers shocking those in the know. There are people on both sides of the collapse praying for answers, none more than the three grandsons of Addie Hutchinson, who have lost everything already. It will take a monumental effort to save the Capitol, but the strength of honest unity might actually propel them to some feasible answer.

When I saw the dust jacket blurb of this piece, I was not entirely sure what to expect. Admittedly, the title of the book caught my eye and I could not wait to read it. I pondered if Kathy Roy Johnson would put her spin on a terrorist plot to attack Capitol Hill or if she mighty have been foreboding the attacks that did occur on January 6, 2021. Yet this was a piece that might have been filled with politics, but its flavouring was completely different, allowing many to find themselves drawn into the middle of the piece.

There are many central characters in his multi-perspective piece, but Simone Perez would likely stand out as the strongest protagonist. It rests on her shoulders to handle the explosion and how to organise efforts to help those who are trapped. As an architect, she knows the technical side of the collapse, but she also exhibits a personal passion for those who are in trouble. This shines through as the piece progresses and keeps the reader hopeful that there are answers to help everyone involved. With hints of her backstory, Johnson paints a warm and caring woman whose emotions run high with the crisis in full swing.

Johnson is able to utilise her strong character development capabilities to craft strong support for her story and the plot. The story explores the lives of many, united by the tragic events on Capitol Hill, and each person has their own perspective that come to the front while things progress. From young children who seek their grandmother, to the press who are there to cover the story, through to the politicians who seek normalcy and to get the agenda moving, there is a personal touch on every page. The book shows hints of the political, but it is more the politics of family and community that shine through, something rarely written about in fiction about the seat of American democracy!

The book starts off strong and yet keeps the reader in the dark about what is going on. The explosion envelops those on the Hill from the opening pages and questions arise as to its origin. Rather than being terror-driven, the story is about hope and communication, with a strong narrative and a handful of well-crafted characters. Johnson uses mid-length chapters to propel the story forward and keeps the reader in the forefront of the rescue mission, as well as the personal stories of those who are most affected. Kathy Roy Johnson has developed something here that is bot addictive and free of the profane, sure to attract a larger group of readers. This may have political undertones, but it is not a political thriller. Those who love rescue stories will find something in it, as well as the people who like the buzz of Washington. I can only hope that Johnson will write more about those people she introduced here, as I am eager to see a political thriller utilising her writing abilities and the backdrop of the Capitol!

Kudos, Madam Johnson, on this riveting debut thriller. I cannot say enough about it and hope you’ll come up with more, as I am eager to queue up to read whatever you publish!

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

When a Rook Takes the Queen, by Edward Izzi

Nine stars

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

Edward Izzi is back with another explosive thriller set on the streets of Chicago. The highly controversial mayor of the city has been assassinated in her backyard and the media circus is only beginning. Alongside the hunt for a murderer, a keen reporter trips on a connection between a local crime boss and an highly activist priest. Might there be something there that no one’s yet realised? Izzi spins a tale like no other in his latest thriller, When a Rook Takes the Queen, that is sure to captivate the reader’s attention.

In the heart of the summer, a gunshot rings out and Chicago Mayor Janice Kollar lies dead in her garden. A controversial politician in her own right, Kollar had many enemies around town, on both sides of the law. However, it’s an investigation the CPD rushes to begin. With such a list of suspects, it will be hard to pinpoint who might have wanted the city’s first openly gay mayor lying in a casket.

As the story hits the wires, Chicago Tribune reporter, Larry McKay, rushes to make sense of it all and begin following leads. While the murder attracts a great deal of attention, McKay learns of a weekly chess match at St. Simeon’s Church between Fr. Colin Fitzgerald and organised crime boss Anthony ‘Little Tony’ DiMatteo. This baffles McKay, as Fitzgerald is known to be a staunch political activist and a former grand chess master. What business he has with a powerful mobster seems to make little sense. A few calls ruffle some feathers, but McKay is not dissuaded from proceeding.

Inside these weekly chess matches, it would seem ‘Father Fitz’ has been able to serve as a new family consigliere, providing inside and guidance to Little Tony in an advisory role. Their discussions look to how one might control the powder keg that Chicago is becoming with the murder of Mayor Kollar, turning to force and violence to quell things before a new incarnation of Black Lives Matter comes to fruition.

As McKay digs deeper and peddles his views to a fellow television reporter, his life is in danger. This unlikely ‘Chicago Gambit’ want nothing more than to silence McKay and keep their association off the radar. McKay cannot back down, especially with a killer still out there. What happens next is anyone’s guess.

Edward Izzi does a masterful job tying in his thrilling political story with a criminal angle. Adding his usual flavourings of organised crime and the Catholic Church, the story gains momentum throughout and keeps the reader guessing how all the players will turn the plot throughout the piece. As always, there are some wonderful twists that only Izzi can deliver in his great style.

While the story is split between a number of storylines, Larry McKay does appear to hold firm to the role of protagonist. His gritty style and unwillingness to bow to the pressure only adds to his character. I admit, if he was a character in a past Izzi novel, he was minor, so I have little backstory for him. However, he grows on the reader with ease and is able to make an impact throughout with great development. His interactions with others, both major and minor characters, helps create a story that does not stop until the final page turn.

Izzi has always used an interesting technique for his secondary characters. As I have mentioned in past reviews, Izzi positions minor characters to have their time in the spotlight before fading away. Some are mentioned in passing and receive their cameo in a novel, only to slink back away, while others prove prominent and are paid lip service in subsequent novels. Here, there are a number of ‘has been’ prominent people who receive mere mention, as well as a few heavy hitters whose presence makes the book what it is. Izzi’s ability to use this technique, which I have seen elsewhere done almost as effectively, provides a standalone option for his novels, while luring fans to stick around and read them all, to tie the threads together.

The book itself was well paced and full of exciting plot development. While there are Catholic and organised crime themes throughout, their stereotypical presentation does not turn this into a mob novel. The story flows well, with a strong narrative that keeps the reader moving along. Short chapters can easily be devoured, allowing things to develop quickly and remain intense throughout. Edward Izzi is an author I only recently discovered, but I cannot get enough of his books. It could be the stories, the writing, or the ease of flow. Whatever that might be, I love when I see that another is ready for me.

Kudos, Mr. Izzi, for another winner. I am excited to see two more books in the pipeline and will gladly clear my schedule when that time comes!

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

A Cold Day for August (Detective August Miller #1), by Charles Prandy

Eight stars

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

Always up for a good police procedural, I eagerly reached for Charles Prandy’s latest book A Cold Day for August. A detective works a baffling case where young women keep turning up murdered in various ways. With little to go on, Detective August Miller tries to follow up on the few leads presented to her. However, there’s something in her past that has her feeling a little off-kilter and may impede her usual clear headedness. A great start to what looks to be a new series, prefect for those who love a thriller with many twists.

Detective August Miller is a well-established homicide detective in Maryland. She’s called out to handle the discovery of a young woman’s body, apparently murdered by strangulation. With few leads, Miller must try to piece together the final night of the victim, in hopes of discovering the killer’s identity. While things seem to be leading in a certain direction, she encounters a few dead-ends, which only creates layers of frustration.

When another woman is found, this time drowned in a lake, Miller works even harder to piece the crimes together. Might there be a serial killer out there who is targeting young women for reasons as yet unknown? It’s also got Miller worried that someone from her past, her sister’s killer, has come back to resume his obsession.

While working these murders, Miller is called out to what seems like the suicide of an older gentleman. However, something is not making sense, leading Miller to think that there was some foul play. Could the case be tied to her two female victims?

With all this going on, Walter Presley, popular crime author, is going through his own issues. An admitted voyeur, Presley has been having a hard time pushing his urges down. He’s fixated on a new woman and ends up sneaking into her house on a whim, but has little interest other than spying on her. However, she’s gone missing and Walter cannot decide if he ought to come forward and help the authorities. His chance encounter with Detective Miller does not go well and a last-second decision puts him at the top of the suspect list. A killer is out there and Detective August Miller will have to find them before the victim count rises even more.

While I have never read anything by Charles Prandy, this book alone makes me wish I had. There is so much in this book that kept me wanting to read more, with a captivating writing style and a plot that never lost its fast pace. It was quite the experience learning about August Miller and her complex past, something I hope Prandy expands into a series of some length.

August Miller comes off as a strong protagonist, complex and yet easily relatable by the reader. She takes her work seriously and has no issue standing firm against the pushback she gets from her male colleagues. Her grit and determination propel her to never stop asking questions and trying to reveal truths that seem to elude others. Her personal struggles related to the murder of her sister seems to fuel Miller’s determination to help others, no matter the cost.

Prandy has a lot going on in this book and keeps his subplots developing with a strong supporting cast. While there were times that it was hard to keep track of everyone, Prandy keeps the characters evolving and intriguing, sure to help the reader want to know more. Be it the banter between Miller and the suspects or some of the lighter interactions in other chapters, Prandy uses his characters well to push the novel along.

I have read many crime thrillers and police procedurals over the years, some of which I found to be highly intriguing. Prandy opens his novel with what looks to be a killer’s journal, which had me hooked. I needed to know more and the story only got better from there. With a distinct narrative and strong dialogue, Prandy keeps the reader in the middle of the action. His short chapters not only propel the story forward, but forces the reader to push for “just a little more” before they put it down for a time. I was all-in from the early chapters and wanted to know more. By the end, I could only hope that August Miller might come back for another few cases, as she has something about her that remains unresolved. I’ll definitely add Charles Prandy to my list of authors to watch.

Kudos, Mr. Prandy, for a great novel. I will have to look into some of your other series, hoping they are just as good.

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

The Injection, by D.L. Jones (and Devante Cresh)

Six stars

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

Intrigued by the premise of his latest novel, I turned to D.L. Jones’ The Injection for something that straddles the medical and psychological thriller genres. When a pharmaceutical product shows interesting results in animal trials, it is used without being fully vetted on a man with an as yet unclear agenda. The results could be problematic, particularly when further lab tests show unexpected side effects. Jones keeps the reader guessing in this piece that has some great moments, though is mired in a sluggish narrative.

Tracey Jones has been hard at work on Hypo, an injection that could revolutionise the pharmaceutical world. Working to augment the actions of the hypothalamus gland, this drug allows the user to utilise sheer determination and strict focus to complete a task, dulling the pain and leaving the skin more resistant to injury. Its testing on mice is going well, though coming off the drug has the user entering a long and fitful slumber, likely as a form of recuperation.

When Tracey reaches out to his college friend, Chauncy Peters, the reaction is one of only slight trepidation. Chauncy and his wife had a run-in with Tracey back in college, something that helped fuel an exceptional thesis, but left the Joneses feeling betrayed. While Chauncy is eager to see his old friend, he has other things on his mind. His electronics shop has been the subject of a number of break-ins of late, which had the cops involved. The only other event in town that rivals the break-ins would be the number of week-long kidnappings taking place.

After Chauncy and Tracey spend some time together, they find themselves caught in the web of these same kidnappers. Tied-up and likely to be held for a while, Tracey talks about an experimental drug he’s been working on, Hypo. With some samples on him, Tracey and Chauncy inject themselves and show great force. They are able to escape, though the after effects leave both feeling completely drained.

Chauncy is shocked by the abilities this Hypo has on him and accepts a number of vials to use at his discretion. Tracey leaves town and returns to the lab to see how things are progressing. While Chauncy comes to terms with what has happened to him, he uses the drug’s determinative effects to help overcome an issue getting his wife pregnant. While she loves the vivaciousness her husband shows, Mrs. Peters comes to resent his aggressive side, something she shares repeatedly with a friend.

As Chauncy continues to use the drug to solve his everyday issues, Tracey learns some troubling news from additional trials, primarily that aggression is heightened to homicidal levels after prolonged use. Once Chauncy discovers a secret his wife has been keeping from him, he acts in the only way he knows how, though is clueless to the aggressive trigger he’s set off inside himself.

As the world seems to have turned against him, Chauncy Peters takes matters into his own hands, only to realise that he’s been played yet again. His aggression sees him get into trouble with the law. Blinded by rage, the truth spirals out of control and Chauncy has lost his ability to regulate. All from a simple injection!

Having never read any D.L. Jones before, I was eager to see if this might be an author I would add to my list. I enjoyed the dust jacket blurb for this book, which left me wondering how things would play out. However, even with such an intriguing premise, the narrative delivery offered some issues that left me feeling cheated and out of sorts.

Chauncy Peters serves the story well, not only as an unwitting test subject for a new drug, but as a local businessman who wants to help his community. He loves his wife and wants a family, though seems distracted by some of the things that he has going on. When introduced to Hypo, it takes over his world, much as illicit drugs might form an addiction. Before he can regulate himself, Chauncy is fixated on the effect the drug has on him and lets it overtake him. Struggling to find a calm balance, Chauncy becomes the author of his own demise, unable to allocate blame where it is needed.

Jones uses some interesting supporting characters to develop his story, some of whom serve their purpose well, while others are truly as flimsy as they present themselves to be. The story works well with some of the core secondary characters, though there are a few plot lines that were likely created solely to substantiate the use of other names that pepper the pages of this book. I can see what Jones was trying to do with some of his minor characters, but could have used less of their flighty interactions.

While I cannot fault the core idea of the story, I found the delivery to be full of issues. The narrative was not as crisp as it could have been, at times recounted in a 1920s dark sleuth mystery, complete with “Girl, if only you…” and “Gosh, ….” I sought grit in the writing and got moments of pablum. Even the rage Chauncy Peters showed throughout was diluted to the point of being unbelievable in the present day. There were some narrative twists, which did work well and the chapters were short enough to make me want to forge ahead, but I worry for readers who are expecting something sharp and edgy, based on the summary. While not a book clinging to life-support, some readers may call out a Code Blue to resuscitate the narrative from its 1920s shell!

Kudos, Mr. Jones, for a valiant effort with a strong premise. Perhaps your work with your own alter ego left you divided in how to present this as top of the genre. I may come back for another try of a different publication, when time permits.

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

Stolen Truth, by Henya Drescher

Eight stars

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

Eager to get my hands on a great psychological thriller, I turned to Henya Drescher’s Stolen Truth, which documents a woman’s struggle to find her missing husband and newborn when no one believes her. The story touches on a number of chilling themes and kept me reading into the evening as I sought to piece the underlying story together. Well worth a look by interested readers.

Bree Michaelson wakes in a haze, unsure what’s going on. She realises that she’s slept for hours longer than she ought to have and yet her newborn, Noah, has not woken. When she goes to check on him, he’s not there. In fact, there is no sign of him whatsoever, including no baby clothes, furniture, or photos. Bree’s husband, Todd, is also gone, without a trace.

In a state of panic, Bree calls the police and demands that they come help. While she waits, the reader learns through Bree that Todd was a very secretive man and forced her to cut ties with everyone she knew, friends and family alike. Noah was also born to a midwife, Connie, who had been staying with the couple. She, too, is missing.

When the local officer arrives, he does a cursory look, but nothing is adding up. There is no sign of anyone ever having lived there with Bree. The officer agrees to make some calls, but can promise nothing. Bree begins to question everything around her and cannot understand what’s going on. She remembers being pregnant and has the leaking breasts, as well as loose stomach, to show for it.

As Bree begins an investigation on her own, she discovers that no one wants to help and that her own family does not believe her. Having been isolated from everyone, she does not appear to have anything to show for her time with Todd and Noah. The more she asks questions, the fewer answers emerge.

Coming to terms with her own mental health issues in the past, Bree must try to convince herself that she is not fabricating all of this, but an inexplicable victim. Bree will need to turn to the most unlikely source for help, as they may just be her last hope to prove that she’s telling the truth. Then again, what she discovers is equally as baffling!

