Friday, October 22, 2021

#Review - Bluebird by Sharon Cameron #YA #Historical #Fiction

Series: Standalone
Format: Hardcover, 464 pages
Release Date: October 5, 2021
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult / Historical

In 1946, Eva leaves behind the rubble of Berlin for the streets of New York City, stepping from the fiery aftermath of one war into another, far colder one, where power is more important than principles, and lies are more plentiful than the truth. Eva holds the key to a deadly secret: Project Bluebird -- a horrific experiment of the concentration camps, capable of tipping the balance of world power. Both the Americans and the Soviets want Bluebird, and it is something that neither should ever be allowed to possess.

But Eva hasn't come to America for secrets or power. She hasn't even come for a new life. She has come to America for one thing: justice. And the Nazi that has escaped its net.

 


Sharon Cameron, author of the The Light in Hidden Places, which I recently read and reviewed, weaves a taut and affecting thriller ripe with intrigue and romance in this alternately chilling and poignant portrait of the personal betrayals, terrifying injustices, and deadly secrets that seethe beneath the surface in the aftermath of World War II. This story takes place alternatively between 1945, 1946, with a brief stop in 1947. Who is Anna Ptaszynska? 
 
Is she Eva Gerst who arrives in the US in August of 1946 along with Brigit Heidelman who suffered greatly at the hands of Russian soldiers? Eva has a dark secret and revenge on her mind and 27 names on her lips hoping to find the notorious Doctor Von Emmerich who experimented on thousands of prisoners in Sachsenhausen. Or, is she Inge Von Emmerich, daughter of Dr. Von Emmerich, the sole remaining member of the family who may be one of the good Doktor's experiments? 
 
When Eva arrives in America, Eva is ordered by the CIA to participate in project Bluebird – a plot to find a Nazi doctor who was working on developing mind control and is hiding in the US to avoid the Nuremberg trials. and want to know where her father is. That Nazi doctor turns out to be her own father, a brutal man who experiments on people of all ages. Eva wants revenge for the prisoners that were experimented on and for Brigit who was horribly assaulted by Russian soldiers. 
 
But she soon finds out that the CIA isn't the only ones who want to get their hands on Dr. Von Emmerich. The Soviets are patiently waiting for the CIA to screw up so that they can quickly grab the good doctor and force him back to the prison where he left thousands of innocents scared for life, or dead. Two for allies now enemies are eager to collect as many German scientists as they can before they disappear for good. Eva/Brigit's journey is uncomfortable at times. She starts off as member of a German Nazi group, and later realizes that everything she was told was propaganda to brainwash the masses. 
 
She was encouraged to hate Jews, and turn them in whenever she saw one. On her arrival in the US, she meets an assorted group of people from all walks of life and they are not the awful people she was taught to believe. She befriends a group of individuals at the Powell House and The American Friends Service Committee who have escaped from Europe and are hoping to find a better life in America. Here she meets Jake Katz who she has to eventually either trust, or get rid of for feat that he will be another casualty in a mixed up tug of war between two enemies. 
 
Props to Sharon Cameron for all the research and time and valuable sources she used to write this book. They are invaluable to someone like me who loves to read Historical fiction.   Project Bluebird was real, and may still be. Who can really trust what the CIA is doing, or what they're not doing? BLUEBIRD is the cryptonym for a CIA mind control program that ran from 1951 to 1953. Other mind control programs include ARTICHOKE, MKULTRA, and MKSEARCH. 

Fact: Sachsenhausen or Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg was a German Nazi concentration camp in Oranienburg, Germany, used from 1936 to the end of the Third Reich in May 1945. It mainly held political prisoners throughout World War II. The former Soviet Union took it over in May 1945.  26,000 Polish children were stolen from their families and integrated into Germany society by Nazi soldiers. This may be the most unreported fact of the entire aftermath of World War II. These children almost never found their way back home.

Powell House and The American Friends Service Committee are real, and did some wonderful work thanks to those involved. Their mission was peace and friendship. It's something we need in the US right now to bridge between hurdles, anger, and resentment of our own people.  Even though this is marked as Young Adult, I think, and I urge that those older pick up this book and read it. The more you know about he past, the less likely it will carry over into the next generations.
 



Thursday, October 21, 2021

#Review - Steelstriker (Skyhunter #2) by Marie Lu #YA #Dystopian

Series: Skyhunter # 2
Format: Hardcover, 416 pages
Release Date: September 28, 2021
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult / Dystopian

As a Striker, Talin was taught loyalty is life. Loyalty to the Shield who watches your back, to the Strikers who risk their lives on the battlefield, and most of all, to Mara, which was once the last nation free from the Karensa Federation’s tyranny.

But Mara has fallen. And its destruction has unleashed Talin’s worst nightmare.

With her friends scattered by combat and her mother held captive by the Premier, Talin is forced to betray her fellow Strikers and her adopted homeland. She has no choice but to become the Federation’s most deadly war machine as their newest Skyhunter.

Red is no stranger to the cruelty of the Federation or the torture within its Skyhunter labs, but he knows this isn’t the end for Mara – or Talin. The link between them may be weak, but it could be Talin and Red's only hope to salvage their past and safeguard their future.

While the fate of a broken world hangs in the balance, Talin and Red must reunite the Strikers and find their way back to each other in this smoldering sequel to Marie Lu’s Skyhunter



Steelstriker is the final installment in author Marie Lu's Skyhunter duology. It has been 6 months since Premiere Constantine conquered Mara, the last free nation not under the Federation's iron fist. Told in alternating perspectives from Talin Kanami and Red, we get an inside look at both the rebellion and the Premier's desperate hold on to the territories he has conquered before they rebel and declare independence. You definitely need to read Skyhunter first, otherwise you will have no clue as to what Talin gave up in order to become the Premier's newest weapon. 
 
Talin sacrificed her life in order to save her mother. She's been turned into a Skyhunter, and a monster. Her bones have been forged with steel and it makes her nearly indestructible. Especially when she opens her new wings. She also knows that if she strikes out at Constantine in any way, her mother will follow him to the grave. But that doesn't stop Constantine from hunting Red and the remaining Strikers who managed to survive the battle for Mara and the subsequent tearing apart or Mara piece by piece while looking for Early One's technology which could lead to Constantine's immortality.
 
Meanwhile, Talin learns that a rebellion is brewing. There are key members of Constantine's team who want him replaced at all costs. But, with Talin connected to Constantine like she's connected to Red, and her mother being moved from place to place to keep Talin from finding out where she's being kept under guard, what more is there for her to do? Rely on Red and her friends to do the hard and dirty work that's what. No, I am not being sarcastic. For almost the entire book, Talin isn't the girl who showed up in Skyhunter. She has no idea how to speak, since she can't speak, to others and let them know what's going on. The only people she can talk to are Red and her mother who know how to use sign language.
 
