Over 550 book reviews with full author links

30 October 2015

Iona Grey: Letters to the Lost

Best book I have read for many years
This is the best book I have read for many years. It is a well written, heart-rending story about two people who met in WWII and lost touch with one another.

Stella Thorne and Dan Rosinki, an American bomber pilot, met by accident in London and immediately fell in love. Seventy years later Dan makes a final attempt to find his lost love by sending a letter to the house where they shared their short happiness. The letter is opened by a young girl now living in the house who is captivated by the story of the love affair. While she has problems of her own she resolves to help Dan to find Stella again.

This book was especially poignant to me as I was born in England during WWII and related to many of the places and things in my early life.

I would give this book 10/10 if I could. I echo the words of Santa Montefiore that this is "An epic story of love and loss that will break your heart".

Thanks to Simon & Schuster, Australia for a copy of this book for review.

This review is by MonicaD.

29 October 2015

Isabel Allende: The Japanese Lover

Tender, touching and sometimes tearful
Isabel Allende is a superb author whose prose is gentle and sometimes almost poetic which keeps the reader's attention at all times. The Japanese Lover is a good example of her work and will keep you absorbed to the last words.

This is a multigenerational tale of love and torment set over the years from before WWII through to the present. With the advent of extreme anti-Semitism in Poland in 1939, young Alma Belasco is sent away from Poland by her parents to live with her rich uncle and aunt in San Franciso. Her older brother Samuel had already been sent away to England where he joins the RAF as a fighter pilot. Her parents finish up in the Warsaw Ghetto and in a concentration camp and are never found.

Many years later Alma unexpectedly leaves her family to live in an aged-care home. There she meets Irina Bazili, a dedicated young care worker who has her own troubled past after she moved from Moldova to live with her estranged mother and pedophile stepfather in the US. Irina joins with Alma's beloved grandson Seth in a search for some of the secrets of Alma's chequered past. The biggest secret is her tender and continuing secret love for Ichimei Fukuda, the son of the family's Japanese gardener.

Slowly Irina and Seth discover the secrets of Alma's past and her relationships with her husband, lover, and family. The story takes us through tough life of internment camps for Japanese in Utah during the war to Alma's family life, her rise as a successful artist and businesswoman and her cosmopolitan and globe-trotting life after the war.

This is a story of the secret passion of a remarkable woman across a cultural divide. It is also the story of the friends and family who supported her in her efforts to make a memorable and rewarding life.

I commend this book to discerning readers who enjoy good literary fiction and fascinating characters. There are many books about intergenerational secrets - this is one of the better and more satisfying ones.

David Baldacci: The Guilty

Will Robie, the hit man, still has a conscience
This is #4 in David Baldacci's bestselling series about Will Robie, the hit man with a conscience. I had wondered how Baldacci could keep this kind of series going. His answer is to make it personal and go back to Robie's early days.

While a major hit by Robie is successful, the collateral damage of the death of a young boy by the same bullet is too emotional for Robie to take. He is not able to complete his next assignment.

His controller tells him to take a break and get himself together again. At the same time, he tells him that his estranged father has been arrested for murder. Reluctantly Robie goes back to the small Missippi town that he left over 20 years ago to find out what has happened. Robie has to face up to his past and the estranged father who physically and mentally abused him for so many years.

I enjoyed the first half of the book (3.5 stars) as Robie adjusts again to life in the small deep-south town he abandoned a long time ago. Many things have changed. His father is now a Judge, has remarried a beautiful woman around Robie's age and has a 3-year-old son (so he has a stepmother and stepbrother).   He starts to come to grips with the past and tries to work out if he can help his father - the only way to get his father released is to find the actual murderer. But his father is not very enthusiastic about his help.

The second part of the book is basically a third-rate whodunit (2 stars). When his colleague Jessica Reel comes to help him the body count escalates. Robie and Reel discover more murders, blackmail, pedophilia, incest, and consanguinity. Of course along the way they get ambushed and chased by the baddies. The eventual exposure of the murderer was so ridiculous that I actually laughed out loud.

