The Tenth Circle, the latest book in Jon Land’s Blaine McCracken series, is the definition of a page-turner in the suspense genre. We first meet McCracken in Iran, where Israel has enlisted him to pull off an impossible one-man mission in the face of a devastating nuclear threat. This intense episode becomes just a prelude to the high-octane action that Land delivers in the novel’s central story. Once back in the United States, McCracken is met with a close personal tragedy that ties into a string of violent acts of domestic terrorism across the country. His search for answers leads him to one man, the Reverend Jeremiah Rule, whose rampage of extremism has escalated with the acquisition of the White Death, a weapon that could cripple the United States dramatically. Along with his comrades – including the preternaturally lethal Native American, Johnny Wareagle, and the hilariously rendered pot-smoking Captain Seven – McCracken works to uncover the truth behind the White Death, a history that will lead him to answer two of history’s greatest mysteries: the disappearance of British settlers in the 16th century Roanoke colony, and the vanishing of a 19th century ship’s entire crew, the Mary Celeste.

The mystery at the core of The Tenth Circle is wonderfully crafted, and the narrative is superbly achieved. It’s easy to imagine the challenge of writing a suspenseful action thriller that weaves in so much detail – both historic and modern – but Land seems to balance it all with ease. The nonstop energy of the novel’s pacing and the intricacy of the story’s detail combine to create a book that seems capable of pleasing the reader on every level. A component of The Tenth Circle that I especially enjoyed was the uniqueness of Land’s characters, from McCracken at the story’s focus to the variety of supporting characters that bring the depth of the novel to life. A particular favorite and great example is Zarrin, a Palestinian pianist-cum-assassin whose legendary ease of lethal action has been matched by her battle with Parkinson’s. Amid the barrage of explosive action, Zarrin’s personal journey manages to play out in poignant interludes that create a wonderfully engaging story within the story.

While religious extremism isn’t a device that I prefer in a novel’s antagonist, Land’s portrayal of the Reverend Rule was very well done as the illustration of a man driven to instability by past crimes and the desperate search for redemption. The complexity of the character grows with every revelation of his past and present mistakes, each more disturbing than the next. Countering the very emotional villainy in Rule is the remarkable science behind the “White Death”, a true weapon of mass destruction created by the earth itself. I was fascinated by the way Land presented the deadly chemical to the reader in such an intricately detailed yet genuinely believable way. Its ties to the great historical mysteries in the story were equally impressive, revealing the depth and intensity of research that went into the novel.

Blaine McCracken himself is an admirably diverse character with a lot of heart, and patience for little more than getting to the root of the problem – with haste. His interactions with others, friends and adversaries alike, jump off the page with as much style as the richly crafted action sequences. With sharp pacing, a superbly detailed narrative, and plenty of unexpected surprises, The Tenth Circle manages to break the mold of the political thriller while still delivering all of the hallmarks that adventure-seeking readers have come to love.

Title: The Tenth Circle (Blaine McCracken #11)
Author: Jon Land
Genre: mystery, thriller
Publisher: Open Road Media
Available Formats: paperback, e-book
Release date: December 17, 2013
Provided by: Jon Land (c/o)
Buy the book: Amazon Kindle | Barnes & Noble

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Review: Rapunzel by Molly Greene

by Casee Marie on December 11, 2013 · 5 comments

in Fiction, Reviews

Cambria “Bree” Butler is reeling from a bad break-up and her lost dreams of pursuing a career as an investigative journalist, but her resilient attitude will carry her through the ups and downs of working as a freelance writer in San Francisco’s Bay Area. That is, until she shows up for an interview at the mysterious Elergene Enterprises and finds her interviewee – a young chemical engineer – dead on the floor of his office. After being marked as a suspect in the murder herself, Bree is determined to finally put her journalistic chops to the test and track down the real murderer. Joining her in the unsanctioned investigation is her college friend, sassy lawyer-turned-detective Gen Delacourt. Together, the two women will do what it takes – including evading or assisting the two handsome cops on the case – to unravel the mystery. But when Bree gets close to Elergene’s CEO, the enigmatic Taylor Vonnegon, she’ll have to find her way to the truth with a new target on her back.

I adored Molly Greene’s debut, Mark of the Loon, and I was delighted to find that her talent for crafting engaging fiction has only grown through Rapunzel. Greene is accomplished at creating escapist novels: stories that take us out of our environment and catapult us into a colorful world of mystery, romance, and cinematic detail. Her characters came to life effortlessly for me: I loved seeing Mark of the Loon’s resourceful and spunky Gen Delacourt again, and the newcomers in the story felt instantly like old friends. The narrative bounces back and forth to follow both Gen and Bree, which I particularly enjoyed. Both women are vastly different – Gen struck me as the more impulsive while Bree was decidedly more emotionally driven – but their chemistry makes them a terrific team to share the story. Greene’s heroes and heroines are heroic, and her villains are aptly villainous; but beyond that, Rapunzel boasts a mystery that leaves the reader actively engaged in rooting out who among the array of characters are trustworthy – and who aren’t. It’s the sort of fun experience in a mystery that makes us as readers feel as though we’re genuinely part of the story; the sort of experience that we never want to end.

What also impressed me was the way Greene was able to shift the atmosphere of Rapunzel from lighthearted and comedic to truly gripping suspense. There were flirty exchanges, moments of high-running family emotions, frustration-filled arguments, life and death situations, romantic heartbreaks, and the electric excitement of digging for the truth; Greene navigates it all with aplomb and delivers a story that entertains easily without giving away a single detail of its mystery. The mystery itself is a fascinating one, and it balances well with the detailed personal plights of each of the main characters; in pursuing the engineer’s murder, Bree and Gen both find out a good deal about themselves and it was interesting simply to follow along on their journey of discovery. In all, Rapunzel was a delightful read with a well-executed mystery, plenty of suspense, an uplifting friendship, a touch of romance, and a lot of heart.

Title: Rapunzel
Author: Molly Greene
Genre: mystery
Publisher: Molly Greene
Available Formats: e-book
Release date: November 28, 2013
Provided by: Molly Greene (c/o)
Buy the book: Kindle
Connect with the author: Blog | Goodreads | Facebook | Twitter | Google+

Review: Police (Harry Hole #10) by Jo Nesbø

by Casee Marie on October 15, 2013 · 0 comments

in Fiction, Reviews

With the latest in his acclaimed crime drama series, Jo Nesbø resurrects everyone’s favorite Norwegian detective, Harry Hole, after a bleak and unsettling final twist in the previous book, Phantom. Now, a serial killer is loose in Oslo and targeting police offers at the scenes of unsolved crimes. As the bodies begin to pile up, an elite and covert group of specialists are forming under the nose of Oslo’s Crime Squad to put the pieces together and catch the killer. Among them are forensics specialists Beate Lønn and Bjørn Holm, brilliant researcher Katrine Bratt, psychologist Ståle Aune — and not Harry Hole, the one detective in Oslo who has solved virtually every case that’s crossed his path. With corruption running rampant at City Hall, a vindictive rapist escaped from prison, and the shady Chief of Police Mikael Bellman exercising dominion over the force, the team will do what it takes to draw Harry back and unravel the mystery before another officer becomes a target. But after all that Harry has endured, will he be willing to risk everything once again?

Author Jo Nesbø excels with Police, the tenth installment in his Harry Hole series. Maddeningly suspenseful and smartly paced, the novel shows that both Nesbø and Hole are as strong and captivating as ever. The narrative’s speed isn’t rushed – instead it’s almost contemplative, simmering hotly as it lulls the reader into a false sense of security before jolting into an accelerated thrill-ride. The story’s unpredictability as it delivers shocking plot-twist reinforces Nesbø’s reputation as one of our greatest suspense writers, and the mind-bending revelations will leave readers in rapt appreciation of his skill. As a storyteller, Nesbø feels like a mad scientist here, brilliant in his ability to craft a mystery so deeply-rooted it becomes unrecognizable to readers, impossible to solve, all the while never losing his momentum. And despite the complexity of the story he’s created, he manages to unravel the secret with the sort of style and ease that makes for an electrifying reading experience. This is what good mysteries are all about.

