After what seems like an eternity, although it’s only been two years, I’m going to enjoy some vacation time, relaxing in the country in the company of friends.

The beauty of the place is sadly offset by the uncertainty of the internet connection – that’s the price to be paid for some… “splendid isolation” – so for a while it might be difficult for me to visit your blogs and comment on your posts, but I will try to make up for lost time once I get back. Hopefully rested and recharged.

Until then, my best to you all: sunny days and good books, which sounds like a great combination 🙂

See you soon!  (…ish)


UNSUB (Unsub #1), by Meg Gardiner

I saw the review for Unsub on a fellow blogger’s site some time ago – I forget who it was, or I would thank them properly for showcasing one of the best thrillers I remember reading in ages. This novel, while not being for the faint of heart, is a compelling journey into the mind of a cold-blooded serial killer and of the law enforcement officers hunting him, in a hazardous cat-and-mouse game that favors the battle of wits between the two opposing forces rather than indulging in the more gruesome details of the crimes themselves, which was the main reason I stopped watching shows like Criminal Minds when the “gore factor” became more important than the psychological analysis, which I find much more fascinating.

In the ’90s, the area around San Francisco was the hunting grounds for a serial killer nicknamed The Prophet because of the enigmatic messages he left on the scenes: detective Mack Hendrix gave everything he had in the hunt for the killer and emerged from the battle devastated in body and mind, while the unsub – acronym for Unknown Subject – was never captured and seemed to vanish into thin air. Now, after twenty years, new murder scenes following the Prophet’s same m.o. are appearing again, and police officers are wondering if their killer has resurfaced or if the killings are the work of a copycat.  Caitlin Hendrix, Mack’s daughter and a police officer herself, is determined to find the Prophet, both for the sake of her city and to restore the good name of her father, who is seen as unhinged and unreliable. As the victims’ number climbs, the Prophet establishes a sort of direct communication with Caitlin, with the intent of drawing her into a trap that will destroy her as it happened with her father, while the young police officer tries to stay one step ahead of the killer and to win the deadly game.

The phrase “it was impossible to put the book down” can be found so often that it somewhat lost its impact, and that’s the main reason I usually avoid using it, but in this case it’s the perfect description of what UNSUB did to me: while at times it can be quite distressing because of the Prophet’s brutally arranged displays of his work, it also offers some distance thanks to the emotional difference between the written word and a filmed scene, so that readers can concentrate on the actual clues and on the relentless – and often discouraging – efforts from law enforcement in preventing these crimes and catching their perpetrator. Meg Gardiner draws you into the story in such a way that, just like her protagonist, you need to see the end, see where the deceptively arranged clues and the many twists and turns will lead – and hope that at the end justice will emerge victorious.

I liked Caitlin as a character, mostly because she is flawed and is going around with a huge chip on her shoulder, but her determination in getting at the root of it all and finally catching the killer is strong, stronger than the despair that comes from seeing how the killer keeps eluding the chase: no matter how many hard hits she takes, she keeps trying to move forward knowing that to win the fight she must be smarter than her enemy. Caitlin is not depicted as some kind of super-hero, and it’s her humanity and imperfections that make her so compelling as a character and that kept me glued to the book to see where and how the story would end. And let me tell you that it did not end in any predictable way…

The Prophet, for all his inhuman focus on making his victims suffer and the police feel inadequate and lost, is an equally fascinating character, mostly because he appears quite lucid in his madness and very proficient in advance planning, not unlike a consummate chess player who’s able to plot for several moves ahead in the game. His ability to predict how the victims or the police will behave makes him a terrible adversary indeed, quite far from the mindless killer looking only for a blood-soaked series of murders.  There is also the added factor of his choice of messages and murder scenes that take inspiration from a well-known work of literature – one I’m not going to mention to leave the surprise of discovery intact: this element was of particular interest for me because I studied the source material back in my school days, and I was intrigued by the discovery of how certain well-remembered passages were tied with the Prophet’s work and his goals.

UNSUB is a dark story, no doubt about it, and there are moments when it becomes thoroughly ominous and disturbing, but at the same time it feels very authentic – the main reason it turns out to be so immersive. I would not mind seeing it turned into a movie because it possesses all the right elements for a breath-stealing one, but lacking that there are two more published book in this series that promise to be equally riveting: having just discovered Meg Gardiner’s talent, I intend to explore more of her works as soon as possible.

My Rating:


TOP TEN TUESDAY: Reasons Why I Love Reading

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme where every Tuesday we look at a particular topic for discussion and use various (or more to the point, ten) bookish examples to demonstrate that particular topic.  Top Ten Tuesday (created and hosted by  The Broke and Bookish) is now being hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl and future week’s topics can be found here.  

When I think about it, it feels as if I’ve been a reader all my life: not true, of course, because for the first handful of years in my existence I did not know how to read – although I’ve been told that I learned pretty early and was already proficient enough by the time I started school.  Since then, books have always been a constant presence in my life, and I still remember my grandfather admonition about harming my eyesight through too much reading…  

A few of my acquaintances often comment about my fascination with books, and reading, as if it were something unusual (or maybe weird, but they are far too polite to use that word 😀 ), so – even though I know I’m preaching to choir here – let me list some of the reasons I enjoy losing myself in a good book, or two, or three, or…. Ok, who’s counting?


Be they based on the real world or in some imagined ones, books allow your mind to wander in far away places and to experience different situations, to wonder what you would do in the same circumstances as you follow the characters along their journeys.  To quote GRR Martin: “A reader lives a thousand lives. The man who never reads lives only one.”


This has never been more true than in the past year and a half: the solace offered by books, as the world suffered through the pandemic and people went a little (or more than a little…) crazy, is quite priceless, and I have often wondered how non-readers managed to cope with such a grim reality without the refuge offered by an engrossing work of fiction.


This is particularly true when it comes to speculative fiction, but it can also be applied to mainstream literature: the age-old, but still valid, question “What if…?” spurred many authors to imagine situations where a little change in everyday routines could have an avalanche effect on characters, on the perception of our world or in the creation of new and amazing ones. And we readers enjoy the results… 


Have you ever faced a long journey, a slow-moving queue at the post office or an interminable stay in the doctor’s waiting room? We all did, and all of us who were armed with a book were able to let time fly without almost noticing it, because we were traveling in some other place, some other time. Where others felt that those long minutes, or hours, were wasted, we filled them with joy and wonder.


No need to explain this one: a rainy afternoon can turn into an amazing adventure, or a thrilling quest, once we have a comfortable armchair to sit in and a hefty book to wade into. My own idea of paradise 😉


Yes, I know, many accuse readers of speculative fiction of being guilty of escapism, of not keeping our feet firmly rooted in reality, but they keep forgetting that many of the discoveries that have bettered human conditions came exactly from dreams: mankind dreamed of the ability to fly, to reach other planets, to cure terrible illnesses, to learn the secrets of our ancestors.  Escapism, right? TSK!


Granted, when we choose a book it’s because the synopsis intrigued us, or we know the author’s favorite themes, but still there is that element of surprise, of not knowing exactly what the story holds in store for us: there is that little clause in the unwritten contract between author and reader that says “amaze me”. When it’s fulfilled, it makes the book, and the story it tells, very special indeed.


Yes, because you can take them anywhere! Try and do the same with watercolor painting, piano playing, carpentry, and so on… A book fits everywhere and when it comes to ebooks you can have an entire library (well, almost…) at your beck and call in a small space and with little weight.


I know I’m unable – no matter how tired I am – to go to sleep if I can’t read at least a few pages of my current book: it’s something of a Pavlovian conditioning, but without a chapter or two under my proverbial belt, I can’t go to sleep. On the other hand, if I fall prey to a bout of insomnia, books are there to share the long hours of wakefulness until sleep finally decides to make an appearance.


Maybe I should have placed this at the very start of the list. I cannot imagine a world without books, can you?


CATALYST GATE (The Protectorate #3), by Megan O’Keefe

I received this novel from Orbit Books through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review: my thanks to both of them for this opportunity.

I imagine that the beginning of any story must be a difficult time, with ideas crowding on the writer’s mind and clamoring for release, but I also believe that bringing it to a close must be equally trying, if one wants to tie up all the narrative threads in a satisfactory way for creator and readers alike: Megan O’Keefe managed to do so very well, and in a breath-stopping, compelling way. 

