Over 550 book reviews with full author links

22 June 2014

J D Robb:Rapture in Death

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A very different kind of rapture in death
Rapture in Death is #4 in J D Robb's unusual crime thriller series. I am slowly coming to terms with the bizarre setting towards the end of the 21st Century when space travel is common, robots do most menial jobs, guns are banned and virtual reality systems are programmed to meet an individual's needs for activity or relaxation.

At the end of an action packed IMMORTAL IN DEATH Lieutenant Eve Dallas beats up a murderer. That just happened to be on her wedding day to mega-rich super-stud, and slightly shady Roarke. Despite this the wedding between this unusual couple goes off as planned and eventually they get away on their honeymoon, travelling to and enjoying exotic and romantic places, including to a 5 star tourist resort being built on one of Roarke's new satellites.

While they are on the satellite a brilliant engineer, with no apparent personal problems, commits suicide. Back home Dallas cannot prevent a suicide of a famous lawyer who is not known for suicidal tendencies and is not taking illegal drugs. While investigating this case Dallas believes that another suicide by a prominent politician may also be connected when she finds that all victims have a microscopic burn in the same part of the brain. How could this happen? Could it be drug related or because they all used on of Roarke's advanced virtual reality systems for their relaxation. The problem is that hundreds of other people use the same systems each day without harm.

While Eve is never scared to face up to dangerous criminals she panics at being involved in space travel until Roarke unlocks the thrills of the equivalent of the mile high club - in his private space transport. The series would not be complete without more sexual fireworks between the most unlikely couple - this time the fireworks are super spectacular and may have been manipulated.

To balance off these fireworks there is also lots of great, and sometimes tough police work as Eve happily resumes work in earnest. This time she is helped by the very efficient Officer Delia Peabody who is stunned when Eve assigns her to be her permanent aide.

This was another entertaining interlude with an episode of a very different kind of crime thriller series - which really shouldn't be taken seriously.

Deanna Raybourn: Silent in the Grave (Lady Julia Grey Novel)

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Good start to the Lady Julia Grey series
My attention was gripped from the start by a great first paragraph. "To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband's dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor." This is the start of Deanna Raybourn's bestselling Victorian murder mysteries about Lady Julia Grey and her enigmatic companion (later lover) Nicholas Brisbane.

Last year I admired Raybourn's work in A SPEAR OF SUMMER GRASS, an Out of Africa style romantic adventure set in 1920's Kenya. Some of her dedicated Lady Julia Grey fans bemoaned the change of style so I was fascinated to see what they loved. SILENT IN THE GRAVE is an excellent debut novel set in Victorian England in 1886 written by a talented American who must have studied the era and the locations closely to produce this book.

After the death of Sir Edward Grey, Lady Julia Grey, who is only in her late twenties, becomes an extremely rich widow.  As she gets immersed in the Victorian ritual of morning, including wearing full black and not attending any public functions for a year, she starts to realise how much of her independence she had lost when she was married.

She is jolted into reality when Brisbane tells her that Edward had hired him to investigate letters threatening his life. Brisbane is convinced that Edward was poisoned and tries to recruit Julia to help him find the murderer. At first Julia is not convinced that Edward has been poisoned until she finds evidence of the source of the threatening letters. Brisbane is very much a man of mystery, dark and threatening, often difficult to relate to, and subject to violent moods, giving the book a somewhat melodramatic feel.

Raybourn introduces us to one of the most macabre characters I have found in fiction - Aunt Ursula, the "Ghoul" - who could only exist in the Victorian era. Her sole purpose in life is to follow every deathbed and funeral of her family and friends with her trunks of mourning clothes and memorabilia. She keeps a scrapbook of funerals, rating them by the number of mourners, desirability of  the gravesite and even the quality of the food. She moves from one family tragedy to the next, with an inexhaustible supply of black margined writing paper on hand to cover all eventualities.

At the end of her year of mourning Julia emerges as a beautiful, rich and independent woman, dressed in the height of fashion with bold colours and décolletage strongly emphasising and exposing her cleavage. She also has the makings of a super sleuth - but that is one of the reasons for the rest of series.

This is not my normal genre but from time to time I need an interlude between heavier and more action-packed thrillers. The rest of this series may give me enjoyable interludes when I need them.

21 June 2014

Sandra Brown: Exclusive

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For light relief I have read a few books by Sandra Brown and the results have been patchy - a few were pretty readable but most have been pretty ordinary. This e-book is a reissue of a 1996 publication and is not one of her best because the plot is so over-the-top.

Barrie Travis is an ambitious TV reporter at a B grade network working hard to make a break. One day the First Lady calls her to arrange a personal chat which hinges on the recent death of her young baby from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and hints that the baby may have been murdered. This starts Barrie on a one-woman crusade to find the truth.

On the way Barrie encounters Gray Bondurant, a former presidential aide. After a passionate first encounter both Barrie and Gray are up against the President's current unscrupulous aide and his henchmen, and even the President himself. The plotline is ludicrous with the President trying to destroy not only his manic-depressive wife but anyone else in his way. On the sidelines is the father of the First Lady, a powerful senior Senator who is as shady and corrupt as the President.

An Editorial Review sums it up beautifully - "a dead infant, a sleazy president, a manic-depressive first lady, an aide that makes G. Gordon Liddy look like a wuss, murder, adultery, a thousand skeletons peeping from a thousand closets". No wonder I thought the plotline borders on the ludicrous.

Sandra Brown is a prolific author of 77 romantic and thriller suspense novels who writes to please her wide audience. Sometimes she meets her target with me, but not this time.

Robert Galbraith: The Cuckoo's Calling

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Ordinary and not outstanding
I had read a lot of hype about Robert Galbraith's (aka J K Rowling's) first detective novel THE CUCKOO'S CALLING so I thought I would see what the hype was about. I was disappointed. This was one of the most ordinary private detective novels I have read for some time (and I read a lot of them).

The plot is somewhat hackneyed, with a former military investigator, Cormoran Strike, struggling to keep his one-person PI business away from the debt collectors. His personal life is also in tatters as his long term relationship has just ended, he has nowhere to stay and is living on a camp bed in his office.

One day he gets a new, and rich client, John Bristow, who wants him to investigate the death of his super-model sister Lula Landry who fell from a balcony of her luxury London apartment almost into a crowd of paparazzi. The police have thoroughly investigated the death and the Coroner has declared that it is suicide.

There follows a Strike's competent and detailed investigation of Lula's death involving interviewing the super-rich, super-rockers, super-designers and super-rude people. Almost accidentally he is assisted by Robin Ellacott, a personal assistant provided through a temporary employee agency, who proves to be a very keen and competent sleuth. There could be and should be some kind of emotional connection between Cormoran and Robin but this doesn't happen in this book but may in the future. Cormoran is set up as a bit of a tough guy who has served in Afghanistan but he is too shy/sensitive to tell Robin that he has a false leg from a bomb injury.

While there are a few twists and turns in the plot, it really didn't keep my attention and I worked out what was happening fairly early in the book. Because I finished it I gave it 2.5 stars but I am not rushing out to buy the sequel.

18 June 2014

Taylor Stevens: The Catch

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Vanessa "Michael" Munroe at her/his best
This is #4 in Taylor Stevens' excellent series about Vanessa "Michael" Munroe, one of the most complex, violent but compelling characters in modern adrenaline-filled action packed adventure fiction. This is probably one of the best in the series and may make it into my list of best reads for 2014.

To understand this book you really need to know more about "Michael". In her early life in east Africa, Vanessa "Michael" Munroe experienced extreme violence which has left her with demons but with violent survival skills second to none. She is a polyglot who speaks many languages and quickly picks up others, is extremely intelligent and has an almost eidetic memory. Michael is tall and slim and can become androgynous, changing her sex to survive in different environments, especially where females are treated as second class citizens.

IMHO Michael's complex and dangerous character eclipses that of  Stieg Larsson's Lisbeth Salander. I also think she has many of the self preservation instincts of Maya, (aka Jet) Russell Blake's kick-ass ex Mossad female protagonist.

After the stresses of  the "THE DOLL MAKER" when she survives kidnapping by a notorious and viscous sex trafficker, Michael looks for a place for time-out. While others would choose popular holiday destinations, Michael chooses Djibouti near the Horn of Africa, next to war torn Somalia in the south. For six months Djibouti provides her with a comforting chaos that only a person brought up in the Third World would understand. To mould into the local culture Michael lives as a man, learns the local languages and maneuvers himself into a group of white security mercenaries helping them to negotiate the language, customs and intricacies of the local community. When one of the group is injured the leader of the group invites her to join them on guard duty on a ship sailing through Pirate Alley towards Mombasa.

