Book Review: Righteous Prey by John Sandford

Happy Thursday, my lovely peeps🐥!
This week’s book review: Righteous Prey by John Sandford!

This was my most anticipated read of the year and I kept pushing it off as if to make the read even more rewarding the longer I wait for it. I finally got around to it, and I absolutely loved it!

Book Title: Righteous Prey
Series: Prey Series / Virgil Flowers
Book # 32 (Prey) / 14 (Virgil Flowers)
Author: John Sandford
Length: ~412 Pages (Based on Kindle Pages)
Publication Date: 4 Oct 2022
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Edition: eARC (NetGalley)
Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Mystery > Crime, Thriller, Thriller > Mystery Thriller, Suspense, Police Procedural, Action

Goodreads: >LINK<
Amazon: >LINK<
Author Website: >LINK<

Disclaimer: A big thank you to the author, publisher, and NetGalley. An ebook copy was provided to me in exchange for a fair and honest review. This does not affect my review in any way, and all opinions are my own.

Beloved heroes Lucas Davenport and Virgil Flowers are up against a powerful vigilante group with an eye on vengeance in a stunning new novel from #1 New York Times-bestselling author John Sandford.

“We’re going to murder people who need to be murdered.” So begins a press release from a mysterious group known only as “The Five,” shortly after a vicious predator is murdered in San Francisco. The Five is believed to be made up of vigilante killers who are very bored…and very rich. They target the worst of society—rapists, murderers, and thieves—and then use their unlimited resources to offset the damage done by those who they’ve killed, donating untraceable bitcoin to charities and victims via the dark net. The Five soon become the most popular figures on social media, a modern-day Batman…though their motives may not be entirely pure.

After a woman is murdered in the Twin Cities, Virgil Flowers and Lucas Davenport are sent in to investigate. And they soon have their hands full–the killings are smart and carefully choreographed, and with no apparent direct connection to the victims, the Five are virtually untraceable. But if anyone can destroy this group, it will be the dynamic team of Davenport and Flowers.

5 bitcoin traders, immensely wealthy, and absolutely nuts in the head, conspire along with another individual to commit crimes “for the better of the world.” They kill those they deem worthy of death, post their crimes out as press releases along with the reasons that the individuals were killed, and a hefty amount in bitcoin is donated to a charity afterwards, a test to see if these non-profits would accept the money if they were to come out of these crimes; blood money. Lucas and Virgil aren’t called on, at least not until one of the killings happens on Minnesota soil and the BCA and US Marshal become involved.

Though I’ve seen books revolving around an individual or groups of people going after people who deserve justice, it was still a pretty good book and I enjoyed the plot. Beginning with weeks of staking out their victims, following their every move and tracking all of their personal securities, these five million/billionaire, along with their leader, come up with extremely detailed and well-thought-out plans that fully cover their tracks behind them. It’s nearly impossible to link the crime back to the perpetrator, at least, of course, until the killer in Minnesota slips up and it’s just enough of a clue for Lucas and Virgil to work off of. From there, the plot takes off and it doesn’t take long for the duo to identify some of the members of the Five and begin their pursuit. When The Five’s plans begins to crumble beneath them, people start to get really desperate. And desperate people are dangerous people.

In the first book where Lucas and Virgil worked together, Ocean Prey, Virgil actually worked mostly with Rae and Lucas with another team, covering background. Both having a criminal mind, nabbing clues in not so legal ways (like breaking into a house to investigate with a copy of a key made by pressing clay on it?), they have vastly different personalities when it comes to crime. Lucas sees things like a puzzle while Virgil’s more emotional (not that deaths don’t affect Lucas), but there’s an interesting dynamic between the two of them.

Lucas and Virgil were each other’s closest male friends, in the way men form friendships around shared traumatic stress and a predilection for jockstraps. Though they were friends, they were not alike.

Lucas could look at a body and become immediately absorbed in the technical details of the death: how the killing had been done, possible motives, who had the opportunity. He saw murder as a puzzle. The body was a detail, but not the only one. Murder signaled a competition that he was determined to win.

Virgil sought balance, rather than a victory. He wanted to wrench his world back into what it should be, a peaceful place where people cooperated to create a civilization. He disliked violence and rarely resorted to it. Murder was always a shock to his system.

In Righteous Prey, this time the duo really does work together, starting by visiting the scene of the Minnesota death, and “walking and knocking” on doors. Lucas being Virgil’s old boss, they’re best friends and their conversations can be pretty golden at times. There’s a hilarious supermarket scene with the most cliché undercover cop “quick pretend we’re a cute couple to avoid attention” trope that was the comedic highlight of my read. They’re funny and witty, and fantastic at bouncing ideas off each other. The bicker and banter between them reminds me of siblings and their interaction lightens the tenser parts of the book.

The woman called, “What’d you do? Did he see you?”

A male agent, also inside the store, who’d been looking at tomatoes, said, “They walked by him holding hands. [killer] wouldn’t look at them. He’s a homophobe and thought they were gay.”

Lucas, not transmitting, said to Virgil, “I won’t live this down. You will, of course, being an ambisexual hippie.”

The woman agent said, “That’s so cool. That’s really so cool.”

Lucas: “Ah, Jesus.”

There’s a lot of character development over the course of multiple books, for both Lucas and Virgil. Virgil has been writing as a side gig since the earliest books, more so as a magazine column writer, though. Soon, taking nature photographs and writing for magazines became writing fiction books for publishing deals and he’s in the middle of his third novel when Righteous Prey is taking place, with Lucas, a game maker himself, encouraging him. Because cops burn out hard and fast. Lucas, already rich off his games and only picking up the most interesting of cases can only hope that Virgil will follow because neither of them can see the latter continue to run around Minnesota for much longer. They’re getting older and their lives have been constantly at stake. They barely make it through this book (though I’ve definitely said this earlier in a few other books too, so…)

There were some places that were slow, you can’t have promising leads forever, and there are multiple times the duo run into walls. Still, the thrill is always present and there’s always some form of a chase, but the killers are just as slippery as they are elusive. Along with cash to back them up, clever alibis, and this case taking place across multiple stakes, Virgil and Lucas are just running all over the place. In fact, if The Five had kept all of this on the down low, and not going about publishing every hit to the public, they probably could’ve easily gotten away with these killings for a long time!

All in all, I had a wonderful time with it and I’m definitely going to get the physical copy when it comes out next month. My only worry is, with Lucas and Virgil growing older, having promising new careers on their horizon, family, and with Lucas’ adoptive daughter, Letty, having her own spin-off series now, we may very well be nearing the end of both Lucas and Virgil’s adventures. The book ends pretty well though, especially given the scary events that took place in the climax. It has a very open end feel to it, with plenty of possibilities to come. Another gripping and solid book from Sandford. I could not put this one down!

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Blog Tour: Bad Habits [Book Review]

Breaking out of my (mini) 1099-deadline induced hiatus is a review for Bad Habits! Today is my stop on the Ultimate Blog Tour for Bad Habits by Flynn Meaney. Thank you so so much to Dave from The Write Reads for including me in this tour! I had a blast reading this book and I’m having a blast writing about it now. Bad Habits will be released on February 11th and it’s not a book you’ll want to miss!

Book Name: Bad Habits
Author: Flynn Meaney
Book Type: Ebook > Kindle
Pages: 320
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, LGBT, Feminism, Humor, Fiction

Disclaimer: An e-copy of this book was provided to me in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are of my own.

CW/TW: Reference of sexual harassment, references of sex, unsafe sex, drug use

Summary

Alex is a rebel from the tip of her purple fauxhawk to the toes of her biker boots. She’s tried everything she can think of to get expelled from her strict Catholic boarding school. Nothing has worked so far – but now, Alex has a new plan.

Tired of the sexism she sees in every corner of St Mary’s, Alex decides to stage the school’s first ever production of The Vagina Monologues. Which is going to be a challenge, as no one else at St Mary’s can even bear to say the word ‘vagina’ out loud . . .

Review

I’ve read books that made me bawl my eyes out and I’ve had books that gave me a giggle or two here and there, but I’ve never had a book that made me burst out laughing (loudly) every few pages. 

Alex, a teenage junior from California, is the main protagonist of this story. After her parent’s divorce, she’s been sent off to a Catholic boarding school: St. Mary’s, where her father is an alumni. Alex is a rebel and everything about St. Mary is just unbearable; the sexism, the oppression, the scary nuns patrolling the halls…She’s had enough! Yet, despite a thick file of all her write ups on attempts to get herself expelled, she’s STILL HERE (thanks Dad for pulling some strings). 

This time though, she’s got a plan. In a school where no one can even bare to say the word “vagina” out loud, she’s going to stage the school’s first ever “The Vagina Monologues”! It’s controversial, it’s everything that St. Mary’s hates, and it’s definitely going to get her expelled.

I don’t know where to start with this review. I simply loved the writing in this book. It’s a quick and easy read, like a light little appetizer to get my “I haven’t read a single book all month” brain back into gear. Yet, it tackles an important topic. Flynn approaches the topic of feminism in a comedic and humorous way. 

Alex is a character that is rebellious and a bit chaotic. She is determined to get kicked out, but at the same time, she is determined to make St. Mary’s a little more progressive place on her way out the door. Alex is very vocal about her views about St. Mary’s and not afraid to show her disdain with the patriarchal ways of the school (and society in general). But sometimes, she can be a little narrow minded and might not even be the most accepting person around. She clashes with a few others, such Katie Casey, a very sweet fellow student who is the complete opposite of Alex who voices her own beliefs about choosing to save yourself until after marriage. After all, one of the many points of feminism is the freedom of choice, be it the choice to have sex before or after marriage. With that, there are certain moments where, despite still rooting Alex and her play’s success, you can see Alex getting lost in her own beliefs. In those moments, I wasn’t very fond of Alex. She was occasionally nasty and sometimes would even put others and their beliefs and choices down (including other females). Throughout the books, there are moments where Alex begins to grow. and I loved that she becomes more accepting of others and their choices by the end of the book. I quite liked some of the male characters in the book too, especially the hockey player, Pat who, with his own set of flaws, was pretty supportive in helping Alex achieve her semester goal of making sure the play proceeds and goes well.  Nearly every major character had their own transformations by the end of the book and the ending was so heartwarming it made me tear up. 

The setting gives me warm nostalgic fuzzies of my own school days. I’ve never attended a boarding school and the closest to a religious educational institution was a Catholic college (even then, I commuted rather than dormed and not to mention it was a pretty progressive school too). Yet, still, I miss having the daily hang out group that gets meshed with the schedules of your other friends. I miss sitting in a crowded cafeteria with your buddy as they gush over their latest crush. I miss giving crushes nicknames. The setting was pretty realistic with the insane school spirit (towards sports), the hosted events being planned, having clubs around, the yearly club booths as members tried to fill their sign up sheets…

A lovely read that invigorated me and had a lively and well written cast of characters that felt so real. Filled with topics and discussions of feminism, this is a very chaotic and quirky book that sort of made me miss school (lol nah). Wonderfully written and humorous, the pages are dripping with sarcasm, wit and comedy. The characters are complex. They aren’t perfect, none of them are. They call each other out and the characters learn and grow to correct themselves. There are some nice character developments in this book and the ending is a lovely way to finish it all off. It was a fun read that I laughed myself through!

About the Author

Flynn Meaney is the author of The Boy Recession and Bloodthirsty. She studied marketing and French at the University of Notre Dame, where she barely survived the terrifying array of priests and nuns, campus ghosts, and bone-crushing athletes who inspired Bad Habits. Since completing a very practical MFA in Poetry, she works for a French company and travels often between New York (when she’s in the mood for bagels) and Paris (when she’s in the mood for croissants).

