Friday, July 29, 2022

#Review - Listen To Me by Tess Gerritsen #Thrillers #Suspense

Series: Rizzoli & Isles (#13)
Format: Hardcover, 320 pages
Release Date: July 5, 2022
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Source: Publisher
Genre: Thrillers / Suspense

Boston homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and medical examiner Maura Isles are newly plagued by what seems like a completely senseless murder. Sofia Suarez, a widow and nurse who was universally liked by her neighbors, lies bludgeoned to death in her own home. But anything can happen behind closed doors, and Sofia seemed to have plenty of secrets in her last days, making covert phone calls to traceless burner phones. When Jane finally makes a connection between Sofia and the victim of a hit-and-run from months earlier, the case only grows more blurry. What exactly was Sofia involved in? One thing is clear: The killer will do anything it takes to keep their secret safe.

Meanwhile, Angela Rizzoli hasn’t had a decent night’s sleep in all the years since her daughter became a homicide detective. Maybe the apple didn’t fall too far from the tree. Nothing in Angela's neighborhood gets by her—not the gossip about a runaway teenager down the block and definitely not the strange neighbors who have just moved in across the street. Angela’s sure there’s no such thing as coincidence in her sleepy suburb. If only Jane would listen—instead she writes off Angela’s concerns as the result of an overactive imagination. But Angela’s convinced there’s a real wolf in her vicinity, and her cries might now fall on deaf ears.

With so much happening on the Sofia case, Jane and Maura already struggle to see the forest for the trees, but will they lose sight of something sinister happening much closer to home?


Listen to Me is the Thirteenth installment in author Tess Gerritsen's Rizzoli and Isles and the first in 5 years. Boston homicide detective Jane Rizzoli and Forensic Pathologist Maura Isles are the names behind the series, but in this book, there are two other characters you need to pay attention to. First is Angela Rizzoli, Jane's Mother, who has lived in the same neighborhood for 40 years. Nothing happens in the hood without Angela knowing about. Which is why when the new couple moves in, Angela's sense start to tingle.

Angela is of an age where if you see something, you say something to the authorities. But what if the authorities are your own daughter who thinks you have too much time on your hands? Or, the local police who thinks she's sticking her nose in things that she shouldn't be? Or, her boyfriend who is out in California taking care of his sister? But what if her worries come true? Angela is certainly a busy body, but sometimes you need someone to pay attention to their surroundings and not just presume everyone is safe.

The next character is Amy Antrim. When we first meet Amy, she's walking off a curb and getting hit by a hit and run driver which sends her into a coma. At Sonia’s funeral, Amy becomes aware of a stalker: a man who seems vaguely familiar to Amy, and has her mother recalling a couple of hang-up calls. When she spots him again while shopping, Amy tells police she fears for her life. Rizzoli knows they need to protect this young woman, but it’s only tangentially connected to her murder case, isn’t it?

Meanwhile, Jane and her partner Barry Frost are dealing with the brutal murder of Sofia Suarez who was a ICU nurse at Pilgrim Hospital. With very little clues to go by, except a stolen laptop and phone, Detective Rizzoli must piece together the various forensic evidence to solve the murder mystery. Sofia is a recent widow who seems to have plenty of secrets in her last days. She made phone calls to traceless burner phones, and investigated things outside her realm of responsibility. 

What exactly was Sofia involved in? One thing is clear: The killer will do anything it takes to keep their secret safe. After everything that Sofia has been through over the past two years with COVID etc, the last thing she expected is to dig up something so dangerous, that it would end her life. But could what's happening to Amy have anything to do with Sofia's death? And if so, what would trigger someone to take an innocent woman's life?

Unfortunately, the only time we are able to enjoy Maura Isles, is when she's playing the piano along with some nurses and doctors who worked with Sofia. The author basically makes Maura a tertiary character but we do see another talent that we've never seen before. As I said, Angela is the real hero of this book. She is like a bulldog who won't let things go, especially when she sees families tearing each other apart. When one of her neighbors daughters missing, Angela wants to help. Especially when she sees an unknown van driving around the neighborhood.

It is fair to say that I have read every single book in this series, except for book # 12, I Know A Secret which I received back in 2017 and should read soon. If is safe to say that I didn't much care for the TV series that ended a few years back. And, now they are on repeat on the Lifetime network. Thank you Netgalley and Random House/Ballantine for this arc and in return I am submitting my unbiased and voluntary review and opinion.  




One

Amy


I should have worn my boots, she thought as she stepped out of Snell Library and saw the fresh layer of sleet and slush covering the campus. When she’d left for school that morning it had been a balmy forty-­nine degrees, one in a string of springlike days that made her believe winter was finally over, and she had come to campus wearing blue jeans and a hoodie and brand-­new pink flats made of buttery leather. But while she’d been inside all day working on her laptop, outside, winter had come roaring back. Now it was dark, and with this frigid wind sweeping across the courtyard, the pavement would soon be as slick as an ice rink.

With a sigh, she zipped up her hoodie and hauled her backpack, heavy with books and her laptop, onto her shoulders. There’s no way around it. Here we go. Gingerly she descended the library stairs and landed ankle-­deep in slush. Her feet now wet and stinging, she forged ahead down the path between Haydn Hall and Blackman Auditorium. Well, these new shoes were ruined. Stupid, stupid. That’s what she got for not checking the forecast this morning. For forgetting that March in Boston could break a girl’s heart.

She reached Eli Hall and suddenly stopped. Turned. Were those footsteps she’d heard behind her? For a moment she stared at the alley that cut between the two buildings but all she saw was the deserted walkway, glistening beneath the lamplight. Darkness and bad weather had emptied out the campus and she heard no footsteps now, just the rattle of falling sleet and the distant whish of cars traveling down Huntington Avenue.

She hugged her hoodie tighter and kept walking.

The campus quadrangle was slick and gleaming with a crust of ice and her sadly inadequate shoes crunched through the rime into puddles, splashing her jeans with ice water. She could no longer feel her toes.

This was all Prof. Harthoorn’s fault. He was the reason she’d spent all day in the library, the reason she wasn’t at home right now, eating dinner with her parents. But here she was, toes numb with impending frostbite, all because her senior thesis—­the thirty-­two-­page paper she’d been working on for months—­was incomplete, he’d said. Inadequate, he’d said, because she hadn’t addressed the pivotal event in Artemisia Gentileschi’s life, the life-­changing trauma that imbued her paintings with such violent and visceral power: being raped.

