Over 550 book reviews with full author links

29 June 2013

Charles Deemer: Stop the Whistleblower (Stories In Overdrive)

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A black and white story
Ray Denning suspects that a new suntan pill being developed by his employer is not safe. Before he can become a whistle-blower someone slips him an overdose of the new drug and he is stunned to wake up in the morning with black skin.

His appearance has changed so much that his wife and friends don't believe that it is him and the rest of society treat him as black. Taxis ignore him in favour of white passengers and cops treat him badly because he is black. The only person who believes him is his housekeeper, and she is black. 

Will the change wear off and when? What can he do to avenge things and keep his job? The situations and the solution are most amusing.

Charles Deemer has been a screenwriter for many years and that style shows through in his novella with short sentences and rapid action. I enjoyed the quick read but had some problems with the writing style and the believability of the plot. I am sure that if my skin colour changed there would be many physical characteristics, including my facial and body shape and my clothes that would make me recognisable to people I know.

I enjoyed the short read (I love a good novella as an interlude from my normal diet of longer and more intense thrillers) and will certainly look forward to reading more of  Deemer's "Stories in Overdrive".

I received a copy of this book with a request for an honest review.

28 June 2013

Mark Gimenez: Con Law (John Bookman 1)

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Don't Judge a Book by its Covers
John Bookman is over 6 feet tall, with dark long hair and an olive complexion suggesting a Comanche heritage, wears jeans, boots and Tommy Bahama T-shirts and rides a second-hand restored Harley Davidson motor bike. He is skilled in martial arts and can take on several tough guys and win. Sounds a great profile for a kick-ass fictional hero, doesn't it?

But John Bookman (Book) is not your normal ex-military or law enforcement hero. He is a dedicated and brilliant tenured Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Texas School of Law and is often mentioned as a future Supreme Court nominee. He is a well known media personality who features regularly on network talk shows, often making prominent politicians look like idiots.

So why is Book such a fascinating and action-orientated new fictional hero? As well as trying to give his students an understanding of law in the real world through the eyes of the Constitution, he is also famous for his extra-curricula interest making sure justice is done by personally taking on lost causes - and winning.

As a tenured Professor, Book is helped by a law student as his paid intern to help him with his research, deal with his extensive correspondence from people wanting help and pick out letters that might interest Book. His interns' experience helping him with these cases can be traumatic - his last one quit saying "I didn't go to Law School to be shot at".

Book gets a letter from one of his previous interns, Nathan Jones in Marfa, who is very worried that gas/oil well fracking in West Texas may be contaminating the drinking water aquifer. Book has a very personal unpaid debt to Jones for his help in the past and within minutes is on his Harley headed for Marfa with his new (and very scared) intern, Nadine, riding pillion.

While there is a lot of character building in this first book of the series, there is still plenty of page-turning action as Book, with increasing help from Nadine, investigates the content of the letter in a small but surprisingly cosmopolitan Texas town. In the process they are attacked, shot at, run off the road and more.

I have read and enjoyed many of Mark Gimenez' books and he is high on my list of favourite authors. This was a great start to an exciting and unusual new series. I look forward to more of Book's search for justice ("Real Law" and "Book's Law" sound good to me).

NOTE: The link to Amazon goes to the Australian version as the book won't be released in the US until 4 July.

22 June 2013

Nicholas Sparks: The Best of Me

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Not the Best for Me
I have enjoyed a number of Nicholas Sparks' books, especially Safe Haven, but this one really didn't turn me on. It was a bit of a predictable reunion of teenage sweethearts where the flame had not been extinguished over 20 years and a lot of pretty unnecessarily lengthy padding about what had happened over that time.

Dawson Cole was an abused kid from the wrong side of the track who became friends with Amanda Collier, a rich and pretty girl. Of course they fall in love but the relationship was broken by pressure from Amanda's dominating mother. Dawson fled his abusive home and moves in with an Tuck who runs a local auto repair business. Even then his dreadful criminal family still keep him under their thumb and force him to pay them most of his earnings.

Despite an unnecessary spell in jail Dawson picks himself up and becomes a successful rigger on an offshore oil rig. Amanda goes off to College, marries well and has several children but is devastated when one of her daughters dies at a very early age from an inoperable brain cancer. This puts huge strains on her marriage and she takes solace by befriending Dawson's old mentor Tuck. Dawson and Amanda meet again when Tuck dies and his solicitor tells them that needs to see them about his estate.

The meeting of the former sweethearts was well written but the amount of background about their lives and their families was a bit over the top. The plot, especially where it concerned Dawson's family and their continued hatred of him was hardly believable as were the supernatural aspects which popped up throughout the story.

All in all it was an OK book but certainly not one of Sparks' best.

