Tyson Adams

Putting the 'ill' back in thriller

Archive for the tag “Book review”

Book review: The Seventh Plague by James Rollins

The Seventh Plague (Sigma Force, #12)The Seventh Plague by James Rollins

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After the first nine plagues, is the tenth plague free?

A missing archeologist reappears out of the desert in a semi-mummified state. With him he brings a biblical disease that threatens to yadda yadda the world. A brilliant businessman has designs on using the disease for his own ends. Only Sigma can uncover the ancient McGuffin to you get the idea before ticking clock.

I’m going to preface this review by saying that I’m a long time fan of James Rollins’ blend of pseudo-science, mythicism, and tehcno-thriller. His Artefact McGuffin Adventures are usually very entertaining reads.

Here’s the but. I don’t know if I just had a lower tolerance for the narrative this time, or if Rollins has introduced a bash the reader over the head style to his writing now. Regardless, it is annoying and hackneyed, and something I’d expect from Dan Brown, not James Rollins. It makes you notice the other problems, like the factual errors in the story. The suspension of disbelief is always high with these sorts of novels, so to have Dan Brown-ified the writing lowers my enjoyment and rating.

An example of what I’m talking about was an exchange early on between the Sigma members about disease categories. We’ve just been told that this is a super deadly disease with X% death rate, and we’re then told the disease death categories, which again states this is super deadly. Okay, so us dumb readers need to be informed that this disease is really bad. But to imply that the Sigma team of science experts who deal with this sort of problem semi-regularly would have to be bashed over the head with the explanation the way they were is silly. I immediately had in mind four or five ways to write that section that weren’t out of character, repetitive, and mind-numbing to the reader.

That all said, this was still a reasonably well paced thriller, with decent tension, especially into the final act. If you like Artefact McGuffin Adventures, then this is an okay instalment.

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Book review: Afterlife by Marcus Sakey

AfterlifeAfterlife by Marcus Sakey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you kill enough people you become a god. Still makes you a jerk though.

Agents Will Brody and Claire McCoy are hunting a serial killer. But he is unlike any serial killer who has ever come before. He is always a step ahead. He has power. And he has help. I could give more away, but the title gives you the idea.

Afterlife is an intriguing book. The ideas underpinning this supernatural speculative fiction story are as original as you will see. And mixed with this are two interesting characters and their relationship. It hangs together nicely whilst not becoming bogged down with the sort of world-building that spec-fic can bore readers with.

That said, I almost gave up on this book. The first chapter didn’t grab me at all. It isn’t until later in the novel that you understand why that chapter is there at all. Similarly the semi-ambiguous ending may also throw some people given the setup prior to the penultimate chapter. These points, particularly the first one, could discourage people. Normally I don’t say this – since I’m big on giving up on books ASAP to make room for good books – but stick with this for a few chapters. Don’t be put off by the opener, it will make sense soon.

NB: I was provided a review copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

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Book review: A Little History of Philosophy by Nigel Warburton

A Little History of PhilosophyA Little History of Philosophy by Nigel Warburton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If by doubting your existence you prove that your doubting thoughts exist, what happens if you then doubt your doubts?

A Little History of Philosophy is pretty much summed up by its title. It spends a chapter on each famous Western philosopher or movement (e.g. Aristotle gets a chapter; Sartre, Camus, and de Beauvoir share one) and takes a shallow dive into each. Nothing more, nothing less.

After recently reading Bertrand Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy I thought I’d read a book that covered the same topic with less of the surrounding history and more of the philosophy overview. Nigel Warburton does this well in a brief, clear, and accessible manner. A strength of the overview is how he ties theories and influences together (e.g. Brentham to Mill, Mill to Russell) so that you can see how thinking has evolved. A negative is the sometimes tenuous segues Warburton uses to end a chapter. Seriously, you really start to notice it and laugh.

This was a great way to dip my toes into philosophy. Between Russell and Warburton I feel I’ve been given enough to start the journey down the rabbit hole. Made me think.