Red spends most of this story with Jeran, Adena, and Arman the last remaining Strikers. After they are caught in a trap, Adena and Arman are forced into facing off in a life or death game. If anyone survives, the winner will have to face off against Talin, Constantine's newest war machine. Red is no stranger to the cruelty of the Federation or the torture within its Skyhunter labs at the hands of Raina, the Chief Architect. But he knows this isn’t the end for Mara—or Talin. The link between them may be weak, but it could be their only hope to salvage their past and safeguard their future. The author explores part of Red's history as a soldier of the Federation and how he comes to bond with the Strikers who once thought he was going to betray them.
 
Would have liked this book more and rated it higher, but the best part of this book was the ending as well as Adena and Arman fighting in a dangerous maze like coliseum. There's little action from Talin, and most of what there is, it's from Red and Jeran as they attempt to save their remaining Strikers. There's a lot of fill in and dragging feet, and the author jumps the shark by personally adding in her personal political beliefs into the story by way of making Constantine represent the alleged person she apparently hates with a passion.  
 
I did like the fact that Talin's mother wasn't your atypical YA mother who disappears and she's never seen or heard from again. She's part of Talin's life from the day they were forced to flea their former homes, to Mara, to being held prisoner by Constantine. She's there when things don't look so good for Talin, and manages to stay by her side through thick and thin and comes to accept Red and Talin's connection. As I said, political views have no business in novels. You can respectfully disagree with me if you like. But we live in a world where everyone seems to hate everyone else no matter who they are and whether or not they are innocent or guilty of being on the opposite side. This has to stop of there's no point of keeping this country as 50 states.




Wednesday, October 20, 2021

#Review - The Ice Coven (Jessica Niemi #2) by Max Seeck #Mysery #Suspense

Series: Jessica Niemi # 1
Format: Paperback, 464 pages
Release Date: September 28, 2021
Publisher: Berkley Books
Source: Publisher
Genre: Mystery / Occult & Supernatural

Investigator Jessica Niemi is in a race against time to find the link between a body with strange markings that has washed up on a frigid shore in Finland and two baffling disappearances in this terrifying new novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Witch Hunter

Six months have passed since Jessica’s encounter with the mysterious serial-killing coven of witches and the death of her mentor. Her nightmares about her mother and the witchcraft that undid her have only gotten worse, but she’s doing what she can to stay focused. Her homicide squad, now under new leadership, has been given a murder case and a new series of disappearances to investigate. A young woman’s corpse has washed up on an icy beach, and two famous Instagram influencers have gone missing at the same time.

The missing influencers and the murdered woman all have ties to a sinister cult. Jessica finds an eerie painting—of a lighthouse on a remote island—as she investigates, and under the picture is a gruesome poem detailing a murder. The nightmares about her mother suddenly seem all too real, making Jessica wonder if the dead woman might be trying to tell her something about the killings. And as Jessica works frantically to solve her latest case, her horrific past comes roaring back and threatens to destroy her.
 



The Ice Coven, by author Max Seeck, is the second installment in author Jessica Niemi's series. Six months have passed since Jessica's encounter with the mysterious serial-killing coven of witches and the death of her mentor Erne who knew about Jessica's dark past. With her nightmares about her long dead mother and the witchcraft that undid her getting worse, she's trying hard to do what she can to stay focused. Her homicide squad, now under new leadership of Helena Lappi, who, I dare say hates Jessica, has been given a murder case and a new series of disappearances to investigate. 
 
A young woman's corpse has washed up on an icy beach, and two famous Instagram influencers have gone missing at the same time. The missing influencers and the murdered woman all have ties to a sinister cult. Jessica finds an eerie painting--of a lighthouse on a frigid island--as she investigates and under the picture is a gruesome poem detailing a murder. The nightmares about her dead mother have intensified and seem all too real, making Jessica wonder if the woman might be trying to tell her something about the killings. 
 
And as Jessica works frantically to solve her latest case with help from Yusuf, Rasmus, Nina, and new guy Jami Harjula, her horrific past comes roaring back and threatens to destroy her. Even though Jessica is on top of her game as an investigator, she still has to do the walk of shame for something she did with a co-worker who turned out to be part of the witch coven. So, while Jessica and her partner Yussef are running down answer to questions, she has to also deal with a Jami who is not only liked by Helena, but wants to prove that he's capable to handle the caseload and maybe get a promotion in the process. 
 
Jessica and her boss are constantly at odds, which makes some of Jessica's choices in the ending understandable. Helena even goes as far as to dig into parts of Jessica's past that was covered up and hidden by her former boss. The most curious part of Jessica's story is the warnings she's given that is likely to happen around Christmas. Jessica is also dealing with a body that will never be normal. Not after being the only survivor of a brutal car crash which shattered her spine and left her barely able to walk.
 
This book ends on a cliffhanger ending, and I have to wonder how much Jessica's sanity can remain in check with everything that's happening to her. What makes me coming back to this series is the unique setting of Finland, mostly Helsinki. It's nice to actually remove yourself from the same old same old, and read about something new and different. There's plenty of intrigue, mystery and a plethora of twists and turns with a wild and chilling plot and all of this never fails to keep you engaged and captivated throughout.




1

 

Lisa Yamamoto waits for the chrome doors to close, then releases the air trapped in her chest in a single prolonged breath. She slides her black Prada sunglasses off and eyes herself in the mirror on the rear wall. The concealer hides the stress and exhaustion, but it cannot summon joy to her eyes. There’s not a hint of the over-the-top exuberance an invitation to a drop party for Finland’s hottest rap artist-or any artist, for that matter-would have sparked a year or two ago. Now the predominant emotion is one of unpleasant suspense, and she regrets not having done something before leaving the house to boost her confidence-something stronger than champagne. But no doubt one of her fellow invitees will make sure her needs are attended to. Shoot the right person the right look, and she’d be strolling into the ladies’ with a bump that would guarantee a nice pick-me-up.

 

Lisa scans her body, sheathed in a beige Hervé Léger bandage dress: fit and just the right amount of curvy. At least her look is on point. Not that things aren’t fine or that she doesn’t have it all under control. The sole item on tonight’s agenda is getting a couple of good selfies with the man of the moment and maybe shooting a few video stories with other celebs. Considering whose release party it is, Helsinki’s most famous faces are sure to be out in force.

 

Lisa hears her phone vibrate in the side pocket of her purse. Probably Jason again. He’s already tried three times. Get a life. She shifts her gaze from the mirror to the digital number panel above. A red four. Five. Six.

 

A short melody plays, and a moment later the doors open. The elevator is flooded with pounding bass and loud chatter, accentuated by shouts and sporadic bursts of laughter.