Not long into the voyage Michael discovers that the ship is running guns and shortly afterwards the ship is attacked by pirates off the Somali coast. During the attack her colleagues are captured but Munroe escapes, taking the injured captain with her to Mombasa in one of the attackers' boats. It soon becomes clear to her that while the pirates have captured the boat for ransom, they were really after the Captain. Michael hides him in a small private hospital while she works out her next move.

She decides that the best way forward is to hijack the ship from the pirates to release her colleagues and put pressure on negotiations with the unknown parties who are seeking the Captain. To do this Michael has to merge into the local community, learn Swahili and explore the dark world of investment in piracy and the intricacies of Third World "hawaladar" for investment and money transfers. This becomes harder when she is attacked and seriously injured by local thugs hired to find the Captain.

This time Stevens allows us to see Michael's vulnerability and capacity to operate in an environment when things seem to be out of her control. This is high-octane stuff that is not for the faint hearted. In contrast to many thriller writers Stevens writes long sentences with multiple actions, but they work well to push the action along and keep you in the picture. This time the action may be slightly less over-the-top than her previous books but for once she shows us a more human side to Michael, but also a determination that never wavers.

Taylor Stevens has a very different background to most successful thriller writers. She grew up in a cult commune and forced to beg in the streets for the cult. Her education was deliberately limited. Her success in escaping that background and becoming a successful published author is mindboggling.

Before reading this book I would recommend that you should read a excellent novella THE VESSEL released to promote this book. This will give those who have never read any books in the series an insight into the complex character of Vanessa "Michael" Munroe. It will also give those who read THE DOLL more information about how Michael had took her revenge on the "man with the dog".

While there are a few blips in the plot that concerned me, overall this is top quality high octane stuff and is highly recommended to discerning followers of action adventure thrillers.

15 June 2014

Taylor Stevens: The Vessel

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The Doll - the missing link
Vanessa "Michael" Munroe is one of the most complex, violent but compelling characters in modern adrenaline-filled action packed adventure fiction. In this novella Taylor Stevens gives those who have never experienced Michael the chance to see her in action. It also allows Stevens to fill in an unfinished link at the end of THE DOLL about how Michael had taken her revenge on the "man with the dog".

In her early life in east Africa, Vanessa "Michael" Munroe experienced extreme violence which has left her with demons but with violent survival skills second to none. She is a polyglot who speaks many languages and quickly picks up others. Michael is tall and slim and can become androgynous, changing her sex to survive in different environments, especially where females are treated as second class citizens.

This novella gives you a great introduction to this complex character and a preview of THE CATCH. I have read and really enjoyed an advanced copy of that book and highly recommend it, especially as it shows a more vulnerable Michael, operating again in third world countries in Africa.

The novella includes a conversation with the author which tells a lot more about the formation of the character and suggests to newcomers that they read the novella, then THE CATCH and then go back and read the rest in order. It also tells you more about how the author grew up as child labour in a cult commune, was made to beg in the streets and her education was limited. Her success in escaping that background and becoming a successful published author is especially praiseworthy.

I have read a lot of unsatisfying novellas that have been written just to promote an upcoming book. This one is different because it is so well written and gives new readers an introduction to the series and old readers some information that was deliberately missed from the previous book.

09 June 2014

Geoffrey McGeachin: The Diggers Rest Hotel: A Charlie Berlin mystery

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Start of a great Australian crime series
After reading and enjoying ST KILDA BLUES which was released last month I was keen to read the two previous books in the Charlie Berlin series. I was not disappointed with this first book in the series as it gave me a better understanding of Berlin's history as a Melbourne detective shortly after he had returned from WWII.

During the war Charlie Berlin was the pilot of a Lancaster bomber shot down on his 40th mission over Germany. As a POW he saw the devastation of war up close especially when his starving group of POW's were passed by a group of emaciated Jews. His memory and especially his dreams will never forget the Jewish woman who was executed in front of him by an SS guard.

Charlie is sent from Melbourne to assist the Wodonga police with the investigation of a series of payroll robberies by "five blokes wearing balaclavas and carrying Tommy guns, riding jungle-green Harley Davidsons with sidecars". This certainly isn't your normal bush town robbery and Charlie is rushed there by plane - a stressful experience because it is the first time he has flown since being shot down over Berlin.

When he arrives in Wodonga he stays at the Diggers' Rest Hotel, a typical bush town hotel with a range of great local characters. As well as meeting young Constable Bob Roberts, his driver, and the local police sergeant (who is not too happy with the imposed assistance), Charlie soon comes face to face with Rebecca Green, a photo journalist with a Melbourne newspaper who is following the story of the robberies. Charlie and Rebecca's paths will always be close as the case develops.

An interesting feature of this book is how McGeachin makes Charlie's investigations almost ancillary to the character development and background settings of the book. The descriptions of Australia after the war, especially the returned servicemen with PTSD still haunted by the memories of war were emotional and telling. The descriptions of rural Australia, Albury/Wodonga and the Diggers Rest Hotel gave an extremely authentic picture of that time.

THE DIGGERS REST HOTEL was the winner of the 2011 Ned Kelly Award by the Australian Crime Writers' Association. It is a great introduction to a talented Australian crime writer and well recommended. I will make sure that I read #2 BLACKWATTLE CREEK in the near future.

07 June 2014

Philipp Meyer: The Son

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A disappointing epic saga of Texas
THE SON is a historical saga of epic proportions about American settlement of Texas. It had all the elements of being one of the better recent novels about the settlement of the American frontier, the Indians, the Mexicans, and cattle and oil wealth. Unfortunately it was a disappointment because it got lost in a flip-flop interleaved story of different characters at different times.

The part that interested me most was the fate of  Eli McCullough, a 13-year-old son of Texas frontier settlers, who is captured by the Comanche when they raid his family homestead, and rape, kill and dismember his mother and sister. Eli survives by assimilating himself into the Comanche world to be treated as a young brave by learning their skills in riding, hunting and warfare. He eventually goes out on raids on other tribes and their greatest enemies, the white settlers and the Texas rangers. While this seems to be a bit of a Stockholm syndrome reaction you get a feeling that all of these skills were natural to Eli who went through his eventful life fighting and dominating to the last.

Eventually Eli "escapes" back to his white surroundings and is forced into the harsh and dangerous life of the Texas Rangers. After surviving this experience (many didn't) he then fights for the South returning as "the Colonel" with a stolen fortune to found a huge ranch for his dynasty in South Texas. Nothing stands in his way, including justifying the massacre of a distinguished old Mexican family, the Garcias to gain their land. While cattle was king in the early days, later on Eli chased down mineral rights which made him an oil baron.

Eli considers his younger son Peter "a disappointment" because he doesn't inherit any of his father's dominant and brutal ways and sees the future world of Texas as a shared inheritance with the Mexicans. Peter is forever haunted by the slaughter of the Garcias who had who settled and developed the frontier before the Americans.  Jeannie McCullough, Eli's great-granddaughter, inherits some of Eli's drive and ruthlessness and presides over her oil and gas empire well into the twenty-first century.

While Meyer's descriptions of life with the Comanche were fascinating, I found his flip-flop storytelling between characters hard to follow, so much so that in some parts I really didn't know where the character fitted into the full picture.

An underlying theme of Meyer's book is that the history of Texas was a ruthless fight for survival of the fittest. I expected that the book would have left me, as someone who doesn't live in America, with an admiration for those who struggled to survive in the harsh and huge world of Texas, but it left me with a feeling of disappointment at the outcome on the various peoples who lived in that vast State over the last 150 years, and the immense impact of these struggles on an already fragile environment. It is clear to me that in the case of Texas the fittest were definitely not the best.

05 June 2014

Jo Nesbo: Police

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Can't connect with Harry Hole
POLICE has been on my bookshelf for some time as I try to start reading a series from the beginning. Before starting this book I read and was disappointed by #1 THE BAT and #2 THE COCKROACHES. Somehow I didn't connect with the character of Harry Hole and his police procedural/crime stories. It was clear that these books had been translated last because they weren't as good as later books so I eventually started to read POLICE hoping that I would enjoy #10 more than the earlier books.

Unfortunately that was not to be. The book never grabbed my attention and the many Norwegian names, places and terms that weren't translated mystified me and diverted my reading. The plot was obtuse, probably made more obtuse by translation, and I waited and waited till past one third of the book for Harry Hole, now retired from the police force, to come to the rescue of his former colleagues. Along the way Hole had to contend with sexual misconduct issues with one of his students that distracted me from an already twisted plot.

