Black Ice: the 66 Degree Conspiracy by Max Morgan ~ 2015

An international conspiracy to gain control over vast Arctic oil and gas resources touches close to home in Max Morgan’s riveting spy thriller Black Ice.

Author: Max Morgan
Publisher: CreateSpace 
Published: January 20, 2015
Pages: 280
ISBN13: 9781502778550
Language: English

"This book was provided by Max Morgan in exchange for my honest review alongside my proffered thank-you for asking."

5 Stars

Been a while since I sat down to a great spy novel. Just as powerful as a Tom Clancy novel, this gripping espionage novel is not one to pass up for this genre.  This read has multiple twists and turns with several national intelligence agencies teaming to uncover an international plot to secure oil resources in the Arctic. Every page, as you want to race to the next, gives you new unexpected satisfactional nods.

Magnus Ose, a senior intelligence officer with the Norwegian Police Security Service, wanted sleep. Laying there with his beautiful wife Malin, his step-daughter Lilly sound asleep in her room, safe, yet he knew something was terribly wrong when his phone went off at 0430 and read - Need to meet. Very important. It was from one of his assets, Finn Aspen.

A disturbing feeling overwhelmed his thoughts - he knew. Finn Aspen is a cool collective asset and he never jumps the gun on anything. Now Magnus wondered if Aspen had a target on his back or, worse yet, had he been uncovered as a double?

They met for lunch and Aspen looked as if he was running scared. After Magnus pulled teeth from him to find out what was going on, he reassured him that they will get to the bottom of this.

Aspen didn't get to the bottom of it. As Magnus was paying the bill for lunch, Aspen was found shortly afterward shot in the head. Clean shot. His instincts and years of training kicked in and he assessed the situation was from a sniper. Magnus spotted him and gave chase, to no avail.

Soon afterward, within 24 hours, another of Magnus' assets, Norwegian diplomat Alf Evenson was found dead in an "accidental" apartment fire and now those disturbing feelings he had earlier were in full swing. Magnus starts to uncover a huge web of double agents, countries, and spies all involved with a decade-old project called Black Ice.

Not only are his assets being murdered, but there is also a certain "hit-list" of characters that need to be silenced.

He needs to race against time, and as he races to the truth, the intensity grows through each page. I didn't think one of the characters were ... oh, I can't tell you - it'd be a spoiler.

Although, I will tell you Morgan has a couple of sub-plots that are seamed beautifully into the story with expert anticipation. Malin's brother Henrik, a tree-hugger as he is, gets arrested for protesting the off-shore drilling by the Russians. His ultimate outcome depends heavily on Malin herself.

And there is the Canadian Minister of the Arctic Council, Miranda Hobb. One of the founding members of the joint project Black Ice. Her demise? her safety? her...was she/is she a double? I tell ya, it's great! Wait till the end!

One of the many great scenes in the novel that I could picture well was from pages 136 - 138. Henrik was on the prison train being taken to where? and the scene with one of the prisoners was very colorful. It was like that throughout the novel. Very colorful scenes that you can vividly see.

Once Magnus learns that his beloved family is in harm's way - all hell will be let out of Hades.

Max Morgan's ability to shape his characters into their perspective roles was ingenious and original. Told in third person multiple POV you have the much-needed sense of how each character played out. Yet, you have no idea who the double agents that needed to be kept secret are until the time arises within the story. Outstanding.

The ending has a twist that's inauspicious, yet, hopeful - ...
For those who want a gripping, enthralling read, Black Ice: the 66 Degree Conspiracy by Max Morgan would be your compelling tale.

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Max Morgan had found Buttonholed Book Reviews on The Book Blogger List

Here's where you can get your fingers on Black Ice: the 66 Degree Conspiracy:
  • Amazon  ~  Kindle edition $8.60 Paperback $10.59 USD

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Red Carpet Ransom by W. F. Walsh ~ 2015

Could a major Hollywood star be kidnapped on Oscar night in a drug war of revenge against the United States?