Having never read anything by Henya Drescher before, I was eager to check out her writing. The premise of the story had me curious and I was hooked from the early chapters. Watching Bree Michaelson appear to swim upstream to prove herself is a wonderful theme throughout this piece, while the reader questions what us real and where the mind of a traumatized woman has filled in the missing pieces.

Bree Michaelson is a wonderfully complex character, whose story emerges throughout the development of the narrative. Not only does she have to deal with a baby who has gone missing, but she questions everything about the man who got her into this mess. Where does truth end and fallacy begin? Bree’s sordid past makes it harder for others to trust her, though she is determined to prove that she is of sound mind and that someone’s targeting her for reasons as yet unknown.

Drescher does a wonderful job with her supporting characters, offering the reader a glimpse at a fabulous cross-section of people who help enrich the story. While some add only a small piece to the larger puzzle, others know Bree well and help coax out information key to the reader’s better understand of what’s taking place. The banter and interactions add much to the story and help make the plot even better.

The premise of the piece may not be entirely unique, but it was developed in such a way as to pull the reader in from the opening pages and leave them wondering. The latter portion of the book alone takes the reader down quite the rabbit hole, bringing things together in ways that few could have ever predicted. All signs of a masterful writer that can keep the reader from standing on solid ground.

Drescher uses strong writing to string the reader along, setting the scene and then opening up many of the story’s hidden doors as the plot develops. This serves to keep the reader open their toes and guessing, even if the most likely answer is right before them. Use of different chapter lengths serves to keep the reader from getting into too much of a lull, mixing up the short bits to keep the momentum going and then adding longer an more detailed portions when the information is such that one has to keep going to see how it will play out. Strong characters and a narrative that takes things in many directions keeps things fresh throughout while always leaving the reader wondering if they missed something obvious, a la Sixth Sense. Drescher is masterful in her storytelling and I can only hope to find more of her work in the coming years.

Kudos, Madam Drescher, for such a captivating piece. I will be sure to recommend others try this novel to see what they think for themselves.

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

The Shelton Mill, by Elaine Gavigan

Seven stars

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

Looking for something a little more conspiratorial, I turned to this novel by Elaine Gavigan. The Shelton Mill offers readers a glimpse into a story that explores how greed and political corruption make for strange (and usual) bedfellows, leaving the ‘little gal’ to push back and fight for the truth. A decent read, though not as stirring as I would have hoped, given the dust jacket blurb.

Ellen Larkin enjoys working as an investigative reporter with the Boston Chronicle and has been compiling information on a major story about kickbacks in the construction industry. However, due to a massive diminution in advertising revenue, she’s handed a pink slip by the newspaper and sent on her way.

Her dreams of a Pulitzer dashed and a bank account on fumes, Ellen is forced to look for work. While her reputation precedes her, she knows that a job in journalism is a lofty ask so quickly agrees to a position at Gargantua, a recruitment company that has been siphoning the aforementioned advertising dollars from the Chronicle.Things are a tad strange when she arrives for an interview, but Ellen chalks it up to her own paranoia.

With Gargantua located in the Shelton Mill, a piece of property with a long history all its own, Ellen knows that she’s in for an interesting work experience. Early in her training, she comes across something that leads her to believe that Guarantua’s tied in with the construction scheme she had been investigating. Might her time here allow Ellen to covertly gather intel for the story of a lifetime, positioning her to be brought back to the Chronicle and offered a Pulitzer?

As organised crime in Boston is as intense as ever, with both the Irish and Italians happy to stick their fingers in as many corrupt pies as possible, Ellen will have to be attuned to those who may wish to silence her. One wrong move could ruin her chances and leave her footing in the Charles River, another crime statistic the Chronicle may not even cover!

While this appears to be the first published novel by Elaine Gavigan, there is a great deal of potential. The ingredients are there for something gripping, though it takes a little time for the narrative to heat up to the point that I was fully committed.

Ellen Larkin serves as a decent protagonist for this piece. Her dreams of reaching journalism’s elite halls may not have yet been realised, but she knows her stuff. With an interesting backstory, she puts all her efforts into earning her paycheque by being intuitive and gritty. Struggling to make ends meet, she does all she can to keep the money coming in and yet she cannot help but feel she’s owed something.

Gavigan uses a large array of characters to keep the story on point, pulling on Boston’s varying cross-section of cultures and socio-economic groups. Many of those who grace the pages serve to push the story along, though there are ties when things lag and I might have sought less backstory or tangential character development. Still, there’s something intriguing about her character choices, all of whom complement one another as the piece progresses.

The premise of the story worked well for me, with corruption embedded into the core of the city’s largest construction project, The Big Dig. While things started off well, there was a point when I was waving my hands in the air to get back to the central theme of the story and lessen Guarantua’s superficial public persona. Gavigan knows how to writer and can set a scene effectively, but it lacked the needed momentum for me to remain hooked with the plot.

Shorter chapters worked to keep me pushing onward, but I needed something more to hold my attention, rather than tap my finger as I tried to keep my attention focussed on the next major reveal. I’d likely return for another novel, as Ellen Larkin has some sass worth seeing developed on another occasion.

Kudos, Madam Gavigan, for a great debut (I presume) novel. You’ve got some talent that needs a little developing for greater success.

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

The Shelton Mill, by Elaine Gavigan

Seven stars

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

Looking for something a little more conspiratorial, I turned to this novel by Elaine Gavigan. The Shelton Mill offers readers a glimpse into a story that explores how greed and political corruption make for strange (and usual) bedfellows, leaving the ‘little gal’ to push back and fight for the truth. A decent read, though not as stirring as I would have hoped, given the dust jacket blurb.

Ellen Larkin enjoys working as an investigative reporter with the Boston Chronicle and has been compiling information on a major story about kickbacks in the construction industry. However, due to a massive diminution in advertising revenue, she’s handed a pink slip by the newspaper and sent on her way.

Her dreams of a Pulitzer dashed and a bank account on fumes, Ellen is forced to look for work. While her reputation precedes her, she knows that a job in journalism is a lofty ask so quickly agrees to a position at Gargantua, a recruitment company that has been siphoning the aforementioned advertising dollars from the Chronicle.Things are a tad strange when she arrives for an interview, but Ellen chalks it up to her own paranoia.

With Gargantua located in the Shelton Mill, a piece of property with a long history all its own, Ellen knows that she’s in for an interesting work experience. Early in her training, she comes across something that leads her to believe that Guarantua’s tied in with the construction scheme she had been investigating. Might her time here allow Ellen to covertly gather intel for the story of a lifetime, positioning her to be brought back to the Chronicle and offered a Pulitzer?

As organised crime in Boston is as intense as ever, with both the Irish and Italians happy to stick their fingers in as many corrupt pies as possible, Ellen will have to be attuned to those who may wish to silence her. One wrong move could ruin her chances and leave her footing in the Charles River, another crime statistic the Chronicle may not even cover!

While this appears to be the first published novel by Elaine Gavigan, there is a great deal of potential. The ingredients are there for something gripping, though it takes a little time for the narrative to heat up to the point that I was fully committed.

Ellen Larkin serves as a decent protagonist for this piece. Her dreams of reaching journalism’s elite halls may not have yet been realised, but she knows her stuff. With an interesting backstory, she puts all her efforts into earning her paycheque by being intuitive and gritty. Struggling to make ends meet, she does all she can to keep the money coming in and yet she cannot help but feel she’s owed something.

Gavigan uses a large array of characters to keep the story on point, pulling on Boston’s varying cross-section of cultures and socio-economic groups. Many of those who grace the pages serve to push the story along, though there are ties when things lag and I might have sought less backstory or tangential character development. Still, there’s something intriguing about her character choices, all of whom complement one another as the piece progresses.

The premise of the story worked well for me, with corruption embedded into the core of the city’s largest construction project, The Big Dig. While things started off well, there was a point when I was waving my hands in the air to get back to the central theme of the story and lessen Guarantua’s superficial public persona. Gavigan knows how to writer and can set a scene effectively, but it lacked the needed momentum for me to remain hooked with the plot.

Shorter chapters worked to keep me pushing onward, but I needed something more to hold my attention, rather than tap my finger as I tried to keep my attention focussed on the next major reveal. I’d likely return for another novel, as Ellen Larkin has some sass worth seeing developed on another occasion.

Kudos, Madam Gavigan, for a great debut (I presume) novel. You’ve got some talent that needs a little developing for greater success.

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

The Night the Doorbell Rang, by Chalon J. Harris

Nine stars

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

Storming onto the scene with her debut thriller, Chalon Harris pens a wonderful short novel that will keep the reader guessing as the story unfolds. Told from two perspectives, this is one piece that will keep readers hooked throughout while dodging any random ringing of the doorbell. Recommended to those who love a quick and gritty story.

Jerry Bishop had a long history with the Boston PD, solving many tricky cases and making a name for himself. However, one slipped through his fingers, the disappearance and murder of a teenage girl. After all the leads dried up and the case went cold, Jerry could not stomach disappointing the family, sending him into retirement.

Jerry is now settled in New Hampshire with his wife, Cheryl. When someone rings the doorbell in the middle of the night, neither can be entirely sure what’s going on. Jerry goes to greet the insistent ringer, a decision he will soon regret. What follows is likely something out of the Bishops’ worst nightmare.

Two masked men storm the house and begin torturing both Jerry and Cheryl. It is only after much blood is shed that the reason for their presence is revealed. Both attackers seem hell bent to exact a form of revenge, while the Bishops do all they can to stay alive. It will take all of Jerry’s skills to get the upper hand, but even that could lead to issues when the police arrive at the scene.

In a story that forces Jerry to revisit many of the details surrounding the cold case that left him feeling inadequate, the reader must prepare themselves for a tale that will run through a series of emotions. If there is a silver lining to it all for Jerry, one might look to the stellar cliffhanger Harris provides in the closing pages.

I love a great thriller, especially by a new author on the scene. Chalon Harris has all the ingredients for a great piece mixing strong plot lines with well-developed characters. I am shocked that this is her first novel, as it flows so well and lacks the sluggishness some debut authors exhibit.

Both Jerry and Cheryl Bishop serve as wonderful protagonists in this piece. They each bring a wonderful story, with the novel split between their perspectives. Jerry’s experience with the cold case is an essential part of the thrill ride, while Cheryl’s detailed explanations of what is taking place keeps the reader feeling as through they are in the middle of the action. While this is likely a one-off piece, Harris leaves the reader wanting more from the Bishops in the future.

There is a handful of strong secondary characters as well, each of whom pop off the page and serve an integral part of the larger narrative. From the two thugs who appear on the doorstep through to the police and medical staff, each help push the story forward and help secure the reader’s interest.

While the premise of a stranger on the doorstep may not send chills down the reader’s spine, Chalon Harris is able to build on this to keep the reader hooked. Told with great detail and some painful depictions of the treatment of others, the narrative flows well and there is always a twist lurking around the corner that leaves the reader guessing. Harris uses a mix of chapter lengths in this short novel to keep the reader on their toes, or at least flipping pages until they can discover how everything comes together. Trouble is, that cliffhanger pulls the blocks out and sends the entire happy ending into disarray, at least for some!

Kudos, Madam Harris, for a stunning debut. I will keep my eyes open for more of your work and encourage others to do the same.

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

The Parisian Professor, by Joseph Sciuto

Seven stars

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

In this thriller with a great deal of ‘current event’ moments, Joseph Sciuto keeps readers intrigued with a story that has a little of everything. A decent plot and well-crafted characters work in the author’s favour, keeping the reader entranced throughout, even if things get a tad hokey at various points. Recommended to those who need something a little off the beaten path when it comes to a suspense novel.

After spending some time in the CIA’s Kabul office, Nick leaves under a cloud of suspicion and lands in Paris for another assignment. Asked to pose as a university student, Nick’s target is a young Abdul Haqq, a suspected terrorist with lofty plans. While it may seem easy enough, Nick’s conscience gets the better of him and he befriends Abdul, who does not appear to be the staunch Muslim some might expect.

While Nick seeks to learn a little more of Abdul’s plans, he meets and instantly falls in love with Abdul’s adoptive sister, Gabrielle. The two siblings could not be more opposite, something they both make perfectly clear to Nick during countless conversations. Nick works through the emotions he has for them both and comes to a decision, he will have to finish his work for the Agency, flee Paris with Gabrielle, and settle down in America.

Along the route to completing the mission, Abdul confides in Nick what he’s been selling, but feigns any wrong doing and ensures that these small bombs are for the personal protection of those who can afford them. Abdul insists that Nick drop the obvious love interest he has for Gabrielle, a woman not worth any man’s time.

Meanwhile, Nick learns some harrowing truths about Gabrielle, which will help him solidify the need to get her out of the country. All the while, there is a larger and more sinister plan for Abdul, one in which Gabrielle may have a hand in creating. This includes a new destination for Abdul and a wily professor who is calling all the shots as a well-placed member of the Agency. All Nick wants is out of this game, though he may have left himself beholden to something even more troubling. When the professor take matters into his own hands, Nick surmises that there is something nefarious taking place, all the way up the chain of command.

This is my first novel by Joseph Sciuto, though it seems he has numerous others that have been published over the years. There is certainly something unique about the piece, both in its presentation and the topics covered. While not entirely what I expected from the dust jacket blurb, the story does work and kept me wanting to forge ahead with every page turn.

Nick is one of those protagonists who reveals much, but sometimes not enough. His ability to connect with the reader is present, though not always complete. With an interesting backstory, both before and during his time within the Agency, Nick’s growth within the novel is surely the means by which he is noticed by the reader. Slightly focussed on the next chapter in his life, the reader may not see Nick’s actions as being much more than a conduit to get Abdul into the hands of the real movers and shakers who’ll make a difference.

There is a strong core of secondary characters, including the young Gabrielle. The reader, alongside Nick, are left to wonder if she is a clueless pawn in the entire mission, though it is her horrifying past that becomes what defines her. She presents herself as vulnerable, while others around her are as cold as can be, which proves to be an interesting contrast throughout the piece. Sciuto utilises a handful of secondary characters to flavour the narrative and keep the reader from falling into a lull throughout the story. It is primarily these interactions that push the story into a ‘hokey’ domain at times. Silly dialogue and what appears to be outlandish decision-making (ie marriage at the drop of a hat) that lessens the impact of the story for me.

While the premise may not be unique, Sciuto does not rest on the laurels of the Agency man trying to foil a terrorist plot to push the story along. There is much more to this piece that is only truly revealed through dedication and a great attention to detail. With some wonderful political commentary of what is going on around the world at present, Sciuto injects added reality to a story that seems plausible at times. There are some eye-rolling moments, but they come primarily from some of the character banter and the mysterious tough guy demeanour of the professor, as well as some of the aforementioned silly comments that arise in dialogue. With a mix of chapter lengths, the reader is pushed to read on and see how things will reveal themselves, though it is surely a tangential journey.

Kudos, Mr. Sciuto, for this interesting spin on what is surely a great story. I’ll likely return to try out some more of your work in the months to come, primarily to see how you craft your other work in comparison with my first impressions.

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

Death in the Cloud (Michael Nicholas #4), by E.J. Simon

Eight stars

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

In a series that has grown exponentially in its depth and degree of action, E.J. Simon brings what is surely his best work to date with this novel. Working angles of artificial intelligence and nuclear warfare, Simon injects a thriller that will have readers flipping pages simply to determine how things will resolve themselves. A series to note for those who need something lighter, but still seek reading entertainment throughout!

