All posts by Annette

Review: Fresh Grave in Grand Canyon (Lee Patton)

Very nearly DNF this. SPOILERS

My initial reaction: this book made me a little angry. Category-wise, it was billed as a mystery. The summary makes it seem a mystery. Do not be fooled. It is not. Well, most of it is not. And the people…

Ray O’Brien volunteers to go on a rafting research trip with his pal Jenny Bridger, who is leading a science-gathering, after she winds up a man (person) down. It’s a trip down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. His role? Not much: just help out. His stepfather was some kind of psycho, so of course his academic life is consumed by studying the neuro effects of that. He meets Duke first, who is skinny dipping in the same water hole he just got out of. Of course there’s an instant attraction. Two tropes: violent, abusive past, and instalust if not instalove.

The larger group: Jenny, the team leader, who of course is apprehensive about her first team lead job, feeling guilty about missing her daughter Amelia’s graduation, because the trip has to start the same day. Trope: working mother has to choose between job and family. Other trope: she’s divorced.

Carol Carne, longtime activist volunteer and pediatric nurse, and her husband Jack, fat, rude insurance salesman, and of no value to the trip, really. Trope: alcoholic, bigoted, horndog husband ogling a teenaged girl; saint of a wife who abides him.

Duke, Park Ranger, who served in the military as a peacekeeper in the Balkans and lost his left arm there. Trope: Tough guy with a sensitive heart of gold. And also PTSD.

Annette & Tess, two female students,also volunteers. Trope: Sexy Tess draw’s Jack’s eye.

There are a few bigoted RVers next to the crew as they get feed and do final prep for rafting. Of course they are crude, and Jack joins in with them. One of them calls Tess a n******, and Duke a “crip”, furter suggests there are quotas being met. Trope: the bigotry of the world one might think to escape on a rafting trip, but alas, rude,crude, bigoted Jack is along for the ride.

Glen, the river guide, who is given over to pontificating about how people are destroying the planet. Carol does this as well, but it seems Glen is the one carrying the trope of ecoterrorist onto the river.

Tycho, an oarsman, brought by Glen. Trope: the cute boy the girls moon over. Also given to ecorants, because he lives with Glen.

Hannah Pinch, camp cook and Jenny’s soon-to-be ex-mother in law, with whom she has a better relationship than she does with Faith’s son. Trope: yeah, that.

Faith Brittle, director of a Montana college’s Women’s Studies Program, oarswoman and guide. Trope: Militant feminism and demonization of men.

Take all the tropes, put them on boats, and send them down a river. Have Trope Bigoted Jerk get tossed out of his raft on the first rapids sequence. When they stop for the night, get a little lecture about Trope Men are B-A-D, have some discussion about bullying, how people are ruining the planet, and discuss Duke’s enlistment in the Army and deployment. Oh, throw a little science in there now and again, since that’s supposed to be why they’re there.

Wash, lather, repeat.

Finally, at the 70% mark, get around to the murder that’s featured so prominently in the blurb. Jack’s either had his head hit, or he’s hit his head while falling/stumbling or something. Tess is on the beach, and for some reason her bikini top is loosened or off. Duke is first to the scene, and he reties Tess’ top, then for some odd reason, drags Jack’s body about ten feet or so. And this is the part where I got mad, after sitting through all these social things the author clearly wanted to say. o they need to be said? Yes. Are they important things? Absolutely. Did they need to be said like this, instead of in, say, a nonfiction book, instead of with a half-hearted murder thrown in? Nope.

In a world obsessed with images and videos, and the one time you would absolutely want to take either pictures and/or videos, and preferably both – like when there’s been a murder (maybe) or a death by misadventure (maybe) – no one in your entire party thinks to do so? Or at least, with all the science nerds in the group who are used to drawing mud layouts or strata, at least make some sketches of the scene, not a single brainiac thinks to do so? Come on. Nothing at all is done to preserve the scene. But you know what does happen?

