Review: Gemini Cell by Myke Cole

gemini cell

About Gemini Cell

Publication Date: January 27, 2015

Myke Cole continues to blow the military fantasy genre wide open with an all-new epic adventure in his highly acclaimed Shadow Ops universe—set in the early days of the Great Reawakening, when magic first returns to the world and order begins to unravel…

US Navy SEAL Jim Schweitzer is a consummate professional, a fierce warrior, and a hard man to kill. But when he sees something he was never meant to see on a covert mission gone bad, he finds himself—and his family—in the crosshairs. Nothing means more to Jim than protecting his loved ones, but when the enemy brings the battle to his front door, he is overwhelmed and taken down.

That should be the end of the story. But Jim is raised from the dead by a sorcerer and recruited by a top secret unit dabbling in the occult, known only as the Gemini Cell. With powers he doesn’t understand, Jim is called back to duty—as the ultimate warrior. As he wrestles with a literal inner demon, Jim realizes his new superiors are determined to use him for their own ends and keep him in the dark—especially about the fates of his wife and son…


About the Author

As a secu­rity con­tractor, gov­ern­ment civilian and mil­i­tary officer, Myke Cole’s career has run the gamut from Coun­tert­er­rorism to Cyber War­fare to Fed­eral Law Enforce­ment. He’s done three tours in Iraq and was recalled to serve during the Deep­water Horizon oil spill.

All that con­flict can wear a guy out. Thank good­ness for fan­tasy novels, comic books, late night games of Dun­geons and Dragons and lots of angst fueled writing.


My Thoughts

[Note: I received an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher via NetGalley for review.]

Myke Cole is an author that’s been on my watch-list for a few years now. He first caught my attention with his debut, Shadow Ops: Control Point, which immediately garnered the quick pitch of X-Men Meets Black Hawk Down. Color me intrigued. But, for whatever reason, I never got around to reading the damn thing and it has sat in my TBR pile for going on three years. In that time, Cole has completed the Shadow Ops trilogy and is now working on expanding the world he created there.

So, imagine my surprise when I learned about Gemini Cell, the start of a prequel series to the Shadow Ops stuff. I had a perfectly good entry point now, without further adding to the backlog of a series already in progress, that was custom-built for a Cole newbie like myself. And let me tell you, this book is a terrific way to get in on the ground floor of Cole’s expanding story. There’s no learning curve required, and no knowledge needed of his previous works. It is the perfect entry point.

By the time I hit the 30% mark on this book, I was kicking myself for not having experienced any of Cole’s earlier work, because it was just that damn good. And the X-Men comparison? It may be less applicable to this particular story, but I will say fans of other comic book properties like Venom (particularly Rick Rememder’s recent run) or Spawn, with maybe a smidge of Robocop tossed in for good flavor, will be in for treat.

As a military vet, Cole is able to imbue a hearty dose of realism to the ops conducted by the book’s Navy SEALs and the going-ons of the Gemini Cell. But what he really nails are the little things, those deft touches that help this book shine, such as Schweitzer learning how to talk post-mortem. His body is dead, he has no pulse, no need for air, and no way to make his vocal chords vibrate to produce sound, unless he puts an incredible amount of will into it. It’s a terrific and thoughtful aspect that helps enrich the supernatural proceedings.

I also appreciated the stark contrasts between Schweitzer and the jinn he shares his corpse with – these two are polar opposites in everything from ego to combat styles. Cole plays this part of the story straight-up and avoids any worryingly hokey, mismatched buddy-cop hijinks, which would be an enormous disservice to the material. Rather, it’s dark and edgy and appropriately grim. It’s serious, dangerous business and readers who underestimate how well it works could be in for a vicious reprimand.

Gemini Cell was a terrific and brisk read, a real fun page turner. Think Vince Flynn plus a whole lot of magic mixed in and baked in hellfire, and you’ve got the gist of how awesome Myke Cole’s new series is shaping up to be. This book just has so many genre elements that I love, and Cole lovingly blends them together, that it makes for an easy recommendation. I haven’t read any of this author’s past works, but I aim to catch up fast. He’s just earned a new loyal reader in me.

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Review: Gemini Cell by Myke Cole

Review: Afterburn by Tim Curran

afterburnAbout Afterburn

Be quiet. Very quiet.
Don’t scream.
They can’t see you, but they can hear you.
And they’re coming.
Knocking at doors and reaching through windows, hungry to incinerate anything that moves, anything that breathes. Born in a searing hellstorm of radioactive dust, they own the night and if they touch you, they’ll burn the flesh from your bones.
Listen.
They’re coming now.
Don’t even whisper.
And don’t scream.


About the Author

Tim Curran lives in Michigan and is the author of the novels Skin Medicine, Hive, Dead Sea, and Skull Moon. Upcoming projects include the novels Resurrection, The Devil Next Door, and Hive 2, as well as The Corpse King, a novella from Cemetery Dance, and Four Rode Out, a collection of four weird-western novellas by Curran, Tim Lebbon, Brian Keene, and Steve Vernon. His short stories have appeared in such magazines as City Slab, Flesh&Blood, Book of Dark Wisdom, and Inhuman, as well as anthologies such as Flesh Feast, Shivers IV, High Seas Cthulhu, and, Vile Things. Find him on the web at:

http://www.corpseking.com
blog: http://satansmeatlocker.blogspot.com/


My Thoughts

A new Tim Curran release is always something to be excited about, but I couldn’t help feeling that Afterburn would have benefited from a shorter, more compact execution. There’s a five-star novella buried within this four-star (maybe 3.5 star) novel.

My main complaint is that Afterburn just gets too repetitive. The main threat in this story revolves around a group of hell wraiths terrorizing and incinerating the small town of Middleburg, Nebraska. The idea is nifty enough, but frankly, there’s just so many times you can read about some hapless victim getting cremated, and Curran pretty well covers all the bases, from exploding eyeballs to burning, popping fat, and human bodies rendered down to tallow and charred bones. There’s just a few too many instances of this, though, and it gets a little long in the tooth. And while the back half of the book works incredibly well, it also highlights just how bloated and unnecessary a few of the character vignettes in the front half were.

Curran spends a good amount of time hopping from character to character before finally settling on the main protagonists, which was another problem with the structure of the book’s opening, albeit a more minor one. I wasn’t quite sure who to root for for quite a while in the book’s early going’s as each new character that surfaced existed simply to show how prevalent and ominous the mysterious threat plaguing Middleburg really is. I can’t help but wonder how many of these characters were introduced and dispatched with just as quickly simply in an effort to increase the word count to novel length.

Still, Curran is able to explore his characters sufficiently well in their, too-frequently, limited page counts. Like Stephen King, Curran is a master of blue-collar horror works, taking regular Joes and shoving them through the meat grinder (sometimes literally, and explicitly detailed at that!) with supernatural prowess. In addition to Abby, we get small-town cops, a high school janitor, a real estate agent cheating on her spouse, and a crabby old bitty who has positioned herself as the neighborhood watch and tacky gossiper. As already noted, some get more minor roles than others in the local tapestry Curran shapes in Afterburn, but we get to know each of them well, sometimes to the detriment of a few of these lowlifes and ne’er-do-wells.

As with a lot of Curran books, though (at least the one I’ve read so far), once things get going there’s little letting up. And here, the action starts off from damn near page one as black rain fall across the town, followed by a burning, crystalline hail that slices and dices its way through any townsfolk unlucky enough to be outside at the time. Sixteen year old Abby is stuck inside babysitting and catching up on her favorite infomercials, and soon enough finds herself to be the caretaker not only for her neighbor’s newborn, but another boy whose parents were killed by the burning, yearning, hungry-for-more sentient incinerators.

The threat is damning and unstoppable, leading to a scorching, apocalyptic finale that really kicks this already-amped up story into overdrive. And while this isn’t the best work of Curran’s that I’ve read, it’s certainly worth a read-through.

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Review: Afterburn by Tim Curran

Review: Blockbuster by Lisa von Biela

blockbusterAbout Blockbuster

In the year 2025, survival of the fittest takes on new importance. Hungry for market share and driven by greed, BigPharma companies battle to produce the next blockbuster drug. And they will go to any length to win—and survive.

Dan Tremaine has found the secret to success for Denali Labs. Phil Horton is desperate to save his family firm, Horton Drugs. When they’re put in a head-to-head competition to find the cure for a deadly flesh-eating disease, who will win?

And at what cost?

The clock is ticking. The body count is rising.

And someone has created a monster.


About the Author

Lisa von Biela worked in Information Technology for 25 years, and still claims there is no application she cannot break in testing. She left the field to attend the University of Minnesota Law School, graduating magna cum laude in 2009. She now practices law in Seattle, Washington. One of her legal articles, a research piece published in the Food and Drug Law Journal, was cited in an amicus brief before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Just after the turn of the century, Lisa began to write short, dark fiction. Her first publication was in The Edge in 2002. She went on to publish a number of short works in various small press venues, including Gothic.net, Twilight Times, Dark Animus, AfterburnSF, and more.

She is the author of THE GENESIS CODE, THE JANUS LEGACY, ASH AND BONE, BLOCKBUSTER, and SKINSHIFT (coming June 2015).


My Thoughts

Lisa von Biela’s Blockbuster is a solid medical thriller that reads well, but lacks much in the way of character depth.

So, let me tackle the bad and get this gruesome bit of business out of the way first. Despite having a number of principal cast members, none of them feel very well defined or memorable. Outside of Dan Tremaine, owner of Denali Labs, I’m having a bit of a hard time remembering any of the other characters. There’s the female scientist, Sylvia, and her lawyer husband, as well as the scientist’s older co-worker who has a crush on her – and I remember that particular detail because as soon as he’s introduced von Biela spends a number of paragraphs telling us how much he’s crushing on her. There’s also the US President who is obsessed with the word “Homeland” and uses it unsparingly.

Dialogue is a bit flat, wooden, and rings a bit out of tune a bit too often to my ears. There’s also a few instances where dialogue serves primarily as infodump, because von Biela wants to convey certain information about the world her story inhabits, but can only relay it through long-winded conversations where people talk in ways that very few real-life humans speak.

Those are by big gripes with this book. Now, the good.

In spite of her stilted characters, Blockbuster tells a really damn good story. In fact, I found the story itself to be so gripping that the problems I had with the character’s realizations were not the deal breaker they otherwise might have been.

This germ-driven story of conspiracy and manipulation is great fodder to build a plot from. There’s all kinds of techno-whiz-bang stuff of the near-future coloring her world, including a nifty high-tech smart watch that puts the disappointing and strangely mundane iWatch to shame. But the crux is the story revolves around an all-too plausible horror of BigPharma playing a game of chicken with modified diseases and a high susceptible public in an effort to cause epidemics and drive up profits. It’s truly insidious stuff, and Tremaine, with his pseudo-cocaine habit, could easily be The Wolf Of Pharmaceuticals.

The disease in question is MRSA-II, which makes its flesh-eating predecessor look like the flu. I can typically handle traditional, vile horror romps. But, I’ve got a thing for needles, and von Biela’s judicious and vivid descriptions of the toll MRSA-II takes on the human body, and the early efforts at treatment, had me squirming.

