Over 550 book reviews with full author links

30 August 2015

Lee Child: Make Me

The old Jack Reacher formula
This is #20 in the Jack Reacher series and this time Lee Child has gone back to basics and used the very successful formula where Jack Reacher (ex military) roams the US aimlessly and finds trouble most places he goes.

Reacher is fascinated to find out why a very small town in remote prairie region of Oklahoma is named "Mother's Rest". Maybe it tells a tale of pioneer times when the wagon trains travelled this part of the prairie. The small town is basically centred around some huge wheat silos that cater for thousands of acres of wheat for miles around the town. The other main feature is a rail line with a train at 7am and 7pm each day.

When Reacher steps off the evening train he spots a trim Asian woman, Michelle Chan, apparently waiting for someone who might have been on the train. He soon learns that Michelle is ex FBI working with a security company and her colleague from Oklahoma City appears to have disappeared during an investigation involving Mother's Rest. They soon gain a rapport with one another and as he has nothing else to do before heading for Chicago before it gets too cold Reacher teams up with Chan to help her find her friend.

Walking away would have been easier as Mother's Rest is a strange place which doesn't make either of them very welcome. Reacher knows something is wrong when the General Store refuses to sell him a change of clothing and the Motel tells him they don't have a room for the next night as they are full - but they are not. Slowly but surely they start to piece together a very dark situation which turns into a nightmare.

In the last two Reacher adventures Lee Child has tried to make them different. "Never Go Back" had Reacher involved with his old military career and "Personal" had him helping the State Department track down a sniper who has a personal grudge against Reacher. This time it is back to the basic Reacher formula in a story that, while some of it is very up to the minute, is very similar in plot and formula to many other books in the series. No doubt this book will please many of Child's readers who lap up any new Reacher adventures but I found most of it a bit deja vu.

PS I have been able to write this review now because the book has been published in Australia nearly two weeks ahead of the US release, presumably so the book is available in time for Aussie Father's day on 7 September.

20 August 2015

Mark Black: George Washington

Father of the United States
I like these short histories as they give me quick information about historical events, people and things about which I have little knowledge.

I have recently been reading some historical fiction about the American War of Independence and realised that my knowledge of that time (having been educated in England) is sadly lacking. While I know something about John Adams, one of the Founding Fathers, I knew very little about the key military and political leader George Washington.

I didn't realise that Washington was a southerner who started his working life as a surveyor. I also didn't realise that he was initially reluctant to take up the cause of independence or to become a military leader. I did know that he was the first President of the United States but didn't realise the part he played in setting up the US government system that has been so fundamental in creating the important nation that we all know so well.

In about an hour Mark Black gave me a short history of this man who was to become one of the most revered leaders in history. It was enough to whet my appetite to find out more about this extraordinary man.

Jonathan Kellerman: The Murderer's Daughter

Psychology runs off the road
I have read several of Jonathan Kellerman's Alex Delaware stories and was looking forward to seeing what he could do next. Unfortunately, despite Kellerman's writing skills he disappointed me with this thriller about a psychologist that IMHO ran off the road in trying to put some distance from his previous books.

The main protagonist is Grace Blades, a successful and dedicated psychologist who has a troubled history that has never left her. Grace saw her drug and alcohol dependent parents always fighting and eventually one parent murdered the other and then committed suicide. Then followed years of terrible foster homes where some of the children were worse than the uncaring foster parents. At one of her last foster homes she comes into contact with 3 other children from a cult background. Something is strange and dangerous about these children, something that haunts her in later life.

At last a caring childcare person puts her in touch with a loving academic couple who recognise her outstanding mensa IQ and allows her to study to her capacity. Despite gaining her intellectual freedom Grace is still haunted by her childhood background and by a secret life she leads because she doesn't have the emotional maturity to follow a normal sexual relationship.

All of this comes to a head when her childhood background comes back to haunt her when she meets someone from her bleak past which brings her up close and personal in a homicide case which threatens to expose her double life.

As always Jonathan Kellerman's writing a plotting is excellent. However this time I couldn't connect with the major character and the plot was so far fetched as to run off the road. Kellerman says that this is a stand-alone novel - I hope it is because I would not be inclined to read any more in the series.

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

Steve Gannon: Kane (Audiobook)

"Kane" revisited as an Audiobook
Just over 3 years ago I read and enjoyed Kane, #2 in Steve Gannon's superb series that combines a great crime/police thriller with an extremely emotional family saga. My review rated it highly as a very powerful, exciting and challenging page-turning novel, which is both spine chilling and personally emotional.

I was given the opportunity to revisit the story now that it is available as an audiobook. With the closer immersion in the story through listening instead of reading the book my rating is now probably even higher.

My only reservation is that the narration could have been better. At the beginning the narrator's slow delivery made it difficult for me to fully connect with the story. As an Aussie I also has problems with his unfamiliar drawling accent. I nearly gave up but then I had a brainwave and adjusted the replay speed to 1.25% and without noticeable distortion the drawling accent and slow delivery disappeared, the narration came to life and gave the book the thrust and drive it needed to become a real page turner. After that I took every chance to find time to listen to the book.

Revisiting the book in audio format reminded me of Steve Gannon's undoubted talent in being able to combine a thriller with a great and very emotional family saga. Once again I warn the reader/listener that this is very much an adult novel with vivid scenes of sadistic serial murders but they are needed because they are central to the story.

Music is always a key emotional factor in the Kane books. In this one there is an extremely emotional scene where Kane's wife Catherine is the soloist in Dvorak's Cello Concerto. It would have been great if the audio version could have played some of the music in the background.

