“The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, Episode 2: A Voice on the Radio” by Cassandra Rose Clarke (Serial Box, 2016)


This review is for the second episode in the series The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, the first episode can be found here.

This second episode, A Voice on the Radio, opens with Tanya Morozova wanting to talk to her grandfather. The problem is she’s in Prague and her grandfather is deep behind the Iron Curtain, in Moscow. But she has a way of getting in touch with him through some unusual means. Using an old wireless radio that has seen better days and some magical techniques, she is able to get in touch with the her relative. She needs some advice on how best to get Andula to realize she and the Consortium of Ice only want to help her.

The episode focuses on Tanya trying to win Andula over and let her know that the Consortium of Ice just wants to help and protect her. Readers learn in this world the Consortium of Ice wants things to return to how they were before, whatever they might be, while the Acolytes of Fire want some sort of radical change.

Gabe Pritchard discovers Andula and his detective sense begins to tingle. Eventually he finds the young girl talking to Tanya Morozova at a formal event and knows there must be something going on here. The higher ups need evidence to be convinced, so he really needs to find some. Meanwhile his migraines continue to get worse and he enlists the help of a friend to use magic to try to determine what is wrong with him. He hopes it will be a quick easy spell and his head will be better, but it’s a lot more complicated than that.

The second episode in this magical thriller builds on the first, explaining some of the mysteries from the premiere episode, as well as adding some new ones to continue to pique the reader’s interest.

Originally written on February 12, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, Episode 2: A Voice on the Radio from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, Episode 1: A Long, Cold Winter” by Lindsay Smith & Max Gladstone (Serial Box, 2016)


In the 1800s when you wanted to read Dickens, you didn’t simply get a copy of his completed book, but read his latest work in serialized form. Families would gather round and read aloud the latest “installment” of Dickens. In 1984, Tom Wolfe serialized Bonfire for the Vanities in Rolling Stone magazine. Stephen King serialized The Green Mile into six short books in 1996. Michael Chabon serialized Gentlemen of the Road in The New York Times Magazine in 2007.

And then there’s Serial Box, a new publishing concept looking to bring the dramatic tension and excitement of a weekly TV show to the written word. Readers can buy individual “episodes” or subscribe to the entire book and receive the next episode as it is released in their inbox or on their ereader. The serialized books are available in ebook or also on audio in approximate 90-minute episodes.

The year is 1970 and the Cold War is in full force as the USA and the USSR face off against once another and the world stands on the brink of all out war and possible annihilation. Our story begins in the bleak city of Prague, Czechoslovakia, on the edge of the iron curtain. A young student named Andula is being stalked by something not of this world, a magical construct, and she barely has any idea. An operative of the Consortium of Ice, Tanya Morozova, knows how important and powerful the girl is, as a host, and must do whatever she can to help her. The Consortium of Ice is in a long-standing battle against the Acolytes of Fire to harness elemental magic. Meanwhile, CIA agent Gabe Pritchard screws up a case in gaining a potential asset that has been six-months in the making, due to something that changed him in a previous mission in Cairo; now he needs to make good or face the consequences which will be more than losing his job.

The authors do a great job of setting the scene of this gloomy city in the heart of the cold war making it feel like a James Bond story of espionage, and then the magic comes into play in a subtle way, giving the story a whole new feel and dynamic. The readers do their part in giving the characters life and depth, using accents where necessary, and providing added tension to the dramatic story.

The first episode, “A Long, Cold Winter” does what it should: hooking the reader, answering a few questions, but also providing many more, wanting the reader (or listener) to continue with the next episode. This first episode is also free to read through the Serial Box site.

Originally written on February 10, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Witch Who Came in From the Cold, Episode 1: A Long, Cold Winter from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Career of Evil” by Robert Galbraith (Mulholland Books, 2015)


Cormoran Strike is back with a new case to solve, only this in addition to being of a usual garish and repulsive nature, is a lot more personal. It all begins when his assistant and now admitted partner receives a special package at the office. Thinking it a possible gift from her fiance, she opens it up and discovers a woman’s severed leg inside.

It’s a personal attack on Cormoran, through his assistant Robin Ellacott. Their other cases soon start disappearing when word gets out and they know they need to find who’s behind it all before they go out of business. Strike comes up with four potential suspects from his past, and while he’d like to keep Robin locked up in a safe place, she won’t hear of it and refuses, as he knew she would.

Strike gets the police involved and gives them everything he’s got on the suspects. The police want to focus on a particular man that the private detective thinks isn’t involved, leaving the other three potential murderers for Cormoran and Robin to deal with. In their most intense and tolling case yet, they have to track down where these suspects are now, since it’s been years since Strike last checked in on them; find out what’s been going on around them and find out who the likely killer will be.