Author: W. F. Walsh
Publisher: Xlibris Corporation 
Published: December 26th 2014
Publication:  January 6, 2015
Pages: 282
Language: English
Jacket design: Penguin Design Group

"This book was provided by W. F. Walsh in exchange for my honest review alongside my proffered thank-you for asking."

5 Stars

W. F. Walsh
Phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal! This artfully crafted non-stop action-packed thrill read is grounds for a Hollywood "A" Lister movie.

Second-in-Command Guillermo Medina is hosting a Christmas party in the Mexican city of Chihuahua and is awaiting the arrival of Enrique Vega the boss and patriarch of Cartel Este. A powerful cartel that surpassed even the likes of Pablo Escobar of Colombia and Arturo Beltran of Mexico.

After Vega's arrival with his own protection detail and armored car they mingled with 50 or so very select guests. Meanwhile just over twenty miles away from the drug lord's compound, a tactical team was organizing their last minute details. A joint drug task force made up of U.S. DEA, ICE, and Mexican Policía Federal Ministerial.

With two groups, one for ground and one for air, they closed in as stealthily as possible. “Raid!” was shouted by Lorenzo Diaz, Enrique Vega’s lead bodyguard. Quickly Vega is rushed into a secret hiding place.

Guillermo, his bodyguard, and Raul (the son of Enrique) knew the focus of the search was on Enrique. They knew they would only be a bonus if caught. They slipped out into the night threw a bathroom window and landed behind the Blackhawk choppers that brought in one of the teams. There were only two pilots inside. They were taken by surprise and with a quick bullet to the throat of the pilot, Guillermo ordered the copilot to “Fly!”

After years of watching Enrique for drug trafficking, money laundering, prostitution, and murder from U.S. and Mexico officials, Vega was captured after excellent descriptive writing of cinematic action while at the compound. Vega is arrested and flown to an American Naval Brig in South Carolina to await trial. Goose Creek, South Carolina, is a small town just outside the coastal city of Charleston. Known more for its southern charm and Lowcountry cuisine, most tourists have never heard of what locals call “The Creek.” Being such a high profile prisoner, the guards knew he was classified a “special handle” and “ad seg,” indicating administrative segregation, keeping him away from all other inmates. The Department of Justice tagged him Prisoner No. 212-212. To them, he was just called 212. 

Red Carpet Ransom starts off here and from there the ride continues. With not giving a "summary" of events in the book and being laconic to such a great read, I would rather let my audience know this multi-twist novel is far from being mediocre. The book is always more colorful than the movie and this one stands to reason. Get your ticket early! 

All the characters were described in Red Carpet Ransom expertly so you have a full understanding of their bio/profile.

The make-up of Red Carpet Ransom consists of 40+ characters, one in particular having a dual role that I wished had a better outcome for the reporter of stature - my favorite character - Brad Stanley, a 28 year old reporter for the L.A. Star. He kept his P's & Q's in check with his resources while coming across a scoop that will be a huge international news item. His photographer 32 year old Alonsa Belinda Alvarez was already at the scene taking shots:

"...“I’ve got a nice shot of the body with his hand sticking out from under the tarp,” she said to Brad as he took notes and looked for other possible witnesses. “It’s got a wedding ring, so that yanks at the heart strings.”
             “You’re colder than he is, Alonsa,” Brad replied using his eyes to point to the dead body now mostly under a crime scene tarp. “Beat me to the scene again too.”
             “I’m on it like a cheap suit, Brad. Just here to make your story look good,” she said with a sarcastic tone most photographers used with reporters.
             The two continued ..."

Special Agent Jake Stein of Homeland Security Investigations/ICE is engaged to be married to Claire Wilson, a Secret Service Special Agent - their world and their wedding day are both put on hold and might not even be when Cartel Este kidnaps a major Hollywood star on Oscar night to hold for ransom until Vega is returned or the actor will die.

The writing of bombings, murder, kidnapping all going on when Enrique is captured leads to the very believable scenario that drug cartels can be ran from behind prison walls. Especially when they have worked on getting the right people in the right places - including government positions. But loyalty is not always guaranteed. Even inside cartel organizations guarantees do not come with warranties. Raul and Guillermo find that out first hand. Communication is key in any organization. On both sides of the law.

I loved the mult-twist turns throughout the story and you may be surprised even to the point of being shocked when you find out some of the outcomes. Walsh's knack of not letting the reader know what is around the corner, this book compares to others in this genre of being superb. He keeps you engaged and turning pages.

One of many scenes I enjoyed was in Chapter 11 Eye For An Eye. "...It had taken seven months for the CIA to get an agent hired as a valet, but persistence paid off. The very fact that Guillermo frequented the place once a month or so gave them the luxury of time to make it work..."
Things don't go according to plan even after watching for months and you know this is the pattern. 

His writing of particulars that are known to the area where scenes take place are spot on. The geography, people, food, economics are all done with deft intelligence. Including "behind-the-scenes" knowledge of military agencies that we all depend on when justice needs take center stage.

In a consistent theme of multifaceted events that pertain to government drug wars, there are many sub-plots throughout the novel and are all tied together nicely in a third person omniscient package. Walsh demonstrated a commanded of the subject-matter.

For me the structure of the novel was created extremely well. Walsh moved seamlessly throughout describing settings, characters, time, and events in a very controlled pace with a slight rush.

The ending made perfect sense, and in that sense, was satisfying knowing this happens in the real world.

This is an excellent read. Noah Webster needs to redefine the word kudos to give this novel enough praise. Oxford too.

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Red Carpet Ransom

Here's where you can get your fingers on Red Carpet Ransom:
  • Amazon  ~  Kindle edition $3.99  Paperback $17.08  Hardcover $27.70 USD
  •  ~  E-Book $3.99  Softcover $19.99  Hardcover $29.99 USD

Phantom Instinct by Meg Gardiner ~ 2014

An injured cop and an ex-thief hunt down a killer no one else believes exists

Author: Meg Gardiner
Publisher: Dutton Books
Publication: June 26th, 2014
Pages: 368
ISBN: 9780525954316
Language: English
Jacket Design by Anthony Ramondo
Jacket Photography © Guillermo Rodriguez Carballa / Trevillion Images
Author Photography by Stuart Boreham

5 Stars

Meg Gardiner
From the Edgar Award-Winning (The Shadow Tracer) author Meg Gardiner, Phantom Instinct delivers a stand-alone page-turner putting all cop Thrill Seekers in arresting satisfaction.

Harper Flynn, bad-girl-gone-good has been turning her life around and has pretty much what any young twenty-something lady would want. Job, boyfriend, and a future looking bright.

Then it happened - one night all hell breaks loose in the crowded L.A. club Xenon where she works as a bartender - gun shots ring out and she witnesses her bartender/friend Sanita looking down at her chest, watching the blood ooze out of her. Someone throws a Molotov cocktail - the bar is quickly engulfed in flames.

She sees pandemonium erupt as quickly as the flames and if that's not enough - she watches her boyfriend, Drew Westerman, get gunned down in crossfire.

The gunman took aim at Harper and L.A. Sheriff Deputy Aiden Garrison sees it, but, before he could react a wall collapses seriously injuring him. The floor opens up, swallowing.

A year later, Aiden Garrison is fighting (from the accident) with Fregoli syndrome, a rare type of face blindness that causes the delusion that random people are actually a single person changing disguises. Harper Flynn had quit her job and went back to college. Both of them are convinced they saw three gunman, not two, but a fire destroys the evidence and their eyewitness accounts are dismissed.

Now at a memorial service at Clearview Park for Drew, Harper sees a man's silhouette standing surreptitiously aloof in the tree line. As sure as hell is, it's the same stance she saw that dreadful night. Contrary to the lack of evidence, she knows there were not only two shooters who could not escape their own chaos, but, a third gunman who did. She's positive.

Meg Gardiner has a cop no one in the police department can take his word on and a young lady who has claimed adamantly for over a year there was a third shooter. There's no evidence.

