All Book Reviews by Genre: Thrillers/Suspense

Piercing the Darkness
Peretti, Frank E.
2 stars = Meh
Review:

It’s weird how something that was done so well the first time loses all its magic during a sequel. I absolutely loved This Present Darkness , as I felt it accurately captured the invisible war of the spiritual world while also providing a gripping thriller in the human realm to keep the action moving forward. I was not impressed with the follow-up book, Piercing the Darkness. If it was a separate story with separate characters, I might have gotten into it more, but as it is, the tie-in to the first book seemed sloppy and almost unnecessary.

Almost every part of This Present Darkness that I thought was amazing seemed copied into Piercing the Darkness, but without the stakes or “oomph” to make the plot even semi-interesting. I think the reason for this was that most of the subtlety was gone from the characters. It’s a little more terrifying when you learn that normal, everyday people are being controlled by demons, but when a fully-functioning Satanic cult is your antagonist, it just seems like the author isn’t trying that hard. Of course, there wasn’t much of a reason behind the “evil side’s” plans in this book, other than to ruin a Christian school. At least in the original book, a whole town was at stake.

Perhaps Peretti was pandering a bit too much to his core demographic here, but it almost seemed like all the characters were caricatures, with no ambiguity to make the reader wonder whose side they were on. I won’t even mention the few plot holes I noticed, some of which came to light during the trial portion of the plot since it’s pretty apparent how everything’s going to turn out from the beginning. Good triumphs, evil is defeated, blah blah blah. In short, this book reads more like a sermon. The thrill is gone.

A sub-par follow-up to a fantastic book, I give Piercing the Darkness 2.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
Awards:
Code of Honor
Gratz, Alan
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Kamran and Darius Smith made a code of honor when they were kids; be
the bravest of, the brave strongest of the strong ,help the helpless, kill
all monsters. But when Darius graduates at west point, and then joins the
army, he is captured by the Al Qaeda and forced to make public broadcasts
about threats from the terrorist group. After that happened Kamran is taken
to a government facility and decides to prove that Darius is innocent. He
gets the help he needs from Ex-special forces officer Dane Redmond, Aaliya
sayid, Jimmy Doran ,and Mickey Hagan. Together they help Kamran rescue
Darius, but wait, one of someone might be a traitor to the team.

Reviewer's Name: Brendan M.
Awards:
This Present Darkness
Peretti, Frank
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

Back in high school, I had to read this book as part of my Religions class and thought it was pretty good. As I have been preparing for writing The Slumberealm Gambit, I decided to give This Present Darkness another read so I could recall how Frank E. Peretti combined the fantastical spirit world with the real world. For a book written in 1986, it’s aged surprisingly well, even if the demise of the newspaper and the rise of constant contact via cell phones would make this kind of book set in modern times a hard sell. Even so, I honestly wouldn’t mind if someone adapted this book into a movie, as the plot is thrilling and the action is top-notch.

Strangely enough, one of my qualms with this book is with its formatting and proofreading. There were a few missed typos, and the right-align text didn’t seem as professional as I would have hoped a widely-printed book would be. Regarding content, though, I wonder if the preacher side plot could have either been cut or enhanced so that it would have had the same intensity/focus as the newspaper main plot. Still, by the end of the book, the exciting conclusion is a result of all the pieces being put in place during the somewhat long buildup.

Some people may debate whether angels and demons are real, but this book certainly gives a fantastical look behind the curtain and imagines these beings in elaborate detail. The angels are all quietly patient, while the demons are gruesome and horrifying. The mixture of fantasy imagery and real-world situations is something I hope to soon accomplish in my own writing style, and this book merely reinforced how awesome it was when I read it for the first time more than a decade ago.

An action-filled and thrilling look behind the spiritual curtain, I give This Present Darkness 4.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin
Timeline
Crichton, Michael
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

It’s been a while since I read any Michael Crichton. I thoroughly enjoyed Jurassic Park —and to a lesser extent, The Lost World . I enjoyed the action and the science that went into creating these stories, helping to educate as well as entertain (kind of like my own writing style, if I do say so myself :D). For Timeline, the science in question is more quantum in nature, but I felt the explanations given were sufficient to arrive at a time-travel narrative, even if it did require a small amount of scientific hand-waving. Also, a lot of my perceptions about the dark ages were completely flipped around through this book’s meticulous details.

Even though I liked the scientific and historical sections of this book, there were undoubtedly some weaknesses I cannot overlook. First of all, Crichton seems to like hammering home the idea that science as an entertainment business is a bad idea (a la Jurassic Park) but the corporate sub-plot seemed a little less thought out and didn’t play too much into the grand scheme of things. As for the main plot itself, it seemed distracted most of the time, rarely remembering why these characters were sent back in time in the first place. Some of the characters weren’t even that compelling either, which didn’t help.

I wanted to like this book more, but by the end of the narrative, I got the sense that this was more akin to an action-movie screenplay or video game plot than an actual book. The countdown to the climax was a little hard to keep track of earlier in the book, and it didn’t provide the needed tension early on that it did near the end. Plus, the characters were usually the ones calling out the timestamps anyway, making it mostly redundant. In the end, there were some neat ideas regarding quantum physics, time travel, and history that makes Timeline an educational read, even if it is only once.

A Crichton book heavy in action, but light on plot, I give Timeline 3.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin
We Were Liars
Lockhart, E.
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

AWESOME! This book is the type you can not set down until you've reached the author's note! It is really inventive, relatable and written in a whole new perspective of things you would have never thought about. Takes you through a roller coaster ride of emotions and very great book overall.

Reviewer's Name: Francesca J.
Monster
Peretti, Frank
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

One of the challenges of the Christian author is being able to craft stories and characters that share their beliefs, but without being too heavy-handed about it. In Frank Peretti’s Monster, the author mostly succeeds, providing characters that can easily be identified as Christian, but also exhibiting the traits of normal humans instead of straight-up caricatures. The main plot of this book was only tangentially related to an argument against evolution, so that was also a plus. Still, the way the book was put together, it was clear where the author’s bias was.

While some people might not appreciate the Christian undertones in this thriller, my qualms with it are more structural. Following a few different characters after a woman is abducted by an unnatural beast, the mystery of the disappearances and killings unravels to reveal a semi-plausible explanation. Unfortunately, the man and wife pair that are introduced at the start of the book are more annoying than likable. Ergo, when I followed the woman’s ordeal in captivity, I could not sympathize with her plight because her actions and reactions were so off-putting at first.

In the end, Monster is still a passable—if perhaps boilerplate—thriller. I did appreciate the realistic explanation for the fantastical elements of the story. I also found it somewhat refreshing to show a character who opposed the common scientific view of evolution just because everyone else thought it was true. For an audiobook, the author’s narration was filled with just the right amount of emphasis, which is to be expected. However, with so many short scenes and quick cuts between them, his reading could have stood to have a little bit longer pauses between sections in order to give the listener a better sense that the scene was changing from one character to another.

A passable thriller with semi-subtle Christian undertones, I give Monster 3.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin
Bodyguard: Recruit
Bradford, Chris
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Connor Reeves is in the Battle of Britain Junior Kickboxing Tournament champion with a promising career ahead of him. All of that changes when he sees a kid being beat up in an alley. With his father’s selfless blood running through his veins, Connor doesn’t hesitate to come to the victim’s aid. One fight later, he goes with some cops who invite him to join a secret organization called Guardian. Guardian specializes in the protection of high-risk, wealthy targets. Everyone is shocked when his first assignment is to protect the President’s daughter, after barely any training. This book is filled with suspense as Connor solves the clues to rescue her. I would highly recommend this book and book series to all middle school readers.
Reviewer Grade: 8

Reviewer's Name: Lola F.
One Of Us Is Lying
McManus, Karen M.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This is an exciting murder mystery book. I enjoyed all the difrent perspectives of the four main characters. All four of the main characters were flawed in some way, but still likable. The reader will enjoy the mystory until the very end when it is reveald. The author throws you in many directions and when you think you know who did it, new evidence will come up.
I took off one star simply because I thought the ending was a little predictable. Overall I enjoyed this book and I recommend it.

