Thursday, April 28, 2022

Life Sentence by A.K. Turner

Happy Thursday! Today I'm a stop on the Compulsive Readers tour for A.K. Turner's latest, Life Sentence. 

Cassie Raven believes her job is a calling. As a mortuary technician, it's her responsibility to offer consolation to grieving family but also to prep the dead. 

She'd always been fascinated by death. It helps that the dead speak to her as well. Which is why she occasionally gets caught up in solving mysteries too. 

This time, though, the mystery is closer to home. 

Cassie had always believed that her parents died in a tragic car accident. As it turns out, her father served over a decade in prison for beating her mother to death in a drunken rage. It was only after a stroke that her grandmother finally revealed the truth to an adult Cassie. Which causes mixed feelings, to say the least. And in all the time since her father was released, he's never contacted her. Until now. 

He's always sworn innocence. But now it's up to Cassie whether or not to listen. 

This is technically the second book to feature Cassie Raven, after Body Language. Rest assured, though, while there are some relationships and back story alluded to, it is quite easy to sink into this one as a newbie to the character and series!

Cassie is an interesting character. A former goth girl raised by her Polish grandmother, she's a bit of an underling in her job—especially now that her former boss and coworker have both left her to completely new and a bit haughty colleagues. 

Because this book deals so much with Cassie's family, it works as a bit of a standalone. She has fond memories of her parents. Especially her father. Which is why the real story behind her mother's death and her father's incarceration come as such a shock to her. But more than that, she's always wondered why her father never got in touch after serving out his sentence. And has to consider whether she really wants him to. 

And this is how the story begins!

If you're a fan of early Cornwell and Reichs, I think you'll be really excited to dive into a new forensic mystery series with such a young character still learning her way in the industry!

(A.K. Turner formerly published under the pen name Anya Lipska.)

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Desolation Canyon by P. J. Tracy

This follow up to Deep Into the Dark brings Nolan, Sam, and Remy back for another LA mystery. 

Maggie is still getting over the fact that she killed a man in the line of duty. He deserved it, but taking a life isn't something to take lightly. And when you add family drama on top of that, Maggie is definitely in need of a relaxing drink with a colleague she knows could be much more. 

Stumbling upon a body was not part of the plan!

Meanwhile, a desert run leads to Sam Easton's involvement in a truly strange case that turns out to be connected to Maggie's. 

Sam had meant to catch up with his friend Lenny after his run in Desolation Canyon, but it turns out Lenny's taken a few days off. Knowing the man is likely on his boat, Sam takes a trip out only to find signs of a struggle and a very confused Lenny. Apparently Lenny had offered shelter to a woman and her daughter on the run from the Children of the Desert, a group that offers self help retreats but sounds more like a cult. And when Sam learns the few details Lenny knows about the woman's escape, they both know her disappearance can't mean anything good. 

I am really enjoying this new series from Tracy!

This is a direct follow up to Deep Into the Dark, taking place shortly after the events in that book. 

Maggie and Sam have both come a long way in a short period of time. 

As mentioned, Maggie has been dealing with the fact that she killed a man. She's also been grieving the loss of her brother. The aftermath of recent events have meant a bit of healing in terms of her relationship with her family, so much so that her mother has even signed on for a retreat to deal with the loss. A retreat hosted by the Children of the Desert. 

Sam is making headway with therapy and has started to connect with others, making a real effort where he's previously been closed off. Which kind of lands him in hot water—again. 

Sam knows Lenny well enough to know that the man has no immediate family. So hearing that he's playing host to his daughter and granddaughter immediately alerts Sam to the fact that something is off. But it's the very clear signs of struggle on Lenny's boat that seals the deal for Sam. No way is he letting Lenny deal with this on his own, even if it means getting the attention of some really nasty people. 

Maggie's case is a complicated one. A divorced, well-to-do attorney who appears to have committed suicide. But Maggie suspects there's something more to the case. 

As with the previous outing, the book is focused on a whole cast of characters, which I've mentioned is a particular favorite element of the previous series as well. 

Desolation Canyon is another quick read with great plotting! And given how different it is from Deep Into the Dark, I really can't wait to see what comes next!

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Monday, April 25, 2022

The Broken Room by Peter Clines

Hector was minding his own business, working his way to the bottom of a bottle as per usual, when Natalie showed up. She said Tim sent her. Problem is, Tim has been dead for quite some time. And apparently he's talking to Natalie. But dead or not, Hector owes Tim.

When Natalie reveals she's been part of the Project, Hector knows he's in for trouble. Everyone in his line of business has heard of the Project but no one knows exactly what it is. That Natalie escaped at all is an insane prospect. That she was helped by a dead agent who continues to guide her, is almost more than Hector can believe. 

But when agents start tracking them, willing to do anything it takes to retrieve Natalie, Hector knows he has to help her. 

I love Peter Clines! I first discovered him with Ex-Heroes, the first in his fantastic series that pit super heroes against zombies, and I have been a die hard fan ever since. So The Broken was already on my must read list. And then one of my other favorite authors, Scott Sigler, blurbed the book calling it "The Professional meets Stranger Things..." and I was sold all over again!

And really, that is the most appropriate comp/description you can give this book!

Hector is retired. Not officially, because in his line of work officially retired basically means dead. But he lives off the grid, ready to disappear at the drop of a hat. And all he really does with his day is drink himself into oblivion. 

In spite of that, he's still very good at his job. And Natalie needs someone at their best. 

The girl is about twelve and as she reveals her story, it turns out she's been through more than any twelve year old should ever have to go through. And that was before she was recruited into the Project. 

Hector wants to protect her, but Natalie and Tim have other ideas. And as Hector and Natalie spend more time together, it quickly becomes clear to Hector that he has to help her any way he can. And that means infiltrating the Project itself. 

This book is weird and excellent! It's everything I wanted out of a new Peter Clines read and so much more! It's cinematic in scope, it's excellently plotted, and the pacing is phenomenal. And it really is The Professional meets Stranger Things!

Highly, highly, highly recommended!

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Thursday, April 21, 2022

The Chain by Adrian McKinty

Thirteen-year-old Kylie is old enough and responsible enough to walk to the bus stop by herself. Neither  she nor her mother ever considered—or prepared for—the possibility that someone might kidnap her. 

But that’s exactly what’s just happened. 

Rachel receives the call on her way to a doctor’s appointment. An appointment that promises bad news. But Rachel never makes it to the appointment because she’s learned that she and Kylie are now part of “The Chain.” 

Kylie has been kidnapped and if Rachel wants her back, she has to follow very strict instructions. She can’t call the police. She has to deal with it alone. She’s to gather the ransom and purchase bitcoin to pay. But that’s not all. After she’s paid the demanded ransom, she has to find a target and kidnap someone herself. Only when that person’s family has paid their ransom and kidnapped another, will Kylie be released. 

But once you’re part of the Chain, you’re always part of the Chain. 

So here’s a fun fact, The Chain is currently under option with Edgar Wright attached to direct. But that’s not all. His upcoming book, The Island (due out in May), has also been optioned and is being developed for Hulu!

The premise of this book is literally a parent’s nightmare. And at first, the people behind the Chain itself seem to be part of some large scheme that’s years in the making. At least that’s the impression they’ve given everyone touched by the Chain.

Rachel is contacted by the woman who kidnaps Kylie. She’s also warned twice with regards to following the instructions. She’s physically assaulted by another member of the Chain and also told to look into the murder of another family as proof of the Chain’s reach. 

There’s no denying this is an intense story, but I didn’t love it as much as I thought I would. 

My main issue was with the bad guys. I wanted more on them. We did get chapters about the start of the Chain and a few from the POV of the main baddie, but I didn’t really feel like McKinty delved into the motivation and mind of the bad guys as much as he could. It felt like he pulled the punches, so to speak. 

It was also frustrating that there was a piece in particular where they feel Rachel needs further punishing. That paired with another tidbit where Rachel is told that the Chain might, in some cases, pick a target themselves rather than leaving it to Rachel, felt like there was something more being hinted at that was never fleshed out or explored. 

All in all, this was well-executed and fun read—certainly it will make great fodder for a movie—but I felt like it could have been more. 

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

The Blood Trials by N. E. Davenport

Good morning, everyone! Today I am super excited to be part of the Random Things blog tour for N. E. Davenport's debut, The Blood Trials, book one in the Blood Gift duology!

Ikenna is used to being an outsider. Her dark skin makes her a target for racism and her family legacy means she's almost constantly being scrutinized and compared to her war hero grandfather. Then there's the blood gift she has to keep secret from everyone around her. 

After his death, Kenna decides to take a year off rather than pledge as a Praetorian. It had always been the plan to pledge immediately after graduation. She and her grandfather had trained for it all her life. But dealing with his death has left her uncertain about her future. 

That is until she learns that her grandfather's death may not have been from natural causes after all. Now, driven by a determination to hunt down his killer, Kenna has thrown herself into the Praetorian Trials. But considering who her suspects are, it means an already deadly challenge—making it into the elite Praetorian forces—are even more dangerous than ever for Kenna. 

I don't think my little description here can adequately do this book justice, but I really have to try, because I love this book and want to scream it from the rooftops!

First off, I absolutely adore the blending of science fiction and fantasy! Davenport's book has all the modern tech of sci fi and the mythology and magic of fantasy, melded perfectly into one binge-worthy tome!

And then there's the world building! Oh, man! Kenna lives in a post war world. To sum it up, there were essentially two (or three, really) factions: one that had blood magic and wanted total domination and one that wanted nothing more to do with the gods and obviously didn't want to be controlled by the Blood Emperor. (And not to overcomplicate things, but there was a third portion who kind of just didn't want to be controlled by either.) And that's a super simplistic summation of a much more complex story!

Kenna's grandfather is the war hero who overthrew the Blood Emperor, bringing peace. But it's precarious. Especially now that her grandfather is dead. 

In a society that's broken up into different "jobs" Praetorians are elite and revered soldiers. And Kenna wants to be one of them. 

Like I said, a VERY simplistic summation of the book, but hopefully you get the gist. 

The Blood Trials clocks in at almost 450 pages, but honestly, I read through more than half in one sitting (partially thanks to really nice weather—and got sunburnt as a result!). So that should tell you something about the pacing: it's literally lightning fast! Driven by a plot that's packed with action, suspense, and a little bit of steaminess as well :)

Finally, there are the characters! Kenna is fabulous! She's layered and complex. She's grieving and she's angry—for so many justifiable reasons. She's also got a strong core friend group to lean on, when she gets over herself and allows herself to. 

This is just the first book, so of course there are a lot of questions left as yet unanswered. Which means I am seriously chomping at the bit to get my hands on book two next year!

If you love strong female characters, truly amazing world building, and cross-genre page-turners, you need to read The Blood Trials!

Friday, April 15, 2022

The Night Shift by Alex Finlay

On New Year’s Eve, 1999, the town of Linden, New Jersey is rocked to its core by a brutal mass killing. Four teenage girls and one man, the night staff at the local Blockbuster Video, are attacked after closing. Only one of them survives. The killer, identified as a local teenage boy named Vince Whitaker, flees after being released due to too little evidence and has evaded capture ever since. 

It’s 2015 and although she’s a trained therapist, Ella Monroe, the sole survivor of the Blockbuster case, still carries the trauma of that event with her every day. And when she receives a call about another, eerily similar case, she knows she has to help. Because, once again, there’s a single survivor. And Ella is the only one who knows exactly what the girl is going through. 

The case is a joint investigation between local PD and the FBI. The latter involved because of the suspicion that the killer could be the same from the 1999 case. Sarah Keller is assigned that part of the case and is explicitly told not to step on the locals’ toes. But no one has seen Whitaker since 1999. And why, if he’s been gone all this time, would he return to kill again?

It’s appropriate that this book begins in a video store because this book has excellent cinematic qualities!

It’s odd to note that there’s a nostalgic aspect to reading this, but it can’t be helped in my case. I spent a lot of time in video stores in my youth. I even worked in one for a while. Stopping by Hollywood Video on my way home from working at the bookstore was a nightly event that I actually kind of miss. 

