Category Archives: Thriller & Suspense

Fiction that causes suspense (but not horror) usually concerning unresolved crimes. Includes crime fiction, whodunnits, legal thrillers, murder mystery, courtoom dramas, gangster fiction, detective stories.

Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

blackeyedTessa is the lone survivor of a serial killer. The only Susan to survive several brutal murders. She helped put the killer behind bars. Years later, as his execution date approaches, Tessa finds messages left for her. Is the wrong man behind bars?

Black-Eyed Susans
by Julia Heaberlin
Ballentine Books
June 2015

 At seventeen years old, Tessa was subjected to pain and torture, left blinded by psychosis, and survived the rampage of a serial killer.  She fought to put the pieces of her life back together, slowly but surely.  She’s even been able to heal enough to have her own daughter.

Many times over the years, Tessa was approached by an inmate’s advocate who questioned the guilt of the man sentenced for the crimes.  It’s not until his exectution approaches that Tessa also begins to question.  And she only questions based on “gifts” that are being left for her.

I really wanted to like this.  The premise seemed solid, as did the characters.  The flaw in Julia Heaberlin’s novel is really in the formatting.  I don’t mind flashbacks as a general rule.  However, every other chapter in this novel flashes back to Tessa’s past, followed by a chapter in present day.  This continues through the entire book.

After a few chapters, it gets cumbersome to wade through.  I want to be able to enjoy fiction and focus on the building suspense in thrillers.  For me, this jumping back and forth only served as a disruption, never really allowing that suspense to build.

In the end, it became so disruptive to me that I couldn’t finish the novel.   I wasn’t left like I NEEDED to find out what happened.

So I didn’t.


Robin Gwaro is the Young Adult and Women’s Literature Editor at Bookgateway.com. She currently spends her days wrangling her 8 year old science nerd and 7 month old busy body.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Firewall by DiAnn Mills

firewallCan Agent Grayson and Taryn Young put aside their differences and work together to save thousands of American lives?

Firewall
DiAnn Mills
Tyndale House
2014

Taryn Young, a software developer, is on her way to her dream honeymoon when a bomb destroys the airport terminal, killing dozens. Injured, she wakes up at the hospital. After learning that she and her husband are prime suspects, she decides to takes matters into her own hands and clear their name. Agent Grayson Halls wants to find those responsible for the attack at all means, but upon looking at the beautiful women suspected of the attack he can’t seem to believe she is responsible. Then watching her confusion and bewilderment of her learning that her husband isn’t who he said he was, confirms it more. Is she innocent or just pretending? What exactly are the bombers after? How does she fit in? These are the questions that the FBI and Agent Grayson are scrambling to answer. But when her life and thousands of American lives are put on the line, will they put their differences aside and work together to unravel the plot and work out their growing attraction?

This was a mystery thriller impossible to put down. The story is filled with suspense, mystery, acts of valor, surprising betrayals, forgiveness, and courage, sprinkled with a little romance. The book moves fast and has plenty of twists and turns. This book will keep you drawn from beginning to end. If you like a good thriller this is the book for you.


Myra Ovalle is your average typical girl. She loves to read. Her favorite types of books are historical fiction, biblical fiction and action adventure fiction. She would love to share her love of books and all the wonderful books she have read with you. Check out her new blog: From a Book Worm To You

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Wabanaki Blues by Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel

wabanaki-blues-coverMona Lisa LaPierre’s parents give her little notice that she’ll be spending the summer after graduation  in a remote cabin with her curmudgeonly grandfather.    Mona must learn who she is in the face of family secrets and her dual Native American heritage.

Wabanaki Blues
by Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel
The Poisoned Pencil
June 2015

When Mona’s parents announce they’ll be heading to Russia to study bears, Mona is shocked to learn she’ll be spending the time with her granfather in remote New England woods.  She is forced to miss graduation and the chance to get her crush, Beetle, to notice her before they part.

Mona, the child of both Mohegan and Abenaki tribes, has a passion for blues.  This passion and the voice of her grandmother Bilki keep her grounded as she goes on a journey to learn the truth about a young woman’s disappearance and in reality, about herself.

Zobel, being Native American herself, really paid tribute to her heritage.  Instead of watering down Native traditions and stories, they took forefront in this novel.  Zobel shares her traditions and writes them with such reverence and respect.

I REALLY wanted to like this book.  Unfortunately, too many story lines and crossing details made it hard to keep the different parts of the story straight.  It’s a genuine coming of age story told in an uncoventional way, which I appreciate.  It just became very complex in a way that wasn’t able to keep me engaged.  Complex in the name of suspense is fantastic.  This just fell short of that for me.


Robin Gwaro is the Young Adult and Women’s Literature Editor at Bookgateway.com. She currently spends her days wrangling her 8 year old science nerd and 5 month old busy body.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

 

I Am Princess X by Priest

PrincessXForced by circumstances to sit out together during PE, Libby and May became the best of friends. Together they created Princess X and wrote story after story together. Until tragedy strikes And Libby is taken from May’s life.

I Am Princess X
by Cherie Priest
Arthur A. Levine Books
May 2015

After the funeral, Libby’s father moved away and donates everything in their home – including all the stories and artwork for Princess X. May becomes distraught at losing both her best friend and their creation. Then May’s parents divorce and life competes its turn towards terrible.

Three years later, May is staying with her father in Seattle and comes across the most unexpected of things: a sticker featuring Princess X! And then she finds more. And a webcomic… that tells the story of of Libby’s tragedy in a completely unexpected way. Had someone found their stories and changed them or is Libby somehow so alive?

Adventure ensues as May starts looking for clues to solve the mystery of the webcomic and uncover the true story of what halogens that night to Libby.

This is an outstanding, tense book! It’s a mystery, drama and young reader novel all in one and the best part is that no fluffy romance muddling up the core story. No love triangles.

NOTE FOR SOME PARENTS: The only complaints I had were in just a few small parts that as an adult I don’t mind but since this is a book for young readers (middle to high school) they probably could have been avoided. First the only mention of religion is when May and Libby come across an “angry white man” shouting about how sinners go to hell. That’s an overplayed negative bias that had no part in the story. Second, there are a couple throw away sentences about “marriage equality” that play no part in the story. Again, political bias displayed for no reason. Every family in the book is divorced. Every family. Divorce happens but not at a rate of 100%. Finally, one of the latter main characters is gay. Since none of the characters hook up, sexual preference isn’t explained for any other characters and romance plays no part in the story this is irrelevant. One has to wonder why they are included.

I’m not suggesting that there can’t be hateful religious characters, gay people, divorce or political issues in books. But almost all of these are not necessary to the story and story pop up out of no where and don’t go anywhere. For children I’d prefer we stay away from these topics if we can.

A great story that’s very well written with only a few small decisions that some parents may object to.


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die by Marnie Riches

girlwhowouldntdie

The University of Amsterdam is sent into a panic after a series of murders and explosions. Georgina McKenzie is invited to help keep an eye out for anything suspicious that happens on campus.  What she doesn’t realize is that someone is also keeping an eye on her.

The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die
by Marnie Riches
Harper Collins, Maze
April 2015

When Georgina, or George as she’s known to her friends,  finds herself in the middle of what’s assumed to be a religiously driven terror plot, she ends up getting more than she bargained for.  Friends and classmates begin to die with no understood connection.

George goes beyond her initial “eyes peeled” request and begins to dig further into what is going on.  As a result, the main inspector on the case comes to her for recommendations.  As she gets deeper and deeper into the case, George finds herself more in the center of the investigation that she ever thought she’d be.

This novel is AMAZING!  This is the first of Riches’ work that I’ve read, and I would quickly grab another!  What seems to start out as a simple crime store with religious motivation quickly becomes so much more.  Riches throws a plot twist into the novel that is completely unexpected, yet perfectly executed in this fast-paced, exciting novel.

While some of the loose ends were tied up, Riches left just enough open for George’s return to another novel coming in August of this year, and I can’t wait to read it!

 


Robin Gwaro is the Young Adult and Women’s Literature Editor at Bookgateway.com. She currently spends her days wrangling her 8 year old science nerd and 5 month old busy body.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

 

Eeny Meeny by Arlidge

arlidge

What would you do if you had to make a choice?  If you were imprisoned with no food, no water, someone you know, and a gun?  Two go in, but only one can come out.   How do you choose?

Eeny Meeny
by M. J. Alridge
Penguin Group
June 2015

Helen Grace is a respected, hard-working Detective Inspector.   She has been charged with leading the investigation into a heinous serial killer who forces victims to make a choice between his/her own life or the life of his/her fellow captive.  Initially, Grace doesn’t believe the stories the victims are telling, until the capture repeats itself several more times.

Grace must follow a sadistic mind, battling her own demons as she goes.  She is forced to confront the limitations of her present and the horrors of her past as she races to stop the orchestrator of these horrible crimes.

Based on the background, I was really hoping to like this novel.  I am a fan of a crime stories, so I was really excited to get into this one.  As the story started, it seemed pretty promising.  There’s the central crime, as well as some office intrigue that leaves many of the inspectors and officers distrustful.

Even with that, as the story progressed, it was less and less what I thought it would be.  Sometimes, this is a good thing.  In the case of Eeny Meeny, it wasn’t.   There were many moments where the change in point of view was jarring.   While I think the intention was to keep the character shrouded in mystery, the transitions weren’t smooth.

Also, I completely recognize this is the first in what will be a series of novels featuring Helen Grace.  That being said, as a reader I needed more of her background to be unfolded earlier in the story for the ending to not be so jarring.  It felt completely out of left field, again not in a good way.

So overall, I’m not sure I’d be interested enough in this series or Helen Grace as a character to read additional entries into this series.  She needed more to humanize her and make her likeable to the reader.  That didn’t really happen for me.

 


Robin Gwaro is the Young Adult and Women’s Literature Editor at Bookgateway.com.  She currently spends her days wrangling her 8 year old science nerd and 5 month old busy body.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

 

Hard Carbon by David M. Salkin

hardcarbonIvan “The Butcher” Bulovski has found a way to manufacture diamonds to use in a super computer that is so advanced it can be used to unsettle world markets, destroy economies or execute the largest bank heist in history – double digit billions stolen and untraceable. Can the FBI or the world stop him?

Hard Carbon
By David M. Salkin
Post Hill
September 2014

There are actually three stories here that are fairly unconnected: the FBI’s pursuit of the fake diamonds in the United States, the Butcher’s chase after technological supremacy (and unlimited wealth) and finally Max’s flight from the Butcher to freedom. All three happen simultaneously and all three feature the Butcher but they don’t overlap. And because they don’t tie together in the end I’m left with the impression that these are actually different stories. Unfortunately, the different stories don’t hold up well on their own or together.

[SPOILERS] For instance, the FBI agents, Still, Walker and Hollohan, never encounter the Butcher or even more than a couple mafia thugs. A non-FBI task force takes down a single cell while they watch and then when the Butcher is caught – I called SPOILERS – he is sent to Guantanamo Bay where he is held by the CIA and military. Basically, the FBI agents have a very small role in the story where they serve as a plot device to explain the diamonds to the reader. In that case, it is acceptable that they are not very well developed – they are military-jargon speaking macho-men who mostly speak in cliché. And they don’t come across as heroes when they ignore the law by not giving arrested men their Miranda rights, access to lawyers, and use techniques like you’d expect in a country less developed and less moral than the United States. Walker says, for instance, “Let’s get something straight. This isn’t a Hollywood movie and you won’t be under the protections of the US constitution where we take you… What is going to happen is that you are going to answer a very long list of questions, and then maybe we can discuss how you can survive afterward… You know, a—hole, before 9/11, we might have had to get you [a lawyer.] But the public is pretty fed up with illegal alien scumbags that come here to cause damage to this country… that’s right a—hole. You’re going to Cuba” (p146). On the next page Walker admits that what he is doing is illegal. All this setting aside of laws and morals to, what, find a fake diamond selling ring? The dialogue by the FBI agents and their actions are over the top and I never found myself rooting for them.

[STILL SPOILERS] Ditto the bank heist plot by the Butcher and his computer scientists. I looked it up and diamonds can be used in computers to speed up processing. So that part is fascinating. The use of scientists and the diamond material by the mafia boss to make a ton of money makes a ton of sense as well and the potential to use the new super computer to cause global cataclysm was intriguing but the Butcher never goes there. All he wants is money. The guy who has more money and unchallenged power than anyone in Russia wants only money and retirement. Huh? But why would he take a few billion dollars after a single heist, kill everyone, then move out of his safe zone to an island off the coast of America? Did it not cross his mind that the CIA or any other government agency for almost any Western country (or even Russia) would immediately take an interest in an international terrorist who happens to be on a boat with minimal defenses? It was a death sentence at best as soon as he left his country. It didn’t make sense to me.