Michael Nicholas took on more than he expected when obtaining the laptop belonging to his deceased brother, Alex. Not only wanting to be a fond memory for his younger brother, Alex also sought to communicate with Michael in the age of technology. The laptop, full of programs that create an artificial intelligence version of the elder Nicholas, permit Alex to communicate in real time using many complex algorithms. With a constant connection to the internet and ability to pull things from the cloud, Alex grows smarter and provides Michael with key information on essential topics, wherever possible.

The brothers know who had Alex killed and even the depths to which the Vatican tried to cover it up. There remains a group who seek to utilise this technology for themselves, creating a neo-Nazi group that will be able to topple any government and run effectively by using the technology Alex held dear to withstand anything put in their way. Its leader is the conniving Claus Dietrich, with Monsignor Kurt Schlegelberger, a former member of the Vatican, as its loyal foot soldier. Schlegelberger may have met an untimely death at the hands of Michael Nicholas, but the acquisition of the artificial intelligence that Alex uses has made the monsignor even more powerful, ready to act and leave the world trembling as it watches.

When a previously missing aircraft emerges in the skies over Washington, it’s a mad scramble to determine where it had been and what the plan is now. A skittish pilot, given a mission to crash land, is having second thoughts, which is not entirely what Kurt Schlegelberger wants to hear. Able to commandeer control of the aircraft, the White House its target, Schlegelberger does all in his power through computer controls to create damage of incalculable proportions. Only the last-ditch efforts of the US Government can bring it down, where certain truths seem to surface soon thereafter.

The plane was full of passengers, including Russia’s leading opposition member who has a long history of speaking out against the current regime. All eyes turn to Moscow and a leader ready to wrest world control away from the Americans. And yet, Michael Nicholas may hold all the answers, bundled into the laptop he possesses. When Nicholas is summoned to the White House, he presents what he has to the president, though Alex is not entirely on board with the display. This is, after all, still his secret from the world.

A reluctant Alex does make an appearance and surmises that this may not have been the Russian attack it appears to be on the surface. Still trying to piece it all together, Alex and Michael wonder if Monsignor Schlegelberger could be behind this, as there was a time he knew of the technological capabilities that Alex possessed. Extrapolating from there, with the ability to control things through the cloud, might Schlegelberger be able to play a game of chess between the American and Russian governments, thereby allowing his neo-Nazi regime to waltz into a power vacuum?

While all this is coming together, Michael remains firm in not revealing Alex’s secret to the world, even those closest to the brothers. However, Alex’s widow is becoming quite suspicious and no longer accepts all that she’s been fed. The coffin with Alex’s body has been unearthed and an unknown body sits therein. A secretive priest offers up a box of ashes, citing Alex’s desire to be cremated, though this does not sound like Alex at all. Is Alex Nicholas dead, or in hiding and perpetrating some fantastic ruse elsewhere?

When Schlegelberger is able to pull off an amazing hack on American soil, he’s ready to enact the final part of his plan, one that will see the two great powers on the verge of complete annihilation. Top officials have only one solution to stop Schlegelberger once and for all. With nuclear warheads in the equation, nothing is off limits, even if it means sacrificing Alex Nicholas’ artificial intelligence in the process.

The journey on which E. J. Simon has taken me in this series proves to be highly entertaining and thought provoking at the same time. Some might call it lighter fare, though this does not diminish the impact of the novels and actually leaves me to ask some things of myself. Questions surrounding technological phenomena, such as artificial intelligence and its usefulness moving into the 21st century, balance nicely within this thriller genre that has become more complex as the novels progress. Simon posts many questions within the narrative while also showing just how seamless the transition can be, as he peppers some morality in there for the reader to consider as well.

Michael Nicholas remains a strong protagonist, having morphed into a man on a mission, rather than the international financier of the early novels. His role to discover the truth behind his brother’s action finds him answering questions he has not pondered, while also being pushed to provide solutions to the Leader of the Free World in his spare time. Michael struggles with it all, pulled well outside his comfort zone, though he seeks to be as helpful as possible to those who seek his assistance. He’s grown throughout the series, both as a character and with the reader, especially as he plunges deeper into the plot.

Yet again, Simon uses a cast of secondary characters to keep the story moving through its full-fledged dedication to the thriller genre. Kurt Schlegelberger remains the dastardly villain, paired with an equally problematic Claus Dietrich, both of whom offer a needed counterbalance to all the Nicholas Brothers are doing throughout the story. The Schlegelberger-Alex clash at the artificial intelligence level is supported, in a way, through Michael and Dietrich, providing an interesting flavouring of how things come together towards the latter portion of the book. There are also a number of recurring characters, all of whom offer the reader some advancement in subplots that round out a highly entertaining read.

As the series morphs from a technological ‘what if’ into a true ‘edge of your seat’ collection, E.J. Simon leaves the reader with much to ponder throughout. There are moral and social issues that emerge, as well as a strong thriller theme throughout. While reading the summary alone may give the impression of something a tad ‘light’ or ‘hokey’, Simon pens a piece that is anything but. His attention to detail and short chapters keep the reader wanting more. The writing is fluid in the series, making one book easily move into the next. These are not standalones, though Simon does offer some flashback summaries in the early part of the book. My bingeing of them helped me see just how strong things can get and the reader is surely in for a wild ride. With a teaser for a fifth (!) book, I am eager to see how things will progress, in new and exciting theatres. This is surely a series curious readers ought to try, if only to give themselves something a little different from their usual fare.

Kudos, Mr. Simon, for another great novel. I am truly intrigued as to where you intend on taking the plot and what other topics are left to broach!

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

The Holy Conspiracy, by Kristi Saare Duarte

Eight stars

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

Looking to expand my reading parameters, I chose this interesting piece of historical fiction by Kristi Saare Duarte that explores early Christianity. While the subject matter may not be for everyone (and could offend those who are staunchly religious and hold firm to what they are told from the pulpit), this is an eye-opening interpretation of events from a woman who admits to not being deeply religious. The book opens the months after Yeshua (Jesus) has left the earth, leaving the disciples to determine how to continue the ministry. Yakov is Yeshua’s brother and has taken on the role of leading the group, in hopes of spreading the Good News and keeping the movement afloat. While he is surrounded by others who strongly believed in Yeshua, the group politic is anything but passive. Included in the collective is Miriamne, Yeshua’s wife and the woman carrying his son. Her presence, much as it was during the early year of the ministry, is controversial and puts a strain on how to proceed. Much of the book explores the connection between Miriamne and Yakov, especially with the custom of the latter taking the former into the household going forward. As the years pass, the group encounters Saul of Tarsus (Apostle Paul), who speaks of a revelation he had along the road and how he is now ready to preach the Good News as it was relayed to him by Yeshua. This causes a great deal of strain, as the disciples and Saul (renamed Paulus) speak of different forms of Christianity. Both feel they know ‘the True Word’ and the clashes are by no means minor. As the years progress, the reader can see how these messages serve as shepherding acts to plant the early roots of Christianity. Yakov must make some tough choices as to how he wants his brother’s legacy upheld, while Paulus feels his power of the written word will surely expand the grassroots movement. A telling piece that allows Duarte to offer the reader some of the early nuances in differing Christian messaging, without seeming too blasphemous. Recommended to those who enjoy Christian fiction, as well as the reader whose mind remains open and intrigued about what might have happened in the early, post-Jesus days.

I will be the first to admit that when I saw ‘conspiracy’ in the title, I expected something a lot more suspenseful and likely scandalous. That said, I kept as open a mind as I could when reading the novel and came out of the experience better for it. Kristi Saare Duarte provides the reader with a great piece of writing that highlights some of the key events in the early years of Christianity, including its struggles to get a message to the people. The core group of characters were well represented and the reader who has some background knowledge of them from their own religious education will likely enjoy what’s Duarte has done here. Of greatest interest to me was the representation of Miriamne (Mary Magdalen) as the wife of Yeshua, going so far as to depict her as being with child. While this will likely ruffle the feathers of some, the character fits in perfectly with some of the larger messages. Equally interesting is the depiction of Saul (Paulus) and how he took his own approach to how Christianity would develop. Duarte offers some interesting questions as she writes, leaving the reader to wonder which path might be the most accurate, based on where things stand today. The story is slow, let’s be perfectly honest here. There is little action or suspense, as it flirts with the line of non-fiction in its accounting. However, I am sure Duarte was going for the historical depiction over swords and violent clashes angle in her writing. I struggled at times, looking for a spark, but was happy to pull out some tidbits of historical interpretations on which I could feast as I digested much of what I read. A fair warning (and another struggle of mine) is that Duarte seeks to keep things as authentic as possible by using Aramaic versions of names, not the traditional ones many readers of the Bible may know. While this is a useful brain exercise (there is a reference sheet at the start), it was an added thinking process as I read, keeping everyone straight and remembering what I learned in my past education to match up with this. Still, Duarte did an amazing job in her final product. The amount of research that surely went into this piece is amazing and allows the reader to bask in some of the early years with a degree of confidence that things are not bastardised to meet a certain plot point. Perfect for the open minded reader who is interested in some of the early forks in the road, before the Catholic Church came in and set out their own decrees. I gave it my best and hope I did the book justice with this review!

Kudos, Madam Duarte, for not being afraid to rock the boat a little. I may have to look into some of your other work, as there were some intriguing moments for me during this read!

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

Animal, by Munish K. Batra and Keith R. A. DeCandido

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Reedsy Discovery, Munish K. Batra, and Keith R. A. DeCandido for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

In a collaborative effort, Munish Batra and Keith DeCandido deliver a high-impact thriller sure to pull the reader in from the opening pages. Detective Michelle Halls is trying to juggle her work with the Monrovia PD—a suburb of LA— and a personal life that has been falling apart. When an elderly woman comes in to speak with her about finding a finger in her ground beef, Halls is not sure what to do. After investigating the local meat plant, she discovers that two of their employees have gone missing. Security videos show something highly troubling, namely the aforementioned employees being slaughtered and ground up by a killer wearing a cow mask. News hits the wires and Interpol Detective An Chang flies from Beijing to look into the case. He’s certain that this is the work of a killer he’s been following for over two decades. After explaining some of the background, Halls and Chang work together on the case of a killer who appears to be trying to bring justice to animals who have been poorly treated by humans. Murders and grisly assaults all over the world can be tied to an assailant who wears a mask depicting the offended animal, with ruthless results. After another case pops up in San Diego, Halls and Chang make their way there, only to learn that the killer is getting bolder. As the pieces begin to fall into place, Chang not only realises that he has found a pattern, but thinks he may know the killer from his past as a local police officer. In a case that has all the action and a wonderfully twisted narrative, Batra and DeCandido offer the readers a heart-stopping piece that never stops developing. Recommended to those who love police procedurals, as well as the reader who enjoys a little social commentary with their mysteries.

Having never read anything by either author, I was not entirely sure what to expect. The premise seemed strong, though a little off the wall, but still I decided to give it a chance. It is clear that both authors pull on some of their expertise to craft a story that is both rich in medical jargon and offers a fast-paced narrative to push it along. The dual protagonist roles between Halls and Chang offer the reader something that is both straightforward and complex. Both characters come with their own personal baggage, which is presented in strong narrative fashion, as well as a dedication to the job at hand. Two members of completely different police forces thrust together makes for some very interesting banter, not to mention their cultural differences and a significant age gap. The authors weave their stories together nicely, never allowing them to get too comfortable with one another, while still focussing their attention on the case at hand. Grit and determination keep them an effective team, though the killer’s antics leave little time to rest on their laurels. The handful of strong secondary characters keeps the story moving in a number of directions, entertaining the reader as well as offering their own degree of education. As the reader will discover, parts of the story are flashbacks, all in order to fill in needed gaps in the overall plot, which forces a slew of characters to play a role in developing the plot. The story itself works well, quite unique in its approach and far from dull. The killer’s antics are quite graphic, though not to the point that many will walk away from the story in disgust. It has a certain creep factor, but it works well, especially when animal cruelty comes into the discussion. With a mix of chapter lengths that keep the reader wondering how things will progress, as well as information from a variety of locations and time periods, there is an added depth to an already strong piece. This is one novel that I will surely talk about for a significant amount of time.

Kudos, Dr. Batra and Mr. DeCandido, for this unique approach to a serial killer. I loved it and hope you two collaborate again soon!

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

Last Known Contact, by Phillipa Nefri Clark

Eight stars

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

Always up for a strong police procedural, this book by Phillipa Nefri Clark offers a great Aussie flavouring, as a missing persons case brings out a whole bunch of professional and personal skeletons from a closet already full of secrets. When Ellie Connor arrives back in Melbourne from a business trip, she is met with the headline that her father has gone missing. Jack Bannerman, CEO of Bannerman Wealth Group, was last seen headed to his yacht. Since then, his family and colleagues have been trying to find out where he might have gone. Ellie panics and scours the area, finding nothing but a voicemail asking her to go to their ‘secret spot’ where Jack’s left her a letter. There is nothing there, but Ellie’s estranged husband, Dennis, seems ready to dismiss any concerns Jack’s disappearance may bring. When police detective Ben Rossi arrives on scene, Ellie cannot help but remember the connection they once shared, making things a tad more awkward than she might have hoped. At the office, Bannerman Wealth Group’s Head of Security, Paul Dekeles tries to help and console Ellie, while also appearing to inch closer to her in a less than professional manner. When a local fisherman goes missing, everyone begins to wonder if a serial murderer might be on the loose, which is further exacerbated by the fact that a body is seen floating in the harbour. If this were not enough, Ellie soon learns of a major business decision of which she was not aware, something that could change the tenor of the investigation and open new possible leads to an already complicated case. A fast-paced story that keeps the reader guessing until all the pieces fall into place. Recommended for those who love a good mystery where family ties are severed, as well as the reader who enjoys a police procedural with some dramatic flair.

While I have never read Phillipa Nefri Clark, the dust jacket blurb alone made me want to dive right in. The story begins swiftly and never loses its momentum, as much is revealed about Jack Bannerman and the web many of the core characters have spun for themselves. At the centre of it all is Ellie Conner, whose return to Australia seems to have led to a massive investigation about her father’s disappearance. The reader learns much about Ellie’s backstory, including her closeness to a brother who was once quite a role model for her. After fleeing the confines of the family bubble, Ellie returns to make her mark on one part of the Bannerman empire, though some of her rash choices have not worked out as she had hoped. Struggling with some emotions for the man in charge of locating her father, Ellie must remain professional and try to determine where her future will take her. Discovering some less than savoury things that are going on within the family, Ellie tries to process it all without falling apart. Her connection to Jack Bannerman is obvious, but there is surely a strain between them that has yet to heal. Clark utilises a few other core characters who serve various roles, if not suspects in the disappearance. They each bring a little something to the table and provide the reader with the needed backstories to make their guilt quite plausible. Working in tandem, they help create added depth to an already great narrative and keep things on the mark throughout. The story was strong and the plot development had me quite impressed. With a mix of chapter lengths, Clark keeps the reader wondering where the next twist will come and how it plays into the larger theme of the book. Part mystery, part emotional discovery, this is one book that is sure to make waves and earn Phillipa Nefri Clark a slew of new fans, myself included.

Kudos, Madam Clark, for a highly entertaining piece. I cannot wait to see what else you’ve written and see how it compares to this piece.