18 June 2013

Janet Evanovich, Lee Goldberg: The Heist

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Use a "Con Man" to catch a "Con Man"
This is an amusing romp of a book starring Kate O'Hare, an ex-Navy SEAL now a tough and successful FBI agent and co-starring charming and handsome Nicholas Fox, the ultimate international con artist who has pulled off some stupendous and very profitable cons throughout the world.

Kate is good at her job but she has an Achilles heel because for the last five years she has been obsessed with  hunting down Nick who is a chameleon and has slipped through Kate's net many times. At last Kate gets Nick when he attempts to steal a rare and extremely valuable red diamond. She is stunned when Nick escapes on his way to jail but is totally shattered when she finds out that the escape has been set up by the FBI to contract Nick for five years to track down other con artists. Sounds sensible doesn't it - for example, how many ex-top hackers are now employed to keep systems secure from hackers.

The bad news for Kate is that the FBI expects her to work with Nick to chase other con artists or face years in the FBI wilderness. Not only does she have to team up with Nick, she has to become a vital part of the team for Nick's first case (or con) to take down an investment banker who has swindled millions of dollars.

This is not your normal FBI thriller. It is light, somewhat frivolous and humorous and would probably make a great movie (a bit like Ocean's Eleven). I enjoyed it because it was an easy and quick page-turner that had me laughing out loud at some of the most ludicrous situations. Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg have combined pretty seamlessly to create an amusing and different new series with some unusual characters, witty dialogue and some romantic undertones.  I am sure that the series will be successful and enjoyed by many people.

16 June 2013

Stephen Leather: Spider's Web: A Collection of All-Action Short Stories

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Interesting but not memorable short stories
This is a collection of short stories by popular UK author Stephen Leather which are probably free because they contain a promo for his upcoming next book, "True Colours", which will be #10 in the long running Spider Shepherd series. Two of the short stories feature Spider Shepherd in action, with all his normal thriller action encapsulated in a few chapters. The third story is a bit more macabre when a couple of burglars bite off more than they can chew when the try to con an 80+ year old man with a sinister history.

There is a lot of competition out there for established published thriller writers, especially from self-published authors who promote their books by making them free every few months. Some established authors are promoting their new books before release with a few free chapters of the next book, others are adding preview parts to new releases of older books at discounted prices and some are following in Leather's footsteps and publishing free or nearly free short stories that include their previews. I don't object to any of these as long as the promotional aspect is clearly stated.

All in all these short stories passed an hour or so of my time but I wasn't left with any indelible memories. Did it make me want to pre-order the next book in the series? I do like the Spider Shepherd series but I still have a number of the earlier ones to catch up on before reading the latest one.

15 June 2013

Malcolm Macdonald: World from Rough Stones

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From Rags to Riches with the Railways
Many years ago I read and enjoyed The Stevenson Family Saga by Malcolm Macdonald about the heady days of the early Victorian era when huge fortunes were made (and lost) during the first Industrial Revolution. "World from Rough Stones" is the first book in a series about the family of John and Nora Stephenson and their growing and increasingly profitable construction contracting business.

"World from Rough Stones" is the first book in a series about John Stevenson, a mountain of a man we meet first working as a Navvy digging a railway tunnel and his wife Nora, who came to him totally destitute but with a very sharp mind. Just after meeting Nora, with a bit of luck and some skulduggery, John takes over the contract to finish the longest railway tunnel in the world at that time. The contract has an almost impossible timetable and John has limited financial resources. John is a natural manager and gets the best out of the tough and wild men digging the tunnel. He soon finds that Nora has the most amazing financial and commercial skills which support him through the most difficult times.

The title of the next book in the series is "Rich are With You Always" which gives you some idea of the success of the Stevenson ventures. This series is similar to R Delderfield's better known Swann Family Saga (God is an Englishman and sequels) covering a similar era but the Swann's made their fortune by providing transport outside the railway and canal networks.

These were heady and exciting days when in a mere 50 years England transformed itself from an aristocratic and basically feudal society into the world's first industrial society. With the advent of the steam engine and locomotives, railways, factories and housing estates popped up like mushrooms, changing the face of the English countryside and society forever. The factional Stevenson family were an essential part of that revolution.

This book has been out of print for years and it was great to re-visit it now it is available on Kindle. I have a great interest the monumental social and economic changes in England in the first half of the 19th Century and this book was just as exciting to me as when I read it first. Some parts may now seem a bit ponderous but the insight into the period and some of the people involved in creating our modern world are just as gripping to me many years later.

