Thursday, November 30, 2023

#Review - The Helsinki Affair by Anna Pitoniak #Thrillers #Espionage

Series: Standalone
Format: Hardcover, 368 pages
Release Date: November 14, 2023
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Source: Publisher
Genre: Thrillers / Espionage

IT’S THE CASE OF AMANDA’S LIFETIME, BUT SOLVING IT WILL REQUIRE HER TO BETRAY ANOTHER SPY—WHO JUST SO HAPPENS TO BE HER FATHER.

SPYING IS THE FAMILY BUSINESS. Amanda Cole is a brilliant young CIA officer following in the footsteps of her father, who was a spy during the Cold War. It takes grit to succeed in this male-dominated world—but one hot summer day, when a Russian defector walks into her post, Amanda is given the ultimate chance to prove herself.

The defector warns of the imminent assassination of a US senator. Though Amanda takes the warning seriously, her superiors don’t. Twenty-four hours later, the senator is dead. And the assassination is just the beginning.

Corporate blackmail, covert manipulation, corrupt oligarchs: the Kremlin has found a dangerous new way to wage war. Teaming up with Kath Frost, a fearless older woman and legendary spy, Amanda races from Rome to London, from St. Petersburg to Helsinki, unraveling the international conspiracy. But as she gets closer and closer to the truth, a central question haunts her: Why was her father’s name written down in the senator’s notes? What does Charlie Cole really know about the Kremlin plot?

The Helsinki Affair is a riveting, globe-trotting spy thriller—but this time, with a refreshing female-centric twist. Perfect for fans of John le Carré and Daniel Silva, this book introduces Pitoniak as a singular new talent in the world of spy fiction.

 

Anna Pitoniak's The Helsinki Affair is the authors follow up to Our American Friend, Necessary People, and The Futures. Pitoniak aimed to give readers a female heroine in the same league as the men in classic spy thrillers and I think she did a valiant job. 40 something Amanda Cole is a brilliant CIA officer following in the footsteps of her father, who was a spy during the Cold War. Amanda has worked for the CIA for 17 years. She is now in her second year as Deputy Station Chief for the CIA in Italy.

One day, a possible Russian defector by the name of Konstantin Semonov approaches the America Embassy claiming that he has important information about Senator Robert Vogel whose life may be in danger in Cairo, Egypt. Though Amanda takes the warning seriously, her superiors don’t. Twenty-four hours later, the senator is dead. And the assassination is just the beginning. After the Senator dies, Amanda is summoned back to the States where she assumes the new title of CIA Station Chief. 

Amanda soon learns that Senator Vogel's Chief of Staff has discovered some cryptic notes about ongoing Russian operation, directed by the GRU unit 29155, that manipulates the stock markets using viral social media posts. *This is not all that far fetched since a whole lot of Fake News is spread by Trolls and Bots in both Russia and China* The Senator's notes also mentions Amanda's father name (also a CIA agent). Amanda decides to push ahead and not recuse herself from discovering the truth.

Teaming up with Kath Frost, a fearless older woman and legendary spy, Amanda races from Rome to London, from St. Petersburg to Helsinki, unraveling the international conspiracy. But as she gets closer and closer to the truth, a central question haunts her: Why was her father’s name written down in the senator’s notes? What does Charlie Cole really know about the Kremlin plot? Will she protect him and risk the career she prizes above everything? Or will Amanda sacrifice her beloved father and shatter his reputation to prove her fealty to the agency to which she has dedicated her life?

*Thoughts* The story goes back and forth in time between Amanda’s current operation and her father’s time as a spy in Helsinki in the 1980s. Both stories involve double crosses, traitors and the whole trust factor. I will say that I felt nothing for Charlie. People like him should have been imprisoned for life. One of the key factors in this story was Russia's ability to manipulate stupid Americans into doing what they asked. One could also say this about American business owners doing business in China where you are required to allow them to own a piece of your company which leads to theft of intellectual properties. 

If you are asking yourself if it was a coincidence that I read two Espionage thrillers back to back, the answer is no. I just happen to like stories from the 1980's and 1990's when Russia and the US had not only double agents, but sometimes triple agents. When the US was funneling money and weapons to the group who would one day be lead by Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, while the Russians were using traitorous CIA agents to leak important information that would have exposed all of deep cover CIA agents in the Middle East. Do I have an underlying hatred for the CIA? You are damned right.




Chapter One

CHAPTER ONE


It wasn’t exactly the sensible thing to do, standing outside in the hot noon sun in July in Rome. Semonov paced back and forth, mopping his brow, his handkerchief long since soaked with sweat. No, this wasn’t sensible. He ought to have done as the Romans did, escaping the summer heat by stopping at Giolitti for a cone of gelato, or napping in a shuttered bedroom, or fleeing the city altogether for the breezy hills of Umbria. But Konstantin Nikolaievich Semonov was not standing here, pleading to be admitted to the American embassy, insisting that he had urgent information to share, because he was an entirely sensible person.

In his air-conditioned booth, the soldier hung up the phone. “You need to make an appointment. No one can see you today,” he said.

“Sir!” Semonov exclaimed, leaning toward the pinprick holes in the glass. “You are a Marine. I am speaking to you as a fellow military man. I am an officer in my nation’s army. My nation which is Russia.” A needless emphasis, as ten minutes earlier he had slid his passport under the bulletproof glass barrier to identify himself. “You must understand. I have information that matters today. Not tomorrow, not next week.”

In fairness to the soldier, Semonov was a hard man to take seriously. His shirt buttons strained to contain his plump stomach. His pockets jingled with loose change. Behind his round glasses, his eyes were wide and guileless. But when the Marine hesitated for a moment, Semonov’s instinct, which was well-honed, told him to seize his opening.

“I am from Moscow.” Semonov lowered his voice. “I am here in Rome on holiday with my wife. It would not be possible for me to communicate this information while in Moscow. The nature of my work means that I am closely watched. Do you understand? The nature of my work has also exposed me to certain information that I believe your officials will value.”

“Even if that’s true,” the Marine said, “you still need to make an appointment.”

The Marine was no more than twenty-four or twenty-five years old. Crew cut, clean shave, trim as a sharpened pencil, a good soldier, a rule follower. To grant exceptions to the rules—to take pity, for instance, on a sweaty stranger with a thick accent—required the seasoning of age, which he didn’t have. And so Semonov realized, with some reluctance, that he would have to resort to blunter tactics.

Semonov stood up straight. A change passed over his features, like a shadow passing over the sun. Staring at the Marine, he said: “My information concerns Robert Vogel.”

The tiniest flinch in the young man’s brow as he registered the name.

“Senator Vogel’s flight is due to land in Cairo in one hour,” he continued calmly. “His life is in danger.”

As postings went, Rome was one of the sleepiest. It had its perks, of course. The glamorous garden parties at the Villa Taverna, where the American ambassador plied his guests with crystal flutes of prosecco. The wine-soaked weekends in the hill towns of Tuscany. The simple ability to walk safely home from the embassy without an armed escort. But Amanda Cole would have gladly given up any of those perks for the chance to do her job.

Her real job. The job she had trained for. Back in Washington, when she received news of this posting, her boss in the Directorate of Operations only shook his head, both sympathetic to and bemused by her obvious disappointment. “Enjoy it,” he’d said. “Try to make some memories, Cole. You’ll be glad to have them when you get to the next Third World bunker.”