[STILL MORE SPOILERS] Max’s story was the most intriguing but also serves to highlight how many of the characters in the book are caricatures. When Max starts running from the Butcher we start cheering for him. It’s easy to ignore the fact that he is a crook who was working for the mob and a murderer like the Butcher and focus on him as the little guy trying to escape. His capture seems inevitable when the Butcher sends his best man plus his two best bodyguards on the chase. I can’t stress enough how unsatisfying it was to see the ex-special forces thugs get gunned down by a single shot from a shotgun by a factory worker in the middle of the night. Why would they all be lined up at the door while breaching? Why wouldn’t they have taken out the guys in the room quickly (like we’d expect from Special Forces guys?) An ancient shotgun from across the room aimed at the door and fired once and all three are basically dead. End of tension. Everything after that is superfluous. We know no one is chasing Max even if he doesn’t. Even rooting for him seems a shallow victory as we know all along that he’s going to make a ton of money off his fake diamond – again, setting aside the fact that he is also a thief – and live happily ever after. But we are given no reason to care after that. [END SPOILERS]

I was a huge fan of Salkin’s Deep Black Sea. The writing was tight and the setting and plot created tension and made for a fun survival horror story. I read in the author’s note that this was the book that Salkin wrote first and then came back to after publishing seven others. I hate to provide negative feedback on what is surely a labor of love but it is my opinion after comparing the two most recently published novels that Salkin is a much better writer now than he was when he started this one. There are a bunch of plot holes, the story doesn’t seem to go together, and the characters aren’t well fleshed out.

I’m sorry but this one is a pass for me.


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Personal by Lee Child

Don’t hate but this was my first Jack Reacher novel. Hey, 10,000 books get published a week I read somewhere! Whatever the cause, it was definitely a mistake.

Personal
A Jack Reacher Novel
by Lee Child
Delacorte Press / Random House Audio
September 2014

After a sniper attempts to assassinate a high profile leader in Europe, Reacher is called upon by the U.S. government to track down the sniper before an upcoming meeting of European and American leaders in London. One of the possible snipers is someone Reacher put in jail years ago and who is recently out of jail and may carry a grudge.

Paired with a young CIA teammate, Reacher’s quest takes him first to Paris, then all over London and puts him directly in the crosshairs of two large gangs. Fighting through thug after thug, Reacher has to get to the sniper in time and all the while needs to find out who exactly is behind all of this. Twists and turns that make sense in the end but surprise as they come.

Child’s character and this story is outstanding. Far and away more enjoyable than most “big name” series I’ve read over the last decade. I’m definitely a fan from this point on and the great news is that I’ve got a bunch of old books to catch up on!

A note about the audio version: Dick Hill is outstanding. Gravelly, breathless and slightly musical in his approach to the story. Every sentance brought a pacing that made the story so much more enjoyable than most readers. His characters were easy to understand and differentiate. He does many of the other Reacher books as well lending a permanent, tough cop voice (in contrast with the Tom Cruise movie).


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Deep Black Sea by David M. Salkin

A team of scientists and sailors plan on living in a 5 story sphere on the bottom of the ocean, at 20,000 feet, next to an underwater volcano, for a year with no way to be contacted by the outside world and where rising to the surface could take days. What could go wrong?

Deep Black Sea
by David M. Salkin
Permuted Press
June 2014

In 2020, a new president is voted in office who believes that instead of focusing on different planets, like Mars, we should focus on the planet we still haven’t fully explored: ours, in the deepest oceans. So he pulls funding from Mars missions and fully funds an ultra-deep water sea lab that is meant to stay under water at over 20,000 feet for a year. He staffs it with the best and brightest from the Navy, NASA, and NOAA. These seven people – a skipper, a ship doctor, a mechanic/ sub specialist, a former top sonar man/ scientist, and three dedicated scientists – were trained and prepared far in advance and selected for their abilities and skills. The problem is that not everyone has the same agenda.

The NASA scientist Ted Bell, upset at being scrapped from the Mars mission determines that this trip is the perfect opportunity for him to do some human experimentation with exposure to a bacteria that lives in the most inhospitable place on the earth, with no oxygen, no food, and a toxic environment like none other – except for deep space. When he purposefully changes the landing site then introduced the dangerous bacteria to a crew member things quickly go downhill.

This book’s set up reminded me quite a bit of many films and books of similar setup: scientists mess with something that maybe they weren’t prepared for leaving the crew in a life or death situation where we know that many if not most won’t make it out alive. Think: the film Deep Blue Sea (1999), Jurassic Park (1990 book, 1993 film), and so on. This is not to say that this is derivative. But this is a tried and true formula to set up character dramas, thrills, and ultimately chills. It can be done really, really poorly or really, really well. Salkin fits firmly into the second category. This is a very taunt, fun read and very well done thriller.