11 June 2013

Taylor Stevens: The Doll

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Remarkable, exciting and harrowing thriller
This is a remarkable, exciting but harrowing thriller that is not for the weak at heart. This is the third book by Taylor Stevens featuring Vanessa "Michael" Munroe, a dangerous loner who bears emotional and physical scars from her youth, reminiscent of Stieg Larsson's Lisbeth Salander.  Michael's  horrific past gives her a potential for  ferocity and violence to overcome her enemies. She's a super-intelligent and dangerous character who is skilled in martial arts, and always carries a knife. She has an eidetic memory and speaks multiple languages.  

After a period of reasonable contentment with her lover and business associate Miles Bradford, things spiral out of Michael's control. Bradford looks out of the window one day and is powerless when he sees Michael collapse next to her motor cycle and is quickly spirited away in an ambulance. Then follows a nightmare where Michael wakes up in a cell in Croatia under the control of the "The Doll Maker" - a notorious and viscous sex trafficker. 

His name stems from an obsession with a huge collection of life-like porcelain dolls, hand-painted and air-brushed, perfectly clothed with waxen hair, curled and styled - each doll in perfect condition. "Perfection, they have no flaws, only beauty. ... they bring me joy." 

Paradoxically "The Doll Maker" cashes in on the value of the female body and traffics kidnapped human cargo across the globe to continuing misery as sex slaves. His richest and most important clients ask for the most beautiful and valuable - untouched and doll-like. Michael is forced to transport an extremely valuable girl across Europe and deliver her in pristine condition. The Doll Maker pulls Michael's strings to make her co-operate by capturing and torturing a person who is nearest and dearest to her.

Stevens keeps the suspense high all the way, with constant action, a huge body count, and many kidnappings and violence. It is a roller coaster of a ride that taxes all of Michael's strategic and violent strengths.

I really enjoyed "The Informationist" which introduced us to Michael but was a bit disappointed with "The Innocent" that touched on the kind of extreme religious cult where Taylor Stevens grew up. "The Doll" takes us back to the original Michael who is as deadly as any of the male fictional heroes you will read and also has a really dark side that she has to fight to keep under control.

I highly recommend this book for those who like to read intelligent but violent thrillers.

NOTE: The Amazon link is to the US version. If you live in Australia you may have to search by title as your version may have a different ASIN number.

09 June 2013

Allison Leotta: Ten Rules for a Call Girl

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First day on the job for a high-priced call-girl
This very short story with such a provocative title is really a prequel and promo for Discretion. It tells the story of the first day in the life of "Sasha" a high-priced call-girl in Washington DC. While she goes out on her first paying date with her room-mate who has been in the business for some time, it soon becomes clear that she has a special understanding of the needs of her high paying client.

The short story is set in the midst of Washington's power circle and shows that rich members of the Washington elite can do what they want to - because they have the money to demand the best services. All they ask for is discretion, which means confidentiality.

It is always good to find a new author with a new twist on the legal/police procedural genre especially one who knows a lot about the seamy side of power in Washington.  Allison Leotta was a federal prosecutor specializing in sex crimes and domestic violence in Washington, DC so brings brings an extensive personal  background to this story.

Note: If possible try to read this very short story before you read Discretion.

Allison Leotta: Discretion

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The Seamy Side of Washington Power
One evening a beautiful young woman plunges to her death from a balcony on the US Capital Building. What makes this headline news is that the balcony is part of the private office of Washington DC's powerful and long-serving only representative in Congress and the woman the top call-girl from a high-end escort service that caters to DC’s elite.

African-American Chief Homicide Prosecutor, Jack Bailey, is helped in the  investigation not only by the FBI but also by US Attorney Anna Curtis from the DC's sex crime division. Jack and Anna are top operators, but working together could be difficult as they are in the early days of a mixed-race relationship which is not public knowledge.

The political stakes are high and the investigation is immediately hampered by Constitutional legal impediments to searching the Congressman's office. The ramifications to Washington's elite of public knowledge of the clients of the escort service are just as stunning and everyone who might be interviewed about their knowledge of the girl and the service are soon lawyered up to the hilt.

It is always good to find a new author with a new twist on the legal/police procedural genre especially one who knows a lot about the seamy side of power in Washington.  Allison Leotta was a federal prosecutor specializing in sex crimes and domestic violence in Washington, DC so brings brings extensive personal experience and background to this story. 

Anna Curtis is an interesting character who has featured in an earlier book by Allison Leotta. The last line of the book ensures that we will see her again in Talk of the Devil to be released in August 2013. 

07 June 2013

Michael Pocalyko: The Navigator

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Complex Financial Thriller
Michael Pocalyko's first novel is a very complex financial thriller that moves from the horrors of Auschwitz to the ultimate Wall Street financial scheme that could change or shock the world.

"Dutch" Yeager was the son of a German migrant to the US and could speak perfect German. He spent WWII as a Navigator on a US bomber and was called in by the military as an interpreter when US troops entered Auschwitz. What he saw and what happened there changed his life and memories for ever. 