The result was that I gave up after reading just over half of the book. This is not something I do lightly and having read around 170 books in the last year I have only done this twice in the last 12 months. I am consoled that another top reviewer who I respect came to the same conclusion and didn't finish the book.

POLICE has been given glowing and enthusiastic reviews by HH fans worldwide so I am stunned that I see the book so differently to others. I recently read and really enjoyed (5 stars) Nesbo's recent standalone book THE SON which is not connected to the HH series. I am still puzzled to my reaction to POLICE but I did make several attempts to connect with the book. My reaction is bizarre but this is an honest review of the book.

My thanks to Net Galley and the publisher for providing a copy of the book for review.

02 June 2014

Deanna Raybourn: Twelfth Night

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"Remember me" and "Repositioning" Novella
It is clear the Deanna Raybourn has written this short novella as a "remember me" story so that her many fans won't forget her Lady Julia series after a bit of a gap when she was writing a different style of books with the memorable "A Spear of Summer Grass" and the less memorable "City of Jasmine".

This novella is also a brief interlude about the early days of marriage between Julia and Brisbane which cleverly covers a "repositioning" story about their future  life together, both personally and professionally. Of course there is a mystery to be solved and it is one that will affect their personal lives for a long time.

It was an easy reading but minor story about Julia and Brisbane that undoubtedly will whet their fans' appetite for more adventures.

Chelsea Cain: One Kick

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Kicking out against the Stockholm Syndrome
The "Stockholm syndrome" is a form of traumatic bonding where strong emotional ties develop after one person intermittently harasses, beats, threatens, abuses, or intimidates the other over a long period. Chelsea Cain has written a sensitive but action packed story centreing on this syndrome about an abducted child subject to imprisonment and sexual abuse who formed a "loving" relationship during a traumatic 5 years with her paedophilic captors. Ten years later as an adult she sets out to avenge her captors and those who helped them and prevent other children meeting the same fate.

Kit Lannigan was abducted by Mel Riley and his wife Beth when she was six, imprisoned for months in cellars in total darkness and eventually forced to feature in Mel's child pornograpy movies, which are a big and profitable hit when circulated throughout black parts of the internet. Five years later she calls them Daddy and Mummy, her only remembered name is Beth, and she is trained to hide whenever a stranger calls. One day that happens and she automatically rushes to "nuke" all of the offending pornography on Mel's computer before she is "rescued" by the FBI.

Ten years later, at 21, she has changed her name to Kick in recognition of the martial arts skills she had built up to protect her fragile identity. Her survival skills include becoming a crack marksman and she still has lockpicking, and bomb making skills taught to her by Mel. She has three pre-occupations, to seek out and help child abduction cases, to protect her vulnerable but loving brother, and look after her blind and old dog Monster who is her only real connection to her early life. Her connection to her real mother is fraught because of her mother's pre-occupation with promoting the popular notoriety of her daughter's case which Kit is trying so hard to forget.

When two local children go missing in a couple of weeks Kit is visited by enigmatic John Bishop who offers to help her to find the children. We learn very little about Bishop, except that he used to deal in arms, has very wealthy connections and great influence with the FBI. While Kit fights his influence she is eventually persuaded to help him. But will she help him when Bishop wants her to visit Mel in prison hospital where he is dying of renal failure.

Chelsea Cain has written a high-octane, fast paced and frequently very emotional thriller. While it is not for the faint hearted the action is sensitive and not as over-the-top as many recent thrillers by other authors. Kit is not a Lizbeth Salander substitute (try Taylor Stevens kick ass heroine Vanessa "Michael" Munroe if you are looking for that). Cain has delivered a sensitive, scarred personality who is motivated to survive and prevent other children suffering the nightmare environment that changed her life.

This is a very good thriller about a dark subject. It is the first book by Chelsea Cain that I have read and it won't be the last. My only reservation is that I finished the book with lots of unanswered questions about the background, motivation and character of John Bishop. Cain leaves us with seeds to a Kit Lannigan sequel sometime soon which will  no doubt answer some of these questions.

My thanks to Simon & Schuster for providing an Advanced Reading Copy of this novel.