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!

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Crisis Shot by Janice Cantore

imagesThank you to Tyndale House Publishers for providing me with a review copy of Crisis Shot by Janice Cantore. The first installment in The Line of Duty series, Crisis Shot, will be released on September 5, 2017 in paperback form. Having served as a Long Beach police officer herself, author Janice Cantore’s writing is authentic based upon her own past experiences in the same locale where the story is based. The characters and the plot line are unique, capturing the reader’s attention in the beginning and keeping their interest until the final pages.

The story takes place in Long Beach, California to start and then later in Oregon, where the main character, Tess O’Rourke, moves to escape the negative backlash and media portrayal of a police shooting in which she was the officer involved. Even though she did exactly as her training stipulated, a 14 year old was shot and killed, causing her to take the blame of society and suffer the consequences of the media’s one-sided view of the shooting. She wants nothing more than to stay in Long Beach and become the Chief someday, knowing her father would be proud. However, when her job is on the line, she knows she can’t afford to stay in Long Beach.

Tess is the definition of a strong female lead character. She was the commanding officer in Long Beach, and now she has just taken the job as police chief in Rogue’s Hollow. She is brave, determined, and loyal. Remembering her late father (a police officer killed in the line of duty) and his rules for her life, she is able to keep moving forward despite her grief of losing him so suddenly.

The book eludes to a possible romantic interest between Tess and handsome sheriff’s deputy Steve Logan, wish whom she teams up to solve a murder and disappearance in Rogue’s Hollow, Oregon. However, there aren’t any romantic scenes, leaving the novel very clean and suitable for younger readers who enjoy police procedural or small-town mysteries. I do hope some actual sparks will fly between Tess and Steve in future novels in the series, however, because they seem like they would make a great pair. Additionally, being in the Christian fiction genre, the language is also very clean, without the profanity that riddles most mass-market mystery/suspense/thrillers these days. Here’s proof that its very possible to write a captivating suspense novel without all the trashy language and four letter words.

My favorite part of the story was the way the residents in Rogue Hollow, especially Pastor Mac and his wife Anna, embraced Tess into their town and welcomed her, even in the midst of the first murder and disappearance in their town in a very long time. The second chance Tess was given allowed her to prove that she could handle the pressure of her new job as police chief in Rogue’s Hollow. Tess’s perseverance is an example to never give up hope, and to keep pushing forward, no matter how high the odds are stacked against you.

I would recommend this novel for fans of fiction, mystery, suspense, thrillers, and Christian fiction.

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.

Part of the Silence by Debbie Howells

41BJHcaW-KL.SX316Part of the Silence by Debbie Howells will be released for publication on 6/27/17.

Howells’s debut novel is set in present day Cornwall, in a small coastal town. Part of the Silence is an atmospheric suspense novel, with many of the major scenes in the story occurring in or around the woods. The story unfolds in alternating points of view from different main characters, as well as flashbacks from Casey,  a character who doesn’t show up in many of the present day scenes. The way Casey is introduced and weaved into the story begs the questions: “Where is Casey now?” and “What became of her?” The questions regarding Casey certainly enhances the mystery of the story.

Howell really set a high mark with rich character development in her first novel. Readers will feel like they know some of the main characters very well; Jack, Charlotte, Jen/Evie, and Casey.

Jen, now known as Evie, was brutally assaulted and left for dead in a cornfield. She has no memory of what happened, but eventually remembers her name as Evie and the name, Angel, her three-year-old daughter. However, there is no sign of Angel, as well as no evidence Evie ever had a child – no birth records, no children’s clothing or toys at the house, and no one but Evie who claims to have seen a child. Even Nick, her ex-boyfriend, thinks she has lost her mind because he doesn’t know a thing about a child. Jen/Evie was babysitting three-year-old Leah Danning 15 years prior when Leah was abducted. Is Jen imagining she had a daughter but thinking of Leah, from all those years ago? Even in her fragile state of mind, Jen/Evie knows without a doubt that she has a three-year-old daughter. But where is she? And why does it seem like she never existed?

Jack is a great detective, despite being preoccupied with grief from the loss of his fifteen-year-old son two years prior and, more recently, being left by his wife. Jack is the type of detective who doesn’t leave work at work; always on the job and observant of his surroundings.

Charlotte becomes involved with Jen/Evie when she realizes that Jen was her schoolmate long ago. She offers to help Detective Constable Abbie Rose keep an eye on Jen and serve as a friend, hoping it might spark Jen’s memory. Charlotte has a live-in, surfer boyfriend named Rick and their relationship is not too stable.

