Over 550 book reviews with full author links

29 September 2012

Mark Gimenez: The Perk

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Outstanding legal thriller - highly recommended
This is no ordinary legal thriller fiction - it is extraordinary legal, personal and emotional fiction. At times the family aspects tugged at the heart strings so much I "teared up". Not many books have that effect on me.

Beck Hardin fled his home in Texas after the death of his mother and vowed never to return to his estranged father. He settles in Chicago and marries Annie, another lawyer, who gives  up her career to care for their two children, while Beck works extraordinary hours so common in large US law firms.

Annie dies of breast cancer leaving Beck devastated at the loss of the wife he adored. He is left to bring up two small children on his own. He finds it impossible reconcile his demanding legal career with life as a single parent and in desperation he decides to bring his family back to Texas to the father he hasn't spoken to for years. There starts an emotional and warming re-union and a seismic change in Beck's lifestyle.

He moves from the torrid world of big city law to become a Judge in a very small Texas town. While this should be an easy job, he quickly gets exposed to the dark, dirty underbelly of small town politics and fights the control of the town by unscrupulous, rich and powerful people. He also helps to investigate the cocaine overdose murder of the teenage daughter of his best friend at high school. In the process he uncovers corruption, bribery, steroid abuse and more....

Gimenez clearly shows us his love for Texas, and some of his concerns about contemporary Texas.  He explores the time honoured Texas cult of high school football and touches on the exploitation of illegal Mexican immigrants. Beck's daughter, Meggie asks her Grandfather - "JB, what is a Mexican?" " A human being, honey, just like you and me. Some folks around here just ain't figured that out yet."

Beck's feelings about the law and justice are inspirational. "The law is found in statutes and codes and rules and regulations. But wisdom can't be found in the law book. Wisdom is found in life. In death. And every day in between. And justice isn't found in the courtroom; it's found in the human heart."

Mark Gimenez is a writer of quality thrillers. I still have a couple of his books to read - I am saving them until I have time to read them straight through.

27 September 2012

Samantha Young: On Dublin Street

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A psychological contemporary romance
Thrillers (espionage/military/legal/political) are my normal genre and I only read other genres as a sorbet between thrillers. Although my recent forays into the romance genre have been most unsatisfying because of the poor quality of the offerings, I was tempted to read "On Dublin Street" as it had so many obviously genuine high ranking reviews.

Good romance stories are much harder to write than thrillers because the plots are more limited and the actions and outcomes predictable. This time Samantha Young has come up with an interesting twist in writing a contemporary romance where both (and I mean both) major characters have serious personal psychological problems. Joss has serious problems dating back to the loss of all of her loving family in a car crash when she was young which she has hidden from everybody, including herself. Braden's problems are basically immaturity and an overdose of testosterone.

Samantha takes us carefully through Joss's problems and cashes in on the testosterone issue with some steamy scenes (well written but there really is a limit to the sexual scenarios before things become boring). I empathised with Joss but had little time for Braden until towards the end.

All in all Samantha Young has written an entertaining and thoughtful contemporary romance. I gave it 3.5 stars and rounded it up to 4 stars.

25 September 2012

Peter Watt: Beyond the Horizon

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Peter Watt - you continue to astound me
This is another great book by Peter Watt, one Australia's most talented authors who writes superb Australian "factional" family history adventures. I have read all of Peter's many books - and enjoyed all of them, especially this one.

This is Book 7 in the Frontier Series, a much loved saga of the feud between Duffys and Macintoshes which started with The Cry of the Curlew, but the story line and the characters are as fresh as ever. The setting is the last year of the Great War and its aftermath with the world influenza epidemic. While (part Aboriginal) Tom Duffy fights for his life and sanity in the trenches in France, his cousin Matthew Duffy is with the Australian Flying Corps fighting the Turks in the Middle East. Both of them are fortified by their memories of the women they love. Back in Australia, evil arch-enemy George Macintosh builds his business empire with ruthless drive, fuelled by his hatred of the Duffy family.

Watching over all of them is the spirit of the mythical elderly Aboriginal warrior Wallarie who still communicates with the grief of his ancestors at their massacre by the Macintoshes fifty years before. Wallarie foretells disasters and helps to protect those in need.

Peter Watt's writing is full of well researched historical and geographical detail that envelopes you completely in the terrible times at the end of the Great War. He reminds us especially of the attitudes to Aboriginals at the start of the 20th Century.

On his Facebook page he says that he is already working on the next book that covers WWII - I am looking forward to that book because it will involve a whole new  generation in that terrible conflict . Peter is very sensitive about his work and said that in writing his next book - "I had to kill one of my favourite characters this morning. I almost teared up.."

Peter deserves international recognition but his books only seem to be released in Australia and New Zealand. This book was released on the same day as Ken Follett's "Winter of the World" and I have followed the great interest in the US market for that release by an English author. I hope that Peter's publisher can promote his books in overseas markets so that others they can share our enjoyment of his works.

IMHO this book was far more enjoyable than Follett's "Fall of the Giants" that also covered the Great War. I am so glad that I decided to read Beyond the Horizon before Follett's next magnum opus.

21 September 2012

Rick Robinson: Manifest Destiny

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Let's take a reality check
I am stunned by the number of 5 star reviews - it makes me worried that I am reading the same book. I read lots of thrillers and enjoy them because they are clearly pure escapism and are not realistic. But this is a political thriller, with imaginary political characters so it must stand up to some kind of reality check - and it fails on many scores.

Can you imagine a US President being involved in a plot for the CIA to steal the Mace of the House of Representatives to give to the Russian President as a bargaining chip for cheaper oil? As I am an Aussie I learned a lot about US Congressional procedures and the history of the Mace which has 13 ebony rods representing the first 13 States of the Union, and that first Mace was destroyed when the Capitol Building was burnt in 1814 and another one was made in 1842 by a New York silversmith. None of this interesting background added any reality or believability to the plot.

I also cannot believe that a relatively recent member of the House could get dragged into the politics of Romania and help CIA covert agents to find his political agent who had been kidnapped by a group of old-time renegade Communists. As well his best friend strikes up a close relationship with a much younger First Class Air Hostess he meets on a flight to Romania, who stays on with him in Romania without any problems from the airline. Unbelievably she also gets involved and helps the CIA with their dirty work. It really would be a spoiler to mention the consequences when the unscrupulous Chief of Staff to the President decides to deliver the Mace himself to Romania.

Does all that need a reality check? My word it does. I only finished the book because I was fascinated to see what the plot was all about - and it was hardly worth the effort.

I have kindly given the book a 2 star rating because the writing and character development were reasonable.

16 September 2012

Rusell Blake: The Delphi Chronicle

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Not as exciting as the first book in the trilogy
Russell Blake's first book in this trilogy was "An epic roller-coaster ride of a thriller".  He introduced us to NY security consultant Michael Derrigan who unwittingly comes into possession of a manuscript that could change the world order if its secrets are aired. Everyone around him with the slightest knowledge of the manuscript are eliminated by expert clandestine killers. In the latter books the roller coaster didn't seem to keep up the same momentum.

Michael flees from New York to try and find a person who might know the source of the manuscript. Only skilled tradecraft allows him to drive across the USA unscathed  and make that connection.  He then further evades his followers in a complex journey through Mexico to eventually meet with the mysterious and lovely Sylvia who may  lead him to the source of the manuscript.

The excitement level in the latter books was less than in the first one and during Michael's journeys it was a bit like reading a travelogue about the USA and extolling the beauties of Mexico, especially the east coast where the author lives. The ending was not that thrilling and seemed a bit hurried and incomplete to me.

Overall the trilogy was an enjoyable read but was not as good as Silver Justice which I gave 5 stars. Despite these comments I still believe that Russell Blake is a talented thriller author and I look forward to reading more of his books.

14 September 2012

L Ron Hubbard: Battlefield Earth

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Classic Science Fiction
If you treat this book as a completely unreal escapist science fiction romp you will love it. If you take your science fiction seriously (which I don't because I rarely read the genre) then you may find it dated and boring.

This is really a David and Goliath story to regain the world for the human race. While it is a long book I kept going because Hubbard kept that struggle going to the end.

The world has been taken over for 1,000 years by non-oxygen breathing giant and merciless Psychlos from another galaxy so they can extract and export valuable minerals. Few humans remain, living in small communities with the barest of facilities and lack of knowledge of how the human race used to be. When one of the humans (with the amazing name of Johnny Goodboy Tyler) discovers the Psychlos HQ he becomes trapped in a plot by a ruthless Psychlo named Terl to steal the mining wealth for himself.

Thus starts a David and Goliath struggle between Johnny and Terl to regain the planet. Without realising it, humble Johnny rekindles the human spirit and builds a team of human friends across the world. Before long he and his new human friends (who grew up with no education and rode horses) learn to speak the Psychlo language and are soon speeding across the planet skillfully piloting Psychlo battle planes to destroy the mines.

This is all very far fetched but surprisingly I enjoyed the (very long) romp because of the complete escapism of the plot and characters. I also enjoyed it because it was one of the early Kindle Daily Deals for 99 cents, when Amazon gave us a greater range of genre selections in the deals.

13 September 2012

Herman Wouk: The Winds of War

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Epic WWII novel for my Modern Classics Kindle Library
I was enthralled by The Winds of War when it was released in the early 1970's, and enjoyed the mini-series with Robert Mitchum and Ali MacGraw in the early 1980's. A couple of years ago I found a tattered paperback in a second hand bookstore and enjoyed reading it again.  About the same time cable TV screened the mini-series over a week and I was enthralled again.

This book, and the sequel War and Remembrance, are Wouk's largest fictional works and give a comprehensive coverage of many of the major events before and during WWII. The Winds of War tells the story of the lead up to WWII through the eyes of Navy Commander Victor "Pug" Henry who is appointed Naval Attache in Berlin 6 month's before Hitler's invasion of Poland in September 1939. He travels widely throughout Europe as President Roosevelt's unofficial eyes and ears in Europe, meeting most of the key players during those tumultuous times. During this time Pug begins a platonic but very close and borderline romantic relationship with Pamela Tudsbury, daughter of a famous British radio personality.

This book and War and Remembrance are classic novels about WWII. Wouk devoted "thirteen years of extraordinary research and long, arduous composition" to these two memorable novels.

Since moving to Kindle format I am slowly gathering copies of my favourite books for my Modern Classics Kindle Library. This book certainly gets a place in that library and I am waiting for better pricing before adding War and Remembrance. Last week I added all 6 volumes of Churchill's memoirs of the war to this library when they were a Kindle Daily Deal for $1.99. The world of the Kindle really is a marvellous place.

I also enjoyed Wouk's 1990's books, "The Power" and "The Glory", about the establishment of Israel and the 1967 Six Day War and the 1973 Yom Kippur War. After that I assumed that Wouk had retired but was astounded to find that, at the age of 97, he will publish a new novel in November, The Lawgiver, about the life of Moses. I pre-ordered it immediately.

12 September 2012

Colleen McCullough: The Thornbirds

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An Australian Classic for my bookshelf
Thanks to a Harper Collins price reduction I bought a copy of The Thorn Birds for my Kindle Classics bookshelf. I read it when it was released in the late 1970's and was impressed with the quality of McCullough's work and her outstanding prose. I am an Aussie and she described the local background and characters so accurately and passionately. The story is a description of the attitudes at that time to relationships and to the Catholic Church - some have changed and others haven't. I look forward to reading it again.

It is now part of my small collection of outstanding books that are now on my modern classics Kindle bookshelf.  It will join Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, The Winds of War by Herman Wouk, God is an Englishman by R F Delderfield, Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth and a few others. I also added the full WWII memoirs by Winston Churchill when they were $1.99 each as Kindle Daily Deals (what a bargain for an outstanding and detailed and brilliantly written personal account of WWII from Churchill's perspective). Some day soon I will add a couple of Michener's but I am waiting for Centennial to be released on Kindle.

As a postscript let me say that I will not be viewing the mini-series again which starred Richard Chamberlain, Rachel Ward and Bryan Brown. While the acting was OK, as an Aussie I was appalled that it was filmed in California (in Lone Ranger country which doesn't look anything like the outback) and in Kawaii. I can still recall how I was stunned that the producers did not bother to use right hand drive cars.

10 September 2012

Russell Blake: The Delphi Chronicle - #1 The Manuscript

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Great start to a riveting roller-coaster paced thriller
The book description says this is "An epic roller-coaster ride of a thriller" - I couldn't agree more. This is the first part of a trilogy which is really a taster to make you want to read the rest - and I do!

When NY security consultant Michael Derrigan unwittingly comes into possession of a manuscript that will change the world order if its secrets are aired he is immediately thrown into a race for his life. Others with only a slight knowledge of the manuscript are eliminated by expert clandestine killers. Blake leaves you panting to find out what is going to happen.

Russell Blake is an intelligent and talented author who really understands the craft of writing and marketing a good thriller/adventure story. In his Foreword ("Forward" in the book - editing needed) he says that "The goal of any good fiction is to blend fact and fantasy with such dexterity that it's difficult to tell where the invention ends and the truth begins." This is very clear from the first page of this book.

Also he says "I try to catapult readers through a series of twists & turns at such aggressive velocity they're left gasping by the end." At the end of this book I was left gasping for the next book in the series (or more truthfully for the next 2 books in the trilogy). Fantastic writing, Russell Blake and fantastic marketing!

08 September 2012

Russell Blake: Silver Justice (Police Procedural / Wall Street Conspiracy Thriller)

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Highly recommended - a top class intelligent thriller
This is a first class thriller that I thoroughly recommend because it expands the reach of the genre. I read a lot of thrillers and Silver Justice is around the top of my list because it not only combines many plot lines and great characters into a skilfully crafted and page-turning serial killer thriller but also intelligently explores the dark caverns of the financial system that triggered the Global Financial Crisis (GFC).

Glamorous FBI Special Agent, Silver Cassidy, is heading a task force into a serial killer with no set patterns. The only thread connecting the victims is that they were involved with financial systems and transactions that played a part in triggering the GFC. While some of their activities were investigated by the financial authorities no actions were taken.

Silver can hardly keep her head above water coping with her workload, managing a male dominated team and at the same time meeting the personal demands of a single parent with a 10 year old daughter. Silver is stunned when after 5 years of divorce her ex-husband seeks custody of her daughter. Totally unconnected to the case, Silver's stress is made worse when she survives a contract assassination as payback for a former case and kills the assassin. While recovering from this trauma and still working the case, her daughter is kidnapped without an apparent motive. No ransom is sought.

Russell Blake has extensively researched that background to the GFC and in doing so he raises many questions about the financial system that nearly brought most modern economies to their knees. Blake weaves this police procedural/serial killer story around what happened before and during the GFC, who might have been responsible for triggering the crisis and how little has been done to avoid the same things happening again.

This is the first book I have read by Russell Blake. He is a talented and intelligent writer and I really look forward to reading more of his books.

05 September 2012

Lee Child: A Wanted Man: (Jack Reacher 17)

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Jack Reacher theme may be running out of steam
Lee Child's Jack Reacher series is one of the best in the adventure novel genre. This is the 17th in the Jack Reacher series and IMHO is showing signs of running out of steam. I enjoyed The Affair because it was a prequel going back to his military days. It was a refreshing a break from the several post military Reacher books where he drifts across the USA on his own, with no fixed address and little identification.

The story started like most post military Reacher stories when he walks (or more truthfully gets a lift) into a dangerous situation. For more than half of the book this is typical post military Jack Reacher where he works out how to get out of a bad situation. In the latter half of the book the plot becomes complex, difficult to follow and almost unbelievable. Reacher has always been a super hero, but in this book he becomes a mega hero taking on and defeating 26 baddies almost on his own.

Jack Reacher fans will be pleased to know that he takes the road again at the end of the book.

01 September 2012

Ben Coes: Coup D'Etat

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Dewey saves the World (and America) almost singlehanded- again!
Ben Coes writes action packed escapist thrillers.  If you like escapist thrillers and don't really worry about major flaws in the background and research, then settle back and enjoy this book.

Dewey Andreas is a super hero. In Power Down he almost single handedly saved the world and America from a coordinated terrorist attack on key petroleum refineries throughout the world.  In this book Dewey is brought out of retirement in Australia to save the world from a nuclear Armageddon.  I nearly choked at this quote, nearly half way through the book when the US is planning a Coup d'Etat in Pakistan to prevent a full scale nuclear war between India and Pakistan that would inevitably involve both the US and China:

"There is someone Mr President, I hadn't thought of him until this very moment" "Does he work for the CIA?" "No but he's an American and a patriot. (He is) the one person alive who could, well make this (coup d'etat) ... something more than a Hail Mary.... Dewey Andreas"

From then on Dewey and two other CIA agents set out to save the World on their own by engineering a Coup d'Etat in Pakistan within a 48 hour time limit in the middle of a major war with India.  Only one of the agents speaks the local language - their major communication skills were gunfire. What a scenario....

When I reviewed Coes' first book, Power Down I commented on the many flaws in the plot and background research.  I was especially critical of Coes' description of Dewey's move to Australia (I am an Aussie) and use of US terms in an Australian environment and hoped that his research would be better in his next book.  At the time I doubted that I would read another of his books but was tempted when Macmillan Australia discounted this book almost to Indie prices.

I expect and understand poorly researched books by Indie authors.  I don't expect books edited and published by a major world publishing house in both the US and Australia to have so many flaws, especially with its coverage of Australia and its institutions. Here are some of the flaws I found in the Australian chapters of this book:

1. While this time Coes does acknowledge that a cattle ranch in Australia is called a cattle station, he continues to use "ranch" , including "ranch hand" (which should be stockman). I don't understand why he should be so US centric in a book to be published around the world.
2. Dewey climbs a Butte near Cooktown in Australia.  There are no Buttes in Australia, the closest equivalents are Volcanic Plugs, such as the Glasshouse Mountains but they are in southern not northern Queensland.
3. The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (not the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service) is responsible for the Australian passport renewals website.
4. Work visas are handled by the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship, not the Australian Customs Office.  Working holiday visas are not available to US citizens, so Dewey would probably have to be nominated by his employer and their name would be stored in the visa database.
5. While Dewey may have bought a Filson wax coat with him from the US, as an Australian stockman he would normally wear a Driza-Bone coat.

If it is so easy for me to find Australian based flaws I shudder to think what flaws there are about India, Pakistan and Lebanon. Two that stand out to me are the Republic of (not Royal) Singapore Air Force and a fundamental error that the Indian Prime Minister, not the President is the main decision maker in the country.

Coes CV says that he has been a speechwriter for the Reagan and George W Bush White Houses, and for Milt Romney.  Political speeches are known for their inaccuracies and he seems to have carried this through to his books.