Reaper: Drone Strike [Review]

Book Name: Reaper: Drone Strike
Series: The Reapers Book: # 3
Author: Nicholas Irving with A.J. Tata
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Book Type: Physical > Paperback > ARC
Pages: 354
Genre: Fiction, War, Military Fiction
Start Date: 05.04.2020
End Date: 05.16.2020

Giveaway Disclaimer: I received this book from a Goodreads Giveaway set up by St. Martin’s Press. This does not affect my opinions in anyway. I will still give my honest thoughts, feedback, and review of the book based off of what I think of it.

Summary From Goodreads:
On a classified mission to help the Israeli Defense Forces stop a Syrian and Hezbollah invasion to seize the Golan Heights, Ranger sniper Vick Harwood and his spotter go deep undercover. Operating with limited support from the American and Israeli governments, Vick is out on the edge.

Alessandra Cavezza, Director of Operations in Syria for the Italian UN Commission for Refugees, is moving families out of an embattled neighborhood. The nearly vacant suburb has been a haven for anti-Assad forces, ISIS militants, and Russian private military contractors. As she crawls into the basement of a home to help find a young girl’s doll, she finds a secret room that has detailed descriptions of unthinkable attacks on the United States, and falls into the hands of a madman: Jasar Tankian, Lebanese mastermind behind the plots.

As Syrian tanks attempt to push through Israeli defenses at the border, Team Reaper picks off Syrian tank commanders as they battle Israeli tanks, jets, and infantrymen. Combat intensifies as Vick goes black on ammunition. Commandeering a cargo drone to deliver Team Reaper to a landing zone near the coordinates, Vick becomes Alessandra’s–and America’s–only hope for survival.

Condense Review (No Spoilers)

I realized that I like to ramble about the books I like and go on and on and on….So I’ve decided, from now on, to include a tiny section where I just condense my opinions into a quick, short, and simple review. For this one, at least, I also have minor spoilers in my actual review below, so this one is spoiler-free and gets to the point.

Expanded Plot:

The plot starts off with Sassi or Alessandra Cavezza, the Director of Operations in Syria for the Italian UN Commission for Refugees. She’s patching up a shrapnel wound on a little girl, Fatima, who whispers to her that she Aamina is missing. After a (very) close encounter with a Russian commander, she goes to look for Aamina, Fatima’s doll. Sassi finds Aamina in a basement and crawls down to retrieve the doll. On her way out, she notices, through a narrow tunnel, a world map with pins and strings. There are several pins all around the world including Syria and Lebanon. There was a single pin from the Beqaa Valley in Lebanon to Tripoli and Cyprus, eventually webbing out to multiple United States and Canadian East Coast and Midwest pins.

Taking a picture to upload to her cloud, Sassi brushes off the map and pins as perhaps a geography lesson or even a merchant business plan left behind. However, she is quickly chased out when the ceiling hatch bursts open and men come out shooting at her with AK-47s. It’s clear that she saw something she was not supposed to, even if she didn’t know what the map even meant. Making her second narrow escape of the day, Sassi takes Fatima and escapes the town with Hakim, Sassi’s friend and interpreter.

The next chapters introduces us to the point of views of a few other major characters including Wolff Maximillian, the CEO of a luxurious automobile company that Max had helped bring to great heights only for it to crash down to near bankruptcy, Jasir Tankian, a mastermind logistician, and our Ranger Sniper protagonist, Vick Harwood, and his spotter, Ian Nolte.

Harwood and Ian are on a black mission to overwatch a logistics operations led by a merchant in the Beqaa Valley. They were to watch over and see where chemical weapons are coming from and gather intel on who is resupplying Hezbollah and the Syrians. Things seem to be going smoothly as Harwood and Ian begin to engage and shoot at the convoys. However, Ian is injured on the mission and Harwood attempts to evacuate Ian to safety via a cargo drone, only for the drone to be shot down. Knowing that Ian is most likely alive, Harwood rushes to save his friend. Having already lost two of his spotters, he refuses to let another one die on him, but with supplies low and nobody to back him up, Harwood is now alone in the rescue mission and he needs to get to Ian before he lands in the terrorists’ hands.

Expanded Review (May Contains Minor Spoilers):

Before I get into the review, I have a random funny fact to share about this book. The amount of times this [following] statement was used throughout the book and by different people was highly amusing to me (maybe b/c I find myself saying this a lot myself); “It has to be it,” “What else could it mean,” and “Who else could it be” was dotted throughout the book. Usually, I don’t notice stupidly small things like this, but then again, once I notice a pattern, I end up being weirdly giddy. Nothing to do with the book. Just a funny thing I noticed harhar.

[Ok ok, back on topic].  

This is my first military fiction (meaning I haven’t read the previous two books in this series either) and I must say I highly enjoyed it! I’m a thriller kind of girl and even this was extra thrilling. I’m used to one single kind of thriller, the cop/detective/mystery thrills. Usually (not always), a police thriller gets exciting because of some chase, but the actual battle and gunfight/fistfight/car chase, is limited to a couple of scenes. You know, when the crook is finally smoked out and it’s a “I’m going to die today or go to jail today” no escape moments, the last and peak climax scene/s. It’s where the police gather what forces they can find and collab to storm a house or hunt down a rouge, but now identified, criminal. Basically, it’s the end.

In this book, the action is from the first point to the last, heck, even leaving off on a cliffhanger! In the first chapter, guns are already drawn as Sassi tries to make it out of the town alive, then we hop over Harwood and Ian getting ready to engage the convoy, and we just get scene after scene of non-stop action. When Ian goes missing, and it’s only Harwood left, Harwood goes on a mad chase after his friend by taking down groups of enemies on his lonesome. Even Sassi, who has a poor view of the armed forces and of violence in general, eventually joins in with Harwood (more as a support, but she can kick some ass herself ya know!).

Imagery is important in every book, otherwise you’ll end up reading a book of outside terminology, on a topic you are unfamiliar with, and drop it like a hot potato, because you’re too busy pondering about what the heck a certain word means. That was one thing I feared coming into this book. As someone with no knowledge of anything related to the military, and not much knowledge of the conflicts happening in the Middle East, I was afraid that I was going to understand nothing of anything of what’s going on; the terminology, the machinery or equipment, the military slangs that might be used.

The authors takes care of that for you. Sure, I ended up Googling half the tanks and guns in this book, but that was out of sheer curiosity to find a pretty colored picture to match the guide. Most of my worries were whisked away because Nicholas and A.J. (authors) did a fantastic job explaining a lot. Machines, drones, and tanks were well explained. I was able to thoroughly enjoy the book and its multiple fight scenes because the action was written well and details were explained nicely. Still, even without a very good explanation, the book was still pretty readable and very much enjoyable.

You can feel the intensity of the fight and, more importantly, you can feel the situation at hand (in a way). Vick is out there, alone (mostly), trying to take on loads of armed men like he’s some sort of RPG video game character going into a raid dungeon with no other party members (was that too nerdy?). You can feel the gears running in Harwood as he tries to calculate who to take down first without the other guards noticing. You can feel the sense of being alone and Harwood even mentions it; to do such a job well done that the enemy thinks there are more opponents than just a single ranger sniper alone. What the enemy perceives is just as important as your own plans.

The characters are fleshed out and I enjoyed reading everyone’s point of views and way thinking. Of the four major characters, Harwood, Tankian, Sassi, and Max, I think I found the former three to be the most interesting, with Tankian the top interesting character in the book (sorry Max, didn’t have much of an opinion of you…besides how terrifying you can be). Yes. That’s right. I found Tankian to be even more interesting than our book’s hero and protagonist, Harwood!

Tankian, one of our main antagonists of the book, was a very interesting character. I spent a good 10 minutes muttering, to myself, about this man. A master logistician, his family was killed in a bombing, and his face scarred, but he is devoid of typical grieving emotions(???) Stone cold, maybe even on a sociopath level? Here’s a paragraph I highlighted in the book without overly spoiling:

“Tankian had been just ten years old at the time of the bombing in 1983. In an instant, his entire family was obliterated. Oddly, he didn’t harbor any resentment toward the Israelis or Americans. The one thing he had learned at the knee of his business-oriented parents was that everything was indeed about business.”

