Category Archives: Thriller/Suspense

The Cruelty by Scott Bergstrom

Though The Cruelty by Scott Bergstrom might be a great book for young adults new to the spy/espionage genre, it wasn’t unique enough to capture the interest of our spy-loving adult reviewers.

I received an ARC or review copy of this book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

TitleThe Cruelty
Author: Scott Bergstrom
SeriesThe Cruelty, Book 01
Publish Date: February 7, 2017 by Fiewel & Friends
Genre: YA Thriller
Source: Provided by the publisher

Publisher’s Description: When her diplomat father is kidnapped and the U.S. Government is unable to help, 17-year-old Gwendolyn Bloom sets off across the sordid underbelly of Europe to rescue him. Following the only lead she has—the name of a Palestinian informer living in France—she plunges into a brutal world of arms smuggling and human trafficking. As she journeys from the slums of Paris, to the nightclubs of Berlin, to the heart of the most feared crime family in Prague, Gwendolyn discovers that to survive in this new world she must become every bit as cruel as the men she’s hunting.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Agent Annie says…

The best line in the book The Cruelty by Scott Bergstrom is in the very first chapter when the main character, Gwendolyn, pulls a book out of her backpack and tells us, the reader,

“It’s a novel with a teenage heroine set in a dystopian future. Which novel in particular doesn’t matter because they are all the same. Poor teenage heroine, having to march off to war when all she really wants to do is run away with that beautiful boy and live off wild berries and love. Paper worlds where heroes are real.”

This is echoed two hundred some odd pages later when Gwen, now called Sophia, who is in real danger from the Czech mafia, says “Damn my luck, having to go off to war when all I want to do is run away with that beautiful boy and live off wild berries and love.”

That about sums up what’s wrong with this book: it pretends not to be formulaic but follows the same pattern as all spy/espionage novels. This could have been written by James Patterson, Lee Child or Robert Ludlum and I really wouldn’t have noticed the difference. The author simply puts a 17-year-old girl in the role of the main character and, unfortunately, this doesn’t lend itself to believability. The only training this teenager gets is about a month from an Israeli spy, and she totally eludes and ultimately defeats criminals in several European countries included the “dreaded” Czech mafia and kills several of their number through a variety of methods?

I also really didn’t think that The “Cruelty” itself, which the author tries to describe as an internal “thing” rising up in Gwendolyn and taking over her more sane (regular) self, was well defined. He mentions it a few times as “wanting to get out” or “taking over” but I don’t think he spent enough time on her internal struggle. It felt really ho-hum when Gwen had to make difficult choices, like murdering someone in cold blood!

I give this book a 3 for being too much like other books I’ve read in this genre and not having enough of what the title featured.

Percy Procrastinator says…

For me, as a forty-four-year-old long interested in thriller/spy/espionage novels, this was a tough read. I didn’t read it all, either. At about the halfway point, I realized that I had read this story before by some other author. It’s not that it was bad; it just wasn’t good enough to pull me in. I don’t know if it was because it’s geared toward young adults or if I have just read and seen too much of this kind of story.

The setup is quite good. It was easy for me to believe that Gwendolyn could become a spy. She knows languages and had gymnastics, so had some of the rudimentary skills needed. It wasn’t luck that had her know several ex-spies, people who could set her on the path to find her father. I was happy that she got a month of training and even a test so she knew if she could do it.

Reading about her training was interesting to me to see which way the author would have Gwendolyn go. And once she made her choice, I knew how the rest of the story would go, again from decades of reading these kinds of novels. I just wasn’t interested enough in reading this particular story. I skimmed through several chapters of her meeting people, going up the chain and following the leads. I can easily see how this would be a great introduction for someone to these kinds of novels. It’s just not for me.

Finally, I will say that the ending left me a bit disappointed. I read the final ten percent of the book and I don’t think I got the payoff I wanted. The twist didn’t surprise me and the ending left me with a sour taste in my mouth.

I give the book a three. It might deserve a four because it handles the subject matter well, but I can’t be the one to give it that rating.

Other recommendations…

Advanced teen readers could probably jump right into the Alex Cross, Jason Bourne, and Jack Reacher thrillers, or go with the classics and give the original James Bond novels a try. Unfortunately, those all have male protagonists. For female protagonists, here is a list of 9 Best Thrillers with Strong Female Protagonists.