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

Not in My Name, by Michael Coolwood

Seven stars

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

Always up for a political thriller, I turned to Michael Coolwood’s book, which mixes the fallout from a UK referendum on entering a war with Iraq with the murder of a few outspoken people. There are some great elements here, coaxed out as the story gains momentum, but it was missing the cutting edge I like in my thrillers. In the period immediately following a referendum on whether the United Kingdom should engage in a war against Iraq, both sides are still feeling the intensity of the results. With the YES side having squeaked out a victory with 52%, it would seem the next step is the send in the soldiers. However, Phoebe Green feels otherwise and has a handful of friends who wish to voice their concerns as well. As protests emerge on both sides of the issue, the intensity mounts and heated exchanges become common. Phoebe soon learns that one of her friends, Cassie, has been caught up in one of these clashes and was murdered. The police seem aware and have done some preliminary interviews, but are not working the case, choosing instead to let it go cold. Shocked by this, Phoebe and her friends seek to obtain answers before they make too many accusations. When their communal home in attacked and another friend is killed before them, the masked assailant flees before they can be caught. There is still no movement by the police, which irks Phoebe more than she can express. When she looks a little deeper, Phoebe discovers that there might be some anger within her own group and that one person might have gone rogue, bringing down the very people who seem to share their beliefs. Is there a killer amongst the sheep? What do the police know that they are not acting upon? All this and more remains at the heart of this thriller that cobbles together the ‘what-if’ scenario of a divisive vote sure to tear a country apart. Recommended to those who enjoy thrillers with many layers to their plots, as well as the reader who has a penchant for protest movements.

Many who have read a number of my past reviews will know that I love the political world, including books that weave a thriller angle into a well-delivered piece of writing. Michael Coolwood delivers what might be a loose interpretation to the BREXIT fiasco, but does get his point across about the divisive nature of referenda (and politics in general). Phoebe Green proves to be an interesting protagonist, though is not entirely captivating in her presentation. A strong-willed protestor against the recent fallout of a nationwide vote, she is thrust from a world of preaching about the wrongs of the government decision to become an amateur sleuth in solving the death of her friends. She seems to be a decent character, but I could not find myself connecting as much as I would have liked, which might also explain why I was not as engulfed in the story either. A number of other characters that fill the pages proved to be just as beige for me, though they are able to communicate their points effectively. Coolwood does a decent job in discussing politics and the intricacies of the protest movement. The curious reader will find some of his stances quite intriguing and he does create a moment of pause. A mix of chapter lengths help pull the reader along and then coaxes them to read a little more to see what transpires. While the book itself was not poorly penned, I simply could not find myself as hooked to the plot or much of the development throughout. It could be me, but I will leave it up to others to read and offer their own sentiments on this piece.

Kudos, Mr. Coolwood, for a thinking novel. I certainly can see things from a new perspective and may even come back to check out more of your work.

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

Campaigning Can Be Deadly (Cameron Chandler #2), by Charlotte Stuart

Eight stars

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

When I was recently looking for a lighthearted mystery, I came upon two novels by Charlotte Stuart, this latter one being the ARC I am about to review. Able to spin a unique mystery with a cast of ‘off the wall’ characters, Stuart again successfully delivers a solid story with decent plot twists. Cameron Chandler was an out of work widow, going stir-crazy with two children and an overbearing mother. After answering a Help Wanted sign at Penny-wise Investigations, Cameron found herself embarking on a new career as an investigator. Now, a year in, she and her colleague, Yuri Webster, have been hired by Nathan Knight’s Campaign for a House seat to look into who might be stealing lawn signs. When Cameron and Yuri follow a few teenagers back to the opposition campaign office, they think things are solved. However, wanting to bite off a bit more than they can chew, the investigators enter Bobby Mann’s headquarters and find a dead body. After the police arrive and exclude them from the list of suspects, Cameron and Yuri are told in no uncertain terms not to try solving the crime. Soon thereafter, they are hired by the Mann campaign to keep an eye on things and see what the police and media investigations uncover. While a little unorthodox, Cameron and Yuri are up for a challenge. As they look a little deeper, they learn that the victim was working for the Mann Campaign to bring it down rather than support the East Coaster’s chance at winning in Seattle. The victim had a great deal of research that he’d done into Mann and hoped to release it, but died before it came to light. As Cameron and Yuri seek to follow the trail a little more, they discover additional bodies tied to the research and are left to wonder who is trying to silence people against Bobby Mann. Politics may be a cutthroat game, but that’s suppose to be a metaphor. Are Cameron and Yuri next on the list to be threatened by some mysterious killer? Stuart does it again with a great mystery that keeps the reader turning pages without getting too bogged down. Recommended for those who need some lighter fare during the upcoming election cycle, as well as the reader who enjoys a fast-paced mystery.

While I was not too sure what to expect from Charlotte Stuart, I tossed myself into this piece and hoped for the best. This novel did its job and then some, building nicely on key aspects of the series debut, but could also be read as a standalone. Cameron Chandler is a wonderful character who keeps growing on the curious reader. She’s a single parent who is forced to juggle the moods of her children while also needing to put some bread on the table. Now a full-fledged investigator, Cameron is tossed into an intense case without expecting it. The reader learns less about her backstory in this go round, but is privy to a decent amount of character development. Gritty, but not to the point of being cocky, Cameron steals the show and grows as a person, especially when staring danger in the face. The handful of supporting characters are wonderful and fit in to create a relatable cross-section of personalities. Complementing one another and the protagonist, there is always something going on that will entertain the reader. The story keeps the reader’s attention throughout, and Stuart is able to craft a wonderful tale that is both educational and entertaining, particularly as US elections are just around the corner. Her vast array of characters bring much to the experience while also providing the reader with something light that they can enjoy with ease. A mix of chapter lengths propel the story forward while also getting deep enough into things that no one is left feeling shortchanged. If I had one minor critique, it would be that many of the Penny-wise characters are semi-wallflowers. When I read the debut, I saw this handful of great potential interactions and thought Stuart would highlight different ones to pair with Cameron throughout the series. While I enjoy the Cameron-Yuri banter, with so many quirky people on offer, why not use them and show how investigations can take many turns, depending who is doing the sleuthing? That being said, I am all in and will keep my eyes open for anything else Charlotte Stuart writes, as these are just the kind of mysteries I need.

Kudos, Madam Stuart, for another great mystery that I can devour in short order. Keep the ideas coming and I hope others trip upon these books as well.

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

Catechism (Nick Ballard #1), by Anthony Steven

Seven stars

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

Eager to try something new with religious undertones, I turned to this debut thriller by Anthony Steven. A little police procedural with a peppering of psychic intervention, Steven seeks to carve out his own niche in the supersaturated genre. Nick Ballard is a former television psychic who all but lost everything when his wife died. Now, he has these odd visions that put him in the body of murder victims, allowing him to feel their pain the moment of their deaths. When Ballard goes to the police, DCI Kate Garvey is not sure what to make of it. At first, Garvey suspects that Ballard might be involved, as he seems to know too much with details not released to the public. However, she begins to see that he might know something useful and could be an insight into the actual killer. With a killer who leaves biblical references at the crime scenes, Garvey can only wonder if this is a man on some sort of cleansing mission. Seeking help with his psychic abilities, Ballard reaches out to someone who might be able to explain it, though it is by no means the answer he expected. When the killer’s rampage continues, things take a horrifying turn and Garvey must risk it all and trust in Ballard to help bring things together before they come crashing down around everyone. A decent debut with some great action, Steven does well to make his mark. Recommended to those who like their police procedurals from a different approach, as well as readers who need something quick to pass the time.

I stumbled upon this piece, unsure what to expect. While I was not blown away, Anthony Steven did keep my attention throughout, enough that I powered through this piece in a single day. There is a great deal going on in here, particularly with the two main characters. Nick Ballard has been gifted with his psychic abilities, though they have been a curse for him since he was a lad. Able to read minds and happy to share what he sees, Ballard has found himself in more trouble than the talent seems worth. With some interesting backstory, Steven tells of Ballard’s struggles before it all came crashing down, leaving the protagonist to fall into a bottle as he tries to drown the pain. His interaction with Susan Carter is an interesting part of the novel, a character Steven promises to explore more thoroughly in a free novella available on his website. DCI Kate Garvey has her own story that flavours the piece. Building on her single mother backstory, Garvey is trying to do it all while holding down a senior position within the Metropolitan Police. Her work comes first, though she tries to find time for her adult son who is all but ready to disown her. She is sceptical about Ballard, but must trust him to some degree if she wants to make progress and remove her head from the proverbial noose. In a story that mixes religious messaging with psychic undertones, Anthony Steven spreads himself a little thin and dabbles a little in both, diluting what could have been an even more powerful and edgy piece. While the narrative is saved with quick chapters that push things along, I sought more ‘creepy’ factor to really get to the heart of the matter. I hope the aforementioned free novella offers a little more, as I can only wonder what the second full novel in the series (listened on Steven’s website) will become without some added pep. I will continue with the series, but want more action and deeper connection to the characters. There is a definite plot pathway, but something to pull me and leave me hungering for more.

Kudos, Mr. Steven, for this debut effort. I need more, though I found myself wanting to keep reading repeatedly throughout this one-day adventure.

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

Conspiracy, by Jacob Ganani

Eight stars

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

Dabbling in the world of account balances and spreadsheets, I turned to Jacob Ganani’s latest financial thriller to get the blood pumping. With a number of great subplots and delving into the banking world, I took the plunge in a genre I would normally have left to gather interest elsewhere. Elijah Levi has issues in his personal life that he’s discovered cannot be handled on his own. His wife has been struck with a muscular disorder that is not only crippling, but also costs a great deal. While he has been employed with General Citizens Bank for many years and kept a spotless record, Levi uses his knowledge to scam Israel’s third largest bank out of a great deal of money through a complex embezzlement scheme. While doing so, Levi discovers something even more troublesome that the bank has been doing, which includes cheating the US Government out of a significant pile of its own cash. When the red flag goes up on Levi’s actions, officials within the bank are ready to terminate him and let the police take the appropriate action. However, Levi presents them with a deal to protect himself and keep the bank out of hot water. Officials are shocked that he would have the temerity to do or say much of anything, calling him nothing but a crook. Meanwhile, US officials think that they are on to the scam and trace General Citizens Bank back to some interactions with a Swiss financial institution, but they must tread carefully. As Levi knows too much, he will have to be handled before everything comes crashing down, but to do so may leave General Citizens Bank in hot water and create political turmoil between two political allies. An interesting take on a financial conundrum in this fast-paced thriller that will have the reader checking their bank balances soon after finishing. Recommended to those who enjoy stories with a financial spin to them, as well as the reader who finds pleasure in thrillers outside of the typical domain.

This was my first novel by Jacob Ganani, which introduced me to the world of financial thrillers. Ganani leads the reader on quite the adventure with this piece, targeting the intricacies of the banking world and how easy it can be to pull a fast one on unsuspecting clients. While the book offers up a few key storylines, Elijah Levi does prove to be the central character. His long career with the bank makes him a model employee, knowing the ins and outs of the system, which is potentially how he has been able to work his scam so effectively. Levi has a personal problem that can only be solved with money and has his eye on the millions that cross his desk on a daily basis. His love of a sick wife forces him to take action, though he tries to do so in as sly a manner as possible. He’s also able to see the bigger picture and the practices that General Citizens Bank is taking on, using that as leverage. While I would not say he ‘grows’ as a character, it is interesting to see how Levi uses what little power he has to turn the tables on his employer. A handful of secondary characters work their way into the story effectively, both in the Levi embezzlement plot and the larger scheme by the bank. Ganani offers up these characters both to entertain and educate the reader, which is done quite effectively. The story is flavoured not only by those characters, but also the setting for me. Israel is one of those places that I know or hear little about, outside of its political struggles in the region. Ganani offers a different spin to keep the reader interested, while not weighing them down with too much excessive editorialising. In a book well outside my usual genre, I was able to keep up with detailed chapters that explained some of the goings-on, as well as shorter ones to keep the plot moving effectively. There may be some technical aspects to the story, but Ganani shies away from alienating readers (like me) who do not have a strong financial background or a passion for the banking world. The writing was crisp and the narrative flowed well, using dialogue effectively to get the point across. I’d gladly suggest Jacob Ganani’s work to anyone looking for a different type of thriller that still keeps the tension and chills of any crime or legal one.

Kudos, Mr. Ganani, for a great piece. I will certainly recommend you to others and promise to be back to try some more of your work in the months to come.

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

El Camino Drive, by Edward Izzi

Nine stars

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

Edward Izzi returns with another of his sensational thrillers that toss a number of well-developed characters together into a story that will have the reader flipping pages well into the night. Detroit P.D. Detective John Valentino finds himself in quite the predicament. A recently divorced, raging alcoholic with an anger management problem, Valentino’s been suspended for beating up his partner. There are other underlying issues, including having been raised without a father. On Hallowe’en Night, 1978, Antonio Valentino was murdered by three men along El Camino Drive. Young Johnny was only six at the time and saw his family fall apart. At the trial, the men got off and skirted justice by claiming a twisted sense of self-defence. Bitter and shocked, one member of the family promised revenge. Now, Detective Valentino is unearthing some of the records and making sense of what happened all those years ago. Tackling some of his demons, Valentino stops drinking and finds himself in what he feels is a healthy relationship. He begins to better understand his philandering father and vows to find the men who caused his family such pain. However, it seems someone is a few steps ahead of him. A few of those tied to the previous murder end up dead, with a unique calling card left at the scene, as well as a small piece of poetry related to the El Camino murder. John Valentino is surely at the top of the suspect list, but is able to alibi himself. With an elderly uncle whose final goal in life is to kill the men who got away with murder, whispers of a mafia boss with a bone to pick with those who killed in such a sloppy way, and even a son who is just now learning the psychological complexities of life without a father figure, the list of suspects seems endless. Yet, someone is exacting revenge and trying to balance the scales for the bloodshed on El Camino Drive back in ‘78. An addictive novel that has so many subplots that the reader will have to stay attentive throughout this story. Izzi proves yet again that he is a master in the field and should let the creative juices flow. Recommended to those who love a great crime thriller, as well as the reader who finds complex storylines to their liking.

I discovered Edward Izzi’s work by fluke when I was offered a copy of another book he wrote a number of months ago. Since then, I have been devouring all of his books within days of receiving them. Izzi writes in such a way that the reader is drawn into the story, with momentum gained as the plot thickens. John Valentino is a perfectly chosen protagonist for this book, with a backstory that is quite complex and sensational development throughout this book. The reader will see his struggles, which are tied into addiction and the trauma of his father’s murder, as well as how he sought to pull himself up by the proverbial bootstraps. Valentino may have a temper, but his passion to resolve the miscarriage of justice related to his father’s murder remains high on his priority list. Pulled into some complex subplots along the way by those who seek to use his access to information only adds to the story and richness of his character. The handful of other characters that Izzi creates add even more flavour to a story that is a perfect mix of thriller and coming of age. Izzi uses a technique that readers who have read all his other pieces will likely see. He creates a character in one of his novels and has them reappear in a subsequent book, offering updates and connecting the pieces without creating a formal series. A central character in one book might return and receive passing mention in another, or a wallflower might take up a major role in a subsequent novel. This is a brilliant technique and yet still allow the reader to pick up any of his novels without feeling the need to read the collection (though who would not want to read all these books?!). Izzi develops an ironclad story around a murder in 1978 and builds from there, offering not only flashbacks/forwards between that time and the present, but also fills in needed aspects from the past to develop more suspects in the present murders. This technique, while requiring the reader to pay close attention, offers rich rewards for those who accept the challenge. While the book is longer (close to 500 pages), it reads so easily that the reader will find they can devour a third of the book in one sitting and feel no sense of time drag. His dialogue is crisp, his plots evolving, and his characters relatable. Finally, using Detroit as his central setting, Izzi writes what he knows best and offers those who know the area with some special treats. This is one of those stories that is sure to receive a great deal of attention if put in the right hands. I can only hope others will discover the magic of this gritty novelist and turn to some of Izzi’s other work, which is just as captivating. Brilliant writing with a collection of standalone novels that have a thread of connectivity. I can only hope Edward Izzi keeps writing, as I am more than happy to keep reading. He stands above all others in a supersaturated genre and keeps getting better!