Italian-style lunch breaks were another perk of the posting. On any given day, between the hours of noon and 3 p.m., most of her colleagues were nowhere to be found. They went home to eat and take a midday siesta, or they enjoyed a leisurely meal at one of the city’s finer restaurants, entertaining a source on the government’s dime. They had learned to take the work for what it was. If they were bored, at least they were bored in comfort.

On that hot July afternoon, Amanda Cole was halfway through her two-year posting as deputy station chief for the Central Intelligence Agency. She was forty years old—though everyone said she looked much younger—which meant that she’d been in this line of work for almost seventeen years. It was the only career she’d ever had, if you didn’t count her stints as bartender and dishwasher and au pair. After graduating high school, she had no interest in college. Beyond that surety, her sense of her future was painfully unclear, so she decided to travel the world, paying her way with a series of short-lived jobs. It wasn’t until she eventually came home and started at the agency that she learned to channel her restless curiosity to more productive ends. To succeed in the Clandestine Service required an appetite for the world’s chaos. Travel had whetted that appetite.

Her success, over time, had made her more disciplined. Amanda knew how to play the game. From the moment her flight landed at Fiumicino, not a single word of complaint had passed her lips. She nodded, smiled, acted the team player. And yet she wasn’t exactly one of the gang. The ambassador’s dinner parties, for instance. They tended to run late, but Amanda always left early. After she had slipped away, when her colleagues were deep into the Montepulciano, they sometimes speculated. Was she running something off-the-books? Was she trying to set an example? In any case, they agreed, among themselves, that there was something obnoxious about her workaholism.

Regardless of her reasoning, the fact was that Amanda was the only person there, in Rome station, to answer the phone on that summer afternoon, and to tell the young Marine not to admit this strange Russian man to the building. This was a problem for their embassies around the world. All kinds of people liked to bang on the gates and demand an audience. Ninety-nine percent of the time, they were utter kooks.

After hanging up, Amanda stared at her computer screen, trying to regain her concentration. She was in the midst of approving a spreadsheet of expense reports, which (no one ever warned you of this) comprised a significant portion of her work as deputy station chief.

The phone rang again. She picked it up and said, irritably: “You know, Sergeant, if you want to talk to me so badly, you can just ask me on a date.”

“He says he knows something about Senator Vogel,” the Marine said. “He has all the details about his trip to Egypt.”

“Bob Vogel?” Amanda sat up slightly. “What else did he say?”

“He said…” The soldier hesitated. Amanda could imagine the young man’s gaze flicking back to the visitor, wondering if repeating the words would make him sound like an idiot. “He said Senator Vogel’s life is in danger.”

She could have laughed at the melodrama of it. But when she glanced around, taking in the deserted station, the dull windowless chamber with its beige walls and gray carpet, with its lone fiddle-leaf fig plant yellowing in the corner, she found herself thinking, Anything is better than these spreadsheets.

“Fine,” she sighed. “Send him up.”

At least the conference room had a window and made for a change of scenery. Amanda slid a bottle of water across the table. Konstantin Nikolaievich Semonov took it gratefully and gulped it down. Amanda raised an eyebrow and said: “Would you like another?”

“Please,” he said. “It is very hot today.”

Despite the air-conditioning, Amanda noticed beads of sweat kept gathering on Semonov’s brow. She noticed too the wedding ring on his right hand, and the meticulous care with which his shirt had been patched and mended, and the gold watch on his wrist. She folded her hands atop the table. “So,” she began. “Mr. Semonov. I understand you have some information you’d like to share with us?”

“I apologize. My English isn’t very good,” he said.

“It sounds quite good to me. But if you’d rather continue in Russian, we’ll have to wait until one of my colleagues returns, because I don’t—”

“No,” he interrupted. “I am your guest, of course we will speak English. But I say this because I must have misunderstood. You work on economic affairs for the U.S. State Department?”

“That’s right. I’m an attaché in the economic section.”

“But my information does not concern economic affairs.”

“Well.” She smiled brightly. “It’s July in Italy, Mr. Semonov. The embassy is a little bare-bones at the moment.”

“I see.” After a long pause, staring at her, he said: “So you are Amanda Clarkson. Amanda Clarkson, the economic attaché.”

She could perceive, beneath his sweaty brow, a deeper perception. Something inside her twinged to attention. The detached part of her brain carefully registered it as another data point.

“That’s me!” she chirped.

“Very well.” Slowly, he nodded to himself. “Very well, Amanda Clarkson. Even if you are the economic attaché, I hope you can help me. I come to you today with information concerning Mr. Robert Vogel. He is a senator in your country, from the state of New York. A powerful man, I understand. An aging man, too. I have read reports that his health has been declining recently.”

Another twinge. “Yes,” she said. “I’ve heard that, too.”

“He is part of a delegation en route to Cairo. Yesterday evening, the delegation boarded a plane in Washington. In less than an hour, that plane is due to land. A military convoy of the Egyptian government will escort the Americans from the airport to the Four Seasons, where they are staying. Tonight, at six o’clock, the convoy will escort the Americans to the Heliopolis Palace, where they will be dining as guests of the president.”

He could have googled this, though, she told herself. It would only take a few minutes.

“The military convoy will accompany the American delegation for the duration of their three-day visit.” Semonov spoke with bureaucratic precision. “The Egyptian president is determined that their safety be absolute. He does not want his guests exposed to unstable elements. There will be one exception, though. Tomorrow morning, the delegation will be participating in a review of the Egyptian military. This is the primary purpose of the trip to Cairo. For the American visitors to assess the strength of their ally.”

She kept smiling, even as her pulse accelerated. Sure. Nothing unusual about this. Nothing weird about a Russian man walking in with detailed knowledge of the Senate intelligence committee’s movements.

“During this review the Americans will, of course, be surrounded by the military,” Semonov continued. “It will be the safest place in all Egypt. Therefore, there is no need for the convoy. The Americans will be free to move about, speaking to various generals, examining the artillery, interacting with soldiers. The review will begin at eleven a.m. At that hour, the temperature is typically thirty-seven or thirty-eight degrees centigrade. They will be assembled outdoors. There will be very little shade. The president has ordered that the review last no more than one hour. He is aware that several of his guests are older and may struggle in the heat. Unfortunately, his precaution will not be enough. Just before noon, Senator Robert Vogel will suffer a heat-induced stroke. He will be taken to the nearby hospital, where he will be pronounced dead.”

She swallowed. There was no mistaking this internal quiver. But now, right now, it was important not to spook him. “Okay.” Piano, piano, as a local might say. “Okay. Mr. Semonov. Let me begin with an obvious question. How can you know about a stroke before it happens?”

“I can’t. But there are certain chemicals that produce symptoms in the human body that appear very similar to those of a stroke. So similar that there is no reason to question the initial conclusion. Especially when the deceased is eighty-one years old and in frail health.”

“I’m sorry, Mr. Semonov. What you’re describing sounds like an assassination.”

“Yes.”

“And how could you know about this assassination before it happens?”

“Because I work with the men who will carry out the assassination.”

“And where is that?”

He squeezed the water bottle in agitation, the thin plastic crackling in his hands. “You don’t believe me, do you?”

