RELEASE DAY: Behind the Mask

TODAY IS THE DAY!

Behind the Mask

Behind the Mask, the fourth installment in the Jill Andersen series, is now out! This entry promises to change everything going forward, and after the events of Behind the Badge, things are about to get even more intense.

About Behind the Mask

It’s hard to be a hero when everyone’s out to get you.

Once upon a time, Jill Andersen considered herself a hero. Not just because of the badge handed to her by the city of Baltimore and the pledge she once made to protect and serve. Her secret life, as the vigilante Bounty, had allowed Jill to protect her native Baltimore in ways her day job never could.

But all that has gone to hell now. One case pushed Jill past her limits, to the point where she made choices she can’t take back. As a result, the entire city is on the lookout for her. Allies can no longer be counted on. People who were once in her corner might very well be trying to bring her down… to say nothing of those she has crossed along the way.

But that is the least of Jill’s problems. A shadowy figure emerges among the chaos, and his link to Jill’s past has the potential to be her ultimate undoing. Jill thought every link to Project Fusion has been settled once she solved Dr. Trent Roberts’ murder almost one year ago, but if she’s not careful, her past might just kill her.

Behind the Mask, the gripping, hard-hitting fourth novel in the Jill Andersen mystery series (Bounty, Blood Ties, Behind the Badge), gives readers yet another taste of author J.D. Cunegan’s comic book-inspired brand of fast-paced prose, with chapters that fly by and plot twists that will leave readers guessing and waiting for more.

About J.D. Cunegan

J.D. Cunegan is known for his unique writing style, a mixture of murder mystery and superhero epic that introduces the reader to his comic book-inspired storytelling and fast-paced prose. A 2006 graduate of Old Dominion University, Cunegan has an extensive background in journalism, a lengthy career in media relations, and a lifelong love for writing. Cunegan lives in Hampton, Virginia, and next to books, his big passion in life in auto racing. When not hunched in front of a keyboard or with his nose stuck in a book, Cunegan can probably be found at a race track or watching a race on TV.

Pick up Behind the Mask today in the following formats: Paperback | Kindle | Nook | Kobo | Apple iBooks | Indigo | Angus & Robertson

Check out the rest of the Jill Andersen Series.

SHORT STORY: The Agency

This might eventually become a novel — because another book to write is exactly what I need right now — but for now, enjoy this short little tale.

Bethany was sweating.

Surrounded by pitch black, enveloped in silence, the bead of sweat trickling down her forehead and meandering between the nodes stuck to her was the only thing she could register. A soft, rhythmic beep interrupted the silence. Her heart thundered in her chest, as if it were trying to break through her ribcage. Her temples throbbed.

A sliver of light burst through from the other side of the room. Once her eyes focused, Bethany noticed a tiny red dot. She was being recorded, and her ears caught the faint whir of the zoom adjusting. That sound, mixed with her heartbeat and the beeping, created a cacophony of paranoia.

Bethany balled her hands into tight fists, her palms slick with anxiety. She tried to count the nodes stuck to her forehead, a feeble attempt at calming her nerves. But she kept losing count. She never got farther than eight. No matter what she tried, Bethany could not quiet her nerves.

The bitter taste of nausea twisted in her stomach. Her heart started beating even faster, as if that were possible. The Director could probably sense her fear without the fancy equipment he surrounded himself with. The giant gray slab housed all of the Agency’s data, and it was a constant reminder that there were no secrets here — not even in someone’s head.

If this was how the Agency treated one of its own… how did it treat its enemies?

The beeping came to a stop. The red light went out. Bethany was once again trapped in complete dark, complete silence. Next to death, this was what she imagined sensory deprivation to be like. Were it not for the constant thump of her heart, the trickle of sweat down the back of her neck, the hitch in her breath, Bethany would assume she had died.

“State your name, please.”

The booming, disembodied voice startled Bethany. She gasped and flinched hard enough that a couple of the nodes tugged on her forehead. The adhesive peeled from her damp skin, and Bethany hissed in pain before closing her eyes. Perhaps if she focused only on her own heartbeat, she could control it.

But why was she so worried? She had faced lie detector tests throughout her entire adult life; they were part of the territory in her line of work. Even before being recruited by the Agency, Bethany had constantly subjected herself to such screenings. But this was more than a mere polygraph. This machine was imprinting itself into Bethany’s brain, mapping her entire psyche and searching for the slightest irregularity. Even if Bethany answered every question as truthfully as possible, she knew there was a chance she would be expelled from the Agency.

Or worse.

In this void, time held no meaning. Bethany couldn’t tell how long she sat in silence, her brain scrambling to decide on a course of action. She uncurled her fists and latched onto the chair, hoping to keep some grip on reality.

What time was it? What day was it?

“I repeat: state your name.”

Bethany’s gasp was a little louder this time, and she instantly cursed herself under her breath. There was nothing more pathetic than being startled by her own boss’ voice.

“Beth,” she said, her voice cracking. “Special Agent Bethany Louise Harmon.”

The beeping returned.

With a deep inhale, Bethany closed her eyes again. She released the air built up in her lungs, feeling her body shudder with the effort. She swallowed thickly, refusing to let the bile tickling the back of her throat to go any further. She suddenly regretted having pasta for lunch.

“How long have you served the Agency, Miss Harmon?”

Again, the Director’s voice made Bethany jump. She could swear his voice was deeper than usual, though that was likely a trick of her surroundings. Here, his voice echoed off the walls. Were it not for the rampant paranoia, Bethany would have called the voice almost divine.

“Um.” She licked her lips, shook her head. “F-four years.”

Bethany cringed. That moment’s hesitation would undoubtedly be noted. That split second of indecision would be seen as evidence of a lie at best — the potential for becoming gun-shy in the field at worst. Bethany’s record in the field was nearly spotless, but any crumb of information the Agency could use against her, it would. The Agency demanded perfection, and loathe be those who consistently fell short.

Silence reigned again, though Bethany thought she heard a sigh. Was the Director disappointed in her response? That split second it took her to answer? The stammer? Had he already given an order?

“During that time,” the voice returned, “have you ever aided and abetted enemies of the United States of America?”

“No,” she answered in a tone she barely recognized.

“Are you sure?”

Bethany opened her mouth, but she was too shocked to form any words. The follow-up had caught her off-guard — which would also be used against her in any future evaluations. Her heartbeat picked up speed again, just as the incessant beeping returned. Her hands curled back into fists. She felt a bead of sweat trickle down the side of her nose. She licked her lips and opened her mouth again, but just like last time… no words.

“Bethany?”

She flinched. The Director had never used her first name before. She had always been Agent or Harmon. His voice had almost taken a paternal quality; in a way, it felt like this interrogation was a personal challenge for him. Did the Director know something? Had Bethany slipped up somehow over the years? Her mind raced with so many questions that she forgot to answer his.

She sucked in another deep breath to steel herself, using the armrests as anchors. “I have never knowingly aided and abetted an enemy of the United States.”

Once again, the beeping stopped. The Director had no response. Bethany’s heart slowed enough that it no longer felt like it was beating itself against her sternum. Her fingers relaxed their grip and her knees stopped shaking. Glancing at the pitch black around her, Bethany counted the seconds.

The count reached sixty. A full minute without another question. This couldn’t be the end of the interrogation, could it? Was it really as simple as stating her name and affirming she had never helped the people she was tasked with bringing down? Something was off; this felt all wrong. This was oddly cryptic, even for the Director.

The room went from pitch black to blindingly white without warning, and Bethany recoiled with a gasp. Squeezing her eyes shut, Bethany curled into herself as much as she could in a sitting position, slowly blinking the stars out of her eyes before they finally adjusted to the light. Two of the nodes tore off her forehead.

When properly lit, the interrogation room was ghost white. Massive databases and digital storage units lined the walls on either side of Bethany. Their secrets were well above even her pay grade, and she stared at the machine attached to her forehead, a black monitor displaying a digital readout of her brain.

The door swung open, slamming against the wall. Before Bethany could react, a tall man in a fine-pressed Italian suit hovered over her. The scent of his cologne, mixed with all of the other sensations bombarding Bethany, almost made her gag. Still, she held her composure as best she could, looking up to see the Director bearing his gray eyes right into her.

His hair was as white as the rest of the room. His nostrils flared and his mouth formed a tight line. The Director’s hands grabbed the armrests on either side of Bethany and he leaned in closer. Bethany had only seen the look on his face once before: five years ago after a mission gone wrong. The next day, over seventy associates of a Korean crime syndicate were dead.

Bethany’s blood ran cold as she once again tried and failed to speak. She couldn’t tear her eyes away from the Director’s, despite her brain screaming for her to do just that.

“Then tell me, Agent Harmon… who is Grant Pasch?”

The Best Books I Read in 2016

In many ways, 2016 has been a crap year. So many of our beloved pop culture icons and celebrities passed away. America somehow managed to wind up with an inexperienced reality TV star Nazi as its next president. A personal favorite of TV declined in quality before ultimately being canceled.

But there were some good things about 2016. I published two books, Blood Ties and Behind the Badge. I got the ball rolling on Behind the MaskBetrayed, and the fantasy epic Notna. And I read some damn good books.

Whittling down to the five best books was no easy feat; you’ll see why once we reach the Honorable Mention portion of this post. Note that this list encompasses the five best books I read in 2016, not necessarily the five best books that came out in 2016.

Now, without further ado…

5. Grave Measures by R.R. Virdi

Grave MeasuresWhat do you get when you combine ColumboConstantine, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer? You probably get something a lot like Virdi’s Grave Report novels. Virdi’s urban fantasy detective series is fast-paced, whimsical, and dangerous, and Grave Measures is every bit as good as its predecessor, Grave Beginnings.

Vincent Graves finds himself in a mental hospital this time around, and he only has but so much time to figure out whose body he is inhabiting and what was responsible for that body’s demise. All of the snark and mystery of Grave Beginnings is back in Grave Measures, and along the way, we’re treated to a much larger, richer world than what we saw in the first novel.

I feel like this is the sort of story Joss Whedon would be proud of, and as Virdi continues to establish himself as one of urban fantasy’s best writers, I’m in love with the fact that he’s filling the void left by the Buffyverse. Nothing will ever top the Slayer, but Vincent Graves has certainly carved his own niche in a genre that sometimes feels a bit overcrowded.

Grave Measures is available in hardcover, paperback, and Kindle.

4. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player OneErnest Cline’s geek opus is a fantastic romp through the bastions of popular culture and geekdom over the past 50 or so years, and if that was all Ready Player One had going for it, it would still be a damn fine book. Fortunately, Ready Player One manages to pack enough excitement, adventure, and heart into the story surrounding the plethora of pop culture references that Ready Player One becomes a modern-day classic.

The MMO world Cline created for this book would put World of Warcraft to shame, and Wade is a fantastic protagonist. But more than anything, this book is fun. It’s adrenaline-soaked, nostalgia-fueled entertainment — and ultimately, isn’t entertainment one of the biggest reasons we read? The sort of escapism we often seek is at the core of Ready Player One, and Cline never loses sight of that essential fact.

You cannot divorce the narrative from geek culture; without one or the other, the entire thing wouldn’t work. But it does work, and it is easily one of the best books I’ve read — not just in 2016, but overall.

Ready Player One is available in hardcover, paperback, Kindle, and Audible.

3. No Safe Place by Mary Head

no-safe-placeThe romance The Only One might have been Head’s first novel, but No Safe Place was clearly her true labor of love. A fast-paced thriller that follows FBI agent David Cole as he works to rescue his kidnapped daughter Hannah, No Safe Place was published through the Kindle Scout program — and whereas most books of this nature focus far more on what is done to the victim and leave the other details lying in atrophy, Head succeeds in diving into the heart of the story.

Hannah’s kidnapping is not the focus of this tale; instead, we are treated to the way her kidnapping affected not just her father, but characters who are close to both David and Hannah. We’re concerned less with what is being done to Hannah and more with what she does and how she handles herself during the ordeal. No Safe Place is such a subtle twist on the damsel-in-distress trope that you might not notice it until after the fact, but once you do, the story will be all the richer for it.

A sequel is in the offing, a book that will be light years different, but much like No Safe Place, I’m confident it will keep the heart of the characters intact — because after all, that heart was what made No Safe Place work to begin with.

No Safe Place is available in paperback and Kindle.

2. A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir

a-torch-against-the-nightThe follow-up to the excellent An Ember in the AshesA Torch Against the Night builds upon Tahir’s dystopian world of Martials and Scholars. Whereas the first book introduced us to Elias, the newly-minted Mask with a heart, and Laia, the slave girl determined to save her brother, Torch builds on them both while also introducing us to the POV of Helene, the newly-named Blood Shrike who is now tasked with tracking down and executing her best friend.

Three different POVs could have been a mess, but Tahir does a great job of balancing them all and making sure Elias, Laia, and Helene each maintain their unique voices and perspectives. The Helene chapters alone make Torch a better, more complete tale than Ember, and this is how sequels are supposed to work: take what was great about the first book and build upon it.

Tahir’s battle scenes are exquisite, and the drama is so palpable that the pages fly by. There is plenty left on the table for future books in the series, and I will likely be at my local bookstore the day the third book comes out to get my copy.

A Torch Against the Night is available in hardcover, paperback, Kindle, Audible, and audio CD.

1. Dangerous Ways by R.R. Virdi

dangerous-waysI know, I know… the same author with two slots on this list? Well, when the books are that good, they’re that good. Dangerous Ways takes us to the same universe as the Grave Report novels, but it ups both the scales and the scope. Jonathan Hawthorne and Cassidy Winters treat readers to a fantastic romp through the dimensions — and Virdi treats us to a tale that is at once intense, emotional, whimsical, and engaging.

Even though this opus comes in at a George R.R. Martin-esque 600 pages, it’s among the easiest reads I encountered in 2016. Pages flew by without my noticing it — which is probably the greatest indicator of how good a book can be. Some books that large can be a chore, but Dangerous Ways was anything but.

The amount of time and care Virdi put into Dangerous Ways is evident from the first page, and it is without hesitation that I consider this the best book I read in 2016.

Dangerous Ways is available in hardcover, paperback, and Kindle.

Honorable Mention: Floor 21: Descent by Jason Luthor, Dirty Deeds by Christy King, Untamed by Madeline Dyer, The Martian by Andy Weir, Bounty by Michael Byrnes, Sleeping Sands by C.A. King, Tomoiya’s Story: Escape to Darkness by C.A. King, The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

COVER REVEAL: Betrayed

Exciting times ahead (and not just because of the holiday)!

Below, you will find the cover for Betrayed, the fifth novel in the Jill Andersen series! Betrayed is slated for a late 2017 release, and it will follow Behind the Mask, which will forever change the direction of the series.

No synopsis yet, as it would spoil Behind the Mask, but… behold the cover!

jd_cunegan-72dpi-1500x2000-9

Good News, Everyone!

Another NaNoWriMo, another win!

For the third straight year, I eclipsed the 50,000-word mark in the annual writing exercise. With that said, the first draft of Notna — at 58,000 words — is about half-finished. Still, the book is on track for a mid-2017 publication, which would mean each of my last three NaNo projects would go on to become published works.

Bounty was my 2014 project, and I used last year’s NaNo to write Behind the Badge.

And aside from the winner’s t-shirt and all of the other goodies that come with winning NaNo (including a discount code for the fantastic writing program Scrivener), NaNoWriMo establishes writing as a daily habit. That, perhaps more than anything, is why I’m so strident in my support of the program.

While I’m on the subject of the Jill Andersen series, a couple nuggets:

Bounty is the Book of the Month for December! Just in time for the coming holidays, this is your chance to pick up my debut novel and join the discussion (of which I might be a part from time to time) on Facebook. And if you enjoy Bounty, the next two books in the series — Blood Ties and Behind the Badge — are currently out as well.

Surprise the superhero fan in your life this holiday season with my Jill Andersen novels, which are available in both paperback and Kindle. Paperback editions are available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble (online only), and CreateSpace (BountyBlood TiesBehind the Badge).

The fourth novel in the series, Behind the Mask, is finally back underway. Originally slated to come out next month, I’m now targeting a mid-2017 release. The manuscript needed a complete revamp, and I’ve forced myself to at least create the bare bones of an outline. My inner pantser is screaming about being betrayed, but the story was in serious need of direction.

That’s the problem with completely retooling a series; it invites chaos.

Speaking of betrayal… the fifth novel in the series, which I hope to have ready by the end of 2017, will be titled Betrayed. I already have the cover for the book, and the blurb is ready to go… but the blurb would spoil Behind the Mask, so I’ll just hold off on that for the time being.

But I will unveil the cover in the coming weeks.

Also, we are roughly two weeks away from the release of a new book from one of my favorite authors: indie fantasy author R.R. Virdi will be releasing his latest opus, Dangerous Ways, on Dec. 14. The Kindle and paperback editions will be available that day, and there may or may not be a hardcover edition in the works.