 

Lisa looks down the red carpet toward the coat check, which is mobbed by guests bearing bouquets and bottles. Nobodies, nevers. Lucky I don’t have to introduce myself to them.

 

The bouncer, a guy named Sahib whom Lisa has known for years, gives her a discreet nod as she steps out of the elevator.

 

Lisa passes the floor-to-ceiling windows giving onto a panoramic view. Helsinki’s rooftops are slick from days of rainfall. The strikingly lit Torni Hotel rises in the distance, a miniature Empire State Building that dominates the city’s low-slung silhouette. The light from the streetlamps and windows sets the dark scene glistening. The city has yet to be brightened by a first snow.

 

“Hey, Lisa, nice to see you,” the black-blazered, white-T-shirted Sahib says as he helps her out of her dripping overcoat-artificial leather trimmed in fake fur. The couple in front of Lisa has stopped a few feet away to whisper, by all signs about her. There was a time she got off on the looks, the attention of complete strangers. Now they just make her uncomfortable. What the hell are they staring at?

 

“How’s it going?” Lisa asks the bald, muscle-bound Sahib as she lowers her purse and shoe bag to the counter. She steadies herself with one hand as she deftly slips off her black, white-striped Superstars with the other and slides her toes into a pair of patent beige heels that came equipped with an extra four inches.

 

“Party’s already bumping,” Sahib replies smoothly, carries Lisa’s coat and bagged sneakers over to the rack, and hands her a numbered tag creased by the sweaty fists of thousands of partyers.

 

Lisa feels her phone vibrate again along with the thump of the bass. Maybe it’s been ringing this whole time. She pulls it from her purse, glances at the screen, and silences the device. Shit.

 

“Thanks,” she says, flashing Sahib a quick smile.

 

“Be careful out there-a lot of bad boys on the loose tonight,” Sahib says with a wink. And although she can’t stand the bouncer’s patronizing flirtation, Lisa smiles and winks back.

 

The highway created by the red carpet cuts through the dark drapes and into the glare of the photographers’ flashes. The air is permeated by that distinctive nightclub odor-stale cologne, spilled alcohol, and cigarette smoke absorbed by the floor, carpets, and curtains over the years-a reek even a series of remodels hasn’t managed to eradicate. A female bouncer Lisa doesn’t recognize cracks the curtains, and Lisa steps into the club proper, a tall space packed with partyers showing off the latest trends. Hair dyed in flaming tints, off-the-wall makeup, plumped lips, custom-made suits and sport coats accentuating trained bodies, ironic hipster mustaches, trimmed beards. Lisa pauses to take in the photo wall, the size of a soccer goal, and the guests being brusquely manhandled toward it as if it were a medieval gallows.

 

“Yamamoto!” a female voice squeals. Lisa’s eyes strike on an overweight reporter with glasses whose name she can’t remember, despite having been interviewed by the other woman at some point.

 

Lisa gives the reporter a practiced smile that shows her white teeth. “Hi!”

 

“We’d love to do a little piece on you….”

 

Lisa glances at the photographer standing behind the reporter; he has a tabloid press card hanging around his neck. Probably legit, and good advertising for her blog.

 

“Let me go over and take my picture first.”

 

“Sure. We’ll be right here.”

 

“OK, great,” Lisa says as she leans in to hug a young English-speaking man she doesn’t remember ever meeting. Hi! Good to see you. Sure, talk to you soon!

 

After extricating herself from the stranger’s excessively eager and overpowering aftershave-drenched embrace, Lisa drifts to the photo wall, joins the short queue snaking up to it.

 

She scans the room bathed in low lighting, the sea of bodies surging there. Some faces are familiar, others aren’t; the majority are somewhere in between. Faded memories, distant flashes of Helsinki nightlife. CDKF. Chat, dance, kiss, fuck. Typically in that order, although Lisa remembers a few nights she skipped directly from the chatting to the fucking. And maybe one or two when she arrived at the same outcome without so much as a chat.

 

Over at the back, Lisa spies a knot of revelers corralled off from the main herd, camera flashes, men and women taking turns rubbing shoulders for the paparazzi. And at the eye of this storm, the top-hatted, sequin-tuxedoed guest of honor himself, Kex Mace, aka Tim Taussi, the twenty-six-year-old rap artist whose pop-influenced hip-hop album made Spotify history last year: it rose to the top of the streaming lists not only in Finland, but in the other Nordic countries and Germany too.

 

“You’re up, Lisa,” calls the woman with the telephoto lens. Purse in hand, Lisa steps up to the backdrop: an album cover illustrated with a huge spider. Kex Mace’s Spider’s Web. The flashes click briefly, annoyingly so. The photographers haven’t always let Lisa off the hook so easily. Just last year, she would see camera flashes in her sleep. Thanks! She is free to go. Great seeing you, Lisa! Have fun tonight! The smiles feel almost genuine, the words almost sincere, but the underlying chill does not go unnoticed by Lisa. She has an eye for social cues that has been honed by dozens of such events. No one is really interested in who you are, only what you look like and what you represent. Some people are interested solely in whether you’ll be available for an after-party blow job at five a.m., once the bottles have been emptied and the Ziploc bags vacuumed of every last gram.

 

The next item on the agenda is a glass of champagne; a server in a black shirt and yellow bow tie is conveniently carrying a tray of them in his gloved hand.

 

A promo girl in a tastelessly short skirt and a breast-baring top hands Lisa a program, winks, and says: “Don’t get tangled in the web.”

 

Don’t get tangled in the web. So damned pretentious and overproduced. Lisa has been inside for only a few minutes, but she already has the urge to spin right back around and get the hell out of here. She’s more desperate for a shot of courage than she realized. Snow White. Marching powder. Her gaze seeks out anyone who could offer relief. Teme, Sakke, Taleeb…Her usual guys are presumably present but obscured by the hundreds of faces.

 

And then Lisa feels her heart skip a beat. There he is again: standing, hands in his pockets, at the windows overlooking the city. His gaze, vaguely accusatory and penetrating, is exactly the same as last time. Lisa turns on her heels and heads for the bar.

 

But she knows the man won’t let her out of his sight.

 

Wednesday, November 27

 

2

 

The song blasting through the earbuds-En Vogue’s “Free Your Mind”-pauses as the running app provides its audio feedback. Despite being friendly and female, the voice exudes the stark soullessness of any recorded announcement: Distance five kilometers, average speed ten point two kilometers an hour. The music returns, and Jessica Niemi inhales the fresh air through her nostrils. It smells of morning after the first freeze of the year: of the frost on the leaves being swept away by the sun’s early rays; of melting puddles, their film of ice giving under the flexible soles of sneakers.