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Book Review: Babylon’s Ashes by James SA Corey

Babylon's Ashes (The Expanse, #6)Babylon’s Ashes by James S.A. Corey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Take my love, take my land.
Take me where I cannot stand.
I don’t care, I’m still free.
You can’t take the sky from me.
No parallels at all.

The Free Navy have demolished Earth. They’ve taken over the system with their surprise attack utilising the latest Martian technology. Now Earth and Mars are fighting back. Cracks are appearing in the Free Navy’s plans, like the fact that they have wiped out food production and have 3 years left before humanity collapses. Great time for Marco – hubristic leader of the Free Navy – to pursue his grudge against Holden, Naomi, and the rest of the Rocinante crew.

I’ve been looking forward to reading Babylon’s Ashes since finishing Nemesis Games. The staging of a war, the political conflicts, the host of interesting and complicated characters; this was set to be a ripper of a novel. So I was a little disappointed and found myself plodding through some of the story.

This was partly my own fault, as I have less concentrated reading time currently. When I did get quality reading time the book was as entertaining as anything in this series. It was also partly that the character of Marco Inaros was fully revealed for a narcissistic authoritarian populist who is more intent on punishing minor sleights than running the galaxy (gee, wonder if he’s modelled after any particular political leader). It didn’t help that there was a tinsy bit of plot contrivance – albeit one that has had quite a bit of setup – in the final moments of the plot.

Despite these points, I did actually enjoy Babylon’s Ashes. It wasn’t the strongest instalment in The Expanse, but this still remains a stellar series.

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Book review: Gridlock by Sean Black

Gridlock (Ryan Lock, #3)Gridlock by Sean Black

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

That moment when you recognise an actor/actress but can’t admit it.

Adult film star Raven Lane has a stalker. Not the leave flowers kind of stalker, the kind that leaves bodies in the back of your car. The police are only mildly interested in catching someone killing people in the adult industry, so Raven hires Lock and Ty. Ryan Lock reluctantly takes the job, sensing that something is off about it all. There is. In the worst way possible.

It has been a while since I’ve read anything from Sean Black. His first Lock thriller novel was recommended to me by thriller author Matt Hilton, and I loved it. Sean has since branched out into writing a mystery-comedy series – Malibu Mystery – that I’ve got on my TBR (at some point I’m going to have to admit I have a book buying problem). Reading another Ryan Lock novel was like putting on a comfy pair of shoes. Sean keeps the narrative interesting, keeps the pacing fast, and isn’t afraid to land plot punches most authors would avoid.

Although, when Sean says he loves to do hands on research, I kinda wonder what he did for Gridlock.

Highly recommend this novel for thriller and crime-thriller fans.

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Book review: Peril at End House by Agatha Christie

Peril at End House (Hercule Poirot, #8)Peril at End House by Agatha Christie

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you try to kill someone five times and fail, does the intended victim have to at least feign injury?

Hercule Poirot the world’s best detective thought he had retired. Then a bullet intended for Nick Buckly lands at his feet. He can’t very well continue to modestly claim the title of world’s best detective if he doesn’t solve a case that literally lands at his feet, now can he?

I’ve not previously read any Agatha Christie novels, so it was interesting to galavant off to 1930s England for a mystery. It is hard not to be familiar with the Christie tropes, what with the countless plays, radio, TV, and movie adaptations, not to mention the imitators. But seeing the tropes in their original form was entertaining in and of itself, whilst also grounding a lot of the other works.

Recently I had the pleasure of seeing The Play That Goes Wrong. Probably one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen, and one that wouldn’t have worked without the influence of Christie. That alone probably added to my enjoyment of this novel. And the mystery itself was actually quite well layered. So as long as you don’t mind the slight quaintness of the characters (rich English people from 1930s high society) and the tropes (let’s go to the drawing-room, sit around the log fire, and I’ll slowly reveal who did it) this is well worth a read.

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Book review: The Water’s Edge by Karin Fossum

The Water's EdgeThe Water’s Edge by Karin Fossum

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Genre fiction is all about escapism, said no crime fiction fan ever.

A young boy’s body is found in a remote park. It is clear he has been abused and then dumped. The only lead Inspector Sejer has to go on is the man a young couple passed before discovering the boy. And then a second boy goes missing.

