A competent, if unambitious, political thriller.

STATE OF THE UNION

GROUND ZERO

An FBI agent is forced to go underground after discovering a plot to blow up Washington, D.C., in Branam’s latest entry in his Wolfe Adventure series.

Thomas Wolfe is the assistant director of the FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group, and he has knowledge of a terrorist plot. A cabal of billionaires called the Order is planning to stage a coup, the first stage of which involves detonating a nuclear bomb during the president’s State of the Union address. For some reason, Tom’s commanders have ordered him to back off the investigation, and when he presents his findings to the upper echelons of the government intelligence hierarchy, he’s met with ridicule. They suspend him from the bureau, and soon, federal marshals try to arrest him “for suspicion of murder, espionage, acts of terrorism, and sedition.”He avoids being taken into custody, but now he’s a high-profile fugitive pursued by all the powers of the government: “The Order has created a shadow state,” his former boss warns him, “by systematically placing people in key positions throughout the government—some in very high positions.” To prevent the impending attack, Tom needs to find and free his brother, John Wolfe, a master spy who’s being held at a blackout facility for his own attempts to bring down the Order. That will be no easy feat, especially with a Navy SEAL–turned-assassin hot on his trail. Branam’s novel is fast-paced and action-packed from the first scene. However, nearly every element—the descriptions, the characters, the explanations—rises merely to the level of functional and not one inch higher. This simplicity sometimes leads to rather cartoonish moments, as when U.S. Sen. Fetterson, the Order’s leader, lovingly caresses the nuclear bomb’s control box and thinks, “Soon I will be president for life!” There are numerous allusions to previous books in the Wolfe series, but readers will be able to make their way through this one fine without having read the others. Those who enjoy escapist fare, centered on a James Bond–style villain blowing up a city with a nuke, will largely find themselves content with this latest offering.

A competent, if unambitious, political thriller.

Pub Date: Dec. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4582-2261-9

Page Count: 380

Publisher: AbbottPress

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2020

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A weird, wild ride.

THE HOUSE ACROSS THE LAKE

Celebrity scandal and a haunted lake drive the narrative in this bestselling author’s latest serving of subtly ironic suspense.

Sager’s debut, Final Girls (2017), was fun and beautifully crafted. His most recent novels—Home Before Dark (2020) and Survive the Night (2021) —have been fun and a bit rickety. His new novel fits that mold. Narrator Casey Fletcher grew up watching her mother dazzle audiences, and then she became an actor herself. While she never achieves the “America’s sweetheart” status her mother enjoyed, Casey makes a career out of bit parts in movies and on TV and meatier parts onstage. Then the death of her husband sends her into an alcoholic spiral that ends with her getting fired from a Broadway play. When paparazzi document her substance abuse, her mother exiles her to the family retreat in Vermont. Casey has a dry, droll perspective that persists until circumstances overwhelm her, and if you’re getting a Carrie Fisher vibe from Casey Fletcher, that is almost certainly not an accident. Once in Vermont, she passes the time drinking bourbon and watching the former supermodel and the tech mogul who live across the lake through a pair of binoculars. Casey befriends Katherine Royce after rescuing her when she almost drowns and soon concludes that all is not well in Katherine and Tom’s marriage. Then Katherine disappears….It would be unfair to say too much about what happens next, but creepy coincidences start piling up, and eventually, Casey has to face the possibility that maybe some of the eerie legends about Lake Greene might have some truth to them. Sager certainly delivers a lot of twists, and he ventures into what is, for him, new territory. Are there some things that don’t quite add up at the end? Maybe, but asking that question does nothing but spoil a highly entertaining read.

A weird, wild ride.

Pub Date: June 21, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-18319-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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A unique story of transcendent love.

LAYLA

An aimless young musician meets the girl of his dreams only to have his newfound happiness threatened by several inexplicable—and possibly supernatural—events.

The story opens as Leeds Gabriel meets with a detective while his girlfriend, Layla, is restrained in a room one flight above them. Through the interview, readers learn that Leeds was wasting both his time and his musical talent playing backup for a small-town wedding troupe called Garrett’s Band when he spied Layla dancing her heart out to their mediocre music at a wedding. When Leeds approaches Layla, their connection is both instant and intense. A blissful courtship follows, but then Leeds makes the mistake of posting a picture of himself with Layla on social media. A former girlfriend–turned-stalker wastes no time in finding and attacking Layla. Layla spends months recovering in a hospital, and it seems the girl Leeds fell for might be forever changed. Gone is her special spark, her quirkiness, and the connection that had entranced Leeds months before. In a last-ditch effort to save their relationship, he brings Layla back to the bed-and-breakfast where they first met. When they get there, though, Leeds meets Willow, another guest, and finds himself drawn to her in spite of himself. As events unfold, it becomes clear that Willow will either be the key to saving Leeds’ relationship with Layla or the catalyst that finally extinguishes the last shreds of their epic romance. Told entirely from Leeds’ point of view, the author’s first foray into paranormal romance does not disappoint. Peppered with elements of mystery, psychological thriller, and contemporary romance, the novel explores questions about how quickly true love can develop, as well as the conflicts that can imperil even the strongest connections. Despite a limited cast of characters and very few setting changes, the narrative manages to remain both fast-paced and engaging. The conclusion leaves a few too many loose ends, but the chemistry between the characters and unexpected twists throughout make for a satisfying read.

A unique story of transcendent love.

Pub Date: Dec. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5420-0017-8

Page Count: 301

Publisher: Montlake Romance

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2020

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