 

Jessica feels like she’s flying; her step is light. A few months ago, she started running to work again after a prolonged hiatus. It’s a form of exercise she has dropped more than once due to agonized protests from her broken body. Aching joints, nerve pain boring into her knees, shooting down her legs to her toes, and all of it immune to normal pain medications. But now her legs are moving, and the pain hasn’t returned. It will, of course; it always does. But until then, Jessica means to relish every footfall, every spurt that ends in a flood of endorphins. In retrospect, her taking up running again on a whim feels miraculous. After the funeral of her former boss Erne Mikson, Jessica spent weeks in a daze, sat at home brooding over everything that had happened. Until one day she pulled on her running shoes and lunged out into the mild spring air. Like Forrest Gump, her colleague Yusuf later joked.

 

The distance from her Tššlšnkatu flat to police headquarters in Pasila is about three and a half kilometers. The route hugs the bay, skirts the Winter Garden, then continues past the Stadium hill to Helsinki’s Central Park. In order to double the distance, Jessica frequently turns west-as she did today-at the Laakso equestrian center and crisscrosses the park’s rocky, spruce-sheltered paths all the way to the allotment gardens at Ruskeasuo.

 

Jessica passes the riding school and Helsinki’s mounted police just to the northeast. The sandy path is poorly lit along this stretch of track. The lampposts among the tall trees are few and far between, and the bright lights of the arena plunge instantly into forested gloom. A large bird prowls the treetops.

 

Hey! Did you hear me?

 

Jessica glances backward, but the path is deserted. It’s hard to say whether she truly heard the shout over the music blasting in her earbuds. Sometimes she hears things when she’s running: random words and cries. The voices have followed her for so long she doesn’t always pay attention to them.

 

Stop!

 

This time the voice is too real. Jessica pulls the earbud from one ear and glances over her shoulder just in time to catch a glimpse of a male figure with outsized hands scrabbling at her windbreaker. The assailant throws his full weight against her, knocks her to the ground. Jessica can feel his mass on her back as her cheek digs into icy mud and damp leaves.

 

“Listen…,” the voice says.

 

Jessica reels from the stench of boozy breath. Thighs wrap around her glutes, the attacker planted on her lower back. Bare fingers reach around her neck as the mouth growls in her ears. The breath smells of salt-licorice schnapps. Then Jessica’s attacker flips her over, and she sees his face: a stranger’s. Alcohol-flushed, angular cheeks, heavy mustache. An unkempt, ethanol-rotted forty-year-old. Jessica remembers passing a bench at the side of the sawdust path a few minutes back; a creepy guy in a leather jacket sat there, swigging rotgut from a plastic bottle.

 

“Christmas Eve.” The voice isn’t much more than a whisper. “Christmas Eve.”

 

Jessica stares at him, bewildered. The guy is clearly out of it; Christmas Eve is a month away. The fingers of one hand squeeze her jaw as his other hand holds her left wrist down.

 

Jessica exerts every ounce of strength she can muster and knees him in the crotch, but her legs are locked under the asshole’s weight, and he must be too drunk to feel his balls.

 

Jessica hears her pulse pounding in her ears. She takes a deep breath. Rough gravel scrapes her cheek; she sees icy sand and decomposing leaves in her peripheral vision. She could scream for help, but she doesn’t remember seeing anyone else nearby. In the distance, someone calls after a barking dog.

 

“Christmas Eve.” Now the man is foaming at the mouth, teeth bared. “Christmas Eve.”

 

Jessica’s fingertips graze the tiny canister at the bottom of her pocket. It’s classified as a firearm under Finnish law, and these days she always carries it with her. A second later, the man takes a long squirt of pepper spray to the eyes. An instant of disbelief, and then his drunken ranting turns into screams of anguish. With her free hand, Jessica slams her attacker in the face over and over. The upper teeth break; blood spurts from the mouth to the sallow skin. He loses his grip. And then, with surprising agility, he hauls himself off Jessica and bolts into the woods.

 

Jessica gasps for breath and lurches laboriously to her feet.

 

The knuckles on her right hand are bleeding.

 

Jessica hears branches snapping in the underbrush, but there’s no sign of the man anymore.

 

She doesn’t lower her hand; she brandishes the pepper spray, vigilant against a repeat attack. She waits and listens to the noises carrying from the woods. But the man doesn’t return.

 

Jessica grabs her phone and dials the station switchboard. After giving a description of the attacker, she starts jogging in the direction she came from, this time on high alert.

 

Distance six kilometers, average speed nine point one kilometers an hour.

 

3

 

Jessica steps across the threshold and leans her hip against the doorjamb. The after-sweat brought on by the hot shower she took in the locker room has glued her dark blue dress shirt to her back, and she discreetly tugs it out from under her belt. Her right hand, the one she used to whale on her attacker’s jaw, hurts like hell; she should probably let occupational health x-ray it.





Tuesday, October 19, 2021

#Review - Any Sign of Life by Rae Carson #YA #SyFy

Series: Unknown
Format: Hardcover, 384 pages
Release Date: October 12, 2021
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Action & Adventure / Survival Stories

New York Times–bestselling author Rae Carson delivers a harrowing and pulse-pounding survival story set in the near-future Midwest—with a cosmic twist. When a teenage girl thinks she may be the only person left alive in her town—maybe in the whole world—she must rely on hope, trust, and her own resilience. A must-have for readers of Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave and Neal Shusterman’s Dry.

Paige Miller is determined to take her basketball team to the state championship, maybe even beyond. But as March Madness heats up, Paige falls deathly ill. Days later, she wakes up attached to an IV and learns that the whole world has perished. Everyone she loves, and all of her dreams for the future—they’re gone.

But Paige is a warrior, so she pushes through her fear and her grief. And as she gets through each day—scrounging for food, for shelter, for safety—Paige encounters a few more young survivors. Together, they might stand a chance. But as they struggle to endure their new reality, they learn that the apocalypse did not happen by accident. And that there are worse things than being alone.

 


Rae Carson's Any Sign of Life is simply not anything special, nor should it be propped up as the next best thing in Young Adult Science Fiction, or Apocalyptic, or Dystopia. If you have read The 5th Wave by Rick Yancy or Neal Shusterman's Dry, or Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, or any number of other books in this genre, then you can pretty much guess the storyline. Paige Miller is your typical female apocalypse protagonist. She's a well off teenager who was a really good basketball player who had plans and a scholarship to look forward to when she graduates with her best friend Shawntele. 

Then one day after spending a week in a coma with what she believed was the flu, she wakes up with an IV in her arm and discovers that her entire world has been forever torn asunder by something she somehow managed to live through. Her entire family is dead and so is her best friend and everyone else that lives around her. After stumbling and bumbling and then deciding what she should do next, she manages to find Emmaline, her next door neighbors dog who has been left alone for who knows how long. Several days later, Paige runs into Trey Dawson who becomes her companion. 