Fast forward to the present when Dutch's two sons are both working in the financial system just after the GFC. Rick Yaeger's business has been badly hit but Warren Hunter (who changed his last name to the English equivalent) never loses his confidence or wealth and calls  the GFC as the "Great Wallow" where Wall Street will rebound back to life. He plans the ultimate Wall Street dream, an international private equity partnership of trillions of dollars to set up Virosat and control the next version of the internet.

The success of the Virosat scheme could catapult Warren overnight to riches greater than Bill Gates, or create a greater financial calamity than the GFC. Warren needs to find billions of dollars equity himself and only he knows where this will come from. 

Rick becomes involved when a elderly woman asks for help in estate planning and without his knowledge leaves Rick all of her apparently small estate as well as a list of strange numbers that takes him back to the days of the Navigator and his successful post-war career as a tax fraud investigator.

The financial arrangements are extremely complex and the plot even more so. Funds from a Jewish bank in Berlin disappear during the calamity of war. Someone hires an ex Hugarian/Stasi agent to leave a trail of death and terror around people connected with Virosat and the the lost Jewish funds. A senior US Senator (whose main legal assistant is incidentally Rick's ex-wife) becomes interested in the enormity of the Virosat project and its lack of government regulation. 

This is a very ambitious first novel by Michael Pocalyko. The financial scheme was a bit over the top and overly complex and unrealistic and I got lost in some of the sub-plots that that were left up in the air and never clearly resolved.. Nevertheless, overall I enjoyed the book so gave it a 4 star rating.

I received a free copy of this book asking for an honest review.

04 June 2013

Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg: Pros and Cons: A Short Story

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This is not the "Love Boat"
This is a very short, enjoyable and funny romp of a prequel to a new series about FBI special agent Kate O'Hare who is hunting the ultimate international con artist Nicolas Fox. Kate is obsessed with catching Nick, and he knows that she is on his trail.

Although he is a master of different characters, Nick has one thing that makes him stand out - he uses names of famous people, especially movie and TV characters. When Kate discovers a wedding of a middle-aged, very rich serial divorcee, to a sexy young lady is being arranged by an unknown wedding planner called Merill Stubing she knows that she has found him again. Of course Nick is planning to remove some of the bridegroom's riches, and won't be arranging the honeymoon on a Love Boat cruise.

This is a preview of the battle between Nick and Kate which will be continued in "The Heist" to be released in mid June 2013. This could be an entertaining but not very serious FBI thriller series.

02 June 2013

Julie Thomas: The Keeper of Secrets

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"The Tears of an Angel"
New Zealand author Julie Thomas has written a remarkable book which has already gone into my best reads for 2013. It is a really good read - compassionate, historical, essentially musical and at times extremely emotional. It is a story of a German Jew (a Holocaust survivor), a Spanish Catholic (Maestro Conductor) and a music loving Russian billionaire, and a very special violin made in the early 1700's by Guarneri del Gesù.

We all know about Stradavarius violins, but some of the world's most famous violinists, such as Paganini, Heifetz, and Menuhin, preferred Guarneris to Stradivaris  because of stronger fundamentals of the lowest notes and a darker sound than a Stradivarius.

Before WWII Simon Horowitz lived in Berlin with his wealthy Jewish family and had played the violin since he was four years old. His family owned many priceless things, but the most precious and valuable was a Guarneri del Gesù violin. When Daniel and his family were sent to Dachau, the Nazis added the violin to their museum of stolen artefacts.

Simon was the only member of the family who survived Dachau. Many years later his grandson, Daniel, shows extreme talent as a violinist and at the tender age of 14 wins an international competition run by Maestro Rafael Gomez. Daniel is just as dedicated to baseball as music and when his family tries to make him stop playing baseball because he may damage his hands Daniel decides to give up music. To persuade Daniel to keep playing, Maestro Gomez delves into the past of Daniel's family and that of his benefactor, music loving Russian billionaire Sergei Valentino and discovers amazing tales of horror, survival, deception and love.

While reading is my greatest passion, music is not far behind - "Although music can be many things, in its truest incarnation, at its deepest core, music is the power to command emotion." This book combined my two greatest passions and touched my emotions as few books have done. The book could also have been titled "The Tears of an Angel" - you need to read the book to see if you agree.

Well done Julie Thomas - you have written a notable book. Congratulations on having the book published by HarperCollins in both the Australasian and US markets.

PS After reading the book I searched for information about violins made by Guarneri del Gesù. The images show absolutely beautiful instruments which have touched the hearts of musicians through the ages. A couple of years ago virtuoso violinist Aaron Rosand  sold a  Guarneri del Gesù violin he had played for over 50 years for around $10 million, reportedly to a Russian billionaire!

Hear and see a Guarneri del Gesù violin played