Over 550 book reviews with full author links

31 July 2013

John Gilstrap: High Treason

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The First Lady is missing
Guarding the First Lady of the United States (FLOTUS) Anna Darmond should have been easy for the US Secret Service. But Anna Diamond is never easy as she likes to do what she wants and when she wants - and this time she wants to act like an adolescent and visit a nightclub after midnight in a less desirable part of Washington. Just as she leaves the club a grenade destroys her Secret Service SUV and its occupants and the rest of her security team are gunned down. FLOTUS disappears and her disappearance has not been made public.

During the previous week a Boeing 747 is shot down by a Stinger missile near Chicago. Could the two attacks be connected?

Jonathan Grave, a tough top independent covert operator is summoned by his old friend Irene Rivers, head of the FBI, and the President's Chief of Staff to an urgent private meeting and asked to find FLOTUS. Grave's reaction is "You're not willing to trust the entire the United States government but you're willing to trust me?"

If you like totally escapist covert operations thrillers or have read previous Jonathan Grave books where the action is fast and nothing is as it seems, you will not be disappointed.

28 July 2013

Louis Masterson: MORGAN KANE - Without Mercy

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Great Western Adventure Series
Morgan Kane is a stereotype of a Western hero. He is a Texas Ranger, an expert gunslinger and has three weaknesses - women, alcohol and gambling.

Morgan joins a poker game in St Louis with three strangers but even though he is a skilled gambler he loses several thousand dollars in one evening. He is convinced they are cheating but can't work out how it has been done. On the train back to Fort Worth he is tricked by a beautiful woman into going outside on the platform between carriages where the same three men are hiding. First he is deliberately shot through his gun hand and then in the stomach.

Seriously wounded, Kane tumbles off the train but survives because he is found  and nursed back to health by a local rancher and his family. As he gains strength he plans his vengeance. First he has to find the villains and then work out ways to kill them.

This book is Western escapism at its best. It is an archetypal Western adventure of the kind that was made into movies and TV series many years ago and IMHO the time may have come for a revival. The Kane series are an entertaining form of easy-reading page-turning short reads that should become very popular.

The surprising thing is that the series was written by Norwegian author, the late Kjell Hallbing, under the pen name of Louis Masterson. In all he wrote 83 books in the Morgan Kane series  between 1966 and 1985 which sold over 20 million copies worldwide, 11 million in Norway alone.

A quick Wiki tells me that all books in the series are in the process of being released as e-books, especially targeting the US audience, and movies may be planned that could give Morgan a cult following (as long as they don't cast Tom Cruise as Morgan Kane who is well over 6ft tall). While I look forward to reading more in the series, especially the earlier ones, the thought of  82 books more books overpowers me.

PS While I really liked this book I am still waiting for my favourite Western adventure/history, "Centennial" by James Michener (a mere 900 pages) to be released on Kindle.

27 July 2013

Nicholas Sparks: A Walk to Remember

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First you will smile, and then you will cry
Landon Carter revisits his old home town in North Carolina forty years from his last year at school - a year he will never forget which moulded his life forever. He tells the reader "First you will smile, and then you will cry - don't say you haven't been warned."

At the time of the annual homecoming dance Landon has a big problem. As school captain he is obliged to go but he doesn't have a partner because he has just split up with his girl friend and all other girls he knows seem to have partners. As a last resort, with some timidity and reservations, he approaches Jamie Sullivan the daughter of a fiery and very protective Baptist preacher. Jamie agrees to go with him on one condition "You have to promise me that you won't fall in love with me."

There follows one of the most unusual coming-of age-relationships I have read between popular and outgoing Landon and protected, bible reading and shy Jamie. The story starts out slowly but grabs when the two people from two different backgrounds begin to understand one another.  As usual Nicholas Sparks delivers what he promises in a unusual and sweet story of a remarkable relationship.

26 July 2013

Eben Alexander: Proof of Heaven

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How can we know until we get there?
Eban Alexander is a talented neurosurgeon with extensive experience of how the brain operates and how it closes down under physical trauma and life threatening infections. One day Eban is a healthy person, the next day he is fighting for his life with an extremely rare e-coli bacterial meningitis which has shut down all of the neocortex of his brain - the part that makes us human. "Inoperative, In essence, absent. When your brain is absent you are absent, too."