Trey works at a Pharmacy as well as being a professional prospect who had just recently moved to town. Slight spoilers, Trey was immune to the virus and is curious how Paige was able to survive when 99.9% of the population is no longer left standing. The next character readers meet is a girl named Tanq who is also immune. No, I am not going to tell you her real name since it doesn't matter one way or the other. Until you meet two other characters who seem to know more than they are saying, and knew that Trey, and Tanq had survived. For them, Paige is a shocking surprise since they know of nobody who was infected but didn't die.

Tanq's personality is being angry at everyone no matter how nice they are to her and being a street artist. It takes Paige and Trey too much time to convince her that she's better off with them, than alone. The three soon meet two other survivors in Manny and Wyatt who know pretty much everything about what happened and who is to blame for the Earth being nearly wiped out. There has never once in human history been a virus has completely wiped out humanity. Was the virus engineered in a lab? Who was stupid enough to release the virus?

For me, whenever an author puts her personal political views into a story, I immediately reduce the rating and will continue to do so. The author believes that it is perfectly okay to call out certain characters for being racists when they're not. The author believes that if a white girl likes a black guy, they are, well, racist and guilty of white supremacy. Her exact words are white women who fetishize about black guys is racism. Allegedly, her so called best friend told her this. It is also apparent that the author wanted to jump in feet first on the Covid bandwagon, as well as blaming white people for everything that has ever happened.

The book ends on a cliffhanger but I don't feel the need to continue to punish myself by having different opinions from this author. 





Monday, October 18, 2021

#Review - The Keeper of Night by Kylie Lee Baker #YA #Fantasy

Series: The Keeper of Night # 1
Format: Hardcover, 400 pages
Release Date: October 12, 2021
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Dark Fantasy

Julie Kagawa meets Scythe in this captivating and evocative journey into Death’s domain as one soul collector seeks her place in the underworld of 1890s Japan. Book 1 of a planned duology.

Death is her destiny.

Half British Reaper, half Japanese Shinigami, Ren Scarborough yearns for the acceptance she has never found among the Reapers who raised her. When the Shinigami powers she can no longer hide force her to flee for her life, Ren and her younger brother—the only being on earth to care for her—travel to Japan and the dark underworld of Yomi, where Ren hopes to claim her place among the Shinigami and finally belong.

But the Goddess of Death is no more welcoming than the Reapers who raised her, and Ren finds herself set on an impossible task—find and kill three yokai demons, and maybe, just maybe, she can earn a place in Death’s service. With only her brother and an untrustworthy new ally by her side, Ren will learn how far she’ll go to win the acceptance she craves, and whether the cost of belonging is worth any sacrifice. 


The Keeper Night, by author Kylie Lee Baker, is the first installment in a planned duology. Ren Scarborough is a half English Reaper and half Japanese Shinigami in 1890's England. Her father doesn't recognize her, her step mother hates her, her bio mom is nowhere to be seen. Ren has been collecting souls in London for centuries, never accepted and perpetually tormented by the British Reapers for her otherness. One day after being taunted and teased and bullied, she severely wounds a High Reapers using her Shinigami powers setting off a life or death run to escape before she is caught and terminated

With her half brother Neven as her only ally, Ren flees London for Japan in hopes she can convince the Goddess of Death, Izanami, to allow her to join the Goddess’s ranks. Thankfully, Ren and Neven don't just show up days later. Their journey is fitful, Ren loses all her belongings, Neven is saddened at having found out his true worth, and by the time they reach Japan months later, Ren is road weary and in essence, questioning her sanity as to why she traveled so far to meet a woman, her mother, that she hasn't seen in centuries.

Upon arriving in Yokohama 9 months after leaving London, she and Neven encounter a Japanese Urban Legend, once of thousands of spirits that wrecked havoc on humans. They include Jorogamo, a yôkai with the form of a spider, that can change its appearance into that of a seductive woman when it wants to eat a human. Even when it is in its human form though, its reflection will show a giant spider. Upon meeting Izanami, the creator of all the Japanese Islands, she is ordered to hunt and kill three Japanese Yokai. 

Yuki-Onna is a snow woman ghost described as inhumanly beautiful, whose eyes can strike terror into mortals that get lost traveling in the snowy mountains. She floats across the snow, leaving no footprints. Iso Onna, the Sea Vampire, and Tamano No Mae. Tamano is one of the most famous kitsune in Japanese mythology. A nine-tailed magical fox, she is also one of the most powerful yōkai that has ever lived. A nine-tailed magical fox, she is also one of the most powerful yōkai that has ever lived. With a little bit of help from Hiro, a Shinigami who has been banished, and her constant arguments with Neven, things have a tendency to get bogged down. 

Hiro, like Neven, are unique characters who have their own choices to make. Ren’s story goes beyond just killing for the sake of becoming a Shinigami. It’s about being uprooted from the only home she's ever known and feeling untethered — a native to no land. She's considered to be a foreigner in Japan even though she is of Japanese heritage. She discovers things about herself that will keep you wanting to read more. In fact, the ending is the most thrilling part of this entire story thus leaving from for the final installment.





Friday, October 15, 2021

#Review - The Last Legacy by Adrienne Young #YA #Fantasy

Series: Standalone
Format: Hardcover, 336 pages
Release Date: September 7, 2021
Publisher: Wednesday Books
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy

New York Times bestselling author Adrienne Young returns with The Last Legacy, a captivating standalone about family and blood ties, reinventing yourself, and controlling your own destiny.

When a letter from her uncle Henrik arrives on Bryn Roth's eighteenth birthday, summoning her back to Bastian, Bryn is eager to prove herself and finally take her place in her long-lost family.

Henrik has plans for Bryn, but she must win everyone’s trust if she wants to hold any power in the delicate architecture of the family. It doesn’t take long for her to see that the Roths are entangled in shadows. Despite their growing influence in upscale Bastian, their hands are still in the kind of dirty business that got Bryn’s parents killed years ago. With a forbidden romance to contend with and dangerous work ahead, the cost of being accepted into the Roths may be more than Bryn can pay.


The Last Legacy, by author Adrienne Young, is set in the same world as the authors Fable duology. In fact, the story takes place right after Namesake. For the past 14 years, Brynn Roth has been living with her great aunt Sariah learning to be the perfect lady while biding her time before she is called back to Bastian. On the day of her 18th birthday, Brynn receives a letter from her uncle Henrik Roth telling her it's time to come back home. Bastian is the largest, most influential city in the Unnamed Sea, but with the Narrows rising in influence, there's a shift happening. 

Where Fable explored the trading crew aspect of the Narrows and Namesake explored more of the merchant and guild realm, The Last Legacy takes readers into the notorious home of the Roths, a crime family that has made its mark on both the Narrows and the Unnamed Sea with its fake gem trade. Bryn is unsure what her contribution to the Roth family legacy will be but she is willing to fight and sacrifice to make a place for herself. The only question is; is this criminal family worth fighting for, or, is the boy who is just as trapped as she is in this grimy world worth everything she can give-- including her legacy.

But as she spends more time learning the family trade, she discovers that they are tangled up in several shady secrets, lies, and deception, and they may have been responsible for Bryn's parents deaths 14 years ago. The Roth family is rough around the edges, even if they dress nicely and have money. Henrik wants Bryn to help the family gain a merchant ring and become guild members, so she gets a reputable tailor to make customers clothes for everyone and she teaches them etiquette and manners. 

She also decides to try to reopen her mother's tea shop called Eden's Tea Shop where she is hoping to lure in the Merchant's Guild's best and gain her own freedom. She also has to find a way to save the boy she's fallen for Ezra, who was literally won by a dice game, and now is the most valuable asset of the Roth family. Her romance with Ezra was sweet, though I think it felt a bit rushed in some parts. Bryn must keep her wits at all times if she’s to outsmart her scheming uncle and the family business that wears itself like a chain around her neck. 

If her tea shoppe venture is not successful, she’ll be allied to another wealthy merchant family through marriage. If it is, she may have found a way to make her own way and her own fate. Bryn is a girl who comes into her own throughout this story. She starts out doing and being what's expected of her by her uncle. She finds a way to be her own character, her own person, and I think Fable would be proud of all that she accomplishes. If you've read the Fable duology, you might remember Holland, and if you pay attention closely, the author gives you a very few hints of Fable and her crew in the story. 





Thursday, October 14, 2021

#Review - The Hawthorne Legacy by Jennifer Lynn Barnes #YA Mystery #Thriller

Series: The Inheritance Games # 2
Format: Hardcover, 368 pages
Release Date: September 7, 2021
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult  / Mysteries / Thrillers

Intrigue, riches, and romance abound in this thrilling sequel to the beloved bestselling The Inheritance Games

The Inheritance Games ended with a bombshell, and now heiress Avery Grambs has to pick up the pieces and find the man who might hold the answers to all of her questions—including why Tobias Hawthorne left his entire fortune to Avery, a virtual stranger, rather than to his own daughters or grandsons. 

Thanks to a DNA test, Avery knows that she’s not a Hawthorne by blood, but clues pile up hinting at a deeper connection to the family than she had ever imagined. As the mystery grows and the plot thickens, Grayson and Jameson, two of the enigmatic and magnetic Hawthorne grandsons, continue to pull Avery in different directions. And there are threats lurking around every corner, as adversaries emerge who will stop at nothing to see Avery out of the picture—by any means necessary. 

With nonstop action, aspirational jet-setting, Knives Out-like family intrigue, swoonworthy romance, and billions of dollars hanging in the balance, The Hawthorne Legacy will thrill Jennifer Lynn Barnes fans and new readers alike.


The Hawthorne Legacy is the second installment in author Jennifer Lynn Barnes' The Inheritance Games. As Sherlock Holmes allegedly once said, "The games are afoot!" 3 weeks ago, Avery Grambs was scrapping by trying to survive High School and living in her car hoping she could find a scholarship and escape. Then she learned that she was heir to Texas billionaire and philanthropist Tobias Hawthorne which came with bodyguards, lawyers, and hatred aimed towards Avery.

Over the past few weeks, Avery, Jameson, Greyson, and Xavier Hawthorne have been roped into solving a mystery from the recently deceased Tobias who left each of them a piece of a larger puzzle. Even though older brother Nash has stepped aside, for the most part, he's still involved because of Avery's half sister Libby who has her own issues. Avery, who is not related to the Hawthorne's, must move into sprawling Hawthorne House, where every room bears the old man's touch--and his love of puzzles, riddles, secret passageways, hidden components, and codes.  

The catch is that if she leaves before the year is up, she gets nothing. If she dies before the year is up, she gets nothing. She also has to deal with Jameson, Grayson, and Xavier who have decided that Avery isn't a conwoman, but someone who truly wants to do the right thing even if it means a twisted love triangle that develops. There's never a dull moment in Hawthorne House. It seems as though everyone has secrets, and everyone has an agenda, and everyone want something, even if it means getting in Avery's way at every turn. 

With Rebecca Laughlin and Thea Calligans working with Xavier on a secretive plan, Avery makes a deal with both Grayson and Jameson to work together without stepping on each others toes. In an interesting twist, Avery's best friend Max arrives, and Avery tries to solve the secretive message her own mother left behind about the day she was born. One of the key mysteries of this book is whether or not Toby Hawthorne is still alive? This takes Avery on a journey of exploration, and danger, and apparently someone is desperate enough to put together scheme after scheme to stop her before she can reach her goals. 

I've said this previously, but this book reminds me of Knives Out with twists, and shocks, and surprises. There's literally a cast of dozens who could either be villains or allies of Avery depending on what the situation is. The only person in this entire book Avery can trust is Max who I adore because she is just straight up fun and doesn't give a damn who she offends. As I was reading the final chapters, I was praying that Avery finds time to deal her own brand of payback to a whole cast of characters. I eagerly await the final chapter in this trilogy called The Final Gamble coming in 2022.





Wednesday, October 13, 2021

#Review - The Witch Hunter (Jessica Niemi #1) by Max Seeck #Mystery #Supernatural

Series: Jessica Niemi # 1
Format: Paperback, 400 pages
Release Date:  October 27th 2020
Publisher: Berkley
Source: Publisher
Genre: Mystery / Supernatural

A shocking murder in an affluent Helsinki suburb has ties to the occult in this thrilling US debut from Finnish author Max Seeck.

A bestselling author’s wife has been found dead in a gorgeous black evening gown, sitting at the head of a formally set dinner table. Her most chilling feature - her face is frozen in a ghastly smile.

At first it seems as though a deranged psychopath is reenacting the gruesome murders from the victim’s husband’s bestseller, The Witch Hunter. But investigator Jessica Niemi soon realizes she’s not looking for a single killer but rather dozens of believers in a sinister form of witchcraft.

They know her every move and are always one step ahead. As the bodies start piling up, Jessica knows they won’t stop until they get what they want. And when her dark past comes to light, Jessica finds herself battling her own demons while desperately trying to catch a coven of killers before they claim their next victim.


The Witch Hunter is the first installment in author Max Seeck's Jessica Niemi series. Set in Helsinki, Finland, there are multiple viewpoints, but Jessica's is the main one. After the wife of best selling author Roger Koponen is found murdered while the author himself is at a book signing for his best selling series The Witch Hunter, Sergeant Jessica Niemi becomes lead investigator in what is about to become a twisted, mind blowing, twisted race to discover who is responsible and why.
 
Upon arriving at the scene, Jessica finds the victim in a strange and ritualistic way; posed at a table in a beautiful evening dress and with expensive shoes. To make things more twisted, the killer may have been in the same room as Jessica and her team, and walked away without being seen. Hours later another body is found in the lake behind their property drowned and frozen in the water. Visions of the occult begin to appear following the discovery of a Latin phrase on the first victim's rooftop - a reference to a book on torturing and punishing women who are suspected of being witches.  
 
As the story progresses, the bodies seem to pile up. The victims mirror the murders from the The Witch Hunter books. The murders are symbolic of how witches were killed back in the seventeenth century. The rest of her team includes Yusuf Pepple, Rasmus Susikoski, Mikael Kaariniemi and Nina Ruska. Detective Jessica Niemi is the central character. She's a complex character, excellent at her job but she doesn’t trust easily in her work or personal life. 
 
She is very much a loner, keeping her secrets close with the exception of her boss Chief Superintendent Erne Mikson, the only person we see a softer side with. The story also takes a deeper look into the characters background, and her actions when she planned on crossing Europe, but ended up in a dicey situation with a man she fell head over heels in love with. While readers will do what I did, feel confused by the flashbacks, when you get to the end, it makes absolute sense.
 
One could say that Max Seek wrote this as an ode to Nordic Noir. This novel was extremely creepy and intriguing and leaves a strange ending for readers to deal with. I was gifted with the sequel, and will try to fit it in prior to Halloween.

 


1

 

The wind has picked up, and the corners of the massive glass-and-skimmed-concrete house wail restlessly. The tap-tap carrying from the roof has gradually intensified; the faint pops call to mind the spitting of an open fire. The incredible speed with which the accumulation of white dunes on the patio now vanishes speaks of the gusts’ force. Maria Koponen knots her cardigan tightly around her waist and stares out the floor-to-ceiling windows into the darkness. She gazes at the frozen sea-which at this time of year is remarkably reminiscent of a vast, flat field-and then at the path plowed down to the dock, illuminated by knee-high yard lights.

 

Maria curls her toes into the plush carpet that reaches almost to the edges of the expansive floor. It’s warm inside the house, cocoonlike. Even so, Maria feels uneasy, and the tiniest grievances strike her as unusually annoying tonight. Like those damn expensive yard lights that still don’t work the way they should.

 

Maria is roused from her reverie when she realizes the music has stopped. She walks past the fireplace to the enormous bookshelf, where her husband’s collection of four hundred records has been organized in five neat rows. Over the years, Maria has gotten used to the fact that, in this household, music is not played from a smartphone. Vinyl just sounds a hell of a lot better. That’s what Roger said to her years ago, when she paused in front of the collection for the first time. There were more than three hundred albums then, a hundred fewer than now. The fact that the number of records has grown slowly, comparatively speaking, during their shared existence makes Maria think about how much life Roger lived before her. Without her. Maria was with only one man before Roger: a high school romance that had led to marrying young and ended with her meeting the famous writer. Unlike Roger, Maria has never tasted the single life. Sometimes she wishes she’d also had a chance to experience irresponsible floundering, finding herself, one-night stands. Freedom.

 

Maria is not the least bit bothered by the fact that Roger is sixteen years her senior. But a thought has begun to nag at her: that she might one day wake up to a sense of restlessness, the sort that will not die until she has plunged into the unknown a sufficient number of times. And Roger already had the chance to experience that in his previous life. Now, suddenly, on this stormy February night Maria spends pacing alone around their massive waterfront home, she sees this as a threat for the first time. An imbalance that could cause the ship of their relationship to list dangerously, were they ever to drift into a true storm.

 

Maria lifts the needle of the record player, takes the vinyl disc between her fingertips, and slides it carefully into its cardboard sleeve, where a young artist in a brown suede jacket and a black-and-white-checked scarf looks directly into the camera, self-assured and surly. Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde. Maria returns the record to its place and picks a new one at random from the end of the alphabetically organized collection. A moment later, after a brief crackle, Stevie Wonder’s honeyed, compassionate voice reverberates from the speakers.

 

And then Maria sees it again. This time out of the corner of her eye. The yard light closest to the shore drifts off for a moment. And comes back on.

 

It goes dark for only a fraction of a second, just as it did a moment before. Maria knows the lighting elements glowing inside the fixtures were replaced before Christmas. She remembers it well, because she is the one who paid the electrician’s tastelessly inflated invoice. And for that reason, this trivial matter kindles an inordinate pique in her.

 

Maria grabs her phone and taps out a message to Roger. She isn’t sure why she feels the urge to trouble her husband with such a matter, especially since she knows he is on a stage addressing his readers at this very moment. Perhaps the cause is a fleeting flurry of loneliness, mingled with a dash of uncertainty and unjustified jealousy. Maria watches her sent message for a moment, waiting for the little arrows at the bottom edge to turn blue, but they don’t; Roger is not paying attention to his phone.

 

At that moment, the record gets stuck: What I’m about to. What I’m about to. What I’m…Wonder’s voice sounds uncertain, thanks to the bit excised from the beautiful sentiment. Some of Roger’s records are in such poor condition they aren’t worth keeping. Doesn’t anything in this goddamn house work?

 

And then Maria feels a cold wave wash over her. Before she has time to make sense of what she has just realized, she looks out the sliding doors and sees something that doesn’t belong there. For a moment the contours line up with those of her reflection. But then the figure moves, transforming into a distinct entity of its own.

 

2

 

Roger Koponen sits himself in a chair upholstered in a coarse, perspiration-inducing fabric and squints. The spots hanging from the ceiling of the conference center’s main auditorium are shining right into the eyes of those onstage. For a moment all he sees is blinding light; he forgets that before him and his two author colleagues sit four hundred curious readers who have packed into this auditorium to listen to their favorite boozers’ thoughts on their latest works.

 

Roger understands that the event is important in terms of promoting his book. He understands why he would bother to drive four hundred kilometers in heavy snow to spend the night at a serviceable dump slapped up on Savonlinna’s main square, its mediocre fast-food restaurant on the ground floor dolled up with tablecloths and table service. But what Roger doesn’t understand is why the good people of Savonlinna would bother to show up on a night like this. Even though his books have sold millions of copies worldwide, he is never going to be an idol besieged by shrieking fans. Few people ever reflect that musicians and authors do very similar work-same shit, different package-but only the former inspire middle-aged women to toss their panties onstage. But people still show up. The majority are seniors, tilting their heads slowly to one side and then the other. Aren’t they tired of the sportscaster-style banalities and superficial analyses authors spew about their own work? Apparently not, as it appears to be a full house: not a single empty seat.