Reviewer's Name: Amelia W.
Renegades
Meyer, Marissa
2 stars = Meh
Review:

Renegades by Marissa Meyer is an average, but fun book about superheroes. The plot centers around Nova who has to join a team of superheroes to spy on them while secretly being a villain. Since I’ve seen a lot of superhero movies, I thought that this book was pretty cliche. I could figure out every twist before I read about it happening. I also thought that the pacing of this book was weird. Some scenes that were unimportant to the plot seemed to drag on while other important scenes went by way too fast. This might have been intentional, but I don't see the point of it. I thought that this book was average. It was an extremely forgetful book, which was very disappointing because I love some of Marissa Meyer’s previous books. One thing I did like about this book was the depiction of anarchy which is very rare, especially in young adult books. I don't think that this would be a good book to read if you have seen a lot of superhero movies since it uses a lot of cliches from that genre. However, if you are interested in science fiction, I would recommend this book.

Reviewer's Name: Sophie L.
Metro Girl
Evanovich, Janet
1 star = Yuck!
Review:

I can honestly say, this is the worst book I have read in 2018. I couldn't believe it was written by Janet Evanovich. It lacked her usual wit and laugh out loud moments. I actually thought I would love it since I enjoyed the graphic novel. But no. I didn't care about any of the characters.
I thought the story line plodded along and at the end, I just didn't care. I was hoping a canister of nerve gas would just destroy every copy of this book so no one else who's thinking of reading will suffer.

Reviewer's Name: Melissa M.
Double Indemnity
Cain, James M.
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

This classic piece of noir does what some might consider impossible: making an insurance salesman interesting. Of course, planning to commit insurance fraud makes the scenario much more interesting, even if it follows some of the basic tropes of the genre. Because the story is so short, only lasting just over three hours of audiobook reading, I feel the movie adaptation was able to include everything that made this story so engaging. I do think the ending was improved in the film, though, as the story’s ending felt a little disjointed from the narrative.

What made Double Indemnity so enjoyable was how the main characters were so sure they’d get away with the crime they were about to commit. The details of the fraud were so thorough that the reader is almost convinced that nothing could go wrong. When the aftermath starts to unravel, that’s when the story began to get interesting. Suddenly, all the little things you’d never think of started to rear their ugly heads and tear the crime apart. If anything, Double Indemnity proves that, no matter how well you plan a crime, there is always something that is bound to go wrong. There are no perfect crimes.

While I enjoyed the revelation of the family’s backstory after the crime was committed, the one element that was a little uncomfortable was how the main character altered his amorous intentions from the mother to the daughter. It felt kind of creepy how he was justifying a 15-year age difference, even if she was a year past the age of consent. Maybe that was part of the point, though: prove that none of the characters were above reproach. They each had flaws that made them unlikeable in some fashion.

A short and tightly-written noir classic, I give Double Indemnity 4.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
The Enigma Strain
Thacker, Nick
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

The basic formula for a thriller is as follows: one loner, one love-interest, and lots of running. The Enigma Strain is your cookie-cutter thriller, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The premise is somewhat entertaining, if not downright ridiculous and unrealistic. The pacing is certainly fast enough to keep the characters moving and racing against the clock of destruction (at times even literally). In the end, there were no surprises as the day is saved and the loner opens up enough to attract the love interest. The fact that the ending was predictable just meant that it delivered on the thriller formula.

One of the weaknesses of The Enigma Strain is the sense of space and time. There was plenty of driving around to different locations, which made them seem like they were quite close together. However, the love-interest kept talking about flying, which made me wonder how far away these places were. If it took a long time to drive between them, there was a lot of time these two characters were in the car together that wasn’t necessarily alluded to. I know I can get irritable after a long time in the car, and the fact these two strangers weren’t at each other’s throats after a collective eight hours (or more) of driving felt strange.