As if women were formless lumps of clay, needing to be pummeled and abused to be shaped into something greater. As if what Artemisia needed to become an artist was a good old-­fashioned sexual assault.

She felt more and more angry about Harthoorn’s comments as she walked across the quad, splashing through slush. What did a dried-­up old man like him know about women and all the wearying and infuriating annoyances they had to tolerate? All the helpful advice foisted on them by men with their I know better voices.

She reached the crosswalk and stopped at the pedestrian light, which had just turned red. Of course it was red; nothing today had gone her way. Cars rolled past, tires spraying up water. Sleet clattered on her backpack, and she thought about her laptop and whether it was getting wet and she’d lose all the work she’d put in this afternoon. Yes, that would perfectly cap off her day. It’s what she deserved for not checking the forecast. For not bringing an umbrella. For wearing these stupid shoes.

The light was still red. Was it broken? Should she ignore it and just make a dash across the street?

She was so focused on the light that she wasn’t aware of the man standing behind her. Then something about him caught her attention. Perhaps it was the rustle of his nylon jacket, or the odor of alcohol drifting on his breath. All at once she knew someone was there and she turned to look at him.

He was so bundled up against the cold, with a scarf wrapped up to his chin and a wool cap pulled down to his eyebrows, that all she could really see of his face were his eyes. He didn’t avoid her gaze but looked straight back at her with a stare so piercing that she felt violated, as if that stare was vacuuming out her deepest secrets. He made no move toward her but his gaze was enough to make her uneasy.

She glanced across Huntington Avenue, at the businesses across the street. The taco shop was open, its windows brightly lit, and she could see half a dozen customers inside. A safe place, with people to turn to if she needed help. She could duck in there to get warm, and maybe call an Uber to take her home.

The light turned green at last.

She stepped too quickly off the curb and the sole of her leather flat instantly skidded across the ice-­slicked road. Arms flywheeling, she fought to stay upright but the backpack threw her off-balance and down she went, her rump splashing down into slush. Soaked and shaken, she staggered back to her feet.

She never saw the headlights hurtling toward her.




Thursday, July 28, 2022

#Review - The 6:20 Man by David Baldacci #Thrillers #Suspense

Series: Standalone
Format: Hardcover, 432 pages
Release Date: July 12, 2022
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Source: Publisher
Genre: Thrillers / Suspense

A cryptic murder pulls a former soldier turned financial analyst deep into the corruption and menace that prowl beneath the opulent world of finance, in this #1 New York Times bestselling thriller from David Baldacci.

Every day without fail, Travis Devine puts on a cheap suit, grabs his faux-leather briefcase, and boards the 6:20 commuter train to Manhattan, where he works as an entry-level analyst at the city’s most prestigious investment firm. In the mornings, he gazes out the train window at the lavish homes of the uberwealthy, dreaming about joining their ranks. In the evenings, he listens to the fiscal news on his phone, already preparing for the next grueling day in the cutthroat realm of finance. Then one morning Devine’s tedious routine is shattered by an anonymous email: She is dead. 

Sara Ewes, Devine’s coworker and former girlfriend, has been found hanging in a storage room of his office building—presumably a suicide, at least for now—prompting the NYPD to come calling on him. If that wasn’t enough, before the day is out, Devine receives another ominous visit, a confrontation that threatens to dredge up grim secrets from his past in the army unless he participates in a clandestine investigation into his firm. This treacherous role will take him from the impossibly glittering lives he once saw only through a train window, to the darkest corners of the country’s economic halls of power . . . where something rotten lurks. And apart from this high-stakes conspiracy, there’s a killer out there with their own agenda, and Devine is the bull’s-eye. 


The 6:20 Man by David Baldacci is being sold as a standalone, however, with the way this book ends, there are more than a few more new avenues to explore. I would not be shocked or surprised if the author wrote a sequel. Every day without fail, 32-year-old Travis Devine puts on a cheap suit, grabs his faux-leather briefcase, and boards the 6:20 commuter train to Manhattan, where he works as an entry-level analyst at the city’s most prestigious investment firm, Cowl and Comely. It's a cutthroat job where everyone is out for themselves.

In the mornings, he gazes out the train window at the lavish homes of the uberwealthy, dreaming about joining their ranks. In the evenings, he listens to the fiscal news on his phone, already preparing for the next grueling day in the cutthroat realm of finance. Travis only got his MBA after leaving the military, and then only to punish himself for his own actions overseas. He choose to become an analyst because his father always wanted him to be ‘as successful’ as his older brother and sister. If he can make his father happy, it doesn't matter if he's happy. 

Then one morning Devine’s tedious routine is shattered by an anonymous email: She is dead. Sara Ewes, Devine’s coworker,  was found hanging in a storage room of his office building—presumably a suicide, at least for now—prompting the NYPD to come calling on him. Rumor has it that Brad Cowl himself might have been involved romantically with Sara. If that wasn’t enough, before the day is out, Devine receives another ominous visit, a confrontation that threatens to dredge up grim secrets from his past in the army unless he participates in a clandestine investigation into his firm. 

Travis Devine is a curious character. He decided to go against his own fathers wishes by entering West Point. He later went on to Ranger School and was attached to the 75th  Ranger Regiment. Devine is a highly decorated soldier who saw plenty of action in America's never ending wars. Until he was involved in something that forced him to abruptly leave the military. With cops hot on his heals, Devine is approached by retired General Emerson Campbell who now works for the Office of Special Projects for Homeland Security and the Department of Defense. 

Devine has a choice. Work for Campbell and uncover the curious nature of Cowl and Comely secretive Area 51, or spend the rest of his life at a maximum security prison for what he did to a fellow officer. The choice is pretty easy. This treacherous role will take him from the impossibly glittering lives he once saw only through a train window, to the darkest corners of the country’s economic halls of power . . . where something rotten lurks. Then another woman at his firm is murdered. 

Then the parents of Sara are violently killed, and things seem to be pointing to an international conglomerate with trillions in wealth to spread around. Apart from this high-stakes conspiracy, as well Travis always looking over his shoulder, he has to deal with his fellow roommates Will Valentine (hacker), Helen Spears (lawyer) and Jill Tapshaw (Dating Company). There's a killer out there with their own agenda, and Devine may be the next victim if he doesn't watch his back. 

