Full disclosure, I was provided with an advanced copy of this book from the author however I have voluntarily chosen to write a review. All opinions are my own.
Caught in the crossfire
A child is dead. Caught in the crossfire of a shootout with a terrorist in the heart of the nation’s Capitol Homeland Security agent Sam Jameson is blamed for her death and why not; Sam also blames herself. As the head of the operation to bring the “Doberman” group down, Sam made the call to open fire, ultimately resulting in the death of a bystander. With her current position suspended pending a full investigation, Sam retreats to the safety of her home to regroup and lick her wounds but soon finds herself on the run when she discovers that her state of the art security systems have been breached. Coincidence? Sam doesn’t think so as she becomes an international fugitive trying to track down the clues to determine who is setting her up and why.
The Blowback Protocol has got the be the fastest 448 pages I have ever read. Sam Jameson is back and better than ever in this newest thriller. Set some time after the global financial crisis depicted in the author’s recent “Devolution Trilogy” it appears that the crisis has passed and the world continues as it always has. There are a few familiar names and faces that reappear from previous novels, but this does not detract from the current story. “The Blowback Protocol” is a standalone novel and can be read without the reader feeling as if they have missed out on any critical plot points. Corruption is the theme of the day as Sam discovers just how vast and far reaching the corruption can be. What appears to be just a simple operational “error” is only just a small piece in a larger web of lies, deceit and subterfuge.
Overall, “The Blowback Protocol” is an excellent fast paced thriller that, if nothing else, will have me looking at the typical career politician types in a more cynical way than I already do. If the current inhabitants of D.C. are a fraction of what are depicted by Lars Emmerich, we are all in trouble! Sam Jameson it a strong, ballsy heroine that still has a heart that can be broken. I am looking forward to whatever her next adventure may be.
Full disclosure – I was provided a copy of this book by the author however have voluntarily chosen to write a review.
A snarky little satire
“Hallow Mass” takes the fictional setting of H.P Lovecraft’s short “The Dunwich Horror” and expands on it, bringing the setting, inhabitants and history into the present. The campus of Miskatonic University, where most of the action takes place, is a caricature of what current academia has become. The campus is a politically correct morass of “safe spaces”, “underserved groups”, “microagression studies”, “diversity enforcement” and all manner of ridiculousness masquerading as enlightenment. In the midst of all of this is Mercy O’Connor, student and curator of the special collections section of the University Library’s Antiquities section. Recently the Antiquities section and its chairman have come under fire regarding the presence of an ancient book. The Necronomicon is one of many books kept under lock and key in the Special Collections section, and with good reason. Should this ancient tome fall into the wrong hands, it may be used as part of a larger ceremony to basically bring about the end of the Earth. When protests mount to give the book back to the residents of Dunwich as a gesture of tolerance and inclusion of their unorthodox cultish religion, Mercy and library security Joe B are the only people standing in their way. Mercy’s meager knowledge of formula may not be enough to keep the residents of Dunwich from sending the Earth into oblivion, but she is going to try.
As I read through Hallow Mass, the term “horror novel” didn’t really come to mind, but that could also be because I have read a great many horror stories in my time. For me, Hallow Mass was more of a dark satirical comedy with a bit of the occult thrown in. Mercy O’Connor struck me as a sort of a “Buffy the Vampire Slayer-esque” character (the movie version) in the sense that she is the reluctant hero of the story. The Party Girl turned savior of the Earth due to her family’s heritage and history with the creepy residents of Dunwich and previous horrors. This knowledge is the difference between Mercy ultimately blowing off her studies and sinking in to attempt to stop the madness from unfolding.
Overall I really enjoyed Hallow Mass and found myself laughing out loud at the antics of SLUG and other characters. The residents of Dunwich were sufficiently creepy and the final Hallow Mass ceremonies and subsequent battle was easy to imagine and left me wondering if this is the end of the threat for Mercy, or will she have to dig deep again next year to thwart another attempt to steal the Necronomicon. I, for one, will be booking my virtual stay at Ye Great Olde Inn to find out…. but I’ll take a pass on the tea.
Full disclosure – I was provided a copy of this short story by the author however I have voluntarily chosen to write an honest review.
Man versus Nature
The short story “Environmentally Friendly” by Elias Zanbaka can really be described as a snippet in time; quite possibly an excerpt from a much larger piece that has not yet been revealed. The story opens with a seemingly mad man rampaging through the streets of LA with a chainsaw and a flame thrower. As the story progresses it becomes known that the man, a military veteran by the look of him, is attempting to trigger an environmental crisis by provoking the Earth. The entire Los Angeles Police Department is after this man, the “target” as he is called however one officer wants to see the mission complete. Sargent Shaffer has an unorthodox plan to allow ‘the target’ to complete his mission however accomplishing this task may be harder than he initially thought.