Barbara Hannay: The Secret Years

Another inter-generational story set in the Australian outback
Once again Barbara Hannay has taken the theme of inter-generational secrets of a family living in the Australian outback and woven a story of love and living over the years.

When Lucy Hunter stumbles upon her grandfather Harry's World War II memorabilia, she finds a faded photograph of a stunning young woman known simply as 'George' and a series of heartfelt letters. They are clues about the secret years, a period of Lucy's family history that has been kept a mystery . . . until now.

Lucy Hunter is exploring her grandfather's World War II memorabilia when she finds a faded photograph of a stunning young woman known simply as 'George' plus a series of heartfelt letters.  This is a secret from a period of family history unknown to her. Things become interesting when she goes to England and finds out that George was an English aristocrat who moved from London to an isolated outback property, a move that still has a big impact on Lucy's family.

The book started slowly for me and left me somewhat confused with frequent time and character changes. It wasn't until the end that the story started to come together for me. I became enthralled when Lucy returns to Australia from her travels of family and personal discovery in England and gets to know more about her mother and father who left her the farm.

The formula for this book is similar to the successful one in Hannay's previous book, Moonlight Plains, where the heroine tracks down the secret lives of family members by travelling around the world and finds herself and love in the process. While I enjoyed this book I didn't find it quite as appealing as her previous book.

My thanks to Penguin Australia for an advanced copy of this book.

09 August 2015

Taylor Stevens: The Mask - A Vanessa Michael Munroe Novel #5

The return of The Informationist
Taylor Stevens has scored again by bringing back Vanessa "Michael" Munroe, one of the most complex, violent but compelling characters in modern adrenaline-filled action packed adventure fiction, in a similar role to her outstanding debut novel "The Informationist". 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.

"Michael" has taken time healing from a Somali hijacking and an attack that left her struggling for her life. She rejoins her lover Miles Bradford in Japan where he is working as a security consultant for a hi-tech firm trying to find the source of industrial espionage leaks. For a time Michael finds peace in their relationship but is soon anxious to get back into action.

Before that happens Miles is arrested for the murder of an employee of the firm using his readily identifiable Texan belt. This is clearly the action of the person responsible for the leaks but he cannot combat the accusations because he is faced with the almost impenetrable Japanese homicide police system which almost guarantees conviction and a harsh prison sentence. Fortunately Miles has sub-contracted Michael (in her male guise) to take over his work which allows her access to the facility. Another foreigner is not welcomed by most of the staff and superiors and this, combined with the Japanese social and business environment, makes it very difficult to track down the killer.

"Michael" sets about finding the killer through intense research and checking things that may have been overlooked (the Informationist role). Along the way she meets up violently with many who want to prevent her finding the truth and displays the survival skills that have kept her alive so many times. She also does battle with a very different cultural background of Japanese life where things are never what they seem to be on the surface.

Well done Taylor Stevens, you have succeeded in giving us another unique adrenaline filled episode in the life of Michael Munroe - one of my favourite fictional female "kick ass" characters in modern thrillers. While this book can be read as a standalone I would strongly recommend visiting "The Informationist" first to get more information about the complex and violent leading character. If you do this I am sure that you will end up reading the other 4 books in the series.

Charlotte Bronte:Jane Eyre

One of the most brilliant classic novels of English literature
I am catching up with classic literature in my more mature years, having not been exposed to many of the classics in my early life. This novel, published 170 years ago, transfixed me with its prose, emotions and structure that revolutionised the art of fiction as we know it today.

As with most people nowadays I had been exposed to the story through movies and mini-series but didn't realise how much I was missing by not reading the author's actual words. Jane Eyre is written in the first person as a young Victorian woman who suffered in her childhood but eventually gained a fine education, found good employment and surprisingly someone to love her (the famous Mr Rochester), only to have her happiness taken away at the altar. She runs away, finds herself and her family again but cannot totally break her feelings for Rochester.

Charlotte Bronte weaves a novel of strength and length that lays bare the soul of Victorian England through the eyes of Jane Eyre. There is vivid description of the ways of life of the poor and the rich, the morality of the time, including their approach to the role of women, religion, wealth and class. Bronte gradually unfolds the story of Jane's life, struggles and emotions in an intense and spellbinding way and brilliantly uses coincidence and spiritual connections to tell her story.

To me Jane Eyre is one of the most honest and good characters in fiction. I read/listened to the book as an audiobook and the skills of the narrator, Emma Messenger, brought the book to life in an emotional and compelling way. 5 plus stars.

01 August 2015

Jeffrey Archer: Kane and Abel

Never forgive and never forget
This is a classic tale of hatred and misunderstanding between two rich and powerful individuals who never forgive and never forget. Their feud infects their business and private lives for decades and threatens the very foundations of their families. Jeffrey Archer is one of the world's best storytellers and this is one of his best and most memorable tales of two powerful people from very different backgrounds.

William Kane was brought up in a world of wealth and privilege and was expected to to follow his late Boston millionaire father's footsteps and become a banker - which he did.  Abel Rosnovski grew up in abject poverty in Poland, survived and escaped from a Siberian prison camp and came to America as a penniless immigrant. Through his native talent Abel climbs from being a minor hotel employee to part owner of a Chicago hotel. Then the crash of 1929 brings both of them together as William's bank tries to foreclose the ownership of the bankrupt hotel with tragic consequences. This fires a lifelong feud between the two men that threatens their businesses and their families.

I first read this book in the 1980's when it was first published and have read many of Archer's books since then. While this book still showcases Archer's storytelling skills I didn't find it as compelling the second time around, possibly because there have been so many other top storytellers around since this book was first published.