Shutter, by Melissa Larsen

Eight stars

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

Melissa Larsen brings much to this debut novel, taking the reader on a curious, as well as eerie, trip through the mind of a film director with a mission. A young woman has her sights set on making it big and heads to New York, where she knows but one person. After being introduced to a mysterious film director, Betty agrees to be cast in the leading role of an upcoming film, not entirely clear what it will entail. Later learning that this is an ‘act natural’ film, Betty soon discovers there’s more to it than she thought at first, pitting actors against one another, especially those unaware that the camera is even rolling. Well-paced and chilling at times, Larsen shows in Shutter that she has what it takes to stand above many in the genre.

It’s been a rough few months for Betty, which is why she has decided to flee her small California town for the bright lights of NYC. There, with only one childhood friend to call upon, Betty tries to make it big. She’s soon introduced to Anthony Marino, a film director with a new idea. Marino feels that Betty could be the perfect fit for his new project, but he is not yet ready to share any of the details.

Travelling up to a small Maine cabin, Marino, Betty, and a few others prepare to shoot the film on-location. It happens to be the Marino family cabin, where Anthony spent much time as a child. Betty is told that the film with be without script or actual direction, more an ‘act natural’ idea, where cameras are always rolling, hidden in rooms, on trees, and many other places. It is supposed to be a chance for everyone to just be and let the story evolve.

Betty is tasked with becoming Lola, a young woman with no clear backstory. She must also develop immediate chemistry with her leading man, Mads. While this may be the goal, Betty finds herself constantly drawn to Anthony, which will make building proper chemistry a little harder. Still, Betty is trying to come to terms with the literal and figurative transformation into Lola, its importance as yet baffling.

When Anthony announces that there will be a stalker element to the film, he introduces a new face, Sammy. This is a childhood friend of Anthony’s and an unknowing addition to the film. While Sammy appears inquisitive on the surface, he begins to gravitate towards Betty in odd ways. It is only then that the truth about the Anthony-Sammy connection is revealed, as well as the essence of Betty’s transformation into Lola. What’s not yet clear is what will happen when all these elements are put together in a bucolic setting, with the cameras rolling non-stop.

Melissa Larsen does a great job in her storytelling, pulling the reader into the centre of this piece with unknown elements coming together at just the right pace. With little revealed at the outset, the mystery is as present for Betty as it is for the reader. Slowly, things become clearer, which does not always make for a smooth ride for anyone involved. It permits a handful of key twists throughout the piece to shape a narrative that gains momentum with each page turn.

Betty is a great protagonist, in that she offers much to the story on both a personal and ‘professional’ level. Her desire to flee home is apparent throughout, as the reasons come to light throughout the novel. Her thirst for escape is only heightened when she feels that she can transform into a new woman by taking up the film project. However, while Betty would love to forget herself, it is not the change into Lola that fuels what she had in mind. All that being said, there is a great deal going on, none of which Betty could have predicted from the outset.

Larsen offers a number of intriguing secondary characters throughout the piece, all of whom bring something to the table to flavour the story effectively. While some complement Betty, others serve as obvious roadblocks to impede her natural growth. The underlying Anthony-Sammy storyline comes to a head and adds a needed depth to the plot, though things are less than smooth from thereon in. Larsen is able to portray the likes of Sammy, Anthony, and even Mads as different yet all tied together in one form or another. This keeps the reader entertained and curious about how the chemistry will develop, much like actors working on a script with the cameras rolling.

For a debut, I was quite impressed with Melissa Larsen’s efforts. While there were some small bumps, the overall experience was one that I enjoyed and would do so again without a second thought. The narrative flows well and gains momentum at just the right pace, with characters offering something to the experience without stealing the spotlight. Save for the opening chapter, each part of the book is short and keeps the reader wanting to know more, which is matched with an eerie plot that injects twists and confusing at key points. Larsen’s great use of dialogue keeps things feeling natural, which is an interesting parallel with the actual premise of the book, where the characters are to ‘be themselves’ while the cameras roll onwards. With a chilling end, Larsen leaves the reader wondering and thinking well after turning the final page, which is the essence of a strong thriller.

Kudos, Madam Larsen, for a great start to your writing career. I cannot wait to see what else you have in store when next you publish!

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

https://www.mysteryandsuspense.com/shutter/

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

21st Birthday (Women’s Murder Club #21), by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Seven stars

The latest in this long series by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro offers readers something intriguing and somewhat unique, though twenty-one instalments can sometimes breed repetition. Full of minor character development and some fast-pace criminal work, the Women’s Murder Club has a new case that will pull all four of them in, using their specific skillsets, to catch a serial murderer. When a young woman and her daughter are reported missing, the husband is the prime suspect. While he has an alibi, others in his circle also turn up dead, leading the DA to move ahead with charges. The suspect decries his innocence and points the finger at another man, who apparently has a long history of murderous behaviour. It’s up to Sergeant Lindsay Boxer to turn over every rock to see if the lead comes to fruition. A decent addition to the series, which has surely shown its ebb and flow, though fans of the Club may want to check it out.

Cindy Thomas noticed the post on her news blog and knew it would be trouble. Even after taking it down, Cindy thought about the disappearance of Tara and Lorrie Burke, a 20 year-old and her infant daughter. When Tara’s mother arrives at the San Francisco Chronicle to follow-up, Cindy cannot shake the distraught woman’s pleas for help. Tara’s husband, Lucas, is the prime suspect and appears to have quite the hold on his young bride. Trying to appease the woman, Cindy calls in a favour with SFPD Sergeant Lindsay Boxer, who agrees to poke around a little.

With little to go on and no sightings of either Tara or Lorrie, Boxer must bide her time. Her background into Lucas Burke shows a reputable English teacher with no criminal history, though there were a number of calls to the police, which Tara dismissed as soon as anyone arrived. Still, Boxer has an itch that there is more to the story. She learns that Burke may have been stepping out on his wife with a teenage student, which does raise a few flags, but nothing criminal, yet.

When the body of Lorrie Burke is found along the shore, the case gains some momentum, especially when it appears the infant was smothered. However, Tara remains missing, which only adds to the mystery. A few more bodies emerge, all tied to Lucas Burke in some way, and the case begins to build. It is only when Tara is found murdered in her car, which had been dumped in the ocean, that Lucas Burke’s guilt appears all but certain. Even with an alibi, this is not something that can be dismissed as coincidence.

While Lucas Burke is brought it for questioning and arrested, he makes an explosive accusation, that his father is likely behind the murders. Evan Burke is a former Green Beret and may have been behind the disappearance (and murder?) of his own wife and daughter, as well as a string of others over the years. Lucas is certain he has resumed hunting for victims, but with little to substantiate it, the DA moves ahead with murder charges.

When the case goes to trial, ADA Yuki Castellano is set to take first chair. She has her own theory, one that she has shared with fellow Women’s Murder Club members, Boxer and Thomas. Still, Yuki will do things by the books and try to get a conviction on the evidence she has before her. Boxer works the Evan Burke angle, which has her racing to Vegas to track down the man and investigate the accusations. While there, things get dangerous for Boxer and her temporary partner, as they corner the elder Burke as he works his magic on a young woman.

With Yuki forging ahead in court and Boxer gathering evidence, it will only be a matter of time before Lucas Burke’s fate is determined. It will take all members of the Women’s Murder Club working together to solidify the truth, however murky and convoluted it might be. Then again, the Club has never sought to do things the easy way. An interesting addition to the series that reads well and shows that the collaborative effort of Patterson and Paetro appears to work well.

I have been a fan of the series from the start. This is one of the few Patterson collections that has been able to stand the test of time. While I am coming to see that some of these series may have lost their earlier momentum, there are moments of brilliance here, even as things wane. I have always wondered about rejuvenating things with a crossover between Alex Cross-Michael Bennett-Lindsay Boxer, still feeling it might do something for all three protagonists. Still, this book works well and could be read as a standalone, though I never counsel that in a series, as the reader misses so much peering only at a snapshot.

Lindsay Boxer’s character development ended long ago, even though motherhood always adds a new layer to her backstory. She is gritty and shows that she is able to work in any environment, something that is changed throughout this piece. Adapting as best she can, Boxer never loses sight of what matters, justice for the victim, and makes her mark repeatedly throughout the book. While the series may be getting a little old, Boxer’s abilities remain on point throughout.

The other members of the Women’s Murder Club also have their own moments of glory, though Boxer does rise to the protagonist role with ease. Each has a backstory and some development to offer, complementing the SFPD sergeant throughout. The handful of other key characters emerge throughout the story and offer the reader something intriguing to enjoy. There is no lack of action and suspense woven into the characters or their actions, though few standout as being remarkable.

The story was decent, as many have been in this series, though there was no shock factor. It’s a race to find the truth, muddled with accusations and false leads. Boxer and the rest of the Club try to work their respective angles, sometimes stepping on one another’s toes, but always able to find something worth discussing at their regular meetings. The story flowed well and the narrative kept its momentum throughout. Patterson’s trademark short chapters keep the reader pushing through, as I did yet again. Decent characters, believable scenarios, and the trademark connection to a specific number from the title, this is a series that has lasted over the years. I just wonder if the zenith has been surpassed and it’s time to sail into the sunset, making way for something fresh… or at least the aforementioned crossover.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Paetro, for another decent addition to the series. While I know you are likely a novel or two ahead in the series, I would suggest heeding my idea. I know other series fans have echoed what I said… and it could really inject something into all three series.

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

Game Knight: A Novella, by Andrew Mayne

Seven stars

Having discovered and enjoyed a number of Andrew Mayne’s other books, I thought that I would give this novella a chance. I had a gap in my reading schedule and needed something to tide me over for the day. This book, a thriller of sorts, takes the reader into the odd world of medieval knights and sword-wielding foes. A young man wakes up and is unsure what’s going on, as a man is trying to kill him. He takes the opportunity and slays the man, only to have all the evidence disappear. A few more events occur, in a similar vein, leaving him to wonder if this is a cruel joke or some sort of drugged out game that someone’s playing. It may be of interest to other Mayne readers, but I really could not connect.

Kevin Miller regains consciousness mere moments before axe-wielding man decapitates him. Dressed in chainmail and donning a sword, Kevin does all he can, killing his attacker, unsure of his identity or how things progressed to this point. After Kevin helps a woman free, she assaults him herself and flees. It is only later, when the police saw Kevin in his garb, that he admitted what happened, even though it sounded equally troubling.

With no body to speak of, Kevin has no idea what’s going on or who is behind it. Odd things happen on a few more occasion, in the same vein, leaving him to wonder if his new meds have been spiked or the whole thing is a sick joke. However, the injuries he has suffered are not fictitious and he cannot explain it. However, there is surely some puppet-master out there, somewhere.

As I mentioned above, I am truly a fan of Andrew Mayne and at least two of his series. However, when I chose to read this novella, I had to second guess whether it was Mayne who penned it. The depth, the intrigue, the nuances… all of them were gone and I was left with something less than enticing. Thankfully, I did not begin my Mayne reading adventure here, or I may not have discovered some of the true gems out there.

While the writing was decent and the story had promise, I could not connect. It might have been the Kevin Miller character, the premise of the novella, or the lack of magnetism towards the plot. Whatever it was, I was not a fan. Thankfully it was short and I can use it as a blip on the reading radar, as I prepare to dive into a full-length novel soon. All I can say is that this is not the Andrew Mayne that I have come to know, so don’t use this as a proper baseline.

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, for the attempt to push outside of your usual writing zone. It did not work for me, but others may really enjoy it.