I received an ARC or review copy of this book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

The Boy from Reactor 4 by Orest Stelmach

Last week, I reviewed The Altar Girl, the prequel to the Nadia Tesla series by Orest Stelmach. Today I continue reviewing the series.

boy-from-reactor-4TitleThe Boy from Reactor 4
AuthorOrest Stelmach
SeriesNadia Tesla, Book 01
Publish Date: March 19, 2013
Genre: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller
Source: Purchased

Publisher’s Description: Nadia’s memories of her father are not happy ones. An angry, secretive man, he died when she was thirteen, leaving his past shrouded in mystery. When a stranger claims to have known her father during his early years in Eastern Europe, she agrees to meet—only to watch the man shot dead on a city sidewalk.

With his last breath, he whispers a cryptic clue, one that will propel Nadia on a high-stakes treasure hunt from New York to her ancestral homeland of Ukraine. There she meets an unlikely ally: Adam, a teenage hockey prodigy who honed his skills on the abandoned cooling ponds of Chernobyl. Physically and emotionally scarred by radiation syndrome, Adam possesses a secret that could change the world—if she can keep him alive long enough to do it.

A twisting tale of greed, secrets, and lies, The Boy from Reactor 4 will keep readers guessing until the final heart-stopping page.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Agent_Annie_100Agent Annie says…

The first in the Nadia Tesla series, The Boy from Reactor 4 once again teaches me much about Ukraine, Russia and the aftermath of Chernobyl.

The author, Orest Stelmach, has done a good job of creating a believable and tough female protagonist. I accidentally read the prequel before reading this book so I was more familiar with the main character than if I had started with this book. Stelmach has written 4 total books in the series so far and his writing has definitely improved. This first in the series has so many characters, many of which with unfamiliar names, that I had a hard time keeping track of them but he kept the story moving along and Nadia stayed one step ahead of the bad guys throughout.

badge4v5I was particularly fascinated by the events that took place in the Bering Straights. I know nothing about the area, but the idea of walking between Russian and Alaska is not something I would ever want to face.

I give this book a 4. Simply because I know the author can do better as evidenced by his work in The Altar Girl.

Our reviews in this series…

Future Threat by Elizabeth Briggs

The adventure continues, reluctantly, for Elena and Adam as they go back to the future—several futures, in fact—to save their friends and themselves.

I received an ARC or review copy of this book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

future-threatTitleFuture Threat
Author: Elizabeth Briggs
SeriesFuture Shock, Book 02
Publish Date: March 1, 2017 by Albert Whitman & Co.
Genre: YA Sci-Fi (time travel suspense)
Narrator: Erin Spencer
Cover: Paul Stinson
SourceNetGalley

Publisher’s DescriptionSix months ago Aether Corporation sent Elena, Adam, and three other recruits on a trip to the future where they brought back secret information–but not everyone made it back to the present alive. Now Elena’s dealing with her survivor’s guilt and trying to make her relationship with Adam work. All she knows for sure is that she’s done with time travel and Aether Corporation.

But Aether’s not done with her–or Adam, or fellow survivor Chris. The travelers on Aether’s latest mission to the future have gone missing, and Elena and her friends are drafted into the rescue effort. They arrive in a future that’s amazingly advanced, thanks to Aether Corporation’s reverse-engineered technology. The mission has deadly consequences, though, and they return to the future to try to alter the course of events.

But the future is different yet again. Now every trip through time reveals new complications, and more lives lost–or never born. Elena and Adam must risk everything–including their relationship–to save their friends.

The second book in the New York Times bestselling Future Shock trilogy.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Invested_Ivana_100Invested Ivana says…

Future Threat is intense, and I love it. More than any other time travel I’ve read, Future Threat demonstrates the potential danger of both knowing your future and changing the future. It gave me quite a lot to think about.

Elena, Adam, and Chris—collectively called Team Delta—get pulled back to Aether’s time-travel scheme to save the latest team to go rogue, Team Echo. While there, they try to save the life of one of the Echo team members and end up losing one of their own. So they go back again, and again, to try and fix the past. Each time they go back, the future is different. The effects of the team’s actions create a worse and worse future each time they visit. Adam and Elana have to figure out why the future is getting worse and fix it before all is lost.

