Crucible by James Rollins

y648The latest title in the fast-paced adventure/thriller Sigma Force series, Crucible, will be available from William Morrow on January 22, 2019.

Well-known skilled Sigma operatives Monk, Gray, Kowalski, Painter, Seichan, Kat, and Lisa are back for another action-packed race against time. The subject matter of artificial intelligence (AI) is both timely and terrifying to readers. Rollins highlights some of the amazing abilities of human-like AI, while also warning of the uncertainty in unleashing such an uber-intelligent entity into the world. As with all of his Sigma Force series, Rollins weaves the latest in scientific and technological advances into the story. He includes a very helpful and interesting “check the facts” section at the end, in which readers discover in annotated detail that most of the technological, scientific, and medical situations which seem impossible and far-fetched in the story are actually in fact NOT fiction. Perhaps because Rollins expertly shows that AI could be all too real in the near future, Crucible is truly captivating and thrilling.

Crucible is an engrossing read, written through multiple narrators, alternating chapters between different groups of Sigma members. I won’t give away too much of the plot, because what would be the fun in that?! No spoilers here, folks! The story starts on Christmas eve with a very pregnant Seichan home with Kat and her two young daughters, while their men are out having a drink celebrating Gray’s soon-to-be fatherhood. Upon arrival home they find the Gray’s home ransacked, Seichan, Penny, and Harriet missing, and an unresponsive Kat on the floor, unable to offer any clues as to what happened or who took their family.

Meanwhile, across the continent in Portugal at the University of Coimbra, a modern day group of witches called Bruxas is meeting to view a cutting-edge form of AI known as Xenese, created by brilliant young programmer and scholarship student of Bruxas, Mara. As Mara watches unnoticed from the webcam thousands of miles away, nine robed assailants brutally murder the five women, and the only clue caught on camera is a fifteenth century book known as The Hammer of Witches, with historical ties to witchcraft trials during the Spanish Inquisition. Now it’s up to Painter and his team to connect the mysterious, tragic incidents, with two main goals in mind. First, they must track down Xenese before it gets into the hands of those who wish to use AI for destruction and evil. But, most importantly to best friends Monk and Gray, they must find Seichan and Monk’s daughters before it’s too late. A pulse-pounding race against the clock ensues.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, even though much of the time I felt ignorant of the high tech programming and medical breakthroughs being carried out. It really is amazing how much research Rollins would have had to undergo for this novel. It is packed with science, historical details, and action. What more could a reader ask for? Oh…romance! There’s a bit of that in there as well, but not too much. Who has time for romance when the fate of the world is at stake, you know?! I’m a sucker for romance, but I have always been an extremely loyal fan of James Rollins and, as such, I trust that each new volume in the Sigma Force series will not disappoint. I hope you enjoy it as well!

My Name is Venus Black by Heather Lloyd

9780399592188_1bf94Originally published in Library Journal, February 2018.

Readers meet Venus Black, age 13, in 1980 Washington state, as she is locked up in juvenile detention after a horrific event involving her stepfather Raymond. Her father died when she was 5, and soon after Inez, her self-absorbed mother, married Ray. The only positive aspect of their union is her developmentally disabled step-brother Leo, whom Venus loves fiercely. Later details emerge that Venus shot Ray who had been peeping into her bedroom for years. Inez refused to help, forcing Venus to ensure Leo’s and her own safety from Ray the only way she could. Leo is then kidnapped by Ray’s estranged brother, Tinker, who feels he is doing Leo a favor, rescuing him from Inez and Venus. Tinker rents a room from tattoo artist, Tony, and his 11 year-old daughter Tessa. Tessa cares for and loves Leo like a brother. At age 19, Venus is released, rents a room from Mike, and begrudgingly agrees to babysit his precocious 9 year-old niece, Piper. Venus eventually adores Piper like a sister, but when Piper moves away, Venus decides to find Leo, no matter the cost to herself or Inez. In the aftermath of finding Leo, Venus and Inez find forgiveness and hope for a loving future where Leo is loved by two families. While searching for Leo, Venus meets Danny, a determined cop who loves her despite her troubled past. At the end, Venus decides to start college and write her memoir as a way to heal and move forward. VERDICT: Fans of realistic fiction will enjoy Lloyd’s fast-paced, debut novel for the unique characters, captivating story-line, and beautiful tribute to the healing power of love.

Here and Gone by Haylen Beck

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Here and Gone tells the tale of a mother’s worst nightmare: someone taking her children and no one believing her. They were here with her one minute and gone the next. And now fingers of the townspeople and the law are pointing at her.

She was desperate to leave her abusive husband and set out with her 10 and 6 year old kids across the country to seek refuge with a friend.  On the way to a new beginning, free from her husband’s abuse, Audra is stopped (in what appears to be a routine traffic stop) by a sheriff in a small, old-fashioned town and everything changes in an instant. A large bag of weed which was obviously planted in her trunk, is found during the stop, so now the sheriff can take her in for questioning and press charges for possession with intent to sell. With Audra’s history of alcohol and prescription drug abuse, she doesn’t stand a chance in the eye of her accusers, even when she has been clean for two years. As she watches helplessly locked in the back of the sheriff’s car, another policewoman comes and loads her children up to take them to a “safe place.” Locked in the town jail until she can appear in court the next morning, Audra demands to know where her children are, but the only response she receives is “what children?”.

