Legion (Exorcist #2), by William Peter Blatty

Six stars

After having read William Peter Blatty’s iconic work, I was eager to see how this would compare. Labelled “the sequel to The Exorcist”, the book had me quite excited, hoping for something as stellar as that chilling tale that still resonates with me. However, with some similar characters and a loose plot line that extends past the original novel, there was little else that drew me to the piece. Perhaps this was an attempt to extend the horrors, but it went on some painful tangents that left me wondering why I took the time with this piece. Disappointed, but I suppose I can say I’ve read it.

Lieutenant William Kinderman is still working in DC, having spent years trying to come to terms with what happened back in 1971. He’s sent to a few new homicides that are grotesque and haunting in equal measure: a boy who is left crucified, priests murdered in horrible ways, and a nurse who has been slaughtered. They all bear a zodiac sign, a common marking by the Gemini Killer. Kinderman is ready to tackle whatever’s put before him, though he cannot shake the sense that it is nothing good.

Kinderman cannot believe what he’s seeing, as the Gemini Killer has been dead for 12 years. Can this be a copycat out there to keep the killings alive? Kinderman tries to come to terms with it all, working alongside a medical professional, and remembering some of the odd happenings in 1971, around the time Gemini stopped killing. What he comes to discover will haunt him even more, crossing the lines between living and dead in ways never thought possible.

I fully believe that some authors have the gift of being able to pen a novel and continue with that momentum for years to come, either adding to the series or branching out to explore new ideas. While I have only read two of William Peter Blatty’s novels, I am not sure if adding to The Exorcist series was the best idea, much like many of the film additions have been less than successful. Some things are best left to fester in the mind, without adding new layers.

The Kinderman character was odd from the outset and did not get much better as the novel progressed. I found him to be eager to talk in tangents and kept me scratching my head as to why I would care about what he said. His sleuthing skills may be quite effective, but he’s got little substance to really pull the reader in. Both his private and public lives seemed beige to me, even though he talked a big game. Perhaps I wanted something a tad more electrifying in a protagonist. Then again, I was surely playing a comparison game with the series debut and all that could be found within.

It is surely quite difficult to write a sequel to an explosive novel, even if there are some lingering questions. Blatty certainly has some interesting thoughts to share, but I don’t think I connected well with them. Even having read The Exorcist right before, this story did not flow well for me, nor did I find it an enjoyable experience. While there was a great deal of information and I could see the ‘continuation’ of sorts, I was not drawn in by either the writing or premise. The story did seem to make decent progress, even if I did not find myself enjoying much of the plot. There were many tangents that just left me wondering how they fit together, as though Blatty wanted to impress the reader with a bunch of random factoids. There was a loose ‘fear factor’, but I would not call it anything close to the chills found in the series debut. I’ll leave it to others to expound on the book. It was a pass for me.

Kudos, Mr. Blatty, for trying to keep the chills alive. It was tepid for me and I will stick to the original for my exorcism needs.

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

Undercard, by David Albertyn

No rating, as I did not finish this book!

This book was strongly recommended to me by someone on Goodreads. They went so far as to send me a copy for my reading ease. After pushing through the opening part, twice, I have come to see that this novel by David Albertyn was not for me. A boxer who is climbing the ranks and seeking a title shot, but whose past is never too far away. Friends of Antoine are coming out of the woodwork, though is it his fame or something else they find appealing? I suppose Albertyn will draw some readers in, but I just could not find myself want to learn more or even explore how the characters develop.

At a time when I am forced to be at home, with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, I seek books that will pull me in. This is not the first that failed to do so, and will likely not be the last. However, much like the friend who comes over when you want to be doing something else, I could not go 12 rounds with this story and not seek my own TKO!

Kudos, Mr. Albertyn. I hope others are ready for the battle, but this was just not my thing!

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

The Brightest Fell, by Nupur Chowdhury

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

I was approached by the author, who commented on my past reviews and large online friend base, to read and review this book. She talked me up with a spin of political intrigue and a dash of fantasy, hoping that it would pull me in. While Nupur Chowdhury offers both of these elements, I could not get interested in the book, giving it two tries on consecutive days. While I can see much potential here and some decent narrative work, alongside strong dialogue, I was not captivated. A country at war with terrorists holds some serum or injectable item that could make them docile. The country’s government ministers are torn about it, which causes a chasm like no other. Sure, it sounds as though it could be a blockbuster, but it fell flat for me. As I did not finish, I will respect the author and the publication, leaving a star rating blank.

Kudos, Madam Chowdhury, for taking the time to write this and search me out. I may be the odd reader in the mix who could not get hooked, but I prefer honesty rather than false platitudes.

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

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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Hero: The Enduring Myth That Makes us Human, by Lee Child

Seven stars

If you have ever been on public transportation or sat in a location frequented by many you do not know, you will have discovered there is always someone who wants to share their story. Be it a tale from their youth or an anecdote that ties in nicely with what you are doing/reading at that moment, those people exist the world over. The person means well and seems to have something to say they feel will be of upmost importance to you, but all you can do is nod and hope to return to your previously scheduled solo activity. Since I began reading Lee Child novels, I often thought of that person as a personified Jack Reacher. He’s there, does his thing, shares a few stories, and then is out of your life again. Child offers up a book version of the Reacher persona with this publication, wherein he rambles for pages and pages about countless items, with a ‘hero’ theme threading its way from beginning to end and imploring that we, the reader/listener, hark to what is being said. While I love to learn and take great pride in deferring to those who hold the knowledge I desire, this seemed to be a long and meandering discussion that needed proper classification. Child is a masterful writer and knows his stuff (even with this piece), but I wanted something more organized and whose theses could be clearly delineated as I moved from opium to the emergence of Robin Hood as folklore hero. Some will love this publication and others will dislike it to the nth degree. It does not taint my admiration for all things Reacher, but leaves to to wonder what Child did not take all this trivial knowledge and let his well-known protagonist espouse it before wooing his next lady friend!

Kudos, Mr. Child, for an interesting branch-off from your usual fare.

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

Deep State, by Chris Hauty

Seven stars

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

In his debut novel, Chris Hauty takes the reader on a ride with this political thriller. While the premise is there, the book exemplifies that Hauty is a screenwriter and much of the needed impact was missing throughout. Hayley Chill has done well while serving her country. Stationed in Texas, Chill bided her Army time boxing and showing that she ought not be taken for granted. When she is discharged, she scores a coveted position in Washington, as an intern to the President’s Chief of Staff, Chill receives many of the unwanted jobs, but keeps a stiff upper lip. Saving her boss (and POTUS) on one occasion earns her the gratitude of the Commander in Chief. When Chill discovers the Chief of Staff dead in his home one morning, she cannot help but wonder if it was murder. Soon thereafter, she is targeted by someone close to her in an apparent attempt to shut her up. Chill cannot help but wonder if there is a conspiracy being run by Deep State, the faceless group that actually pulls the strings in DC. The more she probes, the closer Chill feels she is to the truth, but only helps to reveal how vast and all-encompassing the threat is, with POTUS at the centre. An ultimate strike is in the works, though Chill will have to be neutralised in order for it to be effective and rid America of a controversial leader. Hauty has a good framework here for a wonderful thriller, but there are some issues that I cannot ignore. Some may enjoy the political nature of this book, while others might want to wait for the movie (as this book reads like a film adaptation).

I loved the premise of this book when I read the dust-jacket cover, hoping that it would be a real poke at the circus that is Washington these days. Things began well, with a nice protagonist in the form of Hayley Chill. She has a backstory that ingratiates the reader to her, with a poor childhood and a gritty determination to succeed. Arriving in Washington, Chill does not know what to expect and tries to fit in where she is already an outcast. As the novel progresses, the reader learns a little more about Chill’s sleuthing abilities, but also how she can make poor choices that will sink her if she is not careful. Others find themselves serving as interesting place-markers in a piece that tries to be political and a thriller with an evil cast of characters. The story had the makings of a successful novel, but needs a great deal more meat to keep the narrative moving at a break-neck pace. More politics, added deception, and slow reveals would have made this book so much better. It may have taken 500-600 pages, but something of that caliber would be worth the read. The twist at the end was surely redeeming, but does not save the overall mediocre quality. I found it difficult to process the present tense narrative, as Hauty uses it throughout and then adds odd ‘this activity would come to haunt X a decade down the road’ sentiments at various points. Perhaps another shortcoming when a screenwriter tries to move to novels. There was so much potential here and I was hoping for a great deal more. I can only hope that Hauty can find new ideas and expand on them, or turn this into a movie, where brevity is sometimes an asset.

Kudos, Mr. Hauty, for the interesting story. I cannot say that I ‘stayed up all night’, as your editor mentioned in the ARC I read, but there is some potential.

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

Don’t Forget Me (Levi Kant #1), by B.C. Schiller

Seven stars

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

New to the world of the husband-wife duo calling themselves B.C. Schiller, I was not sure what to expect. The short dust jacket blurb had me intrigued about this novel, though I was not entirely confident this had ‘translated’ onto the written page, if you will pardon the pun. Dr. Olivia Hofmann nervously checks the post and discovers yet another postcard with an apology and no more. It has been five years since Dr. Hofmann’s husband and young daughter have disappeared without a trace, which coincides with the brutal murder and incineration of a teenage girl, Lisa Manz. While meeting one of her clients, Hofmann discovers that he is holding onto a rucksack belonging the Manz and might have key answers to the crime, or be the murderer himself. When Hofmann agrees to meet him at his home the following day, she watched him fall from his second storey window, a shadowy figure seen pushing him. Dr. Hofmann reaches out to her acquaintance, Levi Kant, who was the detective on the Manz case, but who was removed close to its resolution when he was shot by another perpetrator. Armed not only with the rucksack, but also a diary that Lisa kept, Hofmann and Kant begin trying to piece things together, including discovering who this mystery ‘doctor’ was who is mentioned in the diary and is surely involved in abusing Lisa Manz. When someone targets Hofmann with a vehicle, trying to wipe her out, the panic level increases, but nothing will stop Kant from revealing the truth, something he has wanted to discover for the last number of years. A decent piece of crime work, though it did not jump off the page for me. I suppose those who enjoy quick thrillers will want to give this a try, though I cannot see it being catapulted to the top of many to-be-read lists.

As this was my first experience with B.C. Schiller crime writing, I have no outside context other than this novel. While the premise was good, I was left wanting much more, as I could not help feeling the entire experience was a tad beige for me. There seems to be a race for protagonist here, between Dr. Olivia Hofmann and Levi Kant. Hofmann takes centre stage early and the reader learns about her agonising confusion about a missing child and husband, though she seems to have been able to focus on her work. In an industry that has little downtime, Hofmann must juggle her patients and a mentally ill father, whose acuity is diminishing by the day. Still, she finds time to break away and join this impromptu investigation into the death of a teenager. Levi Kant, on the other hand, was one of Vienna’s great detectives, only to have his work come crashing down when a bullet entered his leg. Now teaching at the police academy, he has always wondered about that one case that slipped through his fingers. With a Jewish backstory that some may find intriguing, Kant is also a man of many passions in his current life, which he shares throughout. Others find their way directing the story in their own way, some effectively and others simply popping up to play their part and evaporating again. The story was decent and I cannot be entirely sure if the plot’s strength was ‘lost in translation’ or if I am simply setting the bar too high. I did not dislike the book entirely, but I had hoped for a more meatier tale to keep me fully captivated. The chapters were short and I flew through the book in short order, so I cannot say it was a laborious task whatsoever. I’d likely give the series another try, should something else be published, but I am not making any promises.

Kudos, Mr. and Mrs. Schiller, for a decent plot. While the delivery was not there for me, I may be asking too much all at once.

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

Empire of Lies, by Raymond Khoury

Did not finish (no star rating)

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

Usually a great fan of alternate history and long one of Raymond Khoury’s work, I was hoping to find great interest in this novel, though things began to fall short from the beginning and remained troublesome for me. The premise, that the Ottoman Empire continued to gather strength and overtook much of Europe into the present day, sounded good on paper, but as Khoury wove his story, things never seemed to work for me. With a mysteriously tattooed man lurking in the shadows, I hoped for some injected excitement, but even the information he revealed left me wanting more and unable to find something intriguing. While I hate to leave a book unfinished—particularly an ARC—I owe it to myself and others not to get bogged down with something that will make me miserable or keep me from reviewing books that appeal to me. While some will surely love it, I had to let this one go 55% in and hope this was but a blip on the Khoury radar, not the new norm after a fairly lengthy time away from full novels.

Kudos, Mr. Khoury, for dreaming up an interesting premise. Delivery was off for me, so I hope others can see the empire for the castle walls, to poorly mangle a cliché!

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

Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward

Six stars

When presented with this work by Jesmyn Ward, I was not sure what to expect. A reading challenge if ever there was one, which requires the reader to leave their preconceived notions and happy thoughts at the door. The story depicts a black family’s struggle in rural Mississippi over a period of time. There are three main stories here, the first, a living teenage boy—Jojo—who is trying to make sense of his life and how he will grow into a man. He lacks a true father figure, though is grandfather does the best he can. Jojo is mixed-race, forcing him to be scorned by all for his lack of fitting in. Add to that, his white father is incarcerated and his paternal grandfather will have nothing to do with him. Jojo’s mother, Leonie, is a drug-addled mother who is not present, but trying to pick up the pieces of her shattered life. She is still quite selfish, but must put on a brave face to ensure her children see the best of her. When Leonie packs her children up to take them to the prison, she hopes and prays that Jojo’s father is ready to face the reality of what awaits him. It is here that the reader learns of the third perspective of the story, a long-ago dead teenager’s ghost tells of Mississippi in the past, where people of colour had even fewer rights than today. Together, the story tells of a bleak outlook and one that can only get better with much change in a world that has forgotten the whispered voices. Sobering in its concept, but not what I expected or really felt connecting to me as a reader. Let those who love literature and its associated award-winning authors flock to this one. I’ll let them laud and praise it for the reader still on the fence.

It is always a gamble to read a new author and even more of one when presented with them in a reading challenge. I am always up for something new and interesting, though I cannot admit that I always follow the current of reviewer sentiments. In this piece, I was left feeling as though I wanted more Jesmyn Ward does well and has touched on a number of key issues with present and past America, showing that the country is far from the greatness its current leader espouses. However, the novel, presented through the eyes of three characters, failed to resonate with me. There is a thorough and multi-faceted view of life through the eyes of Jojo, offering his teenage struggles and how rural Mississippi is not an easy place to come of age, but this is interestingly contrasted with the life that Richie lived, another of the narrators, who faced lynchings and other horrible acts in a past full of trouble. Ward pushes a third perspective, Leonie, upon the reader, to show the middle ground of a woman who struggled as a child and found herself on the wrong path in a life full of poor choices and dead-end opportunities. The ideas were great and at times I enjoyed the delivery, but I could not connect with much of anything within the narrative. Surely, some will love it and praise Ward as being worthy of more accolades. For me, I am happy to hand over the shovel and ask that someone bury this experience so as to stop the caterwauling.

Kudos, Madam Ward, for your attempt. You did not win me over, but I hope others see the glimmer of magic I did not.

This book fulfils the August 2019 requirements of Mind the Bookshelf Gap.

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

White Noisem by Don DeLillo

Six stars

Don DeLillo presents this off the wall piece that takes the reader on an adventure they may wish they’d never joined. Told in an oddly lilting manner, a family comes to terms with the pressures of the outside world in a way only they can surmises is rational. Jack Gladney is the Chair of the Hitler Department at a small college in Middle America. He thrives on the uniqueness of his work and yet has never learned to speak German, leaving him missing a key aspect of the essential research. At home, life is equally as unique, as Gladney and his wife, Babette, head up a family of children from their past marriages. A familial conglomeration of offspring from past unions that are mixed together like a multi-tiered cake, Jack and Babette try to create some normalcy in a situation that is anything but. With all that is going, there is something on the horizon, literally. When an accident at a train yard releases a toxic chemical, Gladney and his family gaze upon it with some awe. However, this cloud does not dissipate and soon the town is forced into an evacuation situation, which sees Jack Gladney exposed, however briefly, to some of the fallout. He chooses to keep this to himself, though the pall of death is now front and centre for Jack. He returns home contemplative as he banters with the children in the house, only to learn that Babette has been going through her own rollercoaster of emotions on this subject and many others. For the remainder of the novel, death lurks, as does the inherent fear of its arrival, taking the reader on a mind-bending (and numbing) discussion of preparation for the end and the afterlife’s inviting call. While there are surely some peaks in this novel, much of it is spent in valleys I wish I had kept well enough alone. I’ll go neutral on any recommendations and let each reader make their own decision on this one.

It is always difficult to dive into the middle of a well-established author’s domain and find issue with the first piece you discover. Having never read Don DeLillo before (and asked to do so for a book challenge), I could not help but wonder what sort of experience I might have. The dust jacket blurb for this piece seemed somewhat intriguing, which left me hoping that I would find something that kept my attention. However, as things inched along, I was drowned in silly offshoots that frustrated me more than helping move the story. Jack Gladney has the potential to be a captivating character, especially with the job he holds, though that ends up being a distance subplot and seems used only as window dressing for the piece. Rather, we see how Gladney tries to work through the patchwork of his home life with children from all sorts of marriages over a series of years, none of which give the reader any depth to the protagonist. There is little about the man that proves overly exciting, as he ambles along with his quasi-philosophical musings and banal conversations about life, death, and any number of other topics that lull the reader into something akin to wakeful sleep. I wanted much more, especially with all that was going on around him (and set at a time when chemical disasters could have meant a Cold War clash). Those around Gladney were equally irksome, fuelling some weird need to engage him on silly topics throughout, without actually making any progress. The premise of the novel had some potential for me, though its impact was lost in many of the long-winded and silly conversations that took place, circling the topic for ages and getting nowhere. Be it between the children or including adults, I wanted to reach out and toss a punch at someone’s throat, hoping it would end things and force the characters to move onwards. Alas, I suffered through it too many times, but soldiered on, knowing that the book challenge group would want to know about it. I suppose there is something in here for those who want something a little deeper or with some philosophical meat, though I hold firm that the title aptly describes this piece: something annoying in the background that is best ignored.

Kudos, Mr. DeLillo, for the attempt, but I will steer clear of your work for a while.

This novel fulfils the June requirements of Mind the Bookshelf Gap Reading Group. https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/886451-mind-the-bookshelf-gap

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

King of Kings (Courtneys and Ballantyne #2), by Wilbur Smith and Imogen Robertson

Seven stars

In their collaborative effort, Wilbur Smith and Imogen Robertson offer readers the latest instalment of the Courtney and Ballantyne saga, taking the story back to the African continent in the latter portion of the 19th century. Situated in and around Cairo, Penrod Ballantyne has tossed away the love of his life for the wily actions of a two-bit whore, or so the story goes. He has been up to his old tricks and remains one step ahead of the law, smearing the names of anyone who crosses him, particularly when he is in the opium dens scattered throughout Egypt. Meanwhile, Ryder Courtney is hard at work trying to mine as much of the metal as he can find, having secured permits to dig around Ethiopia. However, there would seem to be someone trying to stop his progress, as the ship carrying his supplies inexplicably explodes. Convinced that there is much to be done, Courtney and his family remain committed and work with the locals to find new ways to bring about a successful venture, all while Ethiopia enters a new era of politics and tribal control. The Italians have laid claim to the land and are making the country their protectorate, while the local tribesmen are coming to terms with a new leader, the King of Kings, who has promised not to abandon the fight for autonomy. Caught on both sides of the fight, the Courtney and Ballantyne families seek to make their mark on the African continent, particularly its northern territories, while living a life their European ancestors could not have imagined. Smith and Robertson do well in this piece, even if I was not entirely captivated by the writing or plot. I’ll leave it to other fans of this extensive series to decide if they want to add this one, as I have a somewhat lukewarm reaction to it.

I remember how enthralled I was with the early novels in both the Courtney and Ballantyne series, even as they blended together at one point. Of course, that was when Wilbur Smith had full control of the writing and the plot development. Granted, he has aged much and likely cannot keep up with all the advances in the writing process, but I have seen a significant lessening in the impact of the novels since secondary writers have shared (read: controlled) the writing process. It could be that things are not as sharp or that people are just not as attuned to Smith’s nuanced style, but I will admit this was one reason that I was not fully committed to the novel. Ryder Courtney and Penrod Ballantyne each have their own backstories and have enriched the pages of this piece with their adventures. Contrasting significantly, one is a strong and powerful force while the other seems more interested in flitting from one cause to the next, without setting down roots. The reader will likely find themselves connected to one or the other, which creates an interesting banter throughout the novel and will do well as the series continues to advance. Others grace the pages of this book to offer the two protagonists some direction and personalises them, though I could not grasp onto the secondary characters enough to feel it saved the novel from being tepid. The plot was decent and Smith always uses known history as a backdrop, but I needed more to keep me fully committed. Gone are the days of the original series, where strong characters dominated the pages, though they do pop up from time to time. In a set of series that tend to take checker-like jumps in time, it is had to get the full chronological view of either family. Perhaps once Wilbur Smith and his collaborators lay down their pens for the final time, I will have to return and read the entire series in order to get the full impact of the stories being spun!

Kudos, Mr. Smith and Madam Robertson, for a valiant attempt. I may be in the minority, though I do not discount the abilities that either of you have!

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

The Good Son, by You-Jeong Jeong

Six stars

In You-Jeong Jeong’s international bestseller the reader is faced with a protagonist whose struggles subsume the narrative, taking away from the story at hand, in my humble opinion. When Yu-jin wakes one morning in a stupor, he asks himself what’s happened. Could he have had an epileptic seizure, which would surely account for the metallic blood smell that fills his nostrils? Or, might there have been something more? When he discovers that he is covered in blood, Yu-jin begins to wonder if he has blacked out. As he meanders around his home, he discovers that his mother is nowhere to be found, though a razor is caked with the same blood. Frantic, though trying to cover up what he may have done, Yu-jin struggles to come to terms with what has happened. He finds his mother’s journal and reads entries throughout, as he seeks to piece it all together. He is supposed to have been his mother’s ‘good’ child, so could he actually have taken her life? As the story progresses and Yu-jin awaits news about his mother or at least her body, panic sets in, which is fulled by his refusing to take his medication. In a narrative filled with flashbacks that thicken the plot and point to potential reasons that Yu-jin may have been harbouring anger, the reader becomes lost in the tangential queries that turn the story from a strong mystery into an exploration of the heightened senses that Yu-jin has while not on his medication. Did he do it or is there another explanation? For me it became a futile query, as I sought only to finish and push the book away like a bad smell. Recommended for those who may able to see more within these pages than I did, and can see what some popular authors seemed to have discovered when they exuded praise in their dust jacket blurbs.

I love a good mystery as much as the next person, even when the story is penned in a language other than English. However, I have come to see that not all cultures feel the same about mysteries or deem writing quality in the same way. I have read many pieces that have gone through a translator and been blown away, both in Europe and across parts of Asia, but this piece did nothing for me. While I must applaud Jeong for developing her protagonist, there was little I found captivating. Yu-jin began as an interesting character, finding himself surrounded by dried blood and wondering if he could have killed someone. His apparent connection to his mother makes the possible crime all the more interesting, though the story left the realm of ‘did he or not?’ and became more of a predatory exploration of the mind of an unmediated epileptic. Yu-jin reveals much of his past throughout, fuelled by a journal his mother penned. While some readers may enjoy this, it began to get highly jilted for me and I began hoping for a quick ending or some miraculous turn of events. Alas, neither happened for me. Jeong adds other characters of interest that serve to pull the protagonist in many directions, though I did not feel much from them as well. The story’s premise was intriguing, though my Western mindset may have expected something more or better developed. One cannot fault the author entirely, as there was great detail throughout and the narrative did continue its forward movement. I took a moment to wonder if it was the translation that may have staled the experience for me, though I think it was more the stylistic differences from what I am used to reading that left me feeling unfulfilled. It happens, but I cannot pad my review and simply fall on my own sword. Add this one to the list of ‘tried it and personal epic fails’. One burning question for me… are novels I love lost on readers from other cultures, if this book is supposed to be so great?

Kudos, Madam Jeong, for your piece. It was not for me and I will blame neither of us for this reading impasse.

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

The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

Six stars

In a book that many deem a literary classic, J.D. Salinger takes the reader on a ride through a few days of an adolescent’s life at the age of sixteen. Holden Caulfield has just been told that he’s flunked out of another preparatory school and must make the journey home to relay this to his parents. However, as this is not the first time, he is in no hurry to do so, and thus begins the meandering trip back to admit failure. In a narrative told from Caulfield’s perspective, the reader learns much about this boy as he wanders aimlessly around campus and eventually makes his way back to New York City. With a mixture of present-day happenings and tangential flashbacks, the reader sees Caulfield as a man who has seen much, but also knows very little. Salinger allows the slowly-developing narrative to continue, while Caulfield discovers just how much of the world is still unknown, all while he worries about how to tell his family the news that he is academically useless. By the time he reaches home, Caulfield has one last chance to shape his story, but even then, his younger sister steals the spotlight and recounts some of her own drama. Surely, this family loves being vapid and speaking in tangential styles that drown out any hope of understanding a topic at hand. Salinger must have a message here and literary critics found it, sipping from the proverbial Kool-Aid in droves. For me, it sets the bar quite low for what might be called classical literature. This may best be read with a glass of rye, for only then will you catch its meaning.

I have long debated with people about what makes a novel “a classic”. Interestingly enough, no one can really tell me enough to sway my opinion. I am left to wonder if Salinger simply wrote at a time when it was ‘en vogue’ to be tangential and superficial, thus making this the cornerstone of something stellar. My father, who was an English teacher, would surely have some answers for me, though I am at a loss to think about how even he might help remove me from the paper bag in which I found myself. His passing years ago does little to help me now (and I am beginning to write tangentially, which is solely the fault of this book!). Holden Caulfield comes across as a typical teenage boy of the time (post-war), who is trying to make his mark on the world. He struggles with defining himself and those around him, wanting to fit in and yet differentiate himself significantly. While he accomplishes little on his meandering journey from school to the family home, Caulfield is able to show the reader that he has grit and determination, even if it comes across as less than important. Many of the others who cross paths with Caulfield serve as signposts in his narrative, wallflowers when he needs them to be and actively helping to formulate the story when necessary. I had little connection to any of them and found Salinger wanted it that way. The story was nothing worth noting and I am sure I will be scorned for missing many of the nuggets embedded into the tale. That said, when I hear classic, I expect much more than I got and while i cannot take away from J.D. Salinger, I am left to wonder if I was too sober and too grounded to accept this for what it should have been. It may not have been drivel, but the only classic aspect of it was that I was not forced to spend hours of my time for nothing.

Kudos, Mr. Salinger, for being able to bask in the limelight. I missed the mark and I am sure others will educate me. Thank goodness book club does not meet for a while, as I may have my literary epiphany by then and forget the train wreck I currently feel this to have been.

This novel fulfils the March 2019 requirements of Mind the Bookshelf Gap Reading Group. https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/886451-mind-the-bookshelf-gap

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

Mindfield, by William Deverell

Seven stars

William Deverell has dazzled fans with his wonderful writing on all things involving the Canadian legal system. However, he stepped back with this piece to offer up something quasi-psychological with a dash of mystery. Kellen O’Reilly has served as a police officer in Montreal for many years. There was a period of time spent spent in a psychiatrist clinic, where he was part of an ongoing set of tests, but his recollection of those events are fuzzy at best. Now, 25 years later, he is having horrible flashbacks about his time there, when mild-altering drugs were used to implant suggestions into his memory, including the death of O’Reilly’s own father. Meanwhile, Sarah Parardis is trying to bring suit against the doctor who ran the clinic, Dr. Satorius, claiming that it was the site of CIA testing over a long period of time. Seeking damages for many of the victims, Paradis is being stonewalled by the Agency and cannot produce any records, presumably because Satorius destroyed them when things got out of hand. When Paradis and O’Reilly come together on an unrelated labour dispute between Montreal Police and their union, pieces begin to come together. Might O’Reilly be the key to opening up the Satorius files? When someone fails to delete electronic evidence of these psychiatric tests, O’Reilly and Paradis sense they may have a chance to score a point for justice, but they will have to survive as they enter some very dangerous crosshairs in the meantime. An interesting read that shows the breadth of Deverell’s writing capabilities. Not one of his best, in my opinion, but still quite thought-provoking.

I have enjoyed many of the novels William Deverell has published over the years. While a few have been harder to digest than others, the reader is always given a serious topic on which to postulate and this novel was no exception. Kellen O’Reilly proves to be an interesting protagonist, though I did not find him to be entirely captivating. His past as the victim of serious mind experiments keeps the reader eager to see what he will be able to remember and how much of his ‘planted’ memories have become part of his personal backstory. There is an interesting mix of flashback moments with a little development as he struggles to piece it all together. Sarah Paradis offers some interesting flavouring to the story as well; a leftist lawyer whose love of labour disputes leaves her the hero to some and the enemy to others. She is seeking justice while coming up against The Man if ever there were a perfect definition of one. Seeking justice wherever she can, Paradis will stop at nothing to make sense of a world that does not offer up concrete solutions. While I sped through the book, I found myself lost or lacking complete connection at times. The premise is strong, but I felt myself looking for that gem amongst the tepid moments. I remember that I struggled with Deverell’s opening novel in the Arthur Beauchamp series, but came to love it, so I am sure that one book does not make the man. That being said, there was something lacking here for me, though one-off novels can sometimes prove to be hit and miss.

Kudos, Mr. Deverell, for another interesting piece. While not entirely my type of book, I am sure others will enjoy it and offer much praise.

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

Ambush (Michael Bennett #11), by James Patterson and James O. Born

Seven stars

Michael Bennett is back, further developed by James Patterson and collaborator James O. Born. In this eleventh novel in the series, Bennett finds himself paired up with a partner, given the task to show him the ropes. When a tip comes in and they are headed out onto the streets of New York, Bennett cannot know what awaits them. As they arrive, a hail of gunfire erupts and Bennett is left injured while his partner dies in a pool of blood. This was some form of ambush, an attack meant to scrub Bennett out of the NYPD equation. Lurking in the shadows is an Columbian national who has been sent to exterminate Bennett as part of a contract to allow the Mexican cartel ready access to the streets of the Big Apple. While Bennett recuperates, he learns that his son, serving time in update New York, has been attacked. Could it be tied to the attempted offing at the ambush? If that were not enough, Bennett’s eldest daughter, Julianna, has been chosen to act in a local television production and has been flexing her independence at every turn. Will a killer on the loose, leaving bodies of rival cartel members strewn around New York, Bennett has little time to wait, especially once he discovers there are crosshairs focussed on him. A man of a million roles, Michael Bennett as little time for capes and phone booths, but he must be a superhero not only to the city he loves, but the family he cannot live without. Patterson and Born offer up a decent continuation to the Bennett series, which has been moving along effectively. Series fans may enjoy this one, though there are also signs that Bennett might want to turn to life with the family and hang up those cuffs!

I have a long history with many of the cop series that James Patterson has crafted over the years. I find that those with a collaborator seem to get a little tepid as they progress, particularly when plots repeat themselves. Bennett was once a sharp cop who sought to juggle life in Homicide with his massive brood of adopted children. It worked well, when backstory and development allowed for adequate action and kept the reader enthralled. It would seem to be that things have remained in neutral, with new killers and more ways to wreak havoc on NYC, but little movement in the protagonist. Sure, as his children grow their life lessons blossom into interesting sub-plots, but they do not have enough momentum to keep the series propelling along for me. Born was brought in recently, perhaps to inject some pizzazz into the series, though it might have been past its best before date already. The handful of characters that have followed the series seem to have grown slightly, but it is time to either make significant changes to them or let the series fade into the sunset. The story is ok, though, as I mentioned above, has not got the spark needed to push it to the top of any list—save perhaps lists that utilise the ‘Patterson’ name for automatic notoriety. Bennett mixes his time between chasing down killers and trying to keep a handle on his family. The series is at a crossroads—or, perhaps it has already left that spot—and needs some revamping and more energetic developments. I leave it to Patterson and Born to see if they want to keep it exciting or let it wither and cause animosity amongst those who have dedicated time and effort into supporting it for this long.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Born, for working your best to make something out of a series that may be turning beige. Perhaps a BookShot or two to tie things off? I suspect your collaborative efforts in the future could make for brilliant work, away from Michael Bennett.

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

Running in Circles (Lucy Lewis #1), by Claire Gray

Six stars

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

With this debut novel in the Lucy Lewis series, I had high hopes that Claire Gray would pull me in from the opening pages and not let go. The premise appeared strong and the cover offered some intrigue, paving the way for an interesting reading experience. Lucy Lewis is a journalist working in Thailand for a local paper, with hopes of getting a major scoop to advance her career. When a bomb explodes close to her hostel, Lucy and her editor, Steve, take a moment to shake off the shock before seeking to cover the story. Might this have been an errant explosion or could it have been an act of terror? With dust and debris scattered around the explosion site, Lucy and Steve begin asking questions in order to better understand what’s happened. Lucy finds herself face to face with another foreigner whose money lines the pockets of many, but when she tries to follow-up, he’s disappeared. Working both to understand what’s happened with the bombing and this mysterious disappearance, Lucy finds herself traveling a circuitous route, unable to get the answers she needs. Just as she feels she’s making progress, she falls victim to a conniving individual who wants nothing more than to shut down all Lucy’s sleuthing and keep this mystery buried under all the dead bodies. The truth will come out, though Lucy may not be around to see it. Gray does a decent job in spinning this tale, though I could not find myself completely connection to the story throughout. Perhaps others who enjoy the genre will find more than I did on the written page.

I found the title of the book to be spot-on, for numerous reasons. While I can see Gray has a few great ideas, I could not find myself connected or really ensconced by the style or plot. Lucy Lewis is a young journalist with much to prove, living and working on the other side of the world. She seeks to prove herself and show her editor that she deserves to be taken seriously. It does not help that she finds herself blurring the lines—at least in her mind—with her superior, which can only have dire results. The handful of other characters who grace the pages of the book made only a minor impact on me, though I could see that Gray was trying to develop them at every opportunity. There were supporters of Lucy’s efforts and those who sought to push her down when they could. Overall, it was a mish-mash of narrative circles. The story could have worked well, though it did not grab me. I cannot fault Gray, as I am not the easiest reader to impress, though but there was little within these pages that left me wanting more. I am sure others will laud this work and rush to get their hands on the sequel, but I will stand back and turn my attention elsewhere, at least for the time being.

Thank you, Madam Gray for your effort. While others may be sold, it just did not grab me, as the publishers likely hoped it would.

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

The Vatican Children (World of Shadows #2), by Lincoln Cole

Five stars

The premise of this series by Lincoln Cole left me quite curious, as I enjoy all things related to exorcisms. Those who read my review of the opening book will know that things started off quite well, then took a turn for the worse. With an interesting cliffhanger, I vowed to give the series a little more rope, in hopes that it would tie me in and not hang itself. With the revelation that Bishop Glasser has been summoning demons to inhabit innocent folk, Father Niccolo Paladina is back with sufficient supplies to go to battle, though has not yet received formal direction from the Vatican. Working alongside him is Arthur Vangeest, a Hunter for the Council of Chaldea, a group charged with investigating all things supernatural. After forcefully securing one of the bishop’s followers, Arthur and Paladina try to ascertain where he might have gone and what plans he has. It is soon thereafter that Paladina reveals his knowledge of the Vatican Children, a group of youths who showed much power when it came to sensing the demon life forms and even a degree of mind control. With a list having been taken from the Vatican, it is only a matter of time before Bishop Glasser gets his hands on it, which would allow him to convert them for his own good. While Arthur is forced to come clean with other members of the Council that he has gone rogue, he is determined to capture this evil doer, whom he is sure helped have his family murdered. When Father Paladina and Arthur come face to face with Glasser and his minions, they are forced to use the only weapons at their disposal to protect the Vatican Children. Only one side can survive this spiritual apocalypse, but there is much to do thereafter. Holy water and a few rosaries will not be enough, though the climax of the story only creates a new cliffhanger for readers to ponder before locating the final novel in the trilogy. A unique middle piece that helped to build on much of the information provided in the series debut. I promised myself a second try, but am not feeling enamoured enough to want to tie off all the loose ends! Take it or leave it, I won’t lead you down any proverbial garden path. [There you go, Pat. A book that you can leave off your tipping TBR list!]

I was hoping that things would resurrect themselves in this second book, as the chase towards catching Bishop Glasser was on. However, things ended up just being a hot mess of writing and odd plot twists. Sure, the reader learns a little more about the Vatican Children and their importance in the plot, but I could not find myself connected to the chase or the stand-off that appears to be the climax of this middle book. Father Paladina and Arthur are just as they were in the previous piece, which does not say much for the curious reader. There are many names dropped and batted around throughout this short piece, but none of whom really caught my attention. I felt as though Cole could have done so much more to better develop this story, which left me feeling cheated and unimpressed. There was such potential here, even in the short amount of time on offer with this book, but much was wasted with trivial discussion and cheesy factoids. I did give the series two books and wished I had the inclination to finish things off, but I cannot see why I would invest even the single day it will take to speed read through it. There are so many books out there I need to tackle, I’ll let others go to Amazon and locate this one for themselves.

Sorry, Mr. Cole, but you don’t have a committed fan in me. Ratings seem to show me others are hooked and I wish them well!

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

The Everett Exorcism (World of Shadows #1), by Lincoln Cole

Six stars

Drawn to the premise of this novel by Lincoln Cole, I could not wait to see if it was as chilling as the blurb made it appear to be. In the town of Everett, Washington, something is going on. The priest of St. Joseph’s Cathedral is certain that one of his parishioners is under the influence of something demonic. However, the bishop is not convinced and shuts down any further exploration. Not satisfied, a call is made directly to the Vatican, who send Father Niccolo Paladina to see what might be taking place in this bucolic community in America’s Pacific Northwest. A trained exorcist, Father Paladina speaks to all parties involved and chastises the local priest for leaping overtop of his bishop, as well as trying to create something out of nothing. Father Paladina is not convinced that this is anything other than some mental health concerns with the elderly woman in question. During a more formal a detailed discussion with the aforementioned parishioner, Father Paladina senses something off about the house, which is only further exacerbated when he hears something calling him in a mocking tone. Could there be more to this than meets the eye? When others around Everett begin exhibiting odd behaviours, Father Paladina cannot help but wonder if his first suppositions might have been wrong. Father Paladina soon comes face to face with a man blacklisted by the Vatican for his outlandish claims, one Arthur Vangeest. While Arthur claims that his entire family was murdered by a cult, perhaps possessed themselves, Father Paladina cannot help but wonder if this is all a rouse by a man whose conscience is full of guilt. The reader soon learns that Arthur Vangeest is known as a Hunter, a soldier for the Council of Chaldea, an organization that works at arm’s-length from the Vatican. The Council is tasked with investigating supernatural events around the world without pulling the Church into the middle of them. With events in Everett becoming more troublesome, Father Paladina cannot help but wonder if his expertise in exorcisms might prove useful and whether there is a larger secret yet to be revealed. A unique story that takes many a turn, going from intensely captivating to tepid and back in short order. Those who enjoy something a little different might enjoy this piece. The jury is still out for me.

I was completely sold by Cole’s premise as the story began, finding myself curious about the premise of the exorcism in a small town. The collection of characters proved to be engaging, particularly Father Paladina. This well-established priest presents not only as a professional, but also one who follows the rules and hierarchy as they are laid out for him. He chooses to lecture those who stray from the well-defined rules and will not abide ignorance. However, while he seems to know his job well, Paladina is highly sceptical of the demonic presence in the world, thereby making his role more obsolete. Cole develops him well, though the character takes a nosedive halfway through the novel, with the introduction of the Council. Many of the other characters in their supporting roles have some potential, but I found myself to lose interest and a connection to those who serve to propel the story forward at this point. It was as though there was such potential with the characters and the premise of the Council, but it was lost in some tepid narrative and plot delivery. It was as though Cole needed a two-pronged plot to keep the story moving—at least to him—and it did not work for me. Surely, there is something useful to know about this Council, as this is a trilogy, but I could not, for the life of me, connect to it or its larger purpose. As these are short novels and I find myself between reading commitments, I will likely give the second book a try to see if I can win myself over, but I will not subject myself to something if I cannot latch on in short order. My reading life is too short to spend time on a book that does not make an impact.

Kudos, Mr. Cole for the interesting premise. We’ll see if you can resurrect things in the second piece!

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

Death of an Old Girl (Pollard & Toye #1), by Elizabeth Lemarchand

Six stars

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

Asked to read and review this first novel in a long police procedural series, I leapt at the chance to delve into the world of Elizabeth Lemarchard and her well-developed Scotland Yard duo, Inspector Pollard and Sergeant Toye. During a reunion week at the Meldon School for Girls, Beatrice Baynes appears on the scene with nothing but criticism. From the layout of the garden to the freedoms exercised by pupils through to the scandalous artwork being created, Baynes has gone on the warpath. While others around her try to hold their tongues, there is an obvious animosity towards this ‘old girl’ and her less than laudatory personality. When Baynes is found murdered, the list of suspects is long and the motives equally as lengthy. The crime brings Pollard and Toye on the scene, dispatched from Scotland Yard to catch the murderer before the case gets cold. The investigation pushes the cops in numerous directions, though it is the careful examination of clues and insight that leads them to discover more than first meets the eye. With the killer somewhere amongst the reunion attendees, will Pollard and Toye be willing to finger someone, with the victim’s departure anything but a sorry loss to society? Lemarchand lays the groundwork for what surely became an interesting series with this debut novel. Some fans of police procedurals will enjoy it, though I found it hard to grip, even from the opening pages.

I have often said that first impressions of authors are hard to dispel, particularly when I have so many on my radar. Having this book put before me was likely the only way I would have read it, though I am sorry to say that I wish I had skipped the opportunity. I found the writing not to my liking and the story took too long to get going for me to thoroughly enjoy the end result. It was a tough read, peppered with my skimming at times to get through the experience in order to pen this review. Lemarchand does develop her characters well, offering them life and vigour throughout, but I simply could not find myself latching onto them or wanting to dig deeper. Surely, there will be many who have loved this series and have much praise for Lemarchand. To those folks, I tip my hat and praise the fact that I am able to disagree without it being scandalous. I would recommend anyone who reads the dust jacket to give the series a try, for it is perhaps my jaded perspective that left me unsatisfied. That being said. I take my gut reaction seriously and think it bears some merit in the larger reviewing community as well.

Thank you, Madam Lemarchand, for your large contribution to the genre and the writing community. Alas, it just did nothing for me!

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

The White Road, by Sarah Lotz

Six stars

This is my first venture into the world of Sarah Lotz and her writing, which is important to note from the outset. The story took me to new heights and offered some self-examination in some chilly conditions, something that I presumed at the beginning of this reading journey would prove exciting. Simon Newman is a thrill seeker of sorts. Not only that, but he likes to document those who seek thrills, but do not succeed, to the point that they lose their lives. Teaming up with a friend, Simon agrees to go inside a cave to explore, in hopes of finding—and documenting with video—a number of bodies of fellow cave explorers who perished. Macabre? Definitely, but when the exploration does not go as planned and Simon almost loses his life, he has an epiphany of sorts, as well as collecting a ton of emotional baggage. Simon turns to his next adventure, climbing the north side of Mount Everest, where there are surely many bodies are strewn across its paths. Lying to falsify his need to be there, Simon learns about an epic explorer, Juliet Michaels, who lost her life trying to be the first female to ascend to the summit. Through her journals (which the reader also experiences as a secondary narrative), Simon is able to learn that Juliet faced demons of her own, only to perish in the attempt to conquer them. With the climb moving forward, Simon meets a fellow climber whose story is closely tied to Juliet’s, all while he is on the lookout for new video footage to wow his website viewers back home. Struggling to come to terms with his past struggles, Simon realises that there is much more to the Juliet Michaels story than meets the eye, if only he will take the time to follow the path laid out before him. Lotz pens this interesting story, which may ‘pique’ the curiosity for some, though I found it to be an avalanche of convoluted writing.

I would suspect that the worst thing for an author is to have a reader spend time with a book and think, ‘Ok! So where is the point in all this?’ I felt that way throughout this novel and could not shake that it was not simply me in a poor reading mindset. I cannot criticise the writing, for it was quite well developed, or even the characters, as they did reveal themselves in a decent fashion. While the narrative was excessively long, I can see the Lotz wanted to condense each ‘happening’ into a single chapter, thereby making them long and somewhat convoluted (like a mountain trail?). I could not find myself caring much about the story or how the characters moved from one mindset to another. I like to learn and Lotz offers many chances to explore mountain climbing, going so far as to add a glossary of terms and peppering the narrative with ‘mountain-speak’. I just felt that the story left me feeling disconnected, like an old piece of Velcro that no longer has the ability to adhere to much of anything. Surely there are others who loved the book and praise Lotz for her writing. First impressions are strong and I simply could not find myself loving the book or the premise. Maybe I am just too jaded or want action rather than epiphanies embedded in a deeper meaning. Whatever it is, I cannot pretend that I am the problem, though perhaps I need my own hike away from the rest of the world to clear my head.

Thanks, Madam Lotz, for sharing this piece. I did not find it engaging, but I am sure others will lap it up.

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

Private #1 Suspect (Private #2), by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Six stars

There are times that a reader will find themselves trying to get into a novel or even a short story, but cannot seem to get a handle. It could be poorly developed characters, a weak plot, or even an audiobook narrator that sucks the life from a wonderful opportunity. While many will shelve the book or write a horrid review, I thought it a good time to test the theory that sometimes coming back to something could save it from an eternity on a DNF shelf. Here is my effort of a James Patterson book that started my jaded view of his writing and mass-publication for the sake of making money. Jack Morgan returns from a trip to Europe, tired and ready to sleep. After a quick shower, he makes his way to bed, only to find a body. It is that of his former flame, bloodied and garrotted. While he knows he could not have killed her, the police keep an eye on Morgan, who seems to be acting slightly off. Meanwhile, Private HQ is being flooded by calls for cases, including from a hotel owner who has discovered numerous bodies in her chain of hotels across California. Additionally someone carjacked a shipment of narcotics from Las Vegas, a case on which Private would not normally work, but Morgan’s had a chit called in. Struggling to put the pieces together with these cases might be the distraction Jack Morgan needs, but it will not replace that ache in his heart, as the killer remains free and in the shadows. A decent output by Patterson and Paetro, though it remains one that has not captivated me, which begs the question why I kept devouring the books in this series.

I have mentioned before, I am not a fan of some of these new series that Patterson has glued together with co-authors, for I find them to lack a really strong foundation. This was, again, one of those books. I admit, I read because of the Patterson name, though I rarely go into a book assuming that it is going to be stellar (I let his Alex Cross, Women’s Murder Club, and Michael Bennett woo me that way). This was a mediocre book, but somewhat worth the time I spent. Having read all the books in the series, I must take a giants step back and forget much of what I know about the characters found herein. Jack Morgan has become a super boss in later books, but here, he was still that vulnerable fairly new head of Private. He is not the gritty man I have come to enjoy, nor does he receive much of the accolades from others around him. The rest of the team seemed to fit nicely into this story, though I felt that there were too many of them active and more cases than should have been combined in a single book to keep proper track of them all. As I did the first time around, I simply felt the whole book was less than interesting, but will elevate my star rating to three (of five). It could be that I set the bar too high (see above series preferences), but it is now the label of JAMES PATTERSON that has this on the bestseller’s list, I fear, not its content. As many of you know, I coined the phrase James Patterson Syndrome, and this may have been an early novel that helped me form the diagnosis.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Paetro, for this early novel in the series. I am still not sure I liked it, but there have been some interesting follow-up novels that span far reaches of the world.

This book fulfills Topic #2: Still Tepid? for the Equinox #4 Reading Challenge.

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

Nooners, by James Patterson and Tim Arnold

Seven stars

BookShots can be hit or miss, forcing the reader to have a stiff upper lip when they come across something that does not work for them. While James Patterson and Tim Arnold have a somewhat entertaining piece here, I failed to be pulled in or sense anything captivating about which I could laud their work. Tim MacGhee is a hardworking ad man in New York’s cutthroat industry. He’s seen his fair share of success over the last decade, but at times, there must be room for growth. MacGhee has been entertaining a move to a rival firm, one that has the one thing he desires, ultimate control. However, for the time being, this former Marine must bide his time and wait for everything to fall into place. On his way into work one morning, MacGhee learns that one of his colleagues has been murdered, shot in the back of the head. The worry that pervades the office is too much and Tim heads home to his patient wife. When two more people with ties to the ad firm turn up dead, MacGhee begins to worry, more before he also saw them within hours of their deaths. Might someone be trying to send a message with these murders? MacGhee is nothing, if not entirely helpful with the authorities, revealing some of the water cooler gossip that might point to a suspect. However, with all the stress that he has on his plate, should MacGhee not be worried that he could be in the killer’s crosshairs? Patterson and Arnold offer an interesting story here, which may appeal to some readers. However, I found it lacked the needed level of suspense.

My month of BookShot binge reading has truly been a gamble. Some stories pull me in from the opening pages, while others fail to assert their literary grip on me. In this piece, Patterson and Arnold try to take readers into the exciting life of ad executives, focussing attention on Tim MacGhee. This protagonist does have some backstory on offer, as well as a little character development, which gives the reader a little better understanding about where he situates himself in the larger narrative. However, I found him to be lukewarm at best, which surely took away from the story’s delivery The secondary characters support the story as well, though I found myself equally as divorced from their key characteristics. The story, interesting on paper, seemed to lack the necessary impetus to keep things engaging. A murder should not only have a central character exploring his own life, but provide strong pacing and intrigue, with the murderer on the loose. Patterson and Arnold have the kernel of a decent story here, though its delivery left me less than satisfied.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Arnold, for this unique piece. While it did little for me, one can hope that others will see something worth their time.

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

Heat Storm (Nikki Heat # 9), by Richard Castle

Seven stars

Returning for another instalment of the Nikki Heat series, readers will be graced with the added bonus of a full Derrick Storm novel as well, showing the Richard Castle is able to juggle two of his protagonists in this high-flying piece of light fare. Away from the fast pace of China’s cities, Derrick Storm is in the middle of uncovering a counterfeit operation that could have significant implications in the United States. It would seem someone is laundering large amounts of US money from somewhere in China. Storm escapes with a single CD, which could hold a number of truths to bring down a group known only as the Shanghai Seven. Meanwhile, in New York, Nikki Heat is still reeling with the knowledge that her mother is alive after being presumed dead and cremated seventeen years before. However, Cynthia Heat remains on the lam, from whom, no one is quite sure. Nikki receives numerous cryptic texts from a man using the moniker, The Serpent, warning her that recent brushes with death may one day not miss their mark. As Nikki tries to work through this news, Derrick Storm appears stateside with some information that could tie Cynthia Heat to a CIA operation in China and the counterfeit operation he has been running. Storm is also being chased, presumably by the Shanghai Seven, who want their disc back. Armed with his wits and retired father, Carl, Storm seeks to battle his way to safety. Heat discovers something her mother left for her, a clue that could tie-in with the Derrick Storm fiasco. All the while, Heat’s husband and the annoying aspect of this book series, Jameson Rook, appears to woo his wife away from all the panic that is going on. While she seeks to rebuff him for a time, she cannot deny his wiles, which only makes for a cheesy collection of moments throughout the narrative. Can Nikki and Storm clear the way for a Heat reunion? Might the Shanghai Seven be topped by beheading The Serpent? All this and more awaits the reader, with a chance that this might be the swan song for Castle’s published writing career. Fans of the series and cancelled television show may like this piece, though others might want to read it to close the door once and for all.

I am not normally a bitter person when it comes to reading. I realise that sometimes books are written to entertain on a lighter level and can accept that. However, there has been something about the last few novels (and the latter seasons of the television show) that irked me enough to tune out. I want to enjoy them, from the fast pace of the storylines and the interesting character developments, but find myself feeling short-changed. It is hard to divorce the characters from the book with those I saw on the small screen, though I try by best. Nikki Heat is surely a climber within the NYPD, working hard to solve cases and putting her eventual passion for Jameson Rook to the side. The revelation about her mother being alive allowed the reader to tap into more flashback memories about Heat’s childhood, though they are muddled between trying to find The Serpent and the off-putting Jameson Rook’s reappearance to woo her between the sheets. Derrick Storm is given some wonderful development here, tapping into not only his youth, but pulling the elder Mr. Storm into the mix to offer familial comparisons. Castle does well to weave this into the story, providing some interesting banter as well as strong character development throughout the piece. Utilising a number of interesting supporting characters, Castle pushes the story forward and keeps the reader wondering what awaits. The story found herein is not weak, though there were times that I wanted things to get moving. Storm’s storyline kept things interesting, but still I found things dragged throughout. I try not to get too cynical, but I did notice I was waving my hand in a circular motion, hoping to push the narrative along so that I could reach the end. Might it have been knowing that there was little left to read in order to put this series to bed? Quite possibly, but I am not willing to waste too much of my time waiting when I have so many other books to devour. I liked the Heat series, don’t get me wrong, but there comes a time when pulling the proverbial parachute is in order. This was surely the time for Castle, as television executives did recently as well.

Kudos, Mr. Castle, for a valiant effort to tie off some loose strings. I have enjoyed the series, but am sure you, as a fictional front for a ghost writer, will now disappear into the annals of time and enjoy fictional retirement.

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

The Boy Who Saw (Solomon Creed #2), by Simon Toyne

Six stars

Simon Toyne is back with the next instalment of the Solomon Creed series, picking up where the last story ended, a major cliffhanger leaving readers guessing. With Arizona in his rearview mirror, Solomon Creed has made his way to France, wondering more about himself and trying to determine if the tailor who crafted the suit he wears might know something about his past. Just as he arrives at ‘Atelier Engel’, Josef Engel has been murdered. Creed’s presence in the region tied with him being a strangler, makes him a prime suspect. Creed befriends a young boy, Leo, and his mother, Marie-Claude, relatives of Engel, and they try to piece together the man’s past for themselves. It would appear that the Engel had a past in a Nazi concentration camp, but soon became a hero during the liberation movement. However, friends of his from the movement have also been found murdered, leaving many to wonder if the killer is targeting a certain group. Meanwhile, a psychiatrist has arrived in France, following Creed and trying to return him to his maximum security facility in Mexico. The reader learns much about Creed’s background, including his true identity and why his memory is so fragmented. As the chase across France continues. Creed learns more about events seven decades in the past and how they continue to shape current events. There is something about Creed and this suit that traces back to 1944, though that is impossible, right? Still, the additional fragments he discovers about himself does not serve to complete Creed’s self-discovery, which has some startling revelations by the closing pages of this follow-up novel. Toyne offers this drawn-out second novel in the series, sure to fill some gaps for the reader. While there will be a number who enjoy the path of discovery Solomon Creed undertakes, others will be just as lost and wonder if the invested reading time could have been better spent elsewhere.

After being enthralled by Toyne’s previous series, I approached the first Solomon Creed novel with much excitement. However, things became too slow to develop and I could only hope that new series jitters kept Toyne from being on his game. However, I surmise I am just not in sync with the series, as I cannot grasp onto the story, the characters, or the overall presentation of the plot. The characters do present a number of interesting personalities, specifically Solomon Creed, whose life remains as solid as a puff of smoke. Slowly trying to grasp for pieces of himself, the reader sees slow realisations about the man. It is through the revelations of his psychiatrist that the reader garners the most information, which floods out in one giant narrative in the middle of the novel. Working on some of the other characters, Toyne reveals much, particularly about the Nazi treatment of prisoners and the Movement to quash them in the latter portion of the Second World War. While there are interesting characters who grace the pages of this novel, I felt little attachment to them, which fuelled my sense of disinterest with portion of the book. The story itself lacked much motivation for me, as I found myself stuck in the middle of the developing narrative, feeling a sense of swimming in treacle (the second such book in two days), and I pleaded to get to the end. The chase to keep Creed one step ahead of the authorities and the killer’s eventually discovery did little for me. Some will enjoy this approach, as well as the ever-revealed Jewish aspects of the story that date back to the 1940s. Toyne’s ability to write should not be lost on the reader, nor is his ability to spin an interesting tale, but I just cannot find myself enthralled with this novel.

Thank you, Mr. Toyne, for this second attempt at Solomon Creed. While your ‘boy’ can see, I seem to be blind to much of the novel’s development. Perhaps I’ll stay away and let your other fans revel in the series.

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

Fear, by Dirk Kurbjuweit

Six stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Dirk Kurbjuweit and House of Anansi for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Having never read Kurbjuweit’s work, I was curious to see how I might enjoy something a little different. Spurred on by having it fit into a current book challenge topic (a book translated from its original language), I thought it could serve a double purpose, as I toil through the dark and anger-filled German narrative. Randolph Tiefenthaler is a man who has lived in the shadow of fear for his entire life, beginning with the terror his mother felt while he was still in utero during the Cuban Missile Crisis and continued on while living in Cold War West Germany. Offsetting the political fear was the emotional instability at home, where a domineering father ran the house as he saw fit. Tiefenthaler, who takes the role of narrator through this piece, explores the fear of his marriage to Rebecca, as they grow further apart and appear to remain together solely for their children. However, it is the introduction of the downstairs neighbour, Dieter Tiberius, that evokes the most fear and anger in the story. In a narrative that constantly oscillates between the aforementioned past revelations and a current situation, Herr Tiberius begins a peaceable coexistence with the Tiefenthaler family, but things soon take a turn when handwritten love notes turn sour and allegations of child abuse are lobbed at Randolph and Rebecca. As Randolph seeks to quell the fires, his anger pushes him to the brink, particularly when he feels the law offers Tiberius carte blanche to continue his conniving ways. With hatred in his heart and a father who is a known marksman, Tiefenthaler must decide how to neutralise his fear once and for all. The narrative points to an end-game that was adjudicated by the courts, but a twist in the story leaves the reader somewhat shocked. An interesting exploration of German angst and anger in literary form, Kurbjuweit offers readers an interesting story, though I cannot say I was fully enthralled.

With no benchmark for the author’s work, it is hard to compare or contrast against some of the other stories that may have been published. However, the premise of the novel is interesting, particularly the ongoing struggle to come to terms with an offended neighbour whose personal agenda is unknown. Layering this struggle with the protagonist’s own life events, Kurbjuweit allows the reader to view some of the foundations of fear that emerge throughout. While the story does progress, the delivery of the backstory is a little tepid, almost detached and told in a less than involved manner. This could be due to the translation, but I felt as though Kurbjuweit was using the first person narrative to allow Randolph to deliver his life history is a speech format. ‘Here is what I have experienced, etc…’ While I have expounded the wonders of European mysteries whose translation into English makes them better than many North American pieces, this one does not meet that mark. I felt as though I was missing something throughout, waiting for the other part of the story to fall into place, even with some of the self-doubt woven into Randolph and Rebecca throughout the piece. Alas, the only ‘clunk’ I heard was my head hitting the table as I tried to shake some order into the story before writing this review.

Interesting work, Herr Kurbjuweit, for this piece, which speaks to the stereotypical German literary gloom and doom. It served its purpose for my book challenge, though I am not sure I will rush back to read more of your translated work.

This book fulfills Equinox I (A Book for All Seasons) Book Challenge for Topic #2: A Book Translated from its Original Language.

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

The Bourne Initiative (Jason Bourne #14), by Eric van Lustbader

A painful four stars

Returning with another novel in the Jason Bourne series, Eric van Lustbader is back to extend a collection well past its ‘best before’ date. As Jason Bourne remains in hiding and mourns the loss of his friend, General Boris Karpov, he is targeted by his own country. A top-secret death squad is sent to kill Bourne and destroy the one item Karpov left him; a yacht. However, Karpov was not as stingy as one might think. The former head of the Russian FSB also created a cyber weapon he named the Bourne Initiative, trusting only Jason to control it. The Initiative, at full capacity, could strike terror into the heart of America, as it is designed and capable of ascertaining the president’s nuclear launch codes. With those codes, no one is sure what could happen, or how devastating the blowback might be. As Bourne learns of this ‘gift’, he realizes that his life is in an even more precarious position. Bourne is left to turn to one of his own enemies to ensure his own safety, alongside an operative who is anything but trustworthy. Bourne learns more about this Initiative weapon and what Karpov might have had in mind as he concocted the ultimate strike within American borders. Will Bourne allow the Initiative move forward, thereby placing the world in a state of dire volatility? Only time will tell, though even that is in short order. An interesting twist in the Bourne saga, though I am not fully captivated by the premise of this novel or the series continuation.

I will be the first to admit that there are times when a book simply does not connect with the reader. This is one such situation for me, though I fear that each book that van Lustbader adds to the Bourne series has been less than impressive and builds a stronger case that he ought to stop churning them out. In fact, as I have said before, it is perhaps time to let Jason Bourne head out to pasture and insist that van Lustbader turn to other projects. I simply cannot connect with Bourne, even though van Lustbader seems to have provided a decent premise for this novel. The characters are some that would appear enticing, though Bourne has left his espionage days behind and has become somewhat flat. Use of a Russian-based villain is refreshing, as it seems authors are still caught on the ISIS and Muslim-centred evildoers, which can only fan xenophobia. Even the plot, when reading the book’s summary, seems to be something on which the reader could grasp. Alas, I seem to have lost the ability to connect with any of it, as though the entire experience were Teflon and the entire novel slips away as quickly as it is delivered. I tried, but could not find myself latching on, no matter the time of day or activity undertaken. It is not the audiobook narrator, for I have much esteem for his work, nor is it that things were dull and one-dimensional, per se. There simply was a lack of anything that reached out and zapped me to attention. One can hope that other readers will find some solace in the plot and premise, but I suspect it might have something to do with the author. It is impossible to fill Robert Ludlum’s shoes and van Lustbader has never sought to utilise the Bourne we have all come to know in early novels. Sure, characters need to progress and become a little more…versatile, but this Bourne is not one I know or even one I want to know. Best to end things now and let Bourne enter obscurity on his own terms, rather than have scores of readers come to the same conclusions I have and risk tarnishing a character and author’s reputations.

Mr. van Lustbader, the time has come to let Bourne fade off your radar screen. Surely you have your own series to manage and the Ludlum Estate can survive off proceeds already in place.

The Templar Heresy (Chris Bronson #7), by James Becker

Six stars

After some delays to work on writing projects with some shared themes, James Becker is back with another Chris Bronson thriller. Tapping into Christian history and the symbols that have emerged through the ages, Becker entertains readers with this story while adding the thrill of the chase as two sides fight over the interpretation. Seeking a little excitement during his holidays, Chris Bronson accepts an invitation from ex-wife and best friend, Angela Lewis to join him on her latest archeological dig. He makes his way to Kuwait and is met at the airport, where Angela and fellow archeologist Stephen Taverner fill him in on their latest discovery. While out in the deserts of Iraq, they have come across some temple that has odd inscriptions on its walls. Bronson, always one to enjoy a mystery, agrees to come see them to determine if he can crack the code. However, as they return to camp, all that is left are a slew of dead archeologists, their bodies slaughtered and baking in the desert sun. The inscriptions have been chipped out of the walls, which only adds to the mystery. After deciding to flee the region and report what has happened when they are safely in the United Kingdom, Bronson leads the group back towards Kuwait. However, a band of thugs seems more than happy to exterminate them before they can reach their destination. Dodging bullets and trying to reach safety, Bronson, Angela, and Stephen are able to catch numerous last-minute flights around the Middle East before landing in Milan. From there, it is a simple trip to London and they will be safe. However, after splitting up from Stephen, Bronson and Angela learn that the thugs are still targeting them, having killed Stephen and left him for dead. Now, all eyes turn to these inscriptions, which Angela was smart enough to capture digitally during the excavation. As they begin to study the words and apply a few ciphers, there appears to be a larger mystery, one that includes (of course!) the Knights Templar. From here, Angela and Bronson must dodge the thugs as the race to uncover the mystery kicks into high gear. What the Templars may have discovered centuries ago remains highly thrilling even now. Bronson and Angela just may not live long enough to uncover the mystery for themselves. A decent story for series fans who have been waiting a while for the next instalment, complete with some seemingly sacrilegious speculations. There is even enough Templar flavour in the second half of the novel to appeal to thrill seekers who enjoy something a little more methodical. 

I have long been a fan of Becker and his work, having followed Chris Bronson through many an adventure. I will admit, though, that this novel seemed to lack some of the punch that I remembered from past stories in the series. During the Bronson reprieve, I have been following Becker as he delves into a Templar-based series and find the calibre of writing in this novel lacking significantly from those Templar stories, published as late as fall 2016. While Chris Bronson and Angela Lewis remain strong characters, it is as though the ‘cookie cutter’ race to solve a mystery was used here, allowing for no character development as individuals or jointly in their current platonic relationship. How Becker could have forgotten to add at least some fond memories his protagonists share baffles me, as they are forced to work so closely at hand. The thug characters continue to fuel the current “terrorist du jour” mentality, by tossing around ISIS images, though to some degree there is a sensical nature to the Muslim evildoer in this piece, which the reader understands better when they read the book. The plot is decent, though it is by no means original, either in Becker’s world or those authors who write about uncovering Templar secrets. I must comment here that the story, while fiction, could have been firmly rooted in reality, though I found the constant “let me just buy more airline tickets, hotels, and anything we need” highly unrealistic. Bronson comes across as being flush with cash and able to simply pull out the large sums of money while on the run. Again, I may be nitpicking, but this is my review and I can address issues that came to mind throughout the reading. All in all, a decent read, but surely not one of Becket’s best. I hope this was simply an aberration. 

Kudos, Mr. Becker for another Bronson-Lewis adventure. I know you have a Templar book soon to be released and hope you can use your successes there and allow them to return to this series in short order.

Broken Promises, by Nick Nichols

Six stars

After having this book recommended to me, I thought I would delve deeper into the legal mind of Nick Nichols. Having previously read one of his short stories, I was sure this would be a great legal drama, sharp and succinct as the reader holds on for dear life. Jack Adams is an Atlanta divorce attorney climbing the ranks of his firm in hopes of making partner by thirty-five. When two important cases fall on his desk, he can all but see the partnership solidified. One case proves challenging, with a woman bound and determined to take her husband to the cleaners for his adulterous ways. The other proves even more mind-boggling and Adams finds himself unsure how to react to the advances made by his client. What begins as simple flirtation soon turns into full-fledged scandal, as Adams is drawn into his client’s web. Learning her true intentions, Adams still finds himself violating ethical boundaries, which could cost him everything. A Bar suspension, a job in jeopardy, and personal ruin begin the downward spiral for Jack Adams, and yet this is not rock bottom. When something happens to his client, all eyes turn to Adams, though he professes that he is not involved. What follows might be the fight for his life, legal and otherwise. A interesting premise for a legal thriller that, unfortunately, does not past muster with this jury of one.

While others have offered much praise for this novel, I felt that Nichols missed the mark. He had all the essential tools in his quiver, but repeatedly fell short. The cast of characters was well constructed and varied, as were their backgrounds. This permitted the story to move forward, albeit limping on certain occasions. The premise was strong and Nichols did succeed in making divorce law something more than a mundane mud-slinging affair (no pun intended), but the way by which the narrative developed and presented the ‘spiral into disarray’ started a process of skimming the water, as if Nichols had much he wanted to address but someone was demanding the manuscript quickly. He rushed through the latter portion of the story and offered only the most superficial of courtroom or legal stories, where I could see much opportunity for dramatic flare. Tepid at best, I am left to wonder if an editor slashed and gutted the essential aspects to his work, as I have seen writing and a narrative exponentially better in his aforementioned short story. Perhaps a switch elsewhere will garner him better results (at least from me), if he is given the chance to flourish with another project.

A decent novel, Mr. Nichols that simply did not get deep enough or explore all the avenues at your disposal. Worry not, we all stumble at times. It is picking one’s self up again that separates the truly great authors from those destined for sub-par status. 

Taking the Titanic: A BookShot, by James Patterson and Scott Slaven

Five stars

In their first BookShot partnership, James Patterson and Scott Slaven use the voyage of the Titanic as the backdrop to their tale. As people of all classes and backgrounds prepare for the Titanic’s maiden voyage in April 1912, there were a few aboard who saw it is as opportunity to line their pockets. After leaving port en route to New York, Nigel Bowen (or a man choosing the pseudonym to cover his sordid past in England) lures the unsuspecting to gambling away large sums at the poker table, bleeding them dry after playing the role of inept card player. Meanwhile, a young woman who is just as much of a con agrees to a ‘marriage’ aboard and takes the name Celia Bowen, which allows her to use her nimble fingers to steal from the women on board, which harbouring a secret of her own back in England. While Nigel and Celia make quite a name for themselves on board, fighting and becoming the buzz on every deck, there is another heist in the making. All this while the boat strikes an iceberg. Before long the ‘unsinkable’ Titanic is taking on water and descending into the Atlantic. Readers will know of the scramble to board lifeboats, which is not lost in this narrative. Will Nigel and Celia be able to turn away from their scandalous pasts and work together? A lacklustre story that is not horrid, but surely goes to show that not all BookShots are equal in their levels of excitement.

Patterson’s BookShots idea has been working for close to a year now and his introduction of a number of authors has the potential to create new and exciting options. Slaven is new to the partnership scene and is sure to have tried to use the Patterson name to catapult him to success. While the story has some decent characters and a plot that is not awful in its development, there is too much history with the setting to effectively tell the story that Patterson and Slaven had in their minds. Much like the attempt of Leo DiCaprio to ruin the maiden voyage of the Titanic in that cinematic hot mess, this short story does little to respect the foundations set with sinking of the Titanic over one hundred years ago. Perhaps Slaven will return again and redeem himself, for it would be a pity to see him fail as he attached himself to the seemingly unsinkable world-famous author.
Decent work, Messrs. Patterson and Slaven, but it was not the best piece for me. I can only hope this was a partnership anomaly and that the next collaboration has more pizzazz. 

Cross the Line (Alex Cross #24, but should be #23.25), by James Patterson

Five stars

Patterson returns with another Alex Cross thriller, leaving series fans curious what is to come, especially after the high-impact ending of the previous story, a BookShot. As if nothing had happened at all, the story opens with Cross investigating an apparent case of road rage, a man shot and killed in his car. However, just as Cross is getting a handle on the situation, a call comes in, reporting an officer has been shot. Rushing to the scene, Alex realises that this is not only his former boss, the Chief of Detectives, but the mentor of his wife, Bree. The killer is out there, but no one is at the helm to guide detectives, until Bree is chosen for this illustrious job, now boss to the famed Dr. Alex Cross. While Bree is to wear multiple hats, she makes a decision on the killing to appease the brass, ignoring the instincts of her own husband. This puts a significant strain on the relationship and tears the Homicide Division in two, just at the time when unity is essential. A drug lab is attacked and many of those inside are left for dead, an apparent act by a group of vigilantes, which has Cross on high-alert. With no firm list of suspects and fluid motives, Cross must pound pavement and ask the right questions before more acts of retribution take place, while still letting the killing of the former Chief of Ds percolate in his mind. When more apparent acts of road age occur, Cross sees a pattern; expensive vehicles and people admitting they may have been skirting traffic laws. Could these killings be fuelled by someone who wants to enforce the laws of the road when no one else will? Pulled in many directions, Cross soon learns that the vigilante movement is stronger than he first thought and that there is a plan to deliver justice on a large scale, with Metro DC in the crosshairs. With all that is going on, one would think that Cross could not focus on his family, but a few issues on the home front force him to take a closer look and reinvent the foundation of the Cross family. An interesting premise for Alex Cross, though delivery seemed slightly strained for me.
I have long been a fan of the Alex Cross series, the only one that James Patterson has kept for himself. While I lamented some of his joint writing ventures, I could always rely on this series to deliver a punch. Perhaps that time has ended, for I felt this novel did not offer the excitement I had hoped. While Cross and the strong supporting cast continue to develop with their backstories, the cases are not pulling me in. Patterson litters the plot with a few cases and has the reader juggling them to keep things straight. Perhaps the best part of the story involves the personal strains in the Cross home, though I will not speak to these, leaving the reader to discover them peppered within the pages of this story. While there was nothing wrong, per se, with Patterson’s work, I could not find myself attaching or feeling any sort of compelling reason to read “just a little more”, as Patterson has always been able to do. Perhaps my mindset, but also likely that Patterson churns out so much that the quality has taken second place to quantity. I must address one thing that I pointed out in the opening, something that I know many series fans have been hoping to better understand. In the BookShot released earlier this year (Cross Kill, Alex Cross #23.5), there was an ending that offered a wonderful cliffhanger. I know many people commented on various sites about how Patterson might have to get the popular character out of the predicament in order to fuel a full-length novel. Without revealing too much, it was only when I opened the first few chapters of said BookShot after completing this novel that I realised that this novel (#24) is actually supposed to PRECEDE the BookShot. Call it poor labelling by the publisher or blame Patterson for not regulating things, the reader is still left to suffer. So now, series fans must wait to see if Patterson addresses things in a timely fashion or if we are to be considered dunces and expected to forget all that happened. Much like a bad season of Dallas in the 1980s. Interesting… but unfortunately baffling all the same.

Interesting work, Mr. Patterson, though I cannot praise you. Perhaps others will and I will give this another read down the road. While your BookShots are entertaining and your countless other series seem to churn out pieces, could it be time to halt the train containing your riches and focus on well-crafted books?

The Whistler, by John Grisham

Seven stars

In his latest novel, garnering many mixed reviews, Grisham seeks to offer readers yet another angle of the law in thriller format. Lacy Stoltz is gainfully employed with the Florida Bureau of Judicial Conduct, a branch of the state government tasked with keeping those who occupy the bench from stepping too far out of line. When Lacy and her partner, Hugo, meet with Greg Myers, he lets them know that he is acting as an intermediary for someone who has significant information on a corrupt judge, one Claudia McDover. Myers explains that McDover is apparently mixed up with a collection of men who call themselves the Coast Mafia, all of whom have pushed forward the building and maintenance of a casino, The Treasure Key, on tribal land belonging to the Tappacola. McDover and others have been receiving significant payments, contravening numerous laws. McDover is accused not only of ensuring that the casino moved forward, but oversaw a fabricated murder trial of one Junior Mace, a member of the tribe and strong advocate against the casino. With Mace out of the way, opposition by a segment of the Tappacola dissolved, paving the way for its construction and continued prosperity. With Treasure Key significantly in the black, McDover has been further compensated with a number of condominiums, another kickback for her steering judicial decisions in a favourable direction. Digesting all this, Lacy must await a formal complaint, understanding that it will rock the system if even parts of it can be proven. Myers agrees to get the wheels in motion, but warns Lacy about one Vonn Dubose, a member of the Coast Mafia and closely tied to Her Honor. Dubose has connections to men who could make people disappear or worse, which is why the actual whistleblower (or ‘Whistler’ in the vernacular) has yet to come forward themselves. Commencing her formal investigation, Lacy and her partner head to the tribal lands and begin asking questions about the casino and the trial of Junior Mace, who was convicted of killing his wife and close friend in an apparent fit of rage when they were found in bed together. Lacy learns that much of the testimony at trial was flimsy and that witnesses were given a great deal of leeway. While travelling home from their investigation, Lacy and Hugo are struck by a drunk driver, killing Hugo. In a coma for a time, Lacy is incapacitated and the investigation can go nowhere, the time limit for filing slowly ticking away. When Lacy is able to recover enough she has a newfound impetus to bring McDover down and have someone charged for killing Hugo. When Myers goes missing, Lacy realises that someone will stop at nothing to ensure this investigation withers on the vine and so she presses on, soon learning the identity of the Whistler. Now she has to protect this individual if she is to bring the full force of the Bureau of Judicial Conduct down on McDover, while using the additional resources of the FBI, who have jurisdiction on tribal lands when it comes to criminal matters. When the Whistler is apparently identified during monitored phone calls, Lacy must do all in her power to protect this person before all those who have the power to bring McDover down cease to exist. However, the Coast Mafia will do anything in their power to protect their greatest asset, the casino, and the judge who made it all come true. An interesting and unique take to the legal thriller, Grisham keeps the reader wondering throughout. 

I have long enjoyed and respected John Grisham for his varied stories as they relate to the law. While I have struggled with some of his more recent novels, I think that might have something to do with the nuanced aspects of the legal world being explored, rather than diminished writing capacity on the part of the author. As always, Grisham uses a wonderful collection of characters from many walks of life to flavour his story effectively, as well as another southern locale to keep things close to home for him. What I found lacking was something I cannot place; as if the Grisham Spark was missing. The story flowed well and the narrative did not drag, but I was not captivated as I had been in earlier novels, which might have something to do with a lack of ‘David versus Goliath’ mentality that Grisham used to inject into his stories. While there was certainly a Good versus Evil theme to the book, I lacked a connection to the story that I often find when exploring the world of John Grisham. I have seen others review this book and offer similar sentiments, so I know that I am not alone. How to give insight to those who will read this before choosing to read the book, that is something with which I struggle. However, veteran Grisham fans such as myself know when something is off and won’t stand idly by chalking it up to just a poor effort. I will admit, reading the prequel to this story, ‘Witness to a Trial’, did offer some interesting insight into the capital case of Junior Mace that plays a key role in the larger complaint against Claudia McDover. I am happy I took the time to do so and found it helped in that regard. Still, one can hope that this does not become the norm, where Grisham slides into James Patterson’s mentality and rests on his laurels to make millions while churning out less than his best.

Kudos, Mr. Grisham for a good book. That je ne sais quoi seems to have been lacking, which I hope can be found by the next publication. I know your loyal fans will forgive you for it… once.

The Bourne Enigma (Jason Bourne #13), by Eric van Lustbader

Six stars

In his effort to elongate the Jason Bourne series, van Lustbader continues to steer the protagonist in ways Robert Ludlum would likely never have dreamt or possibly wanted. In this ‘lucky’ 13th instalment, Jason Bourne is approached in Frankfurt with a present from a close friend; a coin, etched with a curious rebus. Upon arriving in Moscow, Bourne sets out to attend the wedding of a close friend, General Boris Karpov, who is a high-ranking official in the country’s FSB. Before Bourne has a chance to inquire about the coin Karpov sent him, the General is garrotted outside his wedding reception. FSB officials are prepared to arrest Bourne for the murder, as he found the body, though the elusive ‘man of mystery’ asks for a short reprieve to prove that he is innocent. Embedded in the wound is a gold Star of David, one that Bourne recognises as belonging to Israeli Sara Yadin. While Bourne’s past is somewhat fuzzy, he is well aware that Yadin is a Kidon assassin using the name Rebeka, though he cannot understand what reason she might have for killing the General. While pondering this, Bourne is left to wonder if the man for whom he has been searching over the past little while, Ivan Borz, might be responsible, and if this coin could play into the murder. Finding himself headed to Cairo in search of Borz, Bourne locates Yadin, who denies being behind the killing, but does admit her Star has gone missing. They begin examining the coin in Bourne’s possession and wonder if it might hold the key to Karpov’s murder. After coming head to head with Borz, it appears they have the assassin before them, but there is something even larger afoot; something that involves The Sovereign, the respectful name of the current Russian President. Once Bourne and Yadin are able to decipher the rebus, they realise that The Sovereign has been siphoning money from a secret account to terror cells, distracting the world from his own plans of renewed imperialism. Unless Bourne can stop the money train, world leaders will expend all attention and energy to fighting the likes of ISIS while Russian forces exact brutal takeover manoeuvres in hopes of recreating a 21st century USSR. Is this one mission Bourne will have to admit is too much for him to handle? Series fans may find much excitement in van Lustbader’s latest instalment, though purists may cringe or turn away.  

A few years ago I went on a Jason Bourne binge, reading the entire collection to that point. Some may remember this venture and how I saw a significant turn away from the Ludlum Bourne when Eric van Lustbader took over. This continues and, while the stories on their own might hold the reader’s attention, I feel they are not upholding what Ludlum created. Far be it from me to lament times past or previous incarnations of characters whose entire being is embedded in a bygone era, but I simply find myself unable to be drawn in by the ‘new’ Bourne or the adventures crafted by van Lustbader. The characters in this story are varied and, in true Bourne series fashion, offer both those who fill the upper echelons of ‘good’ and evildoers. The author is able to spin backstories of both individual characters and how Jason Bourne fits onto their larger radar. While early novels were always about Bourne staying one step ahead of the law and government agencies (a la Jack Reacher), it seems he is now on more of an international spy/sleuth kick (a rougher Cotton Malone). The story weaves its way across continents and develops plots that have agencies battling one another, forcing Bourne to choose his loyalties, which could be of some interest to the dedicated reader. However, I find myself less than enthralled or captivated by this and sensed myself drifting mentally at times. Why do I keep reading whatever van Lustbader churns out when it comes to this series? Perhaps I find myself wanting to simply finish that which I have started, in honour to Robert Ludlum. Still, there comes a time when things have outlived their usefulness. Could this series be ready to end anytime soon? For the sake of purists, one can surely hope, though van Lustbader has at least one more book coming. 

Thank you for your contributions, Mr. van Lustbader. Jason Bourne has grown and developed, but perhaps his ill-fitting britches are indicative that he needs to hang up his amnesia-riddled personality and retire.

French Kiss (Detective Luc Moncrief #1): A BookShot, by James Patterson and Richard DiLallo

Six stars

Patterson and DiLallo team up again for the first of (at least) a trilogy of BookShots involving Inspector Luc Moncrief. On loan to the NYPD from Paris, Moncrief cut his teeth in the French capital chasing down murderers and uncovering major drug crimes, though has been relegated to some clean-up work in New York. When his partner is killed while working undercover, Moncrief must deliver the news to her family and is then tasked with solving the murder. Katherine Burke, dubbed ‘K. Burke’ by Moncrief, has two years experience as a detective and is paired with him to offer some NYPD insight to this recent transfer. While investigating a high-priced prostitute angle, Moncrief is handed some more devastating news. It appears that this is not a killer seeking to scrub out hookers, but one who has Moncrief in their crosshairs, killing those close to him to offer personal grief and angst. Moncrief convinces his superior that he must return to Paris, where he will likely uncover a vendetta buried in his old case files, bringing Burke along to assist. When they arrive in Paris, Moncrief is able to show Burke a little more about the city and some of the accolades he earned while making Paris a little safer. After Burke is attacked and almost killed, Moncrief uses his French intuition and heads to one of the notorious French prisons to find the killer, or at least the man calling the shots. A tepid piece, though it did flow easily, which is key for any BookShot.

When I heard that there would be a trilogy of these short stories, I was curious, having seen some of Patterson’s past work with DiLallo and the larger BookShots collection. What could have been highly entertaining and adventurous (a la Private) turns slightly melancholy at times, as though Moncrief’s character wants the reader to feel that French laissez-faire attitude. There is a mystery and it does turn out to have ties to Moncrief, though the narrative seems less captivating than I have seen from the authors (or even BookShots) before. There could be some decent character development in the next two stories and some banter within this tale does keep the reader wondering what might transpire, but I did not feel the spark, which is essential in these short stories, where there is little time to meander. The jury’s still out and I will see what is to come in the next instalment, due out during the holiday season, before I decide if Moncrief needs to go into la poubelle!

Decent work, Messrs. Patterson and DiLallo on this BookShot. As I said, I shall reserve judgment until I have seen your next BookShot.

$10,000,000 Marriage Proposal: A BookShot, by James Patterson and Hilary Liftin

Six stars

James Patterson joins forces with Hilary Liftin for this quasi-romance BookShot that remains at least somewhat digestible for the reader who does not fancy the gushy genre with Adonis-like men affixed to the cover. A billboard appears in Los Angeles, sporting the following message: “WILL YOU MARRY ME FOR $10,000,000? CREATIVE, OPEN-MINDED BUSINESSMAN WITH LIMITED TIME AND DESIRE TO PLAY THE FIELD. THIS IS A SERIOUS PROPOSAL.” The story focusses Suze Lee, Caroline Fried-Miller and Janey Ellis, exploring their individual interpretations of the proposal and roles they play upon agreeing to participate in the process. Cynical, they each bring their own flavour and perspective as the screening moves forward, none of whom are sure they have what it takes. When all is said and done, surprisingly, they end up as finalists vying for the heart (and wallet) of this mystery man, which has helped them all boost their egos, while remaining true to their own beliefs. The final process moves away from a competition and towards a heightened degree of honesty as the reader can only watch until the final ‘rose’ is handed out. Perhaps a winner for some, but I would not propose anything like this for someone looking for a thrill-filled BookShot. The only use your left hand will have is to strike your forehead repeatedly or wave to speed-up finishing the story.

Truth be told, I knew what I was getting into when I read the title of the book. I did not expect anything high-impact or thrilling, nor did I feel I would leave this book feeling uplifted or enthralled to look for more Patterson-Liftin collaborations. I needed something to bridge my time between novels and this fit the bill. The story has ‘reality show’ reeking from it and even one of the characters posits that the idea would be perfect for the small screen. The three ‘main’ characters had enough of a backstory to give them a little depth, but I was not drawn to any of them, nor was the collection of secretive antics enough to make me want to know too much about this ‘Mr. Moneybags’. The narrative was decent, though when I compare it to many of the Patterson BookShots I have read up to now, it dragged and got tiresome quickly. What started out as something full of curiosity turned into a sappy mess the further I read. By the final chapters, I think Patterson and Liftin expected the reader to have an epiphany about the importance of finding that person to love. Alas, it got too hokey for me, but, as I mentioned above, it served the purpose I knew it would going into this experience. For that, I cannot fault the writers too heavily.

Well done, Mr. Patterson and Madam Liftin for succeeding in what your sought to do. Not my kind of story, but I hope there are those out there who love this kind of thing. The entire BookShot Flame genre attracts a certain type of reader, which may be the demographic that flocks to this.

The Witnesses: A BookShot, by James Patterson and Brendan DuBois

Six stars

In another of the BookShot short stories, James Patterson and Brendan DuBois craft an interesting tale that will keep the reader wondering until the closing chapters. The Sandersons have been temporarily relocated from their California home to the small community of Levittown, New York. Their neighbour is leaving nothing to chance as he sits in his wheelchair and gawks at them, spinning outrageous tales. Inside their home, the family is miserable; unable to communicate with the outside world or connect to something as rudimentary as the Information Highway. It all stems from their recent time in Tunisia, where Mr. Sanderson was on an archaeological dig as part of his ongoing scholastic work with Stanford. Was something unearthed that was best left interred? Or, could it have been Mrs. Sanderson, whose experience writing guidebooks led her to snap some photos of a meeting she was not supposed to see? No one is sure, but their security agent runs a tight ship and they are herded around like cattle. There is a hit put out on the Sandersons and a trained killer is slowly pulling together leads to find them. After a single mishap, beacons are alerted on both side of the law and it’s a rush to get to Levittown to deal with the breach. Who gets there first is anyone’s guess, but either way, the Sandersons won’t be around for any town bake sales this autumn. A decent story that glides along well enough to keep the reader entertained and turning pages.

While not my first BookShot, this was the first collaboration between Patterson and DuBois that I read. The authors take an interesting premise, a family in some form of witness protection, and spin it into something a little more enticing. The nosy elderly neighbour with a history of police work, sure that ISIS has moved in next door; the hitman sent to get rid of the target as smoothly and efficiently as possible, but who encounters some roadblocks; and the agency that vows protection covering its assets as best it knows how. While the story did flow well, I was not left with an indelible feel for any of the characters or felt compelled to crack the mystery behind the central protectee, though it was interesting to see in the end. The pace was quick enough and the varied characters offered something to keep the plot moving. Would I read another of their literary concoctions? Likely, but I am not shifting this to the top of my BookShot favourites list.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and DuBois on crafting this short story. I look forward to see what you both can do in the future, either in the BookShot world or independently.

Little Black Dress: A BookShot, by James Patterson and Emily Raymond

Six stars

Patterson continues his literary experimenting, bringing Emily Raymond along for the ride. In this BookShot, Patterson ventures outside the genres for which he is known, waltzing onto a more romance/erotica pathway. More on this concept below and my sentiments on its success. Jane Avery is living the typical a 35 year old divorcée life, at least in her eyes; a slave to her work whose social time is filled with cookies and binge watching television. When she purchases a dress, black and slinky in nature, she finds herself filled with new confidence. While the dress does not possess any magical power, per se, Avery is pulled into a level of confidence she lacked up to that point. This confidence is primarily that of no strings attached sexual encounters with men, most of whom she has never met and all of whom will not get a second chance to unzip her. Patterson and Raymond layer this concept with parachuted visits that Avery makes to her therapist, who is unknowingly fuelling her nymphomania. Avery’s confidence reaches a climactic point when she visits a sex club and finds herself drawn to a man whose intrigue matches his prowess. However, Avery is eventually left to wonder if she will be able to continue her sexual gratification of meteoric proportions on her own, without the aforementioned dress as her crutch. Definitely an interesting and unique take for Patterson fans, though those familiar with Raymond may expect this on a regular basis.

I will admit, I have no experience with Emily Raymond or anything that she may have penned. I do not dive into the “his pulsing member” genre and will not be scouring websites to sign up for newest releases anytime soon. That said, the story was effective for what it was; not too smutty and yet nowhere near as sleuth-based as James Patterson tends to be. Jane Avery sought sex and she found it until she had an epiphany, short and sweet. The story was decent, its characters helped push it along (though this genre does not seem to thrive on strong characters other than the protagonist). That Patterson would put his name to this type of story does not sully him, but it does go to show that he will slap his name on most anything to sell it, which benefits the co-author in some form. That said, I am completely unsure why Patterson cannot stick to working with authors who fit into the genres of writing for which he has been popular for a while. Alas, I am but a small-time reviewer and not some filthy rich man whose prime can sometimes be said to have sailed when he churned out fluff. I do hope he returns to the BookShot family with something a little more substantive, at least that bears his name. 

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Raymond for this story, though I think our latter author could and should have peddled this piece under her own name alone.

Patriot (Alexander Hawke #9), by Ted Bell

Seven stars

Ted Bell returns with another Alex Hawke thriller, full of espionage and political drama. When spies around the world turn up dead, Lord Alex Hawke and his partner, Ambrose Congreve, begin investigating. What looks like an old CIA vendetta may have larger implications for Hawke and his entire family, especially after an attack at his home in Bermuda and a potential honey trap by a mysterious woman who matches the description of someone seen at each of the murders. With the investigation heating up, there is a covert attempt to poison young Alexei Hawke, leaving Alex no choice but to place his son in protective custody. As Hawke approaches Russian President Putin, who is close to one of the murdered spies, the power-hungry leader shows off a new and powerful weapon that he’s recently added to his cache. Meanwhile, an American mercenary is summoned to the barren wastelands of Siberia to meet with a Russian known only as ‘Uncle Joe’, with plans to build an international fighting force to do Putin’s bidding, while offering plausible deniability to the authoritarian. Hawke soon discovers that Putin’s interests are sinister and that the weapon he was shown is at the heart of a land-grab that could see NATO countries fall and a return of the Soviet Empire, all while putting the blame on the United States. Can Hawke stop things before a new war emerges, sure to bring the West to its knees? Bell amps up the action and casts Hawke in the light of a determined saviour of freedom in this latest instalment to the series.

While not his best work, Bell has an effective means of transmitting the Alex Hawke character to his readers. While I have mentioned that the entire Hawke persona grates on my nerves at times, the story does advance well. Use of a handful of key characters, some of whom suffer mortal peril, allows the larger series story to advance, while not detracting from the novel’s impetus. Bell has a handle on the narrative and can spin numerous storylines before having them converge in a seamless manner. That he parachutes famous political figures into the middle of the story and treats them as just another character shows how relaxed he has become with his own writing, which may intrigue or annoy the reader. I remain a fan, though find myself trying not to get caught up in the minutiae as Bell seeks to create a new James Bond out of his protagonist.

Kudos, Mr. Bell for another successful novel. You capture the idea of a new Cold War effectively, in a time when other authors remain obsessed with ISIS and and cross-cultural terrorism.

Love is for Tomorrow, by Michael Karner and Isaac Newton Acquah

Five stars

Michael Karner and Isaac Newton Acquah approached me and asked that I read and honestly review both their short story and novel. I completed a review of the short story towards the end of last year, leaving me with this longer piece. The story’s focus is Antoine, a man who was an agent with the CIA, left for dead after a failed mission. Using his connections he is able to resurrect himself in a secret life, far from his wife and child, situated now in Austria. However, the Agency learns of his existence and sends a hit squad to rub him out for good. Meanwhile, Antoine and his network learns of a major terror plot in Russia, one where a renowned terrorist seeks to cause massive damage in her own country. Working to neutralize the bomb and keep the target from succeeding in other means is at the heart of Antoine’s mission, even as he dodges bullets meant for him. An interesting tale by Karner and Acquah, scattered as it ended up being. Perhaps worth the inexpensive investment at Amazon, though I am not sure this is at the caliber of what I am used to reading.

The premise is strong and readers who take the time to digest the short story beforehand will have a little better understanding of the entire Antoine premise, though even then, you have to be on your game. For me, I surely was not. Perhaps it is stuff on the periphery of my life that kept me from investing the needed time and attention into this novel. I could not easily follow its flow, I found it scattered and jilted and really out of sorts I am not sure if it is me, or the authors, but I feel it might be a bit of both. There is much to be excited about in here; the novel does move ahead and make a semblance of sense. I must admit I did thoroughly enjoy the use of quotes and the beginning of each chapter, only to have them included in the story at some point. Brilliant move.

Decent work Messrs. Karner and Acquah, though this did not grab me as I would have liked. Perhaps there is a kernel in here, and I suspect other readers will find it. For me, it did not POP.

Birds of Prey (Courtney #9), by Wilbur Smith

Seven stars

Smith begins the final collection of Courtney novels with an interesting historical journey. Transporting readers back to 1667, the Anglo-Dutch naval war is at its zenith as Sir Francis Courtney and his son, Henry (Hal), sail off the coast of southern Africa. They await the Dutch ships, full of riches, headed back from faraway lands. As they hold letters of permission from Charles II, both Courtney men seek to act as privateers at a time when playing pirates on the high seas was completely permissible with ‘rape and pillage’ an accepted means of overpowering the enemy. After being double-crossed, Francis and his entire crew are captured by the Dutch and the elder Courtney is executed before his son. After being sentenced to a prison camp, the entire crew find a means escape, but only after learning the extent to the Dutch punitive measures. The crew choose Hal to lead them back on the seas. With loose connections to the Knights Templar, Hal sails the seas to avenge his father’s death and uphold the Templar traditions. Hal soon learns that leading a crew is more complex than he first thought and that protecting the innocent, particularly his fellow Christians, is death-defying. As Hal Courtney finds himself protecting Ethiopia from Arab invaders, the man’s true mettle comes to light, which has previously been exemplified by subsequent generations of Courtney men. Smith opens this collection of adventures in exciting fashion, leaving nothing to chance as he entertains his readers.

While this was not the most exciting of Smith’s novels, I must offer him much praise for this wonderful spin. He moves the Courtney name to its earlier ancestors, tracing their strength and determination through the skills Hal exemplifies throughout the novel. Races and swashbuckling on the high seas differs greatly from some of the past narratives, but it is this unique approach that keeps readers coming back. The attentive reader will enjoy a character or two, in hopes of their reemergence in subsequent novels. One can only hope Hal makes as indelible a mark as the likes of Sean and Centaine Courtney have in earlier novels.

Kudos, Mr. Smith for your diligence and attention to detail. I am eager to tackle more of Hal’s adventures and learn of those who followed him, as South Africa became so important to this family.

The Morgenstern Project (Consortium Thrillers #3), by David Khara

Three stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, David Khara, and Le French Book for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

Khara returns with the third instalment if the Consortium Thrillers series, turning things around and placing the focus on one of the main characters. As series readers will know well, Eytan Morgenstern has a complex backstory that has remained the central focus to date. Working alongside Jeremy and Jackie Corbin, remembered from the opening novel in the series, Morgenstern seeks to bring the Consortium down once and for all. After the US Government puts a bounty on their heads, Morgenstern and the Corbins must remain active, alongside two other associates who hold great importance to Morgenstern. The Consortium have begun working with the US army to create a new league of soldiers, based on the concept of transhumanism, the creation of a human whose prosthetic limbs hold super strength. Could the Consortium be helping create this ultimate army as a prototype before moving on to look at the larger population, pitting countries against one another? As Morgenstern realises that he is being hunted by the Consortium to resume medical testing, he vows to bring them down before any further damage can be done. With key flashbacks to the creation of Morgenstern as a killer, post-Nazi medical patient, Khara offers an enriching view of this most complex character within the entire series and turns the medical advancements to the present day, exemplifying the horrors that modern-technology could reap on an unsuspecting populace. A great addition to the Consortium Thriller series that may leave readers satisfied or screaming for more.

Having read all three Consortium Thrills consecutively, I have a better idea of what is going on and the flow Khara places within the series. While not his best work, Khara does instil the same horror in the reader as they see the development of what is to come in the world of biological warfare and nanotechnology. The characters are decently presented, though it is only Eytan Morgenstern who receives much backstory. I also felt the constant flitting from present to Morgenstern’s past somewhat distracting, though I can see why Khara presented things in this manner. The plot and premise of the novel are sound, but are not stelar by any stretch. I felt the dialogue and some of the narrative seems a little hokey, which has been an issue throughout the series. That could be from the translation or simply that the book has some inherent stretches to the imagination. Whether this was the last of the Consortium novels or not remains to be seen, though Khara does offer some degree of finality within the story, but as readers of thrillers know well, the Phoenix can always rise from the ashes. 

Kudos, M. Khara for this decent addition to the series. I am still using your opening novel as a yardstick, which was highly enticing and cannot help but measure the others against it.

The Shiro Project (Consortium Thriller #2), by David Khara

Three stars

In Khara’s second Consortium Thriller novel, the reader learns much more about Eytan Morg,after the stunning revelations revealed in the latter chapters of the opening book. With the facilities of the Bleiberg Project destroyed, those who run the Consortium are left scrambling to assert themselves on the world scene. Their target remains Eytan, whose super strength and inability to age could come in handy, should they be able to turn him, even temporarily.By kidnapping a man close to Eytan, the Ubermensch agrees to work with his nemesis and for the Consortium to complete a single mission. Eyton must explore the occurrences in a small Czech town where all its citizen are mysteriously killed and burned alive. Eyton discovers that it is some form of biological weapon with ties back to wartime-Japan, controlled by a group who make the Consortium seem tame. Eyton rushes from the Czech Republic to Japan to piece it all together, Khara takes the reader on another historical ride to see how scientific experimentation by the Axis powers could be more deplorable than first thought possible. An interesting second instalment in the series that may entertain the reader curious in passing a little free time.

While it might be the translation or simply the premise, the story is not as thrilling as the opening novel, though the potential remains. Khara does a decent job depicting Eytan in this struggle to find himself after being a Nazi experiment in his Warsaw ghetto. As Eyton plays a central role in the story and offers the reader more insight into his backstory, the pace of the novel was somewhat subdued and did not have the same propelled action as I would have hoped or expected. The reader is offered some horrific historical glimpses into the Japanese atrocities inflicted during the War and can only speculate as to the sadistic nature of the experiments undertaken in the name of science. Khara has surely done his research in that domain.
Kudos, M. Khara for another interesting instalment of the series. I hope the next novel has more action and stamina, to return the series to its thrilling status.

The Bleiberg Project (Consortium #1), by David Khara

Three Stars

In the first of Khara’s Consortium Thrillers, his focus is on the Nazis and their secret program to create the ultimate citizen. Jeremy Novacek had all he could want: money, success, and women. When two members of the Air Force arrive at his door to offer condolences for the loss of his father, Novacek thinks could not get any better. Estranged from his father, Novacek is delighted with the news and travels to pass it along to his mother, who is institutionalised. It is only then that things spiral out of control, as she hands him a key emblazoned with a swastika. Jeremy learns that his father’s departure in his youth was for safety reasons, as he was seconded by the CIA to engage in a covert mission, one of which his mother was fully aware. Jeremy, who returns to using his father’s ‘Corbin’ surname, heads to Zurich with a CIA agent to discover what lies within the safe deposit box to which the aforementioned key belongs. He is being trailed along the way by a Mossad agent who is also curious, but must offer an additional line of protection for those seeking to eliminate him and stop the discovery of any secrets. As Corbin uncovers the secrets in the Zurich bank, a coded document, he realises that his life is in danger. His mother is murdered, he is being targeted, and there is a broader mystery taking place that could have monumental importance. Layered with flashback chapters about the most secretive and important medical and genetic experiments the Nazis undertook during the War, Khara adds to the thrills throughout this novel, culminating in the ultimate surprise. An interesting beginning to the series, hopefully with more of this calibre to come to keep all readers interested.

With the third in the series on my NetGalley list to read, I felt it important to get a context before diving in with a review for the publisher. Khara offers an interesting introductory novel to the series, postulating the creation and development of the Übermensch, the super-man, perfectly Aryan in every way. As the story progresses, Jeremy Corbin realises that his father is embroiled in uncovering this mystery while the narrative leads the reader through numerous angles in the Nazi development. Nothing earth-shattering or fabulous, the novel plods along and seeks to offer some insight for the reader to ponder, with action and thrills to offset the historical recounting of this scientific tale. Khara does a decent job (as does the translator) in building up a few characters and developing them in a superficial manner. Well-crafted to allow the plot to flow smoothly and keep the reader entertained throughout. 

Kudos, M. Khara for your work on the first Consortium Thriller. I hope the others are as exciting and historically enticing.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web, by David Lagercrantz

Three stars

In this long-anticipated release, Lagercrantz adds his own flavour to Lisbeth Salander and Mikhael Blomkvist. After leaving a prestigious job at a computer firm in California, Frans Balder is back in Sweden and looking to regain custody of his son. A messy divorce left him with little choice but to flee, but Balder wants to care for August and leave his California dreams in the rearview mirror. As the reader soon learns, August is an autistic savant, proficient in both drawing and the calculation of complex numbers, two traits rarely seen in combination amongst savants. While alerted to numerous security issues surrounding his past work, Balder ignores them, choosing instead to focus on his time with August. Meanwhile, Mikael Blomkvist has come to realise that his prized magazine, Millennium, is on the verge of collapse and is looking for the next big story. When approached by Balder to discuss some of the issues he’s faced and his work on Artificial Intelligence, Blomkvist takes some interest and agrees to meet. However, before Blomkvist can meet with Balder, a hitman kills Balder, but left August as a mute witness. August is sent back to his mother, who can no longer handle her son and ships him off to an institution. As Blomkvist digs a little deeper, he realises that August may be the key to solving the mystery and calls on his past acquaintance, Lisbeth Salander, to help. Salander agrees to take August to a safe house in the hopes of discovering the secret behind the murder. She is able to discern that August’s abilities go far beyond his drawings, which offer clues to the murder, but he can help her as she cracks into the NSA’s secure servers for her own interests. Salander discovers that Balder may have been targeted by a Russian gang, calling themselves the Spider Society, whose membership includes a key figure from her past. Hindered by his inability to speak, can August help reveal the person who killed his father and can Salander utilise August’s abilities to crack a highly-encripted code the NSA has on its most top secret documents? Layered with multiple other storylines, some of whom mesh with the aforementioned summary, Lagercrantz does his best to continue the narrative where Stieg Larsson left it at his untimely death.

I have read a number of series continuations after the death of a celebrated author (Robert Ludlum, Margaret Truman, and Vince Flynn, to name a few) and it is always the attentive reader who seeks to place this ‘new’ author under the microscope to determine their mettle. In Lagercrantz’s case, the shoes to fill are enormous and the expectations are likely insurmountable. While it has been a while since I read the previous three novels, I did sense a disconnect in this book, especially as it relates to Lisbeth Salander. While Lagercrantz attempts to weave another layer of horrific backstory into the young woman’s life, depicting her witnessing the repeated rapes her mother faced at the hands of a drunken father and her twin sister’s sadistic desire to side with their father, the impact is not the same. Salander is a complex character and one who is well-known and respected both in the Scandinavian crime writing community and around the world. While the story flowed well and Lagercrantz injected a few well-researched storylines, the flow of the series is lost on the numerous plots the reader must follow. For this reason, I found it harder to tackle this book and end on a high note. With at least two other Lagercrantz novels in the works, I am uncertain if the series will find its strength again, or if, like the doomed Jason Bourne series, it will die at the hands of an author who has bitten off more than he can chew. Stay tuned for the verdict.

Kudos, Herr Lagercrantz for your attempt. I will give you the benefit of the doubt on this occasion, though I remain leery of your taking on this project, especially when unpublished manuscripts remain in existence.

Killing Maine (Pono Hawkins #2), by Mike Bond

Three stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Mike Bond, and Mandevilla Press for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

In my first experience with a Bond novel, the premise seemed highly entertaining and I hoped the politics would juxtapose themselves nicely with a fast-paced story. Pono Hawkins is called away from his idyllic life in Hawaii to help a Special Forces comrade whose found himself in a load of trouble in the frigid backcountry of Maine. Bucky Franklin is accused of the murdering local politician Ronnie Dalt as Hawkins finds himself fighting two major battles for which he is ill-equipped: helping the man who sent him to a military prison and tackling the high-impact world of wind power politics. Pono reconnects with Bucky’s wife, Lexie, whom Hawkins stole during the aforementioned incarceration period, as they attempt to find Bucky an alibi. Pono crosses paths with an old flame who is now a fierce attorney and Dalt’s widow, Abigail, both of whom help the cause in their own way while sharing his bed and body. Pono becomes the new target of a set of mysterious killers who are dead-set against poking around into the Dalt murder. With his sordid past, Pono becomes the local authority’s new target for acts of vandalism and kidnapping, leaving yet another battle in his path as time is running out. With corruption rife and the authorities turning a deaf ear, Pono must use his love quadrangle to his advantage, as the truth comes to light. An interesting read, pitting politics and honesty against one another in a way the reader may not have seen before. Bond uses his soapbox throughout, which may help give the reader a better idea of corporate America’s domestic warring, with politicians as their soldiers.

The political aspects of the novel lured me in, at least when I read the summary. However, once I delved deeper and tried to match it up with the story, things fell flat. I cannot put my finger on it, but Bond did not utilise Pono in a way to pull me in and his flitting characteristics seemed more off-putting than alluring to me. Wind Power and its corrupt nature did little to keep me sated, as Pono pieced together the mystery behind a local murder and uncovered a deeper tale of corrupt politicians and greased palms. The premise could have made for an explosive novel, forcing page-turning well into the night. Instead, I am left thankful that I can close this book and hope to get the literary wind back in my sails, pun intended.

Interesting idea, Mr. Bond, though far from stellar in its presentation.

Suffer the Children, by Robert Earle

Two stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Robert Earle, and Vook Publishing for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

In a novel whose content is ripped from the headlines, Earle seeks to address the issue of school shootings and how they could be alleviated. Budge Kleeforth and Pru Malveaux are deeply moved when news of another shooting at a small-town America school. They begin working together on a concept that could alleviate said shootings by arming teachers and administrators with a non-lethal concept weapon meant to disable any would-be shooters. With this weapon comes a complete school training package, which would show children how to react in the event that a shooter appeared on the premises. The sell is hard and has blowback all the way into the White House, but they move forward in a small pilot project. However, the fallout from the school shooting is far-reaching and Earle examines a host of characters and how they feel about events, as well as this newly hatched plan to ‘arm the classrooms of America’. Working through a sordid past together, Kleeforth and Malveaux begin their project and the idea gains momentum, as well as the panicked attention of the gun lobby. Earle utilises a multi-layered technique to tell the single story from a variety of angles, as well as bringing things home in an ending that puts the entire project to the test. An interesting concept by Earle, seeking to address an issue with which many readers will be aware.

The novel’s title is perhaps a little misrepresentative. As I trudged through this piece, I felt it was better named “Suffer the Reader”, as the story dragged and the characters remained distant and free of depth. The concept for the novel is wonderful, though the angle of approach leaves readers unsure where to look. To say that it is the political aspect of shoot shootings and guns in America is also misleading, as the book does not have a single and direct focus. Earle presents his soapbox issue clearly, that school shootings need to end in a way that does not beget more, but he skims over things and pushes the reader into situations that fog the issue and keeps his characters from grounding themselves or reaching out to the reader. I had hoped for a high-impact novel about the politics and the emotional reaction to a shooting, but received more of a technical analysis of the problem and two characters trying to change the system, while remaining behind the proverbial curtain and peeking out only when necessary. Earle has much potential with which he can work, but failed to shape this into the explosive novel it should have been.

Interesting concept, Mr. Earle, but it failed to pull me in or keep my rapt attention. 

Truth or Die, by James Patterson and Howard Roughan

Two stars

Patterson is back with one of his co-authors, Howard Roughan this time around, to present a one-off book with much potential. Trevor Mann has suffered through some setbacks in life, but chooses to look ahead to a better future, grounded with his girlfriend Claire Parker. Claire leaves suddenly one evening to meet a source for a story she’s investigating and ends up murdered by a masked assailant. Trevor cannot rest until he finds answers, beginning with whom Claire tried to meet. Trevor follows the few leads Claire left and discovers both the man he thinks murdered her and the source, a young man whose genius is off the charts. Owen Lewis held the key to an explosive secret that could be a deadly weapon in the wrong hands. Trevor and Owen soon realise that they are targets and must stay one step ahead of the killers. As the depth of the weapon’s abilities becomes known, the group seeking to silence this unlikely duo becomes clearer, with a key member at the top who will stop at nothing to guarantee silence. An interesting story that Patterson and Roughan present, with potential and a fair amount of drama, though at times its delivery may leave the reader with a tepid feeling of the final product.

As with many Patterson novels, there is a great idea embedded in the storyline, which, given the proper direction, can germinate into a wonderful novel. However, many of his recent projects, the idea falls short and the reader is forced to suffer through some subpar work. It seems, as I have bemoaned many times before, that the one-off novels tend to fall significantly flat, as the characters are not as well-rooted and the backstories less developed. It could just be me, or even the way the audiobook was presented, but I felt little attachment to both the characters and the story. It did not pull me in and I felt as though I only ever skimmed the surface on what could have been an explosive novel that kept me up well into the night. Alas, it came close to lulling me to sleep at times. That said, Patterson can put out a gem here and there, forcing long-time fans like myself to keep reading and hoping for the best. 

Decent work, Messrs. Patterson and Roughan, though I did not feel the electricity that this novel should have brought. Perhaps it is the victim of too much on the topic that failed to lure me in.

Pretty Dead (Elise Sandburg #3), by Anne Frasier

Three stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Anne Frasier, Amazon Publishing, and Thomas & Mercer for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

Without having read Frasier’s previous two novels in the series, I hoped to jump into the mix with little cause for concern. While not completely lost, I found myself wishing I had brushed up on my Elise Sandburg beforehand. Sandburg is working as the Head of Homicide in the quaint city of Savannah. After two recent murders of prostitutes, Sandburg and former FBI profiler David Gould begin investigating the early stages of a spree.Tailed by a reporter from New York, they must continue their work but remain on edge in this Castle-esque spin on police work. A serial killer on the loose, obscure Latin words on victims, and no concrete clues force Sandburg to grasp at any straw she can. When the mayor’s daughter becomes the latest victim, something has to change, as tensions run high. Two major decisions by the Chief of Police add new actors to the case, irritants for both Gould and Sandburg. After another murder points at a suspect within the force, the killer seems apparent and the manhunt begins. Sandburg and Gould must work together to piece the puzzle together, using the most unlikely of weapons, the newspaper itself. With the killer’s eye set on another victim, close to Sandburg, the race is on to catch the Savannah Killer, or face the ultimate demise. A well-paced novel that seemingly moves the characters forward and keeps the reader turning pages to see how it all plays out.

An author cannot write subsequent novels in a series and spend all their time rehashing past experiences or cases, as they will lose those who have invested time in reading up to this point. However, I find that the best way to snag new readers is to lure them in with just enough breadcrumbs to want to read what has happened, while not ruining any past plots. While I was parachuted into this reading experience, I felt as though I had an improper context of the Sandburg-Gould past relationship tensions, as well as Jackson Sweet’s role in the larger picture. Frasier mentions it all, at length, but perhaps too much so and yet leaves wide holes open. My curiosity was piqued, only to have it rained on when I learned major arcs that likely became key aspects of the plots in the past two books. Add to that, with a focus solely on this book, the flow of the book was decent, though perhaps too much happened to too many people in one single novel. Issues for Sandburg (Sweet) and Gould (Lamont) arrived simultaneously and left the reader juggle the pasts these characters share, the serial killer plot, and some of the dangling threads tossed into the mix just to highlight that the characters have backstories. Add to that, while there was a build-up in action, the killer was, even for me, too obvious from the start. There needs to be some question, some query, unless the author seeks to play parallel storylines from the get-go; have the police chase the killer in certain chapters and the killer do their work in their own chapters, allowing for the hunt from A to Z. Frasier has a good handle on the craft and without having read the past two novels, I cannot comment on this being an anomaly or par for the course, but it was somewhat troubling. However, the ideas are there and delivery is strong, with good room for growth.

Kudos, Madam Frasier for this novel. While I can be a little harsh, I do hope you garner more fans and advance the series in effective ways over the next while.

Maximum Ride Forever (Maximum Ride #9), by James Patterson

Two stars (of five)

In the promised final chapter of the Maximum Ride series, Patterson keeps the reader’s curiosity on a sloe boil. Living on a post-apocalyptic earth, Max and her Flock seek to determine if there is anything salvageable. Devastation is rampant and the last documented images from the world’s largest cities stream in through a poorly defined 5G network. In order to properly ascertain the answers they seek, the Flock divides and promises to report in as soon as they can. Meanwhile, the Doomsday Cult, cloned bird children, lurks in the shadows to snuff out the Flock alongside most of humankind, leaving each Flock member to dodge attempts on their lives with every turn, some with less than successful results. The more Max learns of the situation on earth, the less she seems motivated to trudge on, but she must, as pockets of life emerges throughout her discoveries. The question remains, is the end inevitable, or is there a shimmering ray of light in this overly bleak world? In a fitting ending to the series, Patterson offers his young adult readers a glimpse of the world to come and the way those who witness it react to the final days. Now, can we be sure that Patterson will actually end it here? Let’s hope!

I got interested in the series years ago, when it was in its early stages. While I am not a ‘Young Adult’, my dedication to this series offers me some insight to comment on its content, which has unfortunately (but predictably) suffered from PATTERSON SYNDROME. Those familiar with my reviews of James Patterson will know this refers to his desire to churn out drivel, using his name to sell books rather than solid content. The series had some great potential, but lost its lustre and moved into a world of utter cheesiness. Are young adult readers expected to subject themselves to this? I know John Grisham and Kathy Reichs (both having carved out greatness in their adult genre books) have been able to successfully transition without getting too silly. Alas, Patterson lauds himself as an expert, but fails. Also, interesting to see how Patterson climbs up on his soap box and points the finger at Russia, but stops short at referring to Putin when making his case for those who are to blame for the apocalyptic world in which the story takes place. Well played, Mr. P., as you indoctrinate the next generation.

Tepid, Mr. Patterson. You seem to want your young readers to stifle their reading abilities and comprehension with this sub-par piece of work.

Pales Horses (Jade de Jong #4), by Jassy Mackenzie

Three stars (of five)

In the latest Jade de Jong novel, Mackenzie continues her informative description of life and crime in South Africa. Jade de Jong is hired by a wealthy trader to investigate a suspicious death of a close friend, Sonet Meintjies. During a base jump, Sonet died attempting to parachute from a skyscraper. Could there be more to this than a simple miscalculation or equipment failure? Jade begins digging deeper, which uncovers that Sonet had an extensive charity portfolio and worked closely with impoverished communities as they tried to rebuild their farming base. Jade goes to inquire, but finds one community whose name is all over Sonet portfolio completely razed to the ground for no good reason. Working at arm’s length with Superintendent David Patel, Jade peels back the mystery and soon realises that there is a plethora of evil lurking under the surface, with unknowing Africans as blindsided victims. While still wrestling with her emotions for Patel and the news he delivered months earlier, Jade must forge ahead to save the community and Africa as a whole from the grip of a multi-national corporation bent on building their profit margin on the backs of farming collectives. Gripping in its telling and content, Mackenzie taps into the reader’s curiosity to deliver a wonderful addition to the series.

While some have lauded Mackenzie for always delivering a new and more thrilling novel, I was not as impressed with the fourth instalment of the Jade de Jong series. There were moments of intrigue and wonderful sleuthing, but the narrative impetus and thrill factor seems to have dissipated as Mackenzie rests on her laurels a little, leaving Jade and Patel to fend for themselves. The subject matter appeared a little to intrigue, but not tear the reader away from their respective issues and push crop modification front and centre in their lives. The ideas were fresh and the approach ever-evolving, but I am not sure how I truly feel about the Jade de Jong story here, or the lack of personal development. It appears as though too much came out in the last novel and there is nothing on which to build in this novel.

 Kudos, Madam Mackenzie for a good piece of writing. I would love to see another novel come into this series, if you have new and impressive ideas to share.

Stage Business, by Gerry Fostaty

Three stars (of five)

Fostaty reached out and asked that I read through his recent publication, offering an honest review, which is how STAGE BUSINESS found its way into my possession. Michael Dion is not a detective, nor does he play one on television (or on stage, for that matter). In trying to curry favour with a fellow actress during a rehearsal, Michael volunteers to help Amanda locate a friend’s son. Seventeen year-old Kyle stormed off after an argument with his mom and failed to return the next morning. Amanda and Michael agree to do all they can to locate him and bring him back home, though neither has much experience in the sleuthing department. Michael pokes around some leads and discovers that Kyle may have been involved in Toronto’s rave scene, peddling drugs to attendees. Kyle gets caught up in a power struggle and is taken captive by a number of unsavoury characters, whose identities come to light only after Michael crossing their paths at a rave. Michael and Amanda work with a closely-knit group to stage a transfer in order to return Kyle to his family. What begins as a covert operation soon spills over into the public sphere, leaving Michael holding the bag and the authorities poking around. Fostaty offers up some interesting social commentary about the world of acting and life in Canada’s largest city. An interesting first novel, leaving much room for growth.

When first asked to read this novel, I was unsure what to expect. I promised to give it a try and see what I thought, as I have with a number of previous author-led queries. While the story has a solid foundation and premise, I found it a little wordy and somewhat tangential at times. Perhaps I am too inundated by popular fiction or NYT bestselling authors, but I found myself giving the proverbial hand-roll on occasion and skimming paragraphs to get to the heart of the story. While set in Toronto, the story does not utilise its locale to the full extent possible. I will not refer to other well-grounded Canadian authors who have mastered Toronto or other places to their advantage, but I would have liked a little more focus on the city, rather than dropping street names. The characters had some development, but, again, I found myself flitting between interest in them and wanting to see how they fit into the larger story. A decent first attempt in the publication world and I could see myself trying another novel, if only to determine how he’s grown.

Decent work, Mr. Fostaty. Thanks for reaching out and I hope to see you develop your craft in the coming years.

Old Enemies (Harry Jones #4), by Michael Dobbs

Three-and-a-half stars (of five)

A young woman is tossed from a helicopter in Switzerland and her boyfriend is taken captive. The kidnappers reach out to the family from an undisclosed location, putting out a demand followed by a hefty ransom. While devastating, it has little to nothing to do with Harry Jones, or does it? The young captive, Ruari Breslin, has a mother with a scandalous history as it relates to Jones. He and Terri had a sordid affair that ended poorly and almost cost Harry his marriage. In true Harry Jones style, he agrees to help the authorities with the investigation and swoops into action, agreeing to locate Ruari and bring him home. While Jones and the boy’s grandfather take up the search, much is made of a certain political diary, whose contents could bring down many powerful leaders should it reach the press. Could its destruction be the key to Ruari release? How will Harry react to the roadblocks created to keep Rurari from being rescued and will his past indiscretions come back to haunt him? And how are the kidnappers aways one step ahead of the authorities in the search for Ruari? All is revealed in this Dobbs novel, pitting Jones into the more precarious situations with little chance of success.

Dobbs has steered away from the political Jones and thrust him into the action-figure on whom everyone relies. While there is a strong parliamentary aspect to the story, and a job offer that could drastically change his life, Jones remains on the fence and dodges having to face it. Continuing with the Bond-esque persona, Harry Jones becomes the ultimate ladies’ man, leaving broken hearts all over the world. Will this continue to fuel the stories presented, or has Dobbs another angle he wishes to pursue? I do pine for more political-savvy Jones, if he might come back, for I became hooked on that character, but Dobbs may have other plans for his swashbuckling hero.

Kudos, Baron Dobbs for your work. I am excited to see all you have in store with the next novel and hope it moves Jones in new directions.  

The Reluctant Hero (Harry Jones #3), by Michael Dobbs

Three stars (of five)

In the third Harry Jones adventure, Dobbs moves away from the political and into the courageous side of the protagonist’s abilities. When Jones learns an acquaintance is being held in an underground prison, he knows that he must act. For this acquaintance, Zac Kravitz, was once a close friend and saved the life of the first Mrs. Jones. Jones posits how how he will get deep in the heart of Ta’argistan, a former Soviet republic in order to extricate Kravitz from certain death. As a maverick MP and former military man, Jones uses some of his connections to weasel his way onto a parliamentary trip to the region, keen on breaking Kravitz out on the sly, no matter the cost. Upon arrival in Ta’agistan, Jones and fellow MP Martha Riley hatch a plot to work with local dissidents to aid in Kravitz’s release, while trying not to tip their hands to the local authorities. Their plethora of questions make Jones and Riley highly suspicious to Ta’argic officials. In the escape attempt, Jones ends up replacing himself with Kravitz in the prison cell, as Riley rushes the dilapidated prisoner onto a flight bound for the UK. Jones faces the most depraved people he’s ever encountered, in a place where human rights are unheard of, with little chance he’ll ever see the light of day. Jones must find a way out and back to the United Kingdom, before he is used as the veritable replacement for Kravitz and his crimes. It is only upon great reflection and a slip of the tongue that Jones realises that Kravitz’s incarceration is only the tip of the iceberg, and that his own Government may have a vested interest in the region. An interesting adventure for the formerly political-savvy Harry Jones, sure to interest fans of the series.

Dobbs does a decent job, again, in telling his story and putting forth some interesting points of view. He is, however, guilty of a somewhat superficial approach, especially using Jones and Riley to enact the caper. I recently saw someone compare Jones to Fleming’s Bond, which could not be further from the truth. Jones has little suave nature and the women are less drawn to him because of his power than happenstance. True, Jones does seem to have a way with the ladies, but is far from the swooning hero one might expect to see. The idea is well presented and parts of the story are just as keenly executed, but it seems the frozen tundra of the setting seeps into the writing style at points throughout.

Kudos, Baron Dobbs for your work, a decent attempt all around. Not as gripping or stellar as I would have hoped, but innovative nonetheless.  

The Edge of Madness (Harry Smith #2), by Michael Dobbs

Three stars (of five)

Dobbs thrusts Harry Smith back into the fray with another high-octane thriller, filled with politics and intrigue. As the world rests on its laurels, deep within the upper echelon of the Chinese Government a war is in the making. There are no missiles, no guns, and certainly no bombs. Even without active hostages, everyone is at risk; it’s a cyber-war. Deep in a Scottish castle, and under a veil of extreme secrecy, the British Prime Minister hosts the US and Russian presidents; a veritable 21st century Potsdam Conference. Trying to determine how to stop a cyber-attack by China, in which everyone is vulnerable because of world reliance on technology, remains at the forefront of the discussion. Each leader has a trusted deputy with them, Harry Smith acting in such a capacity for the PM. When outward acts of violence and military build-up begin appearing on television, the three leaders know they must do something, but remain unsure how to strike at the core and ensure they are successful. As they ponder, a nuclear reactor within the UK is about to make Chernobyl pale in comparison. In these new-age wars, little can be done to stop the aggressors, whose religion is silicon-based with followers facing towards the motherboard.

Dobbs’ idea is quite good, as the world still simmers from the ongoing wars with excessive price tags. As the world becomes even more reliant on electronics, it is no stretch to think that those who control the cyber world would have the upper hand. That being said, the approach and delivery of the book leave much to be desired. The characters, with all their political might, seem neutered of any abilities, almost damsels in distress. Even the conversations and plotting seems watered-down and less than believable. The ending not only does a 180 in a matter of pages, but lessens the impact the entire novel built towards. I can only hope that such an approach can be revised by others (or Dobbs) down the road, giving the plot and characters the teeth they so badly need. One interesting side story, though only two books into the series, Dobbs’s desire to personalise Queen Elizabeth II is highly humourous. While many see her as a detached monarch, Dobbs paints her in such a way as to be highly compassionate and opinionated. One can only wonder if he has a fan base within Buckingham Palace for this portrayal.

Kudos, Mr. Dobbs for this curious story. I was hooked and intrigued by the theme, but hoped for some stronger character support throughout.

Sons of Anarchy: BRATVA, by Christopher Golden

Two and a half stars (of five)

Christopher Golden revs up with his own concocted story about the Sons of Anarchy, a great television program whose recent end left fans yearning for more. After a large contingent of the SAMCRO (Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club Redwood Original) were recently released from prison, there is a power vacuum in and around Charming. Jax Teller, the Club’s V.P., is trying to keep a low profile, while also taking time to ensure the lucrative gun- and drug-running business does not pass them by. When a call from Belfast reaches him, Jax learns that his half-sister, Trinity, is entangled with Russian BRATVA gangsters and she’s now living in Nevada. Trinity’s gone missing and her mother is out of her mind, worried that no good can come of her recent associations. With the Russian Mafia likely behind the kidnapping, Jax and a small crew head to Nevada to search for her and seek revenge for an earlier SAMCRO issue. Working with the Nevada Chapter of the Sons, Jaxs discovers that this is a Russian turf war and the BRATVA will do all they can to win the battle, even if it costs Trinity her life. As with the show, the Sons go blazing in to save one of their own, regardless of the body count. A decent depiction of the show, though nowhere near as spellbinding as tuning in on a weekly basis.

Golden’s past published work is vast and his accolades lean towards the sci fi genre. Why he would choose to pen a book about SAMCRO would surely baffle fans of the show and the dedicated reader. Golden does a decent job illustrating some of the key players in the story and even ties storylines in effectively to the show, but there is something missing. Some… je ne sais quoi that keeps this from being an explosive book and one I’d recommend to series fans. I suppose it putters along and makes the point that the Sons have always been violent and surely will not change. However, the gusto is gone and the intricate drama, even in the plots is sorely missing. Perhaps Golden should return to what he knows best.

Tepid work, Mr. Golden, even if it is only my opinion. You cannot win them all, and for me, I am pleased to have at least tested your wares before buying the farm.