Most importantly, Blockbuster is just, plain and simple, a compelling story. Some might even go so far as to call it an…infectious read? Puns aside, for me these good bits outweighed the bad, and I was drawn in by the dueling businesses/grudge match of Denali Labs and Horton Drugs and how the response to the changing pharmaceutical marketplace trumps ethical practices. There’s a writ-large morality play underpinning Blockbuster, and most of the characters in this book either lack ethics or have huge blind spots that allow them to trudge their way through enormous ethical lapses, bad decisions, and terrorism, all in the name of winning, while the wee little people pay the ultimate price for the rank hubris of these corporation’s bottom lines. Regardless of its narrowly defined characters and some schlocky dialogue, there’s a really good tale of smart bio-horror here. The execution may fall a little flat, but plot-wise it’s on the money.

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Review: Blockbuster by Lisa von Biela

Review: Island of the Forbidden by Hunter Shea

islandoftheforbiddenAbout Island of the Forbidden

Sometimes, the dead are best left in peace.

Jessica Backman has been called to help a strange family living on a haunted island in Charleston Harbor. Ormsby Island was the site of a brutal massacre two decades ago, and now the mysterious Harper family needs someone to exorcise the ghosts that still call it home. The phantoms of over one hundred children cannot rest.

But something far more insidious is living on the island. When the living and the dead guard their true intentions, how can Jessica discover just what sort of evil lurks on Ormsby Island? And why is Jessica the only one who can plumb its dark depths?


About the Author

Hunter Shea is the author of the novels Forest of Shadows, Swamp Monster Massacre, Evil Eternal, Sinister Entity and The Graveyard Speaks. His stories have appeared in numerous magazines, including Dark Moon Digest, Morpheus Tales and the upcoming anthology, Shocklines : Fresh Voices in Terror. His obsession with all things horrific has led him to real life exploration of the paranormal, interviews with exorcists and other things that would keep most people awake with the lights on. He is also half of the Monster Men video podcast, a fun look at the world of horror. You can read about his latest travails and communicate with him at http://www.huntershea.com, on Twitter @HunterShea1, Facebook fan page at Hunter Shea or the Monster Men 13 channel on YouTube.


My Thoughts

[Note: I received an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher via NetGalley for review.]

Hunter Shea’s latest, Island of the Forbidden, brings back his series heroine, Jessica Backman, and her paranormal hunting partner, Eddie Home, for a third adventure.

While I haven’t read any of the prior Backman books (yet!), Shea’s previous release, Hell Hole, was enough to get me to jump into the deep end with his assurances, via his blog, that this one could be read as a standalone novel. And, for the most part, I’d have to agree. Shea does a great job of catching reader’s up on the background between Backman and Home, and their last case together, which has weakened Home and driven a rift between he and Jessica, setting her off on a solo cross-country journey.

However, the paranormal perils of Ormsby Island and the threat it poses for two young children, are enough to draw Jessica and Eddie back together. The island, and the mansion that rests there, have been bought by the Harper family in an effort to drum up money by selling their real-life ghost story as a reality TV show. But, in order to do that, they first have to rile up the dead, putting themselves and their children in danger.

Island of the Forbidden is a bit of a slow-burn ghost novel. Shea does some strong character work, and it’s fascinating to witness how Ormsby Island changes the Harper’s, particularly Tobe, the family patriarch. (And, a side-note here, but I can’t but think that Tobe Harper may be a bit of an ode to horror film director Tobe Hooper, who is best known for the movie Poltergeist.) There’s also a long unraveling of what, exactly, happened on Ormsby Island, the site of a massive massacre (to say the least), a description that serves merely to scratch the surface of the awful truth.

Unlike the weird western Hell Hole, however, this work is not a constant stream of paranormal action and gunfights against the undead or undying. Rather, this is a more subtle and nuanced work of horror, with the ghostly shenanigans sprinkled throughout and building toward a powerful climax that sees the full fury of the island’s apparitions brought to bear against the living.

Overall, I was nicely satisfied by Island of the Forbidden, and found it to be an accessible entry-point to Shea’s series despite not having read any of the prior Jessica Backman novels. If anything, I’m even more intrigued in these past stories now and will be aiming to read through them as soon as I can. She’s a fun, plucky character that I’d like to read more about as she square’s off against ghastly, ghostly threats. Here’s to hoping we haven’t seen the last of her and Eddie.