As mentioned, Casey’s character is revealed in flashbacks weaved into the story. She is the older sister of Leah Danning, who went missing fifteen years ago. Casey’s life has always been tough, beginning when she was sexually assaulted as a child. She surrounded herself with drugs, alcohol, prostitution, and bad relationships, and all the while she was jealous of people like Jen, with her easy childhood and movie-star looks.

Readers may wonder why Charlotte becomes so involved with Jen/Evie’s situation and offers to help, being a mere acquaintance from school so many years ago. Is she feeling guilty about something? Does she have something to do with three-year-old Leah’s disappearance fifteen years ago? And what about her surfer boyfriend, Rick, who comes and goes like the swell of the waves he surfs. Does he have something to hide?

Someone knows what happened to Leah and to Jen/Evie’s daughter, Angel, providing there really was a daughter who was abducted at the time of Jen/Evie’s attack. Is it Casey? Xander? Nick? Miller? Charlotte? Jack? The story allows for many possible suspects to keep readers guessing until the end.

The plot doesn’t move along as quickly as most psychological suspense novels. It wasn’t a “read in one sitting” novel for me, but it did keep my interest until the end. I was blind-sighted by the twist and turn of events in the final chapters. Fans of psychological suspense and unreliable narrators will love this story.

Many thanks to Penguin Random House for the early review copy.

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. 

 

The River at Night by Erica Ferencik

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The River at Night is one of the best suspenseful, action-packed thrillers that I’ve read in quite some time. It’s a debut novel from author Erica Ferencik, and what a brilliant first novel it is! The story pacing rolls and twists erratically, much like the dangerous river Wini, Pia, Rachel, and Sandra are rafting through the remote Maine wilderness. Ferencik’s characters are vividly portrayed, each uniquely drawn but vitally important to the story. The four women have been friends for many years, but don’t spend as much time together as they would like. Pia, the most adventuresome, fearless and usual leader of the group, plans a trip to the Allagash wilderness in a remote mountainous area of Maine, 30 miles from the closet town. The plan is to meet up with a river guide, Rory, a complete stranger they will have to trust with their lives to get them down the river safely. Despite the trepidation and worry involved with trying something new, Wini and the others are excited for a fun annual girls trip together. Wini is especially excited to have something to focus on, after losing her younger brother and the recent end to her 15 year marriage. The women have no idea what kind of adventure, danger, and thrills await them on the river and in the surrounding wilderness.

Rory is a twenty year old, ruggedly handsome playboy making money by offering guided trips down the raging river. Pia and Rory hit it off a little too well, causing some heated tension between the women. However, they must put their feelings aside, realizing that they depend on Rory for safety and survival. About a third of the way into their trip and partially down the river, an unforeseen tragedy strikes, plunging the women into  a living nightmare. Suddenly they are hopelessly lost and have nothing – no river guide, no supplies, no raft, and no map. Fortunately, they have  each other, but not for long.

As night descends around them in the cold, damp wilderness, they see a beacon of hope – a campfire on the side of the mountain within walking distance. Reinvigorated a bit, they set off toward the fire to find a very primitive camp inhabited by two people. Wini quickly realizes that this backwoods, filthy pair is not actually going to help the women back to civilization at all. Instead, they aim to make the group disappear by all means necessary. Thus begins a terrifying game of cat-and-mouse as the women flee for their lives, but also race against the clock to survive before hunger, thirst, shock, and injuries consume them.

Readers will be dumbstruck by some of the lightning-speed plot twists near the end of the story. I loved the story, even though it didn’t end on a happy note, because (small spoiler alert!) not all the women make it out of the wilderness alive. The writing is vividly real, with brutally raw, emotional scenes between the friends as they cling to each other for support and survival. I also appreciated the way the river was portrayed as a character in itself, a beautiful, but relentless force of nature.

I highly recommend this book. I read it in one evening. You won’t be able to put it down, and I know you’ll love it as much as I did.

Favorite Psychological Thrillers

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I’m sure you have heard the hype about Gone Girl by now. My personal opinion is that the book was way, WAY better than the movie. Also, I’ve read quite a lot of other psychological thrillers that I’ve loved even more than Gone Girl. It seems that whenever people describe this genre that Gone Girl is usually the example given. I think it’s time we show all these other amazing books some love! Below is a list of some of my favorite psychological thrillers (in no particular order). Many of these kept me awake at night!

Favorite Psychological Thrillers 

What are some of your favorite thrillers and/or suspenseful books? Please let me know in the comments!