Kudos, Mr. Izzi, for another formidable effort. I cannot say enough and hope your work ends up into the hands of many, for they will be as astounded as I was to read such high quality work!

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

Lies Behind the Woods, by Bradley Cornish

Eight stars

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

Turning to a crime thriller that mixes in the emotional fallout of a kidnapping, Bradley Cornish presents the reader with a book they will not likely soon forget. Steve Breiten is a history professor who enjoys his time away in the Adirondacks. During one of his vacations, he witnesses what he thinks might be a kidnapping, with an out of control vehicle speeding through an intersection and a woman’s foot sticking out the passenger window. It is not until he sees an article about a missing woman, Tara Murphy, that Steve decides to go to the authorities. His description, paired with some new traffic camera technology, helps to nab the kidnapper, John Dexter. Three years later, Tara shows up at Steve’s office and wants to thank him. Having never formally met the woman and feeling slightly awkward, Steve agrees to a lunch to see if they can swap stories before sending Tara on her way. However, Tara has other ideas, having travelled far and wanting to thank Steve for all he’s done. Rebuffing her sexual advances, Steve is pulled into memories of some other events around the time of the kidnapping, including a detailed sexual encounter with someone in the DA’s office and an equally detailed fantasy about Tara’s mother. Now, Steve is learning a little more about Tara’s ordeal and how she feels that she must fulfil a personal fantasy of her own to ‘cleanse’ her from the brutal rape and treatment she suffered at the hands of her kidnapper. Steve finds that Tara’s plan includes drugging him, which takes things to a new level. News that Dexter escaped from prison hits the police wire, creating panic for those involved in the case three years before. Steve wakes to learn that Tara and Dexter are in cahoots and that their plan includes taking Steve and others deep into the woods, where new and equally disturbing truths await them. John Dexter has a colony that is almost fully functional and needs new members to help it expand. There is more to it than that, something that will rock Steve to his core as he learns the truth about himself and a past that differs really from what he grew up understanding. While the plot development might not be something I would pick up to read on most occasions, Bradley Cornish writes in such a way that it is easily digested. Recommended to those who want a thriller with a peppering of flashbacks to fill in the gaps, as well as the reader who needs some steamy writing to keep them on the edge of their seats.

I’d never read anything by Bradley Cornish before receiving this ARC, but the dust-jacket blurb had me quite curious. As I mentioned above, there were some odd moments throughout, particularly the overly detailed descriptions of Steve’s passionate encounters, though these were somewhat balanced by some interesting plot developments and discussion of Stockholm Syndrome. Steve Breiten is an interesting protagonist, a late 20s history professor with a past of romantic disappointments. In a ‘right place, right time’, Steve is able to act as a hero and save a young woman from almost certain death, though I am sure he would have preferred the quiet of his time at the cabin. He is surely hungering for physical interaction, though I am not sure he thought that being a good Samaritan would help add notches to his bedpost. He appears to struggle throughout with events three years in the past, though he faces them head-on and with as much dignity as he can. Revelations in the latter portion of the book offer a new and needed depth to round out Steve’s character. Others who help fill the pages of this story bring their own perspectives to the piece. The development of various abuse scenarios and some Stockholm Syndrome play into the backstory and development of numerous characters, enriching the story a little more. The premise was nothing earth shattering, but proved to be highly entertaining, even if there are sexual landmines for the reader to dodge throughout. I am no prude, but am also not entirely sure what purpose they served in such detail. WIth short chapters and good plot development, Cornish proves that he is an author worth reading again, especially if he can keep the narrative flow working in his favour. The story reads with ease and the writing is easy to digest, perfect for a summer vacation or to fill the hours during travel.

Kudos, Mr. Cornish, for a decent piece. I may have to check out your other book, which you conveniently plugged within the narrative.

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

The Scarlet Crown, by Frederic Dalton

Eight stars

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

Always a fan of thrillers that mix action with some historical secrets, this book by Frederic Dalton caught my eye with its synopsis. John Bassinth may be the Earl of Melton, but he does not let the aristocratic nature of his title rule his life. Always one who enjoys the simpler things in life, he seeks to be friendly to those around him. When he comes to the aid of a neighbour, he is pulled into the middle of something from his past about which he’s been sworn to secrecy. A simple email to his brother brings John into the middle of a massive intelligence operation the world over. The message is flagged within MI6 and other organizations as referring to a ‘Weapon of Mass Destruction’, which causes panic. Could there be such a weapon in the hands of a simple earl? Bassinth reminded of the existence of a ‘Scarlet Crown’, something his father controlled and many before him for over two millennia. The crown’s origin can be traced back to the Romans not long after the start of the Common Era and its powers derived from their gods. With powers unlike any weapon throughout history, the crown can both heal and destroy most anyone. Surfacing at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, the crown went into hiding again until Henry VIII discovered it, only to stash it away with the House of Bassinth. Since then, those in the earldom have been part of a secret society, The Hermitic Order of the Golden Dawn (Golden Dawn), whose members have a strong affinity to protect the crown and hold beliefs in mysticism. The Order is spread across Europe and has had some fairly notable people among its ranks. With news of the crown resurfacing, there are a number of groups who are vying to locate it, including an equally tenacious collective called the Order of the Lions. John and a handful of others seek to remain one step ahead while trying to secure the crown and protect its powers from the outside world. Following clues and symbols, along with the help of a history professor who studied the story of the crown, they must ensure its safety or risk catastrophic repercussions. This may be the most important thing John’s ever done in his life and could be one way to keep the Order strong, a group he’s recently learned is his to control. The stakes are high and the rewards even greater in this thriller that takes the reader on an adventure through time, history, and personal beliefs. Recommended to those who enjoy a little mystic intervention with their thrillers, as well as the reader who finds pleasure in a game of lethal cat and mouse.

While it was the cover that first caught my eye, the premise for this book is like no other. There is a little of everything for the reader to enjoy: history, mystic beliefs, clashes, and a chase to locate a secret relic. Dalton pulls this off while keeping his characters in constant motion and the action riveting on many fronts. The story, like the history of the Scarlet Crown, is multi-faceted and pulls the reader in many directions at once, leaping throughout the narrative and forcing those who are adventurous enough to keep track of it all. With a number of key characters, Dalton creates backstories and development throughout, which can be taxing on the reader who sought a relaxing piece of entertainment, but the vested interest is well worth the chore. With a little code breaking and historical reference throughout, the author takes the reader on an adventure rather than spoon feeding some cookie cutter action plot that is easily surmised from the preface. Dalton mixes things up with some highly detailed chapters (leaping from setting to setting) and others that are brief and keep the story moving along. If I had a critique, it would be that some of the history does not match up, particularly in the discussions of the Tudor era. While it is minor, it does leave me wondering if there were other missteps that dealt with historical facts about which I am less familiar. Overall, a wonderful book and great reading experience for those who enjoy historical thrillers!

Kudos, Mr. Dalton, for a wonderful piece that kept me enthralled. I will have to wait and see what else you pen, but admit this was a splendid debut.

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

The Ancestor, By Lee Matthew Goldberg

Seven stars

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

Looking for a thriller with a different tilt, my eye caught this novel by Lee Matthew Goldberg. In a tale that pulls two men from different eras together, bound by their bloodline, Goldberg uses the backdrop of Alaska and the worries of family to tie them together. In a barren field outside Laner, Alaska, a man finds himself in the cold. Unsure how he got here and with only vague memories of his past, Wyatt Barlow sees two men in the distance. As he approaches, he recognises one, though has no idea why. After sneaking aboard their truck, Wyatt makes his way into town and spies on one of the men, a Travis Barlow. When Wyatt realises that it is 2020, he begins to piece it all together. Born in 1860 in Washington State, Wyatt remembers leaving his wife and child behind when he travelled up to Alaska for the gold rush. Other than that, he has no idea about his past. While Wyatt slinks around Laner and tries to learn more about Travis—a man he determines to be his great-great-grandson—some of the locals begin to see the resemblance between the two. Travis is struggling himself, trying to make ends meet for his family and finding himself in over his head. When he meets Wyatt one day, he tries to offer some charity to the man, not knowing their deeper connection. Wyatt befriends Travis and tries to get to know the family that came after him, all while he seeks to piece together his own life. Wyatt remembers being frozen in the ice after finding a large cache of gold and determines how the modern-day Barlows fit into the mix. Many others are leery of Wyatt, who not only appears to be a vagrant, but is also a little too chummy with Travis. Trouble ensues and fights are held, but Wyatt remains determined that he will do all he can for his family. Battling some demons of his own, Wyatt opens his mind and remembers something from his past that could change everything for Travis and those around him. However, it will take a monumental leap of faith to tell Travis the truth, in hopes that he will believe him. A decent book whose story holds strong throughout, proving Goldberg has some skill some readers will want to explore a little more.

The premise of the book seemed quite intriguing, though I was not sure how the Wyatt/Travis connection would reveal itself. I tend to steer away from anything too fantastical, though I tried to keep an open mind here. Goldberg focuses his attention on two protagonists, Wyatt and Travis, building their backstories and development in tandem. Wyatt comes from many years ago and must acclimate to life in the 21st century, as well as how he will reveal his news to progeny who have never given him much thought. Pulling in Native American and narcotics angles, Goldberg shines a light on some of the issues taking place in modern Alaska, as well as how it fits into the larger narrative. Travis, too, is forced to come to terms with some heavy baggage, including a marriage that is anything but stellar. Both men work their way throughout the book with ease, coming together when it is needed most and making the most of the experience. The handful of secondary characters help add depths and flavour to the book, though none stop out for me as being exceptional. Each served their purpose and added something to the story, but I was not blown away. The overall experience reading this book was a decent one, but I felt something was lacking. I could not put my finger on it, but I wanted more action and disturbance and less of the heartfelt emotional connection between a broken family and a man who serves as a missing link. Goldberg has great writing style and was able to hold my attention, but I think I wanted something grittier or more mysterious about the ‘time travel’ angle of the piece. Goldberg utilises a great understanding of Alaskan culture, terrain, and local lore, which helped me feel as though I were right there. With a mix of quick and longer chapters, this helped me push forward, even through the parts of the novel that held less interest for me. I enjoyed the book, but did not love it, which can be a slightly opaque comment, but one that I am sure many readers have experienced, even when words elude them to elaborate.

Kudos, Mr. Goldberg, for a decent read. I will take some time to think on it, but I would likely try another of your novels down the road.

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

The Dime Box, by Karen Grose

Eight stars

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

Interested in some Canadian crime fiction, I thought that I would tackle Karen Grose’s book to see if it held up to all the hype. Greta Giffen is all of nineteen years of age and already an orphan. When she is seen rushing out of her father’s palliative care room, the nurses know something is up. Ian Giffen is dead in his bed and the authorities can only wonder if and how Greta might be responsible. While being interviewed, Greta takes the detective (and reader) back through her life, one in which she was forced to live under the controlling thumb of Ian Giffen. She reveals much about her home life, something she tried to get away from at every turn. As the story progresses, the reader learns more about the hardships that befell a young Greta and how she coped, with a small dime box as her most trusted companion. When the investigation heats up and Greta seems certain to be guilty, she adds new layers to her story in order to explain things away. However, there is no disputing that Ian Giffen is dead and that she was the last person to see him alive. Where the investigation will end up is anyone’s guess, though the reader will have to travel this long and twisted route to get to the truth. A well-paced debut novel by Karen Grose, sure to pique the interest of the curious reader. Recommended to those who enjoy novels with flashback/forward narratives, as well as the reader who likes to read books set in rural Canada.

I love books set in Canada, particularly when I can somewhat relate to their setting. There is so much to take away from them, rather than flipping through yet another book situated on the gritty streets of America or even into Europe. Grose does well in her development of the setting, but it is the evolution of Greta Giffen that steals the show. Nineteen going on fifty, or so it seems, Greta has much to tell the reader in this ever-revealing story that tells a story in quite the jagged fashion. The reader learns much about the life of this young woman, from foibles to heroic struggles to define herself and find out the truth that might set her free. Other characters throughout offer a wonderful dose of grit and determination, leaving the reader wondering what awaits them in the next chapter or two. The story was decent and told in a unique way. While I love the flashback/forward used in the book, at times I thought it got to be too much; the lines of the narrative too fluid for me to truly grasp where things were headed. Grose has developed this thriller effectively, but I had wished for a little more grounding. The short chapters and numerous cliffhangers kept me wanting to read on (which I did) to learn just what Greta had been doing and how things fell into place. Well-written and easy to read, I will keep my eyes open for more by Karen Grose in the coming years!

Kudos, Madam Grose, for a nice debut that kept me thinking. I hope others trip upon this piece and offer similar praise.

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

Bound in Shallows, by S.L.C., Jr.

Seven stars

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

It was the premise of this book that pulled me in, with the cover art being a close second. Unique on both fronts, I chose to tackle this book by the mysterious author, S.L.C., Jr. Clifford Swank is a pornographer and not afraid to hide it. His medium is photographs and he is able to cobble together a basic magazine on a monthly basis, with the talent that enters his Tampa establishment. When the body of a young woman turns up in the water, the police are baffled about the identity, helped only by a small tattoo on her backside. Swank reads of this and wonders if he might know her as a past model who came to see him. Not long thereafter, Swank is visited by a local street preacher, who wishes to hire him to locate the girl. Swank balks, admitting to no one but himself that he used his now deceased father’s PI business as an advertisement filler in his magazine. After seeing that money will not be an issue, Swank agrees to the investigative task and takes the case, where he finds that his sly demeanour can help. He focuses his attention on a local televangelist who speaks of the evils of pornography and prostitution, but may himself be dabbling in the field. When Swank and an undercover copy end up working together, they discover new and angering angles in the case, ones that include a local crime family and some dirty cops. Trying to stay one step ahead of the heavy hitters, Swank and his new ‘partner’ work their leads as they seek to bring justice to a young woman whose life was cut short for reasons as yet unknown. An interesting tale told from the most unique perspective I have seen in a crime thriller. Definitely not your run of the mill read, though those can be the best at times.

I like unique in my reading experiences, which this book offered in spades. While Cliff Swank is involved in one of those professions that many a reader usually finds on the darker side of a story, he does well as a protagonist and his line of work does not enter the story too much, saving some of the more prude and expectation seeking readers from being too disturbed. Swank parachutes into the role of PI well and seems in touch with the community, even as he turns over rocks he never expected he would have to. Others in the piece worked well and kept the pace moving well, as the story took some interesting twists throughout. I was eager to see how the author would tackle the pornographer as PI situation and was pleasantly surprised. While the story was unique to the max and had some interesting early chapters, the momentum soon faded and I was left with a touch of disappointment. I cannot place my finger on what might have been better or how things could have been improved, but if this is the debut novel, there is some great potential. A mix of short and longer chapters keeps the story moving and the writing is quite clear, making the read a quick and somewhat enjoyable one for me.

Kudos, S.L.C., Jr. for your mysterious ways. I may return to read another of you pieces, having some honing and polish work on your writing.