I won’t offer much about Harry, because to share my thoughts on him here would be to shine the light on what happened to him after Phantom, something that requires the reader to wait fifteen chapters to finally do in Police. While his fate might be obvious, there’s a sense of getting to know a slightly different Harry here that’s exciting. I continue to enjoy his intricacies as he evolves, and it’s no wonder why he’s so thoroughly revered by fans. Though he’s got his share of scars – physically and emotionally – Harry is rigorously determined to live with them, which is perhaps one of his most admirable traits. His depth of insight and real-world attitude make him continuously likable; and I found myself smiling at Harry’s moral altitude in one particular scene, all the while being riveted in the midst of the moment’s taut suspense. All of Nesbø’s characters are brilliantly illustrated and stand out vigorously amid the moody settings, with the heroes appearing valiant while the villains are especially bleak – and yet they’re all shrouded with a sort of edginess that leaves the reader wondering if one can really be told apart from the other.

Police is a very successful addition to a series that seems to never reach its ceiling. Its twists are fiercely executed, characters intense and memorable, and its final chapters a collection of surprises that will leave the reader clambering in anticipation of another novel. Writing with élan and whip-smart tension, Nesbø is sure of his footing as he again brings to life one of the genre’s most enjoyable and complex characters.

Title: Police (Harry Hole #10)
Author: Jo Nesbø, translated by Don Bartlett
Genre: mystery
Publisher: Knopf
Available Formats: hardcover, e-book
Release date: October 15, 2013
Source: Random House (c/o)
Buy the book: Amazon | Kindle | Barnes & Noble
Connect with the author: Website | Facebook

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For Texas Ranger Caitlin Strong, life is never easy. Why should chaperoning a university tour be any different? While getting the lay of the land at Brown with college hopeful and football star Dylan, the son of her lover Cort Wesley Masters, Caitlin finds herself dodging bullets – and shooting a few of her own. Meanwhile, back in Texas, Cort Wesley comes up against an armed brigade of his own with his youngest son, Luke, in tow. While Caitlin and Cort Wesley are no strangers to a shootout – she a fifth-generation Ranger, he a former outlaw – they’re both surprised to discover that they themselves were not the target of the dual assassination attempts. Coinciding with these deadly happenings, five children have been found murdered in a small, abandoned Texas town that was ravished by death a century before. As Caitlin embroils herself in the mystery of these deaths she’ll unravel a hidden history involving her Ranger ancestors, coming face-to-face with a female terrorist descended from the very founders of the Mexican drug trade; a woman whose path toward vengeance won’t be diverted until she takes America to its knees.

The fifth in Jon Land’s series following the tenacious Caitlin Strong, Strong Rain Falling delivers a fast-paced contemporary thriller woven between threads of history in the West. Carrying all the hallmarks of its genre, the novel embarks on a refreshingly original storyline bolstered by its cast of richly imagined characters. A fierce study in female independence, Strong is unquestionably one of the most unique heroines of the mystery genre today and her fearless pursuit of justice – on her own terms – seems to leave the reader with no shortage of surprises. She never seems to succumb to the weight of the struggles her job entails, and while her gumption is undeniably a gift handed down by her Ranger ancestors, Caitlin is supported by a cast as unique and determined as she is. From reformed killer Guillermo Paz to the unpredictable Cort Wesley Masters, Caitlin’s unconventional allies are vibrantly entertaining as they endeavor down their separate paths to unravel the mystery and stop a killer made mad with vengeance.

One of my favorite elements of Strong Rain Falling was how Caitlin’s current mission tied mysteriously into a story hidden in history, when her grandfather and great-grandfather lead a brigade of selfless Rangers right into a war with the founders of Mexico’s drug trade. Seeing the two worlds intertwine was fascinating, it kept me on my toes as I tried to connect the dots, and Land’s depiction of the West in 1919 was a delight to read, rich with well-researched detail. The author also handles some difficult subject matter with a grace and respectfulness that keeps the story from becoming too heavy. With a compelling storyline and one spectacularly nail-biting finale, Land achieves a great success with this new novel. Full of heart and grit, Strong Rain Falling is a smart, electric thriller lead by an unforgettable heroine.

Title: Strong Rain Falling (Caitlin Strong #5)
Author: Jon Land
Genre: mystery
Publisher: Forge Books
Available Formats: hardcover, e-book
Release date: August 13, 2013
Source: Jon Land (c/o)
Buy the book: Amazon | Kindle | Barnes & Noble
Connect with the author: Website | Facebook | Twitter

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