Adam and Elana go to the same future several times. So two or three of them are in the future at the same time. Oddly enough, though I’m not a math person, I kept thinking about the rules for parentheses in Excel formulas as I read this book. Weird, right? But Adam and Elana go back to the future three times. Each time, their trip is shorter. It’s like they have to go and return before the last time they went and returned, like nesting parenthesis. I don’t know if that’s true, but the thought kept popping into my head. 😉

In the one future where Chris, Elena, and Adam are happy and successful, Future-Elena is terrified that Now-Elena is going to mess things up. I can understand that. When you’re happy, you don’t want anything to change.  But at the same time, someone somewhere is NOT happy. If they change things to suit themselves, how will that change your future? This is one of the questions posed in Future Threat.

Another is how knowledge of the future would affect the decisions you made to get there. So, if you knew you were already destined to be an awesome piano player, for example, would you be compelled to practice as much? And if you didn’t practice as much, would that future come about? Not new questions in time travel fiction, but certainly good ones.

I was chatting with Kat recently about what made this a young adult book rather than a straight sci-fi book. Ah, the nature of genres, right? 15 years ago, this same book would have been listed as sci-fi, no question. The protagonists being college freshman age wouldn’t have made a difference. Today, however, YA as a category is popular and lucrative, especially in print as opposed to ebook form; so, it makes sense to market this as YA now. Honestly, I think that is the only difference I can think of. What do you think, readers? Chime in and tell me what sets a YA apart from adult novels, and specifically this one, if you’ve read it.

badge5v5I haven’t listened to this book yet, but I know Erin Spencer did an awesome job as always. I’ll be downloading it and listening soon. This book is just as awesome as the first, so another five stars!

Oh, and although Future Threat really felt like the end of the series, I see there is another one due out in 2018. Its title, Future Lost, make me really apprehensive!!! I want Chris and Elena to have their happy ending.

Our reviews in this series…

Other recommendations…

Check out these books for some more time travel romance or suspense: A Girl In Time by John Birmingham, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon, and Just One Damned Thing After Another by Jodi Taylor.

I received an ARC or review copy of this book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

Future Shock by Elizabeth Briggs

Regular readers will be shocked to hear this, but I read a YA and I liked it. Yeah, I know, hard to believe. But this time-travel suspense is well done and there are no whiny high-schoolers to be seen. Yay!

I received an ARC or review copy of this book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

Future ShockTitleFuture Shock
AuthorElizabeth Briggs
SeriesFuture Shock, Book 01
Publish Date: April 5, 2016, Albert Whitman & Co
Genre: YA Sci-Fi (time travel suspense)
Cover: Paul Stinson
Narrator: Erin Spencer
Source: ARC from publisher/purchased audio

Publisher’s DescriptionElena Martinez has hidden her eidetic memory all her life—or so she thinks. When powerful tech giant Aether Corporation selects her for a top-secret project, she can’t say no. All she has to do is participate in a trip to the future to bring back data, and she’ll be set for life. Elena joins a team of four other teens with special skills, including Adam, a science prodigy with his own reason for being there.

But when the time travelers arrive thirty years in the future, something goes wrong, and they break the only rule they were given: do not look into their own fates. Now they have twenty-four hours to get back to the present and find a way to stop a seemingly inevitable future from unfolding. With time running out and deadly secrets uncovered, Elena must use her eidetic memory, street smarts, and a growing trust in Adam to save her new friends and herself.

Possible spoilers beyond this point.


Invested_Ivana_100Invested Ivana says…

When I was at BEA last Spring, I saw a poster of the cover of Future Shock on one of the booth walls. Thinking it was a new urban fantasy (because … tattooed chick with a city backdrop … kind of indicative of the urban fantasy genre), I asked after the book. Turns out I was at the Albert Whitman & Co. booth. Albert Whitman is a publisher of children’s books. Yes, I was eyeballing a YA book! It felt kind of dirty, like I, at 40-something, was admiring the backside of a high-school boy. But I just couldn’t get over that cover. So, I brought the book home, but put off reading it for almost a year.