I once called David Baldacci a conspiracy theorist who seems to lean one way politically. In this book, Baldacci actually sets up a real world scenario that absolutely could happen thanks to our crooked political system where everyone has to make cash fast. Don't believe me? Check out the current news about politicians using insider trading to get rich while the rest of us suffer to pay our bills. Even with the stock act, politicians are still getting rich off the stock market.

So here's the idea: Imagine if the Taliban or Iran or North Korea or Russia were getting cash flow from investments in this country to fund their terrorist activities thanks to politicians looking the other way and lining their own pockets? Think about Kim Jong-un as a landlord in New York? How about an Iranian ayatollah owning thousands of acres of land in Kansas? Or Putin owning massive oil fields in Texas? Or, China owning streets, and villages, and shopping centers, and mobile parks, and businesses all across this country, and likely certain members of the House?

So, who is the crazy person? The author who actually real life scenarios at your fingertips, or the person who walks around saying Not My Monkey, Not My Circus! There is a slight romantic avenue that appeared in this book. That is why I said it would not be a surprise if the Devine and this other character managed to work together again in the future.  





Wednesday, July 27, 2022

#Review - The Terminal List by Jack Carr #Thriller #Mystery

Series: Terminal List # 1
Format: Hardcover, 416 pages
Release Date: March 6, 2018
Publisher: Atria/Emily Bestler Books
Source: Library
Genre: Mystery / Thriller

A Navy SEAL has nothing left to live for and everything to kill for after he discovers that the American government is behind the deaths of his team in this ripped-from-the-headlines political thriller that is “so powerful, so pulse-pounding, so well-written—rarely do you read a debut novel this damn good” (Brad Thor, #1 New York Times bestselling author).

On his last combat deployment, Lieutenant Commander James Reece’s entire team was killed in a catastrophic ambush. But when those dearest to him are murdered on the day of his homecoming, Reece discovers that this was not an act of war by a foreign enemy but a conspiracy that runs to the highest levels of government.

Now, with no family and free from the military’s command structure, Reece applies the lessons that he’s learned in over a decade of constant warfare toward avenging the deaths of his family and teammates. With breathless pacing and relentless suspense, Reece ruthlessly targets his enemies in the upper echelons of power without regard for the laws of combat or the rule of law.

“Told with a deft hand and a keen eye for detail, The Terminal List…is explosive and riveting” (Kevin Maurer, co-author of No East Day) and is perfect for fans of Vince Flynn, Brad Thor, Stephen Hunter, and Nelson DeMille.  



The Terminal List is the first installment in author Jack Carr's Terminal List series. The book begins with Lieutenant Commander James Reece’s entire team killed in a catastrophic ambush that also claimed the lives of the aircrew sent in to rescue them. 68 American service members lives snuffed out in a moments notice leaving only Reece and teammate Boozer as survivors. But Reese, who has been having headaches, knows that the mission was crap, and but was overruled by the higher ups in Central Command.

Immediately upon arrival back at Bagram Air Base, Boozer knows that there is something really wrong and that it looks as though someone is going to put the noose around Reece's neck to eliminate any possibility of him leaking what happened. Boozer is 100% correct but that's not where this ends. NCIS agents all but blame Reece for the missions failure and charge him with a variety of BS charges. 3 weeks later, upon arrival back in San Diego, Boozer allegedly commits suicide, and a Mexican cartel slaughters Reece's wife Lauren and daughter Lucy as well as their unborn son which Reece didn't know about.

Reece also finds out that has a brain tumor and it's only a matter of time before he will need to seek help or find a quiet place to die to be with his family. To up the ante, a radicalized Muslim tries to gun him down in the street after meeting with a reporter he asks to help dig into what's happening and who is responsible. It is obvious that his being alive has proven inconvenient for somebody. Reece discovers a conspiracy that runs to the highest levels of government.

Now, with no family and free from the military’s command structure since he's now a wanted man, Reece applies the lessons that he’s learned in over a decade of constant warfare toward avenging the deaths of his family and teammates. With unwavering support from friends like Marco de Toro, and a pilot he once saved in Afghanistan from the Taliban, Reece ruthlessly targets a list of enemies ranging from the Secretary of Defense who wants to become President, to a man Reece once trusted with his own life.   

Let me admit that I requested this book from the library based on reviews for the TV show The Terminal List which is based on this book. It has also come to my attention that there will be a second season based on the authors book True Believer. But enough of that for now. I have heard from others referring to Reese as the Punisher out for revenge against people who believe they are above the law. Appropriate. This book has a fair amount of darkness which doesn't bother me in the least.

The other thing I want to say is that there was a group of service members (Seal Team Six) on a mission known as Extortion 17 where insurgents got really lucky and killed everyone involved including a service dog. The event in the beginning of this book brought back that memory for me. This happened right after the US allegedly killed Osama Bin Laden and then dumped his body in the Indian Ocean. The families of Extortion 17 were never once told the truth by the administration in charge at the time of the mission.

As Reece finds out quickly, there are those in power who think they can target political adversaries because they don't step in the same direction as the party who is currently in charge of Congress and the White House. This erosion of rights, however incremental, is the slow death of freedom. We have reached a point where the power of the federal government is such that they can essentially target anyone of their choosing. Just ask Obama when he targeted American citizens.

As a free people, keeping federal power in check is something that should be of concern to us all. We shouldn't remain silent when our neighbors are rounded up and sent to prison for more than a year. We shouldn't remain silent when the FBI refuses to investigate politicians for making money off foreign governments. The fundamental value of freedom is what sets us apart from the rest of the world. We are citizens, not subjects, and we must stay ever vigilant that we remain so. 





PROLOGUE


IT DIDN’T TAKE A tactical genius to pick the spot. Humans are creatures of habit and some were more religious about it than others. Accountants, it seemed, were practically monastic in their routines. From June 1 to November 1 of every year, Marcus Boykin lived in his mountain house in Star Valley Ranch, Wyoming. Star Valley sounded far more appealing to the east and west coast real estate buyers than its previous name of Starvation Valley. It was an enclave of wealthy outsiders in otherwise rural western Wyoming, stuck into the mountainside like a well-manicured finger of civilization, full of multimillion-dollar homes in a part of the world otherwise populated by ranchers and cowboys.

Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, Boykin rose early and climbed into his silver Mercedes G550 SUV to drive the fifty miles to the relative metropolis of Jackson. With a summertime population of bankers and hedge fund managers that would rival the Hamptons, it was the only place within hours where he could eat a gourmet meal with an eight-hundred-dollar bottle of wine. In Jackson he could sip lattes and read the Wall Street Journal in the company of fellow seasonal residents from New York, Greenwich, Boston, and Los Angeles. Three days a week he could connect with real people in person instead of waiting impatiently for his friends to comment on his Facebook posts. Dinners at Rendezvous Bistro were far tastier and the conversation more stimulating than his usual meal alone on the deck, no matter how spectacular the view.

U.S. 89 runs north and south through the steep valley that straddles the line between Wyoming and Idaho. Irrigated hayfields near the roadway lie in the shadows of the rugged ten-thousand-foot peaks to the east and more gentle hills to the west. Just north of the tiny town of Alpine, the route to Jackson turns east along the Snake River and winds into the mountains of the Bridger-Teton National Forest. At this point in the journey, the jagged ridgelines of the Tetons run nearly to the roadside, like towering cruise ships moored alongside an asphalt pier. Ten feet from the well-maintained road was terrain as rugged as nearly anywhere in the Lower 48, the home of trophy mule deer and giant elk as well as plenty of black bears and the occasional moose. Having never touched a gun or hunted in his life, it would never occur to Boykin that September 15, the opening day of deer season in Wyoming’s Region G, fell on a Monday that year.

• • •

James Reece had hiked in the previous afternoon from a trailhead on the opposite side of the mountain from the U.S. highway. The trail began near the road as the crow flies, but was many miles away by vehicle. The vistas of the highway were as close to the remote backcountry as most seasonal residents like Boykin ventured. Though it was only a few hours’ hike from his truck, Reece may as well have walked in from a different world. He wore a light pack with a nylon rifle scabbard strapped to the side, high-performance digital camo hunting clothing from Sitka, and the Salomon hiking boots he had worn on countless operations around the world. Walking through the Wyoming backcountry in the traditional sniper’s woolly ghille suit and heavyweight rifle, he would stick out like a man wandering the mountains in a tuxedo, but clad in the garb of a hunter, he was as invisible as a guy in a blue blazer at the airport. The anonymous tip that he’d called in about the moose poachers just south of Jackson would probably occupy every game department cop in the region, but in the unlikely event that he ran into someone of authority, the hunting license and deer tag in his pocket would verify him as just another hunter out looking for mulies on the busiest day of the year.

He could have hiked in at night with a headlamp or brought along his night vision, but he wanted to get into his spot before dark. No sense twisting an ankle or worse in this rough country, and he was anxious to get started. He had studied the topography on maps and satellite imagery hundreds of times, but he’d still hiked the route two days earlier to ensure that it looked the same on the ground as it did from the air.

The country was steep and high. It didn’t matter how well you were conditioned at sea level, eight thousand feet was still eight thousand feet. He stopped to catch his breath and guzzle water from the hose clipped to his shoulder strap. His legs burned and his lungs were starved for oxygen. His base layer was covered in sweat despite temperatures in the fifties, so he zipped his top down to let some of his body heat escape. He wasn’t in a rush, but he moved with purpose. It certainly wasn’t the first time he had pushed himself up a mountain to a target.

His perch was just as he’d left it, a small U-shaped slot eroded into the mountainside that could only be accessed from the front. There was very little chance of a hunter or game warden wandering up on his six while he was in position, and he’d have a clear view of anyone approaching from the front long before they reached his hide site. The spot overlooked a saddle of highway that ran between two steep hills. His position was near the top of the second hill if you were driving toward Jackson.

Like a cave without a roof, the spot would protect him from the prying eyes of hunters glassing for deer the afternoon before the season opened and would keep him out of the wind as the temperature dropped into the low thirties overnight. He pulled his rifle out of the scabbard and laid his pack down just short of the mouth of the slot so his muzzle would not be visible from below. The rifle was an Echols Legend, built by a master in Utah whose handmade rifles sold for several months of his Navy salary. It was a gift from his father after his first post-9/11 deployment and was one of his most prized possessions. He had planned to hunt more after he retired and entered the private sector. The rifle was chambered in .300 Winchester Magnum and, despite weighing far less than the sniper rifles he’d used overseas, was even more accurate. Instead of a traditional hunting scope, he had installed a Nightforce NXS 2.5-10x32mm, the same glass he used at work. The pack supported the rifle’s forend and a small beanbag steadied the butt. Lying prone, with the front and back of the rifle supported, he was able to hold the rifle as steady as any bench rest. As cars and trucks crested the hill to his west, he would dry-fire at the driver’s position of the windshield to get the timing right. The vacationers and local residents traveling this mountain road in the fall afternoon had no idea that they were in the crosshairs of one of the nation’s deadliest warriors.

Satisfied that his position was solid and that he’d have the right angle on the target, he retreated to the back of his mountain cubby and fired up his backpacking stove to heat water for his freeze-dried dinner. When the sun dropped below the skyline and the temperature fell by double digits, he crawled into his sleeping bag. He thought about his little girl, all blond curls, tears welling up in her brave blue eyes as she saw daddy off on his last deployment. Six months away and he would be home for good, promise. He could still see her face, pressed up against the airport glass for one last look as he boarded the plane. The hardest parts of a deployment were the first couple of weeks when you’d just left home, and the last couple when you started anticipating your return. That it was his last trip overseas made the light at the end of the tunnel brighter. Finally the end of the train/deploy/train treadmill he and his SEAL brothers had been on for well over a decade.

Curled up in his sleeping bag underneath a light show of stars that a city dweller couldn’t comprehend, he slept sounder than he had in weeks. No waking up to realize that the nightmare was real. No reaching across the bed for a wife who wasn’t there. No hearing the soft cries of a daughter who would never again crawl into his bed for protection from the boogeyman.

He was already awake, staring at Orion, when his watch chirped at 0500. A swig from his water bottle and an energy bar would be his breakfast. He got into position behind his rifle and waited patiently for the sun to rise.

