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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One of Us is Lying by Karen McManus

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This is such a cool book. It’s like a modern-day Breakfast Club with a twist – a murder investigation! Five students from Bayview High go into to detention and only four students make it out. There’s Bronwyn, the brainiac who only has time to be successful, Addy, the beauty queen who prefers to be treated as a princess, Nate, the criminal who sells pills and tries to fly under the radar, and Cooper, the star baseball player who is being scouted by the pros, but isn’t quite telling the truth about his stellar performance on the field. After a strange fender-bender outside the school draws their teacher out of the room for a moment, Simon ends up dead. Simon, the social outcast who runs a gossip blog, and as such, he is known but not necessarily liked by many. The other four students, who are as different as can be, are targets in Simon’s blog post set to be released the day after his death, exposing their deepest, darkest secrets and making them all murder suspects. What looked like an accidental death due to a severe peanut allergy at first turns out to be a murder with serious planning and consequences.

As the investigation unfolds, the story pacing gets quicker and quicker, each chapter switching point-of-view between Bronwyn, Addy, Nate, and Cooper. Readers will try to figure out which of the four students is lying and who really knows what happened to Simon. This is an addictive, can’t-put-down-until-it’s-over kind of thriller which will appeal to both adults and teens. I highly recommend it. Can you figure out which one is lying?

Blood and Ink by Stephen Davies

9781580897907_34ab1First appeared in School Library Journal, July 2017.

Though both raised in the Fulani tribe, teens Ali and Kadi are like oil and water when their paths cross in the midst of political turmoil in their home of Timbuktu, Mali. Religiously strict Ali belongs to the Defenders of Faith, a branch of Al Queda. His current assignment is to take control of Timbuktu, destroying any opposition in the way. Equally strict, brave, and feisty is Kadi, a lover of music and literature and the daughter of a librarian. As a Guardian, Kadi must keep ancient manuscripts safe at all costs. While trying to flee Timbuktu with the manuscripts, Kadi ends up in mortal danger. Ali must choose where his true loyalty lies. The ending is abrupt, but hopeful, and it begs for a sequel. Modern-day Timbuktu is brought to life in this timely, fast-paced story of teens falling in love despite being at war with each other. Historically rich background and Islamic culture combine, providing two perspectives on the war in Mali. The drama unfolds in alternating points of view between well-developed characters with multicultural subject matter that is unique, but relevant to current events.  Davies’ writing is authentic, because he spent over a decade with the Fulani tribe. Both a glossary and a fact & fiction section are included to enhance reader’s understanding and provide factual background of Islamic practices. VERDICT: Readers will enjoy the well-drawn characters and fast-paced action of this diverse YA thriller with a hint of romance.

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.

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.

A Simple Favor by Darcey Bell

9780062497772_c19aeA Simple Favor will be released on March 21, 2017.

The story unfolds through the points of view of three separate unreliable narrators. One is Emily, a woman who goes missing and is presumed dead. Two is Emily’s loving, devoted, and distraught husband, Sean. The third is Stephanie, Emily’s best friend, and the mother to Emily’s son Nicky’s best friend, Miles.

Stephanie is a stay-at-home mom and blogger. Her blog is about the everyday excitement (as well as mundane day-to-day happenings) of raising a child, and it has quite a following. Stephanie’s husband was killed a few years prior in an accident, so she has been raising Miles on her own. Upon meeting Nicky’s mother, Emily, Stephanie is instantly drawn to her and soon considers them to be best friends, just like their sons. Stephanie seems jealous of Emily’s marriage and her prestigious career as a marketing manager for a well-known fashion brand. While Emily is wearing the latest fashion and turning heads, Stephanie is playing “Captain Mom.”

As friends and neighbors, Stephanie and Emily often help each other out with childcare, so Stephanie doesn’t think twice about saying “yes” and keeping Nicky as a simple favor for Emily when she has to work late one evening. However, when Emily doesn’t return, text, or call Stephanie after many days, she becomes very worried. Stephanie reaches out to Emily’s husband, a business man who is often away on trips and not too present as a Dad to Nicky. Together, they try to piece together their last conversations with Emily in the hope that they can find her alive and well. When Emily’s body turns up at a cabin in the Michigan woods a few months later, the plot thickens; and soon readers don’t know if any of the characters can be trusted. I won’t give away any more details, because I am a big believer in spoiler-free reviews. However, you won’t want to put this book down once you get started. It is fast paced with surprises and thrills around every corner.

A Simple Favor has many definite, undeniable similarities to Gone, Girl. Fans of The Girl on the Train, Gone Girl, and The Luckiest Girl Alive will not want to miss this irresistible psychological thriller from Darcey Bell.

Thank you to Harper Collins for an advanced digital review copy of this title.

 

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

iletyougoI Let You Go will be published by Penguin Group on May 3, 2016.

Oh my goodness – this book is a roller-coaster ride! This book has it all – part police procedural, mystery, love story, and family drama. There are two story lines, both starting out with a tragic hit & run accident, killing a young boy named Jacob. Jenna Gray leaves her grief from losing her son and a fear-filled life for a remote seaside cottage on the Welsh coast. Meanwhile, seasoned police inspector, Ray, teams up with younger, beautiful inspector trainee, Kate, in an attempt to find the hit & run driver and bring some closure to Jacob’s mother. Ray’s home life is just about as stressful as his work life, due to the tension with his wife, a former police officer, and problems at school with his teenage son. Kate is young, energetic, easily accessible, and a great sounding board for Ray. Will he slip up and jeopardize his future, both at work and at home?

When Part 1 ended with a major twist, I had to go back and reread the first two chapters just to figure out what was going on. It really threw me for a loop, and after that I couldn’t put the book down. Part 2 picks up quickly, with jaw-dropping scenes and unimaginable, terrifying moments, as Jenna’s story is revealed piece by heartbreaking piece. The story line truly proves that things are not always what they seem.

This book made me cry for Jenna, and also gave me chills of terror. The writing is excellent, as even the ending leaves readers wondering if what people believed happened actually did transpire. Upon finishing, I was left with an unsettling, creepy feeling that can only be quelled with a sequel. I do hope Mackintosh writes many more novels. This is her first, and it’s an amazing accomplishment. Ray’s character reminds me a bit of Michael Connolly’s famous character, Harry Bosch. Fans of the Bosch series and of psychological thrillers such as The Girl on the Train, The Luckiest Girl Alive, and The Good Girl will enjoy this book. I highly recommend it.