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

The Magdalene Deception, by Gary McAvoy

Eight stars

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

Always a fan of novels with Catholic and/or historical twists, this book by Gary McAvoy caught my eye as soon as I found it. Michael Dominic grew up in United States, without a father but under the watchful eye of one of the most powerful men in the Catholic Church. Having finished his seminary studies and been ordained, Dominic accepted a position within the Vatican as a researcher, where he was able to hone some of his other interests in medieval history. When he trips upon a cache of old documents, he hides them away from prying eyes in hopes of exploring them a little more, only to discover that they are written in quatrain form and speak of some fairly significant things. After speaking to a superior, Dominic meets a Swiss reporter, Hana Sinclair, who has travelled to the Holy See in order to follow a story from a Nazi-era interaction with the Vatican Bank. While their work is not necessarily complementary, Dominic and Sinclair find themselves in the middle of a third mystery, one centred in rural France where a priest was blackmailing the Vatican with a set of documents in his possession, back before the turn of the 20th century. Travelling there, Dominic is being tailed by a powerful enforcer who seeks to obtain the documents to uncover what is going on while trying to strengthen a Croatian political and religious order. When Dominic receives the document, he is able to translate them and discovers a secret from two thousand years ago, one that would truly rock the Church to its core. With a killer on his trail and needing to ensure the document is preserved, Dominic returns to the Vatican, only to find that he and Hana may have caused a major panic. A great thriller that weaves numerous storylines together effectively. Recommended to those who love a good thriller worth historical implications, as well as the reader who enjoys Vatican and Catholic politics.

There’s something about biblical revelations set against a fictional thriller that pulls me in every time. Be it the history or the politics of what entered the narrative of the biblical teachings, there is something there and loads of mystery behind what did not make it. McAvoy creates a wonderful story that never stops building throughout. His protagonist, Michael Dominic, comes from humble beginnings, but is never one to let that get him down. He finds ways to work within his limits and find true passion for all he enjoys doing, without needing to focus on the solitary of life as a priest. His grit and determination is on show here and keeps the reader connected to him throughout. Other characters offer some wonderful flavour to the overall narrative and keep things exciting, amongst all the twists and revelations. McAvoy captures the secrecy and deep-rooted history of the Vatican and its politics throughout this piece, with a strong story and plot that moves in many directions. While there is the inherent biblical document that is revealed, there is not too much of a focus on its gnostic or apocryphal nature, but more that it adds new depths to the narrative of the Church’s past decisions on how to portray the Christian story. With a mix of longer and short chapters, McAvoy pulls the reader in and keeps them guessing, while also refusing to place a damper on the action. Juggling modern and ancient Church issues, McAvoy does not lose his reader at any point, as his writing is so clear that the attentive reader will likely want more. I look forward to more by the author, with Michael Dominic or others in the protagonist’s seat.

Kudos, Mr. McAvoy, for this wonderful book. This may have been the first of your books that I have read, but it will not be the last.

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

The Shroud Solution (Shroud Series #1), by K. Bruce Mackenzie

Eight stars

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

Always a fan of novels with Catholic and/or historical twists, this book by K. Bruce Mackenzie caught my eye as soon as I found it. When two cardinals arrive in Scotland on a mission, their presence is noticed by a few. The Vatican has sent Cardinals Ratzinger and Jaropelk, two of its highest ranking officials, to discuss a matter of great importance with members of a highly specialised institute working on matters of cloning. Among them are Dr. Ian McKinney, as well as Head of Security, Angus MacGregor, whose work denotes the need for the highest protection. The cardinals are highly interested in the work done cloning sheep, something that the Institute is proud to have accomplished. Even now, in 1997, the story continues to bring them much notoriety. When the cardinals bring up the possibility of examining the Shroud of Turin—the cloth said to have been wrapped around the crucified Jesus Christ—some shy away for religious reasons. However, Dr. Ian McKinney, an espoused atheist, is interested in the challenge and meets with the cardinals in secret, accompanied by MacGregor who has security in mind. They discuss the option and the only obstacle will be if Pope John Paul II blocks any biological analysis of the Shroud. The cardinals return and promise to be in touch soon, if McKinney is given the chance to proceed. After some arm twisting, the cardinals get a preliminary go-ahead, paving the way for McKinney to begin his examination. Throughout the process, he discovers something interesting, which the cardinals cannot deny is on the verge of changing the world forever. However, even more remarkable is the sudden faith-based change that Ian McKinney undergoes, finding solace in learning about the Shroud and the details of Christianity. When his scientific results yield some interesting findings, the cardinals work with McKinney to convince the pontiff to explore some further tests. Hesitant because he is only mortal, John Paul II agrees, but has some strict guidelines moving forward. McKinney is overjoyed, but this is not the only progress he has made in life, finding solace in the arms of a woman who’s been right next to him for so very long. As the plan proceeds, there are those who lurk in the shadows, curious about what the Vatican is doing. Two hired killers inch closer, tasked with neutralising not only the Shroud plan, but those who would overstep the limits of man playing deity. What comes next turns the story into the explosive novel Mackenzie has been building up to this point. Filled with religious, political, and thrilling twists, the reader will learn a great deal while wondering how much is fiction and where some well-kept factual secrets might mingle into this story. Recommended for those who love religious thrillers with a historical element, as well as the reader who find ‘what if’ stories to their liking.

While I am not a Catholic in my upbringing, there is something about Vatican politics that has always piqued my interest. This book, which mixes that with some Christian history and the modern blurring of scientific lines, proved to be a recipe for success for Mackenzie in his debut thriller. While the story opened with an odd twist—no spoilers here!—things soon fell into sync as the story moved between Scotland and the Vatican with ease. Ian McKinney soon finds himself in the protagonist’s role, though it is his character transformation that steals the show over some of the plot twists. The reader sees many of McKinney’s epiphanies in this story, some of which prove more saccharine than others, which helps the plot push forward and adds depth to the overall narrative. With some fictional and actual characters throughout, the story gains some interesting twists throughout. All those who grace the pages of this piece find themselves adding to the already intriguing plot with each page turn. Mackenzie wastes no time in positing some interesting hypotheses about genetics, cloning, and the plausibility of the Shroud of Turin holding the key to the potential Second Coming, albeit with more than the Hand of God playing a role. The story was strong and only got a tad far-fetched on a few occasions, more in the dialogue and character interactions than anything else. I found myself unable to put the book down at times, as the chapters were such teasers, some lasting pages while others summarily ended in a paragraph. Those with open minds and an interest in the topic will likely find themselves as hooked as I was, asking what they might have been missing not reading this book sooner. The numerous twists, down to the final reveal left me wanting more and pleased that Mackenzie speaks of a trilogy on the subject. Surely stirring up some controversy inside the Holy See with some of the sentiments expressed herein.

Kudos, Mr. Mackenzie, for a great novel. I hope others find this one as intriguing, as I know I was committed as soon as the story began.

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

Final Act (Final Notice #2), by Van Fleisher

Seven stars

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

After devouring the first book by Van Fleisher, which lays the groundwork for this novel, I knew that I needed to read more, if only to learn how things with the VT2 watch developed and what Dr. Vijay Patel had in store for the world. While the watch has been working effectively to offer its users a ‘final notice’ before their deaths, Patel and others have also come to see a rise in gun violence among those with nothing to lose—the premise of the series debut. After selling the company, Patel chooses to take a leadership role within the wing of the company that is working on these notices and some other software. Teamed up with a Special Agent within the FBI, Patel is trying to work out an added layer to the notice option, tracking levels of aggression and blood chemistry that might help trigger knowledge that could alert to the potential of a violent outburst during this final notice period. When Patel is forced from his job by a vindictive company CEO, he tries to keep the new level of tracking going, only to have all his pathways shut down. Knowing that this is a vital portal, Patel will bend the rules, if only to help stop the continuous spree of killing. However, someone is trying to play their own version of Big Brother, tapping into the Final Notice data to exact revenge on high-ranking officials and yet keeping the blood off their own hands. As high-profile murders begin to take place during an election year, Patel and his FBI counterpart must work from the outside to gain new and covert access to the VT2 data, saving lives and yet tracking those who are most likely to become violent. All of this has major implications, especially with the true puppet master still lurking in the shadows. A decent follow-up piece that seeks to delve a little deeper into the story and keep the reader questioning every plot twist. Van Fleisher does well here, but the story lacked the punch I would have hoped, coming off a successful debut novel.

While I know some panned Fleisher’s opening piece as being too silly or even a novel that seeks to ride on the coattails of current events, I quite enjoyed the banter between characters and how he developed his plot. There was a great deal of potential with this piece, as it sought to look a little deeper into the Final Notice aspect of the VT2 watch and look at those who use this as a means to tie up their personal loose ends and exact some revenge, knowing they will not face the consequences. However, the story got wonky part way in and never really was able to right itself effectively. The thriller aspect of Patel trying to work from the outside propelled the piece forward, but there were countless instances where interactions between characters seemed inserted to fill space rather than develop the story effectively. The premise of the book had much potential, though I think it got bogged down throughout the meandering narrative and over abundance of plot points. The mix of chapter lengths helped balance out some of the less than strong storytelling, as I could push through shorter portions and set the book down until I had a mental reset. Fleisher can tell a story, there is no doubt, and his choice to inject some social commentary throughout is never a bad thing. I do wonder, however, if a reworking to sharpen and strengthen this piece could help create a better duology on the topic. I think Fleisher might want to hire a new editorial team to help him define a stronger story that will sell and perhaps look back to his debut novel, finding its strengths and building on them, rather than trying to toss so much into the book and hope to please everyone with a little something here and there!

Kudos, Mr. Fleisher, for a decent second novel. There are a mix of good and bad things for me, but I hope those who read both novels get the larger themes and points you see to address.

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

Time to Pay the Piper, by Andrew Mooney

Eight stars

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

After struggling with a few attempts at reading the work of new authors, I entered this experience with some trepidation. However, after finishing a few chapters of Andrew Mooney’s book, I could not stop reading this political thriller that pushes the envelope in all ways I enjoy. Special Assistant Director of the CIA, David Seagull, has a secret that he wants to share with the President of the United States (POTUS), which could alleviate many of the financial woes facing America. Pulling on knowledge his father garnered during World War Two, Seagull convinces POTUS to target those who utilise the American welfare system, a major drag on the financial pursestrings. POTUS authorizes a Nazi-tested disease be placed in the flu vaccinations mandated for all those using the welfare system, thereby ensuring that many of America’s poorest will die in short order. Seagull has covered his own ass by secretly investing in stocks that will benefit him in the worst possible case of insider trading. While he is careful, Seagull’s antics are discovered by two men running an online journal across the Atlantic. Meanwhile, China takes the bold move to stop funding America’s financial shortfalls and will no longer buy treasury certificates, as well as a few other major fiscal policies that rock the world. Back in America, Seagull tries to stay one step ahead of those who are trying to find him, especially since his master plan is wavering. The same anonymity cannot be offered to POTUS, who is implicated in this scheme to kill many of his own. Will America be able to weather the storm and become great again? Mooney leaves it to the reader to discover in this well-paced political thriller. Recommended to those who love a political story with some great spins, as well as those who enjoy something with traces of ‘End of Days’.

What a way to end ‘debut’ slumps, as Andrew Mooney blows this book out of the water. I could not stop reading once I got started and wished this could have been longer and more detailed. With a few great storylines, I could not find a definite protagonist, though David Seagull could be one worth the moniker. All the characters in the piece came together in their own ways to create a wonderful story that pulls the reader in for quite the journey. Mooney seeks to keep things relatively realistic with this piece, tapping into a few financial crises that spin out of control with each passing chapter. While a few of the scenarios developing at a pace and with outcomes I would not expect, the reader will have to suspend some of their preconceived notions and ride the wave of this story. With some strong writing and short chapters to propel the piece forward, I could not help but devour large portions of the piece in one sitting. That being said, I could see how this political thriller could have been turned into a series, even a trilogy of sorts. Mooney could easily draw out aspects of this book to lay the foundation for something longer, delving into the China plot over one book, the hunt for Seagull in another, as well as the political fallout that POTUS faced. That being said, the compact nature of the book left me excited and wanting more. Less a doomsday story where the apocalypse is here and people are eating one another, this piece packs a punch and should not be missed by those who like political thrillers with strong characters and a great deal of action.

Kudos, Mr. Mooney, for this great piece. You won me over and I am eager to see what else you pen in the years to come.

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

The Girl in the Game (Ray of Darkness #3), by John Manchester

Out of respect for the reader and publisher, because I did not finish the book, I will not provide a star rating.

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

Always eager to try new authors, I turned to John Manchester, who seeks to follow in his father’s footsteps and carve his way onto the literary scene. While the elder Manchester dazzled me with his historical tomes, John seeks to tap into another of my favourite genres, psychological thrillers. Reedsy offered me this third book in the series, though I did try at the beginning. I made it just over 12% in and restarted to see if I needed a mental reset. However, this second read of the first book failed to grab me. I turned to this third book, in hopes that it was just a failed plot that could not draw me in. However, I stumbled here and decided that I am just not able to grasp this series at this time.

The style of writing is strong and I can see how Manchester would lure readers in with the premise of his piece, with a man who is trying to become an author while living in a spooky museum-type residence. I had hoped to like the book and the series, as it does have a certain eerie nature that can really work well. Manchester seems eager to toss a lot in the lap of his protagonist, Ray, though I could not find myself connecting with the man or his various foibles. I am sure there is a group out there who are able to devour and laud these books, but I cannot count myself among them. For now, I will stand aside and let established or more patient fans of John Manchester read and review these books. I may, for now, have to still to the elder Manchester when I return to books by authors with this surname. Then again, everything is worth another look a few months down the road.

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

Killer’s Bible, by Calvin Loch

As I did not finish this piece, I will not offer a star rating!

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

Always eager to try new authors, I had my eye on this one for a while. Calvin Loch, who chose to write as anonymous, pens this piece that seeks to lure readers in, as he describes his life of a killer who is able to mask his identity. While that may work for some, I made it 25% in and could not handle it. I tried a second time and made it to the same point before I chose to toss in the towel. While some would say that I ought to give it an ‘old college try’ for an Advance Reading Copy (ARC), I have always told myself that if I cannot get hooked after trying it twice, I will admit defeat.

In a story that opens with a recent interviewing by the FBI on the grounds of a US Embassy in a foreign country, the reader is expected to be wowed and impressed that Calvin Loch is being questioned. How could people have apparently died innocently and yet the forensics say otherwise? Loch tries to spin the story away from him, knowing the entire time that he was to blame? From there, a rewind and flashbacks to when Loch first got a taste to kill and how he sought to use that as an alcohol of sorts to sate him. For as far as I got, Loch played big man on campus as he sought to chill the reader with his blazé nature. It did not work for me and I was highly disappointed.

This novel could and should have been much more in my eyes. I did not find the writing to be poor or even the structuring. I just could not link myself to anything on the page and felt it was a little too vapid for me. While Reedsy expects 400 words in a review, I am not sure if I will get there, as I have been left with such little impact. And, perhaps he is trying to be cute by penning the piece as anonymous and then using his name (I understand it could be a pseudonym) seems cocky to the max. Use a fake name on the author line if that is your ploy. I am sure others will love it, but it was not for me and I am thankful I received a free ARC, as I would surely be queuing up to return this, had I paid anything.

Kudos, Mr. Loch for your efforts and apparent awesomeness for being an active killer. To me, you come off as a tool.

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

I Am Justice, by Lara Coates

Nine stars

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

Always eager to try new authors, I turned to Lara Coates and her debut novel, an Australian police procedural. In a story that has a bit of everything, Coates keeps the reader entertained throughout and adds a little twist at every turn. When the body of a young woman is found in a fishing shack outside Melbourne, Detective Sergeant Will Carter is called to the scene. He peers at the mutilated body with ‘Justice’ carved in it and is unsure of what to make of what is before him. With a past in as a profiler in the FBI’s Criminal Investigation Division, Carter has seen it all, but there is little on which to begin this investigation, as clues and forensics are sparse. While Carter and his team seek any leads, another body is found, severely mutilated in ways few in the Victorian Police Force could imagine. When the first victim is identified, Carter uses this as a foothold to begin creating a list of plausible suspects. It seems that both victims have recently had their day in court, vindicated for crimes of which they were accused. With the killer lurking in the shadows, seeking to instil justice for those who slipped through the cracks, the next victim is anyone’s guess. An interesting story that reads quickly and keeps the reader guessing throughout, with a curious cliffhanger to end it. Recommended to those who enjoy police procedurals, particularly the reader who enjoys something a little outside the usual American or British settings in this expanding genre.