This was an incredibly hard book to read. There’s nothing quite like the lurid details of crimes against children to really make you squirm. Karin Fossum doesn’t just make you squirm from the crime itself, either, she seems to want you to be disgusted with humans, as she peels back the layers on all of the characters. Goal achieved.

While this was a tough read, it was still a good solid crime novel. Unlike many other crime authors, Fossum seems to be able to poke at the reader. This is both a good and a bad thing, as it makes The Water’s Edge hard to recommend to others – especially if you have kids – and to give 5 stars to. One for hardened crime fiction fans I’d say.

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Book Review: Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris

Dead Ever After (Sookie Stackhouse, #13)Dead Ever After by Charlaine Harris

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Did you hear the one about the Vampire, the Were, the Shifter, and the Barmaid?

In this final Sookie Stackhouse novel, Sookie discovers she has many enemies. One group decide to frame her for murder. Another group decide to just murder her. Another decides to steal her boyfriend. Her friends have other ideas about letting any of that happen without a fight.

I haven’t been closely following Charlaine Harris’ series. I’ve enjoyed all the instalments I’ve read so far, and Dead Ever After was no exception. Although, I was surprised to discover this was the final novel in the Sookie Stackhouse series.* This felt like any other instalment in the series to me.

Apparently fans of the series were annoyed with the less than satisfactory ending. A lot of one star reviews have been thrown at this book. One thing seems clear, Sookie didn’t end up with the right guy. Apparently. So if you are an invested fan, this book will probably be used to heat your home in winter. For the less invested fans, this will be regarded as a solid instalment to the series.

*Yes, I can see the tagline on the bottom of the cover. Kinda hard to read when it is thumbnail sized though.

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Book Review: No Time Left by David Baldacci

No Time LeftNo Time Left by David Baldacci

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

If you time travel how can you have no time left?

It is pretty hard to review this book without spoilers, and quite honestly you’ll want to read the spoilers so you won’t waste your time. This short story is about an assassin who is hired to kill his own mother in the past. He does so, he ceases to exist. End of story.

Don’t worry, I didn’t ruin anything for you.

This was so predictable as to be confusing. How could such a popular author churn out such a generic waste of space as this story? Baldacci offers no unique take on this well worn trope, he doesn’t give us an interesting character to follow, his story has massive plot holes, and he doesn’t even offer money back…. Okay, I did get this from the library, but I still feel he owes me money.

The positive reviews I have read for this story appear to be from long time fans. This is my third underwhelming outing with Baldacci. There won’t be a fourth outing.

NB: I do apologise for posting a negative review. Normally I avoid mentioning the books I haven’t enjoyed. I’m making an exception with this review because this story reeks of a big name author and their publisher putting out any old dross they feel like.

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Book review: A History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell

A History of Western PhilosophyA History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An important point was left out of this book: The history of philosophy is also a history of drunks.

Bertrand Russell has attempted to give a brief overview of the History of Western Philosophy. In this 900 page tome he touches on the major figures, major fields of thought, and the socio-political backgrounds that influenced (and were influenced by) them. Russell also offers up some critique on these aspects, because it wouldn’t be a philosophy book if it wasn’t doing so.

This description sounds like anathema to entertaining reading, and it would be if it wasn’t being tackled by someone like Russell. Bertrand has a very clear, concise, and accessible writing style, and is easily able to explain in plain language even the most complex of philosophical ideas. Normally reading philosophy reminds me of reading genetics textbooks, as it is overstuffed with pedantry and jargon, Russell makes it feel like he is uses no jargon or technical terms.

It should also be noted that Russell is snarky to the point that you find yourself having to laugh and share his comment with someone. His comments are withering and witty, but they also serve as a great way of highlighting the flaws with certain arguments or “great” thinkers. If there are a few takeaway points from this book it is that the great minds were way ahead of their time, but that those same minds were confined by the structures of their time. It makes you wonder how many of today’s ideas are going to look silly and biased to future peoples.