Everyone with the ability and in the right place to do so wants to take the credit/blame for the murder of a terrible man. Carol, his wife, she wants the blame. Then Glen, then Duke. There’s even a brief discussion of Tess having done it, without remembering. Jenny decides she and Ray will talk to everyone, but by this time, they’ve all been talking amongst themselves, and both of them act like they’re never spoken to another human being in this instance.

In the end, they dig a shallow grave – the “Fresh Grave” of the title – put Jack in it, and move on, intending to get to a particular spot in the river, which is the next it of civilization (sort of, it’s the next station on the river). There is a Canadian group about a day behind them. Do they wait and say anything to the Canadians, or ask them if they can use their satphone to call ahead (Jenny’s crew lost theirs into the water when shooting some rapids; Duke finds it, but it’s a goner)? Nope. They let the Canadians go ahead an then they mount up and head downriver.

Keep in mind, this is all at the 70% mark when Jack is killed. That leaves next to no time, book-wise, to get to the bottom of it, and the only bottom of it we have is a bunch of conflicting confessions. in the end, no one is blamed, they report Jack’s death as misadventure, and that’s it.

I wanted to like it. Small group, killer among us, rafting in sometimes dangerous conditions, with a hundred things that could go wrong, and basically cut off from civilization? That should be a great story. Unfortunately, we got a lot of social justice and environmental stuff, and the afterthought of a murder. None of the characters really moves past the trope tied around their necks except, ironically, Jack, who winds up killed because he’s the epitome of a bunch of things wrong with the world today.

As a sidenote: the Ray/Duke romance is not, really. They share one kiss, and usually snuggle up in their sleeping bags when stopping for the nights, but every other chance to be alone is interrupted. There’s a slight hint of things going somewhere at the end, but Ray lives elsewhere, so who knows. This is an undeveloped subplot.

It seems the author couldn’t make up their mind as to what they really wanted to write. If it was about all the social stuff, I’d give it maybe 3.5 stars. As a mystery, I’m giving it two stars out of five. Sorry.

Thanks to Bold Strokes Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Last Redemption – Rick Cahill #8 (Matt Coyle)

Rick Cahill is back, and the poor guy can’t catch a break.

At least here – at least at the beginning -he’s safely ensconced behind a desk, running employment checks for companies and pulling in a regular income from it. He’s also been diagnosed with CTE (chronic, traumatic encephalopathy, AKA head trauma from football) and is experiencing brain fog and missing time, something he has not told wife Leah, who is carrying their first child. He still feels the itch of being in the field, though, running down a case.

So when Moira, his best friend, wants Rick to tail her son to make sure he isn’t violating a restraining order, he doesn’t think twice. Moira is his friend, after all, and tailing someone without interacting with them seems safe enough.

It never is, though.

Rick trails the son and finds out he’s visiting an apartment not just in the same complex in which his girlfriend lives, but directly across from it. What is going on here? When Rick goes to speak to the girlfriend, he finds her dead – murdered in her apartment. When the son’s boss also ends up dead, Rick has to decide whether to tell law enforcement that he tailed the young man to his place of employment during the time stated as the time of death. Moira’s son? Vanished. And the primary suspect in both murders.

The case takes a giant leap here into the investigation, and it is wild, involving a consulting company that has top programmers in its stable, a secret project, competing firms, corporate espionage, and a new technology for screening DNA in search of various conditions so the problematic genes can be “switched off”. That reminded me of <a href=”https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/2502504501″ target=”blank”>this book</a> about Theranos and their “one drop” wonder machine that never worked.

The stakes get higher, and more dangerous, especially for Rick and his unpredictable time losses. Moira finds out by accident that he’s been seeing a neurologist, and insists he tell Leah, or she will. He promises to do so, then promptly breaks that promise when Leah goes out of town for a big design job. He offers excuses to Moira, but knows he must do it, because Moira is a woman of her word.

The last 150 pages are so are terrific: action packed, danger, loose threads pulled together, and an entirely satisfying ending.

Five out of five stars.

Thanks to Oceanview Publishing and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: The Younger Wife (Sally Hepworth)

What happens when you dream up some characters, give them what seem to be perfect lives, and then throw them all in a bag called dysfunction? Toss in ambiguous POV storytelling and an ambiguous ending, and you get The Younger Wife.