The main saving grace is that at the end Robie stands out as an honorable and caring individual - once again an hit man with a conscience.

23 October 2015

Michael Connelly: The Crossing

Bloodhound Bosch at his best
A Harry Bosch book is always worth waiting for and again Michael Connelly has not disappointed. Although Bosch is getting a bit long in the tooth, this one featured Bloodhound Bosch at the top of his form.

Harry Bosch left the LAPD again before they could fire him over a minor infraction and has hired his lawyer half-brother, Mickey Haller to sue the department for his departure. His recent personal relationship with a female journalist has ended, his daughter Maddie has become increasingly remote as she goes through her adolescent years and prepares for college, and his days are just filled with plans to restore an old Harley-Davidson motorbike.

Then Mickey turns Bosch's world upside down by asking him to work on one of his cases where he is convinced that a person he is defending in a murder case is innocent and has been set up. This would mean "crossing" the line and working for the defence and not the prosecution - a fundamental change to the way that Bosch has lived during his long career. However, soon Bosch finds that working the change is really no different because in both cases he is still trying to uncover the real truth.

Bosch starts working the Murder Book supplied to the defense during Discovery - "All the answers are in the Murder Book...we just don't see them." Soon Bosch starts to see some things that the investigators missed which lead him to inadequate testing and possible evidence that was overlooked and uncovers a complex plot of blackmail, murder, more murders and corruption. His task is made harder because he no longer a cop.

While Mickey Haller features in this book it really is only a cameo role with Bosch calling the shots. They have very different aims; Haller wants to get the accused man off, and Bosch wants to find the truth.

Although this is around #16 in the Harry Bosch series the story is still fresh and challenging, showing that Michael Connelly is still the very best writer of US police procedurals. This was very much a story about Bosch himself and his principles. I would have liked to have a bit more of a back-story about Bosch's personal life (more about Maddy and possible future personal relationships) but that may have to wait for the next book.

21 October 2015

Melissa F Miller: Informed Consent

Twins and a twin storyline
This is the first Sasha MacIndless story since the birth of her twins, Finn and Fiona. She has just started work again two months after the birth leaving Leo as househusband caring for the twins. Fortunately, his job isn't demanding at the moment. He is great around the house and delivers the twins to Sasha's office at feeding time.

Sasha finds herself involved in a pretty unbelievable story where a medical researcher trying to find a cure for dementia is harvesting brain tissue from people in her testing program when they die without their "informed consent". The researcher is involved with a shady and dangerous equity capital group that are funding her research.

For years, Leo has been looking for his Vietnamese father who he has never met. One day, out of the blue, a messenger calls telling him that there is a man in Maine who has information about his father. When Leo meets him he is faced with one of the most difficult personal decisions he has ever had to make. The conclusion was emotional and unexpected.

I felt that this book was lacking some of the easy going sparkles of Sasha's previous adventures. Maybe the sparkles will come back when the twins are toddlers - but then Leo may be looking after more babies....

20 October 2015

Catherine Coulter: Nemesis

Disappointing mixed up thriller
This book starts with a bang but goes astray from then on.  This is an "FBI Thriller" featuring agents Dillon Savich and Lacey Sherlock.They are married and Savich is Sherlock's boss.

This time, they are not working together as Sherlock gets personally involved in a preventing a terrorist attack at JFK Airport when she is on her way back to DC after a conference. Sherlock remains on the case which gets nasty and builds to a crescendo when the person behind the terrorist attack tries to kill her.

At the same time, Savich back in DC gets involved in a couple of connected murder cases where victims are stabbed with ceremonial knives associated with witchcraft. The murderers claim that the don't recall the stabbings and the finger is pointed at the local clan of witches.

The first story wasn't too bad but was a bit unbelievable - 3 stars. The second story was totally unbelievable - 2 stars. IMHO all of the characters, including the main ones, were pretty cardboard and uninspiring.

I haven't read this series before and I doubt that I will go out of my way to read any others in the series.

Adrian McKinty: Falling Glass

Adrian McKinty - Master Storyteller
I have read several thrillers in the Detective Sean Duffy series by Adrian McKinty's set in and around Belfast during "The Troubles". This book was a little different as most of the main characters come from the other side of the track.

Killian has been trying to make a better life for himself after years as a minor criminal and thug, especially during the times of The Troubles. When his property investments leave him in debt he is drawn back into doing one last job to improve his fortunes. A contact from his past offers him a very well paying job - to find the divorced wife of a multi-millionaire who has taken off with his two daughters.

Killian has a different background to the average Irish thug. He was brought up as a Parvee, the Irish equivalent of a gypsy. Killian left them a long time ago, but their rules and ethics are still part of his nature. The job brings out the best and worst in Killian when he finds that he sympathises with the ex-wife and struggles to find the best solution for the young woman and her children.

Things get worse when the issue gets wider than a search for the children and a brutal Russian enforcer is hired to take over from Killian. Everyone is now in danger and Killian must do his best to protect the people that he was hired to find.

This is a complex book, both in terms of plot and characters. Some parts are extremely violent and not for the fainthearted (and are probably unnecessary). McKinty's love for Northern Ireland and its people shines through.

This is a book with lots of emphasis on honour, duty, love, courage and revenge. It is the work of a master storyteller writing about people and places that he understands and loves. I recommend it to the discerning readers who appreciate good literary fiction as part of their enjoyment of well-plotted and atmospheric thrillers.

I listened to this as an audiobook narrated by Gerard Doyle. This was a first-class listening experience and made the book even more enjoyable because of his authentic Irish accents.

Jason Matthews: Palace of Treason

Red Sparrow flies again
Red Sparrow was one of my best reads in 2013. It was an "outstanding, exciting, chilling espionage thriller" and the sequel Palace of Treason meets the same bill, if not more so.

The Red Sparrow, Dominika Egorova of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, the SVR, is now back in Moscow after a spy exchange went badly wrong and the CIA spy she was swapped for was assassinated. She has survived lengthy and sometimes violent interrogations about her capture by the CIA and has been promoted to Captain after her ordeal.

Dominika loathes the people she serves in the SVR, who are mostly thugs and supporters of Putin's Russia, especially her boss Alexai Zyuganov, a murderously psychotic former KGB operative who still loves his "work" in the cellars of Lubyanka prisonNobody in Russia knows that she is now also working for the CIA as Washington's top Russian mole. What makes it more interesting and dangerous is that she had an intimate relationship with her CIA handler Nate Nash.

This top-notch espionage thriller has everything - double-agents, betrayal, violence, great street-craft (avoiding surveillance), revenge, blackmail, and murder. The locations range from Moscow to St Petersberg, Athens, Paris and of course Washington. Again it is an outstanding, exciting, chilling, and page-turning espionage thriller. Add some romantic interludes between Dominika and Nate and the pages sizzle.

The author is very brave to bring current affairs to life, especially the inclusion of Vladimir Putin in the plot (the imaginary bedroom scene between Putin and Dominika is especially memorable and totally unguessable).  The book is "authentic" because Jason Matthews had real life experiences of the world of spying as he worked for 30 years with the CIA.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys espionage thrillers. It is already in my short list for my top reads of 2015. While Matthews has written a great back-story about what happened in Red Sparrow, I do strongly recommend that you read that book first.

Unfortunately, readers outside the US region may have to wait until January 2016 for this book to be published in their region.

14 October 2015

Kyle Mills, Vince Flynn: The Survivor

Mitch Rapp is still a winner
The big questions in my mind when I started to read this book were whether, with the untimely death of Vince Flynn, Kyle Mills could take the Mich Rapp story further and write a book that seamlessly followed Flynn's inimitable writing style. The answer to both questions is a definite "Yes". Mills has taken the threads left at the end of the last book and built them into one of the better books in the series.

