Forbidden

Forbidden

Forbidden by F. Stone (Suspense/Thriller)

This is a complex and fast-paced thriller with strong main characters — a female Canadian paramedic with a tragic past who suffers from severe bouts of PTSD and a devout Muslim police captain working in a Middle Eastern city where corruption makes it hard to know whom to trust. The massacre of fifteen American aid workers brings the paramedic and the captain together as reluctant allies when both become targets of a local governmental cover-up of the massacre. The arrival of an American CIA Agent bent on finding out who killed the American volunteers adds another layer of risk, as he believes the captain may have masterminded the whole thing. Despite their differences in background and outlook on life, the paramedic and the captain must work together to find the true perpetrator. Along the way they also (no surprise) find each other.

The author did a lot of research to ensure authenticity in her portrayal of the region and Islam, and her respect for her subject matter is evident. She also consulted with weapons experts, police officers, and cultural experts, and uses her own experience as a paramedic to bring authenticity to her characters’ actions. She does a good job of getting inside the heads of both a woman with heavy emotional issues and a disillusioned and unhappy man struggling with violating Sharia law while protecting that woman.

The story is set in the year 2047 — most likely to allow for creation of a new Middle Eastern entity known as the Republic of Islamic Provinces and Territories — but this is not a futuristic tale. Transportation, technology, medicine, etc. remain unchanged from 2017. Also somewhat incongruous is the fact that the paramedic is a “seer,” which pops up now and then, but has very little bearing on the story and, for me at least, compromised a character to whom I could otherwise easily relate.

My major complaint, however, is the book’s need for a good proofreader. While it did not detract from my overall enjoyment of the story, I did find many sentences that were missing articles (the, a, an) or prepositions. Punctuation was funky in places. More distracting were the occasional inappropriate or misused words, including “shoulder” where it should have said “soldier.” I had to read that one sentence more than once to make sure I wasn’t imagining it.

Normally, the issues named above would take an average story down to three stars, but I enjoyed the story itself a great deal and appreciate the author’s careful and extensive preparation to tell it.

Grandma gives Forbidden four stars. 4 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

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Everything You Want Me to Be

everything-you-want-me-to-be

Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia (Thriller)

High school senior Hattie Hoffman is the consummate actress, not only on stage but in real life. She has perfected being whoever each person in her life wants her to be – the adoring best friend content to play second fiddle, the conscientious honor-roll student every teacher loves, the compliant girlfriend of the dumber-than-dirt football jock. She knows exactly what she’s doing, and that’s what makes her such an enthralling character in this suspenseful thriller. Everything she does is carefully orchestrated, until the night she is murdered.

The setting is a small town in rural Minnesota, where farming families grow soy and cotton and everyone knows everyone else. County Sheriff Del Goodman is investigating Hattie’s death, a job complicated by the fact that her father is his fishing buddy and good friend. Peter Lund is the new English teacher at Hattie’s high school whose marriage is slowly dissolving. He reluctantly left the life he loved in Minneapolis to move to his ailing mother-in-law’s farm, and his unhappiness is driving a wedge between himself and his wife.

All three take turns narrating parts of the story. Del is a no-nonsense old-timer who doesn’t mince words; Hattie is hovering between childhood and adulthood, attempting to find her real self; and Peter is desperate for someone who appreciates and understands him. Del’s narration chronicles his investigation after the murder, while Hattie and Peter provide backstory leading up to her death, and each has a distinctive voice and perspective that works well to keep the reader engaged. The people we meet are people we recognize – flawed human beings showing honest emotions, overwhelmed by what’s happening around and to them, making understandable, if regrettable, mistakes – which makes it all the harder for the reader to be sure who the murderer really is. A well-written story with engaging characters you will care about and a finish that offers some hope for second chances.

Grandma gives Everything You Want Me to Be five stars.5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received a free ARC from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Sinful Deception

sinful-deception

Sinful Deception by M.A. Comley and Linda Prather (Deception Series Book Two) (Crime/Suspense/Thriller)

Sinful Deception brings back Alexandra Fox, the British police detective we met in Clever Deception and Tragic Deception. She continues to work for the New York City Police Department while she pursues the Escape Artist, a serial killer who tortured and murdered Alex’s sister in England and then fled to the U.S. The Escape Artist has taken a personal interest in Alex and taunts her, telling her he will punish her if she displeases him, thereby putting her friends, co-workers, and even her beloved pets in danger. Meanwhile, a number of badly mutilated dead bodies are turning up, three of them young girls, sending Alex and her partners investigating a complicated web of crime that reaches into a number of unexpected places. Little by little, however, she’s getting closer to the Escape Artist as he becomes bolder and more dangerous.

The story is told from multiple points of view, keeping the reader involved in what’s going on in the minds of all of the major characters and moving things along at a steady pace. Comley and Prather have created believable people we care about, and this book is hard to put down. The plot has many interesting twists and turns and is clever and complex without being confusing or overwhelming.

My one concern is that I believe a reader should be able to pick up any book in a series and understand what’s going on without knowledge of what happened previously. A good example of this is David Morrell’s Ruler of the Night, a book I thoroughly enjoyed without realizing it was number three in a series. With a few months and several other books intervening since I read Tragic Deception, it took me a while to remember who was who and what their relationships were, because explanations were minimal. I was quickly absorbed by the action and moved right into the story, and the characters sorted themselves out over time, but I still don’t know what Blake Morgan did previously that landed him in prison or why he and Alex seem to be mutually interested in each other but are doing nothing about it.

Grandma gives Sinful Deception four and a half stars. 4.5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews Books received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Tragic Deception

tragic-deception

Tragic Deception by M.A. Comley and Linda S. Prather (Crime/Suspense/Thriller)

I read Clever Deception, the prequel novella to the Deception series, before breakfast, then immediately moved on to Tragic Deception and finished it the same day. Alex Fox is the type of believable heroine I appreciate, a less-than-perfect woman who keeps on going in spite of the odds and her own mistakes. In this book, she has moved to the U.S. from Great Britain, where she was on the police force, and is now working in New York City. She encounters the same anti-female bias from male counterparts in the NYPD as she experienced at home in Gloucester and has alienated quite a few of them, not the least of whom is her commanding officer. He suspends her for insubordination and gives her a mandate: solve a trio of high-profile infant kidnappings within the week or don’t come back.

The collaboration of authors Linda Prather and M.A. Comley – American  and British, respectively – gives authenticity to the character as a British transplant navigating the world of urban American law enforcement. Her British-isms amuse her fellow police officers, while their use of the vernacular confuses her. I enjoyed watching both grow to understand and appreciate each other almost as much as I enjoyed the fast-paced, engrossing story.

The frightening serial killer introduced in Clever Deception, the Escape Artist, has a presence but doesn’t dominate the book. He remains significant as Alex’s motivation for moving to New York, and even plays a part in the resolution of the kidnappings, but her life also moves on and is not simply an obsession with finding him. This realistic approach gives the character even more credibility and depth. I believe this series has great promise, and I look forward to the next book.

Grandma gives Tragic Deception five stars. 5 stars

Bella Reads and Reviews received an ARC from the authors in exchange for an honest review.