The books opens with an unnamed POV crashing the wedding of established, respected – revered, even -Dr Stephen Ashford to his much younger second wife. After the vows, there’s a thunk and a scream, and suddenly we are moving back in time to What Happened Before.

Heather, the younger wife of the tile is about the age of Stephen’s grown daughters. Stephen’s wife Pam suffers from dementia and is in a nursing home where she can be tended.

Rachel, the older of the Ashford sisters, is a baker, and hasn’t dated anyone since she was 16. We’re not told why until late in the book (and the end of that intentional dry spell turns out to be Mr Perfect: handsome, witty, understanding. Of course he does.)

Tully, the younger sister, is an obsessive kleptomaniac who engages her compulsion when she is stressed, and she tries to hide the things she takes from her husband by dumping them into charity boxes. Her husband, for his part, has made a disastrous investment and lost a couple of million dollars, so they’ll have to sell their house, sell a bunch of their stuff, and downsize.

Heather grew up in poverty, eventually breaking out of that and eventually becomes a well-regarded an expensive interior designer, which is how she met Stephen.

Stephen and Heather (well, primarily Stephen) spring the wedding news on Rachel and Tully at lunch one day. Not a nice thing to do, and of course they are shocked. The remainder of the book is told from POVs that cycle through the female characters. Secrets and backgrounds are slowly exposed, until we get to the heart of the matter: is Stephen a domestic abuser? The girls seem to think so, sifting through memories, looking at injuries their mother sustained, Heather being involved in a couple of falls, an so on.

Or, is it all in their heads? Are their memories being tainted by their conclusion that he is? This is where the ambiguity comes in.

It’s not possible for the reader to accurately make that determination. The girls do – of course, as otherwise, there would be no ending or explanation as to what happened at the beginning – but for the reader, it’s akin to the Choose Your Own Adventure books: do you take the dirt path and change being eaten by a bear? Or do you take the path through the woods, chancing death by tiger?

What you cannot do, in life or in this book, is not choose.

If you’re a reader who likes a definitive ending, this is not the book for you.

The only thing I noted was a little sag in the middle, and Mr Perfect showing up in Rachel’s life.

Four out of five stars.

Thanks to St Martin’s Press and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Protecting the Lady (Amanda Radley)

Spoilers, ho!

Katherine Lovegrove, a distant heir to the English throne – think higher than two dozen steps – and daughter of judge Michael Lovegrove receives threats from an organized crime family because the latter is about to sentence the daughter of the head of the family to a lot of time in prison.

Eve Webb is a former protection agent, resigning from her job because of a double bombing – one immediate, one shortly after in order to catch first responders to the scene -and because she not only thinks she could have done more (how??) but because of the way information is compartmentalized and she thinks the intelligence services should be sharing information about things like threats of bombings so they can all work together to address threats. I don’t have much optimism about this, no matter how this book ends. She’s living in Tokyo, teaching English here and there and basically barely making ends meet. Her former boss now runs his own show, and goes to Tokyo to get her back to protect Katherine. There’s quite a bit of money involved, so Eve says yes and they return to London. Eve knows nothing about the job, the specific threat(s), or the protectee. You can see where this is going when we find out Eve is a staunch anti-monarchist.

And of course it does: Eve threatens her boss that she’ll quit on the spot because she is opposed to protecting a royal, no matter how distant, but he pleads with her to meet with someone: the judge. After hearing him out, Eve reluctantly agrees to do the job.

Katherine, trying to have her own life, objects, of course, and then goes on to have a childlike hissy fit about Eve staying in her apartment with her. The very next day – when her father hands down the sentence – a brick is thrown through her office window. Obviously, she won’t be able to work there in person, as it puts everyone else at risk, so off they go to a very large manor (or very small castle, depending on your viewpoint): her childhood home. Where she promptly locks herself in her room. Like a child, instead of a grown woman almost 40 years old.

Eve’s unhappy as well, and gets more people from her boss to help guard the castle, which, from a protection standpoint, is not a bad place to be: clear lines of sight, thick walls, and easy coverage of access points. It’s a dream!