How can she ever find her children when no one in the town believes that the children were in the car with her when she was stopped by the sheriff? And it certainly doesn’t help when her terror of a husband and evil mother-in-law portray their side of the story to the media, painting a portrait of Audra as an abuser and unfit mother who has likely killed her children. Talk about an impossible situation to be in. I was blown away by the sheer terror of this story, and I could not put it down until I figured out how Audra was going to find Sean and Louise.

The story switches back and forth between the points of view of Audra, her children, and a stranger named Danny Lee. When the reader is introduced to Danny Lee, he or she may wonder what in the world he has to do with the kidnapping of Audra’s children, but Danny Lee becomes very important to the plot. You’ll see!

This book was terrifying, but so good that I read the whole thing in a few hours last night. The characters are uniquely drawn and the plot is well thought out as well. It’s like nothing I’ve ever read before, that’s for sure. Major props to Haylen Beck for a fascinating and stimulating roller-coaster novel. It’s sure to be a summer hit and I would highly recommend it for fans of suspense, thrillers, and mysteries.

Thank you to Blogging for Books for the review copy. It was wonderful!! I can’t wait for her next book to release.

Starr Fall by Kim Briggs (Book Review & Giveaway)

51rBBKqt6QLAs a thank-you to readers, author Kim Briggs, has generously donated a copy of Starr Fall to giveaway to one lucky person. To be entered in the giveaway, please leave a comment on this post by Friday, March 24th, 2017. Winner will be notified by email.

*****

Preparing to take an entrance test for the Leadership Academy, high school junior, Starr Bishop, has no idea how much her life will change in a matter of hours. Starr is a typical high school student, highly successful, heavily involved, and popular. Everyone loves her and she is athletic (a star swimmer),  beautiful, and smart – the whole package. It turns out that The Organization wants her to be their lead assassin and lead the other recruits. After completing the test, Starr is held against her will and told that she will be trained as an elite assassin. Her two best friends have been killed by the Organization, their deaths staged to look like a car accident. Thanks to her excellent swimming skills and brave determination, Starr is able to escape from the Organization. Now she is on the run from them, with virtually no information about why they chose her and what exactly they want her to do. What she does know is that they are extremely dangerous and will stop at nothing to find her. As she tries to figure out how best to hide, an unlikely guardian angel turns up to help – Christian Evergood. Christian may put up a front at school as a Goth loner, but he turns out to be a regular teenage boy who can’t resist Starr’s charm. Part Cherokee and very knowledgeable about nature, Christian is also sexy and mysterious. He has a place to hide and a plan, so he decides to protect Starr with his life, no matter the cost. What has he got to lose? Starr is a strong female character who doesn’t need anyone to save her; but when help shows up out of the blue in the form of Christian, she decides to go with the flow. And readers will be so glad she did.

The story is written in completely in Starr’s point of view. The sequel, Starr Lost, which was released in January 2017, actually switches back and forth between Starr’s and Christian’s point of view. I certainly would like to see what is going on in Christian’s mind! Briggs has done an excellent job of developing interesting, unique characters in both Starr and Christian. There is quite a bit of mystery to the story, as well. Starr, who readers later find out is actually named Jessica, has secrets regarding her grandparents, who try to kidnap her in their mansion after not having seen her for many years. There is quite a bit more romance to this story than in most suspense novels. However, I say that as a good thing! The romantic scenes are more implied than explicit, which  I appreciate. A few of the scenes are very tense, such as when the Organization first kidnaps her and when she is locked inside the mansion by her grandparents, to name a few. The ending is abrupt and clearly leads into the next part of the series. Like myself, readers will be excited to continue Starr and Christian’s love story, as well as figure out more about the Organization and how Starr will avenge her friends’ deaths.

This is a well-written series starter which teens and adults alike will enjoy. As I mentioned, the romance is not explicit and the language is pretty tame, so the book is appropriate for even younger teens and tweens.

*****

Thanks for reading, and thanks to Kim for donating a copy of Starr Fall to give away to a lucky reader!

To enter to win the book, please leave a comment on this post. Contest ends Friday, March 24th, 2017. Winner will be notified by email. 

 

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter

This book is set to be published on September 29, 2015.

I raced through this book so quickly because the story line was fast-paced even though it jumps back and forth between past and present tense. It is definitely a nail biting, up-all-night-after-reading kind of scary suspense novel. Karin Slaughter has an uncanny knack of giving the reader the chills while also making he or she want to keep reading for more chills. There were a couple of plot twists in the book that were pretty shocking, but well worth it. The violence and description of such is pretty gory, so I wouldn’t advise reading if you do not handle that kind of thing very well. I won’t give many details as to the plot or synopsis of the book, because it becomes apparent rather quickly in the first few chapters. The craziest thing about this story is that one of the sisters was married to a man for almost 20 years and knew absolutely nothing about his actual lifestyle and killer instincts. Very creepy. I’ve read all of Karin’s book so far, and this is one of my favorites, despite that fact that I was up thinking about it far after I had finished the last page. Trust me; this is way better than a scary movie or a creepy episode of Dateline!