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Review: Island of the Forbidden by Hunter Shea

Review: The Great Zoo Of China by Matthew Reilly

TheGreatZooOfChinaAbout The Great Zoo Of China

January 27, 2015
The all-new thriller from #1 internationally bestselling author Matthew Reilly!It is a secret the Chinese government has been keeping for forty years. They have found a species of animal no one believed even existed. It will amaze the world. Now the Chinese are ready to unveil their astonishing discovery within the greatest zoo ever constructed. A small group of VIPs and journalists has been brought to the zoo deep within China to see its fabulous creatures for the first time. Among them is Dr. Cassandra Jane “CJ” Cameron, a writer for National Geographic and an expert on reptiles. The visitors are assured by their Chinese hosts that they will be struck with wonder at these beasts, that they are perfectly safe, and that nothing can go wrong. Of course it can’t…GET READY FOR ACTION ON A GIGANTIC SCALE.

About the Author

Matthew Reilly is the international bestselling author of numerous novels, including The Five Greatest Warriors, The Six Sacred Stones, Seven Deadly Wonders, Ice Station, Temple, Contest, Area 7, Scarecrow, the children’s book Hover Car Racer, and one novella, Hell Island. His books are published in more than twenty languages in twenty countries, and he has sold more than 7 million copies worldwide.

My Thoughts

[Note: I received an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher via NetGalley for review.]

Elevator pitch: It’s like Jurassic Park, but with dragons and waaaay more action.

If that capsule summary has you hooked, then you’re in for one hell of a ride! Matthew Reilly’s latest, The Great Zoo of China, is, first and foremost, fun. A damn lot of fun at that.

I’ve only read a couple of Reilly’s past efforts, both from his Scarecrow series, and although this particular novel is a standalone the gist of Reilly’s work is this – he takes a cool premise and turns it into a big-budget Hollywood thrill-ride spectacle, with as much action as possible stuffed into its pages. His twitter bio is both succinct and highly accurate, describing him as a “Creator of rollercoaster rides on paper.”

In The Great Zoo of China, Reilly takes us to a country renowned primarily for building stuff for the industries of other nations. If it wants to be a world leader, then China needs to win the war of soft diplomacy and become a cultural sensation. The solution, then, is to open a zoo unlike any ever seen – not just The Great Zoo of China, but The Great Dragon Zoo of China. And obviously that’s a really swell idea and everything turns out hunky-dory. I mean, what could possibly go wrong, right?

Um…well…quite a lot, it turns out.

Reilly embellishes his fantastical central premise with a nice smidge of just-plausible-enough science to get the ball rolling. Readers aren’t beaten over the head with technical details and scientific minutia, but rather a gently laid groundwork that gives the existence of dragons enough credibility to get us to a metric ton of explosions, and death-defying derring-do as the zoo finds itself under siege.

Taking center stage is reptile expert, and National Geographic writer, CJ Cameron, who has survived a crocodile attack that left her face badly scarred. Cameron is a smart and brave action heroine, from the Ellen Ripley mold, and a fiercely determined protagonist once all hell breaks loose. She takes quick command of the world-shaking developments rocking the zoo, and steers the plethora of chaotic events that ensue toward a satisfyingly bloody and fiery finish.

The Great Zoo of China is a huge, Hollywood-ready blockbuster, brimming with enough action and pyrotechnics to make Michael Bay jealous. And Reilly never loses sight of his primary goal, which is to make a big, muscular, and enjoyable thriller that only rarely pauses to catch a breath before diving headlong back into the fray.

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Review: The Great Zoo Of China by Matthew Reilly

Review: Atlanta Burns by Chuck Wendig

AtlantaBurnsAbout Atlanta Burns

You don’t mess with Atlanta Burns.