While rogue CIA agent Joe Rickman is now dead he has left a dangerous legacy - a posthumous gradual leaking of highly classified information that could damage the CIA and relations between the US and many key countries. Irene Kennedy, head of the CIA, needs to find where these leaks are coming from and stop them before they do untold damage. The search takes Rapp to Switzerland and a rogue banker who could be the only lead to the leaks. In hunting down the source of the leaks Rapp has to face up to having to make an agonising alliance with Louis Gold, the assassin who had killed Rapp's wife and child - a tragedy that he has never come to terms with.

Mills continues to explore the Pakistan connection with a corrupt security service leader with strong terrorist links aiming to take over this nuclear-armed third-world country. He also introduces a hostile US Senator with strong ties to Pakistan. In the course of the action, Rapp travels extensively chasing down the baddies in Switzerland, Italy, Russia and eventually Pakistan. Of course, a lot of the time Rapp is on his own and out of control - situation normal.

The main change in style is that Mills allows Rapp to reflect on his life, realise that he is not as young or quick as he was and allows him to start to come to terms with the loss of his wife and child.

The action is fast and furious and contains all of the normal features of a Mitch Rapp novel. I congratulate Kyle Mills in being able to take this series forward and I look forward to any future books he may write in the series.

09 October 2015

John Grisham: The Testament

The very best and worst of John Grisham
This is a fairly early work by John Grisham (1999) which shows off his undoubted writing skills in the early chapters but becomes pretty boring and unexciting later on.

Troy Whelan is a very rich, very old and very angry man. All of his life, which he has lived to excess both personally and in business, he has been in control. But as the end of his life approaches he is surrounded by his large family from several unfortunate marriages who are expecting to live in the lap of luxury when his estate is distributed. Troy doesn't want that to happen and he develops a plan to send a message to his family from the grave.

Rumours abound that Troy is about to change his will to favour his family but there are doubts about his competence. Troy arranges a session with several top psychiatrists to decide if he is competent to sign the new will. The family are at the session when he is declared competent and signs the will. Then the surprise happens... and they are all disinherited in favour of a mysterious woman who nobody knows who is living in the jungles of Brazil. This starts a fierce legal battle and a race to find the heir.

The first 100 pages of this book would make one of the best novellas I have read, but the rest is boring and page-flipping stuff.

J D Robb: Concealed in Death (In Death, Book 38)

This series is so boring
A while ago I read a few of the early books in this futuristic police/crime series written in the mid-1990's. While the future setting was too based on fantasy for my liking I enjoyed the character development and relationship of Lt Eve Dallas and Roark, and the support characters of Peabody and Mavis.

Since then this popular series has rolled out a couple of new books a year (how can J D Robb aka Nora Roberts keep up this output as well as releasing new Nora Roberts books) so I wondered what the newer books are like. This is #38 in the series released in 2104. My verdict is that the series must have run out of steam a long time ago as this one was so boring and silly.

Roark has just bought a run-down disused building and plans to convert it into low-cost housing. In the course of ripping out the old walls the builders discover skeletal remains of 12 young girls wrapped in plastic and hidden behind false dry-walls. Eve has the task of finding out who they are, how they were killed and who did it.

There follows an uninspiring police investigation with very little sparkle. The relationship between Eve and Roark is still close but has also lost its sparkle. I doubt that I will be tempted to read any more in this series.

08 October 2015

Mary-Rose MacColl: Swimming Home

An extraordinary young woman
Catherine Quick spent her early life on the islands of the Torres Strait, north of Australia. It was a carefree life, playing with the children of the islanders and spending much of her time swimming in the warm waters of the ocean that surrounds the islands. When her father dies she is moved to London to live with her Aunt Louisa, a busy London surgeon.

Catherine misses her former life and finds it difficult to do what Louisa wants and get a good education. Boarding school is not easy and when a teenager Catherine takes a challenge to swim across the cold, and tidally dangerous waters of the Thames Estuary. While Louisa is shocked, Catherine's achievement reminds her of her love of swimming and memories of the past from the islands and her constant Islander companion, Michael.

