Over 550 book reviews with full author links

29 November 2014

Nora Roberts: A Will and a Way

An old one but a good one                        
This book was originally released in 1986 and has recently been released as an e-book. It passed the test of time for one of Roberts' early M&B type romances. This is not my normal fare but after an operation I had a need for an interlude from heavy thrillers. This filled the bill - while it does follow Roberts' early romance formulas it is sufficiently different to make it a good read for the genre.

Uncle Jolley was an eccentric but very wealthy old man who disliked and distrusted most of his family but was very close to and doted on his niece Pandora McVie and distant relative Michael Donahue (his mother had been Uncle Jolley's niece by Jolley's son's second marriage). The only problem was that Pandora and Michael had never been good friends.

Uncle Jolley had the last laugh on his close family members when he died. He left his collection of magic tricks to his son, and a nephew who kept the first dollar he had made was left the last dollar Jolley made, appropriately framed. Grand nephew Biff was left his collection of matches in the hope that at last he would set the world on fire.

When it came to the main bequest Jolley left most of his considerable wealth and his huge house (Jolley's Folly) to Pandora and Michael "because they understood and cared". The bequest came with a kicker - they had to move into Jolley's Folly and live there together for six months (with only 2 days away) for the estate to revert to them in equal shares.

Jolley sets up Pandora and Michael to live closely together and really get to know one another. He also stirs up his family to find ways to make sure that Pandora and Michael can't fulfil the requirements of the will.

It was an entertaining and interesting romantic setup, against a background of dirty business by the family. I needed the break and it was especially rewarding as the Kindle book had been discounted to pocket change.

Alan Gold & Mike Jones: Stateless

The battle for the birth of Israel
Alan Gold and Mike Jones have crafted an interesting tale about the fight for the birth of Israel and the ancient history that compelled the Jews to try to return to their heritage.

Shalman Etzion was brought up in a Jewish Kibbutz in Palestine. Judita Ludmilla was raised as a Jew in Moscow under the brutal Stalin regime and came to Israel as a refugee. Both of them met as freedom fighters for the new State of Israel against the occupying British Army and become life partners despite their different backgrounds.

It is the end of WWII and refugees from the Holocaust and from Eastern Europe are frantically trying to find sanctuary in Israel. The fight for a permanent home for the Jews in the State of Israel is a bitter one where Arab and Jewish forces fight the British in an atmosphere of hatred and suspicion. Judit becomes one of the fiercest and most ruthless fighters - her secret is that she has been trained in Russia under Beria's guidance to push for dominance that will give Russia a foothold in the Middle East and a warm water port.

As the troubles escalate Shalman gets a better understanding of  the plight of the Arabs and with an Arab friend starts to explore the fascinating archeology and history of the region and withdraw from the fight for independence. Judit becomes increasingly committed to her cause and more distant from Shalman and their family.

This is a very interesting factional history of the struggle for the foundation of modern Israel. I was distracted by an interwoven theme about the ancient history of the Jews in Israel and the Middle East, with the Roman occupation of Jerusalem, the Islamic influence in Baghdad and the brutal incursion of the Crusaders in the region. While this may be fascinating  history it spoilt the enjoyment of the book for me. My guess it that one of the authors wrote the more contemporary stuff and the other the historical stuff. This time their work didn't fit as seamlessly as it did in Bloodline.

The end of the book when Britain withdraws sets up a situation in the region that has still not been resolved.

Without the distraction of the historical stuff I would have given this book a solid 4 stars but had to downgrade it to 3stars because of the conflict in my mind between the two major themes of the book.

Adrian d'Hagé: The Alexandria Connection

Mixture of financial thriller and unbelievable historical conspiracy

If this had just been a financial conspiracy thriller it might have worked well. The author is skilled and very knowledgeable and produced a pretty good financial thriller. Unfortunately he had to mix it up with some historical conspiracy nonsense which completely spoilt my enjoyment of the book.

