Over 550 book reviews with full author links

30 May 2012

Melissa F Miller: Irreparable Harm (Sasha McCandless #1)

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Sasha McCandless - new legal thriller heroine
In her debut novel Melissa Miller introduces us to a new legal thriller heroine - Sasha McCandless - who is different to most fictional lawyer heroines because she has the self-defence skills to protect herself from attack.

Sasha has just completed 8 years of long and arduous hours of her legal apprenticeship and is close to the holy grail of a partnership in a large legal firm. She endures 6 days a week at the office (with little time for a social life), rising before dawn and getting home in time to fall exhausted into bed.  To cope with the pressure, to save time in the morning she sleeps in her jogging gear, grabs a quick cup of coffee and starts her morning exercise run to daily Krav Maga self defence practice.

One of her law firm's biggest clients is a major airline where one of their planes inexplicably loses all pilot control and crashes into a mountainside. During urgent legal damage control to avoid costly class actions from families of passengers killed in the crash, Sasha and her team quickly become suspicious about whether the crash was accidental and further crashes may be planned.

Her fears are confirmed when she is attacked to prevent her completing her investigations. Using her self-defence skills, she inflicts severe injuries on her attackers. From then the race is on to prevent a further crash, helped by her loyal staff and an Sky Marshal who is also convinced that the crash was not an accident.

While some of the action is over the top and unbelievable, this is a page turning and mostly satisfying action thriller .

I enjoy legal thrillers immensely but wonder why a profession that to me is next on the boring list to accountancy can generate so many fictional investigative and action heroes. Maybe it is because the US legal system is played like a football game that it is possible to make fantasies about the match play and create fictional legal theatre.

Because some of the character development is patchy and some action unbelievable, my basic rating is 3.5 stars. But as this is a pretty good first novel and I am keen to read more about Sasha's later exploits I have upped this to a 4 star rating.

29 May 2012

Steve Gannon: A Song for the Asking (A Kane Novel)

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Song for the Asking - a powerful and emotional performance
Steve Gannon chose a powerful subject for his first novel - the effect of a dominant father on his family - and showed his considerable skills as an author. It is a testing read with emotional and physical child abuse, strong language and rape, but with an underlying theme of family love and togetherness. It is definitely an adult novel.

I found this book after seeing the sequel - Kane - promoted as a freebie. As soon as I started that book I knew that I had to read this book first to understand what had happened to Kane in Song for the Asking.

Dan Kane is a homicide detective in the LAPD who is rough, tough, and mostly successful. He brings his street strength philosophy home to his family of 4 great kids, and his wife (a classical chellist) whose lives he tries to  run like a Marines' boot camp.  While they all basically love him, they live in constant fear of his ridicule and power over them and consider themselves part of a "screwed-up family".

As in most families the siblings have different personalities.  Tommy, the eldest  has the athletic and physical skills of his father; his younger brother Travis has the artistic skills and sensitivity of mother and is potentially a prize-winning classical pianist. Ali, the only daughter is also artistic and in her early teens has already had a short-story published. The youngest brother, Nate, is overwhelmed and dominated by his father.

Kane tries to mould them into his ways, hurting all of them in the process but cementing them together in a way that he will probably never understand. Despite all this pressure they become a close family who believe "Kane's stand together, no matter what".

While part of this book is a police procedural about Kane's life in the LAPD this is really only background to Kane's personality and how it impacts on his family. The key element is the way his family handles stress and tragedies, and, when faced with the ultimate test, whether the family (and more importantly Kane himself) have the ability to cope and adjust.

The book has a couple of memorable lines that I have indexed because they are meaningful to me and show the word skills and sensitivities of the author and his devotion to classical music (his wife is a classical pianist and he promotes classical music locally).

"When you read, there are no limits; with a book you can bring vistas and textures and emotions to life that have a meaning to you and you alone" AND "Although music can be many things, in its truest incarnation, at its deepest core, music is the power to command emotion."

I gave this 5 stars because of these great lines and a fine and emotional performance by Steve Gannon in a first novel. The other books in the Kane series are also highly recommended (check them out via the author list).

27 May 2012

R F Delderfield: God is an Englishman

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God is an Englishman is Victorian historical fiction at its best
I recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in the world changing developments in commerce and industry in England in the mid/late 19th Century. I have always been fascinated by tales of the Industrial Revolution when English entrepreneurs, inventors and innovators changed life from an a rural/agricultural system to a modern industrial society in a matter of generations.

After a military career, Adam Swann returns to England in 1858  with an intense ambition to build his fortune in the fast changing and extremely competitive world of Victorian commerce. Swann soon meets his soul-mate, Henrietta, the high-spirited daughter of a local mill owner and they set out to build a family business under the Swann name. Along the way they share challenges, setbacks and eventually an immense fortune.

As now, the secret of Swann's success is building an efficient and competitive business that is ahead of its time and is essential to the success of others. Swann sees that while  railways  are a fundamental part of the game-changing industrial revolution, they cannot always provide door to door delivery. He sets up an extensive and complex country-wide network of horse drawn transportation to take materials and goods between the railhead and factories up and down the country, sometimes on appalling roads and gradients.

Henrietta, as well as being a wife and mother to an ever increasing brood of small Swanns, is the financial wizard who helps Adam to succeed. While the business is essentially a family one, much of its success is due to finding the right staff in the right place and giving them every incentive to perform and develop the business.

This is a fascinating and outstanding novel about exciting times in economic and social development throughout Victorian England. The next novels in the series - -  [[ASIN:B003L203B0 Theirs Was the Kingdom (Swann Family Saga)]] and [[ASIN:B003L203GA Give Us This Day (God Is an Englishman)]] - - bring the younger Swanns into the business and they face the next challenges as the face of road freight transport changes from horse drawn to motorised delivery.

The Swann family saga is only one of several important English family sagas written by Delderfield, including The Horseman Riding By and To Serve Them All Our Days, both of which became popular BBC mini-series.

This is a beloved novel by one of my favourite authors. I first read this book (the first in the Swann family saga trilogy) in the UK the early 1970's when it was first published. I read it again with continued enjoyment over 30 years later and was delighted to see it featured recently as a Kindle Daily Deal so I can now afford to keep a copy with me at all times.

23 May 2012

David Baldacci: The Innocent

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Baldacci at his best - a plot to keep you guessing to the end
This is David Baldacci at his best - a page turning action thriller that will keep you guessing to the end. Baldacci is a master story tellers of thrillers that have more twists and turns than a fast paced game of snakes and ladders.

Baldacci introduces us to Will Robie, a larger than life professional killer for the US Government (I wonder why we all get turned on with novels about these hypothetical hopefully non-existent super heros). Robie normally has no problem in killing bad people such as terrorists and major criminals. He plans his work meticulously and always makes  contingency plans for escape if something goes wrong.

This time Robie is worried when  he is ordered to kill a divorced woman who doesn't seem to be a danger to anyone. He  enters her bedroom at night and finds her sharing her bed with her young son.  For the first time ever Robie finds that he cannot go through with the killing. Almost immediately a sniper in a nearby building kills both the woman and her son with a single shot.  To save his life Robie flees the scene and following his contingency plan heads for a local bus station.

At the same time a 14 year old girl, Julie, escapes from an abusive foster home and enters her  parents home only to hear both of her drug addicted parents being murdered. The girl escapes the murder scene and catches the same bus as Robie. When someone tries to  kill Julie on the bus, Robie is there to save her life.  Just as they get off the bus together there is a huge explosion, demolishing the bus and killing all of the passengers. Robie and Julie are not seriously injured and form an alliance to keep their safety.

The plot then changes into top gear with both Robie and Julie getting involved in helping the FBI to investigate the murders and bombing, and Robie's superiors who want to find out what went wrong.  The action is fast and furious and keeps you on edge to the very last page.

Baldacci has built up a unenviable collection of amazing characters over the years. Now he has introduced us to Will Robie, a professional killer who finds he has a conscience. I look forward to meeting Robie in future books.

21 May 2012

Jeffrey Archer: The Prodigal Daughter

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An excellent sequel to Kane and Abel
Jeffrey Archer has been one of the world's best storytellers for over 25 years and all of his books have been page-turners for me. This is one of his early stories and a good one.  In part it is a sequel to his wordwide bestseller Kane and Abel but it is mainly about the lives of the children of Abel Rosnovski and William Kane.

At birth Abel gives his daughter, Florentyna, a Teddy Bear named "President" after US President Theodore Roosevelt, whose nickname was "Teddy". Florentyna's first word is not "Daddy" or "Mummy" but "Prusident" - a sign of things to come. At age 11 she makes a pact with her father for him to finance her Presidential campaign if she wins the first major primary for the Democratic Party.

Abel Rosnovski  gives Florentyna every support in her education, including employing a wonderful English Governess who guides her through her early days to give her the strength, personality and skills to become a very successful person both commercially and politically.

The bad blood between Abel Rosnovski and the powerful banker William Kane continues and escalates when Kane's son Richard meets Florentyna.

The latter part of the book covers Florentyna's commercial successes and eventual entry into US politics. Archer displays a detailed knowledge of the US political system. While it is an older book (1982) it is not dated and much of the political action is a reminder of more recent US political events.

As well as being a best selling author, Archer lived an eventful life as a UK Parliamentarian and Conservative Party Chairman and was made a life peer. His career was suspended when he was convicted and imprisoned for perjury. Despite all of these traumas Archer has never lost his great story telling skills.

His latest book - Sins of the Father in the Clifton Chronicles series - still has his magic touch and the ending will keep you in suspense again until he has written the next book in the series.

19 May 2012

S Eric Wachtel: The Esseene Conspiracy

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A Dan Brown conspiracy in a Jewish Setting
I enjoyed this book but I really don't know why. It is essentially a Dan Brown secret society theme in a Jewish setting - and I am not a fan of Dan Brown or secret society themes. It was not really a page turner because the author described the Jewish religious background in excessive detail.

Probably I enjoyed it because I like stories about Israel where the history and current day situation are real life adventure stories. Some of my favourite novels have an Israeli  background - Exodus (Leon Uris), The Power and The Glory (Herman Wouk) and the Daniel Silva (the Gabriel Allon series) - all of which are in another league to this book.

The plot is basically about an extreme orthodox Jewish sect (the Essene group) with links that go back centuries that wants to restore Israel to its former religious glory. To do this they need lots of money, which they acquire through stock market manipulation in the US, and money laundering and smuggling.

I still don't really know why I liked the book - but I suggest you read it and see what you think.

Sydney Bauer: The 3rd Victim

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Her latest but not her best
I have read all of Sydney Bauer's earlier books and thoroughly enjoyed them. Although Bauer is Australian, her books are set in Boston and feature a young and very smart defense attorney David Cavanaugh who with the help of his friends (including a local homicide detective) solves and wins otherwise unwinnable cases.

Bauer's background in production of crime TV series has helped her write exciting and page turning legal practice stories where it is difficult to guess how things will go until the last few pages. This book continues to display Bauer's writing and character skills, but this time the finale is a bit too far fetched for my imagination.

Bauer will remain on my favourite author list and I hope that the finale of her next book in the David Cavanaugh series is more believable than this one.

08 May 2012

Gregory David Roberts: Shantaram

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Worthy of 6 stars!!
Shantaram is one of the best novels I have ever read. While it is long (about 1,000 pages) and frequently harrowing it is so well written and uplifting that I found it hard to put it down. It is a story full of emotion and human philosophy - I would give it 6 stars if I could.

The amazing thing is that the novel is almost auto-biographical. Roberts was born in Australia and became a drug addict after a failed marriage and loss of custody of his daughter. He was imprisoned for 19 years for a string of armed robberies performed to support his heroin addiction. He escaped from prison and fled to Mumbai where lived in the Mumbai slums for years and set up a clinic in the slums to help his neighbours. He became an addict again and worked for the Mumbai mafia. Eventually he was recaptured and finished his sentence in Australia and then returned to Mumbai.

The story follows Roberts' life story pretty closely in fictional form. If you have been to Mumbai you will especially enjoy the beginning where the main character, Lindsay, is picked up by an Indian tourist tout thinking he would go to a luxury hotel - but Lindsay finishes up living in the slums with the tourist tout who becomes one of his best friends.

Shantaram is the name given by his Indian friends, or Linbaba or Lin, the larger-than-life hero, which means "man of God's peace". This is what his Indian friends think of Lin.

While it is not a book for the faint hearted, if you like a story with substance, philosophy and intense human emotions I am sure you will love this book. A book with nearly 1,000 five star Amazon book review ratings really speaks for itself.

06 May 2012

Ben Coes: Power Down

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Great action but with many flaws
Half way through this book I thought that I would be giving it 5 stars as the best terrorism thriller I had read for some time. But when it ended I realised that there were so many flaws that showed that the author has still a long way to go to get my top vote. Examples are:

1. The terrorists used a powerful explosive that even the US government was not able to manufacture in quantity and we were not told how and where the terrorists  produced the explosive.
2. (I may be wrong)- It is unlikely that a huge oil platform would have a pumping station on the sea bed with access via code or retina scan.
3. US authorities were concerned about the impact of the loss of a major oil supply on their economy but nothing was said about the impact and cost of the environmental disaster with mega barrels of oil leaking off the coast of South America.
4. The hero (Dewey) was nearly out of money when he got to Cuba but was able to purchase a ticket from Havana to Australia (not via the US) which would cost at least $4,000 because he would have to fly via London or Santiago.
5. At the end Dewey went to work on a remote cattle station near the coast at Cooktown in Queensland, Australia. Cooktown is not cattle country (more a tropical rainforest area), certainly not near the coast.
6. The author described an Australian "cattle ranch" with "cattle dotted the hills as far as you can see" with "ranch hands" working near the ranch. Firstly in Australia it is a cattle station, not a ranch; the stocking rate in northern Queensland is 1 cattle per several square kilometres so you are unlikely to see cattle except in the holding pens; and the workers are called stockmen.
7. "A thousand miles away" (from the Australian cattle ranch) in Lebanon - the distance from Australia to Lebanon is about 8,000 miles.

From this review you will realise that I live in Australia and am sensitive if an author shows ignorance of Australian settings.  I recall with pain the mini series of the Thornbirds set in Queensland that was filmed in California in areas used for cowboy films and had cars driving on the right of the road.

Coes' next book has Dewey still living in Australia - I hope that he did some geographical and cultural research before writing that book.