This book is about Eban's experiences (memories?) when he was completely absent and on the edge of death for seven days. He didn't have a body but he remembers visiting places in a beautiful dream world - which to him was completely real. No words are spoken there but he clearly gets the message "You are loved - love is without doubt the basis of everything." During his NDE Eban remembers being allowed a grand tour of the most amazing and indescribable places with different levels of comfort before he miraculously returns to reality and life.

This was an interesting and well written book but not as much of an epiphany to me as to some others who have stronger beliefs. I was especially reassured by the theme of love which is absent from so many of the things that happen throughout the world every day. I am an agnostic and don't really know what all of this means, how it affects me or even if I believe Eban's experiences, which could easily have been generated at the time his brain function was starting up again.

This book is outside my normal reading diet of best-selling thrillers and mysteries and provided an interesting interlude. I was amazed by the popularity of this book and the number of reviews which are only normally exceeded to my knowledge by erotica like Fifty Shades of Grey and YA tastes for Harry Potter.

Sandra Brown: The Witness

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The Worst of Sandra Brown
Kendall Deaton moves to the small town of Prosper, South Carolina to become Public Defender, a role she loves because it allows her to protect some people who would otherwise have no hope. She is attracted to local newspaper owner, handsome Matt Burnwood, son of one of the wealthiest and most influential people in the town. Their marriage seems destined for success and happiness, despite Matt's difficulty in understanding Kendall's approach to life, especially her racial tolerance and feelings for the downtrodden, and underprivileged.

One day she discovers how different her view of the world is from that of her husband and father-in-law and the leaders of the town.  She inadvertently witnesses something that is so violent which threatens both her marriage and her career. The town's chilling secret is so devastating that she needs to run away from Matt and the town to get the help she needs. In doing so she takes her own secrets and lies with her that haunt and threaten any future hope of happiness.

This book is not for the faint hearted as it features extreme violence, racial intolerance and scenes that make the actions of the KKK look benign. There are moderately explicit sex scenes. The book is written in a flashback/flash-forward style that was difficult to follow. The plot was very extremely far fetched and frequently unbelievable.

I have read several older books by Sandra Brown that are being released on Kindle. I really enjoyed "Breath of Scandal" but have been progressively disappointed with the others. This book continued the disappointment - 2.5 stars.

21 July 2013

Frank Hughes: Devil's Run

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Action-packed and humorous
Devil's Run is an enjoyable page-turning, action-packed thriller. It has a bit of a James Bond escapist theme with "hero" Nick Craig doing exciting and impossible things.

Nick Craig is a top Customs Agent who became a Private Investigator after his wife dies at the WTC. He is hired by a wealthy businessman to find his son who has gone missing after he has become involved with an active environmental group. Craig discovers finds that the group may have tried to sabotage a prestige resort for the mega-rich in the Colorado mountains which includes an environmentally sensitive disused mining site.

Nick discovers that his client is a major player in the company running the resort which is owned by the beautiful Latina wife of an important US Senator. He also finds that his most-hated ex-boss is also working security for the resort, which is run like a fortress, has its own cable car and ski runs and costs a fortune to join and run. Where does the money come from?

Soon Nick get involved in a myriad of chases, gunfights, explosions, ambushes,  gets shot at during a ski-chase by a Howitzer and all kinds of impossible adventures that would make good copy for a James Bond movie. He even goes to Mexico to find the missing youth and gets caught up in a gun battle with a drug cartel. Despite these unbelievable things, I found myself cheering Nick along from one death-defying action to another.

Nick also follows similar fictional thriller heros with his sarcastic and wise-cracking repartee, but not as caustic and side-splitting as John Corey (Nelson DeMille) and Vin Cooper (David Rollins).

As long as you read this as inspired escapist action you will enjoy this book. Frank Hughes has a huge imagination for a new writer with easy reading writing skills and I look forward to more. With Nick Craig, he has created a damaged but fascinating and lovable hero. Craig is certainly hetereosexual but didn't take the opportunity to show it - maybe next time this would add something more to his skill set. When the smoke has cleared there is certainly scope for more Nick Craig thrillers.

17 July 2013

Daniel Silva: The English Girl

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Another great Gabriel Allon adventure
Gabriel Allon is a unique fictional character who has had an violent career as a star Mossad agent, assassin, and spy. He has "retired" to his home in Israel to continue his career as a world renowned art restorer.

Madeline Hart is young, beautiful, intelligent and is being groomed for a "solar flare" bright future in the British government. When she is on vacation in Corsica with friends, Madeline disappears and there are no clues as to what has happened and most people think she has been killed. Some days later a mysterious package is delivered to a top aide to the UK Prime Minister with a clear message that Madeleine has been kidnapped and will be killed in 7 days.

The message also makes it clear that the kidnappers know her biggest secret - she is having an affair with the Prime Minister, Jonathan Lancaster. Because of the implications to his career and his country, Lancaster asks one of his close intelligence advisors to find a person with the skills and discretion to handle his interests privately without police or government assistance. The advisor asks Gabriel Allon for help in finding and rescuing Madeline. The advisor is one of the few people in the world who could make Allon consider leaving his retirement.

Under terms of complete confidentiality Gabriel accepts the mission which, as usual, catapults him back into a world of violence and to places where he has many enemies. This is classic Gabriel Allon, operating both on his own and with his team of key Mossad operators, and all the time coping with the dominating and irascible Ali Shamron. This time Gabriel recruits a couple of key people to help him - and both of them have tried to kill him in the past. The action rockets from Israel to Corsica, France, London, Denmark, Moscow, and St Petersburg - and as usual nothing is as it seems and the truth is full of surprises.

After around 14 books in the Gabriel Allon series you could expect that Daniel Silva is running out of steam. This is certainly not the case with this book which is totally up-to-date, and is as much a page-turner, with a crunching ending just as good as his previous books. Highly recommended - put aside some quality time as you won't want to put this book down to the very end.

14 July 2013

Russell Blake: Upon a Pale Horse

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A frightening bio-thriller
Russell Blake has written a compelling and chilling bio-thriller about a plot for biological Armageddon. (Revelation 6: "behold a pale horse! And its rider's name was Death and Hades followed him."). Biological warfare has always worried me more than nuclear warfare because with bio-warfare there may be no winners.

While working with the CIA, Keith Rutherford had a record for seeing things that others missed. One day, when hacking into forbidden areas of the Agency's database, he stumbles across scary information about the development of biological agents and plans to use them. Because he was frightened that he knew too much, his immediate reaction was to fly to safety under an assumed name and try to verify and prevent the plans being implemented. His plane to Rome disappears off the radar without reason.

After Keith's death, his brother, Jeffrey, an attorney in San Francisco, moves to Washington DC when he gets a once in a lifetime job offer. Before his death Keith gave his girl friend a pawnshop ticket and asked her to give it to his brother. Jeffrey redeems the item and finds a hidden note from Keith with the key to his alarming discoveries - and a warning "Don't trust anyone".

This starts Jeffrey along the same dangerous path of discovery, around the country and across the world. He soon finds that he also can't trust anyone and that Keith's worst fears are true. How can he prevent a catastrophe that will change mankind forever?

While Russell Blake is better known for his action/adventure/suspense stories he has written a couple of stand-alone financial conspiracy stories which I really liked. This time he has written a well researched bio-thriller with a conspiracy background with implications that are as scary as hell. I truly hope that this is fictional escapism because if there are people and organisations who will go to any length to possess power and change the world then the pale horse could ride by at any time.

This is one of Blake's best books I have read for some time and shows the extent of his imaginative skills in a somewhat different genre. It certainly meets his aim of writing a "frightening bio-thriller that breaks the mold".

13 July 2013

Beryl Kingston: Tuppenny Times

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Rags to Riches selling Newspapers
This is a fascinating beginning of a historical family trilogy starting at the end of the 18th Century. Nan Smithen started the era as a ladies maid and by accident and sheer determination becomes one of the wealthiest women in England.

One evening 14 year old Nan is attacked by drunken sailors when returning from delivering a message for her master. She is rescued by 44 year old bachelor William Easter who happens to be passing by in his carriage. William is the third son of a wealthy family which tends to the heirs and not the spares. He is a meek, unhealthy but very kind man and he and Nan start up an unusual friendship which develops into marriage when she turns 16. On hearing of this relationship his uncaring family cuts off his allowance and spikes his businesses.

Within a few years they have 3 children, a circle of progressively minded friends and William is slowly drawing down his savings to maintain his standard of living. Nan and William visit France during the Revolution and see the trial and execution of the French King. After the execution there is a melee and William gets killed  helping a woman who has been attacked.

Nan is left a widow, with 3 small children, and little money. To survive she buys a news walk in the centre of London selling newspapers, both on the street and by delivery to wealthy houses and clubs. Through hard work and enterprise Nan builds her business into the biggest of its kind in London and is closely involved with the start of an information revolution where newssheets are being replaced by newspapers, the iconic "The Times" is established and steam driven printing machines are installed. All of this happens when the English public is worried about a French invasion which triggers a huge demand for newspapers.