What started as a more personal journey in the first book of the trilogy, Velocity Weapon, which focused on the main character Sanda Greeve and her discoveries aboard the AI-driven ship Light of Berossus, then turned into a system-wide menace in the second installment, Chaos Vector, to be ultimately expanded into the threat of galactic annihilation in this conclusive volume of the trilogy, one that I once again hope will be optioned for a TV series by some enlightened network executives, if such creatures exist, because this story deserves to be enjoyed in both mediums, and it possesses every quality to turn into a visually stunning, story-intense show.  

In the final book of the saga we find all of the people we got to know along the way, and can enjoy their expanded characterization and the huge twists and revelations that keep coming at them, and at the readers, with a relentless pace that still manages to offer a cohesive, engaging story never missing its focus despite the complex interweaving of its many narrative threads.  While Megan O’Keefe keeps faithful to the structure of the three main POVs employed until now – Sanda, her brother Biran and Jules Valentine – she still finds a way to flesh out the secondary characters with depth and facets that add layers to the story and make you care for them quite deeply, and it hardly matters whether these characters are actual people or not, because Bero – the A.I. entity who is Sanda’s major ally – comes across as a delightful personality, capable of both great determination as well as subtle humor.

What was hinted at before and becomes dramatically clear in Catalyst Gate is that humanity, despite its amazing progress, has not evolved beyond its own self-centeredness and petty squabbles, that reaching for the stars and expanding its civilization there has not cured them of the need to conquer without thinking about possible consequences: once the danger threatening mankind is revealed as the repercussion of an act of extreme hubris, I kept thinking about a sentence in Tolkien’s LOTR about the Dwarves “delving too greedily and too deep” and therefore releasing their own nemesis. The scourge that humans unleashed is the main element driving the story here, and it does so through a series of interconnected threads that impart an almost impossible acceleration to it: more than once I felt the need to stop and come up for air, trying to distance myself a little from the constant adrenaline surge of the action, but I could not stop for long because the story kept attracting me like a powerful magnet. 

It’s amazing to understand, in the end, how the past and the present are closely tied, how the glimpses of humanity’s road to the stars connect with the events in the current timeline, and there are some quite harrowing, edge-of-your-seat moments as the various characters try to piece together those revelations from that past with the dangers of the present, all the while dealing with their own problems – and secrets.  Yes, because there are still many truths still to be revealed in Catalyst Gate: if you thought that all the jaw-dropping surprises had been used up in the previous books, well, think again, because there are quite a few still in store for you. And some will prove to be more than unexpected…

Characters are still shining as brightly as in the previous installments, from Biran who finds himself having to step into his position with the kind of strength and hard resolve that seemed far from his personality; to former spy Tomas, who is still trying to understand his place in the world and the direction his newfound emancipation must take, but knows for certain where his loyalty must lie; to Bero, once the captive A.I. on the ship Light of Berossus and now a powerful player in the galactic milieu, yet one possessed with a delightfully childish glee about its skills (“I continue to be the most effective weapon in the known universe”).  Nor are the secondary players forgotten here, particularly where Sanda’s motley crew is concerned: Megan O’Keefe took these disparate individuals and turned them into one of the most engaging, most enjoyable fictional found families I ever encountered, one whose banter – even in the face of possible destruction – offers welcome rays of light in a very dark, very troublesome background.

And of course Sanda: I connected with this character from day one, admiring her resilience and her no-nonsense approach to problems, even physical ones, like the loss of one leg which has been affecting her from the very start and served to showcase her attitude and personality quite effectively. Sanda is indeed the perfect modern heroine, one who can both kick ass and be affectionate and caring toward her families – the one she started with and the one she built around her. The perfect balance between human frailties and courage, the way she can face even the most desperate situation with tenacity and determination have been the best features in Sanda Greeve, and those that made this series quite special besides its enthralling core story.

As I said at the start of this review, bringing a saga of such magnitude as The Protectorate to its close might hold its own pitfalls, but Megan O’Keefe proved to be a very skillful weaver here, always keeping a tight control on her creature and delivering an end that is both satisfactory and emotionally appealing.  If you are looking for a compelling space opera series with depth and substance, you need look no further.

My Rating: