Over 550 book reviews with full author links

30 May 2013

Vince Flynn: Memorial Day

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As last weekend was Memorial Day in the US I thought it would be interesting to revisit one of Vince Flynn's best Mitch Rapp books which was released in 2004. There have been many books written about clones of Mitch Rapp but none of them are as good as the original and IMHO most of Flynn's earlier books were better than the later ones.

Memorial Day is the ultimate anti-terrorist thriller when Rapp and his military help raid a terrorist hideout in a remote part of Pakistan and uncover details of multiple freighters heading to US ports, any of which could be carrying a nuclear bomb. Intelligence gathered by the raid points to a catastrophic attack on Washington DC on Memorial Day when the US President will unveil a new memorial in the presence of world leaders, including from the UK and Russia.

This is classic Mitch Rapp cutting through the strictures and politics of the bureaucracy and doing it his way to avoid catastrophic results. The scenes where Rapp tells some of the most powerful and influential people in the world that they are wrong, including the President, are worth the price of the book alone. Vince Flynn knows how to build up the tension and focus on how Rapp can deliver the answer when others can't.

This book is still a great read and comes from a time when the fight against al-Qaeda was at its height and mega-terrorism was the greatest fear. I wonder how Flynn's forthcoming Mitch Rapp book "The Survivor" will adapt to the recent changes in world terrorism after the death of Osama bin Laden and the rise of unorganised home-grown terrorism, especially in the US and UK, with the Boston bombing and the hacking to death of an off-duty soldier in the streets of London.

28 May 2013

Barry Eisler: London Twist

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This is another short novella by Barry Eisler that sizzles in more ways than one. We are introduced once again to Delilah, a beautiful Mossad seductrice who I last met in "Paris Bitch" where covert operatives John Rain and Delilah outsmart an attempted kidnapping of Delilah by people working for a Saudi Prince who she left in the lurch after she had got the information she needed.

After MI5 takes permanent care of the dangerous Saudi Prince, Delilah feels obliged to help them infiltrate a terrorist network that is planning poison gas attacks on the UK population. The difference this time is that the target is Fatima, a beautiful emancipated Middle Eastern woman whose hatred stems from one of her brothers being killed by an US drone. Making friends with a woman to get information, especially one as beautiful, defensive, clever and committed as Fatima is a very different challenge to those normally faced by Delilah.

The politics and terrorist themes area most contemporary and compelling. It is an interesting and different spy book, especially as it was written by a man and finishes up in a tasteful but very steamy and descriptive girl-and-girl situation which has an unexpected emotional impact on Delilah.

I really enjoyed this short book and look forward to reading more about Delilah and more of Barry Eisler's well written and exciting action thrillers.

26 May 2013

Barry Eisler: Paris Is A Bitch - A Rain/Delilah Short Story

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What do a couple of covert operators, independent part-Japanese John Rain and lovely Mossad honey-trap agent Delilah, do when they want to have a quiet meal at a great restaurant in Paris? Firstly they check around the area for escape routes, case the restaurant for escape routes and the best place to sit to observe what is happening both inside and outside. And last but not least they arrive separately, having made sure that they are not followed. What a great start to a romantic evening.

Despite all precautions by the end of the meal things start to go wrong and the action quickly becomes fast, furious and dangerous - just a normal day in the lives of covert operators.

Barry Eisler has written an exciting, albeit a bit too short, novella that is a great introduction to a couple of his key characters, John Rain and Delilah. I really enjoy the espionage/covert operator genre and somehow I haven't read any of Eisler's books. I am currently reading London Twist: A Delilah Novella which is even more exciting and challenging and look forward to reading more of his books.

24 May 2013

Karen Slaughter: Busted

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Special Agent Will Trent is on his way to start an undercover assignment in Macon, Georgia, when he stops for a frozen coke at a gas station. He becomes a witness to a violent robbery and shooting of a policeman. Forgetting his undercover status he jumps on his powerful Indian Chief Dark Horse motor cycle and chases the gunman through crowded streets and onto the highway. He stops the gunman taking over another car and a hostage by sliding his bike at the gunman and nearly killing himself as he skids along the highway surface.