Aiden and Harper team up after a shaky start and soon understand she was purposely tracked down. The chaotic night that killed innocent people - no spoiler here - it was her they were after. 

Phantom Instinct is a fast paced mystery with nonstop cinematic action. I loved the way Meg Gardiner described some events in detail and others she left you to imagine the gruesome scene. You have to turn the pages.

Her description of scenes and events are poignant to the level of actual taste. You know how smells waft from the kitchen and actually touch your taste buds? okay, you got the picture. I caught myself totally immersed at times.

Her characters are authentic and very believable. Maybe they'll even remind you of some folks you already know. My favorite character was Harper Flynn - she had moxie permeating from her pores. A very strong heroine. Gardiner has characters you could love, some you would hope for in the worst way, and there are the ones you will have Zero love for.

Throughout the book I had felt emotions rip in all directions. In alternating third-person points of view, feelings of fear and loathing (and no this was not based in Las Vegas) to dread and suspenseful anxieties to excitement and satisfaction were alive and kicking. As a reader of Thrills & Chills, Meg Gardiner has a style of writing that should not be missed. Especially this ending - Wow, what a great plot-twist!

Here's where you can get your finger's on Phantom Instinct:
  • Amazon  ~  Kindle ~ $10.99  Hardcover ~ $18.97 USD

About the author:

Edgar-winning novelist Meg Gardiner writes thrillers. Fast-paced and full of twists, her books have been called “Hitchcockian” (USA Today) and “nailbiting and moving” (Guardian). They have been bestsellers in the U.S. and internationally and have been translated into more than 20 languages.

Into the Black Nowhere, her current title, is the second novel in the UNSUB series, featuring rookie FBI agent Caitlin Hendrix. Publishers Weekly calls it “excellent.” The Minneapolis Star Tribune calls it “thrilling and un-put-downable.” The first novel in the series, UNSUB, won the 2018 Barry Award for Best Thriller, and is in development as a television series by CBS.

The Evan Delaney novels feature a feisty journalist from Santa Barbara, California. Stephen King calls them “simply put, the finest crime-suspense series I’ve come across in the last twenty years.”
China Lake won the 2009 Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original. Later it was a finalist for NPR’s 100 Best Thrillers Ever.

The Jo Beckett series features a San Francisco forensic psychiatrist. It includes The Liar’s Lullaby, The Memory Collector, and The Dirty Secrets Club, which was chosen one of the Top Ten thrillers of 2008 by Amazon and won the Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award for Best Procedural Novel of the year. 

The Nightmare Thief, featuring both Jo Beckett and Evan Delaney, won the 2012 Audie Award for Thriller/Suspense audiobook of the year.

Meg’s stand alone novel The Shadow Tracer was named one of Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2013. Phantom Instinct was chosen one of “The Best Books of Summer” by O, the Oprah magazine.
Meg was born in Oklahoma City and raised in Santa Barbara, California. She graduated from Stanford University, where she lettered in varsity cross country and earned a B.A. in Economics. She went on to graduate from Stanford Law School.

She practiced law in Los Angeles and taught in the Writing Program at the University of California Santa Barbara. Later she moved with her husband and three young children to London, where she began writing suspense novels.

She hasn’t stopped. Writing thrillers is a job she’s immensely lucky to have.

In addition to her fourteen novels, Meg has published short stories in American and British magazines and the anthology Echoes of Sherlock Holmes. She’s contributed essays to Now, Write! Mysteries, The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook, and the Anthony Award winning Books to Die For.

Beyond writing, Meg is a three-time Jeopardy! champion and a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation. She lives in Austin, Texas.

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Shared Disbelief by J. David Core ~ 2015

A serial killer stalks Pittsburgh, re-enacting the history of human sacrifice and martyrdom, attacking religion by attacking the religious.

Author: J. David Core
Publisher: Nook Press
Published: 2015 by J. David Core
Pages: 163
Language: English
Cover Design: J. David Core

"This book was provided by J. David Core in exchange for my honest review alongside my proffered thank-you for asking."

