As Orphan-X, Evan Smoak was trained to be a secret government assassin – until he quit.

As the Nowhere Man he’s the guy to call if no one else can help. He’ll save you.

But when a woman gets in touch claiming to be his mother, he can’t know if his true family needs help or this is a trap.

Has Evan’s past reached out to claim him?

Or is someone out to ensure he has no future?

Prodigal Son: Orphan X #6

Gregg Hurwitz

Michael Joseph

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

Now retired, Evan is looking forward to building a normal life.  But a woman called him claiming to be his mother and asked for help.  Not for her but someone else.

Andre saw something.  Down on his luck, he’d been working as a nightwatchman at a junk yard when a man was murdered there.  The whole thing was so bizarre though, he’s not sure what he saw.  It doesn’t matter – the killers know he saw and need to eliminate him.  They need to find him first though.  Hunted and terrified, Andre called the one person who had ever helped him, Veronica.  And she called the only who could help him, Evan.  Her son.

Evan reluctantly agrees to help and starts finding out who wants Andre dead and why.  He also realises Andre was in the foster home with him before he left for the Orphan X program and they both have questions for Veronica.   Calling in familiar faces to help out – Joey, Candy, Tommy, and of course Dog, Evan avoids Mia – he’d told her he’d given up his old life and doesn’t want to lie to her.

Lots and lots of action with many twists, turns, and surprises, this story offers some answers to the mystery of Evan Smoak.  A breath-taking ride, this is a must-read in the Orphan X series.  The last chapters gave me a sense of impending doom and then – POW! – Evan’s dead.  Or is he?  Wait for #7 to find out.

Into The Fire: Orphan X #5 review here.

I Am Pilgrim meets Minority Report – a gripping international cat-and-mouse thriller with an ending you won’t see coming

Around the world, people have been murdered. The victims fit no profile, the circumstances vary wildly, but one thing links them all: in every case the victim is branded with a number.

With police around the globe floundering, CIA Analyst Quinn Mitchell is called in to investigate.

No-one is better than Quinn at finding patterns, and it’s not long before she’s on the killer’s tail.

As she races against time to find out who the killer is, she is prepared to catch this ice-hearted assassin with limitless resources.

What she isn’t prepared for is the person pulling the strings…

Scorpion

Christian Cantrell

Michael Joseph

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

All around the world people are dying in accidents. Run-of-the-mill tragic accidents.  Just bad luck.  But are they?

Every victim has a number on their body.  Realising these cases are linked, the CIA start investigating them but can’t see how the victims are linked. There must be a pattern?

After years of trying top find the mastermind behind a nuclear blast only  to conclude it was an accident,  Quinn needs a new project.  Having suffered a personal tragedy, she needs to keep busy to stop dwelling on it and finds it in this hunt.  Gradually finding answers that raise new questions, she teams up with an unlikely ally top find the assassin.  Bad guys becoming good guys.  Good guys becoming bad guys.  A twisted evil genius.  Is Quinn in over her head?

I was excited to read this as I loved ‘I Am Pilgrim’ and enjoy thrillers.  Disappointingly it failed to grip me and I think all the hi-tech stuff and the different world setting was the reason I couldn’t get into it.  The plot was complex and wasn’t easy to follow, as the chapters jump between different times and several characters POV’s.  Though when the assassin checked the cricket scores I was amused to read the Aussies were in a ball tampering scandal.  Some things never change!

The story idea was intriguing – untangling clues about mysterious deaths to chase bad guys around the world in pursuit of justice – and shows no matter how the world evolves, human nature remains the same. 

Sadly this book wasn’t for me, but give it a try if you like thrillers and are not as tech phobic as me.

Jack Reacher gets off the bus in a sleepy no-name town outside Nashville, Tennessee. He plans to grab a cup of coffee and move right along.

Not going to happen.

The town has been shut down by a cyber attack. At the centre of it all, whether he likes it or not, is Rusty Rutherford. He’s an average IT guy, but he knows more than he thinks.

As the bad guys move in on Rusty, Reacher moves in on them…

And now Rusty knows he’s protected, he’s never going to leave the big man’s side.

Reacher might just have to stick around and find out what the hell’s gone wrong . . . and then put it right, like only he can.