All of this action takes place in the first chapter. It takes a very skilled author to set such a pace so quickly. After that we meet Trent's boss Amanda and his partner Faith as together they investigate murder, shootings and robbery in a town, just south of Atlanta, renowned for crooked  officials, including the Chief of Police. They quickly find that it is also the sort of town where crooked family connections abound.

"Busted" is a short novella where Karin Slaughter has been able to spin an exciting and satisfying tale in a relatively few pages. A preview of Slaughter's next book in the very popular Will Trent series "Unseen: A Novel (Will Trent)" is included, where Will eventually starts his undercover assignment. I have already pre-ordered that book which is due to be released at the beginning of July.

21 May 2013

Robert Craven: Zinnman

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This is a follow up to Robert Craven's first WWII page-turning espionage thriller "Get LENIN". This time those of you who have read that book (and you really should read it first) will know the key characters, especially Eva Molenaar the sultry Polish spy who has risked her life to get information by consorting with key players in the Reich, and her enigmatic MI5 spymasters Henry Chainbridge, and blind Peter De Witte.

This time we are also re-introduced to Nick Brandt and his small squad of ex-German soldiers who have been found asylum in Switzerland by Chainbridge after they were betrayed by SS General Metzger in the Lenin affair. As a German under a special obligation to the British, Brandt is in a difficult position, which is complicated by his increasingly loving relationship with Eva.

MI5 discovers that the Germans and Japanese are developing an extremely dangerous chemical weapon in Switzerland and are adapting a V1 rocket to deliver it with enormous loss of life. Brandt and his group are sent to destroy the underground production facilities and Eva is once again putting her life on the line to find out more from Nazi sympathisers in the US and Switzerland. Brandt is keen to get his revenge against Metzger who is also involved with the delivery of the new weapon.

Craven writes a tense and exciting WWII adventure moving from China to Germany, the US, England, Switzerland and Norway at cracking pace. The great team of characters he created in "Get Lenin" are once again at the front of the action.

I probably enjoyed this book more than the first one and am on tenterhooks for the sequel that seems to be on the cards from the finish of the book.

20 May 2013

Sandra Brown: Mirror Image

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Imagine that two young and similar looking lovely women, one with her daughter, board a plane and sit in the same row. The mother, Carole takes the window seat that was meant for the other woman, with the child in the centre seat. The plane crashes and the other woman, Avery, saves the child but the mother is killed and burnt beyond recognition. Sounds reasonable so far?

The surviving woman is badly burnt, can't talk or move because she is totally bandaged except one eye. The husband, Tate, an aspiring US senate candidate, finds a plastic surgeon who tells him he can recreate her burnt and disfigured face back to her normal looks in one operation. Despite an impending breakdown in his marriage he stays near her during her recovery. Does that seem reasonable?

While she is incapacitated Avery is visited by an unknown family member who whispers in her ear that their plans to kill Tate on election day are unaltered. Avery is very scared as she has become attached to Tate during her recovery. Does that seem reasonable?

After she recovers, Avery is immediately accepted by all of the extended family as Carole, Tate's bitchy and promiscuous wife. Tate also accepts her as Carole, despite a huge change in her character and many obvious discrepancies. Despite this his caring time ends when he tells her that the marriage is still over as soon as the election is held. Does that seem reasonable or just plain implausible?

While IMHO the plot was just plain implausible, Sandra Brown's writing skills made a ridiculous plot readable and enjoyable. It was only these skills that kept my star rating at the OK level.

This is one of Brown's early works (1990) that are now being released on Kindle for the first time.

19 May 2013

Robert Craven: Get Lenin

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I like WWII espionage/thrillers, and this is an unexpectedly good one. In some ways it reminded me of the classic Jack Higgins' book - "The Eagle has Landed" - where the Germans tried to kidnap Churchill to demoralise the British war effort. This time the plot is to "kidnap" Lenin's body and put it on display in Berlin to demoralise the Soviet people.

We meet Eva Molenaar when her boy-friend is killed by Nazi brownshirts. When she recovers from the shock she vows to get revenge, and that revenge comes when she is recruited by Polish intelligence and then by MI5 to get them information from inside Germany. With her considerable language skills and and beauty she befriends the Mosley clique in England and meets a rich US sympathiser who has entry into Hitler's inner circle.

The seductive Polish-born spy puts her body on the line at the heart of the Reich to provide British spymaster Henry Chainbridge with vital intelligence about German plans, especially one concocted by Himmler to kidnap Lenin's mausoleum as the German armies close in on Moscow.

While I found some of the kidnapping action a bit over the top it would probably make a great movie. This was a good  and enjoyable first novel by Robert Craven and I look forward to reading the sequel Zinnman very soon.

12 May 2013

Sandra Brown: French Silk

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This book has a Sidney Sheldon feel, with a heroine who has become successful despite a disturbed and difficult childhood leaving a bundle of secrets that she doesn't want to disclose. Sandra Brown has written a very easy-reading book made more entertaining by a few steamy relationships.

Claire Laurent has moved from a difficult childhood to build a lingerie catalogue empire from scratch.  Her successful business is being targeted by a powerful and unscrupulous fiery TV preacher Jackson Wilde who believes that her skimpy lingerie are the work of the devil. When Wilde is found murdered, because of his fierce crusade against her business Claire becomes a prime suspect.

Assistant District Attorney Robert Cassidy is driven to find the murderer and does everything he can to prove that Claire is involved. To protect her secrets, her mentally unbalanced mother and her closest friends, Claire is not able to tell Cassidy the whole truth. The big problem is that Cassidy is rapidly falling for Claire and can't pick out what is the truth and the lies.

Other suspects are Wilde's young wife, Ariel, and her stepson, Josh, who have been having an affair. Ariel decides to take over and build the family business and continues to stir up her flock against Claire's business.

I had difficulty in understanding why someone from the District Attorney's office and not the police was given the prime investigatory role when the police had not arrested any suspect for the murder. The plot was pretty complex and the killer turned out to be the last person you would expect and the reason was hardly explained.

This is one of several early books by Sandra Brown (this one is circa 1992) that are currently being released on Kindle. 3.5 stars rounded up to 4 stars.

08 May 2013

Stephen Coonts: Pirate Alley

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This is an exciting, nail-biting action adventure featuring Jake Grafton and Tommy Carmellini. Many authors of successful long running series are running out of steam - this is certainly not the case with Stephen Coonts with a very contemporary page-turning story.

Every day over 60 ships pass through the sea lanes that run in and out of the Bab al Mandeb the narrow entry to the Red Sea on their way to or from the Suez Canal. Every day well organised Somali pirates wait to kidnap a ship to be taken away to somewhere on the Somali coast to await ransom. This time the victim is a small luxury cruise liner, Sultan of the Seas with 490 passengers and 370 officers and crew.

The mastermind behind the capture is Somalian warlord Sheikh Ragnar, "the big banana of Somalian piracy". While a huge ransom is on the agenda, there is a danger that all of the hostages may be slaughtered. Jake Grafton is assigned to negotiate with the Sheikh, while a team of CIA and Navy SEAL operatives, including his right-hand man Tommy Carmellini, mount an undercover operation to rescue the hostages. This is vintage Grafton and Carmellini with plenty of fast-paced military and CIA action.

I have read and enjoyed all of the Jake Grafton series and this one certainly did not disappoint.

07 May 2013

John Sandford: Silken Prey

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This is a fascinating tale of how easily politics can get dirty and run out of control. Lucas Davenport, an agent of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is asked by the State Governor to find out why child pornography was found on the office computer of the leading Senate candidate only days before the election.

Porter Smalls, a Republican running for US Senator is well ahead in the opinion polls when his campaign is sabotaged by child pornography being found on his office computer. Despite their opposite political views, the Governor believes that, despite some personal shortcomings, Smalls is incapable of having such an interest.

What Davenport doesn't know at the beginning is that Bob Tubbs, a political operative who can change sides like a chameleon for the right money, has disappeared. Davenport soon gets down into the mire of a thriller with an explosive combination of murder, money, blackmail and politics.