5 Stars

J. David Core
Shared Disbelief, the fourth book and the third full length novel in the Lupa Schwartz Mysteries canon is creatively crafted by a superb pen. J. David Core is a master in telling a story with sublime English usage. His structure with words and sentences, I felt, are perfect in relaying his imagination to paper. I thoroughly enjoy a great read when the author knows how to flow with his writing to captivate the reader.

The story is narrated by Cattleya Hoskin, a journalist for the Gamut Magazine and resident biographer/errand girl of Lupa Schwartz, the private investigator who reminds me of Sherlock Holmes - a logically observant sleuth.

Pittsburgh police detective Trevor Johns arrives at Lupa's residence requesting his help with the murder of Bishop Peter Shimmel and Father Joshua Ameresa. Lupa declines to help immediately, stating he is not equipped to do this type of case. Trevor would like Lupa to meet his profiler, Dr. Vartan Geschenkgeber, he believes Lupa is the guy to ask for valuable input on this case.

When they do meet, it felt like two Alpha males competing for rein. After theories were exchanged and the real reason why Dr. Geschenkgeber asked Lupa there, Lupa and Cat left both knowing Lupa was "played like a violin". Which was fine, they knew who actually controlled the reins.

Lupa does delve into the case and finds a discomforting cycle of killings.  There is a timeline the killer is abiding by it seems and as the old saying goes, "history repeats itself". The killer is re-enacting human sacrifice and martyrdom as it has happened in times past. Throughout all time.

Lupa devises a plan - according to how the killings are, chronologically speaking, he wants to draw out the killer by creating a modern parallel to a famous human sacrifice from the period in history he is about to enter - Hypatia. Hypatia was the librarian at the library of Alexandria. The Christian authorities branded her a heretic and accused her on trumped up charges. They burned the library and flayed Hypatia alive.

Cat using her media means, created an interview with Melanie (a friend of a victim and will be "Hypatia") and will place the interview on the Gamut Magazine's blog. Cat and Lupa do cause mania and the killer... does he or she take the bait? Or nibble?

Cattleya Hoskin was the perfect character to narrate this story. Her POV gave excellent back-story on other characters and insight on Lupa Schwartz.

This novel is part history lesson of religions and part mystery of hunting down a killer. A person who kills another human on spite of his/her beliefs is in my view sadistic. Plain and simple.

I enjoyed the way Mr. Core had incorporated his religious knowledge, shared in a novel of suspense on many different views people do have in God(s) and what had transpired over time.

He moved quite nicely between events throughout the story with no "hiccup" arresting the reader's thoughts while reading. Controlled pace with suspense leading you to turn pages, this novel is a great read. Loved the character Lupa Schwartz.

This is my first Lupa Schwartz mystery and each episode in the series works as a standalone novel. This has to be an excellent series, based on Shared Disbelief. Yes a series you need in your library.

Start the Lupa Schwartz Mysteries canon with the first in the series Extreme Unction.

Extreme Unction: When an autopsy finds traces of the banned insecticide Chlordane in the anointing oil on the corpse of a local big-wig, Pittsburgh police bring Lupa Schwartz, an outspoken non-believer, into an investigation focused on a well-liked local clergyman.  Worried that the police are planning to use him as a political fall-guy, Schwartz coerces Cattleya Hoskin, a magazine reporter with a connection to his family’s past, to chronicle his process and squelch any misgiving that his world-view influenced the outcome.  Suspicion in the case is focused on Fr. Coneely, an outspoken euthanasia advocate who had earlier made the mistake of telling the family of the now-dead man that, hypothetically, he could safely apply poison-laden oil to their suffering father during last rites, and nobody need be the wiser. Was Mr. Hanson the willing victim of a mercy killing, or was a lapsing insurance policy the real motive for one of Hanson’s five children to taint the oil?

J. David Core had found Buttonholed Book Reviews on The Book Blogger List

Here's where you can get your fingers on Shared Disbelief:
  • Amazon   ~  Kindle $2.99  Paperback $9.99 USD

Enjoy my interview with J. David Core

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Paranoia by Ryan Fortier ~ 2014

Jacob, we'll love you always

Author: Ryan Fortier
Publisher: Ryan Fortier 
Published: December 23rd 2014
Pages: 235
Language: English
Jacket design: © 2014 Tatiana Villa

"This book was provided by Ryan Fortier in exchange for my honest review alongside my proffered thank-you for asking."