• • •

Marcus Boykin was an early riser, as was nearly everyone in the financial sector. You were either up and at the table in his line of work, or you were asleep and on the menu. He looked at the weather forecast on his iPhone before slipping on a pair of designer jeans and some tan Italian loafers. He wore a Patagonia fleece over his pink Lacoste polo and put on a Yankees cap to hide his bald spot from the twenty-something waitress he was currently trying to bed. To him, she wasn’t Sarah with the degree in environmental engineering working to save up for her master’s, she was “the waitress.” He’d been unsuccessful in getting into her pants so far, but she was broke and he was rich. One night, sooner or later, she’d get drunk and slip up, and he’d be there to take advantage. Living this far out was part of the challenge, though he knew that to better his chances he might have to get a condo in town at some point to help seal the deal. He grabbed his keys from the marble kitchen counter and pressed the remote start. It was freezing, and Boykin wanted the SUV nice and toasty with the heater running and the seats warmed by the time he made his to-go coffee and headed out. He opened his giant oak front door and took out his phone to tweet a photo of the orange glow of sunrise making its way over the mountain before he lost Wi-Fi coverage; the cell service was crap until you got to Jackson. He didn’t really care about the view. In his mind the sun would do the same thing tomorrow, but it would make his friends on both coasts jealous, a thought that he relished. As he climbed into the SUV and headed down the mountain road to U.S. 89, his mind turned to thoughts of what he’d say to the waitress when he saw her.

• • •

Combat is sensory overload, total chaos, especially if you’re in command. The noise is deafening, both from the incoming and outgoing fire, while the overpressure of muzzle blasts and explosions rock your body down to its DNA. Men are yelling, not out of fear or panic, but to communicate above the roar. Tracers come in, rockets fly past, dust from explosions and bullet strikes shroud your immediate world in a tactile cloud of dust. Radio traffic in your ears adds to the storm and demands a conscious response, which means one’s actions in the moment must be subconscious. Identifying targets, firing weapons, changing magazines: all must happen automatically, as seamless as steering, shifting gears, and working the gas pedal of a car while talking on a cell phone. As a leader, you must rise even further above the storm and look beyond your own survival. You must direct the fire and movement of the entire element and resist the instinct to become just another gun in the fight. The whole thing is one tachy-psyche blur of constant decision making.

This was the opposite of chaos. Reece’s senses registered nothing unnatural, just the calm of aspens in the breeze and the relaxing melody of wildlife easing into another day to a beautiful mountain sunrise. There was no radio, no one to communicate with, just the occasional hum of a car or pickup on the asphalt of the highway. The range to the dip in the road was exactly 625 yards, which meant that the bullet would drop seventy-seven inches in its path from his barrel to the target. The rifle’s scope was zeroed for 100 yards, so he would have to compensate for the difference. He came up 34 clicks, 3.4 MILS, to make up for the drop. By dialing for the range, there would be no holdover. He could put the center of the reticle right on the target. Fight with every advantage you can get. The winds were light this early in the morning, which was a good thing. Wind calls were always tricky in the mountains, even for a pro. The Kestrel told him it was blowing two miles per hour from his left, a full-value wind that required six inches of hold. Since winds could shift at any moment, he used the MIL-DOT reticle to “hold off” for the 0.3 MILS.

He heard the hum of the tires even before the blue halogen headlights haloed above the highway as the SUV climbed the rise. The silver Mercedes was unmistakably Boykin’s; thank God this guy didn’t drive an F-150. The vehicle was coming straight at him, which meant no lead was required, but it was still hauling ass. He didn’t have much time to admire the success of his planning. He tracked the target as it came down the hill, just as he’d done with the two other vehicles that had passed earlier that morning. He took a full breath, briefly rested at its peak, then exhaled to find his natural respiratory pause when his lungs had expended their air, steadying and focusing him for the task at hand. Doing so caused the movement of the scope’s reticle to slow from an orbit to a small tremor. Even with a solid rest, it was never as steady as in the movies. The Mercedes hit the flat spot and appeared to stop for a second as he lost the perspective of its forward progress. He couldn’t see the driver, not at this range and certainly not in this light. Holding just right of the windshield’s center, he slowly pressed the trigger.

His ears heard the shot but his brain barely registered the sound. His only sensation of recoil was the scope’s image jolting into a blur as the rifle rocked skyward. Despite putting rounds into countless men in shitty corners of the world, his body still jolted into “fight or flight” mode, adrenaline surging into his body like a shot of heroin. He had killed plenty of men with his country’s blessing in the past, but this time pressing the trigger meant breaking the most sacred bond of society; he’d just committed murder.

The monolithic bullet was a Barnes Triple Shock, made from solid copper and scored inside the tiny hollow point to split into four petals upon impact like a deadly flower. It was engineered to penetrate deeply on big game animals and worked so well that special operations troops adopted it for use during the Global War on Terror. When it hit the nearly vertical glass windshield of the Mercedes, the petals sheared off, leaving a cylinder of copper a third of an inch in diameter and still moving faster than most handgun rounds do at the muzzle. It struck Boykin on the bridge of his nose, and angled downward slightly as it smashed cartilage, brain, and bone into jelly. It severed the first vertebra and exited the back of his neck looking much like it did on the way in, before punching through the leather headrest and terminating its flight in the foam cushioning of the backseat.

The Mercedes’s cruise control was set on sixty miles per hour when its driver’s brain ceased sending command signals to his body. His limbs quivered and jerked the way most animals and humans do when shot in the central nervous system, but the Teutonic engineering of the SUV kept the wheels traveling straight up the rise of the highway as if nothing had happened. When it roared past Reece’s position, he thought for a second that he’d missed. As the vehicle crested the rise, having accelerated to make up for the steep grade, Boykin’s lifeless body shifted forward in his restraint and caused the wheel to turn sharply to the left. The forward momentum, downward slope, and the SUV’s high center of gravity created a snowball effect and caused the Mercedes to roll forward on its right front wheel, cartwheeling off the pavement and into the steep shoulder. The sound of rubber and steel meeting asphalt and rock were deafeningly loud, but only one man could hear it.

Reece smiled for the first time in many months as he pulled a Ziploc bag from a pocket inside his jacket. Out of the bag came a folded-up crayon drawing with a list of names written on the back. With a tiny stub of a pencil, he crossed the first name off the list and returned it to its home against his chest.




