Book Review: Blue Fire by John Gilstrap @JohnGilstrap201 @KensingtonBooks @SDSXXTours

Blue Fire

A Victoria Emerson Thriller Book 2

by John Gilstrap

Genre: Thriller, Suspense


Blue Fire
A Victoria Emerson Thriller Book 2
John Gilstrap
Kensington, February 2022
ISBN 978-1-4967-2857-9

From the publisher—

John Gilstrap, the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Jonathan Grave novels, continues his acclaimed Victoria Emerson thriller series with Blue Fire. In the wake of a global conflict that has devastated America, one woman must lead—and protect—a community of survivors determined to rebuild all they have lost . . .

They call it Hell Day—a world war that lasted less than twenty-four hours. Nations unleashed weapons that destroyed more than a century’s worth of technology. Electrical grids cannot generate power. Communications and computers cannot run. And the remnants of the U. S. government cannot be depended upon. Those who survived must live as their ancestors did, off a land ruled by the whims of nature.

One-time congressional representative Victoria Emerson has become the new leader of the small town of Ortho, West Virginia. She has been struggling to provide food and shelter for the town’s inhabitants, while coping with desperate refugees. An autumn morning’s calm is shattered when her teenage son sounds the alarm with the cry “Blue Fire”—the code phrase for imminent danger.

A band of National Guardsmen intends to take Ortho and its resources for themselves. They have enough soldiers and firepower to eliminate anyone who dares to stop them. But Victoria swore an oath to defend and protect her people, and she isn’t about to surrender. It’s time to tap into the traditional American values of courage, ingenuity, and determination – and fight fire with fire.

I had the pleasure of meeting John Gilstrap some years ago and had my introduction to his work. (Now, I can’t swear I’m remembering this correctly but I think I am!) At the time, my daughter and I had a bookstore in Richmond, VA, and when John participated in the Crime Wave part of the Virginia Festival of the Book, we were the bookstore handling on-site sales for all the crime fiction authors. And, if memory serves me, he later came to visit our store—but I could be imagining that. All of which is to say that, yes, I might be a little biased because I liked the guy and the first book of his that I read, Nathan’s Run :-).
It’s a good thing then that I really got wrapped up in Blue Fire, bias or no. I hadn’t read the first book in the series but that didn’t inhibit my enjoyment in any way. Victoria Emerson is the kind of leader we wish all politicians would be and her strengths become ever more needed and important now that the country has been devastated by global war.
What I really appreciate about this story is that it’s a combination of two subgenres I love, post-apocalyptic and crime fiction, the latter focused on how one’s idea of what’s criminal might change in a new world order and on the attack planned by a group of rogue guardsmen on the small town of survivors led by Victoria.
I’m endlessly fascinated with what would happen in the event of any kind of apocalypse, especially an EMP, and current tensions in Europe make nuclear hell even more plausible. None of us have lived through such an upheaval of losing all technology and the resultant damage including critical infrastructure, medications, communication—the list goes on and on. Vicky is a survivor determined to protect and provide for her own children as well as others who have banded together and, as a leader she has to make decisions and choices that don’t always sit well.
This book kept me up till all hours and, although I’m very accustomed to reading out of order, I think it’s a mistake in this case if only because the story needs to be fully fleshed. I’ve already bought the audiobook of Crimson Phoenix and plan to rectify the situation ASAP.
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2022.


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Crimson Phoenix

A Victoria Emerson Thriller Book 1

Brad Taylor meets The Stand in a riveting novel of suspense kicking off a brand new series perfect for fans of the page-turning novels of A.G. Riddle, Mark Greaney, and Matthew Mather.

One of the most singular and compelling heroines to come along in years.”—Jeffery Deaver, New York Times bestselling author

Snaps with action from the very first page.”—Marc Cameron, New York Times bestselling author of Stone Cross and of Tom Clancy’s Code of Honor

From John Gilstrap, the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Jonathan Grave novels, comes Crimson Phoenix—first in the new Victoria Emerson Thriller series. With America brought to the brink of destruction, one woman becomes the last hope of a nation and its people . . .

Victoria Emerson is a congressional member of the U. S. House of Representatives for the state of West Virginia. Her aspirations have always been to help her community and to avoid the ambitious power plays of her peers in Washington D. C. Then Major Joseph McCrea appears on her doorstep and uses the code phrase Crimson Phoenix, meaning this is not a drill. The United States is on the verge of nuclear war. Victoria must accompany McCrea to a secure bunker. She cannot bring her family.

A single mother, Victoria refuses to abandon her three teenage sons. Denied entry to the bunker, they nonetheless survive the nuclear onslaught that devastates the country. The land is nearly uninhabitable. Electronics have been rendered useless. Food is scarce. Millions of scared and ailing people await aid from a government that is unable to regroup, much less organize a rescue from the chaos.

Victoria devotes herself to reestablishing order—only to encounter the harsh realities required of a leader dealing with desperate people . . .

Just the thing for readers who feel oppressed by the pandemic lockdown.”

A gripping page-turner.”
—Taylor Stevens,
New York Times bestselling author

An explosive story that keeps your mind churning and pulse racing . . .
Don’t miss this powerful new series from a master thriller writer.”
—Jamie Freveletti, international bestselling and award-winning author

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About the Author

John Gilstrap is the New York Times bestselling author of award-winning action novels including the Jonathan Grave Thrillers and the Victoria Emerson Thrillers. A master of action-driven suspense, his books have been translated into more than 20 languages. He is the recipient of an International Thriller Writers’ Award for Against All Enemies, the ALA Alex Award for Nathan’s Run, and a two-time ITW Award finalist. A nationally recognized weaponry and explosives safety expert as well as a National Shooting Sports Foundation member, John Gilstrap frequently speaks at conferences, events, clubs, youth programs, and military bases. He is a former firefighter and EMT with a master’s degree in safety from the University of Southern California and a bachelor’s degree in history from the College of William and Mary in Virginia. John lives in Fairfax, Virginia.


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Book Review: Murder with Fried Chicken and Waffles by A.L. Herbert

Murder with Fried Chicken and Waffles
A Mahalia Watkins Soul Food Mystery #1
A.L. Herbert
Kensington, January 2018
ISBN: 978-1-4967-0502-0
Mass Market Paperback

Murder With Fried Chicken and Waffles was first released in 2015, but has been re-released this year in mass paperback form. I don’t know how I missed this book the first time around but I am glad I caught it now. The author, A.L. Herbert, has given readers a  mystery with a likable protagonist in Mahalia Watkins.

Halia, as she’s known to her friends, took a chance and opened an upscale restaurant serving soul food  in Prince George’s County Maryland. Being a life long resident of the county she wanted folks to be able to go out for a nice meal without having to drive into Washington. By all appearances, her gamble has paid off. Mahalia’s Sweet Tea is packed most days for both lunch and dinner. They come for the fried chicken and waffles, macaroni and cheese, corn casserole and airy light biscuits and stay for the banana pudding and red velvet cake. The fly in the ointment was that Mahalia had to borrow some money from one smooth talking Marcus Rand to open her restaurant. This leaves her at his beckoned call. So when Marcus comes by asking for special dinner items for his guests, no matter how inconvenient she feels she must oblige.

If only the special menu items were the only problems Marcus brought down on Mahalia’s Sweet Tea.  But sadly it isn’t. That fast talking smooth operator ended up dead on the kitchen floor of the restaurant apparently clunked on the head by one of Mahalia’s heavy duty cast iron skillets. If the body is found in the restaurant, the restaurant might be closed for days as a crime scene. And the customers! Would people still come to a place where a person was found murdered? On impulse, Mahalia and her cousin Wavonne lug the body outside and down the alley to behind the bookstore. Problem solved right? Wrong. From there the story takes off with plenty of twists and turns until Mahalia figures out who killed Marcus.

There are plenty of reasons to love this book. The protagonist, her cousin and mother are all very likable, well defined characters. The three of them make up a household that will resonate with some readers. In some families, adult children live with an aged parent to help out and for everyone to save money.  Mahalia is a strong, ambitious African American – a character mostly missing from the cozy genre. She runs a highly successful business but she hasn’t forgotten where she came from. She employs her less than reliable cousin Wavonne to help keep her on the straight and narrow. She chose to put her restaurant in her home community so the town could have something nice. Mahalia is a person of character.

The mystery – who killed Marcus, takes some interesting turns. Mahalia is perhaps a bit more vested in finding the killer than some because Wavonne acts impulsively and ends up as a suspect so Mahalia is trying to solve the case to get Wavonne off the hook. If I have any quibble at all with the book, it is that the author didn’t really give readers ample clues to solve the murder completely, but the end solution does make sense.

Cozies are often set around food establishments, but this is the first that I am aware of with soul food as the focus. I have to say, as a bit of a foodie, my mouth was watering reading the descriptions of the food. There are recipes sprinkled throughout the book. I hadn’t even finished reading the book when I tried out the cornbread recipe and it is melt in your mouth good. The fried chicken has a surprising ingredient and the banana pudding has a different twist to it from what I have made before. Both are on my try list in the near future.

Murder with Fried Chicken and Waffles is a wonderful start to a series. I know there is a second book already out, and I hope there are many more to follow.

I received this book from the publisher for review.

Reviewed by guest reviewer Caryn St. Clair, February 2018.

Book Review: Thread and Gone by Lea Wait

Thread and GoneThread and Gone
A Mainely Needlepoint Mystery #3
Lea Wait
Kensington, December 2015
ISBN 978-1-61773-008-5
Mass Market Paperback

At first glance, Mary Queen of Scots, Marie Antoinette and a coastal Maine village would seem to have little in common. But when a young couple ask Angie Curtis, who runs a needle-craft business, if an old piece of needlepoint they found in the woman’s house is valuable, a tangled history leads to a new crime. Murder.

The piece is obviously very old. Local legends and local history hint that either Mary, Queen of Scots or Marie Antoinette could have stitched it, which would make it extremely valuable. Angie’s Gran, a needlework expert, is off on her honeymoon, so Angie consults Sarah, who owns an antiques shop. She also asks her lawyer to keep the piece in her safe. That turns out badly. The lawyer is murdered, and some jewelry and the needlepoint piece vanish. Was the killer after the jewelry or the needlepoint? If the jewelry, is the beautiful old piece now buried in a dumpster, or destroyed?

Feeling responsible, Angie takes on the tasks of digging out the history of the missing artifact, and finding it. As she previously worked for a private detective, she has some skills. She also has friends on the local and state police forces–who warn her to keep out of it. She can’t. It makes an interesting tale.

Lea Wait writes well about history and small-town Maine. I really enjoyed spending time in Haven Harbor. This is the third book in what I hope will be a long and successful series.

Extra nice touch: chapter headings taken from needlepoint pieces worked by children long ago. Fascinating.

Reviewed by Marilyn Nulman, December 2015.

Book Reviews: A Beeline to Murder by Meera Lester and Nunavut by Roger Herst

A Beeline to MurderA Beeline to Murder
A Henny Penny Farmette Mystery #1
Meera Lester
Kensington, September 2015
IBSN 978-1-61773-909-5

Abigail Mackenzie was once a cop in Las Flores but an accident left her right hand too weak to hold a gun. She hasn’t lost her investigative nose, though. Now living on a small farm, raising bees and selling the honey, she keeps her hand in doing investigative work for the district attorney. When she finds the body of her best customer, the pastry chef Jean-Louis Bonheur, she asks that vital question, “Why?”

This is a cozy debut by Meera Lester with good bones, but a tad overweight for my tastes. A nicely intricate plot unfolds, red herrings and possible Persons of Interest, a debonair love interest—even a rescued dog—keep Abby on the go as she searches for the motive and the killer.

Closer editing—she makes $22 for 16 ounces of honey but sells it in 20 ounce jars—would have kept me better in the story-line.

This is a gentle cozy that should appeal to readers of the genre.

Reviewed by Michele Drier, October 2015.
Author of Delta for Death and SNAP: All That Jazz.


An Arctic Thriller
Roger Herst
Dale and Hill Publications, February 2015
ISBN 978-1508423850
Trade Paperback

This novel begins right away with a conflict – a Russian icebreaker is trying to sneak through the Northwest Passage in Nunavut, but is warned off by two people on snow machines: Leetia Quilliq, daughter of the deputy-premier of Nunavut, and RCMP Inspector Nils Christendorp. Leetia and Nils advise the Russian captain that he’s in Canadian waters, and that he must leave immediately. However, without the power to stop the large icebreaker, the Russians move ahead anyway, while Leetia and Nils are left behind, determined to investigate further into what the Russians were doing.

Nunavut is subtitled “An Arctic Thriller”, which is a fair description. Its premise is based on real issues – global warming is having a big impact on the Canadian North, allowing access to areas that were previously inaccessible, and opening up the potential to tap into its vast reserves of oil and uranium. While such a remote area, so sparsely populated, has not previously been a place to battle over, it may become very desirable in the future, and Canada has already begun to increase its military presence in the Arctic. In addition to the possible fights over Nunavut’s untapped wealth, Nunavut is Canada’s newest territory, still establishing itself and finding ways to become economically viable, while sustaining an Inuit way of life.

Herst explores all of these issues in his thriller, as well as describing the negative impact of the changing environment on the area’s wildlife. Leetia Quilliq, the heroine of the novel, is a veterinarian who operates Seafarers, a clinic that exists to heal injured sea mammals. As the daughter of the deputy-premier, she is also under pressure to enter politics. But as a young woman, she is also trying to choose between having a professional life that takes up all of her time, or starting a family with her plastic surgeon boyfriend, Steven. She is torn between Steven, her RCMP ally Nils, and her father’s friend Siggy, a lawyer and an artist who has been inspired by Nunavut’s famous Cape Dorset sculptors.