“It’s not a question of—”

“Then I should leave. I shouldn’t be here!”

He began to stand, but Amanda placed a hand on his arm to stop him. “Mr. Semonov,” she said. “I want to believe you. I want to take this seriously. But to do that, I’m going to need more information.” She paused. “You work with the men who will carry out the assassination. Where do you work?”

The tension in his forehead was visible. “I work for the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation.”

“And which division, specifically?”

“The Main Intelligence Directorate,” he whispered. “The GRU.”

“Jesus Christ,” he said. “Cole, are you drunk?”

Osmond Brown stood behind his desk, hands planted on his hips, narrowing his eyes at Amanda Cole, who had followed him into his office as he returned from lunch. Amanda Cole, who was more than thirty years his junior. Amanda Cole, who worked for him, but who never seemed to remember that goddamn fact.

Amanda closed the door and gestured for him to sit down. There was something especially impertinent about this coming from her, what with her slight stature and the childish freckles across her nose. He almost snapped at her (this was his goddamn office, he would decide whether to sit down), but then he shut his mouth and sank into his chair. Over the past year, Osmond had discovered that it was difficult to raise his voice at Amanda. She never flinched, no matter how much he yelled, and this was strangely deflating.

“He’s telling the truth,” she said.

“And how on God’s green earth can you know a thing like that?”

“Because he’s scared. He’s terrified. It’s not the kind of thing you can fake.”

“Did you ever stop to consider,” Osmond said, in his Mississippi drawl, which often grew exaggerated after a glass or two of wine, “that maybe the man is so goddamn terrified because he’s being dangled as bait to the Americans?”

“They would never pick a man like him for a dangle.”

“Oh yes. My apologies, Ms. Cole. I seem to have forgotten you’re a mind reader, too.”

“If the Russians were trying to sell us on an agent,” she continued, ignoring Osmond’s sarcasm, as she always did, “they’d pick someone who looks the part. Someone with an obvious motive. Greed, preferably. Greed is always the most convincing.”

Osmond scowled. “Let me guess. Now you’re going to tell me that your new friend doesn’t have a greedy bone in his body.”

She held up her wrist. “His watch. He’s wearing a TAG Heuer. So he’s well-off, he’s comfortable, but his shirt is mended in at least half a dozen places. He clearly isn’t materialistic. Not enough to make for a convincing dangle. The Russians only pick people who look the part. Semonov doesn’t, and he’s terrified. That fear is the information we’re working with. And in less than twenty-four hours, there’s going to be—”

“Whoa,” he interrupted. “Whoa! Hold it right there. You’re acting like we have to do something about this.”

“Well, yeah. Of course we have to.”

“Says who, Cole?”

“Says the evidence, sir.”

Across the expanse of his desk, Osmond regarded her. Despite his best intentions, he had allowed himself a glass—okay, two glasses—of Vermentino with lunch. How could he resist when it paired so beautifully with the sweet summer cantaloupe? But now he was tired, and he had a headache, and this whole thing sounded like a boondoggle, and Amanda was possibly the stubbornest person he had ever met. Dealing with this woman was one of the more exhausting parts of the job. And yet, he knew her kryptonite. Amanda Cole did, despite appearances, possess an essential kernel of respect for the Way Things Were Done. She would push back, but she wasn’t one to disobey a direct order. At the end of the day, he saw it as his task to remind her of her fealty.

Well, clearly she was all worked up about this. Why not indulge her a few moments longer, before he lowered the boom? So he settled back into his chair, folded his hands on his stomach, and said: “Okay, Cole. Let’s talk this one through. Let’s say we decide to believe this guy, this what’s-his-name—”

“His name is Semonov,” she interrupted. “Konstantin Semonov.”

“Sure. Okay. Let’s say we decide to believe this Semonov, and decide that the threat to Bob Vogel is real, and decide to act on it. We’d need to get word to Senator Vogel about what’s happening and tell him to skip the review. How do we do that?”

“Verbally. Send someone to tell him. One of our people in Cairo.”

“But when? Where? How? Every minute of the delegation’s schedule is accounted for. They have some downtime at the Four Seasons, but you can’t just have one of our people waltz in. Everyone in that hotel, from the maids to the managers to the goddamn window-washers, every person in that hotel is on someone else’s payroll. That hotel is wired six ways to Sunday. So if we send one of our people to deliver the message verbally, what happens when that person arrives at the Four Seasons and beelines straight for Senator Vogel? Hmm?”

The furrow of her brow softened slightly. I’m a good teacher, Osmond thought. No one ever wants to admit it, but I’ve got a knack for this part.

“You think they want to blow our network in Cairo,” she said.

“Bingo.”

Amanda nodded. Osmond was pleased. See, at the end of the day, he just wanted these kids (and yes, they were kids, he was older than most of their fathers) to be a little more careful. Not to get themselves killed for no good reason.

But instead of thanking him, she said: “I don’t buy it.”

He sighed. “And why is that?”

“He’s telling the truth. I’m certain he is. And don’t just say he’s their useful idiot, that his bosses at the GRU gave him this line to swallow and counted on him feeling guilty and running to the Americans. He’s smart. He’d see through it. He saw through my cover in about three seconds flat.”

“Look, Amanda, I get it. You’re bored out of your mind.” He tapped a finger against his temple. “Nothing happens in Rome. This isn’t where the action is. And they know that, too. They’re trying to use that boredom against you.”

“You’re really suggesting we do nothing about this?”

“I’m not suggesting. I’m telling.”

She shook her head, but her eyes went glassy. She tended to do this, to go quiet and retreat into cool detachment when she was overruled. Osmond respected her for fighting as hard as she did, but he also respected her for knowing when to surrender.

“We’re the soft underbelly,” he explained, feeling that pleasant flood of paternal benevolence that was, quite frankly, the only aspect of the job that still made him feel good. “Our networks in the Middle East are airtight. It wouldn’t work to target them directly. So the Russians try to take the back door. They plant a seed in Rome and hope the tendril reaches Cairo. All they need to do is keep an eye on Senator Vogel. If we send someone to meet Vogel at his hotel, bingo: they’ve just identified the Cairo network. It’s clever, isn’t it? So the best response, or actually the only response, is to do nothing. You see?”

But that was the point, Amanda thought. The scheme Osmond had just outlined was too clever by half. It wasn’t how the GRU worked. The many moving parts, the subtle contingencies: it lacked their signature bluntness.

Amanda left his office and walked through the bullpen, back toward the door that led to the rest of the embassy. One of her colleagues called after her (“Hey, Cole, that guy in the conference room one of yours? The fat guy with glasses? James Gandolfini past his prime?”), but she didn’t hear him.

She buzzed through the unmarked door, walked down a hallway, down a flight of stairs, down another hallway. Through the glassed-in walls of the conference room, she saw what her colleagues would have seen as they returned from lunch. Semonov, pacing back and forth, like a goldfish desperate to escape the confines of his fishbowl.

Amanda had been trying to figure out what to say, how to explain this failure of hers, but as soon as he turned and looked at her, he seemed to know. As she closed the door, Semonov shook his head. She felt a strange gratitude for his perception. It was a terrible feeling, having to deliver this kind of bad news, having to shatter another person’s desperate hope. Semonov had just spared her that feeling.