Within the span of approximately 20 pages, Elias Zanbaka takes us on a wild ride through the streets of Los Angeles and a Hollywood sound stage in this action packed short. In the opening scene, the reader is inserted into the chaos in a manner that is a tad jarring. Zanbaka’s style for this story is very much in “real time” and as such the events unfold quickly and a bit chaotically. As we see “the target” locked in his epic struggle to destroy the Earth, we also get a glimpse of what caused such a violent reaction in this man. For me, that reveal and then the eventual understanding of Schaeffer’s actions made for a thought provoking twist to end the story. A good quick read and an enjoyable story.
The following is an edited and reworked review of “I Am Jack – Installment 1” that I initially posted in March 2016. This updated review also appears on Amazon and Goodreads.
The Ripper as you have never seen him
“I was Jack The Ripper “is the newest novel by horror/thriller author Michael Bray. Initially released as a test offering to members of his mailing list I have previously read the first three installments. I was very happy to this serial resurrected so to speak for Amazon. Jack, is a serialized account of the life of one of the world’s most brutal murderers, and one that will keep the reader interested.
While not a ‘factual account’ of the White Chapel Murders or the Ripper, it is a tale of fiction based on fact which allows the author more room for artistic license. Also, in the true form of the time period and subject matter being covered, this is not a series that should be read by those who are easily offended, as there are a few cringeworthy moments.
The first installment sets the groundwork of the story, where we find Jack – now using the pseudonym Edward Miller calling upon an author currently in the process of writing about the White Chapel Murders with a request to tell his story. After an initial refusal, the author agrees upon learning Miller’s true identity. Jack’s story begins at the pivot point of his life and we learn of the chain of events that turned a once happy boy into one of the most brutal serial killers of all time. These events also served as a bit of foreshadowing into the mind of the Ripper with regard to how and why he chose his victims.
I got a little bit of an “Interview with the Vampire” vibe in this opening installment but I’m fairly certain that all similarities will end there. The story told thus far was shocking and at times heart wrenching but also left me feeling for our victim turned monster. Since little to nothing is known about the actual identity of the famed serial killer, Bray provides a unique “what if” that sets the stage for the reader and provides a plausible history for Jack.
Having read Part One a second time, I still feel that his is a great start to what I know is going to be a unique look into the life of The Ripper. I am excited to see this serial play out and read all that Bray has in store in his account. I am sure that once complete, this will be a series that I will return to from time to time to binge read.
Another great Paige McKenzie Mystery
Hutchins Creek Cache is the fourth in the Paige McKenzie series of novels by Deborah Garner. The story takes place approximately three months after the close of “Three Silver Doves” and, Paige has accepted another field assignment for the Manhattan Post. This time she is bound for Hutchins Creek Colorado to explore and write a story about the history of steam trains and their impact in the area. Deciding on Hutchins Creek was partly due to its location on the Durango-Silverton train line, the towns family founding, and the cozy small town surroundings that Paige has become fond of. In the last three months, Paige and Jake have also grown closer and this locale will also serve as the perfect locale for a romantic “workcation” with her Wyoming cowboy.
Upon her arrival, she is immediately taken in by the Hutchins family in all their charm and quirkiness. After touring an old train station turned museum she befriends the daughter of the owner who spends most of her days playing in the train yard at the rear of the museum. Sam’s domain is an interesting place where vintage train cars are displayed including the famous “Morning Star” which has fallen into disrepair and needs restoration. Paige learns that there is currently a collection in process to raise the funds to bring this car back to its former glory and considers giving the cause a mention in her piece for the Post. Sam also shows Paige her most prized possession, a 1926 gold Double Eagle coin which she lovingly refers to as which she calls her treasure or her “bird”. Immediately seeing that this may be a valuable find, Paige and Jake do some research but are met with interesting reactions, both from a neighboring coin dealer and the officials at the Denver Mint. Paige of course cannot let this go and her and Jake are brought into another mystery. Together, the pair find themselves eyeball deep on a decades old mystery that turns into one wild ride for them both.
This is the first book where Paige and Jake have been together for the entire story and I must say, I am loving this duo. Their dynamic is sweet and doesn’t detract at all from this story. True to form, Garner has written a novel that is hard to pigeon hole into one specific genre, but that is what sets this series apart from any other that I have read. “Hutchins Creek Cache” has elements that remind me of an old Western, but there is also the cozy mystery feel and the slow burn romance between the main characters that leaves a hint of intrigue. At the close of the book, Paige has a choice to make – does she stay in New York or move to Jackson Hole to be with Jake. I, for one am definitely interested in seeing how the future shakes out for these two not to mention how many more mysteries await.
Full disclosure – I was provided an advanced reader’s copy of this book by the authors but have voluntarily provided a review.
Pure Detective Work
“Image in a Cracked Mirror” is a Violet Darger short story set a few months after the close of “Dead End Girl”. While this book may be read as a stand-alone from “Dead End Girl”, I would not recommend doing so basically because I feel it’s important to know what transpired in the previous novel to truly appreciate this installment. The novella catches up with Violet and Detective Loshak as they have returned to their daily lives and are still trying to recuperate from the fallout from the Doll Parts case. Loshak is heading up to do some profiling on a particularly grisly murder case in Washington State and wants Violet to accompany him. Violet tentatively accepts and learns that Loshak is looking to mentor the promising young agent an assist her in her career. Upon touring a rather grisly murder scene with multiple deaths, the duo return to the local police station to interview certain persons of interest with the hopes of catching the culprit.
“Image in a Cracked Mirror” was a nice quick catch up with the main characters in this new series. A few lingering questions were answered and the Darger/Loshak dynamic seems to be getting fleshed out more. The fact that this short is based on a real case had me googling certain details to see if I could get more information. While not successful, I did manage to find a ton of killer macaroni and cheese recipes. A very nice tie in story, that showcases the profiling prowess of both our veteran agent and his young trainee. It will be interesting to see where the duo end up when their next case comes up.
Southwestern Charm and a dash of mystery
Three Silver Doves is the third in the Paige McKenzie series of mysteries by Deborah Garner. In this installment, we catch up with Paige a few months after the close of “The Moonglow Café”. Paige has arrived at the Agua Encantada resort and spa in Tres Palomas New Mexico for a dual purpose. While she is primarily there to write a piece about the mineral springs and their health benefits, she is also planning to take a much-needed vacation. With Jake back at his ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming and reception spotty at best, Paige makes the best of her time by exploring the resort with handsome handyman Miguel. She is taken by the resort, its owners as well as the neighboring town of Tres Palomas and even purchases a few pieces of jewelry from a local artist. When a tour bus arrives at the resort and Paige notices a similar piece of jewelry on one of the elderly vacationers, she is shocked to discover that Ana’s one of a kind creations may have been recreated and resold along the highway. When the town story teller goes missing along with her ne’er do well brother, Paige realizes that the vacation may have to wait as she once again finds herself right in the middle of a mystery. Top that off with a very jealous and distant Jake and Paige has her hands full.
At times, it seemed as if “Three Silver Doves” was reading more like a Nancy Drew or a Scooby Doo Mystery with the over the top characters and too nosy for her own good Paige. Even with that being said, I have found myself drawn to this series. Yes, Paige is stubborn, extremely pig headed and will most likely get herself killed one day but she is very likeable. She has a perseverance and a chutzpah that I wish I had. It does seem that wherever she goes she finds trouble, but she also finds rich experiences with authentic people in areas of the country that she never would have touched had it not been for her job at the Manhattan newspaper. The Paige and Jake dynamic takes a definitive turn during the last half of the story. I am really enjoying watching these two characters find each other above all odds; theirs is a sweet relationship that has grown with each new installment. I have found it hard to put a “genre” on this series of books because of the author’s use of many different elements to put together these great stories but I would say after reading “Three Silver Doves” that this book could be best described as a “cozy romance”. Deborah Garner has managed to weave a heartwarming cozy mystery with a slow burn romance that will leave you smiling.
Full Disclosure – I was provided a free copy of this book by the authors but have voluntarily chosen to write a review.
A thought provoking work of speculative fiction
“A Gleam of Light” is the debut novel by the author duo T.J. and M.L. Wolf. The story follows Una Waters, a Native American woman. As a child, she along with the other passengers and crew of America West Flight 564, encountered what can only be described as a possible UFO sighting at close range while traveling with her family from Dallas to Las Vegas. Now as an adult working in Washington D.C. the event so changed her that she has never traveled by air since. When she receives a message from a childhood friend urging her to come back to the Hopi reservation where she grew up, she feels compelled to return to her home and try to help the villagers with their problem. There has been an increase in military activity around the Sacred Peaks surrounding a discovery in one of the caves. The Hopis maintain that the site should be left alone as part of their history and may contain Hopi artifacts. The military does not agree and has set up a perimeter around the peaks that they are defending with deadly force as they dig and explore for an object they are only describing as “a mysterious power source.” Una hopes she can bridge the gap between the villagers and the military to bring the conflict to an end peacefully. Obtaining proof of the site’s historical significance for the Hopis would qualify the area for protection under the law but it will not be easy. Una will need the help of many if she is to accomplish this task.