This isn’t really a book to read about certain philosophers, nor fields of thought. A History of Western Philosophy is more a cliff notes version of several thousand years of thinking. Definitely an emphasis on the history and context. And it is all viewed through Russell’s eyes, his snarky, snarky, eyes.

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Book Review: The Island of Dr Moreau by HG Wells

The Island of Dr. MoreauThe Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you can make an animal into a person, how long do you think it will be before someone can make a person decent?

Edward Prendick survives a shipwreck and is rescued by a supply ship headed for The Island of Dr Moreau. Prendick is cast overboard by the supply ship and is thus stranded on the island where he discovers a mad scientist (surgeon actually) has been at work for many years. The locals are huge fans of vivisection. Things go downhill when Brando is cast as Moreau.

I mostly enjoyed rereading this novel, and I definitely understood more of the issues than when I read it as a kid. At the time HG Wells wrote this famous tale, there was much debate in Europe regarding degeneration, evolution, and vivisection. Wells himself thought that humans could use vivisection for evolutionary purposes. And what better way to discuss these issues than in a science fiction novel.

There were two main issues that stopped me enjoying this novel more. The first issue is common to all of the HG Wells novels I have recently reviewed, and that is the dated style that drains a lot of the tension out of the narrative. The reader is always left at arm’s-length from the story. The second issue is a narrative device that is still commonly used today: book-ending. Book-ending (a term I’ve probably made up) is where the actual story is wedged between an external narrative that is used to recount the story proper. This does two things that annoy me: it adds needless narrative and characters; and it destroys any suspense or mystery. The latter is the worst part. In The Island of Dr Moreau we already know that Prendick survives the island and his experiences have left him emotionally scarred and unable to live among people, because his nephew introduces the tale after finding the manuscript when Prendick dies.

Regardless, this is a creepy tale that is worth reading even if you just want to learn to recite ‘Are We Not Men’.

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Book review: The First Men in the Moon by HG Wells

The First Men in the MoonThe First Men in the Moon by H.G. Wells

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Would we have a colony on the Moon if it had gold and a native peoples to wipe out? We know the answer if they had oil.

Perennial con man, Bedford, has escaped his creditors by hiding in the countryside. Here he meets an inventor, Cavor, who is a genius with no idea what he is doing. Bedford cons Cavor into using his invention of Cavorite to fly to the Moon. Upon arrival they discover the moon is hollow and filled with Moonmen (but no Moonwomen….. not sure how that works). And gold. The meeting with the natives follows tradition…

I was disappointed with The First Men in the Moon. This novel was influential to people like CS Lewis, so I was expecting there to be a lot on offer. There are a lot of interesting ideas on display in this novel, but there are also some truly bad ideas as well, even for the time this was written in. For example, Jules Verne criticised the use of Cavorite when both he and Wells had already utilised the more realistic idea of cannons for interplanetary travel. The story is also told in a way that isn’t particularly engaging, particularly the last quarter, which is possibly the most drawn out way to tie up a loose end I’ve read.

This was also one of the many works of HG Wells that was accused of plagiarism. Twenty-six years prior, Robert Cromie had written A Plunge Into Space, which was heavily borrowed from but never acknowledged. Wells’ contestations that he had never heard of Cromie nor his book would have held more weight if the accusations of plagiarism weren’t quite so common throughout Wells’ career.

Skip this classic.

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Book review: The War of the Worlds by HG Wells

The War of the WorldsThe War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Interplanetary war breaks out in Woking, Surrey England. Newsreaders even less sure where that is than countries in the Middle East.

The War of the Worlds is about Martians invading Earth using advanced technology, like 21 metre tall tripod machines, heat rays, and toxic smogs. One man is able to recount his experience of living through the invasion from the first landing to the start of the rebuilding of southern England.

It is hard to comment on such a classic novel. The War of the Worlds has gone on to influence culture in many ways. The obvious influences are in books and movies, most notably the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels and the entire alien invasion genre. But it also had an impact on science, such as Freeman Dyson’s search for extraterrestrial life and Robert Goddard’s rocket development. Not many books can claim that (seriously, read the Wiki article for a brief overview). Makes it very hard to comment…

While I enjoyed this book I came away from it underwhelmed. Much of the novel is interesting, not least of which is the understated setting – because now you would be considered mad to set an alien invasion story anywhere without a prominent monument that can be destroyed. The characters the narrator meets are also interesting, particularly the artilleryman who has big dreams about leading the resistance movement. But this is all told in a memoir style that lacks immediacy, tension, and excitement. Southern England has just been invaded by aliens with death rays, yet the narrator could just as well be relating the time he watched a cricket match in Surrey.