Except Katherine doesn’t want to be there, doesn’t want Eve and her crew on the site, and generally is petulant. She convinces Eve to allow her to attend a charity ball that she’s been organizing for a year, and where she gets people to open their wallets wide, and Eve agrees after determining not that that’s an easy place to protect Katherine but that it means so damn much to her. This would be a signal that you’re allowing your judgement to be impaired because you’re falling in love with he protectee even though there’s no real chemistry going on.

And on that note, one other item: close protection duties mean close and almost always in contact. Alas, here, Eve and Katherine are not particularly close nor in constant contact with one another, so it’s a bit mystifying how these two start falling for one another when they’re also on different sides of things, attitude and royalty-wise, and Katherine has had a stick up her hind end about the lack of need of Eve’s services in the first place.

In any case, they’re on the way back to the castle afterwards, and someone takes a shot at the car, injuring the driver and causing Eve to jump into action, telling Katherine to get down, and taking over driving duties to get them to safety. Katherine is then at the castle, and Eve is off to a briefing with her boss. One again: not close, not in contact.

There are also no questions/discussions given over to the reader about the potshot at the car. Routes are varied, and they never take the same route twice, so how did anyone know? The obvious answer, of course: there’s a mole. Either this does not occur to Eve or her boss, or the reader is left out until later. The former would be rather silly for experienced protection service people, and the latter is, I think, unfair.

Eve, deciding she’s too close to Katherine, feely-wise, decides to hand over protection to someone else, and scoots. Katherine is promptly kidnapped, courtesy of someone ramming the car – again, how does anyone know the route?

Eve and her boss finally realize there’s a mole, and there’s a showdown in Ops, with Eve taking a guy to the floor and punching staples into his back until he gives up the location.

This leads to a bunch of services working together to retrieve Katherine, and Eve is there, leading Katherine out of the warehouse where she’d been stashed (and beaten), and where the head of the organized crime family has pulled a Stupid Thing, by being there on premises so the law can catch him, because daughter for daughter something something, even though his daughter is both not beaten and is also not dead.

So Eve and Katherine are reunited, and are now totally In Love, despite barely seeing one another through the whole book, and also apparently having worked out that whole royal-anti-monarchist thing in record time. The get the HEA, naturally.

As much as I hate the instalove trope, I recognize that it’s a handy way to cut out many chapters of a book and get to the chase, so to speak. But you have to decide what the book is: is it a romance, with occasional flashes of mystery and danger? Or is it primarily a mystery/action/thriller, with occasional romance and/or sexytimes (note: there are no sexytimes in this book)? It’s also fine if it it is both in equal measures, of course. I don’t think this worked on any of the three. There isn’t enough action except at the end for me to believe Katherine is any real danger that couldn’t be averted. There is no chemistry and no romance. The only balance between the two is a distinct lack of either. I’d have read twice the number of pages to get either or both.

It sounds like I’m just pounding on this, but I’m not – I’m just demanding because I want good stories and I want them to make sense. YMMV on every point I’ve made before now, but I imagine the last one is true for everyone.

Two and a half stars out of five, sadly rounded down to two.

Thanks to Bold Stroke Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Nowhere to Hide – Faith McClellan #4 (LynDee Walker)

When your Gran’s dearest friend asks you to investigate something, you don’t ask any questions except where and who.

The who, in this case, is Samson the pig, raised by teenager Kelsey from a runt destined to be culled, a la Charlotte’s Web. Samson, as it turns out, is a YouTube star, and Kelsey’s videos keep the entire family afloat. A note here: Samson the Pig is said to have 40 million subscribers. That would make it a larger channel that The DoDo – one of the largest channels devoted to animal videos – which has somewhere around 16 million the last time I checked. So that part rang a bit false, but pulling down 200K a month did not, based on the (imaginary) size of the channel, and assuming a gigantic number of views per video.

Texas Ranger Faith McClellan, in her fourth appearance, dutifully goes to talk to the family. Mom and the son, Kyle, are not home -she’s told they’ve gone off to a hunting cabin. The housekeeper, with an accent that comes and goes, Kelsey, and her (a tad strange) father are able to answer some questions, but many remain – who would do this, and what possible motive could there be? Kelsey, of course, is brokenhearted.