Unlike most horror-thrillers, Salkin’s characters are interesting and their thought process and decision making makes sense and is credible. No “hey, let’s hide in the shed with all the hanging knifes” moments. Characters like Theresa go back and forth between Ted’s view and the other scientist’s views as she struggles between scientific discovery and her abhorrence to Ted’s methods. The main example of over characterizations would be in the relationship between two characters who seem to want to have sex in nearly every scene, and sometimes at both the start and end of scenes, once they start hooking up (no spoilers).

In my opinion, this book is perfectly set up for being made for a movie. It has everything that other survival horror movies has but it’s in a situation that hasn’t been done often or for a while. There have been some movies set at these depths but not many. And the pace of this book is very similar to that of a movie. I read most of it in a single night – not wanting to put it down. Very cinematic.

If you enjoy science driven horror/ thrillers, or survival horror stories this is a very well done book that I believe won’t disappoint.


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Persecuted by Parrish

Yet another movie pandering to Christians?! Not exactly.

Persecuted
by Robin Parrish
Bethany House
July 2014

John Luther is a mega-minister – millions of viewers and a global reach. Similar in reach to say a Joel Osteen or Rick Warren or Jerry Fallwell. None of these are exactly right for the character as Luther actually preaches the Bible, is way too politically divisive for Warren, and isn’t as fire-and-brimstone as Fallwell. But you get the gist.

There is a bill in Congress that Luther refuses to endorse because he believes it will hinder his free speech and freedom of religion. His public and strongly worded decision to decline to support the bill sets his life, ministry and the nation on a thrilling spiral ending in Luther being wanted for murder.

[SPOILERS] When Luther comes out against the bill, a powerful senator hires shady thugs to set his “friend” Luther up by drugging him and taking pictures of him with an underage girl and then killing the girl in a staged auto accident. Luther then goes on the run until he can prove his innocence. [END SPOILERS].

Once Luther goes on the run the story is similar to, and as enjoyable as, many thrillers. For me it was reminiscent of Will Smith’s Enemy of the State or Harrison Ford’s The Fugitive. You know: innocent man runs trying to prove his innocence while taking out his persecutor. When Luther goes on the run the story picks up and as far as reads or movies go it was standard, enjoyable fare. Where there unexpected and inexplicable coincidences? Sure, but it would be nit picking to say that those were exclusive to mostly tidy Christian themed stories.

Where the book and movie go wrong is in the motivation of the senator and the tenuous ties to persecution. For some reason – that we never fully understand – the senator is pushing a bill through Congress that would (and here it gets murky) somehow combine all faith traditions into a single united faith by giving equal time to each perspective. This is straight out of Left Behind’s pre-tribulational rapture theology and clearly panders to those readers who firmly believe this is coming down the prophetic pipeline and who don’t need an explanation for why. How would such a bill work? Would it even be constitutional? Would people even go for it? Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists would certainly not go for this simply because of a bill passing Congress so the believability of the main point of the story is cast in to immediate doubt. And why the senator is so invested in passing the bill isn’t fleshed out well either.

Furthermore, the claims that this “persecution” is due to Luther’s faith is also indirect. Sure the bill would, if it were enforceable, make some religious distinctives illegal. But Luther wouldn’t support a bill and was attacked for that. Not for anything specific in the Gospel. No matter the bill, this was persecution more for a lack of political support than a religious motivation. With a better understanding of the bill and the motivation behind the bill and its purpose we may see a more clear link between the Gospel and the persecution. Since we don’t have that all we really have is a TV show where Luther tells the host that he doesn’t believe in giving up his freedom of speech.

Bottom line: this is a passable thriller with plug and play Christian themes inserted for more secular choices in other books that ultimately is weakened by a tenuous connection between the faith of the believer and the persecution and also the nebulous and undefined nature of the threatening bill. Fans of Bill O’Reilly, Jay Sekulow and TBN will enjoy the film because it fits their worldview of constant persecution. Those who are looking for a good thriller or those with a less patriotic but more biblical theology may ultimately be disappointed.

Like God’s Not Dead, Persecuted may ultimately be undone by the unbelievability of the scenario and the weakness of the script rather than anything to do with Christianity. If people don’t like this film and book it will be because the story just wasn’t that good. It will not be “another example of Christianity being persecuted by the world.”


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.