Reaper: Drone Strike, Page 66 (Irving and Tata)

Yes, typical of a villain, is that they are scoped in and very focused on one emotion. Tankian’s “emotion” is money and business. The only thing he worships is currency (even then he’s picky about accepting dollars and pounds over euros and gold/silver/etc). I think, I was so focused on, and so intrigued about Tankian, because of his lack of feeling of… hatred? (I can’t word my feelings about it properly) I constantly read (or watch) a lot of characters develop throughout a series, propelled and fueled by hatred. They start off weak and angry, they grow to become strong and angry, and then (through friendship, love, and peace! 👊) they learn to accept their past and let go of anger. Tankian is intriguing and weirdly unsettling, because the first moment we get to know about this character, it’s him explaining how he holds no anger towards those that killed his parents, brother, and destroyed his childhood, just this odd sense of admiration because in the end, feelings don’t mean squat and it’s all about business. And of course, he starts to gain emotions and a (sort of) character growth when he learns hatred and begins to hunger for revenge (and still, it was about business and not personal family feelings).

Sassi, was the initial damsel in distress. The kind I hated in YA books, where there’s a whole front section showing how strong a character is…only to get a face-palming section where they get themselves stuck in a position where they end up needing to be rescued anyways. She’s stubborn (in a good way really), distrusting of armed personnel, and her logic made me roll my eyes. The book started out by describing her as someone who understood what it means to be born into their hardships, an idealism that led her to work where she could make a difference. She’s an honorable woman with her heart in the right place. I did love that about her.

However, I had a “OMG girl no!” moment mid-book because she thought they [the people shooting at her] wouldn’t shoot her in the back because she was with the UN and her motive and cause was pure; that nothing would, could, happen to her because it just wasn’t allowed by international laws. I’m sitting here like, “They are evil. They have no morals! THEY DON’T CARE SASSI!” She has seen something she should not have seen, may have shared knowledge of the map with very important people already, and was returning to the area. She really thought nothing bad was going to happen to her…

I ended up really liking Sassi. She grows from a distrusting person to someone who would risk her life to honor and pay back a favor. She could have left and found safety, but even Harwood mentioned that she didn’t seem particularly wanting to go anywhere. Her life was saved by a someone, and suddenly she is ready to kick butt, to do anything to help out and pay the favor back. She mentions a couple times that she just wanted to make a difference in the world (she made me crrryy). She helps Harwood in many ways because she admires and takes note of the type of bonds and friendships that military and armed forces show, that they aren’t what she thought of them previously. I ended up enjoying and cheering her on towards the end of the book. She’s fearless and honorable when she could have left many times. A bit quick to judge, but she’s also one to acknowledge the wrongs of her own ideas of certain groups and people. She later works wonderfully with people, that in the beginning she couldn’t tolerate.

The action scenes of this book are nice and plentiful. It’s a thrilling book to read and kept me entertained, yes, but I think that the driving point of this book (IMO) wasn’t the plot or the actions scenes, or the tanks and drones, or of the fighting, but of the characters, their backgrounds, their details and history, and how they were written. I think that this was a great read and enjoyed it very much!

Currently Reading: Reaper Drone Strike

My next book up is a book I received from Goodreads Giveaway:

Reaper: Drone Strike by Nicholas Irving with A.J. Tata. I’m a little nervous because I’m going to, off the bat, assume it’s going to have a lot of military slang/terms that I won’t understand and I’ll probably end up glued to Google half the time. However, I noticed another reviewer had mentioned the same thing and said that what jargon there is is usually explained to the reader, so I’m not too too worried.

The spine of the book says the book is on sale May 2020 and Goodreads states it’s to be released May 12th, 2020, but Amazon has it as “This title will be released on July 21, 2020.” Which ever the case, I’ll try my best to finish and review this book before the May 12th date.

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Book Name: Reaper: Drone Strike
Series: The Reapers Book: # 3
Author: Nicholas Irving with A.J. Tata
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Book Type: Physical > Paperback > ARC
Pages: 354
Genre: Fiction, War
Start Date: 05.04.2020
End Date: 05.16.2020

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️