 

Roger’s latest psychological thriller, launched the previous spring, is the third and final book in his enormously popular Witch Hunt trilogy. His books have always sold relatively well, but the Witch Hunt series blew up. No one anticipated this sort of megasuccess, least of all his agent, who originally held a skeptical view of the entire project, or his former publisher, whom Roger dumped prior to the publication of the first installment due to their lack of confidence in its prospects. But in the space of a few years, translation rights for the trilogy have been sold in almost thirty countries and more deals are in the pipeline. Although he and Maria were doing fine before, now they can buy themselves whatever they want. Suddenly all possible luxuries and pleasures are within reach.

 

The evening goes predictably; Roger has heard the questions hundreds of times during his promotional tours and answered them in four different languages, intermittently modulating his cadence, intonation, and minor details with the exclusive aim of keeping himself awake amid the fog of bright lights and forced laughter.

 

“Your books are quite violent,” a voice says, but Roger doesn’t look up from the pitcher he’s using to fill his water glass for the third or fourth time. He hears this a lot too, and there’s no denying it: brutal murders, sadistic torture, sexual violence directed at women, and nightmarish dives into the depravity of sick minds are described in Roger Koponen’s works in graphic detail.

 

“It reminds me of Bret Easton Ellis, who has said he processes his angst by writing detailed depictions of violence,” the voice continues. Now Roger shifts his gaze to the man sitting halfway back in the auditorium, microphone in his hand. Roger raises the glass to his lips and waits for the man to ask his question. Instead, there’s an awkwardly long pause as the man collects his thoughts.

 

“Are you afraid? Is that why you write?” the man finally asks in a flat, reedy voice. Roger puts down the glass and takes a closer look at the balding scarecrow of a man. Surprising and interesting. Almost brazen. Now, this is a question he has never heard before.

 

Roger leans in, bringing his mouth closer to the flexible microphone on the table. For some reason, he feels a pang of hunger at this instant. “Am I afraid?”

 

“Have you written your own fears into your books?” the man asks, then lowers the microphone to his lap. There’s an annoying smugness to the guy. There’s not a hint of the jittery respect, the certain reverence fame brings and that Roger has grown accustomed to.

 

“Right,” Roger says, and smiles thoughtfully. For a moment he forgets the person posing the question and allows his gaze to wander across the sea of faces. “I think that something of the author always finds its way into the work. You can’t help writing about what you know about or think you know about. Fears, hopes, traumas, things left undone, and then of course the things you did and justified to yourself too easily…”

 

“You’re not answering the question.” The gaunt man has raised the microphone up to his lips again. Roger feels first surprise and then irritation cutting through him. What is this, a fucking interrogation? I don’t have to listen to this shit, regardless of the circumstances.

 

“Could you please be more specific?” Pave Koskinen, the ineradicable literary critic who organized this event and is serving as moderator, has intervened. He no doubt feels that he has handled his role with panache and gusto but is now afraid that his star guest, the red-hot thriller writer who has written three international bestsellers, will take offense.

 

But Roger raises a pacifying hand into the air and smiles self-confidently. “I apologize. Perhaps I didn’t understand the question. Do I write about what I’m most afraid of?”

 

“No. The other way around,” the man says in an unusually cold tone. Someone in the front row coughs maddeningly.

 

Roger hides his confusion behind an idiotic smile. “The other way around?”

 

“Yes, Mr. Roger Koponen,” the man continues mechanically, and the way he utters Roger’s name is not only sarcastic, but vaguely chilling. “Are you afraid of what you write?”

 

“Why would I be afraid of my own books?”

 

“Because truth is stranger than fiction,” the thin-faced man replies, then sits back down. An awkward silence falls over the room.

 

 

Ten minutes later, Roger takes a seat at a long table covered with a white tablecloth in the lobby, which is abuzz with people and chatter. The first fan in the line of those hoping for an autograph is Pave Koskinen. Who else?

 

“Thanks, Roger. Thanks. And sorry about that one knucklehead. You handled it beautifully. Unfortunately, not everyone is blessed with social skills….”

 

Roger smiles. “No worries, Pave. There’s one in every crowd. The only thing any of us is responsible for in this world is our own behavior.” He registers that Pave has lowered all three books of the trilogy to the table for signing. As he scrawls out something ostensibly personal along with his name on the title pages, he glances up at the snaking line in front of him and silently notes that the thin-faced crackpot is nowhere in sight. Luckily. He wouldn’t necessarily be able to handle a face-to-face provocation as diplomatically.

 

“Thank you, Roger. Thank you. We have a table reserved at the hotel restaurant at nine. They make a mean rack of lamb.” Pave smiles and stands there in front of Roger, clutching the books to his chest like an eager schoolgirl. Roger nods slowly and lowers his gaze to the table, a prisoner who has just received his sentence. It shouldn’t be hard for Pave to realize that Roger would rather retreat to his room. He has come to despise the banal chitchat and forced wine swilling that as far as he can tell has zero impact on sales of his books. He could just as easily decline the invitation and allow himself to be branded an asocial asshole.

 

“Sounds great,” Roger says wearily, twisting his face up in an almost credible smile. Pave Koskinen nods in satisfaction, revealing teeth that are more or less white, thanks to new crowns. He seems unsure of himself.

 

Then he steps aside, making way for the winding centipede of book-cradling readers.

 

3

 

Sergeant Jessica Niemi ties back her shoulder-length black hair into a ponytail and pulls on a pair of leather gloves. A bright signal sounds as she opens the passenger door; the engine is still running.

 

“Thanks for the ride.”

 

The man at the wheel yawns. “It’s probably best if no one knows who dropped you off.”

 

They look at each other for a moment as if each is expecting a kiss. But neither will make the first move.

 

“This was so fucking wrong.”

 

Jessica steps out of the car and narrows her eyes; the icy wind scrapes her face. It has snowed heavily, and the plows rumbling over at the school haven’t made it to the waterfront yet. Jessica shuts the car door and sees a large contemporary house looming before her: a compact front yard, an arborvitae hedge clipped at eye level, a wrought iron gate. Two police vans are parked on the street out front, and based on the sirens howling in the distance, more are on their way.

 

“Hey there.” A man decked out in heavyweight blue police coveralls steps out from behind one of the vans and walks up to Jessica. “Officer Koivuaho.”

 

“Jessica Niemi.” She shows her badge, but her colleagues in uniform have already recognized her. She has caught a few of the nicknames in passing. Sergeant Sweetcheeks. Lara Croft. PILF.

 

“What happened?” Jessica asks.

 

“Goddamn it….” Koivuaho takes off his navy blue cap and rubs his bald head.

 

Jessica waits patiently for the officer to pull himself together. She glances over at the house and sees that the front door is ajar.

 

“We picked up the call at ten fifteen. Taskinen and I were pretty close, so we were the first patrol to show up.” Koivuaho gestures for Jessica to follow him through the gate. She does, acknowledging the officers waiting near the van with a nod.