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

The Soul-Breaker, by Sebastian Fitzek

Seven stars

After enjoying my first venture into the world of Sebastian Fitzek, I thought that I would return with something equally chilling. Another psychological thriller that appears to have divided the reviewing world quite effectively. A mysterious person kidnaps women and leaves them in a state worse than anyone can imagine, psychologically empty and apparently soulless. Now, in a psychiatric facility, the perpetrator is loose and there are plenty of victims on which to ‘feed’. Souls will be broken, but will anyone be able to put them back together?

A spree of three missing women who turn up in a catatonic state, each with a riddle. They were not killed or raped, or even tortured, but one dies soon after being found. The psychopath who did this appears to have pushed them into a vegetative state, more chilling than anything seen before. It’s all the rage across Germany and yet no one has any answers.

Labelled ‘the Soul-Breaker’ by media outlets, this person lurks in the shadows, awaiting their next victim. After being transported to a psychiatric clinic in a snowstorm, the Soul-Breaker is set to strike again, unbeknownst to those inside. With a handful of patients and staff locked in, it will not only be a battle to protect those who are trapped within, but a race to neutralise this psychopath before more souls are lost and additional damage is wrought.

Add to this, another narrative that includes a group reading the summaries years later, under lose medical watch. Might the Soul-Breaker case be one that will be studied for years by those in the field, or is this just an experiment performed on clueless students?

I needed a little something to bridge my audiobook listening selections and thought this short novel would do just the trick. Using the Audible dramatisation, I figured the story would come to life for me. It did, to a degree, though I appear not to be as riveted as some who got their hands on the actual text. Fitzek does well with the premise, offering something eerie and chilling, though perhaps my listening as I did what I usually do while streaming an audiobook lessened the impact. All that being said, I liked it for the most part and will surely listen to more Fitzek to see if I can continue to enjoy his work.

Kudos, Mr. Fitzek, for another good publication. While I have only the Audible dramatisations to use as reference, you do seem able to really offer a chilling tale with a number of key characters offering varied perspectives.

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

The Russian (Michael Bennett #13), by James Patterson and James O. Born

Seven stars

Michael Bennett is back for his next case, lucky book number thirteen. In the capable hands of James Patterson and James O. Born, Bennett is ready to face off against another wily killer who stalks New York City. However, this one has a different motive and a larger kill area than many others who have crossed Bennett’s path. With his massive brood at home and a wedding on the horizon, Bennett will have to push the distractions aside and focus on catching a ruthless killer. A nice addition for those who enjoy the Michael Bennett series, though not as sharp as some police procedurals I have read lately.

The faint sound of wedding bells seems to pervade Michael Bennett’s every thought, as the big day approaches. With ten children, one grandfather, and a fiancée at home, he has a great deal to juggle. Add to that, a new partner learning the ropes of Homicide, and Bennett has little time to collect his thoughts.

Bennett is soon called to the scene of a brutal murder, one in which the victim’s body is not only slain, but her eye eviscerated. Bennett has not seen something like this in a long while, which can only mean that this killer has something to prove. The murder is similar not only to others in surrounding boroughs, but also other cities crisscrossing America.

All the while, Daniel Ott watches as New York panics. He knows what he’s doing and chooses to push people to the brink. Anyone who disrespects him has a chance of being his next victim; he’s that easily swayed. Between his kills, which he is sure will baffle the NYPD, he makes regular calls back to his family. A wife and two young girls have no idea what he’s doing and hope to see him soon.

Bennett makes little progress on the case until he finds something that ties all three cities together, a computer system update ordered by numerous companies. While everyone remembers a single tech, Ott was so forgettable that no one can recall a physical description. However, Ott knows Bennett and is preparing to derail the detective and the investigation long enough to flee the city and find new victims.

As with most series that extend past a handful of books, things can get a little stale without new plot lines and story arcs. Patterson (with Born in the later novels) has continued to push Michael Bennett to find killer that lurk across the five boroughs, rarely leaving the confines of NYC. Still, there are moments when readers will likely enjoy Bennett’s work, but things appear to be dragging, in my humble opinion.

Bennett returns as the series protagonist, still juggling the usual mix of personal issues and professional responsibilities. While he is well past backstory, Bennett is always evolving, if incrementally. His upcoming marriage has him a tad nervous, though he knows that he’s madly in love. Working with a new partner forces Bennett to be more open with his views and help teach the next generation of Homicide detectives. Gritty and ready to break down any barriers, Michael Bennett shines as best he can with a killer out for blood.

Patterson and Born develop a decent supporting case to push the story along. While it can be hard to find unique approaches to killers, the collaborators do a decent job of spinning the Daniel Ott backstory to offer a fresh approach. With some decent recurring characters and new faces, the story stays somewhat fresh and intriguing, though the sharp edge is gone from both the plot and the characters.

It could be the format of Patterson’s work that breeds a less than chilling approach to the series as it sticks around, something that Born does not see when he collaborates on standalone novels. There’s just something lacking in these latter books that was there in the early stories, though I cannot put my finger on it. Patterson is apt for selling books because of his name, rather than content, as I have bemoaned before, though the issue cannot be placed solely on Born’s shoulders. With short chapters, the story does move forward and keeps the reader guessing, even if it is not a piece that forces late night page flipping to determine how things will end. I wonder if Michael Bennett, like his DC counterpart Alex Cross, might want to look for new adventures. That said, I am still hoping that Patterson can create a Bennett-Cross-Boxer collaborative effort that would pull all three of his successful detectives into a single case crossing multiple novels and keeping readers scrambling to read them all in succession. Then again, that might be too much to ask… or is it?

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Born, for keeping things going. You work well together, though I wish there was something a tad grittier in your collaborative efforts.

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

Spin (Captain Chase #2), by Patricia Cornwell

Seven stars

Master storyteller Patricia Cornwell is back with the second book in her Captain Chase series. Pulling the reader into the middle of a cyber-tech thriller, Cornwell uses the exciting world of space and the threat to NASA as a whole to keep readers on the edge of their seats. Building on the momentum from the opening novel in the series, Quantum, Cornwell utilises her masterful way of developing a plot to make Spin a novel that is a must-read for those who love her style.

A member of the US Space Force, Captain Calli Chase is following up on a lead involving a murder at a NASA testing facility. Trapping in the middle of a snowstorm, Chase finds herself feeling testy and significantly on edge when she is targeted by a potential killer and saved only when her twin sister, Carme, appears out of nowhere.

Before Calli knows what’s going on, she’s drugged and whisked away to a facility, where she is given more upgrades that she knows how to process. Emerging as a sort of Bionic Woman, Captain Chase is now armed and ready to work at new levels, as she seeks to assemble all the pieces to help her crack the case wide open.

With everything literally at her fingertips, Calli is tasked with locating a young boy who has hacked into NASA and procured a special computer chip, one that could have significant consequences if it falls into the wrong hands. While the lad denies being guilty of anything, the jury is still out. With this chip, control of the internet and other significant technologies could be changed forever. Calli learns that one woman, Neva Rong, has sinister plans when she gets her hands on the chip and will stop at nothing to get it.

As tensions mount, Chase will have to protect the boy and try not to show her cards before it’s time. Rong’s power has already been seen, as she is likely the culprit behind the murder at the NASA facility. Rong’s power in the aerospace world and connections all the way up the political ladder makes her even more deadly, while Chase seeks to reveal all before it’s too late.

There is no doubt that Patricia Cornwell did extensive research for this book, having proven that she understands the topic throughout both novels. She is also not one to slowly offer what she knows, for spoonfeeding has never been what she does best. That said, it is also not presented in a condescending manner. Rather, space becomes exciting in this tech-thriller, for those who have a penchant for all things scientific.