This debut novel proved to be a wonderful launching point for me to explore this up and coming novelist. I allowed this blank slate to permit me to opportunity to dive into this book with no preconceived notions or expectations, particularly since I can find no one else who has read and reviewed this book. DS Will Carter has quite the backstory, which is developed in a parallel narrative throughout this piece, including a discussion about how he arrived in Melbourne from the tough streets of Los Angeles. Bringing that history to his new position, Carter is able to work through the nuances of a serial killer with an axe to grind. The reader will surely find some connection to Carter, even if he seems somewhat preachy in the opening chapters. Others complement Carter’s work quite well, helping to strengthen the overall reading experience while flavouring the story in unique ways. The story kept moving as the plot evolved, using short chapters and numerous cliffhangers to keep the reader wanting to read ‘just a little more’. Coates pulls the reader in and does not let go until the final reveal. This debut is soon to be followed by two more books, whose blurbs appear at the end and which I am sure to read when they are released. Told in such a way that the story can be read in a single sitting, this is one author not to be missed by those who enjoy this genre.

Kudos, Madam Coates, for this intriguing piece of work. I will be back to read more and hope others take the plunge!

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

Quando Dormo (When I Sleep), by Edward Izzi

Eight stars

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

After recently discovering the work of Edward Izzi, I cannot get enough of his thrillers, which pull the reader into the middle of many heart-thumping scenarios. Dr. David Fazio is an obstetrician in Chicago with quite the reputation. His strong, pro-life views have made his work somewhat controversial, as he refuses to perform any abortive procedures on expectant mothers. This has been made even more controversial with the recent passage of a partial-birth abortion bill by the Illinois legislature. Not only is Fazio known for his strong views, but he is quite the Casanova, having gone through and disposed of many nurses on the maternity ward. His sexual prowess cannot be denied, but he has amassed enough enemies to fill the entire ward. When he wakes from a horrible nightmare, Fazio discovers that his hands are burnt. Not long thereafter, news emerges that a family planning clinic on the other side of the street is up in flames, with people still inside. Fazio’s history of sleeping issues, paired with his arrival in various locales without his knowledge does him no good, as he wonders what might be going on. One of the fire battalion chiefs and a detective with the CPD also begin to wonder if he might have played a role. When a second family planning clinic goes up in flames and Fazio is in the area, unsure how he made it to his car, he heads the list of suspects being considered the Abortion Arsonist. He has all the trademark signs and refuses to back away from his staunch pro-life views. But, with so many who wish to see him come tumbling down, might someone be trying to point the finger at the doctor? In a story that does not allow the reader any chance to catch their breath, Izzi spins a tale like no other. Recommended for those who love high-velocity thrillers, as well as the reader who can handle the politics of the abortion debate.

I cannot say enough about Edward Izzi, particularly his writing skills. Izzi lays the groundwork for a sensational story and builds on it from there, never taking a moment to lull the reader into some form of calm. David Fazio serves as a wonderful protagonist, even if he may not be loved by all readers. His strong views on the abortion question are bluntly presented throughout, but seem overshadowed by his desire to conquer all women with his wiles. Fazio comes from a strong Italian family, but seems more interested in bedding whomever crosse his path. Add to that, his horrible sleeping patterns and dreams that leave him wondering what he might have done. Fazio is surely in a conflicted state and one the reader will want to explore more thoroughly in this piece. Other characters serve to prop up Fazio’s various life choices throughout, while also adding depth to some of the plot lines that Edward Izzi seeks to explore. As with all the novels, there are some returning characters, though they play background roles, not impeding the flow of the story or the strength of the core characters. While all novels are stand-alones, the reader can get a little glimpse of some character development for these returning individuals, should they wish. The premise of the story was quite masterful, serving to address the abortion topic, sleep issues, and one man’s attempt to rise above both. Izzi mentioned having some loose ties to the Fazio character, which makes the story even stronger. I cannot wait to see what else is to come, for Edward Izzi has surely made a fan out of me. Brilliant work and so poignant!

Kudos, Mr. Izzi, for addressing so many hot-topic issues, if you pardon the pun. I love how I can get lost in the story and yet learn so much!

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

The Note Man, by Andrew Pine

Seven stars

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

Drawn to the premise of Andrew Pine’s book, I settled in to see if the actual novel would be as exciting. There were certainly some moments, after a slow start to the narrative. Peter Jeffries is going through his mid-life crisis after being made redundant at his place of work. Unsure how he will tell his wife and teenage daughter, Peter begins to notice the world around him and is not impressed. He comes to realise just how poorly people in Boston drive, not using their signal lights and being much more erratic than needed. Peter wonders if there is something he can do, wanting to make a difference and leave the roads safer. When not looking for work, Peter devises a plan to leave notes on the windshields of offending drivers, in hopes of jarring them into following the rules. Using short messages on Post-It notes, Peter begins his crusade as “The Note Man”, watching from a distance. He notices mixes results and decides to deliver follow-up notes to those who do not heed the warning on their windshields. When one of his notes results in a reaction he did not expect, Peter is left in a quandary, having crossed one of the Irish Mob’s senior officials. While they cannot identify him directly, Peter is surely on their radar. Aware of a crime that has been committed while he was staking out one of his notes, Peter is determined to create new ways of letting the Irish know he is onto them. Flirting with danger, Peter cannot help himself, even if it means the safety of those around him might be in jeopardy. An interesting read that I was able to do in quick order. Those readers who can suffer through a little bit of a slow opening will likely enjoy this piece.

Road rage is nothing new in this day and age, so much so that Pine opens the novel with a fictionalised account of an incident he witnessed outside of Boston. Turning this issue into a full-length novel, with the protagonist serving as a vigilante who is trying to find his place in the world was surely a genius move. Peter Jeffries plays his literary role well as he finds himself looking at the wrong end of employment. Trying to connect with his wife and daughter proves easier some days than others, though he is determined not to get lost in the shuffle. When he takes up his vigilante role of trying to make the streets of Boston a little safer, the reader sees a different side to Peter, one in which he has shed the humble accountant and finds a new boldness. Other characters surely add to the story, particularly in the latter half of the book. The reader will find things pick up with the addition of these new and more nefarious cast of individuals. The story flowed rather well, once Pine got the initial lugubrious foundation out of the way. Once the narrative picked up, the reader could surely find themselves feeling things gaining momentum. Mid-length chapters do not deter the reader from flowing through, as I did in a single day. While I rarely become critical of aspects other than the literary nature of a book, I cannot end this review without bringing to light of literal gaffes that were highly bothersome. Spelling and grammatical errors peppered the book, basic things that should not have been overlooked. In addition, Pine seems to be fighting with how to express time, as in the actual hour of the day. At times it is 6:15pm, others 6.15, while 18h15 and 18h15pm also make appearances. This sloppiness should never have made it to print and I hope you take back any money you paid an editor, Mr. Pine. If you did not invest in one, do so. This sloppy display cheapens the novel and cost one star in the rating. Take pride in the work before rushing things to print.

Kudos, Mr. Pine, for a great concept. If only it had not been muddied with grammar school gaffes!

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

Wake the Devil, by Ryan Adam

Six stars

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

Having never read anything by Ryan Adam beforehand, I was drawn in solely by the blurb on the dust jacket. That short summary promised a mix of mystery and some historical fiction, peppered with a touch of reality to leave the reader to parse through what they might like to believe. Truman Newirth arrives in New Orleans to take possession of a piece of property left to him by his family. Newirth has come from San Francisco and certainly senses the great difference. her in the Big Easy. When he discovers that the building of which he is about to take possession has ties to the Axeman Murders of the early 20th century, he is both disgusted and intrigued, hoping to learn more. The story then travels back to 1917, to a time in New Orleans when the city is being haunted by a killer, the Axeman. This character has targeted Italians, beginning by sneaking into their house though the kitchen door. After making their way to the bedroom, the Axeman hacked them to bits, leaving a bloody mess in his wake. Both the police and the local newspaper are baffled, unsure how to make sense of it all. Could it be a crude new means of Mafioso vengeance? Reporter Johnathan Newirth—great-grandfather to Truman—works diligently on the greatest story of his young career, unable to crack the code. When the Axeman publishes an ultimatum, everyone waits to see who might be next to die by the axe, and whether the authorities have the gumption to make an arrest that will save the city from future worry. The tale spans both time periods and it is only revelations at the end that ensure the reader better understands the Axeman and the crimes that shook New Orleans a century ago. Interesting in its premise, though I found myself drowning in the narrative. Hopefully others will be able to extract the spark of intrigue that I could not locate throughout my reading experience.

While the book appeared to have all the ingredients for success, I could not follow the direction that Ryan Adam sought to take the reader in this publication. Working in two time periods, one would have thought the mystery would have added depth and interest, but the opening section, set in 2004, seemed like an extended prologue that would not end. I kept looking to see why the reader needed to learn so much about Truman and this house he had enter his possession, learning only that Adam seemed to want to build up some curiosity that is sated only when the story flashes back in time. The bulk of the story, set in 1917-19, has some potential, as the city is reeling from these blood-filled murders. Why are Italians being targeted and who might be next? What motive might someone have to do this horrible killings and how are they able to stay off the radar of an accomplished police force and a witty journalist. I cannot pinpoint where things went wrong for me, but I can garner the sense that Adam’s writing did not stand off the page for me. It seemed to flow with ease and the story did move forward, but I could not find myself drawn to want to read thoroughly and intensely to discover how things would resolve themselves. It is a pity, for I was looking forward to a gripping story and gritty murder investigation—both from the angles of the police and a journalist—but was left feeling as though someone was sawing my neck with an old butter knife. Perhaps the brilliance is embedded in there for others, but I surely missed it in my reading experience. A mix of chapter lengths and the two time periods leave the reader wanting to learn a little more, as well as using what looks to be time-appropriate language and headline-grabbing sentences. Adam may simply have missed the mark for me, but I encourage others to see if this book is as riveting as the blurb makes it seem to be.

Kudos, Mr. Adam, for a good effort. I think you may have just lost me in this one. I’d be willing to try another of your books, or return to this one, down toe road.

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

Cabal (Cal Rogan #5), by Robert P. French

Eight stars

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

Having binge-read all four previous books by Robert P. French in as many days, I was eager to get my hands on this latest novel in the Cal Rogan series. When a terrorist bomb explodes in Ottawa, the reverberations can be felt as far away as Vancouver. Cal Rogan is approached by one of his friends from his life on the streets, asking that he look into finding the next of kin for a fellow homeless man who was recently killed. Rogan agrees, knowing that this will be a pro bono case, something he will have to sell to his partner. At Stammo Rogan Investigations, Nick Stammo is meeting with a man whose wife has a habit of disappearing weekly for unknown reasons. After meeting together, Stammo and Rogan pursue their cases, only to discover a connection between the dead homeless man and the terrorist attack in Ottawa. Further documents on the man’s possession show that there may have been illegal goings-on at the top of the Canadian Government. While Stammo follows his own leads, he discovers something equally disturbing and a woman roped into staying quiet. As Rogan and Stammo work to reveal just how sinister things are within the Canadian Government, their lives are thrust into danger, alongside an intelligence officer and a journalist who knows how to press just the right buttons. The safety of all involved hang in the balance in this stunning crime thriller that exemplifies how some use power to pursue nefarious actions. French continues to impress with this series, sure to pull any curious reader into the middle of something exciting. Recommended to those who love crime thrillers with a political twist, as well as those who enjoy something with a little more Canadian flavour.

Any good series deserves some binge reading and Robert P. French’s novels surely rank above some of the best I have read for a long time. Over the past few days, I have learned a great deal about Cal Rogan and his rise back to a degree of normalcy, but also the constant blips on the screen when it comes to his family and the heroin habit that haunts him. Rogan seems to have accepted that he will never be able to find solace with his ex-wife and daughter, as he thrusts them into constant danger no matter what happens. He keep in touch as best he can, but is also willing to move forward and find new sparks in his life. Those sparks are tempered with a return to heroin, something that can be attributed to the loss of his family. However, Rogan will not set aside his passion to help others, pursuing mysteries wherever they lead him. This was the most harrowing story in the series to date, seeing Rogan head to the nation’s capital to track down a killer and collection of villains whose entire purpose is the cause havoc. Nick Stammo remains a strong secondary characters as well, coming out of his shell but also putting himself at risk to the extreme. There are other key characters who place writhing the book could surely enhance the series, should they stick around. That being said, any solo character appearance in this piece enriches the narrative and adds depth to the various plots. The story remained as strong as any other French novel and kept moving at a break-neck pace, only adding to the reader’s enjoyment. With a mix of perspectives woven into the different chapters, I am eager to see what else French has to come, keeping the reader on the edge of their seats while injecting some harrowing plots throughout. This is definitely strong thriller writing with a Canadian flavour, something I thoroughly enjoy. I hope others will take the time to enjoy this series as well.

Kudos, Mr. French, for another explosive thriller. I am eager to see what else Cal Rogan and Nick Stammo might face, allowing me to further my interest in this series.

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

Van, by Ramsay Elise

Seven stars

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

Always up for a good horror novel, I was drawn to this recently published piece, in hopes that Ramsay Elise could pique my attention. The premise seemed good and left me wanted to know a little more about her horror-filled tale with Norwegian undertones. When Alexander Gunderson settles in Minnesota, he has more than his luggage from Norway. Gunderson discovers a Dökkálfar, a dark elf from Norwegian lore in the woods behind his home. Rather than kill Gunderson, the Dökkálfar strikes a deal with him and takes over a van the retired car salesman owned. Anyone who owns a van of this nature is susceptible to becoming a vicious killer, controlled by the Dökkálfar. From a local serial killer in Minnesota to a killer who targeted Spring Break revellers in Florida, the Dökkálfar has been working hard to bring out bloodshed. However, the ultimate test will be Alexander’s great-grandson, Thomas, who must face off against the Dökkálfar and remove the pall enveloping the small Minnesota community. As Thomas returns to the town of his birth, he realises that much remains the same, with the Dökkálfar still lurking in the woods. To destroy the pact his great-grandfather made will be harder and more troubling than he could have imagined, but there is a sense of determination to see it through. An interesting tale that allows Elise to fan the flames on the Norse stories of old. While not entirely my type of book, there are surely some who will revel in its plot.

There is always a gamble when one discovers a new author, unsure how things will turn out and whether it will be worth the time spent reading. I have had many such moments in my reading career and today was another of them. I cannot take anything away from Ramsay Elise or the effort she put into this book, as I can see a gem in the premise and some of the plot developments. However, there is something lacking here, that would add much to the horror and terror, rather than simply serving as a tepid presentation of some past Norse elf with evil tendencies. I liked what was published as a skeletal outline for a larger and more complex piece, as it is sure to keep the reader on their toes, but Elise needs a great deal of time and effort to hash out what it add and how to bulk things up. The chapters flowed well and the three sections of the book proved useful (as did the Norse symbols to divide them), but I would be remiss to let this book stand as stellar or ready to dazzle the general public. More work and assistance would surely help Ramsay Elise rise to the top of her genre.

Kudos, Madam Elise, for a good effort. I’d read a more bulked up piece, should you have one down the road.