Nunavut makes for a fascinating setting. I live in Canada, and I have travelled through a lot of it, but the far North seems like another country even though it is a large part of my country. The characters were interesting as well, with Leetia being the most complex, as she identifies strongly with the Inuit people and yet is herself half-Korean, half-French-Canadian. The mystery aspect of the book centres around the death of a politician, and whether or not it was an accident or an assassination.

For all its strengths, however, Nunavut never completely came alive for me. It seemed overwritten in places, with convoluted sentences that drew me out of the narrative. As well, there were numerous shifts from the past tense to the present tense that I found disconcerting. Herst seemed to be trying to combine not only a thriller scenario, but also a bit of a mystical story, with injured animals magically finding their own way to Seafarers to be treated, and then to mix all of that with romantic suspense, as Leetia tries to choose between the various men pursuing her.

Admittedly, though, Nunavut did make me curious and get me thinking, and I appreciated that. The issues this arctic thriller raises seem important, and I was inspired to do some research and become more aware of what is happening in Nunavut. Herst was successful in painting a strong picture of the challenges that Nunavut is facing, which are so intertwined with its potential for wealth and prominence.

Reviewed by Andrea Thompson, October 2015.


Book Review: Strawberry Shortcake Murder by Joanne Fluke

Strawberry Shortcake Murder
Joanne Fluke
Kensington, 2001
ISBN 1575667215
Mass Market Paperback

Hannah Swensen, cookie baker extraordinaire, is once again on the snoop.  This time, she’s after the murderer of the husband of a friend, struck down right after his judging duty at a dessert bake-off — and he’s literally facedown in Hannah’s own strawberry shortcake. Only Hannah and a few others know just how nasty-tempered this man was and she’s determined to track down the killer before the police decide the wife is the culprit.  In the meantime, a most annoying reporter is behaving strangely and the list of suspects is growing.

In Hannah’s second adventure, Joanne Fluke brings us another winner, a cozy in the truest sense, complete with the wonderful cat, Moishe. This time, Hannah and her sister, Andrea, have resolved their long-standing rivalry and Andrea joins in the sleuthing with enthusiasm. The two of them make quite a team and the reader has the pleasure of watching the sisters discover surprising things about each other. And the men in Hannah’s life?  Well, suffice it to say that batty Moishe is the only one not causing problems of one sort or another.

Strawberry Shortcake Murder is every bit as enjoyable as Hannah’s first story, Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder, and Ms. Fluke shows us once again that she is very adept at creating a traditional mystery, replete with small-town characters, multiple bodies and suspects, a little romance and a cat with personality, not to mention some wonderful recipes. If the
author keeps this up, I’ll collapse from overeating but at least I’ll be reading a good book while I stuff myself!

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, 2002.  Slightly revised 2010.
Review first published on in 2002.

Book Review: Pepperoni Pizza Can Be Murder by Chris Cavender

Pepperoni Pizza Can Be Murder
Chris Cavender
Kensington Publishing, August 2010
ISBN 075822950X

Eleanor Swift will not let the reputation of A Slice of Delight, her pizza parlor, be sullied by customer complaints or by murder.  When Wade Hatcher, the brother of her delivery guy Greg, is murdered in her kitchen, she won’t rest until she knows what really happened.  After all, the pizza next to the victim was not one of hers!  Who would bring a strange pizza to a pizza parlor?

There are obvious reasons to suspect Greg.  He and his brother had issues – money, women, and family history.  Still, Eleanor and her sister Maddie don’t believe Greg is a killer.  She knows Greg is not the person who robbed her a few nights before the murder.  The police chief just doesn’t buy it, any of it.

In the meantime, there are the romance issues.  Eleanor still isn’t over Joe, her dead husband.  Maddie is on the look-out for her next husband, a man who will be one of many.  Maddie wants Eleanor to pay more attention to David Quinton, a good friend of Eleanor’s.  Eleanor doesn’t want to lead him on, and she’s not sure she wants to take the relationship any farther.  Still, he’s a nice guy.

The killer is eventually revealed, and the motive is classic.  Cavender is quite good at keeping the reader guessing, and her planting of clues and red herrings is adept.  Pepperoni pizza may be murder, but most readers who like a traditional and/or cozy mystery will want to come back for another slice.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, July 2010.

Note: Chris Cavender is a pseudonym for mystery author Tim Myers.