CIA Agent Curtis O'Connor and archaeologist Aleta Weiszmann make a strange combination. In a back alley bookstore in Alexandria Aleta stumbles on some ancient papyrus that give her clues to the location of the lost famous library of Alexandria that disappeared beneath the sea after an earthquake at the time of the Ptolemy pharaohs. At the same time as they dive into Alexandria harbour a mysterious group of very powerful individuals from throughout the Western and Muslim world are meeting in the city to discuss plans for world financial domination.

Thousands have tried to find the library over the years and Aleta not only finds the remains of the library first go but also discovers some key papyrus stored in watertight containers that contain the key to the Giza pyramids. Mission impossible!

d'Hagé then leads us through two major plot themes, world financial domination and possible radio active terrorism, and a hunt for documents that would change the understanding of the meaning of the great pyramids of Giza, I can understand the former but the latter is so much fantasy as to belie my imagination. Connecting the two plots are unscrupulous art collectors who will kill to get their hands on treasures such as a lost Van Dyke painting and have the contacts to arrange a robbery at the Egyptian museum to steal the gold death mask of Tutankhamun.

Does this sound too complex to be believable? Of course it does. I could have given a reasonable rating if this was just a financial conspiracy thriller but the inclusion of the historical conspiracy stuff left me reeling.

Chris Carter: An Evil Mind

An Encyclopedia of Evil
This is probably one of the best psychological thrillers I have read this year. I can't say that I enjoyed it - how can you enjoy a story about a serial killer who not only enjoys killing but gets a kick out of torture before death and dismemberment of the body before and after death.

A freak accident when an elderly man has a heart attack and crashes into a parked car opens the trunk containing a couple of savagely tortured heads. When the police arrest the owner of the car, Liam Shaw, he refuses to tell them anything.

When the case is handed over to the FBI, the apprehended man asks to talk to Robert Hunter who is now lead detective with the Ultra Violent Crime Unit of the LAPD. Hunter soon discovers that Liam Shaw is his college room-mate Lucien Folter, a former PhD student in Criminal Psychology. Liam Shaw died many years ago and Lucien had taken his identity.

Hunter is partnered by FBI Special Agent Courtney Taylor and they soon realise that Lucien may be a serial killer who has been kidnapping, torturing and mutilating victims across the US for at least 25 years. Lucien is a dark and intelligent killer who soon gets Hunter and Taylor caught up in a clever web of intrigue as he plays a clever cat-and-mouse game with them which they must join if they are to find all the hidden and vicious secrets. Lucien keeps psychological control by slowly giving out clues to his dark world and his many victims. Hunter soon finds that Lucien's dark world has had an enormous impact on his personal world.

This is a chilling study of an intelligent, manipulative, and psychopathic personality. What is even more chilling is that Lucien may have documented his feelings about what he has done in an "Encyclopedia of Evil".

This is certainly not a book for the faint hearted or squeamish as the body count climbs to unspeakable levels. It is a heart-thumping and compelling and absorbing story about a totally evil person.

28 November 2014

Alafair Burke: 212

Masterly police procedural
I have been meaning to read Alafair Burke's books for a while and I am delighted that I took the plunge with 212, part of the Ellie Hatcher series about a young, smart and brave NYPD homicide detective. This is a fast paced and intriguing mystery loosely based on actual events but woven into a page-turning plot that is as good as most of the top crime thrillers I have read this year.

The story starts with the murder of bodyguard Robert Robo Mancini, whose bullet-ridden corpse turns up in a luxury apartment in a top of the market building, the "212".  Mancini worked for Manhattan property tycoon Sam Sparks who lets his trusted employees and friends use the apartment from time to time. The 911 call comes from an unknown female and there are no clues about how she be found. During the investigation Ellie and her partner get interested in how the apartment has been used and asks a judge court for permission to pursue the accounts of Sparkes' business. Accidentally Ellie gets on the wrong side of the judge and spends a night in the cells.

Ellie and her detective partner then investigate the lives and deaths of part-time high class call girls and the story twists and turns unexpectedly as the lives of the call girls get connected with the original murder. While she makes some mistakes, she is a top-class investigator who keeps on working the case until she discovers the truth.

I will certainly be reading more books in this series and adding Alafair Burke to my list of favourite authors.

