Over 550 book reviews with full author links

25 October 2014

John Grisham: Gray Mountain

Classic Grisham Legal Thriller
Gray Mountain in the Appalachian Mountains no longer exists. The pristine forests have gone, the rock blasted and bulldozed into the valleys, and the coal seams have been harvested. All that is left is a barren wilderness as Big Coal goes after profits. This is the theme of John Grisham's latest legal thriller.

Grisham returns to the kind of legal thriller that made him famous, this time  about a young, resourceful but inexperienced female lawyer who uncovers secrets that have been hidden or protected for years. He introduces us to Samantha Kofer, an up-and-coming lawyer for one of the biggest law firms in NYC, working exhaustingly long hours on boring contractual issues as an apprenticeship to a partnership that would deliver her a world of privilege and wealth.

It is the time of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, and the closing down of the credit markets that thunders through the top firms in NYC. Samantha's work on real estate construction contracts for major buildings disappears overnight and with it her job. Her only hope of possibly retaining her job when things get better and maintain her health benefits is to take a job with a nonprofit organisation, possibly for a year or so. This takes her to the Mountain Legal Aid Clinic in the heart of Appalachia to meet Mattie Wyatt who has been providing free legal aid in the area for years.

Samantha is immediately taken from her comfort zone as a cog in a huge legal firm and thrown into direct contact with disadvantaged people needing help with all kinds of genuine personal problems. This means not only doing things she has never done before but facing up to litigation in the courts which was also never part of her career path. It also means living in a small remote community, so different from the bustle of NYC that was once her home.

Before she realises it she is thrown into the world of Big Coal which has made enormous impacts on the environment through the demolition of magnificent wilderness mountains through open cut strip mining. She soon finds how the powerful world of Big Coal also has had a pervasive influence on the health of the miners and the community. Samantha quickly learns the dangers of dealing with the all powerful coal companies as her investigations and resourcefulness leads her deeper into this unsavoury world, and she discovers secrets that have remained buried deep in the mountains which put her in peril.

She is introduced to these issues by enigmatic Jason Donovan, a local lawyer whose family home was on Gray Mountain with a personal crusade taking on big coal companies about the damage that they have made to the local environment of the Appalachian Mountains and the community. While she finds him charming and exciting, her initial reaction is that he is nothing but trouble in more ways than one.

Samantha gradually faces up to a legal world where the welfare of clients comes first and billable hours last and a community that needs her. Her character seems to be set up for a return in future books which will be worth waiting for.

I haven't read John Grisham's books for a while and am glad that I returned to a book that goes back to Grisham's classic issue based legal fiction genre with its fast pace, great characters and twists, and turns. I got absorbed and concerned when reading this book - that is my greatest recommendation.

21 October 2014

Steve Gannon: LA Sniper

Exciting and emotionally gripping - highly recommended
Steve Gannon's KANE series has long been one of my favourites - exciting and emotionally challenging. After "Song for the Asking", "Kane" and "Allison" I wondered how Gannon could keep up the pace with another book in the series. The answer is that Steve has hit the spot with a somewhat different book that focuses on Dan Kane but always has his family firmly nearby. While you can read this book as a stand-alone story, you will appreciate it more if you read the earlier books in order because the Kane family details are so important.

Dan Kane is a top homicide detective with the LAPD who gets results, sometimes by doing his own thing which upsets his superiors and his actions have also brought danger to his family. At home Kane has been a dominant father (his daughter Alison calls him "Dadzilla") and he has been through several shattering events with them, some of which he has not been able to cope with. Nate is the only child still permanently living at home and is going through a tough and angry adolescence that neither parent can completely understand.

Kane's autocratic dominance over his family is waning as his children grow up, and the family is glued together by shared traumatic experiences, love and respect, and a mutual love of music (Catheryn a cellist with the LA Philharmonic and eldest son Travis is studying at Juilliard). One evening they are all attending a concert where Catheryn performs stunningly as a solo cellist with the Philharmonic when Kane is called out urgently - someone has shot/assassinated two LA Patrolmen.

Kane quickly becomes a key part of  a huge task force led by Lieutenant Sneed, Kane's long term nemesis, searching for a very clever and deliberate assassin whose sole objective is to kill as many LA policemen as possible. The assassin is a master marksman, leaves no clues, alters his modus operandi to confuse and is always one step ahead of the police as the body count rises. As usual Kane eventually makes his own investigations against the advice of Sneed.

Steve Gannon delivers an extremely well written police procedural which has two unexpected brutal climaxes. As Kane is the principal player, Gannon's use of the first person in chapters about Kane is especially effective. He also leaves us with a final chapter about the Kane family that will gut your emotions (remember to keep the tissues handy if you are sensitive). Gannon also leaves us enough seeds in the story to make me believe that a possible future book might happen sometime - I look forward to that.

A couple of weeks ago I was privileged to get an Advanced Readers Copy of THE BURNING ROOM, the forthcoming Harry Bosch novel by Michael Connelly, While I rated that book as "a great police/crime novel by the finest (American) crime writer working today" I found it comparatively bland and vanilla when compared with LA SNIPER which now has a place in my top reads of 2014. Steve Gannon is a talented writer of crime/family adventure thrillers who deserves every success.

An Advanced Copy of this book was provided to me by the author for my honest review. While I have a regular email connection with Steve, I have never met or spoken with him and this review is an honest and personal assessment of this book.

12 October 2014

Barry Lancet: Tokyo Kill

Exciting and different cross-cultural thriller
This is the second in Barry Lancet's series featuring Jim Brodie, born in Japan to American parents who went to Japanese schools and integrated the Japanese society as well as any Gaijin (foreigner) is allowed. He has a great expertise in Japanese culture, history, and martial arts and shares his time as a dealer in Japanese art and antiques in San Francisco with running his late father's Tokyo-based private investigation firm.

Brodie is in Tokyo when Yoji Miura, the son of a Japanese WWII veteran, asks Brodie's firm to investigate the killing of some of his father's military colleagues. His father, Akira, now in his 80's, believes that the killings are linked to his service in China during the war when, under orders, he had kept control over a large area of China through terror. He believes that the Chinese Triads are following up on a threat made during the war that they would avenge his actions.

The action ramps up when Yoji is battered to death the next day and his body dismembered in a way that suggests that the Triads are behind the killings. Lancet then takes us on a complex and thrilling chase to find the killers and the motive. This involves Brodie with Japanese gangsters, Chinese spies, and various groups skilled in martial arts. Always lurking in the background is lost Chinese art and antiquities and legendary Samurai swords capable of killing with one blow. The body count grows and again Brodie has to use his martial arts skills to keep alive.

Brodie's Japanese wife was killed in a house fire several years ago and he is bringing up a precocious seven year old daughter on his own in both American and Japanese cultures. This time we see a tentative personal relationship developing with Rie Hoshino. one of Tokyo's few policewomen. It will be interesting to follow this cross-cultural relationship in future books.

I was especially interested in this book because I lived in Tokyo for a couple of years in the 1980's and got a Gaijin's view of the Japanese people and society. Many of Lancet's insightful observations of Japanese life and even many of the places in Tokyo mentioned in the book were very familiar to me.

Lancet's second book is better than his first, JAPANTOWN, because it has more believable villains and action and doesn't have such an overblown major conspiracy background. Once again Lancet shows us how his own background of living in Japan for many years (which parallels Brodie's) gives us an almost unique entry into the mysteries of Japanese life and culture. It certainly was a thrilling page-turner and I will be looking forward to more books in this interesting and exciting series.

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

08 October 2014

Robyn Carr: Shelter Mountain

Virgin River again gives shelter someone in need
Once again I decided to have a break from my normal diet of heavy thrillers and settle down with a light romance. This is #2 in the very popular romantic series by Robyn Carr which explores the dynamics of very small-town USA and the effect the town and its people have on traumatically bruised characters who seek refuge in the town.

This time Paige Lassiter is on the run from her abusive husband. She ends up in Virgin River hoping to find somewhere to stay with her son until she can change her identity to protect herself from her husband. In foul weather she walks into the local bar when John Middleton (Preacher to his friends) is about to close. John doesn't look like a guardian angel, over 6 foot tall and muscular with shaved head and tattoos. Preacher has been on active service with the Marines for years and has settled down in Virgin River because his old Sergeant Jack Sheridan runs the local bar and restaurant.

John has had little contact with women but is immediately drawn to help Paige and her young son Chris. While understandingly being very suspicious of men Page accepts Preacher's offer of somewhere for both of them to stay for the night and plans to leave first thing in the morning. This doesn't happen and Paige soon finds that Preacher, despite his appearance, is a big teddy bear who quickly falls head-over-heels in love with her and begins to love Chris as his own in a way that his father was never able to do.

This is a sentimental and touching story of two apparently different individuals beginning to come together as a couple and as a family. All of the other characters from the first book are there to give a helping hand especially when Paige's husband tries to find her.

Well done Robyn Carr - you have created an environment and a formula for a light romance series that will warm the hearts of many.

Bernard Cornwell: Sharpe's Triumph: The Battle of Assaye, September 1803 (The Sharpe Series, Book 2)

Sharpe at the Battle of Assaye
Bernard Cornwell gives us a front-row seat at one of the turning points in the history of the British in India - the battle of Ahmednuggur where General Sir Arthur Wellesley (the future Duke of Wellington) led his small British army against the huge armies of the Indian Mahratta Confederation.  Wellesley's brilliant victory at Assaye against the Indian Mahratta Confederation was the beginning of the end of the Mahratta rebellion against the British and a turning point in the Raj's growing power.

In SHARPE'S TIGER Richard Sharpe was a lowly foot-soldier who was spared a fatal flogging to help Colonel McCandless who was held captive in  Seringapatam by the Tippoo Sultan. His actions in helping McCandless escape and blowing up part of Seringapatam's defensive walls gained him instant promotion to Sergeant. Sharpe now realises that his career in the Army can only really be fulfilled if he can become an officer, but he doesn't have the money to buy into that rank. His only hope is a battlefield promotion for gallantry - a dangerous and near impossible task.

Sharpe witnesses a murderous act of treachery and is left for dead when renegade English officer William Dodd and a small troop of Indians murder everyone else in cold blood in a small fort. Dodd has joined up with self proclaimed Hanoverian mercenary Colonel Pohlmann, who leads European mercenaries in the Mahratta forces from atop an elephant. When Sharpe meets Pohlmann he is offered a commission as a mercenary and wealth if he joins his forces. Sharpe considers the offer but refuses because he could never face up to going back to England in anything other than a British officer's uniform. As well Sharpe is looking for revenge against Dodd who is serving with Pohlmann.

Wellesley decides to take on impossible odds by attacking a huge army many times larger than his and wins through sheer audacity. During the battle Sharpe has to take over when Wellesley's orderly is killed by a cannon shot. This brings Sharpe into close contact during the fiercest fighting when Wellesley's horse is killed and Sharpe has to protect the life of his General.

Sharpe once again comes up against the cruel and tyrannical Sergeant Hakeswill who is determined to get Sharpe court-martialled with false evidence. In SHARPE'S TIGER Hakeswill escapes death from a cage of chained tigers. This time Sharpe has to resort to an elephant to help him defeat Hakeswill.

Cornwell seamlessly blends historical reality, characters and battles with Sharpe's adventures to give us an action-packed history lesson that puts us right in the middle of the battle which Wellesley considered to be his hardest.

I had already read a couple of books in this amazing and thrilling historical series and have made a resolution to read the rest, in order. This is the second in the series which didn't disappoint. I look forward to reading the last of the Indian trilogy to find out what happens to Sharpe during the rest of the time in India before he sets sail for England in SHARPE'S TRAFALGAR, which I have already read.

Kimberley Freeman: Evergreen Falls

Blue Mountains - past and present
The star of this book IMHO isn't the story but the place - the Blue Mountains which are only a short drive from Sydney that takes you from a bustling metropolis to a unique environment of majestic gums, soaring rock formations and deep valleys and gorges with tumbling waters. The views are fantastic with the distance covered in a misty-blue greenness that gives the area its name.