Calli Chase is a likeable character, or so it would seem. She is on point when it comes to her navigation throughout the book and she handles much of what is tossed before her. While she wrestles to understand how she fits into the larger picture, Calli does well to dodge the major issues that occur throughout this piece. The reader will find her learning much about herself, as well as a past she did not know existed.

Cornwell does well to develop a number of other characters throughout the piece, keeping them all complementary of Captain Chase, but never putting the protagonist on too high a pedestal. Cornwell develops her characters to entice the reader, contrasting well with one another at various points. The reader can learn much about the story and Captain Chase through those who cross her path throughout this piece.

While many have come to know Patricia Cornwell for her Kay Scarpetta character, this is far from that domain. While both women thrive on action, Captain Calli Chase is nothing like literary predecessor. Cornwell has taken things in a significantly different direction here and thrives on making waves in a new and exciting domain. Some will love it and others will likely find it too ‘techy’ for their liking. The writing is comprehensive and the plot is somewhat easy to decipher. However, if the reader’s interest is not space, technology, or artificial intelligence, this book may implode before the plot is able to capture their attention. With mid-length chapters, Cornwell develops her story well and tries to keep things on the level, but it missed the mark for me, in that I could not find myself wholly invested. I enjoyed parts of it, but felt out of my element in others. Still, it was a decent effort, even if it’s not entirely my sort of book.

Kudos, Madam Cornwell, for a great leap away from the type of writing I have come to expect from you. While it did not engage me as much, I hope you find many fans and keep your readers guessing where things are headed next.

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

Deadly Cross (Alex Cross #28), by James Patterson

Seven stars

Alex Cross is back for yet another adventure along the streets of D.C., which means James Patterson has been at it again. When the former wife of a high-ranking politician turns up dead, Cross is on the case. He’s also working with his partner to discover who’s been kidnapping and murdering a number of young women. This is sure to be one summer that will keep Cross busy. A decent addition for series fans, but there’s something lacking in this latest novel.

Alex Cross loves nothing more than spending time with his family, but when work calls, he knows where he’s needed. The former wife of the current vice-president has been found murdered and Cross is willing to step up to help. It would seem that their past acquaintance is not going to help as much as Cross had hoped, as tabloid journalists try to use it to smear her and leave Cross in an awkward position.

While working that case and taking direction from the Chief of Detectives—Cross’ own wife, Bree Stone—Cross and his partner, John Sampson, begin working on a series of kidnappings of young women. What’s worse, some of the women have turned up murdered, leaving little doubt that there’s a serial killer on the loose. Cross and Sampson begin a thorough analysis of the case, but a personal tragedy strikes, sidelining the affable Sampson.

As Cross splits his time between cases, he’s not getting the traction he had hoped, which is causing a significant amount of pressure up the chain of command. Bree is feeling the heat from her own superiors and loses it at one point, wondering if police work is really for her. It’s no easy decision, but, like Cross, family comes before the badge.

After Cross finds himself in rural Alabama working some leads, he learns something that could solve the case that has those on Capitol Hill buzzing. It could be a red herring, but there’s no time to leave anything to chance. What Cross learns blows the case wide open, forcing everyone to question what they know and who they can trust.

Back in D.C., it’s anyone’s guess who could be killing young women, but Sampson bounces back, using work as a salve, and discovers a few breadcrumbs of his own. With so much set to chance in the Cross sphere, solving these cases might help with what’s on the horizon.

I have long enjoyed the work of James Patterson on this series, one of the few that he has kept for himself. While Cross does not seem to lose his finesse, there’s something about this book that left me less than fully enthralled. I have mentioned it before and will do so again, might it be time for Dr. Alex Cross to hang up the cuffs and let others handle things?

Alex Cross returns to reprise his role as protagonist, though there is little backstory or actual development to be had. Cross lives for the moment, watching his family continue to grow and the cases pile up. He’s still likeable, works hard, and loves his family. I guess I expected something new to rejuvenate him as a character all his own. I did not dislike him whatsoever, but there’s something lacking that left me almost indifferent throughout the novel.