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

Demons of Divine Wrath, by Edward Izzi

Eight stars

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

Having stumbled upon Edward Izzi while perusing Reedsy Discovery, I found one of his books that pulled me in and would not let go until I reached the final sentence. Back for more, I thought I would try another of Izzi’s pieces, which has some similar themes and proved to be just as addictive. Don Carlo Marchese, one of Chicago’s most notorious mobsters, is found hanging out the window of his apartment building. This sends shockwaves across the city and journalist, Paul Crawford, is set to investigate. Might this be the latest mob hit in a city full of crime families? Crawford finds nothing, which only furthers his curiosity and has him delve deeper. Meanwhile, an old man dies from an apparent gas leak in Munich, which has his nephew, an art gallery curator, turning up to ensure a vast number of paintings stay in the family. These pieces are all extremely costly and were, at one time, part of the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. As the story goes, the Vatican sent a number of their collection to Uffizi, protecting it from the Nazis. However, Hitler had other ideas and duped the gallery into ‘selling’ them for a reasonable cost, allowing Hitler to set-up his own private collection. When Munich police try to press the issue with their Chicago guest, both he and the collection soon vanish. These events reach the ears of the recently retired pope, who has been tasked with reclaiming the Vatican’s works once kept at Uffizi, but not for sentimental reasons. Using their intermediary, Don Carlo Marchese, the Vatican tries to buy back what was rightfully theirs. Paul Crawford trips on some of this information while teamed up with another journalist, traveling to Italy so that he can write the sensational story that culminated in Marchese’s death. With many groups vying for the Uffizi collection, much blood will be shed, but Crawford will have to survive and pen his story to make the sacrifice worth the effort. Addictive until the final sentence, Izzi is an author not to be missed by readers who want something well worth their time. Recommended to those who like a great thriller with historical undertones, as well as the reader who finds mafia stories right up their alley.

It’s nice to discover new authors by accident and even more so when the books are of such high caliber. An accountant by training, Edward Izzi surely has a secret talent for writing, as this is the second of his books that I have devoured. One might presume Paul Crawford is the protagonist in this book, unearthing much as he tries to piece together this most dangerous investigation before becoming a victim himself. While he is stopped repeatedly, told the story has no legs, Crawford forges ahead and pieces things together at breakneck speed. Other characters help develop the numerous plot lines effectively, including those dealing with the mafia and Vatican. They complement and contrast one another so well that the reader will feel as though their are in the middle of the action. Of great interest to me, there are some recurring characters from the other book I read, though their presence is minimal at best. With a strong plot, Izzi is able to tell his story effectively and keep the reader guessing until the very end. His style of writing and quick chapters help pull the reader into the middle of the narrative and does not lose any of its momentum. If I had an issue to address, it would be some chapter organization and labelling, which appears not to be unique to this novel. The story leaps around, running a narrative that needs some reorganization or ‘time labelling’ to help the reader better understand the ongoing progress of the story and how to file it chronologically. Once the reader is well into this piece, they will understand what I mean. Izzi offers a chilling look into the way artwork from the Second World War was handled and how the Nazi pillages resonate even at present, with new fingers getting dirty and seeking to extort.

Kudos, Mr. Izzi for another stellar novel. I have located your third and will rush to begin it now.

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

Where’s…Eli? (Al and Mick Forte #2), by Alex S. Avitabile

Eight stars

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

Having devoured the debut in the Al and Mick Forte series, I could not wait to see what else Alex S. Avitabile had in store for readers in this follow-up piece. Full of drama and some not so legal language, Avitabile entertains the reader throughout. Al Forte has a great relationship with his cousin, Mick, to the point that he is willing to help in most situations. When Eli Ativa arrives at Forte’s office, Al is willing to loan out his laptop to a fellow lawyer, though only after a little negotiating. Eli, cousin to Mick on their mothers’ side, has never posed any issues to Al before and the laptop arrives back later that day without an issue. When Al receives some calls from his bank the following day, he is baffled to learn that his accounts have been emptied, including client escrow accounts for his real estate transactions. Al is beside himself, particularly when he discovers the account draining occurred while he was fast asleep, his laptop off and in the next room. Eli is also MIA, leaving Al to wonder if there is some degree of guilt to be laid at the feet of Mr. Ativa. When the bank refuses to back Al’s version of events and the New York Bar sends notice of an upcoming hearing, Al engages the services of his cousin to help find Eli and get some answers. The timeline of Eli’s period with the laptop is sketchy, but a waitress at the local coffee shop might be able to shed some light on everything. Eli remains on the lam, only helping to further insinuate that he is guilty of something. When the day comes for Al Forte to face the charges of mismanagement of the escrow accounts, the hearing takes an interesting twist, revealing a truth that no one could have seen coming. Another good legal thriller by Alex Avitabile, which reads with ease and it lighter fare than I am used to tackling. Recommended to those who have an interest in novels that can be devoured in short order, as well as the reader who enjoys a unique legal thriller.

I was pleased yet again with the second novel in this series, allowing me to acclimate to Alex S. Avitabile’s writing style and a handful of his characters. Al Forte returns and is apparently happy to be working in real estate—after a harrowing experience in the debut—wanting no trouble or waves in his practice. When he becomes the victim of financial ruin, he turns to the only man that might be able to help, less to solve things violently and more to get some answers. Avitabile uses the story to show the gritty and determined side of Al Forte, especially when his back is up against a wall. Refusing to accept defeat, Al does whatever he can to clear his name, sure that he will be disbarred otherwise. Other characters emerge throughout this piece, some returning characters and others new to the scene, all of whom keep the narrative moving effectively. The entertainment factor is increased with many of these characters, some of whom provide the stereotypical mobster mentality. While Avitabile seeks not to create a hard-core legal thriller, he entertains and keeps things serious enough to show how the law works when the cogs run effectively. Avitabile conveys his point through a mix of chapter lengths and legal angles, which keeps the reader wanting to read a little more. I was able to read this in a single day—and I did the debut—and am eager to read more, should Alex S. Avitabile have additional ideas he wishes to publish down the road. I hope others will take the time to look into these books when they need something shorter that does not dilute the legal issues at hand.

Kudos, Mr. Avitabile, for this great series. I am quite intrigued and want to know more about both the Forte men in the coming months.

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

Occupational Hazard (Al and Mick Forte #1), by Alex S. Avitabile

Eight stars

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

With two of Alex Avitabile’s books to read, I thought I would jump into this series head-on and hope for the best. Al Forte is a hard-working lawyer, but has a bad feeling about his firm’s annual culling process. When he sits down with senior partner, Gordon Gilbert, his worst fears are realised. Forte is told that his services are no longer needed and given two weeks to tie-up all his work. When he is sent on his way, Forte receives a call from another former colleague with a legal concern. Mary Woodley was once a receptionist at the firm and found herself in a compromising position with Gordon Gilbert. While she admits that she was a wiling participant in their sexual encounter, she was dismissed soon after it was discovered that she was pregnant. Seeking child support and an acknowledgement of Gilbert’s paternity, Woodley asks Forte to help. Having spent his entire legal career in real estate law, Forte is not well-versed in what to do, but will do his best and ask around. When no one else can help run the case, Forte takes the lead, turning to his cousin, Mick, to help with some of the darker sides of the law. With Al pushing for a paternity test and a reasonable child support payment, Gilbert does all he can to stonewall, using the high-priced attorneys one would expect a man of his caliber to have on retainer. Al and Mick do their best to prepare Mary for the hearing, but some sleight of hand lands Al in jail for breaching the confidentiality of the issue at hand. Working to ensure Gordon Gilbert does not get the upper hand again, Al and Mick Forte will do anything they can, even if it means bending the rules. A decent legal thriller, lighter than what I am used to reading, it is surely a great way to spend an afternoon of reading. Recommended to those who like quick novels that can be devoured in short order, as well as the reader who enjoys a legal thriller with a twist.

I was pleased with this series debut, which allowed me to learn a little more about Alex S. Avitabile and his handful of interesting characters. Al Forte is a character whose interest in the law is second only to wanting to save face. After his dismissal, Forte seeks to right the wrongs that have befallen him and the client who falls into his lap. Cunning and willing to work outside the box, Al Forte calls on his cousin, Mick, to help in some of the grey areas of the law. Their partnership is sure to work well throughout the series, as Avitabile weaves a great connection between these two. Other characters emerge throughout this piece that keeps the narrative moving effectively while entertaining the reader. These characters, some of whom I hope to see again, provide different angles to a story that is light, while being serious in some regards. While Avitabile is not seeking to create a hard-core legal thriller, he does well with this piece, pushing a serious issue while also adding momentum with each chapter. Avitabile is able to convey his point quickly and uses short chapters to keep the reader wanting to read a little more. I was able to read this in a single day and am eager to read the second book in the series, as the writer is way to digest and the characters somewhat relatable.

Kudos, Mr. Avitabile, for this great series debut. I will move to the next book in the series to see if things are just as good.

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

A Rose from the Executioner, by Edward Izzi

Nine stars

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

New to the work of Edward Izzi, I relied heavily on the dust jacket synopsis for this one, which pulled me in quickly. The same can be said for this fast-paced mystery that mixes great police work with the darkest aspects of the Catholic Church in America. When an old man is found murdered in his basement, Detective Phillip Dorian is called in to help some of his Chicago PD colleagues. The body has been completely gutted and a single rose sits in the pool of blood.The man’s backstory is clean as can be, which baffles everyone. His work with the Chicago Catholic Archdiocese does not raise any flags either, baffling Dorian as he seeks to piece the case together. It is only when a life insurance policy in the amount of $5 million comes to light that things get a little questionable. It would seem the Archdiocese has many of these policies on their former priests, said to be a means to help with the insurmountable costs of settling sexual abuse cases. As Dorian digs a little deeper, he discovers that his victim might not be as pristine as first thought, though the Church refuses to cooperate by revealing what they know. Meanwhile, the Monseigneur assigned to Chicago’s cardinal has been in touch with the local crime family to see about a ‘hitman for hire’ scenario, where those who possess some of the aforementioned policies might meet an untimely death. This juicy tidbit reaches Dorian, though he is stonewalled the more he tries to learn. When more old men turn up dead, Dorian cannot help but wonder if there is someone targeting paedophile priests. Slow going, Dorian is all but forced off the case, even as he discovers what might be a secret society working within Chicago, so off the radar that even members do not know one another. As the case gains momentum and clues begin to come together, Dorian will have to hope that he has cracked the pattern before more men turn up dead. Izzi stuns readers with the complexities of this story, though it remains highly readable. Recommended to those who enjoy multi-faceted crime thrillers that leave little time to rest, as well as the reader who can handle raw focus on Catholic sexual abuse cover-ups.

I had no idea that this is the type of story that would emerge from this book. I am not complaining in the least, but it is by no means a light or easy read. The reader is subjected to a great deal of raw and intense writing by Edward Izzi, who lays it all out there and lets things progress as they will. Phillip Dorian appears to play the protagonist role, trying to crack this case wide open and working under veils of secrecy and pressure from the Church to let things be. Izzi develops his protagonist with some interesting backstory, a divorced man with children and a grandchild, who still has a strong connection to the Church, but puts work ahead of all else. His attention to detail can sometimes work in his favour, though he has his own foibles, which the reader will discover. He is thorough, which helps as the case progresses. Others who complement Dorian help move the story along well. There are numerous heroes and a handful of horrible men who grace the pages, as Izzi seeks to paint both sets as completely as possible. The story itself is stunning in its detail and degree of disturbance. Izzi chooses to pull the veil back and—at times—graphically discuss some of the abuse that occurred in years past at the hands of the priests. Izzi develops certain flashback chapters that tell of different happenings, which ties in nicely with the modern story. The addition of this secret society is told in such a wonderful manner that the reader can almost feel as though they are present throughout. The narrative is kept strong and the momentum does not let up, powered by short chapters full of information. If I had a single concern, it would be the order in which some of the chapters are presented. Without revealing too much, there is a semi-chronology needed to impact the ‘abuse’ and the ‘resolution’ for the reader, though Izzi has a few chapters that refer to the aforementioned society that are out of place and leave a portion of the story somewhat jagged. There are sure to be some who feel Izzi relies too much on the stereotypical views of the Church and priests, though this view has been substantiated by many over the years. His raw and blunt writing shines a light on something that has—and remains—a thorn in the side and needs attention.

Kudos, Mr. Izzi, for a fabulous piece. I cannot say enough about it and hope others find this read just as riveting.

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

The Puzzlemaker: Murder is Only a Word Away, by Brian Christopher

Eight stars

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

New to the review platform Reedsy Discovery and the world of Brian Christopher’s writing, I was eager to try this novel, whose dust jacket blurb made it highly intriguing with a side order of mind-bending. George Withers has worked for the Times (UK) over the past three decades, in charge of their crossword puzzles. These mind-numbing pieces culminate each week with the Sunday puzzle, not for the rank amateur. While he is quite reclusive, George does have a few acquaintances from over the years, including one from MI6 who has a special request. George is to embed a handful of words and clues into an upcoming puzzle. George does so without blinking an eye and hopes for the best. In a small Serbian community, Dragan Nikolic discovers his son’s body, victim of an apparent hit. Seeing some of the clues around the body, Nikolic cannot help but wonder if the latest Times crossword could be responsible for passing along a message, one with lethal fallouts. A former mercenary under Tito’s Yugoslavian regime, Nikolic makes his way to London, seeking answers from George Withers. At the same time, George finds his friend has been murdered, wondering if those same clues might be the reason. When Nikolic and George spend some time together, it is anything but a joyful encounter, though George professes to know nothing about what they clues might mean and who could be responsible. When the police become involved for what appears to be a third-rate geriatric assault on London streets, there is much more to the story and Nikolic is sought for his past war crimes. As he stays off the streets, he has a close eye on George, who vows to crack the code and discover who might be responsible for these two deaths before he becomes the next victim of Nikolic’s vicious temper. Full of wonderful cryptic comments and a built-in crossword for the reader to complete, Brian Christopher provides an entertaining piece of writing that will have readers up late trying to crack the code. Recommended for those who love a good mystery and can handle a little pain along the way.

My debut experience with Brian Christopher’s work was quite pleasurable and left me hoping that there is more to come in the future. Christopher pens an excellent crime thriller and does so with a few strong underlying plot twists that keeps the reader intrigued throughout George Withers is a quiet man, but one who is quite complex below the surface. His work with MI6 left him as one of the UK’s most valued cryptologists and perfect for the position of crossword god at the Times. While strong academically, he lacks a great deal of social and life skills, forcing him to rely on others, as he does throughout the piece. His interactions are some of the most interesting throughout the book, as Christopher portrays him as somewhat bumbling and yet keen to find answers, if only to save more torture. Other characters, including that of Dragan Nikolic, serve the story well, injecting their own perspective and flavouring, which propels the story forward and keeps the reader wanting to know more. Christopher develops these secondary characters well to enhance George Withers, but also contrast nicely with all he does throughout the book. I found the plot to be strong and the narrative moved things along quite well. There were some portions where things could have picked up the pace, but the reader must realise that backstory development is key to a successful novel. Embedding clues to a larger crossword was ingenious and while I will not rush out to complete it, this might be a wonderful task for a reader who seeks an added prize as they read. Brian Christopher’s attention to detail not only added entertainment value, but instilled some realism around code breaking and the complex world of crossword puzzles I had not previously considered. I’ll definitely keep my eyes open for more, particularly if George Withers returns for another cryptic tale.

Kudos, Mr. Christopher, for a strong mystery that added thrills in ways I have not seen before. I am eager to explore some of your other work in the coming months.

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