McClellan walks around the house and the scene of the crime, finding a rather large secret of the son’s rather quickly. She learns that the killing was particularly vicious, with blood everywhere and the killer also decapitated the head (now missing). The carcass she loads up in her truck and takes to the morgue for the coroner to look at. She discovers another hog was also killed, although his head was not taken and the family broke down the body and cooked some of it, the rest going into the freezer.

Meanwhile, McClellen also has to do a bunch of wedding0related stuff: dress, caterers, etc. Her overbearing mother is helping – and by helping, I mean basically taking over all of it. Her fiance Graham is assisting her with the case, which she worries might be the beginnings of a serial killer, and that the killer will move up a bracket to start offing people.

The case seems to have a ton of possible suspects: the brother, a jealous girl from school, the father, the boyfriend/not boyfriend. As McClellen fears, people start dying,even as she and Graham start to get a grip on the case. About halfway through it became obvious to me who the killer was, but it was still an enjoyable ride watching McClellan and Graham make their way through to (livestreaming) denouement.

No terrible slow spots, and in this instance, the bad guy infodump at the end is warranted – it is being livestreamed, after all.

Solid four out of five stars. Plus a desire to go back and read the first three in the series, to see how McClellan came to this version of herself.

Thanks to Severn River and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: Deadly Little Lies (Stephanie DeCarolis)

It took going deep into this book for me to care at all about these characters.

Why? Because quite frankly they sounded like (and acted like) privileged white women. Juliana, who is the primary character, is also depressing as hell, always worried about her husband finding out the dirty/deadly little lie from her past. When the past comes up to bite her in the rear, instead of just telling him, she pushes him far, far away, which pisses him off. And rightly so. It’s one thing to keep a secret in general. But this is the guy you wanted to spend the rest of your life with, and you don’t tell him anything at all?

Not the mysterious text that says “Remember me?” from a college classmate who died. Not the sense that someone has been in your apartment. Not the point you realize it’s fact that someone’s been in the apartment, not the threat written in lipstick on your bathroom mirror. Not that you never gave your school your address, email or physical, and how the invitation to the reunion showed up. Not the fact that three other women you went to school with all have the same mysterious things happening.

Truthfully, I wanted to chuck it after the nth time Jules starting moaning about her cushy little life with a secret instead of doing anything constructive about it.

The narrative flashes between now and then (“then” being their college days and the bitchy little clique they formed). I had much more sympathy and like points for the men and women they stomped on.

The four women all go to the reunion like idiots, blithely following a note that tells them to be somewhere at a certain time, without any of them letting their husbands know. There’s suspension of disbelief and then there’s this.

The premise was good. I simply did not like the execution.

Two out of five stars.

Thanks to HQ and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: The Girl in the Ground – Nikki Hunt #4 (Stacey Green)

After three months away from the job, FBI agent Nikki Hunt is back in the office, and expected to gradually ease her way back into full duty. That plan takes a detour when she’s tapped to lead the investigation into a heavily pregnant, due any day now surrogate for a rich couple.

Her boyfriend Rory is also having issues after finding skeletal remains on a job site. After they find a locket with the body (as well as fetal remains), Rory becomes suspect number one after it’s clear he knows who the young woman is: a girl he date briefly and then broke up with at graduation. But is the child his? Did he kill her? He doesn’t do himself any favors by being antagonistic to the police.

The FBI and local police continue their search for the mussing surrogate, but there are few clues and fewer leads. Eventually, they make a plea to the public for any information.

I read the first book in this series, but now the two between that one and this. At some point, Nikki’s ex-husband was murdered. After another agent comes to town, claiming to be working on a tax fraud case and Nikki learns that the missing surrogate is also that agent’s confidential informant, Nikki starts going through her ex’s papers, looking for clues as to why he was investigating the owner of a limo service – who has conveniently flown to NY and disappeared.

Nikki gets the scoop on the missing surrogate, who once was held by a sex trafficker for a period of time before she escaped. Is he back now, and reclaiming her?