The place also has had a different focus for different generations. In the 1920's it was a place to go for annual holidays with huge spa hotels for the wealthy. Over the years it lost its popularity as air travel took us to more exotic places. But from the 1980's the magic of the mountains was rediscovered by new generations looking for short breaks, and retreats for workplace team-building. The old hotels were redeveloped and new resorts were built, bringing people back to the magic of the mountains, and especially the changing environment with the seasons.

The story starts in the present with the restoration of one of the majestic old hotels.  During the renovation Thomas and Lauren finding a cache of passionate and candid love letters from someone called SHB to a woman he loves and desires. The story then moves back to 1926 when a snowstorm traps hotel maid Violet Armstrong and a handful of remaining guests. What happens then creates some devastating secrets that are kept hidden through the oncoming years as the hotel falls into disrepair. Thomas and Lauren follow these secrets as their attachment grows.

Kimberley Freeman weaves this dual time narrative pretty seamlessly to make an enjoyable book with romances in both times and of course the timeless nature of the Blue Mountains looking on.

Review posted by MonicaD. Thanks to The Reading Room and the publisher for a copy of this book for review.

02 October 2014

Michael Connelly: The Burning Room

Michael Connelly maintains the momentum
This is #17 in Michael Connelly's best selling Harry Bosch series and certainly maintains the momentum of the others. At this time in a series many best-selling writers are opting for extreme and unbelievable plots to maintain the momentum. Connelly avoids this by doing what he does best - writing an excellent book about top-class police investigations.

The first case is unusual because the victim died nearly ten years after he had been shot. One day Orlando Merced had been waiting in Mariachi Plaza for a gig for his Mariachi band when he was shot, with the bullet lodging in an inoperable part of his spine. After many years of pain, including amputations to lessen the effect of lead poisoning, Merced died, allowing access to the only real clue available - the bullet. There had been no leads in this "cold case" which is politically sensitive because a mayoral candidate, later mayor, had used Merced in his wheelchair in his campaigns as a symbol of neglect suffered by the community of East LA.

Harry Bosch is in his last year as a detective under the DROP scheme (The Deferred Retirement Option Plan) and is still working every case energetically and diligently as if it was his last. Of course that means working the case in his own way which frequently gets the ire of his superiors.

LAPD's Open-Unsolved Unit has just shuffled the pack of detectives and Bosch, the oldest one, is partnered with  the youngest, twenty eight year old rookie Mexican American Detective Lucia Soto. Lucy is not really a rookie as she was the survivor of a shootout with four gunmen where her street-cop partner was killed, and she shot and killed two of the gunmen and bravely held the others at bay in an alley until the SWAT team arrived. Bosch soon finds that Soto is a quick learner and has many of the investigative and intuitive talents that have made Bosch such a brilliant detective. They strike up a strong professional relationship and I wouldn't be surprised to see Lucy featuring in future books in this series.

The bullet taken from Merced gives the first leads in this case for years and Bosch and Soto start to find clues that suggests that the shooting may not have been random. As they track down years-old information the complex and sensitive background to the shooting and the shooter slowly gets revealed.

Bosch soon discovers that Lucy Soto has a personal interest in another cold case - the Bonnie Brae apartment fire twenty years ago when nine people, mostly children, died in an unlicensed child care centre in the basement of the complex - viz "The Burning Room". The case was labeled arson but no suspects could be found. Unofficially Bosch helps her with this case, which at first sight has as few clues left over the years as the Merced affair.

Bosch and Soto work well together and start to gain momentum on both cases, despite the length of time that has elapsed. While both cases come to unexpected conclusions Connelly leaves us with another even more unexpected finale.

Bosch aficionados may be disappointed that this book hardly touches on his private life. He is proud but worried that his daughter Maddie is planning to be a cop and there is a cameo appearance by FBI agent Rachel Walling who Bosch asks for some information. There is a possible romantic lead for the future that he really can't pursue while he is still a cop. I would not be surprised to see Maddie as a cop featuring in future books in this series.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone who has followed Harry Bosch over the years or to anyone wanting to read a great police/crime novel by "the finest (American) crime writer working today". I look forward to seeing where Michael Connelly takes the next book in this iconic series.

My great thanks to The Reading Room and the Australian publisher for an advanced copy of this book which will be published on 3 November 2014.