Much later, I heard from several people that the book was getting quite a lot of praise, the cover was still calling to me, and the sequel became available on NetGalley (with another awesome cover). So, I requested the sequel from NetGalley and put Future Shock on the review schedule.

I’ve been in a listening mood rather than a reading one, so I looked up the audiobook. The audio happens to be read by Erin Spencer, whose voice I know and love from the Halfway Witchy books by Terry Maggert. That made me happy.

I give YA a hard time on this blog, but what I really don’t like about some YA is whiny teenagers, stupid decisions, and raging hormones. That might be an accurate reflection of real life, but I don’t want to read about it. I also don’t want to read stories set in high school. I had enough of that horror when I was in high school. However, I have no problem with good stories that just happen to have young characters. I’d classify Future Shock as one of those.

I feel this is really a suspense story. It does involve time travel a short way into the future, which is integral to the mystery; so there is a slight sci-fi aspect to it.  It’s not hard sci-fi, by any means, but there is some fun speculation about what our world might look like in the near future, which I would guess isn’t too far off the mark. I’m rooting for the self-drive cars at the very least.

The kids in this story are seventeen or eighteen. All of them have had difficult lives, and so have both the pros and cons that come along with that. They are pretty self-sufficient, decent problem solvers, and capable of handling themselves. Their skills aren’t too exaggerated for their ages and situations, which is nice to see. There are some romantic feelings between two characters, but it isn’t the focus of the story, and the one intimate moment is handled very well, actually.  The kids seem to make appropriate decisions, have appropriate values and priorities, and behave appropriately for their situation. I wouldn’t have any qualms about allowing a young person to read this book.

I did have one question, though: where does a foster kid get the money for extensive tattoos? Those things are expensive. Cool, but expensive! Would Human Services have a problem with a foster parent giving a foster kid money for tattoos? Inquiring minds want to know.

The mystery and suspense is well done.  I was one step ahead of the characters at the first big reveal, but I didn’t have anything figured out after that. I was invested in the characters enough to feel nervous for them; I really wanted to see them succeed.

badge5v5I have to say I like this book. More than like, actually. I’m impressed, and I am looking forward to reviewing the next book, Future Threat, for next week.

Our reviews in this series…

Other recommendations…

Weregirl by C.D. Bell and Heartborn by Terry Maggert are two other YA books I’ve read that have good characters and good story without the whining. 🙂

I received an ARC or review copy of this book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

The Skeleton Friend by R.C. Johansen

Persistence pays off in the end, though the courage it takes to get to the end is huge.

I received an ARC of this book book from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.

the-skeleton-friendTitle: The Skeleton Friend
Author: R.C. Johansen
Series: The Skeleton Friend #1
Publish Date: February 2, 2016
Genre:  Mystery/Suspense
Source: Author

Publisher’s Description: Meredith Carlyle is living an unhappy, lonely life as an EMT in the city of Seattle. During a campus shooting, she breaks the rules and helps save a life by going way outside of her scope of practice. Disgraced, she is left without a job or an identity to call her own.

That night, she literally stumbles over the body of a headless teenager left by the shore of the Montlake Shipping Canal. Meredith is plunged into the world of forensic investigation and police procedure, finding herself stuck between good cops and bad. She is faced with the decision to find this skeleton’s identity or to save her own life.

Nervous Nellie’s nervousness necessitates knowledge of the novel (or, in other words, SPOILERS).


Nervous_Nellie_100Nervous Nellie says…

This was an amazing book.  A little sex, a little violence, and a very persistent heroine.

This story was sort of along the lines of Kathy Reich’s character, Temperance Brennan, but yet entirely different.  This character was Tempie when Tempie was really young . . . and less put together.

The story wasn’t exactly a whodunnit.  I knew who did it, but it was the journey that was the main focus of the story.  Carly was incredibly persistent in finding out who killed the boy she found.  I know for a fact I wouldn’t have the courage she had.  Also, if it weren’t for her, there would be more deaths on this killer’s badge4v4belt in no time.

The ending wasn’t exactly a happily ever after, but this is a journey, and though the end was good, there is a whole lot left for Carly to do, and she’s got the gumption to do it.

I received an ARC of this book  from the author/publisher. All opinions are my own.