American banker Manfred Lear watches her swim and offers to take her to New York to train with some of the best swimmers in the world to see if she can become the first female to swim the English Channel. With some difficulty, Catherine takes up this challenge and in the process discovers secrets that will change her life forever.

I loved Mary-Rose Macall's previous book, In Falling Snow, and was looking forward to this book to see if she could repeat the performance. While this was a good story about an independent and strong woman growing up in the 1920's and 1930's, it didn't have that special magic that put her previous book into my top reads a couple of years ago.

Ken Follett: A Dangerous Fortune

Murder, Financial Crisis and more Murder
Most of us think of Ken Follett for his medieval Pillars of the Earth sagas and the recently finished Century Trilogy. We forget that Follett is also a prolific author and master storyteller who has written some excellent spy thrillers and historical family sagas.

While A Dangerous Fortune is a family saga it is also a murder story and a peek into the almost unregulated world of banking in the late 19th century. The saga starts in 1866 on a day when a schoolboy drowns in a strange accident. Present at the accident was Hugh Pilaster and his older cousin Edward, members of a banking family and Micky Miranda, son of a brutal South American landowner.

There were other tragedies that day as Hugh's father committed suicide when his bank collapsed. Hugh gets taken in by his uncle Joseph Pilaster who is head of another more successful bank. His wife Augusta treats him badly. She is the scheming matriarch of the family who will do anything to advance her son Edward to get control of the Pilaster bank. She is a real villain who is domineering and unscrupulous - a fantastic character.

Mickey Miranda befriends Augusta and inveigles himself into the world of the Pilaster family and affects their personal and business lives.

Ken Follett has written a great family saga that will keep you entertained as you follow the webs if complicity, and the ups and downs of the Pilaster family. Highly recommended to discerning readers who want to read a good family sage and thriller with a historical background.

Susan Howatch: Sins of the Fathers

The Rich are still very different
I really enjoyed The Rich are Different about banking families in the 1920's and 1930's in the US and England who were driven by greed, cunning, ambition, revenge, love (inside and outside of marriage), need for security and hope for the lives of their many children. I wondered if Howatch could match the original in the sequel following the lives of some of the children, but sadly this is not so.

After many unscrupulous dealings, Cornelius Van Zale won the battle for his late uncle's banking empire. He is now the undisputed king of the castle over his contemporaries and his offspring and stepchildren. When his daughter Vicki who the apple of his eye tries to elope with a poor beach boy Cornelius goes into protective mode, even suggesting that his partner Sam, the same age as him, should marry her to prevent such a marriage. Sam is so browbeaten by Cornelius that he agrees.

In his banking world, Cornelius continues to encounter complicated rivalries and affairs that impact on the unfinished business when he took over the bank come back to haunt him. He suppresses his memory of his involvement in the brutal affairs of the past but is constantly reminded of them by Scott Sullivan, stepson of his sister Emily, who he had shared the upbringing after Scott's father died tragically in an auto accident which he had engineered to get rid of any threats to his position in the bank. While Scott is an important partner in the bank, he has a dark side which Cornelius never understands.

Howatch weaves a complex tale of intrigue, family problems, adultery, deceit, espionage,  adultery, murder, blackmail, impotence, alcoholism, chronic illness, perversion, revenge and split personalities. Unfortunately, I found this to be a very poor sequel to The Rich are Different with almost cardboard characters, and a mostly unbelievable plot.

Stuart MacBride: Flesh House

Shades of Hannibal Lecter
Warning - a lot of this book is not for the weak at heart or sensitive reader. It contains some of the most grisly scenes of any book I have read, including murder, dismemberment, and cannibalism.