Bernard Cornwell: Sharpe's Fortress

The last of Sharpe's adventures in India
This is #3 and the last of Sharpe's adventures in India as a foot-soldier serving under General Sir Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington). As usual Bernard Cornwell writes action-packed historical fiction that places Sharpe in the middle of some of the most famous battles in history. This time the action focuses on the Siege of Gawilghur, a virtually unconquerable fortress, where Wellesley succeeded in breaking the back of the Mahratta empire.

After saving Wellesley's life during the Battle of Assaye, Richard Sharpe has been given a battlefield commission. While it was Sharpe's greatest ambition to become an officer, he is finding himself alienated from his men who don't consider he is a real officer and from his fellow officers because he is not a proper Officer-and-a-Gentleman (Sharpe is the illegitimate orphan of a London whore who enlisted in the army to avoid prison). Despite this Sharpe starts to show the leadership in battle that will eventually make him one of the most effective officers in the regiment.

Once again Sharpe conflicts with his nemesis Sergeant Obadiah Hakeswill who has joined up with an unscrupulous officer in charge of supplies and is selling essential battlefield supplies such as horseshoes and ammunition to the local merchants. When Sharpe hunts down the merchants and defeats this black marketeering, Hakeswill hits back by capturing Sharpe and stealing the fortune in gems that he plundered from Tippoo Sultan in "Sharpe's Tiger".

The finale is historical battle action at its best with Sharpe leading the scaling the impregnable walls of  Gawilghur and helping to win one of the most decisive and unexpected victories of the Indian campaign. Cornwell has taken some licence with the battle but for the most part the actions are authentic and compelling.

This is yet another fantastic historical adventure in the Richard Sharpe series which I have resolved to read in its entirety in the next twelve months.

Tom Clancy: Executive Orders (A Jack Ryan Novel, Book 8)

Disappointing, too long and too many unbelievable plots
From time to time I revisit a book that I read and enjoyed several years ago when Amazon discounts a book to pocket-money cost. I recall this book because it was the follow up from the end of Book 7 when Jack Ryan accidentally became President when a 747 piloted by a rogue Japanese pilot crashed into Congress and killed the President, most of Congress, the Supreme Court judges and most chiefs of the military.

Jack had just been sworn in as "caretaker" Vice President after the resignation of his predecessor when a sex scandal was revealed. At the time the plane crashed Jack was just leaving the area and was quickly taken over by the Secret Service and is left with the job of establishing the US Government almost from scratch.

While he is getting on top of this gargantuan task President Ryan is faced with a host of major international problems. Iran takes over Iraq and forms the United Islamic Republic (based on Shia Islam not the current ISIS which follows Sunni Islam). India and China back up Iran in their attempts to invade Saudi Arabia and make it part of their republic. An Ebola epidemic starts in the US from a biological warfare attack, and in the background a group of extreme right-wing rednecks from rural US plan to bomb the White House. Ryan is also faced with personal danger when sleeper agents target kidnapping  his children and also assassinating the President.

Oh dear what a bundle of overlapping and unbelievable plots!!

The book is 1,350 pages of turgid text and could easily have been written in under 500 pages. I skipped through many pages - eg who wants to learn how to fire shells from a tank or reload rocket launchers. It was a very disappointing revisit to Clancy's earlier work. Politico/terrorist writers have become so much more competent since this book was written.

27 November 2014

Lisa Scottoline: Betrayed

Carrier carries the day
Lisa Scottoline has morphed her long running successful Rosato & Associates series into Rosato & DiNunzio after Mary DiNunzio became a partner in the all female law firm. Mary and Judy Carrier are still greatest of friends but their friendship has been altered with Mary's elevation to partner. Carrier's professional relationship within the firm is disturbed when Bennie Rosato thrusts 75 cases of asbestos litigation on her shoulders which will take years process and are personally abhorrent to Judy.

Judy is going through a lot of personal stress with her long-standing relationship with Frank under strain, when she hears that her favourite Aunt Barb is fighting breast cancer and is about to have a double mastectomy. Barb introduces Judy to her best friend Iris Juarez, a Mexican illegal who helps Barb with her rose garden and works in appalling conditions at one of the local independent mushroom growing factories. Top marks to Lisa Scottoline for revealing the something about the lives of Mexican illegals in the USA.