Nan is soon one of the richest women in the country. Her family is very worried about what would happen if Nan married her long term spendthrift lover at a time when all property and wealth is transferred to the husband on marriage.

I enjoy reading family saga's about England in the late 18th and early 19th Century when that country was being transformed from a basically feudal society into the world's first industrialised economy. My favourites are R F Delderfield and Malcolm MacDonald and Beryl Kingston has been added to my list. Her writing may sometimes be a little tedious but she makes up for this with a clever tale and fascinating characters woven around some well researched and memorable parts of England's history. I look forward to reading the other books in this trilogy.

10 July 2013

Karen Slaughter: Unseen

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Undercover Extremely Violent Slaughter
"Unseen" exposes the violent underbelly of the US drug and peodafile world when Will Trent from the  Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent goes undercover posing as Bill Black, a scary ex-con. In his most dangerous case yet, Will gets embroiled in extreme violence and nearly gets killed as he closes in on the world of "Big Whitey" a notorious and very violent drug lord.

In doing so Will puts his relationship Sara Linton at risk and highlights the complex law enforcement arrangements in the US. This book is not for the faint hearted and shows a very scary and dangerous part of US society that is totally foreign to someone like me who doesn't live there. The descriptions of violence were unnecessarily detailed.

I haven't read any other full length books in Will Trent series so I got somewhat lost in the background to the relationship between Will and Sarah, and also the bad feelings of both of them towards Lena Adams, a devil-may-care Georgia Detective. The plot vacillated with too many twists and turns to give it a real page-turning impact. After enjoying the short prequel I was disappointed that I didn't really enjoy the full book as much as others have.

04 July 2013

Lee Child: Deep Down (A Jack Reacher story)

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Short but sweet early Jack Reacher
This very short story shows Lee Child's great writing skills in a nutshell. I really do like the  times when he takes us back to Reacher's early days as an Army Captain in the  military police.

Reacher is told to fly to DC from Frankfurt to meet someone from Military Intelligence who wants him to go undercover briefly to find a leak of information about the specifications of for a new sniper rifle which are being discussed by a pre-Committee of Congress. The interesting thing is that the Committee consists of 4 fast-track female officers who would do anything to enhance their promotion prospects. As this is early Reacher the leaking is being done via fax and payphones!

In a very few pages Lee Child gives us an early picture of the ways Jack Reacher thinks and of course he has a successful stand-off with several thugs. Child's writing style is perfect for a novella - short, direct and quick moving.

Some authors promote their upcoming books by releasing a few chapters as a teaser, others publish a novella/short story with some promo for the new book included. I prefer the latter, especially as writing a good short story really tests and shows the author's skill. I took some time to find this book which promoted "A Wanted Man" that was released nearly 2 years ago.

03 July 2013

Nora Roberts: Whiskey Beach

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A trusted formula sells books
There will be many Norah Roberts' fans who will love this book, but there will be others who will say that this is yet another skilful romantic suspense written by a best-selling author to a trusted formula that has become a bit overused. This time I fall into the second camp.

Roberts' once again sets her romantic suspense novel in an idyllic holiday location, Whiskey Beach, a couple of hours from Boston. Eli Brandon's family have lived at Bluff House, a magnificent mansion overlooking the ocean, for many years. He returns to Bluff House to recover from being accused of murdering his wife during a disastrous marriage breakdown. While the police have not been able to make a case against him, he has lost his high paying job as a lawyer and a Boston detective  is still pursuing him, almost in vendetta mode.

Enter Abra Walsh who has acted as housekeeper for Eli's grandmother and is a beautiful young woman of many talents (Yoga, Jewellery and cooking). While she has still to fully control the demons in her personal history, her warm and helpful personality help Eli take control of his life again. Of course they obviously become romantically involved. The names, situation and the problems are different but the formula is the same.

The mystery/suspense part is complicated by someone breaking into Bluff House to find long lost secrets of the house going back to pirate days. He attacks Abra and a private investigator hired to follow Eli is murdered. The whole plot is a bit convoluted and unbelievable. Some of us who have read lots of mysteries would have worked out the answers pretty early on. Of course the mysteries get solved and there are every signs that Eli and Abra will live happily ever after.

The Nora Roberts/J D Robb book factory is in full production and I see that she has released yet another book only  3 months after this one. She is a very skilled author of her various genre but to meet her production targets she writes to formulas that tend to become a bit overused. The book was OK but IMHO was not a page-turner for me and certainly not one of her best.