Be on the lookout — not just for the book, but for my latest Author Spotlight, which will go live that day. And you know that once I finish reading Dangerous Ways, there will be a review.

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: Mary Head

Time now for another Author Spotlight! Today, we feature romance and thriller author Mary Head, just in time for the release of her new book, No Safe PlaceNo Safe Place is a thriller, selected for publication through the Kindle Scout program.

Head now has two novels out, including the romance The Only One.

Before highlighting each book, let’s hear from the author herself.

What was your inspiration behind writing No Safe Place?

The simple answer is that I wanted to see Gary Oldman and Dianna Agron play father and daughter in something (they are still my ideal David and Hannah, though I know that if this book is ever made into a movie, they’ll both be too old to play these characters).

The longer answer is that father/daughter dynamics are some of my favorites to write, particularly a single father who will do anything to protect his daughter. I also love a good “damsel-in-distress” story, but I also wanted to sort of eschew a lot of the clichés that are inherent to this type of story. I wanted to write a woman who was forced into this terrible situation, but used her intelligence and her own strength to fight against it as best she could. I wanted to write a father who was desperate to find his daughter, who was a deeply good man, but also deeply flawed, and the way all of these characteristics clashed. I wanted villains who weren’t black-and-white, but surrounded by shades of gray, and I wanted supporting characters who felt just as important as the main ones.

Mostly, I wanted this story to feel real, and for the characters to be relatable.

A lot of writers will hover around one genre in particular and not stray that far from what works for them. You, meanwhile, pivoted right from romance (with your debut novel The Only One) to a thriller with No Safe Place. Are you conscious of genre when you’re writing, or do you just write stories that speak to you in the moment?

I definitely write whatever speaks to me. As an enthusiastic consumer of movies and books and TV shows, I am definitely a fan of a very wide array of genres. I enjoy playing in a variety of sandboxes, and I don’t try to limit myself whenever a new idea strikes. The two genres I’ve written for – romance and a kidnapping thriller – are two of my favorites, but I also enjoy taking my favorite genres and turning the common tropes within them on their heads.

No Safe Place was published through the Kindle Scout program. What was that experience like, and what advice would you have for anyone else thinking of giving that program a try?

The experience was stressful and nerve-wracking, to say the least, but ultimately for me, very rewarding.

I would definitely encourage everyone to give it a shot, but my biggest piece of advice is: don’t expect to get selected. From what I’ve heard from other people involved in the program, only about 2-5% of books submitted are actually selected for publication, so, to quote a popular dystopian YA series, the odds are not in your favor.

However, don’t let that stop you from submitting. Even if you don’t get chosen, you have exposure, which is always very important. You have the people who nominated your book, most of whom will actually want to read it no matter what your campaign outcome is, so you have an audience ready and waiting. Self-publishing through KDP is very simple and quick, and you have the option to have Kindle Scout send out an email to everyone who nominated your book to let them know that it’s available to buy.

I would also recommend joining kboards (http://www.kboards.com/) which is a forum for Kindle users, and specifically has a forum for writers with a thread for Kindle Scout. The members there are incredibly supportive, and you’ll have people to share the experience with. It’s also a great learning tool for anybody interested in self-publishing.

Character vs. plot: the seemingly endless debate over which is more important for a good story. Based on reading both The Only One and No Safe Place, is it safe to assume you sit firmly on the character side?

I would say yes, but really, I think characters and plot are intertwined. A great plot can be boring if the characters aren’t any good, but great characters don’t have anything to do if your plot isn’t interesting. For me personally, my characters definitely come first, and it’s usually their feelings and motivations that help shape the plot from a basic “girl meets boy” or “father searches for his kidnapped daughter” story to something compelling that people will want to read.

Funnily enough, I initially envisioned No Safe Place as having a lot more action than it does, but the characters eventually won out, and it became a much more character-driven story. So while I am definitely on the side of characters being important, to the point where I usually spend more time developing them than the actual plot of the story, I think both characters and plot are vital to what makes a good story.

Are you a heavy plotter, or do you just let the story take you where it will?

I would say I’m a combination of both. I tend to make outlines for my stories, and plot out the major points, but the journey from one plot point to another isn’t as heavily planned. As I mentioned before, I like to let my characters guide the plot, so how they get from point A to point B is usually up in the air, guided by vague ideas that can always change.