Miracle on the 17th Green, by James Patterson and Peter de Jonge

Three stars (of five)

Patterson and de Jonge offer up a heartfelt story about a man looking to pursue his passion. Travis McKinley finds himself in a rut, at a job he hates, in a marriage gone stale, and with children whose connection to him appears to be fading. His one solace is on the golf course, where McKinley plays the round of his life one Christmas Day. When he loses his job, McKiney decides to chase his dream, playing on the PGA Senior Tour. After attending qualifying school, McKinley earns one year on the Tour where he finds himself rubbing elbows with the greats of the game, all while his family takes a backseat to his dream. McKinley earns the right to play in the PGA Senior Open at Pebble Beach, the most prestigious of events. McKinley’s threesome on the final day includes his heroes, Jack Nicklaus and Raymond Floyd, after three days of gruelling play. It is here, on the 17th Green, that McKinley sees the world from a new perspective, which changes things forever and helps him put it all into perspective. A quick read well-adapted for fans of the sappy side to Patterson’s writing.

The novella is Patterson at his sappiest, not something I tend to enjoy. That said, as I was in need of a quick read to fill a little time. The story has degrees of hokeyness that can be seen a mile away, but its central tenet is strong enough to propel the reader to forge on, knowing it will be a short journey. Catchy and at times mildly humerous, Patterson and de Jonge keep the reader at least somewhat curious, especially as they’ve recently penned a sequel. This golf-flavoured story seeks to motivate and keep a tear firmly housed at the edge of the reader’s eye.

Decent work Messrs. Patterson and de Jonge, though not likely to receive rave reviews for its content.

The Whites, by Harry Brandt

Three stars (of five)

Brandt lures readers with his raw style and no-holds barred approach to life as a member of the NYPD. Billy Graves has been on he job for a number of years, following in his father’s footsteps. Early in his career, the younger Graves befriends  number of young cops looking to make a difference and seeking justice on the rough and tumble streets. They refer to themselves as the Wild Geese and become as close to Graves as his actual family. Over the years, the Wild Geese spoke of the ‘Whites’, those criminals who were surely guilty but were able to dodge the evidence to keep them on the outside. These are the criminals who haunt the dreams of every cop, with little chance for legal retribution. After a few unsavoury choices, Graves ends up as the sergeant of the Night Watch, a collection of cops who work overnights, sweeping up the criminal detritus and connecting with inner-city neighbourhoods. When the Night Watch is called to a stabbing at Penn Station, the victim ends up being the ‘White’ of his closest friend and fellow Wild Geese member, who traded in the shield long ago. As Graves investigates, he discovers that more ‘Whites’ may have met similar ends, with no answers to point him in the right direction. On the home front, someone is lurking the shadows, causing Graves’ family much grief but leaving little in the form of concrete evidence. Once his children are approached and his father briefly abducted, Graves has no choice but to investigate, poking around on his off-hours. Brandt creates a curious sub-plot with Milton Ramos, who receives inter-chapter vignettes throughout the story. As Graves progresses throughout the novel, it is only a matter of time before Ramos must cross his path, decades in the planning. Brandt offers up a highly intriguing, if not overly confusing snapshot of life in the crime-heavy Big Apple.

Having a hard time digesting the review up to this point? Trying reading (or listening) to the novel firsthand. When first I attempted to tackle the book, I found it scattered and without a clear thread. It was only when I gave it a second attempt, pressing myself to be highly attentive, that I found my niche and was able to digest all that was on offer. The backstories mesh so fluidly with current events, leaving the reader to categorise what has happened, will happen, and is happening, all in an attempt to enjoy a crime novel. However, with patience comes the gift that Brandt has quite the story to tell and that, given the chance, Billy Graves may even grow on you. Fighting crime by night and the saintly life of raising a family by day, Graves and his wife offer the reader a wonderful insight into New York and all it has to offer. Interesting sub-plots, but definitely too ‘busy’ with cases and calls, Brandt illustrates the down and dirty like no one I have seen since Will Beall presented L.A. Rex. 

Kudos, Mr. Brandt for all your hard work and captivating plot lines. A far cry better than any James Patterson attempt at NYPD work, but still a little too confusing for my liking.

NYPD Red 3, by James Patterson and Marshall Karp

Three stars (of five)

Patterson and Karp return with the third instalment in the NYPD Red series, a highly trained task force assigned to protect the rich, the famous, and the connected. Detectives Zach Jordan and Kylie MacDonald head up one of the investigative teams, with their own sordid past that only serves to spice things up a little more. Not long after the ball drops in Times Square on New Year’s Eve, Jordan and MacDonald are called to the home of billionaire businessman Hunter Alden, Jr. His chauffeur’s decapitated body is found in the garage and his son goes missing soon afterwards. Alden appears reluctant to try to find his son, leaving the detectives to wonder if there is a larger story with which they are not aware. As they try to piece together the last known whereabouts of their kidnap victim, a suspect floats into their line of sight, and a deeper mystery, called the Gutenberg Project, adds a new and sinister dimension to the investigation. Patterson and Karp keep the reader curious throughout in this latest Big Apple-based cop mystery, sure to interest fans.

The Patterson Syndrome has been something about which I have vented over the past while. His story lines are getting less exciting and his readers are forced to sit through drivel while he makes the mega-bucks. This novel sits on the fence for me, as it was not as thrilling as some of his former work, but also not completely useless. I was not pulled into the centre of the story and kept captivated, but also not left looking at my  clock and wondering when the pain would end. It’s a lukewarm collection of mystery, police procedural, and a little romance. Worth a look, but do not expect a stellar novel.

Decent work, Messrs. Patterson and Karp, and I might go so far as offering a loose kudos. I am eager to see what comes of this series and your co-authoring together.

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Catch Your Death (Dr. Kate Maddox #1), by Louise Voss and Mark Edwards

Three stars (of five)

Louise Voss and Mark Edwards team up to create this scientific quasi-thriller, where the story remains fast-paced to the closing pages. As a college graduate, Kate Maddox volunteered at a research centre set to cure the common cold virus. She fell in love with one of the doctors, but a tragic set of events left him dead and Kate on her way to Harvard, with no recollections, save a disastrous fire. Back now, two decades later, Kate and her young son stumble upon a connection to that past, someone who has as many questions surrounding the death at the facility and the truth kept hidden. With a disgrunted ex-husband on her tail and a contracted killer trying to silence Kate before she discovers the truth, the story takes a significant shift through rural England. Once the truth is revealed, Kate learns the truth behind the facility and what happened the night of the fire, but also discovers a new and horrifying truth. A decent novel with short chapters and a race to the finish, Voss and Edwards have a sound future together, even if thrills are not central to their work product.

Having devoured Edwards’ work, I had hoped this first joint effort might prove to be as thrilling. I was sorely mistaken, at least in this novel. The story does have a decent pace and is peppered with Edwards’ apparent enjoyment of physical intimacy, but plays out more as a ‘race to tell the truth’ than the thrills and spills that Edwards has concocted on his own. I look forward to reading some more of their joint work, in which psychosis replaces a Chrichton-esque medical thriller.

Kudos, Madam Voss and Mr. Edwards for this entertaining novel. Not spine-tingling, but still a decent effort.

Catch Your Death (Dr. Kate Maddox #1), by Louise Voss and Mark Edwards

Three stars (of five)

Louise Voss and Mark Edwards team up to create this scientific quasi-thriller, where the story remains fast-paced to the closing pages. As a college graduate, Kate Maddox volunteered at a research centre set to cure the common cold virus. She fell in love with one of the doctors, but a tragic set of events left him dead and Kate on her way to Harvard, with no recollections, save a disastrous fire. Back now, two decades later, Kate and her young son stumble upon a connection to that past, someone who has as many questions surrounding the death at the facility and the truth kept hidden. With a disgrunted ex-husband on her tail and a contracted killer trying to silence Kate before she discovers the truth, the story takes a significant shift through rural England. Once the truth is revealed, Kate learns the truth behind the facility and what happened the night of the fire, but also discovers a new and horrifying truth. A decent novel with short chapters and a race to the finish, Voss and Edwards have a sound future together, even if thrills are not central to their work product.

Having devoured Edwards’ work, I had hoped this first joint effort might prove to be as thrilling. I was sorely mistaken, at least in this novel. The story does have a decent pace and is peppered with Edwards’ apparent enjoyment of physical intimacy, but plays out more as a ‘race to tell the truth’ than the thrills and spills that Edwards has concocted on his own. I look forward to reading some more of their joint work, in which psychosis replaces a Chrichton-esque medical thriller.

Kudos, Madam Voss and Mr. Edwards for this entertaining novel. Not spine-tingling, but still a decent effort.

What You Wish For, by Mark Edwards

Three stars (of five)

After completing a stellar thriller in THE MAGPIES, Edwards is back with another mind-twisting story. Marie Walker has vanished! Not just from her place of employment or her flat, but from everywhere. Her new boyfriend, newspaper photographer Richard Thompson, is convinced he can find her, even if it means going to the ends of the earth to piece things together. Marie has long been an advocate of a celestial world beyond mainstream acceptance, with UFOs and interactions with visitors. Richard, who does not share these beliefs, must wrestle with them on a daily basis while he continues to fall in love with Marie. When Richard learns of some extremely underground goings-on related to visitors and The Chorus, he does a little investigating of his own, in search of the love of his life. What Richard discovers blows his mind and will surely leave the reader wondering what twists and turns brought them to this part of the story. Fans of The Magpies will not likely rush out to praise this book, though it surely takes all kinds to create a solid fan base for an author.

Had this been the first Edwards book I read, I would likely have passed and moved on to another fiction writer. However, having seen the potential, I am able to see what Edwards CAN and surely WILL do with his other work and excuse this bump in the road. While Edwards defends that Marie could have been in any sort of cult, the presentation of alien cult experiences and the filthy underbelly of one of the oddest branches of pornography to my knowledge, my original thought “Well then!” stands firm.

Ok Mr. Edwards, everyone’s due at least one odd book. I’ll let this slide and get back to  sinister thrillers. I hope we have a winner waiting for us.

The Rule of Four,  by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason

Three stars (of five)

Caldwell and Thomason debut with a novel that spans the nuances of Renaissance code breaking as much as modern life at an Ivy League school. As Tom Sullivan prepares to complete an undergraduate degree at Princeton, he’s forced to remember a horrible accident that killed his father years earlier. The reason, a thesis his roommate is composing on a rare and complex book, one the elder Sullivan spent much of his academic life trying to decipher. The Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, published in 1499, has left scholars with headaches and curious mysteries in equal measure, its story and the clues embedded therein more challenging the deeper they are studied. An apparent love story, composed in several languages, the Hypnerotomachia actually presents mathematical challenges, artistic nuances, and linguistic labyrinths to the attentive code breaker. After learning of these codes, Sullivan realises that he cannot decode them alone, and turns to his roommate, Paul Harris, to succeed where Tom’s father failed. They work tirelessly to decode the story and discover its hidden meaning, while academics within Princeton’s elite try to sabotage the research, or take it as their own. Sullivan and Harris are soon pulled into the centre of the Hypnerotomachia and its explosive secrets. Whether they live long enough to reap the rewards is yet to be seen. A decent debut for both authors, who keep the pace high and the mysteries plentiful. 

In reading a review of the novel, someone called this novel’s premise akin to a Dan Brown plot. While there are some great storylines and equally mysterious deciphering aspects, I would defer to the master codebreaker, but still offer Caldwell and Thomason their due. The novel plods along and offers the reader some insight into the world of Princeton life, albeit from a narrator stuck in an existential tunnel, as well as a race to decode a wonderfully mysterious piece of Renaissance literature. The authors have done a great job in prefacing the times and putting the text in its best context, while wrapping the story in a mystery and encoding that in a cipher. Nuances throughout keep the reader wondering if all this could be real and if so, how could it have taken so long to unravel it. Caldwell and Thomason have kept their characters fresh, the story paced well, and the themes as realistic as possible. Great work for a first effort, though why it took so long for Caldwell to return to the scene remains a mystery best tacked by reading his next literary offering.

Kudos, Messrs. Caldwell and Thomason for this wonderfully entertaining and thought-provoking novel. While Renaissance was never my area of greatest interest, you have done well to pique my code-breaking interest.

The Geneva Strategy (Covert-One), By Jamie Freveletti

Three stars (of five)

Covert-One is back to delve into the world of bio-terrorism and disease dissemination. A number of high-ranking government officials are kidnapped without motive. Upon further examination, those who have key roles in America’s drone programming and strategy are among those taken, leading officials to wonder who or what they have on their hands. As the victims begin turning up, they show signs of brainwashing. Jon Smith and the Covert-One team begin an investigation that takes them to Dr. Laura Taylor, currently in custody, whose created a drug to remove memories related to post-traumatic stress syndrome. Her research could have haunting parallels to the brainwashing Smith has seen in these victims. Smith must not only determine an antidote for the brainwashing, but also recover the head of the drone project before someone begins carrying out drone strikes all over the world and uses these drugs to overpower countless innocent victims.

Freveletti expressed thanks in the acknowledgements for being asked by the Ludlum family estate to create another Covert-One novel. Her premise is actually quite interesting and, at times, the story flows well and keeps its momentum for the reader to enjoy. However, for some reason or another, the story loses its excitement, even as the action does not dissipate. Freveletti has kept a handle on her Ludlum series writing, unlike a certain James Bourne author whose slaughtered the foundation that Ludlum put into all his work. However, as seems quite common amongst all those who carry on the Ludlum torch, the adaptations fall short of the original product.

Kudos, Madam Freveletti for your ardent effort. While Robert Ludlum has left some large shoes to fill, you try to tromp around and do him justice.

Private Vegas, by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Two and a half stars (of five)

Patterson takes a real gamble in shifting his Private series to the city of gaudy lights and glamour, hoping it’s not a bust. Jack Morgan is back with his original Private team, working their cases in Los Angeles (no, this is no typo). Two men with diplomatic immunity have been killing women and getting away with it, while Morgan and the LAPD can only look on in awe. In a case closer to home, a serial arsonist is blowing up high-end cars, including Morgan’s own, leaving Private to find the person behind the fires, especially after a body turns up in the wreckage. Meanwhile, one of the Private team is on trial for assault and things are not looking good. Could Private be on its last legs and what does Morgan’s brother have to do with recent goings-on? Remembering that the title speaks of Vegas, Patterson weaves a loose storyline where Morgan’s assistant investigates a man who lures women to Las Vegas to partake in a high-intensity (and costly) course aimed at marrying filthy-rich octogenarians, helping them along to their respective mansions in the sky, and cashing in on a substantial ‘cut’ in the action. A mislabelled novel with interesting ideas, but totally misses the mark on the Vegas nightlight and excitement. Drab and a tease that flops for Patterson and Private fans.

After a string of decent novels, Patterson is back to his old tricks, writing sub-par stories that use the author’s name to sell copies. This book is more aptly called Private L.A., The Second for its geographic sedentary nature in the City of Angels. Where are the craps tables, the Cirque shows, and the countless street vendors? Where are the lights and the wonderful hotel settings that could really sell the city and the storylines? Missing, like many of the other domestic Private books. It is almost as though Patterson’s only successes come from using authors off the North American continent to spice up the stories. And here I pined for a Private: Canada. Now, I am almost happy he has not gone that route (yet, at least). Patterson had better learn when to fold ’em, as he is on a losing streak that even Kenny Rogers cannot turn around.

For shame, Mr. Patterson on another silly attempt to line your pockets and leave your fans rolling snake-eyes.

Die Again (Rizzoli and Isles #11), by Tess Gerritsen

Three stars (of five)

Gerritsen returns with the newest instalment of her popular Rizzoli and Isles series, already a sensation on television. Detective Rizzoli is called to the home of a popular taxidermist who’s found dead alongside the body of snow leopard on which he has been working. When Medical Examiner Maura Isles examines the body, she is able to draw parallels with a number of other deaths where the victims have been strung up like hunting spoils. Using their deductive reasoning, Rizzoli and Isles are able to tie the clues to a safari in Botswana that went horribly wrong. Tracking down the sole survivor from the safari might be the only way to stop a killer who stalks their prey like a jungle cat, with no regard for how much blood they spill. An interesting story that bring the crime fighting duo together for the eleventh time, sure to entertain the series regular.

Gerritsen is back and has brought a new take on her crimes for the latest novel. Series readers have been waiting a while, so the novel’s arrival is sure to bring about mixed reviews. Having become a great fan of the television series, it is hard not to draw comparative lines between the two, with the television actors burning their image and persona into the likes of Rizzoli, Isles, and Frost. For me, the novel and its ideas are sound, though there is a lack of excitement and real action. Surely, a murder and safari will have inherent excitement, but Gerritsen does not live up to the expectation I have for R&I stories, whether in book or television format. I found the safari narration to lack intrigue and interest, with a flimsy character taking the reins in those portions. Perhaps a trial effort by Gerritsen she’ll shelf in future tales.

Kudos, Madam Gerritsen for your return to the scene of the crime. Not my favourite of your novels, but you cannot win everyone over at each turn.

The Perfect Mother, by Nina Darnton

Three stars (of five)

Darnton provides an entertaining second novel, even if its foundation is pulled from the headlines in a case most tabloid-hungry folks know all too well. When Jennifer Lewis receives a frantic phone call from her daughter, things take a dramatic turn. Emma has been detained in Seville, Spain and is being questioned about a murder within her flat. Jennifer drops everything and heads to Europe, keen to clear things up and bring Emma back to the States. When Jennifer arrives, she discovers that things are more complex than first presumed. Jennifer secures legal counsel for Emma and waits to see the Spanish wheels of justice move. When an investigator is brought onto the case, Jennifer forges a bond with Roberto and tries to work with him to clear Emma, while digging up dirty on a supposed boyfriend, the mastermind of the murder. Jennifer’s family suffers back at home and her husband, Mark, must straddle both sides of the Atlantic to pay for the legal fees, while Jennifer remains in Spain, searching for answers. Lines are blurred with Roberto, and the tabloids take advantage of these weaknesses to exacerbate Emma’s problems. With Emma’s life hanging in the balance, Jennifer must play the role of the perfect mother to ensure her eldest is protected, but at what cost to everyone else?

Darnton is surely a competent writer, though this novel leaves me a little less than impressed. The story is not only ‘ripped from the headlines’ but also uses the Amanda Knox story and almost replaces names and locales. It has little, if any, unique attribute and is superficial in its departure from the Knox version. Creating a less than stellar romantic connection between ‘perfect mother’ Jennifer and trial investigator Roberto seemed a little more trivial, especially since the story’s depth did not extend into the full legal battle of the event. I would have preferred more nuance or a deeper tale to flesh out more development and less sickly-sweet weak mother trying to put her daughter first.

Kudos for the idea, Mrs. Darnton. While you have the ability to convey a story well, perhaps it’s time you focus less on the structure of a well-known case and create one yourself.