#BookReview: Only Girl Alive by Holly S. Roberts

Creepy Series Starter. This one has a more rare premise than any detective story I’ve ever encountered: Set in Utah, the lead detective here was raised in the polygamous – and heretical, according to current LDS doctrine as I understand it – branch of the Church of Latter Day Saints, aka Mormons. Her squad is sent in to deal with particularly sensitive investigations primarily involving this group, and in this particular case actively involving her former family. Which is interesting enough, but then you get into the truly creepier/ seedier side of humanity generally and this particular sect specifically, and it gets truly… icky, let’s go with. There is a LOT of crazy to unpack here, and a lot of childhood trauma for our lead detective to try to handle in the process. Overall the mystery itself is solid, but this is clearly yet another in the police procedural genre where you’re coming into this for the team/ personal dynamics as much as for any given mystery, and Roberts does a great job of setting that up and setting it in motion. The *one* criticism is that our lead Detective is constantly referred to as “Detective Sergeant”, which is a British position and not an American one, at least per my own knowledge of American policing. (Which in some areas is quite extensive, but admittedly exact ranks within departments and peculiarities among States in those ranks is not one of them. It is *possible* that this rank exists in Utah and I am simply unaware of it, and it is a minor detail anyway, though one that can throw the reader out of the book when encountered.) Overall an interesting tale well told, and I’ll be looking forward to the next book in this series. Very much recommended.

This review of Only Girl Alive by Holly S. Roberts was originally written on November 24, 2022.

#BookReview: The Boys From Biloxi by John Grisham

Needs More Showing And Less Telling. This is almost “Novel Writing 101” these days, but a classic and oft repeated bit of advice for new writers is that they should *show* the actions of their characters rather than *tell* the readers about it. Here, Grisham – a normally masterful storyteller and legend in the business – somehow manages to miss that, to the detriment of the overall tale here. The tale itself, a multi-generational saga tracing two families through 60 or so years of Coastal Mississippi history, is actually quite good. I was 15% into the tale before I even realized it, and not much had happened at that point. The back quarter to third or so could *really* have been quite legendary in its own right with more showing and less telling, but even in this format it was still a compelling tale. The ending is a bit abrupt and perhaps too open-ended for some readers, but other than the abruptness I thought it actually worked reasonably well. But getting there, across nearly 500 pages that other readers have compared to investigative nonfiction rather than an legal fictional thriller, can in fact be a bit of a slog. Still, other than the “show don’t tell” aspect, there really isn’t anything here to actually say “this is particularly bad” about. Thus, only the single star reduction. Still, this really is a great tale for those who can bear with it, and for that reason it is very much recommended.

This review of The Boys From Biloxi by John Grisham was originally written on October 17, 2022.

#BookReview: Collateral Damage by John Sneeden

Explosive Spy / Revenge Thriller. When we catch up with our heroine of the series in this book, she is hiding and hurting – but still righting wrongs where she sees them, in badass and brutally effective fashion. And shortly thereafter, she gets roped into yet another mission that turns out to not be as it seems, which leads to even more action which tends to also be brutally effective at times. Yet again Sneeden does an excellent job of providing a seemingly shortish (no official page count as I type this review, but it *felt* like it was in the sub-300 page area) bit of pure escapism, this time highlighting various areas of Europe in the process. Perfect for fans of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher or J.M. LeDuc’s Sinclair O’Malley, or (sadly now late) Matthew Mather’s Delta Devlin. Very much recommended.

This review of Collateral Damage by John Sneeden was originally written on October 1, 2022.

#BookReview: A Familiar Stranger by A.R. Torre

Almost Two Semi-Tightly Coupled Novellas. This book is a strange one in that it is almost two separate novellas that are somewhat tightly coupled (with the second one using the same characters and playing off the events in the first one), but which are otherwise fairly distinct in both style and tone. In the first half of this book, it is more of a domestic suspense where we get a countdown every so often of how long is left until someone dies. Then, suddenly, a random perspective we’ve yet encountered… and this person discovers a body. This is effectively the prologue of the second novella, and from here we get more of a crime thriller where the reader is trying to figure out who the killer actually is even as various people reveal themselves to be on one side of the law or another and the two sides eventually converge with interesting and explosive results. Overall, the complete tale works, almost in a Without Remorse (the original Clancy, not the bastardized movie form) manner where you need the first half to make any real sense of the second half. An interesting tale and told using some rare mechanics. Very much recommended.

This review of A Familiar Stranger by A.R. Torre was originally written on September 19, 2022.

#BookReview: Next Of Kin by Kia Abdullah

Legal Thriller With Most Explosions Outside The Courtroom. This is a British legal thriller where the trial actually ends with about a quarter or so of the book left to go… and *then* the explosions start. By the end of the trial, you think you know what happened. And then there is the Detective, who, like in V for Vendetta, just isn’t quite satisfied with the answers he’s been given. So he continues to poke around a bit… and in the process the reader gets put through a shock and awe campaign that would wow even the Iraqis circa 2004. Truly an excellent tale very smartly told but covering topics which make a lot of us cringe at – which is one surefire sign of a tale that *needs* to be told. Truly the only potential negative mark here is for those readers who like every single plot thread tied up neatly in a nice little bow by the end of the book. This book… is more messy and “true to reality” than that. Still, partly *because* of that abrupt ending, this book is thus very much recommended.

This review of Next Of Kin by Kia Abdullah was originally written on September 15, 2022.