You’ve written a romance and a thriller to this point. What’s next?

Up next is the follow-up to No Safe Place called Finding Home Again, which will continue to follow Hannah’s story as she tries to put her life back together post-kidnapping. It was important to me to continue her story and show her healing process, as too often in media the aftermath of these types of traumatic events is never touched upon, and I want to show that things don’t always go back to normal after the story “ends.”

After Finding Home Again, I’ll be shifting genres again to supernatural romance with Crimson Hollow, which is essentially a vampire story, but with what I hope is a fun and interesting take on it.

What are some of your favorite books?

I’ve been catching up on the Pendergast series by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child lately. I’ve been a fan of this series, and the character Aloysius Pendergast, for years, and I highly recommend the series to everyone. They’re crime novels (Pendergast is an FBI agent who has a special interest in unusual murders, usually of the serial variety) with a supernatural, sometimes mystical, current that runs through them, and they’re incredibly riveting books; all too often I find myself staying up into the wee hours of the morning to finish each new book.

My all-time favorite standalone book has to be IT by Stephen King. To save the long drawn-out explanation of why I love it so much (because I could honestly talk about it forever), I’ll just link to my blog post about it.

I’m also a fan of several popular YA series, including Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how much I’ve enjoyed the Jill Andersen series, written by the owner of this very blog. Highly enjoyable reads, and I recommend them to anybody who’s into badass female superheroes. (Editor’s Note: I did not pay her to say this!)

 

Now for the reviews!

The Only One

too-coverI suppose a disclaimer is in order here: I’m not generally a fan of romance novels.

They’re just not my thing.

However, The Only One is the exception, because in her debut novel, Mary Head has made the characters relatable and easy to root for. As romance novels go, TOO is a quick read — don’t let the size of the paperback fool you. The chapters are short, the pacing is excellent, and before you know it, you’ll be almost as invested in Richard and Piper’s relationship as they are.

The author also makes each of the supporting characters easy to identify with, and they add to the overall fabric of the narrative. Richard and Piper do not exist in a vacuum, and it’s nice to see that while the story is clearly about them, everyone else is given a chance to breathe and find their voice. Jill, in particular, was a personal favorite.

Another of this book’s many strengths is its representation. While it is, at its heart, the story of a heterosexual relationship between two white people, the overall cast is more diverse than a lot of books. In addition, the relationship itself between Richard and Piper defies certain societal expectations in low-key, blink-and-you-might-miss-them ways. In my mind, these attributes really add to the story.

Long and short of it, if you’re a fan of the genre, The Only Oneis highly recommended. Even if you’re not, this is still a well-written book that tells an entertaining story.

Rating: *****

No Safe Place

no-safe-placeNo Safe Place is night and day from The Only One, Mary Head’s debut novel.

Whereas one was a romance that bucked many of that genre’s conventions, No Safe Place is a fast-paced thriller in which graduate student Hannah Cole is taken from her own home — leaving her FBI agent father David and his team to put the pieces together in a race against the clock.

One of this book’s chief strengths is its ability to get us to care about Hannah and David without spending too much time on their relationship. Far too many books spend so much time establishing relationships and timelines that by the time the action gets going, readers have already checked out. No Safe Place does not suffer from this; Head does a masterful job of establishing the particulars, getting us to to care about the principal players, while still managing to get the story moving along.

But Hannah is no damsel in distress; she’s fiercely intelligent and — being the daughter of an FBI agent — she’s capable of taking care of herself and has no qualms about doing so. That in and of itself turns the damsel-in-distress trope on its head and is enough reason to give this book a read.

Along the way, Head treats us to heroes whose flaws are readily apparent and villains who are perhaps a bit more sympathetic than we’re comfortable with. These characters are fleshed out and deep without spending time and space on fluff, allowing readers to take part in a journey that perhaps goes by a little quicker than expected.

A sequel is in the offing, but this book doesn’t end on a cliffhanger. The preeminent plot if wrapped up in a sufficiently satisfying manner, with each bread crumbs left over going forward. And, in Head’s continuing tradition of upsetting established tropes, this universes focuses less on Hannah’s abduction itself and more on the emotional ramifications of it — both during and after.

No Safe Place is a thriller with heart — and a tremendous read.

Rating: *****

Head’s work is available on Amazon. You can also follow her on Twitter and on Goodreads.

BOOK REVIEWS: Part IX

No Safe Place by Mary Head

no-safe-placeI received a copy of this book pre-release after nominating it for publication through Kindle Scout.

No Safe Place is night and day from The Only One, Mary Head’s debut novel.

Whereas one was a romance that bucked many of that genre’s conventions, No Safe Place is a fast-paced thriller in which graduate student Hannah Cole is taken from her own home — leaving her FBI agent father David and his team to put the pieces together in a race against the clock.

One of this book’s chief strengths is its ability to get us to care about Hannah and David without spending too much time on their relationship. Far too many books spend so much time establishing relationships and timelines that by the time the action gets going, readers have already checked out. No Safe Place does not suffer from this; Head does a masterful job of establishing the particulars, getting us to to care about the principal players, while still managing to get the story moving along.

But Hannah is no damsel in distress; she’s fiercely intelligent and — being the daughter of an FBI agent — she’s capable of taking care of herself and has no qualms about doing so. That in and of itself turns the damsel-in-distress trope on its head and is enough reason to give this book a read.

Along the way, Head treats us to heroes whose flaws are readily apparent and villains who are perhaps a bit more sympathetic than we’re comfortable with. These characters are fleshed out and deep without spending time and space on fluff, allowing readers to take part in a journey that perhaps goes by a little quicker than expected.

A sequel is in the offing, but this book doesn’t end on a cliffhanger. The preeminent plot if wrapped up in a sufficiently satisfying manner, with each bread crumbs left over going forward. And, in Head’s continuing tradition of upsetting established tropes, this universes focuses less on Hannah’s abduction itself and more on the emotional ramifications of it — both during and after.

No Safe Place is a thriller with heart — and a tremendous read.

Rating: *****

Preorder No Safe Place on Amazon 

 

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

the-girl-on-the-trainI’m trying to remember the last time I was so disappointed with a book that was so hyped. Probably the time I tried reading Lord of the Rings, but even that doesn’t feel quite right.

The frustrating thing is, there are passages in which The Girl on the Train is so gripping, so intense, that it grabs hold of you and you can fly through dozens of pages without realizing it. The climactic unravel, satisfying as it is, is the only reason I stuck with this book to the end, because this book suffered from two major flaws.

1) For a book so intense, so psychologically messed-up, The Girl on the Train takes its sweet old time getting going. I understand the need to introduce the particulars, but it shouldn’t take north of the first 50 pages to do so. I almost bailed on this book before things actually started happening.

2) There are no genuinely good characters. I suppose that could be considered a strength — and when I say I need to care about the characters, I say that knowing that doesn’t mean I necessarily have to like them. But none of the protagonists — not Rachel, not Anna, not Megan — are easy to root for; the supporting characters aren’t much better.

There are reasons to sympathize with each of the three women through whom we’re told this tale. Rachel is divorced, unemployed, the victim of of infidelity, and she’s an alcoholic. Megan harbors a secret so heinous, she can’t even let her husband in on it. Anna… well, she and Rachel are far more entangled with each other than she would care to admit.

But all three are also insufferable in their own ways, and if it weren’t for the mystery of what happened to Rachel on the night she can’t remember, if it weren’t for the mystery of what ultimately happened to Megan, I would’ve abandoned this book not quite midway through.

Maybe the upcoming film will address some of these issues — cutting the fat from the beginning would be a huge bonus — but this book really frustrated me because of what it could have been. This had the potential to be an impossible book to put down; this could have easily turned into the best book I’ve read throughout 2016. The ingredients were all there.

But Paula Hawkins meandered her way through the beginning, and she left us with characters who reminded us too much of that friend we all have… the person who has been through entirely too much, which engenders sympathy, but they’re also such exhausting people to be around, for one reason or another, that the sympathy only goes so far.

I did root for Rachel, and Anna, toward the end, but for much of The Girl on the Train, I spent much of my time rolling my eyes at them. There were times where I envied Megan, because she didn’t have to wade through this mess.

But in the end, The Girl on the Train frustrated the hell out of me. What could’ve been a classic begging to be read time and time again instead turned into a maddening cluster of messed up people that you’ll wish would just get over themselves.

Rating: **

Buy The Girl on the Train on Amazon