Everyone knows that. And that’s kinda how she likes it—until the day Atlanta is drawn into a battle against two groups of bullies and saves a pair of new, unexpected friends. But actions have consequences, and when another teen turns up dead—by an apparent suicide—Atlanta knows foul play is involved. And worse: she knows it’s her fault. You go poking rattlesnakes, maybe you get bit.

Afraid of stirring up the snakes further by investigating, Atlanta turns her focus to the killing of a neighborhood dog. All paths lead to a rural dogfighting ring, and once more Atlanta finds herself face-to-face with bullies of the worst sort. Atlanta cannot abide letting bad men do awful things to those who don’t deserve it. So she sets out to unleash her own brand of teenage justice.

Will Atlanta triumph? Or is fighting back just asking for a face full of bad news?

Revised edition: Previously published as two volumes, Shotgun Gravy and Bait Dog, this combined edition includes editorial revisions.


About the Author

Chuck Wendig is the author of The Heartland Trilogy and the Atlanta Burns series, as well as numerous novels for adults. He is also a game designer and screenwriter. He cowrote the short film Pandemic, the feature film HiM, and the Emmy-nominated digital narrative Collapsus. Chuck lives in “Pennsyltucky” with his family. He blogs at http://www.terribleminds.com.


My Thoughts

[I received an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher via NetGalley for review.]

With Atlanta Burns, Chuck Wendig lobs one helluva hand grenade into the middle of the Young Adult genre with this bleak, broody affair.

Temporarily trading in the far-future cornpunk pastures of his Heartland series for the redneck noir of Pennsyltucky, Wendig fully delivers with this terrific thriller. It’s stocked to the gills with white supremacists, dogfighting rings, drugs, murder, and mayhem. It also has plenty of heart in between, and the titular heroine, Atlanta Burns, is wildly worth rooting for. If you’ve followed Wendig’s other heroine, Miriam Black (Blackbirds), Burns may feel familiar and has a similar world-toughened outer shell and a mouthful of razor-sharp sarcasm.

At times, Atlanta’s world feels a lot tougher than Black’s urban paranormal escapades. Maybe that’s just because this book is kept so firmly grounded in the much-too-recognizable real-world and pulls zero punches. There’s bullying, inferences of sexual assault, and lynchings. By the time I finished the first part of Bait Dog, I was a mess. Wendig’s descriptions of animal abuse and the tortuous regimen of training dogs for pit fighting tore at my guts more than the last dozen horror novels I’ve read, and, more than a few times, the book left me in some serious need of cat cuddles from my little fur-ball.

Although Atlanta Burns collects two previously published titles, the novella Shotgun Gravy and the novel Bait Dog, the two stories are so closely interrelated that it reads comfortably well as a single narrative. It’s a terrific suspense-thriller that not only packs an emotional wallop but is tough as nails. Highly recommended.

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Review: Atlanta Burns by Chuck Wendig

Review: Winter At The Door by Sarah Graves

WinterAtTheDoorAbout Winter At The Door

Perfect for fans of Jenny Milchman, Linda Castillo, and Lisa Gardner—the first book in a suspenseful new crime thriller series featuring the tough but haunted police chief Lizzie Snow, a big-city cop with a mission, taking on a small town with a dark side.

Moving from Boston to remote Bearkill, Maine, isn’t homicide cop Lizzie Snow’s idea of a step up. But breaking away from tragedy and personal betrayal is at least a step in the right direction. Her dead sister’s fate still torments her, as does her long-missing niece’s disappearance. Lizzie hopes to find the mysteriously vanished child here, amid the coming ice and snow. But in the Great North Woods, something darker and more dangerous than punishing winter is also bound for Bearkill.

The town is a world apart in more than distance—full of people who see everything, say little, and know more than they’ll share with an outsider. The only exceptions are the handsome state cop who once badly broke Lizzie’s heart and desperately wants another chance—and Lizzie’s new boss, sheriff Cody Chevrier, who’s counting on her years of homicide experience to help him solve his most troubling case, before it’s too late.