A couple of days before Barb's operation she is shocked by Iris's death from an apparent heart attack at the wheel of her car. The police are convinced that it is accidental but Judy is suspicious, especially when she finds that Iris has hidden $50,000 in notes in various places around Barb's house. This leads Judy into a dangerous investigation of what looks like the proceeds of drug trafficking. At the same time she confronts some painful personal confrontations that unearth long-buried family secrets.

This story is more about Judy, her family and a personal quest for vengeance than the kind of legal thriller I expected where Scottoline really excels. It is a page-turner, carefully plotted with lots of, frequently unbelievable action, with enough twists in the plot and the family circumstances to keep the reader absorbed.

On the last page Scottoline leaves us with a seed that should be a great theme for the next in the Rosato & DiNunzio series.

20 November 2014

Vince Flynn: Transfer of Power

The first Mitch Rapp book written is still the best
Transfer of Power was not the first Mitch Rapp adventure timewise written by the late Vince Flynn but it was the first book that he wrote in the series and IMHO it is still the best. While Transfer of Power was written in 1999, two years before 9/11, it covered the threat of extremist terrorism on US soil in a way that almost made 9/11 seem tame.

This is classic Mitch Rapp, covert CIA operator and assassin, disguised as a simple-minded elderly and grubby Arab street-person hunting down a lead on master terrorist Rafique Aziz by kidnapping one of his closest associates, Fara Harut. After the kidnapping Rapp soon discovers that Harut knows about a plot to invade the White House and kill the American President - but by the time Rapp warns his CIA boss Irene Kennedy the plot is in action.

Rafique Aziz is already at the White House, posing as a Saudi Prince, when his fellow terrorists gain access to the building, leaving dozens murdered, almost one hundred other held hostage and booby-trap bombs set up around the building. Quick action by the Secret Service moves the president to an underground bunker but the terrorists have plans to break into the bunker.

Rapp quickly gets involved in a high level meeting chaired by the Vice-President which plans ways to negotiate with the terrorists for the release of the hostages. Rapp soon tells them in no uncertain terms how stupid their plans are. With the help of the military Rapp finds a way into the White House to try and save the President and the hostages.

This is a classic adrenaline-filled politico/terrorist thriller that has stood the test of time. I was bowled over with it when it was first published and I was still excited and impressed when I revisited it 15 years later.

05 November 2014

Fiona McIntosh: Nightingale

Engaging and memorable romantic tale of WWI
Fiona McIntosh has written an engaging and memorable romantic tale of WWI that stretches from the beaches and hills of Gallipoli to Cairo, Istanbul and London.

Claire Nightingale is a British nurse on a hospital ship who is briefly allowed to go ashore at Gallipoli to give emergency treatment to the wounded. She meets Australian Light Horseman Jamie Wren, bloody and muddy as he brings a friend for medical help under heavy fire. Despite the atrocious and dangerous  situation there is an immediate bond and attraction between them. While Claire loses touch with Jamie she never loses faith that she will meet him again at the end of the war.

This is historical romantic fiction at its best, despite the harrowing circumstances of war, especially the terrible conditions faced by the Australians at Gallipoli. Despite the war McIntosh captures the touching and personal side of war when Jamie briefly meets, and makes a commitment, to a young Turkish soldier during a truce to clear No Man's Land of the dead.

I really loved this book because I have visited, albeit only briefly, many of the places in the book - Anzac Cove, Istanbul, Cairo and London - which McIntosh brought to life so well at a time of world calamity. I highly recommend this book.

Many thanks to The Reading Room and the publisher for a copy of this book. This review is posted by MonicaD.

Sarah Waters: The Paying Guests

Relationships, Deceit and Tragedy
At first I didn't know what to make of this book but as it unfolded I got immersed in a story of unusual relationships and the tragic results of deceit.

Widowed Mrs Wray and her 26 year old single daughter Frances are impoverished after WWI and in 1922 are forced to take in boarders as "Paying Guests". The first guests are a slightly eccentric but not very loving young married couple, Lillian and Len Barber. At first Frances, still suffering from the loss of her brother in the war, keeps her distance but slowly finds herself  emotionally attracted to Lillian.