Tuesday, July 26, 2022

#Review - Master of Iron (Bladesmith #2) by Tricia Levenseller #YA #Fantasy

Series: Bladesmith (#2)
Format: Hardcover, 400 pages
Release Date:  July 26th 2022
Publisher: Feiwel & Friends
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy / Romance

In the conclusion of Tricia Levenseller's exciting Bladesmith YA fantasy duology, a magically gifted blacksmith with social anxiety must race against the clock to save her beloved sister and stop a devastating war.

Eighteen-year-old Ziva may have defeated a deadly warlord, but the price was almost too much. Ziva is forced into a breakneck race to a nearby city with the handsome mercenary, Kellyn, and the young scholar, Petrik, to find a powerful magical healer who can save her sister’s life.

When the events that follow lead to Ziva and Kellyn’s capture by an ambitious prince, Ziva is forced into the very situation she’s been dreading: magicking dangerous weapons meant for world domination.

The forge has always been Ziva’s safe space, a place to avoid society and the anxiety it causes her, but now it is her prison, and she’s not sure just how much of herself she’ll have to sacrifice to save Kellyn and take center stage in the very war she’s been trying to stop.

 

Master of Iron is the final installment in author Tricia Levenseller's Bladesmith duology. The story begins shortly after the ending of Blade of Secrets. With her sister Temra's life hanging in the balance after a dangerous encounter with the Warlord Kymora who is now their captive, Ziva Tellion (Bladesmith), Kellyn Derinor (Mercenary), and Petrik Avedin (Scholar) race to find a healer who might be able to save Temra's life. Kymora wanted Ziva alive because she has the ability to use magic in her weapons to make them nearly indestructible. 

With Temra close to death, Petrik suggests that they head for Prince Skiro's castle where there's supposedly a healer who can heal almost anything. Skiro just happens to be Petrik's brother. Unfortunately, said healer, Serutha, has been a hostage of Skiro's elder brother Revis and the only way to get to his castle, is by magical portals made of paintings. Revis can be called the villain of this story since it is his mission to take Ghadra for himself even if his brothers and sisters have any objections to reuniting the country. 

After rescuing Serutha, Ziva and Kellyn find themselves unwilling guests of Revis who learns that Ziva has a gift of making weapons using her unique magic. She's incredibly gifted with the ability to magic any items she blacksmiths, and of course, powerful people have decided that she could be used for their military benefit. The Forge, once her sanctuary from outside forces, has now become her prison from which she fears she may never leave unless she finds a solution to free herself and Kellyn. 

While others might prefer the simmering romance that has developed between Ziva and Kellyn, I absolutely love the action scenes and wanted more. While Ziva hates making weapons of war, and she hates the thought of killing anyone for the sake of killing, she's now just going to sit back and watch her friends and her sister become lambs to the slaughter. One of the most unique aspects of this series has been Ziva herself. Yes, she's a helluva bladesmith. Yes, she's a helluva fighter when she's protecting her own, including her sister after losing her parents to Kymora. 

But it is the socially awkward, panic attacks that make Ziva one of the more distinct characters in all of the YA Fantasy Genre. Her struggles with anxiety are so real and hard. These lead her to decisions that might cause people to question her sanity. Yet, when all is said and done, Ziva is more than a socially awkward blacksmith with major anxiety issues. She's someone who loves hard and protects what's hers with her life, if necessary. This is a much more expansive story than the first installment. The world has gotten bigger, the cast has gotten larger, and you will meet a great case of villains and heroes. 





Monday, July 25, 2022

#Review - These Twisted Bonds by Lexi Ryan #YA #Fantasy

Series: These Hollow Vows # 2
Format: Hardcover, 496 pages
Release Date: July 19, 2022
Publisher: Clarion Books
Source: Publisher
Genre: Young Adult / Dark Fantasy

Brie finds herself caught between two princes and two destinies while the future of the fae realm hangs in the balance.

After Abriella's sister was sold to the fae, she thought life couldn't get any worse. But when she suddenly finds herself caught in a web of lies of her own making ­- loving two princes and trusting neither - things are not quite as clear as she once thought.

As civil war wages in the Court of Darkness, Brie finds herself unable to choose a side. How can she know where she stands when she doesn't even know herself anymore? In this darkly romantic thrill ride, the more Faerie is torn apart from the inside, the clearer it becomes that prophecies don't lie and Brie has a role to play in the fate of this magical realm - whether she likes it or not.
 

These Twisted Bonds is the finale to author Lexi Ryan's These Hollow Vows duology. The story picks up immediately where These Hollow Vows left off. Even though Abriella (Brie) has been betrayed by Sebastian for the Crown and had her mortality taken away and turned into an immortal faerie, she's broken the Queen's curse that made the Unseelie mortal and limited their magic. On the other hand, Brie’s shadow powers have fully evolved after turning Fey which she easily uses to escape Sebastian. 

She ends up with Misha and the people of the Wild Fae. Here she finds out that children are being injected with a anti-magic toxic and some are falling into a deep sleep because the courts are unbalanced thanks to Queen Arya. Without a single thought or hesitation, Brie ends up rescuing dozens of children and then avoiding capture. Misha is a character who may be more likable than Sebastian or Finnian. Even though the bond that connects her to Sebastian is still present, Brie doesn't trust anyone, especially knowing her sister Jas is still a prisoner of the Fae. 

The more Faerie is torn apart from the inside, the clearer it becomes that prophecies don’t lie and Brie has a role to play in saving this magical realm—whether she likes it or not. She's also more powerful than she realizes because of a spoiler which I won't reveal. Brie's character actually gets a bit of history when she meets the fabled Mab in the Underworld who drops a bomb on her and makes Brie realize that she has no choice but to face Arya and unite the courts before more children fall into a sleep which they won't soon waken from.  

The love triangle dynamic is still going strong in the first half but the romance does quickly shift as Brie closes in on her HEA. I would not have been unhappy if Brie had ended up with Misha. Brie grew up viewing the fae world in one way, only to realize her error and come to love this new world. She also knows that had her mother lived to see her grow to a young woman, Brie wouldn't have had to sacrifice so much just to keep a roof over her head and her sister safe from being lost to her. 

Same could be said for Oberon and his choices. She's made many sacrifices not only for her mortal life, but her fae life as well. She puts everyone ahead of herself and that could go for Sebastian and Finnian as well. Sebastian deserves a pat on the back for his actions in this book. Although it's hard to let someone you love walk away, it's better to have a friend than an enemy for life. 





Friday, July 22, 2022

Cast in Deception by Michelle Sagara #Fantasy

Series: The Chronicles of Elantra (#14)
Format: Paperback, 512 pages
Release Date: January 23, 2018
Publisher: Mira Books
Source: Publisher
Genre: Fantasy / Epic

WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE, WHO NEEDS ENEMIES?

Private Kaylin Neya thought her home couldn’t possibly get more crowded. But when one of her housemates, Annarion, decides to undertake the Barrani Test of Name, his friends refuse to let him face his task alone—and Kaylin’s sentient home, Helen, is the only structure capable of shielding the rest of Elantra from the magnitude of their power.

Annarion and Mandoran almost caused the destruction of the High Halls once already. Add nine of their closest friends, and the danger is astronomically higher—especially since these guests are at the heart of a political firestorm. Imprisoned almost a millennium ago, their recent freedom threatens the rulership of several prominent Barrani families, and the machinations of those Lords make it almost impossible to tell friend from foe.

As political tensions ramp up, the shadows beneath the High Halls are seeking a freedom that has never been possible before. Kaylin must find a way to keep those shadows from escaping, or that freedom will destroy her city, the empire and everything she holds dear.   

Cast in Deception is the Thirteenth installment in author Michelle Sagara's Chronicles of Elantra series. Elantra is populated not just by humans, but also by Leontines, Aerians, Thallani and Barrani and ruled by Dragons. Kaylin Neya is a private in the Hall of Justice’s Hawks. Call her a beat cop if you like. She's been called Chosen because of the marks on her body which glow when she's around magic. Kaylin's uncanny ability to find disaster has become legendary. Kaylin also has a dragon like familiar she calls Hope.

Of course, she still hasn't found a way to speak with Hope, unless hope grows bigger. Kaylin currently lives with the only female Dragon in existence (Lord Bellusdeo) as well as two Barrani Annarion and Mandoran. Annarion has created a major issue by demanding that he be allowed to take the Name test which Kaylin somehow managed to survive. Annarion's choice pushes his Cohort into traveling to Elantra so they can face the test together.  

The story mainly focuses on the cohort of young people who were sent, millennia ago, to take part in a ceremony that would give them great power or kill them. They were supposed to be weapons against the Dragons who they were at war with. They didn't die but they didn't return either. Until Kaylin brought them home which caused some tremors among the Barrani High Court which is still reverberating. Kaylin's friend and fellow Hawk, Teela, was the only one who made it home.  

Teela's fellow cohort members Annarion and Mandoran have taken refuge in Kaylin's home (Helen) because their time away changed them greatly. Trouble rises it's ugly head when Annarion decides to undertake the Barrani Test of Name against his brother Nightshade's advice. His fellow cohort members refuse to let him face his task alone—and Kaylin’s sentient home, Helen, is the only structure capable of shielding the rest of Elantra from the magnitude of their power.

If this happens, it will greatly disrupt the political landscape of the Barrani since at least three of them are the rightful heirs to their family holding, including Annarion. But before they cohort could even arrive, something diverts them and they are lost along. This is only the tip of things to come. Teela and her partner Tain are attacked by other Barrani, an unknown Barrani seems to be stirring up anger against Teela, and just when things were calming down, the Water elemental sends Kaylin and Bellusdeo into the heart of the Barrani. 

Things are exceptionally dangerous because Bellusdeo is a dragon in the heart of the people who went to war with Dragons of this world. As usual, Kaylin has a way of doing things that might grate on your nerves, but I sincerely hope she doesn't change, except for learning to speak with Hope. Kaylin has a tendency of naming objects, and in this case, she calls a shadowy recording device Spike. She also receives a mysterious box which hasn't been explained. 

Yet. Kaylin frequently knows things that she shouldn't know while being ignorant of things that appear to be common knowledge. Kaylin has become more than a reckless healer, blunt detective and mascot. She's found a place she can call home. She has a family of mismatched individuals who are all capable of squashing her into paste but even though she sometimes gets on their nerves, they tend to  don't because they're her family. She's even made piece with Severn who left her behind to become a Wolf of Elantra.  

Many of the immediate events and crises that take place in “Deception” are resolved, but other issues that arise in this book are left to be resolved in future ones, and some of them are major. I will, hopefully, get caught up on reading this series in the next month.





Thursday, July 21, 2022

#Review - The Mystical Murders of Yin Mara by Marshall Ryan Maresca #Fantasy

Series: Maradaine Sara Story # 1
Format: Kindle, 151 pages
Release Date: August 2, 2022
Publisher: Artemisia Books
Source: Publisher
Genre: Fantasy

Phadre Golmin and Jiarna Kay are perfectly matched. Both astounding intellects, sharing a passion for academic pursuits and each other. Traveling from the University of Maradaine to Trenn College in Yin Mara, they are excited for the opportunity to study magical and mystical theory with the famed Professor Salarmin. So when they come across a dead body that defies all logic, they should leave it alone. 

But Phadre and Jiarna tasted adventure in Maradaine, so the discovery of similar victims, paired with their scientific curiosity, makes the situation far too intriguing to ignore. Knowing that they alone have the knowledge to unravel the mystery, Phadre and Jiarna are determined to resolve it, no matter the cost to their academic careers.

The Mystical Murders of Yin Mara, by author Marshall Ryan Maresca, takes place right after the events of the Imposters of Aventil which is Maradaine # 3 if you are keeping track. This story takes place outside of the world of Maradaine and apparently is the beginning of something new by called Maradaine Saga. 
 
Phadre Golmin and Jiarna Kay are the main characters for this story. Phadre is a mage, while Jiarna is a scientist.They have left Maradaine University behind to explore Trenn College in Yin Mara where they will become part of the faculty. The couple is excited for the opportunity to study magical and mystical theory with the famed Professor Salarmin. 
 
But before they can arrive, they stumble across a dead body that has been deconstructed after hearing a woman scream. Upon arrival in Yin Mara, the bodies continue to pile up. Phadre and Jiarna tasted adventure in Maradaine, so the discovery of similar victims, paired with their scientific curiosity, makes the situation far too intriguing to ignore.
 
Knowing that they alone have the knowledge to unravel the mystery, Phadre and Jiarna are determined to resolve it, no matter the cost to their academic careers. While the local authorities focus on Phadre as the person responsible, it will be up to Jiarna to save her partner, and to solve the mysteries of the murders and who is really responsible before they lose everything they've been working for.  
 