Nikki and company find more skeletal remains, and more fetal remains with them, and eventually determine how the girls were likely chosen, and based on descriptions given by the missing surrogate, zero in on the likely suspects.

The story is good, and there aren’t any dragging parts, even when the characters are moving between locations. My only dislike is Rory – I get it, his brother was wrongfully accused and imprisoned for something he didn’t do, but Rory should have just lawyered up at the first second the police started sniffing around, so as to relieve some of hi anxiety about being questioned over and over. For their par, the police should have understood why he didn’t want to constantly hear their questions, fearing they would railroad him as they did his brother.

The mystery tied together nicely, and there were some pretty gruesome deaths in this one, so if you don’t have a strong stomach, you might want to skip this one, or at least skim or skip the fire scene.

Overall: a solid four out of five stars.

Thanks to Bookouture and NetGalley for the reading copy.

 

Review: Trial by Fire (Carson Taite)

I think I may very well be in the minority on this one, but the book did not deliver for me, either on the mystery side (as it was categorized) or on the romance side (implied).

Wren Bishop is on loan from a fancy, high powered law firm to the public defender’s office. She seems overly optimistic and sunny, and is somehow blind to the fact that waltzing around in designer clothes, with designer bags, and crapping on the coffee served in the department might not win her any friends. Or maybe she doesn’t care. Either way, it isn’t a good look.

Lennox Roy is on the prosecution side and has what seems not just a chip on her shoulder because of her poor as hell childhood but a superiority complex. She also sees things in black or white, guilty or innocent, and she’s sure that any defendant – including the one Wren winds up defending – is guilty. This led to some amusement on my part that any intelligent person (as Lennox supposedly is) would look at the investigative work the police did on that case and not see the gaping holes it had. My question at this point was whether Lennox had any redeeming qualities that would get me to like her. After her declaration she’d never date anyone on the defense side of the world, as Wren is at the moment, just because a previous relationship with the woman who represented her druggie brother went down in flames, I decided that the answer was probably not.

There are some courtroom scenes, and these are the best part of the book. There are a lot of office politics, some outside politics (a judge with whom Lennox is friends is running for office) and a lot of talk about wealth inequality.

Wren winds up hiring an investigator on her own because the PD investigators are swamped with work, and ends up with evidence that points the crime away from the guy she’s defending. She goes to Lennox and convinces her to get some evidence, and Lennox finally sees it.

It was too late for me by that time. There wasn’t any real romance to speak of other than both of them thinking about the other and a kiss in someone’s garage. They didn’t spend any real time together, although Wren did break things off with her kind of girlfriend who she didn’t like that much, so there’s that sacrifice, I suppose.

The ending was rushed and the “I love you”s felt far too early, which is something I also noted in my review of Her Consigliere by the same author. This could easily have been a bit longer, with more of the romance prominent through the middle of the story to better lead to the ending. This book is apparently part of a series of books in this universe, so I wonder if these two will have cameos down the line to show that they’re still together and/or managing to work on Lennox’s brother’s case to resolve it one way or another.

Only two stars out of five for me. Sorry.

Thanks to Bold Stroke Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: The Perfect Neighborhood (Liz Alterman)

Allison Langley ditches her husband and their supposed perfect life in their perfect house in Oak Hills in the middle of the night. In suburbia, everyone thinks they know your business, so the the tongues start flapping with gossip, true or not.

But then five year old Billy Barnes goes missing while walking home alone one day. Suddenly, everyone is a detective, or a pretender that their own lives are perfect while dumping on Billy’s mom Rachel, whose marriage is rocky and who has a stepson who is as much a jackass as his father Ted, Rachel’s husband, although for different reasons. They also lay blame on 18 year old Cassidy, the babysitter, who was late getting to the house. It’s hard to say if Billy went missing as he was walking home, or if he made it home, and was taken from there. The police can’t find anything, and when they drag the pond, it turns into a neighborhood event, with everyone watching.

Another child goes missing – also under Cassidy’s care, and you can imagine how well that goes over with the neighborhood, which had started to feel sorry for her.