While the start of the book was pretty slow as the story evolved I got more fascinated with the relationships, the lies, the tragedy and eventually the unexpected ending. Great reading - well recommended.

Many thanks to The Reading Room and the publisher for a copy of this book for review. This review is posted by MonicaD

01 November 2014

Pippa Croft: The First Time We Met

Entertaining, light and steamy read
From time to time I take a break and move out of my normal wheelhouse of thrillers and historical literary fiction and put a toe into the water of contemporary romance to see what the water feels like. With trepidation I did this with E L James' immensely popular FSOG and was appalled at the public's appreciation of sexual relationship based on dominance and physical abuse. This time I looked at THE FIRST TIME WE MET  to see if another author from a top publishing house (Penguin) could produce something steamy that was not tacky and overly erotic.

Lauren Cusack comes from a reasonably rich American family, with a father who is a respected and powerful Senator. She battles her parents to be able to take her Masters studies in Art History at Oxford University. Shortly after getting to Oxford she meets and is immediately attracted to handsome and arrogant Alexander Hunt who matches her idea of an eminently sexy male. Alexander (never Alex) knows this and is very unhappy when Lauren plays hard-to-get. He is an incredibly rich English aristocrat, heir to an immense estate. who believes that he can get anything he wants - until he meets Lauren.

There are a couple of great scenes that made me enjoy this book. First Lauren's refusal of a Cartier necklace worth tens of thousands of dollars, which makes Alexander even keener to have a relationship with her, to the extent of kicking down the door of her college accommodation. The second scene(s) come later in the book when Lauren meets Alexander's previous girl-friend on his home territory at the massive Falconbury House. The bitchy relationship between the two very attractive women is almost feral and very funny.

Of course in this kind of book the relationship between Lauren and Alexander is steamy and intimate but it doesn't have the same erotic and sadistic and masochistic focus of some other best selling books of this genre. All in all there is a bit of a plot, and on the whole the two main players are independent, intelligent and sensitive people. The choice of a relationship between an independent American female and an arrogant English aristocrat is a bit far fetched.

Of course the finale turns out to be an emotional cliffhanger to make the reader want to move on to the sequel (or 2 sequels in this case). While I enjoyed the interlude and would recommend it to those who follow the steamy romantic genre without too much erotic focus, I have still to make up my mind if I will continue with the series or go back to my comfort food of heavy thrillers.

David Baldacci: The Escape

Puller vs Puller
David Baldacci returns again this year with an exciting thriller, the third of his series about John Puller, a former war hero who is one of the best military investigators in the US Army's Criminal Investigative Division. This time Puller is faced with one of the most dangerous and controversial cases in his career - to find a maximum security prisoner from the Leavenworth Military Prison who has made a miraculous escape and left an unknown dead body in his cell. The case is controversial because the escapee is Puller's elder brother Bobby who was convicted by a military court of  serious national security crimes.

The first couple of chapters about how the escape happened set the scene for an absorbing chase to find how and why the escape happened and to find and arrest Bobby. What is surprising is that a trio of top military brass ask Puller to find his brother and bring him back for justice especially as Bobby has an almost eidetic memory of important military secrets. Puller soon finds that the whole thing reeks of conspiracy at the highest level with possible overseas influence within the security agencies of the US.Also he soon not sure if Bobby was actually guilty of the crimes for which he was imprisoned.

Puller is normally a loner but he is forced to work with enigmatic (and of course attractive) US intelligence officer, Captain Veronica Knox who he has problems trusting. Of course she has problems trusting Puller, especially about how will react when they finally hunt down his brother. The plot has many twists and turns and is absorbing reading. As with other recent Baldacci thrillers the plot sometimes verges on the unbelievable but this time it doesn't go over the believability barrier too much.

After THE FORGOTTEN Baldacci has brought John Puller back from looking like a Jack Reacher clone to his military CID roots. Baldacci has the talent to create a number of very different and compelling lead characters and Puller is now towards the top of the list. My main reservation is that Puller is not as charismatic as some of the other ones - especially Oliver Stone and the Camel Club. The finale certainly sets the scene for an interesting return sometime later on.