Over 550 book reviews with full author links

30 April 2013

Mark Black: A very brief history of The Nuremberg Trials

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At the end of WWII in Europe the Allies were faced with a major issue of how to treat the leaders of the Third Reich and its armies who had committed so many atrocities, including planned genocide. The Nuremberg Trials picked out the key surviving leaders and put them on trial for war crimes. This brief history tells the sometimes dramatic tale of how this was done, the charges that were laid, who was charged and the verdicts.

I specifically chose to read this book because I had just finished a fictional account of how Martin Bormann, Hitler's private secretary with direct links to the Holocaust, may have fled from Germany at the end of the war. At Nuremberg Bormann was accused of various war crimes and was sentenced to death in absentia.

I recommend reading as many of these brief histories as possible because each one I have read has added something important to my knowledge a major historical events.

29 April 2013

Jack Higgins: The Valhalla Exchange

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Jack Higgins can always be relied upon for an easy-reading action-filled adventure story. His tales set in WWII are renowned, especially "The Eagle has Landed" and "Night of the Fox".  While this book is not quite as good, it is still a great action adventure using authentic WWII backgrounds.

At the end of the war many top level Nazis had plans to escape from Germany to "friendly" countries, especially in South America. Rumours abounded that Martin Bormann, Hitler's powerful personal secretary, had made his escape and his whereabouts had always been a mystery.

The Valhalla Exchange is a fictional account of Bormann's plans for escape, using a group of highly connected POW's as protection. The WWII action is authentic with Higgins creating a memorable group of characters from both sides and the prisoners, especially Ritter a war-weary highly decorated SS Officer and one of the prisoners, General Hamilton Canning who pursues Bormann for thirty years after the war.

This book was written several years before DNA testing appeared to confirm that Bormann's remains had been found in Berlin - or were they?

28 April 2013

Danika Stone: Ctrl Z

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Do you ever wish that you could turn back parts of your life and start again? This is the real message for the two main characters, Jude and Indigo.

Indigo wants to forget a troubled childhood and even more traumatic life on the streets and her contacts with organised crime in the clubs. But unfortunately her past comes back to haunt her when Jude comes into her life. Jude has always used his computer skills, especially his hacking skills, as his lifeline and hopefully a pipeline to success. Through his friends he is seduced by easy money until he realises that his hacking skills have been hired by a ruthless organised crime boss.

Jude and Indigo are an unusual combination but from the start there is some strong sexual chemistry around that they eventually can't resist. The steamy parts are not as overwhelming as many other current books of this genre. Both characters find that their problems have the same origin. They do their best to extricate themselves but whatever they do things seem to get worse not better.

For those who are not computer savvy, Ctrl Z is the PC keyboard combination that undoes the last action - and pressed again can go back and back to where you started. It is strange that the title is not explained anywhere in the book.  In reality it really only applies to Jude as there is no way that Indigo would want to turn back the clock to her early life.

Danika Stone has written an interesting book but the plot was a bit too complex and unbelievable at times. I gave it 3.5 stars and reflected for a time before giving it a 4 star rating.

25 April 2013

Sandra Brown: Breath of Scandal

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One day teenager Jade Sperry had the world at her feet with a loving relationship and a college scholarship. Then three testosterone loaded thrill seekers changed her life forever. Held down and gang-raped she was left to crawl through the mud to tell her tale.

Jade was never able to tell her tale as her plea for justice was ignored and distorted by the town Sheriff and the Patchetts, the richest and most powerful family, whose offspring were among the culprits. Somehow Jade got the strength to move on but vowed to return some day to revenge her treatment.

Jade fights on and fourteen years on she has graduated and become a successful business executive. Despite her success she has never healed emotionally and still waits for the chance to hit back at her attackers and the Patchetts in the only way that would hurt them - to take away their riches and their power. At last Jade gets that chance when her employer tasks her with overseeing a major construction project in the town.

At the same time fate may be giving her a final chance of love when she hires Dillon Burke to manage the project. Dillon has his own demons to chase before he can get close to Jade - if she will let him.

This was a very emotionally charged book, gut wrenchingly so with so many unbelievable lows but some amazingly uplifting highs. Well done, Sandra, you managed to emotionally flog me! The characters, the plot and the path to revenge were masterfully written. This is the first of Sandra Brown's books that I have read and it won't be the last.

22 April 2013

Leslie Kelly: Coming Home

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"Coming Home" was a surprisingly good read about Nicole and Wyatt who shared a love as teenagers which came to an unexpected end.  Nicole left home ten years ago when her loving relationship with Wyatt imploded. We slowly learn what happened at that time and why Nicole has never gone home since then.

Nicole still kept in touch with her father, who she loves dearly, and as soon as she hears that he has had a serious heart attack she is on the first plane back to Florida. She knows that someone will meet her at the airport but is stunned when it turns out to be Wyatt.

Nicole's father is a veterinarian and she has followed his love of animals by becoming a successful vet as well. Wyatt has inherited his father's horse stud and this is the glue that starts to bring Nicole and Wyatt together again. But the secrets of the past as so strong that they threaten to tear them apart again.

Lesley Kelley has crafted a great couple of characters and woven a tangled web around their relationships. Compared to so many current romances, the steamy parts are only a minor part of the story and are well written and emotionally satisfying.

I read this book as a light interlude from big doses of thrillers and adventures. IMHO a good romance is more difficult to write than a thriller because the plot lines are so much more limited. This was one of the better ones that I have discovered recently and it was a satisfying interlude.

19 April 2013

Savannah Grace: Sihpromatum - I Grew My Boobs in China

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One day Savannah's mother, who was having what seems to be a mid-life crisis after a divorce, had an epiphany that she needed to escape from her old life and travel for at least a year as a backpacker without the accustomed comforts of home. How could she make this happen? It meant taking her 2 teenage daughters (14 and 16) with her. Fortunately she had a son in his 20's who had a lot of backpacking experience.

The shock/ horror of this decision on Savannah as a 14 year old was painful to read especially because of the enormous potential damage to her emerging personality. Her reactions to packing up her home, giving away her beloved dog and adjusting to the fact that she was being dragged away from everything familiar are very emotionally disturbing. Savannah succeeded because she was probably more mature than most girls at that age. In the book she reflected "After everything that (my mother's) done for me, maybe it isn't too much to ask that I might sacrifice a year of my life for her!" To me this is a scary statement by an adolescent.

At every opportunity during their travels Savannah tries to keep in contact with her old friends via the internet but as the days go by they seem to be slipping further and further away. In an email she tells her best girl-friend "I've got boobs!! Wish you were here to see them!"

What was lacking to me in this book? The second half was mainly a travelogue and didn't follow up on Savannah's personal development and reaction to the travel that were prominent in the first part. Also the book really has no ending - all that is clear is that there are many months, if not years of travel ahead.

Any serious reader of this book should visit the Sihpromatum website to see more about the family's travels to 98 countries in 5 continents. It is a great shame to me that they never made it to my home country, Australia - but there's always time. The great thing about the website is that you can see Savannah as a teenage "ugly duckling" when she went to China and know that she has now grown into a lovely, mature and "graceful" swan.

A copy of this book was given to me with a request for an honest review.

18 April 2013

David Baldacci: The Hit

"The Hit" is David Baldacci at his brilliant best - a page turning action thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat right through to the very end.

Once again we meet Will Robie (from "The Innocent"), a larger than life cold-blooded professional killer for the US government. Robie is given his hardest and most dangerous assignment yet - to hunt down and eliminate rogue fellow assassin Jessica Reel who has killed her handler and is systematically killing associates. Reel is especially deadly because she is almost Robie's match as a professional killer.

His thoughts on the assignment are simple - "Sending a killer to catch a killer actually made sense. We talk a different language and we see the world through a separate prism that no one else could possibly understand....So Reel dead, or me. It really was that simple. And also that complicated."

As with most of Baldacci's stories, nothing is as it seems and the plot has more exciting twists and turns than a fast paced game of snakes and ladders and nobody can be trusted. Along the way Robie encounters booby traps, firebombs, ambushes and big games of double-cross and conspiracy.

Over the years Baldacci has built an unenviable collection of amazing characters and Will Robie is amongst the best, especially because at rare times he does show some signs of humanity and trust in others. Robie painfully reflects on the conflict between being a killer and being a human being. "The only problem is, I can't be both". As you get to know her, Jessica Reel is another complex and compelling character.

This book is David Baldacci at his best with great actions and characters. Highly recommended - it will keep you guessing to the end so sit back and make time to read this book because once you are hooked it will be hard to put down.


16 April 2013

James Swain: Wild Card (Tony Valentine series)

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In "Wild Card" James Swain takes up back to Tony Valentine's early days as a cop in Atlantic City. I am always suspicious of the quality of prequels written later on in popular series. This is certainly not the case with this one as we learn a lot about how Valentine became the top anti-fraud cop in Atlantic City when gambling there was in its infancy. We also see something of his late wife Lois and the early teenage years of his wild son Gerry (who is already keeping a book at high school).

Tony has been wounded in a big homicide shootout and is not at all happy when his boss puts him on "light duties" as head of the Casino Investigations Division in Resorts Casino, the only one in AC at the time. Tony doesn't understand then that he has the skills, and almost photographic memory to detect gambling scams that others would miss.

Resorts is run by the local mafia which is skimming millions a year in a scam that no-one can identify. The casino is a magnet for cheaters throughout the country and Swain assures us that all of the scams in the book were used by hustlers at the time.

While being close to the mafia is dangerous there are other dangers in town with a serial killer who picks up hookers in the casino and imprisons them, starving them to death. The danger is ever present as the killer has known Tony in his early days.

I have become a bit of a Tony Valentine addict and find this series very entertaining. I strongly recommend this one because it gives a great insight into the start Valentine's fascinating career and an interesting history of the early days of gambling and the mob in AC.


13 April 2013

Deanna Raybourn: Far in the Wilds

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This is the best prequel novella I have read for a long time. In a few pages Deanna Raybourn was able to conjure up the atmosphere of colonial East Africa just after WWI both socially and environmentally. In the same space she created a great character in Ryder White who is more at home in the wilds of the African bush and chasing the charms of lonely married women than being part of the pleasure-seeking expat colonists of Kenyan society. Raybourn also finds time to sketch out the fascinating character of Ryder's best friend, Jude, who is mourning the loss of her husband in the war.

Ryder was brought up in the wilds of the Canadian Yukon but "Africa chose me....it's a hard place and you can't ever tell when someone comes out if they are going to make it or not." Ryder has made it his world, hunting game. Reluctantly he agrees to take a spoilt Danish Prince and his mistress on safari to kill a rogue black leopard.

This prequel was an introduction to Ryder but it also had a couple of preview chapters of A Spear Of Summer Grass to be released in May which will also feature Delilah Drummond, a notorious and emancipated woman with several ex-husbands who moves to Africa to escape her latest marital problems.

Ryder White reminded me so much of Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford) in the movie "Out of Africa", especially his love of the bush and the Masai. His lover, Baroness Blixen (Meryl Streep)finds that Denys is as impossible to own or tame as Africa itself. I wonder if this will happen to Delilah and Ryder.  


12 April 2013

Diana Hockley: The Metamorphosis of Troubadour Merriwether: A short story

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This is a very charming but very short story about a young man who takes advice from a most unusual source that changes his life. The ending is very funny.

I wonder where Diana thought up the unusual name of Troubadour Merriwether - I wonder if it is a pet name of hers.


09 April 2013

Dava Sobel: Longitude

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In this day-and-age we take global positioning for granted - I even have a GPS system on my smartphone. But for hundreds of years mariners sailed the globe without knowing exactly where they were. They could easily check their latitude through the sun and stars but had virtually no idea of where they were because they couldn't easily work out their longitude. Intrepid explorers like Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan, and Sir Francis Drake virtually sailed willy nilly about the globe following a known latitude, using dead reckoning and hoping that by good luck and judgement that they would arrive at their destination. Many missed their way and perished, others wandered way off course with the risk that the crew would die of scurvy.

Dava Sobel has written an easy-reading popular account of endeavours during the 18th Century to find an accurate and easy way to measure longitude in a marine environment. She sets out a general history of one of the greatest competitions in history when the Longitude Act of 1714 offered a major prize (equivalent to several million dollars now) for the first person to accurately solve the longitude problem.

Basically there were 2 competing methods, an accurate timepiece or finding position from observation of the heavens. The competition was full of challenge, amazing achievement and skulduggery and dirty deeds. Accurate time at sea was especially challenging with changing temperatures and intense movement of the ship. Using the heavens required detailed mathematics to convert the sightings with cloud cover giving only intermittent access to the heavens for guidance.

The story is really about the competition between a mechanical genius, John Harrison, who spent his lifetime constructing complex sea-clocks (chronometers)and his nemesis Nevil Maskelyne, a supporter of the observational approach, who did everything he could to prevent Harrison's clocks winning the competition.

The outcome was a world where mariners could plot their position with accuracy in any weather anywhere in the world. This fuelled world trade and population movements during the years of the first Industrial Revolution when Britain most definitely "ruled the waves".

I am a fan of easy reading history and I recommend this to anyone who wants to learn about the drama and skills behind one of greatest advances in technology in the 18th century. I kept my rating to 4 stars because I read it in Kindle version and missed the illustrations of Harrison's clocks that feature prominently in the print version. Thank goodness that Google's image search was able to show me the complexity and beauty of Harrison's work.


08 April 2013

Nicholas Sparks: The Notebook

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In his first published novel Nicholas Sparks shows us his understanding about love and relationships and how they can endure across the years. It is a very emotional and touching book. Some of us are lucky enough to have a perfect soul-mate - Noah found his early on just before WWII and she walked out of his life.

One fateful summer two teenagers, Noah and Allie, find that they share the same world and fall in love. Noah's father has given him a life-long love of poetry which he shares with her. Allie has artistic skills and she shares her ambition with him that she wants to follow these skills wherever they take her.

Allie's parents don't approve of her relationship with Noah as he doesn't have the education, money or social position to be suitable for their daughter. They move away and there are no replies to Noah's many letters.

Roll forward 14 years and Noah has returned home after a gruelling war. He has never forgotten his first love and loses himself in poetry and the physical task of restoring a lovely antebellum mansion in New Bern. One of Allie's paintings has pride of place in the restored home but otherwise the beautifully restored house seems empty.

Allie's life seems perfect - she has followed her parents' wishes, given up her art and is now about to make a perfect marriage to a kind, hard-working, rich and ambitious man. Her world changes when she learns about Noah's restoration work in a newspaper. Three weeks before her society wedding she finds herself driving to New Bern to find Noah for reasons she herself does not fully understand. The unexpected reunion is very emotional and shows the writing skills that have made Sparks a best-selling author in this genre.

The closing chapters skip to a geriatric nursing home. They are well written but left me emotionally disturbed as I am already over my allotted time of "three score years and ten".


Diana Hockley: The Cloud

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Something has parked a black cloud of ectoplasm over Las Vegas, creating fear and chaos. What is it and what is it going to do?

This extremely short story is ingenious and has an very funny ending. LOL.


05 April 2013

Kay Bratt: The Bridge

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This is a gem of a short story/novella about Jing, an old lady living in crushing poverty in a city in China. Her home overlooks an old bridge that is considered by locals to bestow eternal luck on any child abandoned there. Jing has taken several such children to the local orphanage.

One day she spots a 5 year old boy on the bridge and is stunned to realise that he is blind. This starts an emotional roller coaster of a relationship between Jing and the boy, Fei Fei, which shows that it is indeed a bridge of luck.

The character development of Jing and Fei Fei are astounding for such a short story. I have read and enjoyed another novella Train to Nowhere by Kay Bratt and look forward to reading some more of her other books set in China.


D, Manning Richards: Destiny in Sydney

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"Destiny in Sydney" is a significant piece of historical "faction" by D. Manning Richards about European settlement of Australia from 1788 through to 1902 just after the six Australian colonies became the Commonwealth of Australia. It is a long book and IMHO the early chapters up to about 1850 were a lot more meaningful to me, as an Aussie, than the latter ones.

The first part of the book is a good record of the amazing saga of the beginning of colonisation of Australia by Great Britain in early 1788 through the transportation of convicts to Botany Bay. This is seen through the eyes of a fictional Scottish marine Lieutenant Nathaniel Armstrong who arrived with the "First Fleet" after an arduous 8 month voyage from England. The settlers were immediately faced with a major survival challenge when Botany Bay didn't have sufficient fresh water and soil to sustain the new colony and were very lucky to find a great location for settlement only a few miles north at Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour).

Richards then pens a scholarly account of the first years of settlement and the immense struggle to survive in a harsh, foreign and distant environment. At the start, a census counted 7 horses, 29 sheep, 74 swine, 6 rabbits, 7 cattle, and a white population of 1,030. There was little good soil, inadequate rainfall and few of the military, free settlers and convicts had any agricultural skills. This is one of the greatest survival stories in history.

Nathaniel works closely with all the early Governors' of New South Wales (Phillip, Hunter, King, Bligh and Macquarie) which gives us an insightful account of early politics and relations with the mother country and with the indigenous population. Nathaniel chooses Moira, an Irish convict, for sexual comfort and housekeeping and marries her when she is pardoned. They set up a farm close to Elizabeth Farm of Captain John Macarthur, credited with the establishment of the Merino Sheep industry in Australia. Despite his long-term fame, Macarthur was a difficult and argumentative man and quarrelled with many of his neighbours and successive Governors. Macarthur's influence on the growing Colony and the impact of his private enterprise approach to survival and development are a more important legacy than his flawed personality.

While there is extensive character development for Nathaniel, who becomes a rich and influential person, I would have liked to have known more about Moira, who would have faced major adjustments, firstly through transportation, then in building a relationship with a military man with a totally different social and educational background and having to cope for a long time with exclusion from society because of her convict background.

Richards says little about the end of transportation of convicts to NSW in 1850, an extremely important landmark that almost coincided with the start of the Gold Rush. The twenty years of the 1851-1871 gold rush ushered in a period of great population and economic expansion of settlement during which the Australian population almost quadrupled. Daniel Armstrong, a grandson of Nathaniel, gets gold fever and happens to be in the Eureka Stockade but didn't support the aims of the rebellion. He was badly wounded and uses his Eureka background as a stepping stone to an important right-wing political career.

IMO Chinese immigration to the Gold-fields was given more attention than it deserved to the exclusion of the important pastoral and agricultural advances during this time that made Australia an economic power strong enough to become an independent country. Little or nothing is said about the creation and settlement of the other 5 colonies that joined with NSW to become founding States of the Commonwealth of Australia

The main problem that I had with the book is that it concentrated on the lives of military and free settlers and almost ignored the cruel situation in the early days for the convicts who were used by both the military and free settlers as free labour, sometimes in poorer conditions than American slaves.

It is creditable that D. Manning Richards, an American, can produce such a scholarly coverage of the early years of European settlement in Australia. All in all I enjoyed the book, especially the first part, which has added another important dimension to the fictional coverage of early years of settlement in Australia.

Another reviewer commented that on the quality of the cover. While the artistry is not outstanding, the thing that annoyed me was that it showed Nathaniel and Moira in the foreground, clearly from the early days of the colony in Sydney, as part of a scene of Chinese trekking to the gold-fields more than 50 years later.

Note: A copy of this book was given to me by the publisher for my unbiased review.


03 April 2013

Nikki Navarre: The Russian Seduction

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Treat all of this absolute escapism and you will enjoy it. If you take it seriously then this is not the book for you.

This plot/story is absolutely unbelievable - a top female US diplomat in Moscow has a steamy fling with a handsome and enigmatic Russian ex-submarine Captain (who is clearly a spook and associated with the Russian Mafia) to find out the reason for military tension between Russia and the Ukraine (the Captain's birthplace). The diplomatic situation is critical because a US Presidential visit is days away.

I liked the main characters because of their charisma, strengths and weaknesses and magnetic attraction to one another. The diplomatic stuff is well written, the Russian stuff well researched and the steamy stuff is entertaining and not too over-the-top.

This is not my normal genre. I read it as an interlude between heavy reality espionage stuff and even heavier historical sagas and I enjoyed the interlude. It was a pure romp in the land of escapism which I probably need from time to time.


Mark Black: The Titanic (A Very Brief History)

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The sinking of the Titanic is probably one of the best documented events in history, both in print and in movies. Despite my exposure to all of this I was able to find quite a number of interesting things about the Titanic in this very brief history to expand my understanding of the disaster.

I did not fully appreciate that the ship was so unprepared for its fateful voyage. Sea trials were only completed a mere 8 days before the maiden voyage. Most of the crew were only employed on a casual contract and had not worked together before, boarding only a few hours before the ship was due to depart. They were not trained in evacuation procedures. The lack of experience and training of the staff compounded the criminal shortage of lifeboats, many of which were launched only partly loaded. Class privilege was maintained to the last and hundreds of steerage passengers were left to perish by being trapped below decks.

As always this "Very Brief History" met my expectations and I recommend the series to anyone who wants to easily expand their knowledge about some of the major historical events of our times.