When I was first contacted by the authors, I wasn’t sure how I would feel about the story. I have read my share of fiction but have never really strayed into the realm of aliens or UFOs before. After poking around on the authors’ website, I stumbled on the trailer for the book. I didn’t even know that book trailers existed, so this was definitely a neat thing to see. Suffice it to say, the trailer grabbed my attention and I happily accepted a copy. Overall, I loved the story of the prodigal child returning home after many years, not knowing if she will be accepted or shunned. As a Hopi, she grew up there and belongs with her people on the reservation but having spent the last two decades in the “white man’s” world working in the US Capitol, she fears that she may be looked upon as not to be trusted. Carrying terrifying memories of flight 564 along with her parents’ tragic passing, Una must face more than just the military issue upon her return to her ancestral home as she realizes that she must embrace her heritage no matter what others may think.
Using the America West incident, which is a documented possible UFO encounter, as the backdrop of the novel, the authors have created an enjoyable read that is part “Indiana Jones” in places with also a bit of “Twilight Zone” tossed in for good measure. While not fast paced, A Gleam of Light moves at a pace that will keep the reader’s attention and interest. For me, this was one of those books where you cannot let your guard down and assume that things are being described just to set a scene or to tell a back story. As they story progresses, Una learns that she wasn’t the only one affected by the events of so long ago and finds comfort in this knowledge. Overall, this is a solid first novel from a pair of new authors. Being the inquisitive person I am, I found myself Googling many different places and ideas in this book which served to provide additional information that I was not aware of. For me, reading a novel that is a good story is great, but one that makes you think and maybe even learn something new while reading a work of fiction is even better. After reading “A Gleam of Light”, I am looking forward to book 2 in the Survival Trilogy – “The Dragon’s Glare”. Whether it is a continuation of Una’s story or another situation entirely, I am certain that I will not be disappointed and may even learn something new along the way.
Full disclosure – I was provided an ARC of this book by the author but voluntarily chose to write a review.
Cyber Stalking murderer
“Watching You” is the newest installment in the Detective Kerri Blasco thriller series by J.A. Schneider. Blasco is a New York City cop who has seen more than her share of bad stuff, so when she is called to the scene of yet another murder in the Big Apple, it’s business as usual. Arriving at the scene, what awaits her is the stuff of nightmare. A wealthy, well liked, socially conscious young woman has been callously murdered. Shot execution style with a single bullet to the base of her skull the team has very little to go on. With nothing taken and no prints to aid in identifying the murderer the team has only two similarly shocking clues. Pinned into her back as if she were a human bulletin board is the eerie message “WATCHING YOU” while a recently received text on the victim’s cell phone also displays this chilling text message. The investigation takes Kerri and her partner/boss Alex all over the city; from the upscale surroundings of her parent’s home, the semi renovated home/gallery of her paraplegic ex fiancée to the homeless mission where the deceased spent so much time helping those less fortunate, Kerri and Alex work tirelessly to get a break as more bodies are discovered. When the killer sets his sights on Kerri, the situation becomes dire. With time running out, the team must apprehend the culprit or his next victim may be Detective Blasco.
Having not previously read the first two books in the series, I was a little concerned that I would be at a disadvantage with previous plot quirks or character back stories. I was surprised to find that while technically the third book in the series, “Watching You” is written in such a way that it can be read as either a standalone novel or part of the larger series. The pace is fast as we jump immediately into the mind of the killer and witness the murder of Leda Winfield through his eyes and within his thoughts. As the witnesses start to come forward, clues and theories take shape, and bodies pile up, it was clear that this was not going to be an easily closed case. At the climax of the book, I caught myself almost yelling “you’ve got the wrong guy!” as the killer’s identity became more and more obvious to me. I feel also compelled to note that the characters, whether they be suspects, witnesses or members of the force were written is a way that made them believable and easy to picture. In fact, there wasn’t a character in this book that I did not believe. Some authors tend to lean toward stereotypes when writing certain characters or situations, I did not see that with Watching You.
Another item of note that really stuck out for me was Schneider’s focus on Leda’s activism and assisting at the homeless mission. The mission scenes and the welcoming atmosphere depicted put a compelling face on a problem that is far too prevalent in our world today. I love how Kerri also spends a fair amount of time at the Mission during her investigation, which reminds the reader that while often forgotten or faceless, those who are struggling in their situations are people too and often have much to contribute.
All in all, a great read and one I am sure to revisit again in the future. While “Watching You” was my first read by this author, I am sure it will not be my last.