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: