Over 550 book reviews with full author links

30 January 2013

Melissa F Miller: Indispensable Party (Sasha McCandless #4)

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Melissa Miller is one of the better Indie authors who has written several page turning and entertaining Sasha McCandless legal thrillers that have many followers. This book will appeal to those who like legal thrillers that are mixed with a lot of action.

The good thing about this book is that Sasha is once again back with Leo Connelly, who featured in most prior books. We find Leo has left service as a government agent and is now working as Security Manager with a mega pharmaceutical firm. One weekend Sasha and Leo are spending some quality time together out-of-town when Leo gets called back to his office to check out potential commercial espionage. The espionage revolves around the theft of a vaccine his firm is producing to counter an extremely contagious deadly flu virus. Sasha is hired to take legal action against a major pharmaceutical competitor who may be involved in the theft.

Once again Sasha and Leo are inadvertently thrown into a roller coaster of an adventure involving a deadly virus, vaccine theft, and an amazing cult of "Preppers" (survivalists preparing for catastrophe because the think that government will collapse). They also have to do battle with the legal system, the CIA and Homeland Security in a chase to avoid the release of the deadly virus.

Overall this is a well written legal action thriller (though there isn't much legal stuff this time) with a complex plot which will keep you hooked to the very end. My only concern was some of the plot was a bit too outlandish and unbelievable for my taste.


29 January 2013

Jay Crownover: Rule

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I read this book because I wanted to see what the younger generation was reading - it was a "Hot New Release" and inexpensive. There was nothing to say it was YA - but that's what it really was. Some of the content left me very concerned about the impact of this kind of cult writing on the current young generation.

On the whole the fundamentals of the story were a reasonable and tender "coming of age" story of Remy and Rule who had known one another when they were young and had suffered from family conflicts and traumas. The story of how their relationship developed and they found companionship, and hopefully love together was pretty well crafted. The steamy scenes were relatively subdued as long as you ignored the part played by heavy metal and the absolutely inconceivable joy when Rule was shown his "birthday present".

What I couldn't understand (and it may partly be a generational thing) was the pre-occupation and admiration of tattoos and body piercing as a central part of the story and an acceptance that they can be an important part of one's world. I was absolutely stunned to read the author's footnote "I love tattoos and body modification so I love (to see) more and more stories out there that reflect what I see when I look around the world".

It worries me that the current young generation may be led to believe by this kind of book that tattoos and body piercing are a normal part of coming of age. Fashion changes throughout our lives and to match our life cycle. We can change our hairstyles, our cars, houses, and furnishings but it is hard to change something that it almost indelibly engrained in our epidermis. I see many more mature people around with very poor and sad artistic legacies frequently combined with badly damaged skin which they will take with them into old age.

Michael Leptuch: 0400 Roswell Time

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I thoroughly enjoyed Kwajalein Stories about Tony Williams (we never knew his real name) a counter espionage operative after the end of WWII and praised Michael Leptuch's masterly first person commentary of Williams' life at that time via his memoirs as an old man. The brief book description told me little more than this book would be a sequel but the title told me nothing about the book (and still doesn't).

The first book gave a good factual background of the era and was most realistic. I expected more stories about William's espionage activities at the start of the Cold War but was surprised to find that most of this book was fantasy science fiction about "flying saucers" in the US and Russia. I don't believe in such fantasies and couldn't avoid marking down my rating because of the unbelievable subject matter.

In this book, while Leptuch used the first person he changed characters and it was frequently hard to work out who was telling the tale. There were no chapter headings for each character to help and sometimes the first person character even changed within a chapter.

Despite all of this I enjoyed Leptuch's writing and he is certainly a very good story teller. My main grouch is that the story wasn't complete as the main objective of the flying saucers was left till the next book. In the end I enjoyed the story and the writing, but the style problems and fantasy topics put me off. All in all I found this book extremely hard to give a fair rating.

26 January 2013

Michael Leptuch: Kwajalein Stories

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From time to time I stumble upon an unexpectedly good book - and this is one of them. It is a page-turning thriller with a difference - an espionage type story told as a personal history of the start of the Cold War.

The book is written in the first person by an old man recollecting his experiences at and just after the end of WWII. We really never get to know his real name - he has been Kerrigan, Torvasen, Sorensen (at Los Alamos) and finally Lieutenant and later Captain Anthony Williams at A Bomb test sites in the Pacific with minor but important side trips to Russia. We follow him through his various adventures in national security and counter-espionage before the start of the CIA. In between projects he even finds time to become a wealthy businessman and marry and raise a family.

Michael Leptuch is a talented author who spells out the story with humanity and occasional humour against a detailed historical background of the era. I strongly recommend this book and will certainly be reading more of his works.

Dana Stabenow: Cherchez la Femme (A Kate Shugak Short Story)

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Once again Dana Stabenow has written and entertaining short story that tells us more about Kate Shugak's character. "Though she be but little, she is fierce."

Dulcey Kineen seems to cause trouble wherever she goes because she affects the nervous system of most men in her Alaskan village. The ultimate trouble comes when Dulcey disappears under apparently suspicious circumstances - and Kate Shugak is asked to find out what has happened.

While this is a very short story it is complete and satisfying. Warning: 35% of the book is an extract from the early chapters of another book in the Shugak series.

25 January 2013

Andrew Peterson: Forced to Kill

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Andrew Peterson showed a lot of promise in "First to Kill" which was an exciting and entertaining page-turner thriller. In this follow up IMHO he has tried too hard and has produced a far-fetched, unnecessarily gruesome, overly-detailed and pedestrian thriller.

We again meet Peterson's super-hero Nathan McBride, an ex-CIA covert ops type with special forces background who has parted company after a near-death kidnapping and torture in Nicaragua. This time Natham has to face up to his past when his torturer, Montez de Oca comes back from the dead to spread his evil skills of torture, this time within the USA.

Once again, private security consultants, Natham and his partner Harvey get involved with the FBI, the CIA, the DOD and a plethera of other US government players - this time to track down and capture Montez. They want to use Natham and Harvey under extreme secrecy so that there is complete deniability. Natham and Harvey should have realised then that things were not as they seemed.

A major topic of this book is extreme torture so it not for the faint of heart or squeamish - indeed a lot of the descriptions are not really needed to fill out the plot.

This was an extremely difficult book to rate especially as I found the finale very difficult to understand or believe. Personally I would probably rate it 2.5 stars but because most potential readers seem to thrive on these kind of escapist and unbelievable themes I reluctantly rounded it up to 3 stars (OK). I will probably read Option to Kill but I have a lot of other books to read first.

24 January 2013

Kerry Greenwood: Unnatural Habits

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This is arguably one of the best of the Phryne Fisher adventures. I am a long term Phryne (pronounced fry-nee) Fisher fan and highly recommend all of Kerry Greenwood's entertaining and atmospheric series about a rich, titled, beautiful, fashionable, emancipated and very enterprising female sleuth set in Melbourne in 1928-29.

Normally I would say that Phryne's adventures are a romp but this is the most serious one so far. By accident Phryne get involved in a couple of apparently related problems - the disappearance of some pregnant unwed girls and under-age virgin girls.  An enthusiastic journalistic who is asking questions about these girls gets kidnapped. Even more bizarre, a person seemingly dressed as a nun attacks and sterilises some men who are responsible for these pregnancies.

The story examines the contemporary attitude to "fallen women", their "children of shame" and especially the attitudes of the Catholic Church and their Convents to punishment of these women for their sins. Some of the descriptions of their treatment, albeit apparently factual, are pretty harrowing.

To solve this case Phryne calls in favours from all over town - the main brothel owner, the undercover gay's club, and even the Archbishop but most help comes from her extended family of "minions".  Her notionally dysfunctional but amazingly cohesive and  supportive "family" includes Dot her personal assistant and confidant, Jane and Ruth her adopted teenage daughters (who Phryne saved from a life of poverty and slavery), taxi drivers and Communist sympathisers Bert and Cec, Inspector Jack Robinson and Constable Hugh Collins (Dot's boy friend) and even her sapphic sister Eliza and her partner Lady Alice. We are also introduced to Tinker, a 14 year old waif who has recently moved in with the family but after so many years living on the street is only comfortable sleeping in the garden shed.

Compared to other books in the series we see little of Phryne's prolific love life, except an intense interlude when she takes out her frustration with the case by ravishing her long-time Chinese lover Lin Chen.

Phryne Fisher's adventures are easy to read, very addictive, thoroughly entertaining and highly recommended.

22 January 2013

Lee Child: Killing Floor: (Jack Reacher 1)

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Confession - I have been a Jack Reacher fan for over 15 years. I read this book in 1997 when it was first published and deservedly won the Anthony Award for Best First Novel. I revisited this book recently (it was unexpectedly free in the Australian region) to see what has changed in the 16 more Jack Reacher books that Lee Child has written since then.

The answer is that this book is still one of the best in the series and very little has changed in the basics of later books (as long as you ignore the unnecessary Movie diversion).  Does this sound familiar:

* Reacher has been drifting for 3 months after leaving the military. He has no ID and only uses cash.
* His travel destinations on bus, train or hitch hiking are random. This time he plans to visit the place where blues singer Blind Blake died.
* He accidentally gets accused of a crime he didn't commit and ends up helping the police with the investigation (and his skills exceed those of the police).
* There is mutual attraction with a female police officer.
* Reacher can defend himself against multiple assailants.

Child's prose is still basically very short sentences, each clearly describing an action,or scene and is most effective in keeping the reader's attention and the action moving.

21 January 2013

Kay Bratt: Train to Nowhere

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An ultimate writer's challenge - write a meaningful novella about the Cultural Revolution in 52 pages. Kay Bratt met this challenge superbly.

A Train to Nowhere describes how during the Cultural Revolution the Red Guards could travel and be fed on trains for free - some of the homeless ones spent weeks on trains, to the detriment of normal fare paying passengers. Ling is forced to join the feared Red Guards by her mother to ensure her protection when her family was about to be sent away. During a long ride to Beijing, Ling experiences loneliness, the inhumanity of the Red Guard and its allegiance to Chairman Mao. In the end she finds friendship in the most unexpected places.

Who would have thought that the China of the Cultural Revolution of the 1960's would, through the hard work and skills of its people, become, arguably (IMHO definitely) the most powerful economic and financial country in the world.

I have only read novels about the Cultural Revolution written by Chinese (notably the superb book Wild Swans). Kay Bratt is an American who lived with her family in China for 4 years around 2003. I have put all of her other books triggered by her life in China on my wish list.

20 January 2013

Dana Stabenow: Nooses Give (A Kate Shugak Short Story)

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This short story is almost a prequel to the start of the first class Kate Shugak series and gave me a better introduction to Kate's return to her homeland in the Alaskan bush. The "Damp Act" has just been passed by Shugak's tribe to try and prevent alcoholism in their area. Tragically 3 younger members of the tribe are found dead after a liquor-charged shooting tragedy and Shugak suspects it has been fired up by bootleggers who fly liquor into the area at great profit.

While it is a pretty short story Dana Stabenow shows her skills in writing a complete and satisfying story in only a few pages. I am always on the lookout for a good short read between longer stories and will certainly be reading more of Stabenow's 99 cent short stories.

Warning: 30% of the book is an extract from the early chapters of another book in the Shugak series.

Mike Spinak: Growing up Humming

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I normally read thriller/mystery novels so writing a review of a nature photography book for children was a real challenge. So I called for the help of my 5 year old grandson, Jack, who we are looking after during the Australian summer school holidays - and this review is just as much his as mine.

Jack sat on my lap while I read the book to him (in PDF format on my PC). He was transfixed by the fantastic photography and the tale about the first few days in the life of 2 Anna's hummingbird chicks. He clicked the page down as he absorbed each page. While the book is probably targeted at 8 years +, it is clear that Jack absorbed most of the story and would certainly give it a top rating. We don't have humming birds in Australia but he is very familiar with the many small honey-eaters who gather nectar from the flowers on the Grevillia shrubs in our garden.

Mike Spinak's photography is stunning as it visually documents the early life of the humming bird. The text is clear, well targeted and educational without being overly detailed.

I was sent a low resolution PDF of the book for review and a higher resolution file or a print version would be absolutely stunning. While the book is available on Kindle it would be lost in monochrome on a standard e-Ink reader. You need to read it on a Kindle Fire, tablet, smartphone or PC to really appreciate the fine and detailed photography.

18 January 2013

Lisa Scottoline: Final Appeal (Rosato & Associates)

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I was mislead by the book title which suggested that it was part of the Lisa Scottoline's superb Rosato & Associates series. There is no reference at all in the book to Rosato and I can't recall Grace Rossi being part of Rosato's all female legal team. This is an early work by Scottoline, which seems to pre-date the successful Rosato series.

Grace Rossi is a skilled lawyer who is a single mother trying to make ends meet by working part-time as a legal assistant to the handsome Judge Armen Gregorian in the federal appeals court. Gregorian asks her to help him prepare for an urgent appeal hearing against a death penalty. Because of the tight deadline they both work most of the night on the case - and their at the end of the night their work turns romantic. A few hours later Gregorian is found shot, apparently a suicide.

After their recent happy time Grace cannot believe the suicide verdict and suspects that it is a very clever murder. She decides to start a one-person investigation to prove that it is murder. She is helped by a most unusual homeless man who turns out to be a FBI undercover agent who specialises in tracking down corrupt judges. The plot is muddied by a lot of side-tracking through Grace's personal life and the staff who worked for Gregorian.

The plot and the action are not up to the pace, interest and page-turning standards of the Rosato series. I didn't dislike the book but couldn't give it more than an OK (a 3 star rating).

15 January 2013

Stuart Macbride: Close to the Bone

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This was one of the best detective stories I have read for a long time. I wanted a break from the many LAPD, NYPD etc. police thrillers from the USA and Stuart Macbride certainly delivered that break.  Acting DI Logan McRae and PS Roberta Steel of the Aberdeen police in Scotland are about as far away from most US police investigators as an iceberg from a tropical island.

This is not a book for the faint hearted and parts are very graphic.  The storyline is tough and complex, starting with a murder where someone is "necklaced" with a burning tyre, apparently stabbed and then left to slowly die. MacRae is upset that someone is leaving bundles of what look like chicken bones (are they?) tied up in a nice parcels on his doorstep. A couple of 18 year olds seem to have run off together. But nothing is as it seems.

While this is a serious book it is also frequently a very amusing book making me laugh out loud on several occasions. The main characters fight each other and resort to humour and profanity as a defence from the stresses of their real world. The brilliantly funny chain smoking lesbian PS Steel is definitely the winner in the humour and profanity stakes - so much so I was hesitant to include any of her best responses in this review.

Stuart Macbride is one of the UK's best authors of detective novels and this book is one of his best.

12 January 2013

Brad Thor: Black List

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The book description says that this is "An intense, page-turning novel that is action-packed and frighteningly real". I wonder if I read the same book which was a slow-moving, ponderous, boring tale about an unbelievable conspiracy. I enjoyed previous books by this author but with this one he really seems to have gone off the boil in an attempt to write something different.

I am not a conspiracy theorist and in this world of fast social interaction it is difficult to envisage mega computer-driven conspiracies that can take over control of government and the people.

Scott Harvarth is still the focal action hero but he is not the hero I remember. There is one part of the book where Thor takes about 2 pages to reflect on Scott's revulsion for using a knife instead of a gun.

Thor revisits Nicholas, a dwarf, guarded by 2 giant Caucasian Ovcharka dogs. Nicholas (nicknamed The Troll) was a baddie who traded information to the highest bidder, including notorious international criminals. This time Nicholas has mellowed to become a trusted friend helping to unravel the computer driven conspiracy.

Sometimes I thought that I was reading a different book to the one praised by so many reviewers. But as the book dragged on (it should have been half the length) and the conspiracy became more nonsensical, and the action so slow I had to drive myself to finish the book. The flying finale in the epilogue was almost the last straw.

I have discovered a number of excellent independent authors who can deliver intelligent,  fast-paced page-turning thrillers that match and eclipse many of the best-selling published authors, especially those whose work seems to be running out of steam.

Joel Goldman: Knife Fight

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Alex Stone is a public defender who is tiring of defending people who are guilty. This short story is about what happens one day when she decides to take justice in her own hands.

Joel Goldman writes well and in this one he writes very cleverly in the first person and words of the accused murderer. The best thing about this very short story is the twist in the tail.

The story is too short for any real character development for Alex Stone and I have no idea of how Joel Goldman can build a new book series around this character. But having enjoyed his other books I'm sure the new series will be worth reading.

11 January 2013

Stuart Macbride: Partners in Crime

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I wanted a break from LAPD, NYPD, FBI, CIA etc. These amusing short stories about Aberdeen's finest police, DI Roberta Steel and DS Logan McRae are about as far away from most US police thrillers as an iceberg from a tropical island. I read these stories as an introduction to Macbride's very successful Logan Macrae series - and I wasn't disappointed.

These 2 short stories are full of dark humour that made me laugh out loud several times. In the first story DI Steel is in a very bad pre-Christmas mood, especially when she has to interrupt her last minute shopping to investigate a missing person, and finds out she has been left a fairly large legacy by a despicable criminal - as long as she gives him a glowing eulogy at his funeral. She takes out her anger at DC Allan by making him wear a flashing Santa cap to the interview with the stressed-out wife.

The next story has just as much dark humour when a large group of diverse criminals (including violent ex IRA and a supposedly dead criminal) converge on a small, remote Scottish island to rescue a huge delivery of heroin that sunk with a yacht near the island. Both DI Steel and DS McRae are involved in this and what should have been easy catch goes badly wrong.

I enjoyed Macbride's writing, the humour, and the Scottish setting and angles and look forward to reading more of the Logan Macrae series. WARNING: 40% of this very short book is a promotional extract from Macbride's next book "Close to the Bone".

09 January 2013

Russell Blake: Night of the Assassin

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This is a fascinating prequel because Russell Blake wrote it after he had completed King of Swords (Assassin series #1). It is not a book for the faint hearted as it vividly documents the brutality between Mexican drug cartels and describes the early years of El Rey - known as the King of Swords -  who is the super-assassin in later books responsible for some of the world's most spectacular and daring executions.

El Ray has no redeeming human qualities and is a product of Mexican drug brutality - despite this he's a fascinating character. This prequel shows how he acquired his almost super-human skills and decided to become the highest paid contract assassin in the world.

Russell Blake knows his locations well as he lives in Mexico and has more than a passing acquaintance with Australia and Sydney (my old home city where he passes about 80% of my reality test - "no worries") which is the location of one of El Rey's early highly-paid brutal contracts.

Australia Day is soon and I would normally go around humming "Waltzing Matilda". After reading this prequel this would give me a chilling feeling - you have to read this book to understand why. If the rest of the books in the series are as good as the prequel they will be well worth reading.

08 January 2013

Stella Baker: 4 Gigs of Trouble

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I have read a lot of conspiracy theory thrillers and this was one of the best because it kept me both entertained and amused. It was quite different others of the genre, perhaps because of the female heroine, or maybe how accidentally the whole plot evolved.

Toni Teitelbaum is a high school history teacher supervising a class visit to Washington. She is an attractive six-footer with a fondness for designer clothing who is former US Marine MP who considers that the dangers in Iraq are similar to coping with a class of teenagers. During the visit, when following a errant student into some bushes, she accidentally finds a dying man who unknowingly slips a 4 gig thumb drive into the pocket of her designer coat and in his last breath tells her to give it to the President.

This starts an entertaining romp of a conspiracy thriller when Toni accidentally gets caught up with powerful people who want to make sure that the contents of the thumb drive are not disclosed. She is followed, her room is searched and her family is threatened. Because of her Marines training she is not a person who gives up easily and with the help of family and friends she keeps battling the unknown enemy.

What makes this book doubly entertaining is that is also amusing. I always like to give readers a taste of the humour with a few quotes:
*  "Babycakes, it is always about sex, money or power"
*  my mother has "the world's most accurate crap-o-meter...especially when it comes to me."
*  "Mom hasn't cried like that since the Bush administration....the first Bush."
*  "I survived a tour of Iraq and several years in a classroom with teenagers."

There is very little profane language except a couple of classic Yiddish swear words that I will never forget. I can quote one - "Monzer" which means bastard, but I don't think the other one (Yiddish for SNAFU) would be cleared in an Amazon review.

My only (constructive) comment is that I got confused when the word Metro was used for both the Washington subway system and the Washington police force. I am sure that this could easily be fixed when the next Kindle version is edited.

Well done Stella Baker with your first self-publshed book. It was well written and kept me well entertained right down to the last page. I am sure that you could use Toni as a character in a future book. In any event I look forward to reading your next book "The Postman Always Shoots Twice" some time soon.

07 January 2013

Nicholas Sparks: Safe Haven

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This really was a safe haven for a thriller junkie wanting a meaningful sorbet of contemporary romance between doses of adrenaline based action. I was looking for an intelligent romantic thriller outside the current popular genre of poorly written mass-produced twenty-something testosterone and sex romances - and I found it in "Safe Haven".

Surprisingly, although I have seen and enjoyed the movie "Message in a Bottle", I haven't read any of Nicholas Sparks' books. I was lured to this book by how fast it got to the top of the Kindle best-sellers list. From the first pages it was clear that Sparks is a quality writer who builds wonderful characters and weaves meaningful relationships.

When Katie Feldman arrives in the small North Carolina town of Southport she is seen as a mysterious person. She rents a small cottage in a lonely spot, doesn't mix with others or tell anyone about her background. Her life revolves around working at a local restaurant, improving her cottage and buying her essential needs from the local store owned by Alex, a single parent of 2 young children who has recently lost his wife to brain cancer. She gradually gets attracted to Alex and builds a loving and comfortable relationship with his children.  Despite this she doesn't have the emotional stability for a long term commitment.

The community and Alex are not aware that Katie is is on-the-run from a very bad mentally and physically abusive marriage. Even with a new identity she knows that Kevin, her alcoholic abusive husband, is a skilled police investigator who will search for and find her wherever she goes.

Why did I give it 4 stars - because I skip-read the description of Kevin's life after Katie left because it was too long and IMHO a bit unrealistic. Despite that I liked the book and strongly recommend it to anyone who is looking for an easy, well written and satisfying romantic thriller.

05 January 2013

Maggi Myers: The Final Piece

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This is one of the most emotionally moving books I have read for a long time and it is already in my list of best books for 2013. Any book about child abuse should be tough going, but Maggi Myers has softened the blow by writing about a girl's long term reactions to abuse by focussing on the help, love and support she was given by others.

Both of Beth's parents are cocaine addicts and gave her little love and support, and at 5 years of age a close family friend starts to sexually abuse her and this continues for the next 7 years. Her reaction was to shut herself off from the real world and hardly communicate with others. One day an adult family friend, Tommy, discovers the truth and attacks the abuser.

Beth then finds solace, love and support in her grandparents' home. Tommy is a frequent visitor with his nephew Ryan who is a couple of years older than Beth. She slowly opens up about the abuse to Tommy and they become close friends. She has a teenage crush on Ryan who is a couple of years older than her but is never able to open up to him.

When Beth goes to college she loses contact with both of them, but never forgets them. As an adult she is successful in business and while outwardly she seems well adjusted to her close friends, inside she is still wounded. Then her world comes crashing down when Tommy is killed in an auto accident with a drunken driver. She returns to the funeral and meets Ryan once again.

While Myers' character development was good I wanted to know more about Tommy and felt that there was too much assumption that a teenage crush would still smoulder 10 years later.

A very talented author said this in one of his books (which was full of tough emotions) "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."  In this book Maggi Myers has brought great emotions to life that have a meaning, not only to me but should have meaning to most readers. I highly recommend it.

03 January 2013

Joanna Stephen-Ward: The Doll Collection

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Gloria is a psychopath, a monster who successfully and permanently eliminates various people who have annoyed her in some way. Somehow they all have accidents or unexplained deaths - but she remembers all of them and keeps a memento of each one in the form of a doll in a collection she keeps in her room.

Gloria moves in with Maurice as his lodger, and begins to shape him to her wishes. Maurice is a very weak character and the suspense grows as Gloria starts to tire of him...

The Doll Collection is the embodiment of evil. One of our best friends collects antique dolls and in future whenever I see them I will shiver in case one of them might have my name on it.