The story is told from various members of the neighborhood, but only the women. That includes Rachel, who is absolutely torn up about her missing boy, Cassidy, who can’t bring herself to tell the truth about why she was late, and Allison, who has escaped the neighborhood for reasons she details in her pieces of the narrative, and who is obsessed by Billy’s disappearance.

The story is interesting – what white bread shark’s nest suburbia isn’t, when they’re ready to chop one another into pieces? – but there was at least one POV chapter I’d have stricken as not adding much to things other than trying to be Cassidy’s conscience. The villain is not entirely out of the blue, and the ending hints at a possible not-sequel-but-next-book sort of thing.

The writing itself is fine, and while there are a couple of draggy bits here and there, I chalk that up to typical going about life things: most peoples’ lives are boring and routine, and sometimes the narrative has to show that.

Three and half out of five stars, rounded up to four, because the book works.

Thanks to Crooked Lane Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.

Review: The Edge of Yesterday (C.J. Birch)

As a rule, I try to avoid science fiction that involves time travel. Time travel gets very messy, and most authors don’t think enough about the implications on a character’s own timeline when moving those characters back and forth through time. Case in point: a recent movie on one of the streaming services that sent soldiers back in time to gather a group of people to come fight in the future (of those soldiers) against something. I didn’t watch it because my immediate thought was: why not just bring technology backwards or give it to the people in that time, a la Star Trek IV’s transparent aluminum?

In any case, I’m glad I took a chance on this book, because it is fantastic.

Hundreds of years into the future, people 0n Earth are living far underground to avoid detection by drones. Most live a hand to mouth existence, there is no sun, no plants, and no fun. It seems nanobot technology ran amok (Terminator-style) and humans went into hiding.

Using AI as a helper, they’ve figured out how to use time travel, and they send people back to the past with specific tasks to perform to try to avoid having this particular occur, based on percentages determined by the AI. I could see a problem with this.

Easton Gray is selected to be a level five in her department: the level fives are the people who slip into the past, perform their task, and then hit the recall option on the computer implanted in their forearm. Her sister Calla is the only family she has left: her mother died when she was 12, and her father died at some undetermined date along the way. Calla has been promoted to the survey crew – a very dangerous job in itself – but Easton doesn’t want her to take it because of the danger. They argue a bit about it, and Easton tries to deal with Calla’s boss to move her to something else, only to find someone higher on the food chain has already done this. As it turns out -and as to be expected -it isn’t just actions in the past that have consequences.

Easton makes the jump. Her task: find and kill Zach Nolan, who is deemed responsible for the nanobots raging out of control. She finds herself in a field, naked, near a farmhouse. When the residents leave, she pops in, steals some clothes, and she’s on her way. Eventually, she finds and presumably breaks into the veterinary office of Dr Tess Nolan.

It turns out Tess has come to live in this rural town after leaving Vancouver and a rather crazy woman she was dating. The local vet was retiring, so she bought the practice. Tess happens to come into the office, and patches up Easton, who refuses to go to the hospital.

They meet again around town. Easton continues gathering information, as the people coming from the future are dropped in near when their target(s) can be acquired, never an exact date. Tess and Easton get to know one another, and they’re quite taken with one another. But Easton knows that not Zach alone needs to die: his discoveries go to Tess when he dies, and she is then responsible for the dystopian nightmare in the future. Easton arranges it, then sits back.

Only to find herself dropped into the field again. Something has gone wrong, and when that happens, they’re just dropped right back into the same place to try again.

Easton goes through a few of these iterations, increasingly having issues with not wanting to kill Tess, even though she knows one death could save billions.

But then a mystery visitor shows up, and the entire mission is turned on its head. I won’t go further than that except to say: the explanation makes complete sense, and confirmed one of my suspicions. The action picks up as hunters arrive to chase them, and the outcome is…well, you’ll have to read it.

It’s a great read, even if you’re not particularly into science fiction. If you do like science fiction, like me, I think you’ll find both the technological and philosophical issues around time travel adequately explained, and better, to make sense.

Five out of five stars. Highly recommended.

Thanks to Bold Stroke Books and NetGalley for the reading copy.