A rash of freak accidents and suicides has left a string of dead men—all former local cops. Now the same cruel eyes that watched them die are on Lizzie—and so is the pressure to find out what sort of monster has his hooks in this town, what his ruthless game is, and just how brutally he’ll play to win. Whatever the truth is, its twisted roots lie in the desolate backwoods of Aroostook County: where the desperate disappear, the corrupt find shelter, and the innocent lose everything. It’s there that a cunning and utterly cold-blooded killer plans the fate of the helpless lives at his mercy—one of whom may be the lost child Lizzie will do anything to save. As a blizzard bears down, and Bearkill’s dark secrets claw their way to the surface, Lizzie gears up for a showdown that could leave the deep, driven snow stained blood red.


About the Author

Sarah Graves lives with her husband in Eastport, Maine. She is working on the second Lizzie Snow novel, THE GIRLS SHE LEFT BEHIND. Visit her at http://www.sarahgraves.net or http://www.mainecrimewriters.com


My Thoughts

[I received an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher via NetGalley for review.]

Homicide detective Lizzie Snow is a recent transplant to Bearkill, Maine, a small town where there’s more trees than people, and a heck of a lot of drama going around.

Lizzie has taken a job as a deputy with the Bearkill Sheriff’s office in an effort to track down her missing niece. Her boss, Chevrier, has hired her to help solve a string of suicides among ex-cops, which he believes to be work of a murderer.

This is the first book I’ve read from Sarah Graves, and most of my past mystery reads have leaned toward the Connelly/Connolly/Sanford/Lehane end of the spectrum. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Graves’ work, and my first reaction was there was a heck of a lot of stuff going on in this book, and I wasn’t entirely sure how much of it was relevant. This helped give those little “a-ha!” moments a lot of oomph once I began seeing how all the so-very-disparate elements connected.

But, jeez, waiting for connections to get made? It was actually kind of annoying and made it feel like there was a lot of water being tread in-between, particularly during the novel’s first half. And to top it off, there was a pretty heavy focus on Snow’s romantic triangle quandaries between her, her ex-lover and fellow cop, Dylan, and a local veterinarian. That, of course, is in addition to Snow being stalked and spied on, breaking up bar-room brawls, and dealing with multiple senior citizens suffering from dementia.

For being a fairly light read, at times Winter At The Door felt awfully bloated. My main hurdle to tackle was the surprisingly light investigative focus on the central mysteries. As noted above, my mystery reads tend to fall heavily toward male authors, where the action and procedural details are very front and center, and whatever romantic entanglements may be present are less prevalent. Winter At The Door struck me as a pretty sharp inverse of this dynamic, with the romance element being more central to Graves’s story, and the dual mysteries at the book’s core taking on a more secondary role. But, by around the half-way point when she starts tying all these threads together, the focus on resolving all the story elements gives the book a strength that was lacking in the front-end.

There’s just an odd dichotomy to the story-telling here that makes the book feel somewhat imbalanced, and it feels like Graves was having trouble reconciling the various entanglements of her story. Finally, for the last third of the book, the author was able to settle into a killer groove that resolves Snow’s man-hunt for a killer in the snowy Maine woods for a really well-done finale.

While Winter At The Door is certainly not poorly done, it didn’t quite hit all the right notes for me. Graves tells a solid story, and has a strong knack for detail. Her description of Bearkill and life in that small-town are really well done and evocative. Readers will get a terrific sense of community and the ties that bind the small populace of Bearkill together. And the way she ties in the various elements into a cohesive plot helped me feel a bit like I was a step or two ahead of the game, while still providing a few surprises. All that said, it just felt a little too cozy for me, which is a bit odd for a novel featuring murder, stalking, meth dealing, kidnapping, suicides, etc. On the other hand, Snow was a fun heroine to follow and Winter At The Door left me satisfied enough in the end to consider giving Graves a second chance whenever the next Lizzie Snow novel releases.

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Review: Winter At The Door by Sarah Graves