He sat down and dropped his head into his hands. She sat beside him, touched him on the elbow. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I’m really, really sorry. I did everything I could.”

He was saying something, but his voice was muffled by his hands.

“Mr. Semonov?” she said. “I can’t understand you.”

When he lifted his head, tears were spilling from his eyes. “My mother died last year,” he said. “It was a spring day. The lilacs were in bloom.”

“Oh,” she said. “I’m, um… I’m sorry to hear that.”

“Just before she died, she called me to her side, and she said: ‘Kostya, you have a soft heart. You must be careful. The world suffers when there are too many soft hearts.’ She was right! I’ve been a fool.” He shook his head. “A fool of the worst kind. I knew that this day would come. And what did I think? That I could stop it? Look at what I have done!”

Amanda slid a box of tissues across the table. Semonov looked at her with watery appreciation and blew his nose with a comedic honk.

Your menagerie, her best friend Georgia once called it. Your strange little petting zoo.

Bartenders in seedy dives, hostesses in swanky clubs. Taxi drivers with photographic memories. Hairdressers with a knack for gossip. Restaurant owners with private back rooms. Chambermaids and bellboys and window-washers at five-star hotels. They liked making the extra money on the side, and they liked how seriously she took them. They liked to feel that occasional brush with danger. Together they comprised her strange little petting zoo. It was part of the job, collecting people like this, although Amanda tended to hang on to the assets even when they had ceased offering any obvious utility.

Look at what I have done! Semonov had exclaimed. She was curious about what, exactly, he meant by that; what role he played in the Vogel story. The expense reports could wait. So Amanda patted his hand and said: “Tell me about your mother. What was her name?”

In late July the sun didn’t set until 8:30 p.m. As Amanda walked home, a benevolent twilight lit her way. Past the church that housed the famous Bernini carvings; past the imposing marble fountain that marked the terminus of an old Roman aqueduct; past the ancient Baths of Diocletian. The seventeenth century, the sixteenth century, the third century. “It sounds like you’re practically tripping over history,” her mother once said. And she meant it as a good thing, but history, Amanda knew, was a tricky Janus. History provided important context, but history also exerted a dangerous narrative gravity. If you expected the present to be a continuation of the past, you weren’t actually looking at the present through clear eyes.

“It’s like this,” Amanda once said to Georgia. “Remember how we used to see that old man feeding pigeons outside school every afternoon?”

“Hector? I loved Hector.”

“And you could reasonably assume that you’d see Hector every afternoon, right?”

Georgia squinted. “Why do I feel like I’m being set up?”

“But then one afternoon Hector doesn’t show up. And everyone is so surprised. Because if Hector does the same thing ninety-nine days in a row, then obviously he’s going to do the same thing on the hundredth day. But where is it written that the past ever predicts the future?”

“So you can’t bank on anything? Is that really how you look at the world?”

Amanda shrugged. “I mean, no. Not really. But I try to not be surprised when the pattern gets broken.”

But that night, on her walk home, she wasn’t engaged in such profound considerations. As Amanda squeezed past a crowd outside the Repubblica metro, she could only think about how hungry she was, having missed lunch thanks to Semonov. The refrigerator in her apartment was bare. For the umpteenth night in a row, she was going to have to stop at her usual stall in the Mercato Centrale. The market was housed in an old wing of the Termini station, just a few blocks from her apartment. Stalls sold colorful heaps of vegetables, creamy orbs of burrata, dimpled sheets of focaccia, blistered rounds of pizza. Her favorite stall sold fresh pasta and premade sauces. Amanda had been pleased to discover that this demanded no more effort than did a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese. And it tasted good and it was cheap. She had decided, a long time ago, that this was the easiest way to feed herself.

During her visit last September, Georgia had been appalled by this habit. “You can’t eat the same thing every night, Amanda. You know that you’re in Rome, right?”

“I just don’t care that much.”

“This coming from the girl who once ate a scorpion in Bangkok. Who once drank pig’s blood in Seoul. Who once—”

Amanda laughed. “Oh, yeah, you mean the girl who was a drunken shitshow and didn’t know what she was doing with her life? You mean that girl? Should we bring her back?”

“You’re not giving her enough credit. She was fun.”

“She was crazy.”

“Well, she’s still in there. I know she is. No amount of Talbots can cover her up.”

“This is J.Crew, thank you very much. And also, fuck you. I like Talbots.”

Georgia laughed. Curled up on the couch in the apartment in Rome, she prodded Amanda with her foot. “I don’t understand it. Your mom is so chic. And even your dad, you know, he has decent taste, in that boring Waspy way. And you, somehow, have the world’s worst style.”

“So this is my rebellion. Besides, who am I trying to impress? Other than my bitchy best friend?”

Georgia rolled her eyes. “It’s not about impressing anyone. It’s about a little self-respect.”

At the market, Amanda also stopped at the wine stall. She rarely kept wine in the house, but it had been a long day, and she needed it. She unlocked her apartment to find the air inside hot and stale, so she opened the windows in hopes of a breeze. Sometimes she wondered what the neighbors across the courtyard must think of her. This American woman who came and went at strange hours, whose freckles and smile suggested friendliness, but who never offered anything but the smallest of talk.

Ten minutes later, having changed into a ratty old pair of shorts and a T-shirt, she flopped on the couch with her bowl of pasta and a glass of wine. It had been a marathon day. Amanda and Semonov had covered a good deal of his life story. How he had hoped to work as a translator for the GRU, only to be assigned the considerably more boring job of fabricating passports and visas. How his wife, an Italian woman named Chiara, had moved to Moscow for work, which explained his presence in Italy: they were visiting her family. He and Chiara had met in a Moscow metro station. She was lost and disoriented, and Semonov helped her find her way. He couldn’t help smiling like a schoolboy when he talked about his wife. As the hours passed, Amanda had felt increasingly certain that he was telling the truth. She didn’t know why exactly; she just knew.

She stabbed at the pasta with her fork. Here was the problem, though. She had been wrong before. Maybe Osmond was right, maybe boredom was causing her to jump at the chance for excitement. And she was bored. Was this just ego at work? This yearning for motion, for action, this desire to prove that she wasn’t just sitting around, watching her muscles atrophy from neglect? Besides, she knew the odds. Years ago, during training at the Farm, she learned to be skeptical of walk-ins and defectors. Those things happened in the movies, not in real life. To recruit someone took work. The old-fashioned, time-tested, carrot-and-stick work of psychological manipulation. A Russian walks in and warns of a threat against an American politician? Things like that didn’t just happen. Not according to the agency. Not according, specifically, to the people at the top of the agency, who believed they had earned their way to those positions of power. The idea that the world was random—that the universe was the product of chaos—that just didn’t jibe.

But, see, on this particular point, she was stubborn. Like she’d said to Georgia: sometimes the world was random. But that look on Osmond’s face had kept her from pushing. She knew a losing battle when she saw one.

Semonov had eventually looked at his watch. He had to go; his wife would be waiting for him. “Where are you staying?” Amanda asked. And when he gave her the name of his hotel, near the Piazza del Popolo, she felt a small ping. Good, she thought. If it comes to it, that makes things easier. She walked him to the lobby and shook his hand. “Enjoy the rest of your time in Rome,” she said, in her friendliest we-know-you-have-a-choice-in-airlines tone. “And, Mr. Semonov—”

“Please,” he interrupted. “Call me Kostya.”