#BookReview: Mystic Wind by James Barretto

Strong Legal Thriller Debut. As a former District Attorney’s Office employee (I worked on their tech) and (mostly) former police accountability activist who also happens to be a former trailer park kid… I have quite a bit in common with our hero of this new series. Which may have made this particular book have a bit more impact for me – while not having these *exact* experiences, I’ve been close enough that they all rang all too true. And what experiences we have, from having (and losing) it all in order to truly find yourself (which to be clear, never really happened in my own life) to crime lords not caring about the “little people” they are destroying to cops, prosecutors, and judges – who are *supposed* to care about those very people – placing their own profits and aspirations ahead of truly serving the people and truly seeking justice. Of course, Barretto also does himself a few favors in setting the book in the early 80s, before American police – and the entire “justice” system – became as militarized as it now stands, and before activists really rose in response to such militarization. For example, data does not exist for the period in question, yet American police are known to have killed over 10,000 people within the last decade as I write this review. In setting this story (and likely series?) in such a “simpler” time, Barretto manages to be able to tell his tale(s) without having to worry about such issues. Overall truly a solid legal thriller that also provides a solid look at some areas many might prefer not to see. Very much recommended.

This review of Mystic Wind by James Barretto was originally written on September 5, 2022.

#BookReview: Emerald Dragon by David Wood

Solid And Short Maddock Adventure Perfect For Longtime Fans And People New To The Universe. Much like Golden Dragon a couple of books prior to this one, this is another short adventure – though at 120 pages, it is nearly double the length of Golden Dragon. It also has seemingly slightly fewer connections and references to other pars of the Maddock universe, though it has several connections to Golden Dragon – which is why readers should make sure they read that book first. (Seriously, buy both and you’ll likely finish both while waiting at the doctor’s office. :D) Here, we’re in Ireland and when you’re studying cryptids and ancient mysteries in Ireland… you get St. Patrick. And dragons. And lots of green stuff. And pagans. And old libraries and castles and crypts. When you’re *Maddock and Bones* virtually anywhere, you know there are going to be fun chase and hand to hand combat sequences, with a few guns going off here and there to boot and maybe some interesting mystical objects that turn out to be weapons of various forms. So pick this book up, have a couple of hours of relaxation and fun… and then go back to whatever awaits you in the “real” world, happier now that you’ve had the break. Very much recommended.

This review of Emerald Dragon by David Wood was originally written on September 2, 2022.

Featured New Release Of The Week: Twisted by James Beltz

This week we’re looking at a book that manages to combine the crime thriller and paranormal genres in ways I’ve never seen done before, giving us a killer in many ways more terrifying than even Kilgrave from the MCU’s Jessica Jones. This week we’re looking at Twisted by James Beltz.

Chilling Combination of Crime Thriller and Paranormal. For a book on the shorter end of the spectrum = roughly 220 pages or so – Beltz manages to pack quite a bit of action into this one, and along the way gives us some truly memorable sequences of various psychic abilities. The murderer is chilling and brutal, the mystery is taut, and the final battle is ultimately a refreshing blend of near slapstick humor (needed, as heavy as other elements immediately around it can get), psychic badassery normally seen only in comic books, and shocking action that not even Stephen King has managed to pull together in Carrie or Firestarter. In the end, you’ll be glad that Beltz wrote this trilogy at one time before releasing each book just a month apart – because you’re going to be wanting the next book in your hand immediately. Very much recommended.

#BookReview: Toxic Effects by Joel Shulkin

Complex Story With More Action Than Medical. I came into this book after having won an ARC of it in the Readers Coffeehouse (Facebook group) Great Big Book Giveaway Day 2022 and having not read Book 1 (Adverse Effects). Honestly, with the amount of story that happened before this book began (that gets repeatedly referenced when necessary here – in case anyone wants to avoid spoilers from that book), it seemed like this book was *much* deeper into the series than just Book 2. I honestly thought this was somewhere in the Book 3 – 5 range as I was reading it.

And while the overall story here is absolutely more action based than medical – though there is certainly a major medical mystery happening – and *is* very complex (more complex than say a typical Crichton, less complex than say a Robert Ludlum Bourne series book), it is also quite interesting and compelling. Shulkin here manages to take some scifi-ish concepts (ala, arguably most famously, Total Recall) and combine them with some more modern dissociative identity stories (ala Kerry Lonsdale’s Everything trilogy) to create an innovative mythos and rare (in my vast reading) hero and villain who each share the same condition and use it in completely different ways.

As complex as this is – and perhaps those coming from Book 1 won’t find it as complex – this is also one of the more interesting overall mythoi I’ve found in recent years, and I will absolutely be back for the next book, whenever that may come. Very much recommended.

This review of Toxic Effects by Joel Shulkin was originally written on August 25, 2022.

#BookReview: Please Join Us by Catherine McKenzie

The More You Think You See, The Easier It Will Be To Fool You. For the first time since I began reading McKenzie’s books (with 2018’s The Good Liar) at minimum, here McKenzie uses her former profession as a lawyer to craft a women’s fiction tale that almost rivals the legends of legal fiction such as John Grisham. The prologue pulls you in, the alternating timelines build the mystery, and while the pacing gets slow between the prologue and say the 3/4 mark or so, it is always with a tinge of menace right around the corner. And then that final 10-15% or so, where the title of this review *really* kicks in. Almost until the last word, McKenzie begins flipping everything you think you know around so much it begins to look like a Rubik’s cube master’s speed run. Quite an interesting tale, and very much recommended.

This review of Please Join Us by Catherine McKenzie was originally written on August 22, 2022.