Besides Phadre and Jiarna, the author introduces an entirely new cast of characters who all stay at the Inchellian House under Professor Salarmin and are working on various individual projects while also teaching other mages practical magic. There is little world building in this story as you would expect from a new beginning. 
 
I do know that at the end of this story, the author claims the next adventure is to be called The Quarrygate Gambit. I am looking forward to reading it.





Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Siren Trials (The Enchanting Fae) by Katerina Martinez #Fantasy

Series: The Enchanting Fae # 2
Format: Kindle, 216 pages
Release Date: July 11th 2022
Publisher: Supernal Publishing
Source: Kindle Unlimited
Genre: Fantasy

In Arcadia, summer's light can reach the deepest, coldest depths.

When a lethally beautiful Fae brings me to his city and shows me the truth about who I am, it feels like a dream. I'm a mermaid, a real, flesh-and blood-mermaid. Not only that, I'm something of a celebrity, too.

The Summer Fae live in an underwater city called Caeris, and its people have been waiting for me, the Lost Siren, to return. Why? Because they need me in order for a sacred ritual called the Siren Trials to take place. I don't know much about it, but I'm being treated like royalty - like a champion.

The only problem is, the pirate that kidnapped me is being put to death, and for some reason, I can't help but feel like that's my fault. I don't want him to die, but I also don't know how I can help him. Worse, I can't help but feel like I haven't shaken Captain Mordred off, and that I'm not quite safe with the Summer Fae.

Something is wrong, here, and I need to figure it out. Otherwise this dream is going to become a nightmare.


Siren Trials is the second installment in author Katerina Martinez's The Enchanting Fae series. Siren Trials starts off right where Lost Siren ended. After being taken from the cruise ship where she worked, and chased by pirate Captain Mordred who nearly killed her to force her into cooperating with him, she was later rescued by Captain Damon Blackstone who promised that he would find a way to get her back to her home. 

Unfortunately, Summer Fae Prince Aenon and Princess Aerin interfered and brought Kara to Caeris, the sunken city of the Summer Fae. Everything around Kara is new and confusing and her only friend is Bubbles the pixie. She’s not given any chance to get acclimated to the Summer Court before she must face the Siren Trials. Kara, who is the alleged Lost Siren and Fate's Chosen, but raised human, is given a caretaker (DeLora) who is supposed to guide her throughout the trials. 

Sirens in this world are warriors, spellcasters, and agents of the Summer Kingdom. They also lead the Kingdom's armies  Kara is also given the choice of her own champions as well. She has to choose between Captain Blackstone and Prince Aerion. What's worse is that the King of the Summer Fae, Aevon Aqilus, also wants something from Kara. Something she refuses to hand over. 

She's also facing the possibility of a face off with the Queen-Captain, who we have not met, as well as a return match with Captain Mordred who is a vampire fae who nearly killed Kara in the first installment in order to push her into handing over the legendary Leviathan Trident. The Trident which appears out of nowhere whenever Kara needs help. 

The story also features several different chapters from the perspective of Damon Blackstone who found himself in a cell facing execution. When all is said and done, I can't see anyone but Damon being Kara's love interest. There's a whole lot to talk about, but I won't go any further for fear of posting spoilers. I will say that this story pretty much follows the same blue print from the authors previous Arcadia series. 

You have a 20-something woman who grew up on Earth, spirited away to Arcadia where humans tend not to survive long before turning monstrous. You have a main character who finds out that almost everything that she's been told about her human life, is a lie and she's the Chosen one, and someone has been lying to her for a very long time. 

In this story, the winner of the Siren Trials is supposed to claim the title of Queen, but who would want to be Queen as long as King Aevon is around? There is a fair amount of action in this book which should keep most readers satisfied. There's little romance, but I think that ship is about to come in between Kara and maybe Damon? There will be two more books in this series, and yes, I plan on finishing the series instead of walking away.





#Review - Gray Witch by Hailey Edwards #Fantasy #Contemporary

Series: Black Hat Bureau # 5
Format: Kindle, 282 pages
Release Date: July 9th 2022
Publisher: Black Dog Books, LLC
Source: Kindle Unlimited
Genre: Urban Fantasy Romance

Famous monsters are resurrecting across Mississippi, each one recreating their own gruesome deaths through new victims. Every time Rue pins down one horror legend, another appears with its own bloodthirsty agenda. The summoners raising these vengeful spirits save their best for last, a cruel gift that shatters Rue. But she’s not the only one whose heart gets broken.

Once her father realizes what the summoners have done, who they’ve awakened, there is nowhere they can hide where he can’t find them. After this final betrayal, there are no limits on how far he’s willing to go to bring down Black Hat, the director, and anyone else who gets in his way.

Including his own daughter.


Gray Witch is the Fifth installment in author Hailey Edwards Black Hat Bureau series. As the story beings, Rue Hollis, not her real name, but the name she created after escaping from the Black Hat Bureau 10 years ago, is visiting Astraroth Xan Stavros, High Prince of Hael, and his father Orion Pollux Stavros, High King of Hael where Asa is once again facing challenges to his legitimacy. But when The Boo Brothers seem to rise from their graves, it sends Rue and her team, Clay, Asa, and Colby, on a cross country monster hunt.

“There comes a point where you must stop looking back on the person you were and judging the person you are by their standards. You can’t be two people at once. You’re either New You or Old You. There is no in between. Me? I had a crick in my neck from looking over my shoulder.”

Rue's team is supposed to go after high value targets as she seems to have grown in powers from a Black Witch who tries to use the powers of a White Witch, to something closer to a Gray Witch which gives her powers of both her parents. Rue is still in a rather silly period called fascination where she and Asa are exploring feelings and whether they are compatible or not. I am not a fan of these explorations as it takes away from the job that Rue and her team have been given. It's even more revolting when Asa's father starts sending her presents which if she accepts, she'll never get rid of him.

This story has some feels as well when Rue ends up being one of those targeted. She could not imagine though who the person would be to come for her which leads to her father Saint getting involved and is rage is legendary. It is fair to say that I actually enjoyed this story more than several of the previous ones. Rue is pulled in several directions and seems to be taking one hit after another but her team keeps her focused. After finding out that her father was alive all this time, and discovering that her grandfather wiped her memories of her parents all to better mold her in his image, it's time for Rue to make things right.