“Well, Kostya. Thank you for coming in and talking to me. I know it wasn’t easy.”

Amanda stood up and carried her bowl and wineglass to the sink. She recorked the wine and placed it in the cupboard. As she climbed into bed and switched off the light, she thought of how his face had darkened at their goodbye. He looked grateful for her sympathy, but mostly he looked sad; her sympathy wouldn’t change the course of events.

The night was hot and still. The fan at the foot of her bed did little to help. Amanda’s mind traced an endless loop. She should have done more. No. She had done everything she could. She thought of Semonov, at his hotel across town, and wondered if he would lie awake all night, too.

Osmond Brown was usually the first to arrive in the station, but that Friday morning, the door to his office remained closed. Amanda stared at it, puzzled, until one of her colleagues noticed. “He’s out today,” the colleague said. “Frolicking with the ambassador in Capri this weekend.”

“Right.” She nodded. “Forgot.”

She looked at the clock on the wall: 8:47 a.m. Having lain awake all night, she was almost delirious from lack of sleep. The morning stuttered by in minuscule fragments. 9:03 a.m.: writing her contact report. 9:17 a.m.: locking the bathroom door and splashing water on her face. 9:42 a.m.: making a cup of coffee. 9:45 a.m.: finishing the coffee. 9:47 a.m.: considering making another. Amanda wanted to be proven wrong. She had never wanted this so badly. There was a bar on Via Ludovisi, one block from the embassy. At 12:01 p.m., she decided, at the precise moment when Senator Vogel and the rest of the delegation departed the military review and returned safely to the Four Seasons, she would go to that bar and reward herself for her wrongness with a shot of tequila.

11:06 a.m. They would have arrived by now. 11:31 a.m. They would be moving among the troops, examining the artillery, talking to the generals. She turned off her computer screen so she didn’t have to look at the time. She gnawed on her thumbnail. She jiggled her knee. One of her colleagues glanced over in mild alarm, but when he noticed the look on her face, he thought better of asking her what was wrong.

Amanda turned her screen back on. 11:57, 11:58, 11:59 a.m. Noon! Noon on the dot! She broke into a giddy smile. “I’m going to lunch!” She jumped up from her desk and reached for her bag. “If the chief calls, tell him I got drunk and went home.”

“Uh,” her colleague said. “Really? You really want me to—”

But he was interrupted by a sudden, high-pitched chirping. Halfway across the room, Amanda froze. Every computer in the bullpen was emitting that identical electronic chirp. No, she thought. No, no, no.

“Holy shit,” the colleague said. “Holy shit. Cole! Did you see this?”

She felt her stomach plummeting.

“It’s Bob Vogel,” he said. “He’s dead.”




Wednesday, November 29, 2023

#Review - Perfect Shot by Steve Urszenyi #Thrillers #Espionage

Series: Special Agent Alexandra Martel (#1)
Format: Hardcover, 368 pages
Release Date: November 14, 2023
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Source: Publisher
Genre: Thrillers / Espionage

A former Army sniper must fall back on her Special Ops skills when a friend’s death uncovers a global nuclear threat, in this electrifying new series featuring Special Agent Alexandra Martel.

Special Agent Alexandra Martel has put her days on the battlefield behind her. Charming and disarming, relentless and lethal, she earned a reputation as one of the most renowned and decorated Army snipers in the service before stepping away. But when Alex, now an FBI special agent on loan to Interpol, learns that an old friend, an MI5 officer, has been killed under mysterious circumstances, she’s pulled back into the dangerous world she left behind: a world where some people fear her, some want to recruit her, and everyone seems to want her dead.

Following a trail of clues left behind by the dead woman, Alex pieces together a terrifying conspiracy that only escalates when a nuclear warhead goes missing. Dodging death at every turn, she reluctantly joins forces with a CIA officer, but he has plans of his own for her—and will stop at nothing to achieve them.

Chasing the truth through the streets of London and bustling Turkish markets to the underbelly of Paris, Alex is unrelenting in her pursuit of justice. But as the clock ticks down and the world edges closer to doom, she must fall back on her Special Ops skills to stop the unthinkable. She thought her life as a sniper was over—but with stakes this high, she must use whatever means necessary to render the world safe.



Perfect Shot is Steve Urszenyi's is the first installment in the authors Special Agent Alexandra Martel series as well as his debut novel. Alex has seemingly put her days on the battlefield behind her. Charming and disarming, relentless and lethal, she has earned a reputation as one of the most renowned and decorated Army snipers and combat medics in the service of her country before stepping away. As the story is filled with action, and suspense, you should be ready right on the opening chapter as Alex and her team race to stop an alleged Islamic terror group from exchanging special nuclear material.

The suspense continues when Alex, now an FBI special agent on loan to Interpol, as well as a member of ISA (Intelligence Support Activities Unit), learns that an old friend she met a few years earlier, has been killed under mysterious circumstances, she’s pulled back into the dangerous world she left behind. A world where some people fear her, some want to recruit her, and everyone seems to want her dead. Especially the Russians who are once playing puppet masters. Alex, of course, wants to take a look and at least ensure everything is being done to find the killer and the reason for her death.   

Following a trail of clues left behind by the dead woman, Alex pieces together a terrifying conspiracy that only escalates when a US nuclear warhead out of Turkey goes missing. Dodging death at every turn, she reluctantly joins forces with a CIA officer named Caleb Brand, who belongs to a secretive unit called ACCT (Advance Counter terrorism & Counter Proliferation Team), but he has plans of his own for her—and will stop at nothing to achieve them. Chasing the truth through the streets of London and bustling Turkish markets to the underbelly of Paris, Alex is unrelenting in her pursuit of justice. 

But so are her enemies in Russia who seem to pop up every where. As as the clock ticks down to a major peace summit taking place in Paris, and the world edges closer to doom, she must fall back on her Special Ops skills to stop the unthinkable. She must wade through a litany of both people who want to kill her, people who want to betray her, and people who are desperate to have her on their side. She thought her life as a sniper was over but with stakes this high, she must use whatever means necessary to render the world safe. Not matter where she turns, there seems to be danger at every corner.

*Thoughts* I normally begin reviews of books like this by saying you should expect to suspend reality in order to read this book. However, as a debut novelist, the author really did his due diligence and research. He has made Alex a likable character as well as someone you can easily root for because she has been through so much. It is easy to scoff at the idea of a female sniper, but if you look back on history, some of the best snipers in the world were women. There are allegedly, don't quote me, 9 current Women snipers in the US Army. 

I have no issue with Russia once again being the villains, after all, they literally invaded Crimea and Ukraine without any reason. Russia are the boogeymen of my generation having lived through the cold war. We know what they are capable of because they have both the GRU and FSB playing shenanigans with our military, or CIA, NSA, and our most important infrastructures. The ending of this book was both expected, and not. Alex has to make some career defining choices that will leave her in an untenable position going forward. I look forward to the next book in this series.





Tuesday, November 28, 2023

#Review - Tonight, I Burn by Katharine J. Adams #Fantasy #Romance

Series: Thorn Witch Trilogy (#1)
Format: Paperback, 448 pages
Release Date: November 7, 2023
Publisher: Orbit
Source: Publisher
Genre: Fantasy / Dark Fantasy / Romance

A thorn witch with the power to walk between the realms of Life and Death finds herself at the center of a magical rebellion—and a dangerous romance—that could destroy her coven and her soul in this dark and decadent debut. 
 
Thorns, Tides, Embers, Storms, and Ores. All five covens are bound in servitude to the tyrant High Warden of Halstett. 

Penny Albright is a daughter of the thorn coven, forced to patrol the veil between the realms of Life and Death. Each night, one thorn witch—and only one—must cross the veil by burning at the stake. Each morning, that witch draws on their magic to return. Failure to follow the rules risks the veil and risks them all.

But one morning, Penny's favorite sister Ella doesn't return. And that night, determined to find her, Penny breaks the rules. She burns in secret. And she discovers that all isn’t as it seems in Life or Death. 
 
Her journey leads her to Malin, a devastating lord with too many secrets; to Alice, a mysterious captive prophet; and to a rebellion brewing in the shadows beneath the city. And as Penny's world splits, she’ll face a devastating choice. Because it’s not just her sister’s life that hangs in the balance. It’s the fate of all magic. 

Tonight, I Burn, by Katharine Adams, is the first installment in the authors Thorn Witch trilogy. Thorns, Tides, Embers, Storms, and Ores. All five covens are bound in servitude to the tyrant High Warden of Halstett who basically destroyed the outside world, and forced everyone inside walls he built. The Thorn Witches are the coven with the most sacred of duties; to walk in Death and ensure that souls are guided into the Horizon, and that the veil separating Death from Life remains whole and in tact. 

A simple enough task when you disregard the facts that every night a different Thorn witch must light herself on fire to get into Death, and that the veil itself is anchored to the lifeline of a once immortal tyrant who is rapidly declining in health for seemingly inexplicable reasons.
Penny Albright is a daughter of the thorn coven, forced to patrol the veil between the realms of Life and Death. Each night, one thorn witch—and only one—must cross the veil by burning at the stake.

Each morning, that witch draws on their magic to return. Failure to follow the rules risks the veil and risks them all. But one morning, Penny's sister Ella doesn't return. And that night, determined to find her, Penny breaks the rules. She burns in secret. And she discovers that all isn’t as it seems in Life or Death. Her journey leads her to Malin, a devastating lord with too many secrets; to Alice, a mysterious captive prophet; and to a rebellion brewing in the shadows beneath the city. 

And as Penny's world splits, she’ll face a devastating choice. Because it’s not just her sister’s life that hangs in the balance. It’s the fate of all magic. For 30 days, she has to visit Death every night and ends up slowly falling for Lord Malin while simultaneously falling for Alice, a witch who has been imprisoned by the Warden, during the day. It requires all three of them working together to break free from the Wardens grasp and save their covens. It also relies on not being outed or betrayed by those who are supposed to be her family and coven.

*Thoughts* This story lacked certain details like a backstory, and a deep dive into the important aspects like crystals, the covens, magic, the death realm, and the gilding who one of the characters fathers ends up being. So, if you are like me who has issues with romantic triangles, you may want to sit this one out. On the other hand, if you are perfectly okay with a bisexual character who falls for both a woman and a man, go for it. 

So much happens at the end of this book, that I find myself debating whether or not I will continue. Penny is not a perfect character. In fact, she continually makes stupid mistakes that end up costing everyone. But she also ends up being stabbed in the back and basically sold into slavery by her own people. Will I read the next book? I will likely wait until the entire trilogy is released before finishing.  





Monday, November 27, 2023

#Review - The Shattered City by Lisa Maxwell #YA #Fantasy #Historical

Series: The Last Magician # 4
Format: Hardcover, 768 pages
Release Date: December 6, 2022
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy / Historical

Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows meets Alexandra Bracken’s Passenger in this spellbinding conclusion to the “vivid and compelling” (BCCB) New York Times bestselling Last Magician series.

Unite the Stones
Free the City
Remake the World

Once, Esta believed that she could change the fate of magic. She traveled to the past and stopped the Magician from destroying a mystical book that held the key to freeing her people from the Brink, an energy barrier that traps all Mageus who cross it.

But the Book was more than she bargained for. So was the Magician she was tasked to steal it from.

Hunted by an ancient evil, Esta and Harte have raced through time and across a continent to track down the powerful artifacts they need to bind the Book’s devastating power. They’ve lost family, betrayed friends, and done what they’d both vowed never to do: fallen in love with the one person who could truly destroy them.

Now, with only one artifact left, their search has brought them back to New York, the city where it all began. But nothing in Manhattan is as they left it. Their friends have scattered, their enemies have grown more powerful, and as the deadly Brink beckons, their time is running out.

If they can’t find a way to end the threat they’ve created, then the very heart of magic will die—and it will take the world down with it.  


The Shattered City, by Lisa Maxwell, is the Fourth and final installment in the authors The Last Magician series. Key Characters: Esta Filosik, Harte Darrigan, Jack Grew, Cela Johnson, Jianyu Lee, James "Nibsy" Lorcan, Viola Vaccarelli, and Ruby Reynolds. This story travels from 1920, to 1983, to 1902 Brooklyn. Esta and Harte have moved forward to 1983 to get away from the enemy, and figure out how to solve the problems of the Brink and the evil Nibsy Lorcan. 

Viola and Jianyu are in 1902 with Nibsy and Cela and the villainous Jack Grew who is somehow still alive and itching to prove to doubters that he is a man who is willing to do anything. Nibsy has taken over the Devil's own, and now controls everyone who was marked by Dolph Saunders. Once, Esta, who has the natural ability to go back and forth between timelines, believed that she could change the fate of magic. 

She traveled to the past and stopped the Magician from destroying the Ars Arcana that held the key to freeing her people from the Brink, an energy barrier that traps all Mageus who cross it. But the Book of Mysteries was more than she bargained for. So was the Magician she was tasked to steal it from. Hunted by an ancient evil (Thoth), possessed by Seshat, Esta and Harte have raced through time and across a continent to track down the powerful artifacts they need to bind the Book’s devastating power. 

They’ve lost family, betrayed friends, and done what they’d both vowed never to do: fallen in love with the one person who could truly destroy them. Now, with only one artifact left, the Pharaoh's Heart their search has brought them back to New York, the city where it all began. But nothing in Manhattan is as they left it. Their friends have scattered, their enemies have grown more powerful, and as the deadly Brink beckons, their time is running out. If they can’t find a way to end the threat they’ve created, then the very heart of magic will die—and it will take the world down with it.

 

*Thoughts* The reason it took me so long to finish this series is the length of the book. I figured, what better time to read this book, than over Thanksgiving break? I am glad I did finish the series. I would recommend that if you haven't read the series yet, to familiarize yourself with what has happened to this point. Esta has been through Hell and back. She was used as a thief by Professor Lorcan to go back in time and grab valuable artifacts. Every time she thinks she has found a way to win, she and Harte are forced to rethink their paths. 
 
She has since realized that if she can grab all 5 of the artifacts needed to bring time and magic back to balance, it's worth her time and her life. You will benefit from taking notes while reading this book. Each character from Viola, to Jianyu, to Cela, get their own plotlines which eventually comes together with Esta and Harte's. I think this book would’ve been a thousand times better if it wasn’t so drawn out or maybe 200-300 pages shorter. I normally never skip pages in books but I did this time.
 



Tuesday, November 21, 2023

#Review - The Edge by David Baldacci #Mystery #Thrillers #Suspense

Series: 6:20 Man (#2)
Format: Hardcover, 416 pages
Release Date: November 14, 2023
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Source: Publisher
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Suspense

The 6:20 Man is back, dropped by his handlers into a small coastal town in Maine to solve the murder of a CIA agent who knew America’s dirtiest secrets—can Travis Devine uncover the truth before his time runs out?
 
When CIA operative Jenny Silkwell is murdered in rural Maine, government officials have immediate concerns over national security. Her laptop and phone were full of state secrets that, in the wrong hands, endanger the lives of countless operatives. In need of someone who can solve the murder quickly and retrieve the missing information, the U.S. government knows just the chameleon they can call on.
 
Ex-Army Ranger Travis Devine spent his time in the military preparing to take on any scenario, followed by his short-lived business career chasing shadows in the deepest halls of power, so his analytical mind makes him particularly well-suited for complex, high-stakes tasks. Taking down the world’s largest financial conspiracy proved his value, and in comparison, this case looks straightforward. Except small towns hold secrets and Devine finds himself an outsider again.
 
Devine must ingratiate himself with locals who have trusted each other their whole lives, and who distrust outsiders just as much. Dak, Jenny’s brother, who’s working to revitalize the town. Earl, the retired lobsterman who found Jenny’s body. And Alex, Jenny’s sister with a dark past of her own. As Devine gets to know the residents of Putnam, Maine, answers seem to appear and then transform into more questions. There’s a long history of secrets and those who will stop at nothing to keep them from being exposed. Leaving Devine with no idea who he can trust... and who wants him dead. 


The Edge, by David Baldacci, is the second installment in the authors 6:20 Man. Former Ranger Captain Travis Devine spent his time in the military preparing to take on any scenario, followed by his short-lived business career chasing shadows in the deepest halls of power, so his analytical mind makes him particularly well-suited for complex, high-stakes tasks. Taking down the world’s largest financial conspiracy in the previous installment proved his value, and in comparison, this case looks straightforward. Except small towns hold secrets and Devine finds himself an outsider again.

It has been six months since Travis Devine, former Army Ranger Captain, was given an ultimatum to work for the US government or face the consequences of his actions in Afghanistan. 6 months in, and it seems as though Travis as been successful. So successful, that adversaries who likely work for the company that Devine took down in Geneva, are now sending mercenaries to try and kill him. It won't be the first time, nor the last that these people try to kill Devine who has all the necessary skills to survive.

When CIA operative Jenny Silkwell is murdered in rural Maine, government officials have immediate concerns over national security. Her laptop and phone were full of state secrets that, in the wrong hands, endanger the lives of countless operatives. In need of someone who can solve the murder quickly and retrieve the missing information, the U.S. government, by way of Retired two-star General Emerson Campbell who is now Travis boss, sends Devine to Putnam, Maine to look into Jenny's murder.

So, playing the part of a special investigator for Homeland Security, Devine tries to sift through the small town politics, and a small town that is steep in mystery, and people dying mysteriously. Devine's only road to solve the mystery starts with Jenny's brother Dak Silkwell, and her sister Alexandra (Alex) Silkwell. Alex is a brilliant artist who suffered a traumatic experience 15 years ago that has left her without important memories. Dak, meanwhile, is chasing capitalism by diving into a strange market hoping to draw investors and their money to town.

Devine's job becomes much harder when he mercs arrive in town and try to kill him. To make matters worse, it seems as though what happened to Alex 15 years ago, might have lead to a serious of strange and unsolved deaths from people of one particular family. Could it be that Jenny's coming back home to Putnam was the result of her own off book investigation? Could it be that Jenny found out what really happened 15 years ago, and the person who left Alex for dead, has now added yet another body to their resume?

*Thoughts* This is one of those books where you really don't have to suspend reality in order to enjoy the book. The action from the first page was done really well. The mystery into what happened to Alex, as well as Jenny, was sussed out so that you weren't sure if the local Sheriff was involved, or a half dozen other people who could have played a part in numerous innocent people being dead. Devine also has to protect his own butt from possible moles in the organization he now works for.

Devine gets drawn to Alex and the reason is understandable. They are both trying to find peace after traumatic events. I think it is fair to say that the open hostility that Travis first faces upon arrival in Putnam is realistic. There are few people in this country who actually trust agents of the government for doing the right thing, and not burying the truth before the mystery can be solved. The book does end on a cliffhanger ending which gives hope that we get another adventure out of Travis.





Monday, November 20, 2023

#Review - A Curse for True Love by Stephanie Garber #YA #Fantasy #Romance

Series: Once Upon a Broken Heart # 3
Format: Hardcover, 400 pages
Release Date: October 24, 2023
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy / Romance

Two villains, one girl, and a deadly battle for happily ever after.

Evangeline Fox ventured to the Magnificent North in search of her happy ending, and it seems as if she has it. She’s married to a handsome prince and lives in a legendary castle. But Evangeline has no idea of the devastating price she’s paid for this fairytale. She doesn’t know what she has lost, and her husband is determined to make sure she never finds out . . . but first he must kill Jacks, the Prince of Hearts.

Blood will be shed, hearts will be stolen, and true love will be put to the test in A Curse for True Love, the breathlessly anticipated conclusion to the Once Upon A Broken Heart trilogy.
 

A Curse for True Love, by Stephanie Garber, is the third and final chapter in the authors Once Upon a Broken Heart trilogy. Key Characters: Evangeline Fox who left the Meridian Empire in search of answers to her questions and if true love was possible. Apollo, Prince of the Magnificent North who did everything he could to keep Evie from The Prince of Hearts. Jacks, the villain of the story, who has been searching for his fate love since the Caraval trilogy. 

The story begins with Evie having had her memories stolen by Apollo Acadian who blames everything on Jacks who tried to save her. The one thing that changes in this book, is that the author focuses on all three characters with separate narratives which gives the story more depth than before. For most of the story, Evie tries hard to find out what exactly happened to her. She is surrounded by people who know who she is, and what she did, and the fact that she freed people who were locked away for centuries.

Apollo is a sociopath. There I said it. For the most part, he claims that he will do whatever it takes to save her and protect her even though eventually he will have to pay the price for the magic he used to basically force her to be under his thumb. So, in order to make himself feel better, he blames Jacks for everything that happens, including heinous crimes done to an innocent family, and therefore, Jacks becomes a wanted man. Not like Jacks is going to get caught up in his machinations. 

Here in the north, there is a curse where every single fairytale is cursed. Some stories cant be written, while other stories can't leave the north. Every tale starts with actual history, but the curse twists the story until it is no longer the truth. Even though Jacks saved Evie's life in the last book, he is a villain because Apollo decides to write the story his way. If Evie can somehow find her memories and discover the truth before she is killed by people who want to see her dead, maybe she can write her own happy ending and decide who she wants that happy ending to be with. 

*Thoughts* I feel as though I am repeating myself in these reviews. Even though Evangeline is a good person, she makes the dumbest mistakes ever over and over. As Evangeline is trying to figure out her reality and to gain her memories back, Apollo comes to terms with what and who he really is. And that person is not a good person by any stretch. He is a villain who time and time again claims he is protecting Evangeline, only for something to happen where someone else ::hint hint:: once again has to save her. I am not going to nit pick over the ending. Was it maybe rushed? Could be. Was the ending what I had hoped for? Yeah, but there is still more that could have been addressed like whether Aurora can be redeemed. Lastly, I think the author could have used more chapters from Jacks perspective. He really earns his place as both a hero and a villain.

 




Friday, November 17, 2023

#Review - Ocean of Wrath by Alan McDermott #Thriller #Suspense

Series: Eva Driscoll # 6
Format: Kindle, 301 pages
Release Date: November 1, 2023
Publisher: Alan McDermott
Source: Kindle Unlimited
Genre: Thriller / Suspense

Caught up in a deadly shooting, Eva sees that the FBI are floundering in their efforts to find the killers, so she’s forced to take matters into her own hands. What looked like a lone gunman turns out to be just one of many fatal attacks, and the mastermind behind them all has something much, much bigger planned. The lives of eight thousand people are at stake, and Eva must risk everything to save them. 

 

Ocean of Wrath, by Alan McDermott, is the sixth installment in the authors Eva Driscoll series. Key Characters: Eva Driscoll, Sonny Baines, Tom Gray, and his daughter Melissa. This story begins 6 months after Eva and her crew, along with Farooq Nasar, took down the dreaded ESO who tried to control their lives like everyone else in the world. So, for 6 months, Eva aka Nolene Daniels, and Sonny aka Stuart Barnes, have been trying to pick up on some much necessary down time.

After being caught up in a deadly shooting which ended up with Sonny getting shot and badly hurt, Eva sees that the FBI are floundering in their efforts to find the killers. Eva decides to take the matters into her own hands, including using Special Agent Sandy Baker to find out who was responsible. What looked like a lone gunman turns out to be just one of many fatal attacks, and the mastermind behind them all has something much, much bigger planned.

As Eva does what she does best, lay waste to villains, she learns about a group known as Puritan Brotherhood who plans on killing thousands on innocent people while trying to prevent the country from turning on its head like what is happening right now in our streets with thugs and criminals taking over major cities like Memphis and NYC. With an inquisitive FBI agent checking out her new identity, Eva must become even more resourceful if she is going to keep from going to prison for a very long time.

She soon discovers that the Brotherhood has made plans to take over a cruise liner and sink the ship in the middle of the Atlantic. The lives of eight thousand people are at stake, including Tom Gray and his daughter, so Eva risks everything to save them. Meanwhile, Tom has been trying hard for the past 6 months to bring normality back into their lives for the sake of Melissa. 

So, he decides to use the next year to educate Melissa on the world, and its history. The first stop is taking a cruise liner from Miami, to Southampton, with a later stop in Korea. Unfortunately, Tom is once again forced to fight to protect his daughter, while Eva once again puts her life, and her future on the line for her friends. It is fair to say that one must suspend reality for a minute or two while reading these books. 

While the action is fun, and Eva is fantastic as a lead character, there are times when you have to say, nah, that can't happen unless the person belongs to the Special Forces or something similar. Eva is ex-CIA, and she has done some brilliant things to beat the villains. It is apparent that this author is not finished with this series, which is always a good thing. I would love to see Tom and his daughter get a happy ending without always looking over their shoulders to see if someone is coming after them.





Thursday, November 16, 2023

#Review - Cage of Dreams by Rebecca Schaeffer #YA #FANTASY

Series: City of Nightmares # 2
Format: Hardcover, 368 pages
Release Date: September 26, 2023
Publisher: Clarion Books
Source: Library
Genre: Young Adult / Fantasy / Contemporary

In this thrilling sequel and conclusion to the City of Nightmares duology, which has been praised as “so much fun readers will stay up all night to finish it” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review), Ness is forced to make a twisted deal with the Nightmare Phantom—only to find herself embroiled in the explosive fallout of the agreement when a botched assassination attempt unleashes chaos into the city of Newham.

Nineteen-year-old Ness used to have a vehement terror of Nightmares—people who’d been turned into their worst fears while they slept. Through two assassination attempts, an explosion, and a Faustian bargain with a dream demon, she’s finally working through those fears.

Unfortunately, Nightmares aren’t the only dangerous thing in Newham. Working at a speakeasy where gunfights are common and death is a regular occurrence, Ness is forced to reckon with all her other fears—including her fear of mortality. It’s easy to die in Newham, but it’s hard to live.

So when the Nightmare Phantom—the monster who turns people into Nightmares—shows up, asking her for another favor, she agrees, but only if he’ll turn her into a Nightmare. One of her own choosing, something bulletproof and strong and able to live without fear.

But when Ness’s attempt to fulfill the deal goes wrong, things start to spiral out of control. Now Ness is in the cross hairs of enemies old and new, and this time, she can’t run from her problems. If she wants to survive, she’s going to have to conquer the most difficult enemy of all: herself. 

Cage of Dreams, by Rebecca Schaeffer, is the second and final installment in the authors City of Nightmares duology. This is a story that takes place in a world not unlike the 1920's. Gotham meets Strange the Dreamer is the story about a cowardly girl named Ness who finds herself at the center of a criminal syndicate conspiracy, in the city of Newham, where crooked politicians and sinister cults reign and dreaming means waking up as your worst nightmare. Like the vampires and monstrous Nightmares, including a Pterodactyl, that roam Newham. 

Ness used to have a vehement terror of Nightmares—people who’d been turned into their worst fears while they slept. She watched as her sister turned into a nightmare spider and killed their father to protect her. She found herself living in small spaces to protect herself from others. Through two assassination attempts, an explosion on a boat, and a Faustian bargain with a dream demon who she set free from his cage of dreams, she’s finally working through those fears. Unfortunately, Nightmares aren’t the only dangerous thing in Newham. 

Working at a speakeasy where gunfights are common and death is a regular occurrence, Ness is forced to reckon with all her other fears—including her fear of mortality. It’s easy to die in Newham, but it’s hard to live. So when the Nightmare Phantom—the monster who turns people into Nightmares—shows up, asking her for another favor, she agrees, but only if he’ll turn her into a Nightmare. One of her own choosing, something bulletproof and strong and able to live without fear. 

But when Ness’s attempt to fulfill the deal goes wrong, things start to spiral out of control. She's targeted by the Mayor as well as the Director of the Friends of the Restful Friends. Now Ness is in the cross hairs of enemies old and new, and this time, she can’t run from her problems. If she wants to survive, she’s going to have to conquer the most difficult enemy of all: herself. This time her only friends are Cy, the boy who was made into a vampire, and Priya, the girl who loves chaos and hoped to become a member of the Nightmare Defense team before she learned how corrupt and awful they were. 

*Thoughts* I love Priya. I don't think anything scares this girl, and that include Ness who is someone who has trouble following her everywhere she goes. Ness the Mess has Cy to thank for her current living conditions. Even though it is a closet, she wouldn't have it any other way. I think Cy is under used for the most part. He is a freaking vampire who is nearly indestructible! I do love the fact that Ness kind of comes out of her shell towards the end, and makes some interesting choices about her future, and her future with Cy. The final chapter of this book is interesting in that the author could spin off Priya and give her some adventures of her own.