The Sentinel: Jack Reacher #25

Lee Child & Andrew Child

Michael Joseph

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

After a busy night ensuring a band got paid, Jack Reacher is in a sleepy Tennessee town where he just wants a cup of coffee before moving on.  Something seems ’off’ with the town but it’s none of Reacher’s business.  But when he spots a team of hired guns stalking an unsuspecting man and to kidnap him, Reacher makes it his business.

Rusty Rutherford was set up.
The town has been shut down by a ransomeware cyber attack. As the town IT manager Rusty gets the blame, despite warning his bosses repeatedly this would happen without the budget approval for upgrades.  But the hate directed toward Rusty was whipped up by trolls on social media.  Who was behind the campaign?  And why?

Good guys with no clue what they’re up against. Bad guys up to no good.  Nazis.  Russian spies. Bodies dropping like flies. It’s up to Reacher to sort it out.The story was full of action and moved at a breath-taking pace.  As events played out I would go ‘a-ha!’ as each piece of information revealed itself and motives became clearer.

This is another exciting read in the Jack Reacher series.  If you like action mystery thrillers, read it!

Zachary Quack stars in his own big adventure as he chases a dragonfly through some very sticky situations.

Climbing the river bank

on to the track,
went pittery pattery
Zachary Quack . . .

Zachary Quack is pestering and scruffling all over the river bank. Then he finds a flicketty-quick dragonfly and hustles it here, there and everywhere. But who is really hustling who?

This little yellow duckling’s charming adventure also features cameo appearances from Hairy Maclary and the gang!

Zachary Quack Minimonster

Lynley Dodd

Puffin

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

This a a reprint of a much-loved 2005 children’s picture book.

Zachary Quack is a busy little duckling who takes himself off for a walk on day, meeting various creatures and having mischievous adventures along the way.  He eventually ends up in a real pickle and has to find a way home.

The text is short verses that are rhythmic and beg to be read aloud.  All of the words are located on the right-side page, while the left-side has the gorgeously detailed drawings that bring this story to life.  Zachary Quack is so cute!

How Zachary Quack became a minimonster is amusingly shown in the vividly coloured illustrations, while familiar faces cheekily appear – Slinky Malinki, all Hairy’s doggy friends, and of course Hairy Maclary himself.  These cameos are fun for readers to watch out for and identify them.

This is another book in the Hairy Maclary universe that is a must-have for any toddler and a great way to introduce children to books.  It’s a delight to read aloud with your favourite small person.

A brand-new official companion guide to the Rick Riordan books, set in the incredible world of Percy Jackson and The Trials of Apollo

Mysterious incidents are wreaking havoc throughout Camp Jupiter. And if the Romans don’t find out who -or what -is behind the episodes soon, the Twelfth Legion could implode. Suspicion falls on Claudia, the Fourth Cohort’s newest probatio. To find out the truth, see through Claudia’s eyes the crime scenes, and watch as the bizarre events unfold – even when she discovers a secret that holds the key to Camp Jupiter’s safety…

Camp Jupiter Classified: A Probatio’s Journal

Rick Riordan

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Maree Pavletich

“An Official Trials of Apollo companion book”, which means it takes place at the same time and in the same universe as Trials of Apollo but otherwise has nothing to do with them.

Claudia is a legacy of Mercury and a Probatio in the Fourth Cohort. She is really, really excited to be at Camp Jupiter as written in her journal, which makes up this book.

She is totally on board with all activities even though she has learnt the hard way about peeing before you put on your armour.

But all is not well at the Camp. It’s the February after Gaea’s defeat, and mysterious incidents are wreaking have throughout Camp Jupiter. The Twelfth Legion is under threat as discipline is weakening as what seem to be pranks and practical jokes and thefts keep happening.

Is the culprit Claudia, the Fourth Cohort’s newest Probatio? After all, the mischief began shortly after Claudia stumbled into camp. Plus, she’s a great-granddaughter of Mercury, the god of thieves and tricksters…

Who is responsible? It’s up to Camp Jupiter’s newest member to figure it out.

Claudia is a great character, clumsy but determined, I want to see more of her. I really enjoyed seeing through her eyes and guessing who the culprit is. Any ‘Trials of Apollo’ fan needs this journal on their shelf.

‘It’s not going to be a cushy job, young Benson. You’re on your own. Japs will be looking for you. Far as they’re concerned, you’re spies. And when a spy gets captured, remember . . .’

It’s 1943, and 19-year-old radio operator Frank Benson is shipped out to an enemy-occupied island in the Solomons with two other soldiers. Their mission is to spy on the Japanese.

In dense jungle they meet a Solomon Islander who says he has information that will shatter Japanese defences. But he could be working for the enemy killed?

No training could have prepared Frank for this decision. Their lives – and Operation Pacific – depend on his next move.

Coastwatcher

David Hill

Puffin

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

Frank is part of the Allied advance army unit that lands on an island in the Pacific to defend it from the Japanese Army. A telegraph operator for the Post Office, the 19-year-old joined the NZ Army to do his bit and have some adventures.  With his expertise at Morse code he quickly becomes a radio operator.  As TB survivor he’s not supposed to be in the front lines, but Frank is grateful for the chance to be a real soldier and show everyone he’s a better man than his father.

After landing on the beach, Frank grabs a mate – Wally – to be his assistant radio operator and begins the important task of ending and receiving messages to HQ.   Then they hear HQ need volunteers to be Coastwatchers and monitor any Japanese movement.   Frank feels it’s a cushy job and isn’t interested, but he and Wally are voluntold for the role.  That night they meet the Aussie soldier – Les – assigned to guard them, before being dropped off at an enemy-occupied island in the Solomon’s to start their mission. There they meet A’atu, a Solomon Islander who has vital information about the Japanese. But can he be trusted?

I really liked Frank, though I couldn’t decide if he was brave or nuts for fighting in a war after having TB.  Really brave for refusing to be defined by an illness I concluded.  Wally’s character was a bit of a cliché – the good-natured Maori sidekick – as was Les’s – the dour Aussie stockman but the continuously surprised me with their hidden depths.

Inspired by the Coastwatchers of WWll, this is a gripping adventure I couldn’t put down.  My biggest complaint is it ended too soon.  I wanted to know more.  Hopefully there’s a sequel.

“Mum, there’s some people here from college, they asked me back to theirs. Just for an hour or so. Is that OK?”

Midsummer 2017: teenage mum Tallulah heads out on a date, leaving her baby son at home with her mother, Kim.

At 11pm she sends her mum a text message. At 4.30am Kim awakens to discover that Tallulah has not come home

Friends tell her that Tallulah was last seen heading to a pool party at a house in the woods nearby called Dark Place

Tallulah never returns.

2018: walking in the woods behind the boarding school where her boyfriend has just started as a head-teacher, Sophie sees a sign nailed to a fence.

A sign that says: DIG HERE . . .

The Night She Disappeared

Lisa Jewell

Century

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

Tallulah and her boyfriend go on a date to the local pub, their first date alone together since their baby, Noah, was born.  Tallulah’s mum Kim watches Noah, and later that night gets a text from Tallulah that they’ve met some friends and gone back to their house to party.  Kim wakes up the next morning to find the couple not home yet and their phones are switched off.  She searches everywhere and asks at the friend’s house they went to with no luck.  Frantic with worry, Kim calls the police but no trace of them can be found…….

A year later, Sophie has moved to the village with her boyfriend, who’s the new head of a boarding school for difficult teenagers. An author of detective novels, Sophie is procrastinating on writing her next book by exploring her new surroundings.  She discovers a sign on her back garden saying ‘DIG HERE’ with an arrow pointing to the ground.  Of course she digs, and then starts asking questions about what she discovers.  After turning her findings over to the police, they discover the sign has disappeared.  Curiosity piqued, Sophie continues her investigation, while trying to put her finger on why the sign is bugging her.

Switching back and forward between years and different POV, at first one version of events is shown, before Tallulah’s POV reveals a whole different story.  It sounds confusing but it’s easy to keep events straight as each chapter is headed with the month and year.  The story is complex and very well written – it is Lisa Jewell’s Covid-19 book (written during lockdown) so at least something good has come out of the pandemic!

 I really enjoyed this book and had to keep reading to find out what happened next – lucky we were in lockdown so I didn’t need to worry about getting up the next day! I really liked the character Kim, and Tallulah was ok at first before I grew frustrated with her secret keeping and inability to make a decision.  I also liked Sophie and admired her guts and refusal to give up searching for the truth.  The ending surprised me as I didn’t see THAT coming and was expecting a different scenario.

If you like gripping mysteries, I highly recommend reading this book.  Just make sure you have nothing important to do the next day.

‘Lyra Silvertongue, you’re very welcome . . . Yes, I know your new name. Serafina Pekkala told me everything about your exploits’

Lyra and her daemon Pantalaimon have left the events of His Dark Materials far behind.
In this snapshot of their forever-changed lives they return to the North to visit an old friend,
where we will learn that things are not exactly as they seem . . .

Serpentine

Philip Pullman (illustrations by Tom Duxbury)

Penguin

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Stephen Litten

LPra Silvertongue and Pantalaimon are in the region of Trollesund, accompanying a dig by Jordan College. Set after The Amber Spyglass, Lyra wants to talk to someone about her newfound “talent” – being able to separate from her daemon. Lyra wonders what the Witches would make of this.

Serpentine is set not long after The Amber Spyglass, and is about 70 pages long, though half of these are illustrations. Originally written as an auction piece for the UK National Theatre in 2004, this story raises several questions about Lyra and Pantalaimon’s relationship. And introduces a glimpse of ordinary folk who have been divorced from their daemon. Which leads inexorably toward The Secret Commonwealth.

Serpentine is similar to The Strange Library. Both are about the same length and illustrated. But for me the illustrations in Serpentine feel like they’d been tacked on, even though they fit the action in the story. The story is excellent. I thank Penguin New Zealand for the review copy.

Moose, the dashing bush pilot from Puffin the Architect, is to the rescue! With a full plane and bad weather, too, but three youngsters need his help, and this is the job he loves…
I’m Moose! And I fly a plane
with wheels, floats and skis.

I move parcels, food and folk
high above the trees.

Pilot Moose lives up high in a treehouse and has a very important job delivering goods in his bush plane through sun, snow and rain, landing in all kinds of terrain.

But on this day, his adventures are even more exciting than usual – three fluffy youngsters need his help!

Moose the Pilot

Kimberly Andrews

Puffin

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

Moose is a bush pilot who lives in a treehouse in the forest. He tells us about a very busy day that starts with him delivering mail, then straw to build a beehive, then a boat engine to some stranded fishermen, then………  At each destination he receives a unique gift that relates to the stop.  He then gets a radio call for one more job – a RESCUE mission!

The illustrations are gorgeous – the drawings are full of detail and invite you to look at and examine them.  The colours are vivid and authentic, while still being restful and calming. The text is clever rhymes that describe the scene so well.

I would recommend this book to any reader of any age – especially fans of flying machines!  It’s a great story that will delight any toddler and keep their interest.

All I did was go to the library to borrow some books’.

On his way home from school, the young narrator of The Strange Library finds himself wondering how taxes were collected in the Ottoman Empire. He pops into the local library to see if it has a book on the subject. This is his first mistake.

Led to a special ‘reading room’ in a maze under the library by a strange old man, he finds himself imprisoned with only a sheep man, who makes excellent donuts, and a girl, who can talk with her hands, for company. His mother will be worrying why he hasn’t returned in time for dinner and the old man seems to have an appetite for eating small boy’s brains. How will he escape?

The Strange Library (trans. Ted Goossen)

Haruki Murakami

Harvill Secker

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Stephen Litten

Our narrator returns some books to a library and wishes to borrow some more. But instead of going home with bountiful information under his arm, he is trapped in a labyrinth beneath the city library, his fate dependent on memorising three volumes selected at random or the old man who imprisoned him will eat his brain. For company he has a man dressed in sheep’s clothing, and a girl who brings him meals. Neither sheepman nor the girl seem aware of the other’s existence.

This is possibly the shortest book by Murakami, being less than 80 pages, half of which are illustrations. That said, it is a very interesting story. The illustrations add to the story, both in the atmosphere the words evoke, and in emphasising an attribute of one of the protagonists – glasses, shoes, Medieval Turks. We never learn the name of the narrator, or that of any other protagonist (except the books the narrator must memorise). Who was the genius behind the image selection? No-one is credited, but the source is the London Library.

I feel this is a book that could be read several times without going stale. It would also make a good story to read to children (if they can cope with Hansel and Gretel heading to an oven, then what’s a little brain eating?).  I’m glad I have a copy.