With a core of close knit supporting characters, Patterson does well to keep the large story arc going. There are the requisite new faces who appear to keep the cases flowing well and leave the reader with others to explore. A little backstory appears here and there, but the reader gets much of their narrative development with the police work that is being done throughout the book.

I always find it hard to stay loyal to a series when things seem to taper off. Not that this collection has fallen into horrible disarray, but it lacks what it once had, hardcore crime work and cliffhangers that leaver the reader wondering. Patterson is able to keep his protagonist moving and guessing, though there is a lack of spark that I remember from earlier novels. Surely, Cross is aging and his family is getting more independent, but if that means it’s time to fade into the sunset, let’s take that route and move along. Other series that have lasted this long have their protagonist moving into retirement. I wonder if this is an option that Patterson’s considered. Not that he’s not busy enough overseeing others writing books with his name on it.

The writing itself is still fairly strong and the story he’d my attention throughout. I was eager to see how Cross would handle things and was happy to see the narrative’s momentum did not lag. Short chapters kept me pushing ahead, wondering what was to come next, though I was not as riveted as I would have liked. Those who have dedicated themselves to the series may also see the writing on the wall. I’ll keep reading, but I can only hope that Patterson ties things off with dignity for this long-serving detective, and we don’t have him perishing in an alley, blood pooling around him.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson, for keeping Alex Cross going. Perhaps it’s time for a mega crossover (with Women’s Murder Club and Michael Bennett) before calling it a career for the Metro detective.

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

Liberal Privilege: Joe Biden and the Democrats’ Defence of the Indefensible, by Donald Trump Jr.

NO STARS

I have decided to embark on a mission to read a number of books on subjects that will be of great importance to the upcoming 2020 US Presidential Election. Many of these will focus on actors intricately involved in the process, in hopes that I can understand them better and, perhaps, educate others with the power to cast a ballot. I am, as always, open to serious recommendations from anyone who has a book I might like to include in the process.

This is Book #19 in my 2020 US Election Preparation Challenge.

I sought to read some books on both sides of the political spectrum, in hopes that it would enrich the challenge experience for me. Unfortunately, this backfired with this book, in the largest possible way. While I had hoped to get a strong and complete argument from the right about how things have been going well and what we have to look forward to, it was a hot mess from the get-go.

Imagine holding a voice-to-text app up to either Donald Trump and then publishing what spewed out of their mouths. This book is just that, full of rants and non-sensical blather about a variety of topics. Toss in a few slanderous comments and curse words and you have the entire book. This is not a book seeking to explore America from the right, but rather a smear campaign in the shadow of the worst president America has seen. It was painful to read… oh wait, I bailed after the first chapter because my head hurt so much.

I am all for books and self-publication. I applaud those who seek to use their own blood, sweat, and tears when it comes to getting a book to market. However, in the case of this book, it speaks volumes that it was published by Donald Trump, Jr. No one else would touch it! And.. the audiobook was read by Donnie’s own girlfriend (something he repeats throughout the portion I could read while dry heaving). If this is not a red flag, I am not sure what could be.

For those of you who want to try something that has no merit and little substantive value, go ahead. I cannot believe I am saying this… but I may actually need to find Lou Dobbs’ book. It CANNOT be worse than this one!

Kudos, Matt Pechey, for suffering through this pile of steaming Trumpism.

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

The Grownup, by Gillian Flynn

Seven stars

In this short story by Gillian Flynn, the reader meets the unnamed narrator, whose life working as a quasi-sex worker pays the bills, but really doesn’t bring too much glory. Working as a ‘psychic’ on the side, she encounters Susan Burke, who has quite the story of familial worry and concern. After visiting the old, Victorian home, the ‘psychic’ is not longer sure that this con will work, as some of the things that take place are quite disturbing. With a sociopathic step-son, Susan passes along a haunting story of previous inhabitants of the house, where a bloody break with reality led to some horrible press. As the step-son begins spouting off some violent ideas, our protagonist is all but sure she will be one of the next victims and has little to show for her life. A great filler between larger reading commitments, Flynn keeps the reader hooked throughout. Recommended to those who need a twist or two as they read, as well as the reader who does not want a linear experience.