02 January 2013

Dana Stabenow: A Cold Day for Murder

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Dana Stabenow's first book in the Kate Shugak series is not only an interesting detective novel, but being set in a small remote mainly native Alaskan settlement is also a cultural challenge. Even if you have visited Alaska with a summer tour or cruise you will not be prepared for the cultural background that permeates Stabenow's book:

* most people are native Alaskan (Aleuts) and live inside the Nilintna Association's tribal jurisdiction. Persons who are not part of the tribe are called "Outsiders".
* while the Association has declared their jurisdiction to be alcohol free, many locals frequent a roadhouse conveniently located exactly nine feet three inches outside the jurisdiction.
* there is no road into the area and for most of the year the locals' means of travel are snow mobiles, dog slays and small planes.
* local food delicacies include ground caribou patties and moose steaks. Local radio station advertising fees can sometimes be paid in moose meat ("five roasts, not less than five pounds each").
* there is a very small population and everybody knows one another which unfortunately is a hindrance to any investigation.

All of this makes this a very different detective novel to others I have read. Kate Shugak was born in the jurisdiction but left the area for several years for study and work as an investigator for the DA's office in Anchorage.  She has retreated back to her home environment after she was wounded when a case went seriously wrong. She is surprised when her former boss visits her with an FBI agent to ask her to investigate the disappearance of an "outsider" Park Ranger and an investigator sent to find what happened to him.

When she reluctantly agrees to help, she has to find the answer within her own tight community who are not known for their ready cooperation with authority.

My main criticism is that it takes a bit of effort to understand the various cultural issues and to follow the many different, and sometimes only minor, characters. Despite this the book was a fascinating start to a pretty lengthy series of Kate Shugak investigations which I understand has a bit of a cult following. I enjoyed the book and will probably read more in the series.

Anthony J Franze: The Last Justice

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Thriller writers must be given novelist's licence to tell a tale - but this one has gone so far that it is unbelievable. I always make a reality check before writing a review and this check failed in so many ways. A reality check is important, especially when a book is set around the operation of parts of the US political system that are so well known, even to someone like me who lives outside the US.

I read this Indie book because the plot sounded interesting and it was awash with 5 star ratings. I wonder now if I was reading the same book or if the majority of readers are happy to accept such unbelievable rubbish.

The book started dramatically with a gunman assassinating 5 Supreme Court Justices using a gun already taped under a seat in the courtroom. He missed the Chief Justice who shot back because he was packing a pistol (the ARA would have been very proud of him) but he was killed by security guards because they thought he was part of the attack. The killer got away in the crowd fleeing the gunfire. I should have started my reality check there and then but kept reading.

The story that followed included contract murder, blackmail, bribery, adultery, hidden cameras, hot iron branding and more against the setting of "the United States Supreme Court, the greatest court in the world, in the greatest country of the world" (a direct quote).

IMHO the only part of the book that met my reality check was that six months after the assassinations the US President and the US political system had not yet come to an agreement on the nomination of 6 judges to replace those who were killed.

01 January 2013

David Baldacci: Zero Day

One of Baldacci's best
While I was saddened to see the end of the great Camel Club series, "Zero Day" shows that David Baldacci can write all kinds of imaginative thrillers. This book was a page-turner from start to finish and fully deserves a 5 star rating.

Sergeant John Puller is a former war hero and now one of the best military investigators in the US Army's Criminal Investigative Division. He turned down West Point to stay where he wanted in the Army - where the action is not where the management happens. He is a skilled and extremely clever operator and was puzzled when he was selected to investigate an extremely important and very sensitive case on his own when a senior member of Defence Intelligence and all of his family are brutally murdered in a very remote coal mining area of West Virginia.

A local female detective Samantha Cole is also investigating the case and soon finds that she is out of her depth and needs Puller's expertise and investigatory skills to progress the case. Their investigations uncover more murders, and attempts are made on their lives. The sleepy rural backwater turns into a battleground of deception, murders, bombs, assassination and threats to national security. Baldacci weaves an unstoppable tale that leave one on the edge of the seat until the very end.

Some reviewers have commented on the similarities between Baldacci's John Puller to Lee Child's Jack Reacher. In this book I think this is a bit unfair as Puller is much more of a dedicated Army team-playing detective than Reacher and shows few signs of becoming a loner. However I re-visited this book after reading "The Innocents" where, unfortunately Baldacci turns Puller into a bit of a Reacher clone.