Worth reading as a classic, especially if you forgive the narrative style.

NB: It also influenced music, such as this one by Devin Townsend.

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Book Review: The Four Legendary Kingdoms by Matthew Reilly

The Four Legendary Kingdoms: A Jack West Jr Novel 4The Four Legendary Kingdoms: A Jack West Jr Novel 4 by Matthew Reilly

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you have twelve labours to perform do you get an energy drink sponsorship deal?

Jack West Jr was retired. The Fifth Greatest Warrior had saved the world and become a family man. But his old nemesis Iolanthe recruits him against his will to compete in The Games. This battle to the death takes representatives from the Four Legendary Kingdoms to compete to become the champion: a modern-day Hercules. Oh, and that champion allows an ancient machine to stop a rogue galaxy from destroying the Milky Way. The galaxy, not the chocolate bar.

With few exceptions – The Tournament, Seven Deadly Wonders – I’ve loved Matthew Reilly’s novels. They made by taking pure adrenaline, injected with amphetamines, and poured into a stack of paper. The stakes are always high and time is always short. This time Jack West Jr has to save the galaxy by winning a tournament. No doubt Reilly’s next novel will involve saving the universe…

I was a little wary of The Four Legendary Kingdoms. While The Great Zoo of China was a return to form, The Tournament was somewhat of a letdown for me. There was also the fact that Seven Deadly Wonders, the first Jack West Jr novel, is my least favourite book from Reilly. But any fears I had were well and truly stabbed in the neck. I can’t wait for the next instalment in this series.

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Book review: The Devil’s Country by Harry Hunsicker

The Devil's CountryThe Devil’s Country by Harry Hunsicker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Has there ever been a religious cult started for something other than allowing the leaders to have sex with the congregation?

Arlo Baines is wandering the state of Texas in an effort to forget the murder of his family. The former Texas Ranger sees a couple of guys up to no good, and starts making trouble in the neighbourhood. He gets in one little fight and has the local sheriff and a religious cult wanting to see him leave (for Bel Air).

It was refreshing to dive into a different take on the itinerant vigilante genre. Obviously there are similarities between any of the novels in this genre, the most prominent being Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series (of which I’m a fan). But Harry Hunsicker has brought a more haunted and reluctant hero to the page, one who feels a little more vulnerable, but no less unstoppable.

This is a fast-moving novel which hits all the right beats. While it doesn’t stray from the itinerant vigilante genre path, nor offer up any surprising twists, The Devil’s Country was an enjoyable read. Recommended for any fans of Lee Child, Matt Hilton, Zoe Sharp, et al.

NB: I received an advance review copy of this book in exchange for a fair review.

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Book review: The Time Machine by HG Wells

The Time MachineThe Time Machine by H.G. Wells

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I wonder if vegans object to the Morlocks’ diet?

In what is now a classic of the Science Fiction genre, an un-named narrator has local dignitaries over to his place once a week to tell tall tales and show off his latest inventions to. On one of these evenings he limps in the worse for wear, in desperate need of a steak, and discusses his pocket flower collection.

When I was a kid I read a lot of the classic science fiction stories from the likes of HG Wells and Jules Verne. It has been so long since I’ve read them that I thought it was time to revisit these classics. While I can still fondly remember the 1960 movie – let us not ever speak of the 2002 adaptation – the book felt unfamiliar and akin to virgin reading material.

Whilst The Time Machine does deserve its place in history for influencing/creating Science Fiction as we know it (fantastical ideas explored, social issues analogised), as a novel it is lacking. One example of this is the lack of tension in scenes that are literally life or death struggles. Instead of fearing for the narrator’s life and wondering how he’ll survive, we are treated to a recounting of the events that could have instead been describing someone having a cup of tea while watching the rain out of the dining room window. A wondrous adventure told as though it was just another day at the office.