I have been a great fan of Stuart MacBride's earlier books in the Logan Macrae series, but this one was difficult to take. All of the old characters are there, Macrae, his former girlfriend "ball-buster" PC Jackie Watson, sweet eating DCI Inch and foul-mouthed lesbian DCI Steel. The great répartit and "camaraderie" of the Aberdeen police force that makes this series different are there, but this is overwhelmed by the crimes they are fighting - slaughter, butchery, and cannibalism.

The story starts out with the discovery of human remains being shipped as chilled meat to an offshore oil-rig. The story then builds to the chase to catch the serial killer, nicknamed "Flesher", an old Scots term for butcher. Flesher is always one jump ahead of the police and the kill list expands as he slaughters his victims with a bolt gun which was used in abattoirs to stun animals before they were killed and dismembers the corpses. The story also has some gruesome scenes from an abattoir where human remains are mixed with animal meat.

Despite this MacBride continues to deliver some amusing sidelights. DI Steel is worried because her girlfriend wants to get married, and DI Inch gets fatter by the day. Even the Flesher has a comic side, always appearing wearing a Margaret Thatcher Haloween mask.

Stuart MacBride had been one of my favourite UK police/crime writers. Many writers of successful long-running series turn to extreme plots to keep a series alive but as Flesh House is only #4 in the series I wonder why MacBride took this step when the series didn't need such a distraction. It has made me think again about reading further books in the series, but I probably will because his other books were so good and hopefully the later ones will be better than this one.

03 October 2015

James Swain: Take Down

How to take down a Casino
Billy Cunningham is a grifter - a person who can rip off a Casino. He works with a crew of beautiful women and other grifters to carry out carefully planned very skillful scams that have earned them a wonderful life. Billy has a luxury house, a Maserati and cash to spare. It is the kind of life that absorbs all of Billy's life and he cannot afford to make mistakes which would land him a long-term jail term.

An old-time grifter offers Billy a place in a scam that would rip off the high rollers' room of a new casino. The offer looks foolproof but soon Billy finds himself up to his neck in trouble from the casino's violent managers. To keep himself and his crew out of trouble Billy agrees to help the casino to defeat a family of cheats who are planning a huge scam at the casino.

Billy has no intention of ratting on fellow cheats and works out his own way to protect the cheats and at the same time get his own back on the casino's managers and the owner who is using the casino to launder drug money. The stakes are high, up to eight million dollars, the risk is extreme for Billy's life or a life in prison. The risk is also high for his crew which Billy will defend with his life.

I have been fascinated by several of James Swain's series about casino cheaters where Tony Valentine is on the other side of the game tracking down cheaters. This time the table is turned and Swain takes us into the world of a charming and skilfull cheater. It is exciting, challenging and a rewarding look at a most unusual world.

I was also lucky to read this as an audiobook narrated by talented voice actor Nick Podehl who brought the world of casinos and cheats to life with his marvellous representations of the players from all sides of the game. Highly recommended for those who like something a little different from the straightforward thriller.

Anthony Horowitz: Trigger Mortis

James Bond deja-vu
This is yet another James Bond adventure written by a well known contemporary thriller writer years after the death of Ian Fleming. The main difference with this version is that Anthony Horowitz has used some ideas that Fleming left for a TV series for one of the sub-plots.

Bond is once again involved with SMERSH who want to take down a famous racing driver who is competing with Russian attempts to take over the world of international motor racing. We see Bond learning to become a racing driver of a Maserati at Nürburgring to prevent a major accident. There he meets wealthy and dangerous Korean, Jason Sin who has teamed up with SMERSH to sabotage the flight of one of NASA's space rockets with possible disastrous consequences for the US.

Of course there are Bond girls, first Pussy Galore, who we find really prefers women, and Jeopardy Lane, "a girl like no other Bond has encountered".

While Horowitz writes well and closely follows the James Bond themes IMHO the book really was a bit of deja-vu and outmoded. The art of fantasy thrillers has come a long way since the days of James Bond and I don't think it really deserves to be revisited so many times. In saying that I do admit that I am bored out of my mind with the continual rejuvenation of Bond in major movies, almost in a Dr Who mode.