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: Hello, Summer by Mary Kay Andrews—and a Giveaway! @mkayandrews @StMartinsPress

Hello, Summer
Mary Kay Andrews
St. Martin’s Press, May 2020
ISBN 978-1-250-25692-8

From the publisher—

It’s a new season…

Conley Hawkins left her family’s small town newspaper, The Silver Bay Beacon, in the rearview mirror years ago. Now a star reporter for a big-city paper, Conley is exactly where she wants to be and is about to take a fancy new position in Washington, D.C. Or so she thinks.

For small town scandals…

When the new job goes up in smoke, Conley finds herself right back where she started, working for her sister, who is trying to keep The Silver Bay Beacon afloat―and she doesn’t exactly have warm feelings for Conley. Soon she is given the unenviable task of overseeing the local gossip column, “Hello, Summer.”

And big-time secrets.

Then Conley witnesses an accident that ends in the death of a local congressman―a beloved war hero with a shady past. The more she digs into the story, the more dangerous it gets. As an old heartbreaker causes trouble and a new flame ignites, it soon looks like their sleepy beach town is the most scandalous hotspot of the summer.

Big city journalist stuck writing a gossip column on a small town newspaper—what could possibly go wrong? Conley’s grateful her sister, Grayson, made room for her on the family paper after her ignominious exit from Atlanta but getting used to being back in her coastal Florida hometown is hard enough without having to ferret out the local tattling and innuendos. Before long, though, life takes a different turn and Conley starts sniffing around a real story, a suspicious death of a politician.

That’s not all, though, as it seems Silver Bay is a hotbed of scandals and secrets involving a plethora of folks, including her own family, not to mention a potential reconnection with a crush from earlier times. Throw in G’mama, the quintessential grande dame of Southern small towns, and her opinionated housekeeper, Winnie, and you’ve got the makings of a great beach read—a bit too long for my taste but, all in all, a winner.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2020.


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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.