Davenport gets help from a notorious computer whiz, ICE who puts him in touch with Lucas Kidd who is a strange combination of artist and computer "expert".  Davenport  also becomes quickly aware that the Democratic candidate, the attractive and wealthy Taryn Grant, has an oversized ego and ambition that could catapult her into dirty tricks. I have to admit that I really didn't know the detailed explanation of a narcissist until Grant's character was exposed.

This thriller makes Davenport explore the grey side of politics and the contemporary world of  technology to solve the case and reveals an ugly background to the machinations behind an important election. It is an interesting twist to the Davenport series of thrillers and is well recommended if you want to see things from a different aspect.

04 May 2013

Deanna Raybourn: A Spear of Summer Grass

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Once in a while I come across a memorable book - "A Spear of Summer Grass" by Deanna Raybourn is one of the best books I have read this year.

In a few pages Raybourn conjures up a wonderful picture of the environment and social atmosphere of colonial East Africa just after WWI. This is a different type of love story -it is about love of East Africa and love between Ryder and Delilah. The central theme that makes this book so memorable is how Delilah tries not to fall in love with life in that part of Africa.

The prequel - Far In The Wilds - introduces us to Ryder White, brought up in the wilds of the Canadian Yukon 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 white colonists of Kenyan society. He is a bit like Robert Redford in "Out of Africa".

"Spear in the Summer Grass" introduces us to Delilah Drummond, from an unconventional Creole family from the US South who has been brought up in both the US South and Europe by her similarly unconventional mother. After losing her first husband in WWI Delilah becomes a notorious and emancipated woman with several ex-husbands. She is encouraged to move to Africa for a spell to escape her latest marital and legal problems after her last husband commits suicide.

Delilah is a complex character who at first sight seems to be a spoilt, rich socialite. In Africa she shows that she is an independent, emancipated, smart, strong willed, brave, kind and sensitive person who can face up to the dangers and challenges of Africa. She is promiscuous but very selective, and ignores the excesses of the colonial social scene. She reminds me a lot of one of my favourite fictional heroines, Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher from late 1920's Melbourne.

On her arrival in Nairobi the males in the white settlers' club open a fifty pound betting book on the first man bed Delilah. When Delilah asks Ryder who he had put his money on he replied with grin "Why, myself of course."

Delilah's first night in the African veld opens her eyes to a new world - "I took in a deep, long breath, drinking in Africa, strange and wonderful Africa." She arrives at Fairlight, her ex-stepfather's estate in the Kenyan bush - "The estate was, in kindest terms, a wreck". The house and farm are totally run down. Delilah sets about making it habitable and sustainable. In the process she establishes a close rapport with the local natives, especially the proud and remote Masai and the Kikuyu who work in the home and the farm. This rapport fuels the climax to the book.

Unlike some other reviewers I haven't been distracted by comparing this to other works by Deanna Raybourn's in completely different settings. All I can say is that I really enjoyed this emotional story by a talented author and strongly recommend it.

03 May 2013

Nicholas Sparks: The Lucky One

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Just before the invasion of Iraq, when walking through his Marines camp Logan Thibault found a picture of a lovely young girl with a keep safe message on the back. Despite posting it as missing, it was not claimed so he kept it with him during 3 dangerous tours in Iraq.  During that time he survived gun battles and several roadside bomb explosions with only minor injuries. He, and others, started to believe that his survival was due to the picture which was his lucky charm.

After Iraq his best buddy tells him "There is a greater purpose to all of this. It is your destiny (to find her)."  After a bad start Logan sets out with his faithful German Shepherd, Zeus, on a long walk from from Colorado to Hampton, North Carolina where he hopes to find the woman in the picture.

When he gets there he discovers Elizabeth, the woman in his lucky picture who has a great son and a terrible ex-husband.  The pages sparkle with an exciting and different family romance.

Sparks is a consummate storyteller of mainstream romance novels that don't involve the steamy and coming of age  problems of so much contemporary "romance" (sexually based and immature) fiction. I have enjoyed several of Sparks books including this one, but my main worry was that the finish of this one was too fast.