Having never read any Gillian Flynn before this, I was surely quite curious to see what all the hype might be about. Flynn pens quite the piece, opening with some narration that had me do a double take. From there, things progressed away from the bawdy and into something a little paranormal, though nothing too off the wall. Those characters who were presented served their purpose, though none leapt off the page for me. The story held my attention throughout, something that needed to happen early on, as there was little time to develop an affinity for all the essential elements. I enjoyed the hour or so I invested, but I was not gobsmacked. Still, I’ll try something else and plunge into the mix of reviews again to see where I find myself.

Kudos, Madam Flynn, for entertaining me. I like your writing and can only hope your other work is just as intriguing.

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

The Midwife Murders, by James Patterson and Richard DiLallo

Seven stars

With another collaborative effort, James Patterson and Richard DiLallo present a thriller that will touch on some of the most panicked possibilities that many parents could imagine. This book will help pass the time, though should not be considered one of their stronger efforts. Working in the heart of New York City, Lucy Ryuan is a senior midwife. She helps women all throughout their pregnancy journey, culminating in live births and the joy of parenthood. When two babies are kidnapped from the hospital while she is on shift, Lucy is highly concerned and can only imagine the horror that follows for two mothers. When a woman is found cut open, clinging to life as her newborn is nowhere to be found, Lucy knows that she will have to help the authorities take action. She learns of a case where someone has been trying to purchase babies from mothers, wondering if there may be a connection. While Lucy is eager to follow a few leads, the detective on the case wants her out of his hair and sends her on a temporary vacation. Lucy and her son make their way to West Virginia, where Lucy’s family resides. While her mind is off the kidnapped babies, Lucy is forced to face some skeletons in her familial closet and come to terms with a past she hoped to put on the back burner. When the authorities learn of a potential new baby sale, Lucy’s called back to New York, where she can help with a sting operation. However, this is no regular couple looking for a baby and Lucy may find herself in a great deal of trouble. A decent book to add to the massive Patterson collection. Recommended to those who like the quick Patterson style, as well as readers who like a unique-style mystery.

While I know that this book has received mixed reviews, I tried to go into the experience with an open mind. I did not feel the book was as horrid as some panned it in their reviews, but I was also not left in a state of awe at the superior writing style. Patterson and DiLallo offer up an interesting mystery, told from a unique angle. Lucy Ryuan proves to be a decent protagonist, bringing a unique profession into the spotlight. Serving as a midwife, she educates the reader throughout the novel about her profession, while showing a great deal of compassion for the mothers and babies with whom she deals on a regular basis. The authors paint a well-rounded picture of Lucy’s life as a single mother, though some of the more rom-com moments proved to be a little over the top. She is gritty and shows where her priorities lie as she fights for the newly-born in a world where the lives of babies are sold for a price. Others who grace the pages of the book offer their own perspectives, flavouring things and keeping the story going. I cannot say that there were any that stuck out tremendously, but most could stand on their own. The story was decent enough, trying to find out who was kidnapping babies and then selling them, though there were some overly stereotypical discussions and antagonist labelling throughout. I was pleased to see Patterson and DiLallo tacking the ongoing issue with opioid overdose in a tangential plot line while Lucy was in West Virginia. This is an issue that has received much attention in the news, though it was also handled with grace here, neither diluting it nor making it into some sensational revelation. Overall, it was an enjoyable reading experience, though I am not sure it will resonate for months to come with it. Still, Patterson books tend to be good fillers between larger reading experiences.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and DiLallo, for this interesting piece of writing. Your parental sides are surely shining here, though I suspect you needed help with some of the more technical birthing terms.

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