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Book review: The Scam by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

The Scam (Fox and O'Hare, #4)The Scam by Janet Evanovich

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When someone launders your money do they also iron and starch it? Why yes, I am a dad, why do you ask?

Nick Fox and Kate O’Hare are once again using Nick’s talents as a conman to take down criminals on the FBI’s list of bad guys. This time they are after a casino owner who is helping launder money for anyone from mobsters to terrorists. Given the company he keeps, is it any surprise he has a tank of piranha in his office for ‘negotiations’.

After being disappointed in the second instalment in this series, The Chase, I was unsure if I would read any more of the Evanovich and Goldberg series. I already had The Scam on loan from the library, so I decided to chance it. This was a rewarding decision as The Scam delivers an entertaining read.

I was disappointed with The Chase because it felt like an episode from one of those will-they-won’t-they crime shows – such as Castle or Bones – during their declining years. You know, just as they are lining up the ramp over the shark cage. But The Scam felt like an early episode at the beginning of the series when Castle or Bones are still awesome, even though there are plot elements here that set this firmly later in the series (can’t say more without major spoilers).

So skip The Chase and read The Scam.

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Book review: The Chase by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

The Chase (Fox and O'Hare, #2)The Chase by Janet Evanovich
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There is no con you can pull on a politician, given that they invented them all.

Nick Fox and Kate O’Hare are once again teamed up as the will-they-won’t-they odd couple. This time their mission is to recover a stolen artefact of national significance to the Chinese government. They have to steal it from the people who stole it before someone realises it was stol….. You get the idea.

I’ve read many Lee Goldberg and Janet Evanovich novels and have always found them humorous and entertaining. But The Chase felt like a by-the-numbers follow up to The Heist, a book that established a potentially good series. This was like an episode from a TV crime show like Castle, or Bones, or any of the dozens of those similarly constructed dramedies. And not an episode from the start of the series when it was good, but in those later episodes when they are lining up the ramp over the shark tank.

That isn’t to say that The Chase fails to entertain, quite the contrary. This is a fun novel and series, but could feel a bit too formulaic.

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Book review: Fire Touched by Patricia Briggs

Fire Touched (Mercy Thompson, #9)Fire Touched by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Who knew trolls were brightly coloured down there. Something to keep in mind during your next internet argument.

Adam and Mercy’s pack is quickly becoming the go-to problem solving group. Vampire dispute: call the pack. Wayward fae: call the pack. Troll rampaging on a bridge in town and threatening to kill everyone: call the pack. Since that isn’t happening anywhere else, Mercy claims the Tri-cities as their territory and any and all are under their protection. Only took a few seconds for someone to take up the protection offer and give them another headache in the form of a fire-touched human hunted by the fae.

This instalment in the Mercy Thompson series sees some of the older conflicts resolved, only to be replaced by new conflicts as the importance of the Columbia Basin pack in the wider world grows. The way Patricia Briggs has gradually grown the Mercy’s world, and the characters who live within it, has felt natural, whilst upping the stakes. Of course now that I’m up-to-date with the series, I have a fortnight to wait for the next instalment to be published.

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Book Review: Night Broken by Patricia Briggs

Night Broken (Mercy Thompson, #8)Night Broken by Patricia Briggs
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you are dyed blue are you at risk of being abducted by Smurfs?

Mercy and Adam have an unwelcome house guest, Christy, Adam’s ex-wife. She is fleeing a stalker who has killed at least one person and burned down a condo. Oh, and he might be a volcano god. Even more reason for Christy to try to manipulate her way back into Adam and the pack’s life.

This instalment of the Mercy Thompson series is filled with tension. The injection of Christy back into the werewolf pack politics, the new enemy, the need to protect people who are trying to hurt you, and the suspicion of the werewolves being responsible for a rash of murders, could induce reader anxiety. Patricia Briggs has certainly left no obstacle out of Mercy’s way in Night Broken.

Needless to say, the review of the next instalment, Fire Touched, will be coming soon.

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