The case forces Cormoran and Robin to understand their unique dynamic as partners and how much they care about each other, while their respective girlfriend and fiance rarely see them, straining their relationships. Galbraith shows another side to the characters in this case that hits a lot closer to home, as the reader gets plenty of their personal lives, as well as their professional ones, making them feel like real people. Readers will be just as hooked with this third installment and wanting more.

Originally written on February 3, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Career of Evil from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“The Paris Protection” by Bryan Devore (Bryan Devore, 2015)

Paris Protection
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The Secret Service is in some ways like the NSA, CIA or some other government lesser known acronym group: just about everyone knows who they are, but they don’t really know exactly how they operate or what they do. The Secret Service’s job is to protect the President of the United States 24/7, no matter what it takes. Their lives are always on the line for this one person. But what does this truly unique job entail?

The premise for The Paris Protection seems somewhat mundane and ordinary: a terrorist group has infiltrated the hotel where the United States President is staying and plans to assassinate her. They are fully confident in their success, while the Secret Service knows the job they have to do.

Abigail Clarke has done a lot of work – as a state prosecutor, US Senator, and governor of Virginia – and sacrificed much to become one of the most powerful and important people on the planet; many say the most important. President Clarke does not take her job lightly and has very little free time. She is now in Paris for a summit meeting as she hopes to bring the prickly subject of organized crime to the international stage and address it as a terrorist attack. For now, the day’s work is done and she is at her hotel carrying out various conference calls with important people back on US soil and around the world.

Maximillian Wolff, who once served on the Israeli Security Protection team when Yitzak Rabin was assassinated, has suffered much during his life and holds the United States accountable for its world domination, and with a huge and highly trained team of mercenaries, his plan is to remove the head of power and bring the US to its knees. His right hand man, Kazim Aslan, has spent his time as an insurgent soldier in Iraq who has lost loved ones because of the United States’ policies and wants their assassination plan to be just as successful. Maximillian also has a hero: Hannibal Barca who once brought Rome to its knees.

The Paris Protection is three-hundred-and-fifty-odd pages that is anything but ordinary and mundane. Devore skillfully takes the reader step by step through the attack, giving POVs from both sides and plenty of detail of tactics, weaponry, and skill. It is a gripping thriller at its best. Here and there, he provides some back story to his characters–again on both sides–that help the reader understand what is fueling their desire and drive. Maximillian goes into numerous contemplations of how Hannibal handled certain situations to help them in their current one, which is juxtaposed with Secret Service Agents contemplating their skill and training and what past agents have done in similar situations.

It is the ideal blend of action and story with plenty of well-researched details that keep the reader glued to the page. The story passes throughout the hotel with some impressive “battles,” eventually leading down deep into the haunting Paris catacombs that serves as a terrifying arena for a chase scene. The Paris Protection is one of those books where you don’t know who will make it out alive and how it’s really going to end; a perfect example of the thriller genre.

First published in Manhattan Book Review.

Originally written on October 27, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Paris Protection from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

The Fifth Heart by Dan Simmons (Little, Brown and Company, 2015)

Fifth Heart
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One thing you can never do with Dan Simmons is pigeon hole him under a specific genre. He’s published in most, from epic science fiction to mysteries to horror to thrilling historical fiction. Other than his Blade Runneresque novel Flashback from 2011, his previous four novels have been works of historical fiction; a couple of them have been fantastic, engrossing books — The Terror and Drood — and the other two — Black Hills and The Abominable — were lacking in something. His latest novel, The Fifth Heart, is a return to those earlier, thrilling works as he takes an idea that would hook any literary fan and takes you on one wild ride. The premise is a relatively simple one: what if Sherlock Holmes and Henry James teamed up together to solve a murder?

Sherlock Holmes is in Paris on a foggy night and finds Henry James by the Seine about to commit suicide. Instead, Holmes tells him he will join him on a ship in the morning to cross the Atlantic for James’s native United States to solve a murder that was thought and assumed to be a suicide. Clover Adams was a close friend of Henry James who committed suicide in 1885 under somewhat unusual circumstances. She was a member, along with James, of the Five of Hearts salon. And yet an enigmatic message is sent to the remaining members each year indicating nothing is as simple and clear cut as it seems.

Holmes begins his painstaking investigation, interviewing many and traveling all around Washington DC. James unwittingly becomes his Watson, as he also learns that Holmes is unsure if he is a real person or a fictional character, and that the stories Watson has penned about him with the help of literary agent Arthur Conan Doyle have distorted the facts of his past cases to make them all the more adventurous and grandiose. Holmes takes on many disguises and does what he does best.

Along the way readers will get to meet some fun characters, like Mark Twain and a young Teddy Roosevelt. They will also get to meet some familiar people from Holmes’s world, including Irene Adler and the infamous Professor Moriarty. The mystery will take James and Holmes away from DC to New York and then up to the Chicago to the White City and the World’s Fair where they will attempt to thwart a plot to assassinate the President of the United States.

Simmons clearly had a lot of fun with this novel, throwing as much literary subject matter as history. It is a lengthy novel and he enjoys taking the reader on interesting tangents, which all help to keep the reader enthralled as they have no idea where the story is going to go next. As with The Terror, the language makes it feel like one is reading something penned by Arthur Conan Doyle, with the use of particular language, diction and detail. Simmons fans will not be disappointed, while Holmesian ones will be delighted.

Originally written on August 1st, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of The Fifth Heart from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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Hyperion  Drood  The Terror

“Random Targets” by James Raven (Robert Hale, 2014)

Random Targets
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An average day of rush hour traffic near Southampton on an English motorway soon turns to tragedy and mayhem when a sniper shoots two motorists. With the large number of automobiles on the roads there is soon a massive pileup with a number of people killed and many more injured. DCI Jeff Temple of the Major Investigations Team is brought in to investigate. It is the worst tragedy he’s ever seen but he knows he must focus and do his job to the best of his ability to catch the person behind these killings, for the man or woman has left a painted message on a wall for them to find, indicating this will happen again.

As the many rescue workers help those in need and try to get the motorway back up and running again, Temple gets his team together and they glean what few facts they can. The killer is a sharp shooter using a specific sniper rifle that is not easy to acquire, either through extreme black market means or the British military. The killer has left no prints and very little detail that he exists, other than a brief hooded shot on a CCTV camera. Temple’s girlfriend, also a member of the constabulary, was involved in the devastation and has suffered a serious head injury and is recovering in hospital, so he also has a very personal connection to the case and wanting to catch this killer.

Before the team has a chance to put much together, the killer strikes again on a different motorway. There are more dead and many more injured but little evidence to show for it, other than another message that there will be more shootings to come. The next hit is on the great M25 ring-road around London which heavily disrupts traffic for some time. There are those who fear to travel on the motorways anymore and choose to use smaller rural streets, clogging up the countryside. A reward is offered which soon grows to £2.5 million by all the businesses and people involved for any information on the killer.

Temple has his own idea who might be behind it and is doing his best to track down the man. At the same time a new task force is convened as there is new evidence possibly linking these killings to a terrorist cell related to Al-Qaeda. Temple now has a higher-up he reports to, but he’s still pretty sure that his suspect is the killer behind all this.

While Random Targets perhaps lacks the tightly-edited speed and pace of American thrillers, the step-by-step progression of the case and the characters give the book a very realistic feel, as if this is exactly how a case would be investigated and solved in Britain. There is little background development in the characters other than Temple and his girlfriend, Angel, and what few additional female characters there are end up being simply described by their looks and body type. When the ending is revealed, which isn’t completely a surprise, it is done in a ham-handed all telling and no showing way that kills all the momentum of the book.

Random Targets is an interesting look into English law enforcement and how they work when there is a deadly killer on the loose. While the book is lacking in areas of character development and the ending is somewhat anticlimactic, overall the book is a fun and interesting read.

Originally written on October 5, 2014 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Random Targets from Amazon, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

“Blood Infernal” by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell (William Morrow, 2015)

Blood Infernal
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Blood Infernal is the final book in the trilogy from bestselling authors James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell who have created a world that mixes Christianity and vampires together in a new and terrifying way.

While it takes a little while for the book to get going, the big plotline is revealed: Lucifer’s shackles are loosening and the Apocalypse appears imminent. It will be up to the three – archaeologist Erin Granger, army sergeant Jordan Stone and Father Rhun Korza – to search for a new Chalice and imprison Lucifer safely back in his bonds. Meanwhile, a demon named Legion is alive and free and able to take over the bodies of others.

Stone  has also gone through some sort of transformation and is now somehow able to heal incredibly fast and seems almost immortal, which seems free license for the writers to really try their best to push him as close to death as possible. This concluding book feels unbalanced with the first half heavily weighted with archaeological searches and discovery and plenty of puzzle and problem solving, and the second half, once the big baddie is revealed, with nonstop action leaving the reader little room to come up for air. Nevertheless, adding this volume to the first two makes the trilogy a complete story that ends in a high-tension climax.

Originally written on March 8, 2015 ©Alex C. Telander.

To purchase a copy of Blood Infernal from Bookshop Santa Cruz, and help support BookBanter, click HERE.

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Blood Gospel  Innocent Blood