That aside, thankfully my experience was a good one. I can’t even recall any particularly nasty customers, to be totally honest. (There had to have been some, the late fees some of those folks racked up were astronomical!)

Now that’s out of the way, let’s get into the meat of the story!

Two mass killings, sixteen years apart And it quickly becomes clear that the investigation into the first case was lacking. The cops thought they had their guy. They were so certain that once they set their eyes on him, they didn’t even bother to try and figure out the why. 

So when it happens again, that’s one of the many things Keller has to figure out. Why then and why now? Why the video store? Was there a specific target? There are so many questions, in fact, that it’s clear Keller can’t limit her investigation just to finding Whitaker. 

Meanwhile, Ella finds herself quickly invested in the survivor of this latest murder. A teen orphan in foster care with aspirations of becoming a journalist. And it turns out she’s well versed in the Blockbuster case. 

The characters in particular are a big draw in this book. First there’s Keller, who I adore! A massively pregnant federal agent with a partner who is supportive and loving…you just don’t see that much in crime fiction (she reminded me a bit of Marge in Fargo). 

Then you’ve got Ella, who is understandably damaged by her experiences. But it’s not just surviving the 1999 killing. Her family has suffered more than it’s fair share of trauma.

Chris, who I didn’t mention above, is a public defender who’s become a bit jaded by his job. He, too, has carried the weight of the Blockbuster murders with him all these years—his brother was accused of the crime. Their home life was pretty awful and in the wake of the crime, he was actually put into foster care himself and adopted, which has allowed him to return to the area somewhat anonymously. As a lawyer, he’s all too aware of how thin the case was against his brother. And now he feels like he’s in a position to help him. But he’s had no contact with him since he disappeared and he can’t imagine that Vince could be responsible for another crime. 

We get POV chapters from each of these characters, but there are actually quite a few additional characters who shine throughout the novel. 

But Becky, how’s the plot? It’s great! I definitely had my suspicions about the killer and eventually I was proven right. But I wouldn’t say it was an easy guess. I think, rather, that it’s Finlay’s intention all along for the reader to put together the hints peppered throughout and figure out the who and why alongside the characters themselves. Which is definitely part of the fun!

The Night Shift is out now from Minotaur. If you enjoy fast-paced crime fiction with strong characters, this is definitely the read for you!

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Thursday, April 14, 2022

The Diamond Eye by Kate Quinn

Happy Thursday, readers! Today I'm a stop on the Random Things blog tour for Kate Quinn's latest historical novel, The Diamond Eye

Mila Pavlichenko's dream was to finish school and take up a position as a historian. She wanted to provide for her son. And she wanted to be free of her marriage. 

It was these things that prompted her to train as a sniper. 

She never expected she'd use her talents in the war. And she certainly never expected to gain recognition across the globe as one of the most successful military snipers of that era. 

But when an injury forces her away from the front lines, she finds herself in a foreign land faced with a new danger.

Kate Quinn has a knack for pulling together stories based in the most fascinating aspects of women's history! The Diamond Eye is no exception and features a character wholly based in truth who's story is not only fascinating but inspiring as well. 

Now, this is of course fiction. But Lyudmila Mikhailovna Pavlichenko was, as mentioned, a very real person. She was known as Lady Death because of her prowess with a sniper rifle. And she did make friends with Eleanor Roosevelt and tour the United States and beyond after the war. 

She was also a young, single mother and a historian. 

And I know I'm not the only person who'd never heard of her before reading The Diamond Eye!

And obviously there's some creative license taken with the story. No one can know the inner exact inner workings of Mila's mind through the war and beyond. And both her thoughts as well as those of Eleanor Roosevelt do take center stage throughout the story. 

That knowledge aside, The Diamond Eye reads as convincingly authentic—something I think every historical fiction storyteller strives for and something that Quinn truly excels at. What's more, the pacing is excellent and all of those insights into Mila's thoughts and motivations make her a character not only easy to sympathize with but one whose story you genuinely want to read!

The Diamond Eye is another example of Quinn's fabulous talent as an author and is a must read for anyone interested in women's history, strong female characters, or simply an enthralling story!