5 Stars

Ryan Fortier

Paranoia is the debut psychological thriller from Ryan Fortier. His novel portrays a young soul caught in an ever-lasting belief that visceral feelings are claim to the old adage "Listen to your gut." with dire consequences.

The story opens up with Jacob Tyler and his girl Sarah Clark playing chess and when his parents arrive from their dinner date, "Checkmate" is proclaimed by Sarah. Parents wondered where their friend Keith was and after concerns but the OK from mom Jacob was allowed to head out to the Lancaster High's end of the year party where Keith was helping set up. Sarah was going to head out with members of her debate team to have their own end of the year pizza party.

Bob's house is out in the middle of no where, a perfect place for high school students to let loose, have fun, and drink. Everyone there seemed to be having the blast. Keith met him when he arrived and as high school boys are high school boys they took in the "scenery".  Jacob was with Bob when Amanda Rourke, one of Sarah's friends, came up to Jacob and asked him to dance. Soon afterwards, led him outside. Before they started to rub their hands all over each other with lips locked on to each other, Jacob had to stop and excuse himself - she wasn't Sarah.

Jacob headed back inside to find Bob. Bob left to go buy more beer. "Shit" Jacob had a bad feeling about Bob driving drunk. He strolled over to a chair thinking this night has been interesting "...Let's just hope Bob doesn't ruin it by killing someone"

Jacob overhears an argument and gets up and investigates. He finds a guy trying to rape Becky. Jacob dive tackles the guy and after a scuffle, Keith jumps in and finishes the rapist off with repetitive blows to the face and leaves him with a broken jaw. "Go inside, call the police, and check on the girl." Jacob says. "I'll be right in." Then his phone rings.

"Jacob!" It was his mother sounding fearful and desperate, "We'll love you always." Nothing but silence followed.

Ryan Fortier takes you on a journey with Jacob trying to get on with his life four month's after the callous murder of his parents only to be let down when he starts to believe the killer has returned to make him the target.

For four months unanswered questions and the nightmares that had set in haunted Jacob. Who could brutally murder his parents? Why?  After a nightmare the night before, Lt. Simmons had shown Jacob a photo of the vandalism on his mother's grave, the same words he had visioned: We'll love you always. As far as Jacob was concerned, Chief of police Michael Lim and Lt. Simmons weren't doing their job so he convinced himself it was up to him. He rounded up Keith and Sarah as his posse and they set out to find answers. With dire consequences. 

Paranoia has the descriptiveness I need in a great thriller. For example, the storm and the lightning in the background during the scene where Jacob and Sarah were explaining to Keith about his nightmare of his mother's last words, the same words that were on the tombstone assailed my senses. The words were placed in the right place and at the right time.

There are parts in the story that had to have been explained to you, the reader, with Jacob's life from his elementary school days to his high school years were disclosed throughout the story with gratifying satisfaction. An exemplar would be how he illustrated Jacob's knowledge of handguns quite the way how two boys would after Keith shown Jacob his dad's gun in the closet. Another would be the scene at recess in fourth grade.

The story has the elements of great prose and pacing. Ryan Fortier's capabilities to wrap your imagination into a read is admirable for a debut author.  His signposts to future events were creatively suspenseful. The dialogue was on point for teenage patois and his interior-monologue filled in what no movie could. (The book is always more colorful)

With a cast of nearly twenty characters each playing a significant role in making Paranoia, Fortier introduced and succinctly defined their bio as a seasoned writer.

Does Jacob ever find out who heartlessly killed his parents? Ryan Fortier's plot of Jacob's paranoia escalates into an ending with a heart-breaking repercussion with a heart-warming twist. Mmm, gotta read this.

Purchase this novel exclusively on  Amazon  ~  Kindle edition $2.99  USD

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