While The Enigma Strain had all the trappings and accouterments of a standard thriller, it also contained many of the “wait, why?” faults that separate a lot of thrillers from actual reality. Some of these questions were answered (like why the main character is a loner), but others were frequently touched upon but never fully explained (like why the main character is afraid of flying). In the end, if you want a fun escape from reality, a good thriller like The Enigma Strain can probably fit that bill.

A standard thriller that follows the thriller formula, I give The Enigma Strain 3.0 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
Salem's Lot
King, Stephen
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

One of King's most famous books, Salem's Lot is a story about vampires that doesn't exactly rival King's other books in terms of plot and suspense. However, it's still a great book that is very enjoyable. The book is about a vampire that eventually turns the entire town into vampires themselves, and a small group consisting of a doctor, a priest, a writer, and a little boy all fight back against the outbreak. The book does a good job of building up the villain and the characters, but the horror is not exactly the preliminary theme here. Instead, it is more focused on the drama and action, which is fine, but for an author who is famous for his horror novels, this book was slightly underwhelming. However, I would still recommend it to Stephen King fans or anyone looking for a good book.

Reviewer's Name: Peter C
Awards:
Meg

Meg

Alten, Steve
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

While Jaws may have terrified readers with it's suspense, Meg follows in Peter Benchley's footsteps for only a few steps-and then veers off in a completely different direction. This is a novel all about a small group of scientists trying to kill a gigantic megalodon shark after it escapes from it's hovel in the Marianas Trench. It also has a pinch of scientific mumbo-jumbo and horror to draw all sorts of different readers and to keep you hooked. The characters are diverse, likable, and fleshed-out, and the main antagonist, the 60 foot long megalodon shark, is so entertaining to read about. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys action, suspense, or sharks!

Reviewer's Name: Peter C
Awards:
'Book Review: The Snowman'
Nesbo, Jo
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Have you ever heard of Leatherface? Hannibal Lecter? Freddy Krueger? Good. Because if you like those kinds of killers and movies, then you will absolutely love this novel, The Snowman. The book follows the path of a detective with a dark past who is forced to hunt down one of the most deadly and disturbing killers he has ever faced, as he simultaneously struggles with the battle within himself. Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the book. I would recommend this novel to people who enjoy thrillers, horror novels, or anyone who enjoys getting a little disturbed sometimes.

Reviewer's Name: Peter C.
Awards:
IT

IT

King, Stephen
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

Review: This book is incredible. One of the scariest novels I have ever had the pleasure of reading is also one of the longest. In this book you follow the journey of seven characters - all brilliantly well rounded and fleshed out, if I may add. You alternate between their experiences during childhood and adulthood of facing and fighting the demonic and supernatural clown, Pennywise. I recommend this book to fans of horror and Stephen King, or anyone who enjoys a long read of a good book.

Reviewer's Name: Peter C
Truly Devious
Johnson, Maureen
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

Stevie Bell loves all things crime, true or otherwise. She loves to dive into the fictional encounters of the likes of Hercule Poroit and Sherlock Holmes almost as much as she loves to solve cold cases. So when she gets the opportunity to study at Ellingham Academy, site of one of the most famous unsolved murder/kidnapping cases of all time, she jumps at the chance. She doesn't get too far into her murder investigation, however, when a fellow student is found dead in the same tunnel as a murdered girl from before.

For the most part, this is just a straight-up mystery with a quirky setting and side characters, but it really works. The book goes back and forth from the events of the 1939 Ellingham murders to present day, and I found myself equally interested in both stories. Our main character, Stevie, is extremely likable, and gives us some smart, biting commentary about her life and her classmates along with a lot of interesting tidbits about past crimes and mystery authors. Stevie's classmates all have distinct personalities and are quite the diverse cast of characters. Students at Ellingham are selected for having some sort of ability or interest, and her roommates are an artist, an inventor, a coder, a writer and a YouTube star which makes for some fun interactions and conversation in the group. There's a bit of a meh romance, but it didn't detract from the rest of the book and it will be interesting to see where that heads in the sequel.

The main appeal here is the dual mysteries. Both were a lot of fun to read, and I was dead wrong about the identity of the present day killer which is always fun. Really, the only downside for me was the ending. It ends on a massive cliffhanger, and I actually wish a few things were a bit more tied up. I found it to be jarring and a bit off-putting. That said, I'll probably check out the sequel.

If you are looking for a really solid mystery featuring clever and engaging characters, then this is for you! You can put Truly Devious on hold now - thanks to Edelweiss and HarperCollins for the electronic review copy. If it weren't for that ending it'd be a 4 star read for me, but...3 stars.

Reviewer's Name: Britt
Book Review: Night Sky
Brockmann, Suzanne; Brockmann, Melanie
5 stars = Bohemian Rhapsody Awesome!
Review:

"Night Sky" is a joint effort Between mother and daughter Suzanne and Melanie Brockman. Despite the fact that two different minds worked on this title, It is smooth polished and a well unified work of fiction. This is a fantastic young adult novel that I would recommend well before Titans of the genera such as "Divergent".Within its pages we follow a girl by the name of Skylar who develops from a pent up and unconfident teen with an over bearing mother to a strong young woman with the courage to stand up not only to her mother but also to the shadow organization that orchestrates horrible events the world over that no one will dare defy. Like most young adult novels it has a romantic sub plot that you can see coming from one hundred miles away while facing the other directions with your eyes closed. Thankfully however, this fact does little if anything to detract from the quality of this book. The characters feel real and alive, each with their own personalities. The descriptive language is detailed enough that the world easily paints its self in the readers mind. With elements of horror, mystery, action, fantasy, and romance this is a well rounded first effort from the duo that I recommend wholeheartedly.

Reviewer's Name: Jaydon K.
Cell
King, Stephen
4 stars = Really Good
Review:

The book "cell" by Stephen king is a book about learning to cope with the apocalypse. The apocalypse in this book is very unique and diverse from your typical zombie virus outbreak. While the main character, Clay, is out getting ice cream he watches as people answer their phones. They all start going crazy after they've answered the call, spitting out nonsense and being extremely violent towards each other. He was the only person there without a phone. Through out the story new characters are gained and then lost. I liked this book because I have a lot of trouble finding books that grab my attention. I really enjoyed reading this book, it was very action filled. There were no dull moments. I chose to read this book because of hype around the movie "It". I really liked the movie so I decided to read some of his other work. I would recommend this book to anyone who like very exciting, sad, emotional, and/or mysterious novels.
Reviewer Grade:9

Reviewer's Name: Tabitha V.
Hearts in Atlantis
King, Stephen
3 stars = Pretty Good
Review:

When I started Hearts in Atlantis, all I knew about it was that it was written by Stephen King and there was a movie of the same name that was likely based on it. As I began to read, I found myself enthralled by the coming-of-age story that presented itself. I had no idea it connected to the Dark Tower series, but that detail was almost ancillary, a neat little connection into a bigger picture. Having made it half-way through the book, I wanted to follow the main character’s development into adulthood but, then the story suddenly stopped.

Instead of following a story that had engaged me, the focus shifted to a completely different character, only loosely tied to the events in the first half of the book via one of the characters, who was now in college. Almost in a fractal fashion, this story was half as long as the first, with each successive story growing shorter and shorter, while still being connected to the first narrative in some way, no matter how loose that connection might have been. Finally, the story returns to the main character of the first section, but only stays long enough to say goodbye.

I absolutely loved the first story in this “collection,” and by its strength alone, I would recommend this to anyone. However, the second half of the book felt too disjointed to be interesting, especially with all the emotional energy I had invested in the first story. Sure, they were somewhat interesting in their own ways, showing the relentless march of time toward the modern era, but they simply lacked that fantastical little spark from the first story (incidentally, the same spark that was connected to the Dark Tower series).

A great story with almost unnecessary add-ons, I give Hearts in Atlantis 3.5 stars out of 5.

Reviewer's Name: Benjamin M. Weilert
Awards:

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