Over 550 book reviews with full author links

30 December 2015

Best Series of 2015

This year I have focused on reading some of my favourite series. Some series are new to me, some I had read the latest releases but revisited the beginning that I had missed, and some I had read all prior books in the series and read a new release during the  year. My task was made a lot easier with so many earlier books in series now available as e-books, sometimes at very attractive prices.

This is my short list of 10 series in no particular order (a series has to be at least a trilogy to qualify). There are so many great series but I have limited my selection to ones that really stand out of the crowed. To be included I had to have read at least one book in the series in 2015.

Bernard Cornwell; Richard Sharpe
This is historical fiction at its very best about Richard Sharpe, a footsoldier in India and the Napoleonic Wars. Cornwell puts Sharpe in the middle some of the most bloody and famous battles of that time led by Sir Arthur Wellesley, later Lord and Duke of Wellington.

I have read #15 in the #21 in the series and enjoyed all of them. The last one I read was Sharpe's Company and so far my favourite is Sharpe's Trafalgar where Sharpe managed to be on a ship on his way back to England from India which accidentally joined Nelson's fleet for the bloody battle.

Philip Kerr: Bernie Gunther
I read the first three books in this #10 book series for the first time this year under the name of "Berlin Noir". It was the first time I have ever read three books in a series back-to-back as it was one of the best hardboiled police/crime series I have read for a long time.

Bernhard (Bernie) Gunther is a Berlin detective who served eleven years as a homicide detective in Kripo (Berlin's criminal police) and left in 1933 when the National Socialists started to purge the force of all non-party members. He becomes a private investigator and then is forced back to Kripo by the Nazis. After witnessing mass killings, he fights on the Eastern Front and becomes a POW with the Russians.

After Berlin Noir Philip Kerr didn't revisit Bernie Gunther for 15 years and since then he has written a further 6 books in the series which have been highly acclaimed. This year he released The Lady from Zagreb which I thoroughly enjoyed. I haven't read the other books but plan to do so in 2016 plus "The Other Side of Silence" to be released in March 2016.

Michael Connelly: Harry Bosch
Connelly is undoubtedly the king of American crime writers and manages to maintain the standards from year to year. The Crossing released this year is #16 in the Harry Bosch series and the story is still fresh and challenging, compared to the recent performance of many of his peers.

Bosch is a bloodhound who can find clues that others can't. He does it his own way which frequently puts him at odds with his politically motivated superiors. Although he is getting a bit long in the tooth, he is still at the top of his form.

This year was Bosch's turn but next year may be Mickey Haller's turn - another great long-running series by Michael Connelly. Haller is Bosch's half-brother and Connelly cleverly brought him into the story line of  "The Crossing" this year.

Adrian McKinty: Sean Duffy
Adrian McKinty is a master Irish storyteller. His series about "The Troubles" in Northern Island in the 1980's seen through the eyes of Detective Inspector Sean Duffy, a Catholic policeman in the predominantly Protestant Royal Ulster Constabulary, is gripping and realistic. McKinty skillfully weaves each book in the series around actual happenings during the time of The Troubles.

While Duffy is a first class detective his character is flawed by what is happening around him. He checks every morning to make sure that there is no bomb underneath his car. All of this takes a toll and Duffy is so stressed out at the end of the day that he needs a pint or two of vodka gimlet to make him relaxed enough to get a good night's sleep.

The series started out as a trilogy, which I had read and I was delighted when McKinty released a further book in the series in 2015 - Gunn Street Girl . I am even more delighted to see that he plans to release another in the series "Rain Dogs" in late January 2016.

Daniel Silva: Gabriel Allon
I am a fan of espionage thrillers and Daniel Silva with his Gabriel Allon series has always been one of the best authors of the genre. Allon is a member of Mossad, a top espionage operator and frequently an assassin, but he is also a world-class art restorer with contacts around the World, including surprisingly at the top of the Vatican.

This year's release The English Spy was #15 in the series and Silva maintained the quality and momentum of a series by bringing together a collection of characters and events from some of his previous books and built them into a riveting thriller. There is another book in the series scheduled for July 2016 which will be especially interesting as Allon has reluctantly agreed to leave the field and take over as head of Mossad's operations. This will also coincide with the arrival of twins to his wife Chiara, also a Mossad agent.

Taylor Stevens: Vanessa "Michael" Munroe
A few years ago in an outstanding debut novel The Informationist, Taylor Stevens introduced us to Vanessa "Michael" Munroe, one of the most complex, violent, dangerous but compelling characters in modern adrenaline-filled action packed adventure fiction. Michael is a dangerous loner who bears emotional and physical scars from her youth, reminiscent of Stieg Larsson's Lisbeth Salander. Michael's horrific past gives her a potential for ferocity and violence to overcome her enemies. She's a super-intelligent and dangerous character who is skilled in martial arts, and always carries a knife. She has an eidetic memory and speaks multiple languages.

This year Taylor Stevens released #5 in the series The Mask which has Michael acting in a similar role to her outstanding debut novel "The Informationist". Again Stevens seems to be on an annual release timetable and I look forward to the next book in the series. While Stevens always writes a good back story I would strongly recommend that you read the series from the beginning to really understand more about Vanessa "Michael" Munroe.

Candice Fox: Archer and Bennett (Hades series)
At the end of 2013 Candice Fox released Hades, an amazing, chilling, violent and emotionally challenging debut novel. I was emotionally flogged by the pace of the action, the violence, the body count and episodes of pure fear.

Hades Archer will arrange to dispose of anything, including bodies - for a fee. But even Hades draws the line when someone wants him to dispose of two small bodies - who are still alive. Hades brings them up in his world and 20 years later Eden and Eric Archer are homicide detectives, but they still have their own dark past inherited from Hades. The ending of the book is absolutely stunning. Once again I would strongly recommend reading this series from the beginning.

The next book couple of books feature Eden but still looks back into the dark past of Hades. This year's release Fall is as dark, violent, quirky and outstanding as her first two highly awarded thrillers. There is a clue that the series will continue - I hope so as it is a very different series from any others I have read, even though most of it is now a crime thriller. Next year Candice Fox will co-author a book with James Patterson which I hope that this will give her name the international exposure that her work deserves.

Malcolm Macdonald: Stevenson family saga 
I revisited "World from Rough Stones" which I had read and enjoyed many years ago. This is the first book in #4 book series about John and Nora Stephenson and their growing and increasingly profitable railway construction contracting business. It is set in the heady days of the early Victorian era when huge fortunes were made (and lost) during the first Industrial Revolution.

When John Stevenson met Nora he was a navvie, a skilled labourer working on the construction of a railway tunnel - very tough manual work. Stevenson quickly realised that Nora would not only be his life partner but with her amazing mathematical and financial talents she would be the foundation of his future business life. When the contractor for the tunnel becomes insolvent with some financial skulduggery supported by his wife, he bids successfully to take over the contract. His chances of success look slim but with his masterly management of his former workmates, he completes the tunnel - by the skin of his teeth.

Stevenson then goes on to build up one of the largest railway and other construction businesses of the era. At the start things are touch and go financially but in a few years he is a very rich man, even having his own private rail coach. Nora is always at his side and their family expands each year in a very Victorian way and the next books in the series focus more and more on the family and how they cope with riches - eg in "The Rich are with you always" and "Sons of Fortune".

This is my favourite book about that era in the rise of English wealth. IMHO it is even better than R F Delderfield's magnificent Swann family saga (see below).

R F Delderfield: Swann family saga
I revisited "God is an Englishman" which I had read and enjoyed many years ago. It is a pretentious title for the superb first book in a series but at that time, England was at the forefront of  the industrial and imperial world. This is Victorian historical fiction at its best - a time during the first Industrial Revolution when English entrepreneurs, inventors and innovators changed life from an a rural/agricultural system to a modern industrial society in a matter of generations.

After a military career, Adam Swann returns to England in 1858  with an intense ambition to build his fortune in the fast-changing and extremely competitive world of Victorian commerce. Swann soon meets his soul-mate, Henrietta, the high-spirited daughter of a local mill owner and they set out to build a family business under the Swann name. Along the way they share challenges, setbacks and eventually an immense fortune.

The secret of Swann's success is building an efficient and competitive business in a niche market - hauling all kinds of goods between the railhead and factories up and down the country, sometimes on appalling roads and gradients. It is Swann's management, people and marketing skills that builds up a business empire and makes his fortune. Henrietta is also starting to grow their own Swann dynasty of 9 children, all with different abilities and character. The challenge to Henrietta is to mold these characteristics to allow her children to make their mark in Victorian society. The latter books in the series explore how the children make their mark, both in the Swann business and in many other ways.

Best books of 2015

This year I have read fewer books than in previous years, but expanded my genre a bit and have read a few very long books (800+ pages) that I had put aside last year. This list is a bit more eclectic than last year and on the whole, I think that I have enjoyed reading more this year than last.

There is no ranking order in this list. My choices are for the most memorable and some may not have been rated 5 stars. Thrillers are marked with an asterisk.

This year I have deliberately started to read more books in my favourite series. While you will see some of the latest books listed below, please go to my best series list for further information.

Leon Uris: Armageddon
This was a superb historical saga about the occupation of Germany after WWII. I was totally absorbed by this superb historical reenactment of the fall of Germany, the occupation by the winning Allies, especially by the Russians in the divided city of Berlin and the Berlin Airlift which really was the start of the Cold War.

The story is told through the lives of fictional US General Andrew Hansen and Major Sean O'Sullivan who plan the occupation of Germany before the surrender and were initially faced with the occupation of a German town with a concentration/extermination camp nearby. The key challenges were to find the worst of the Nazis when most of the population was in denial and finding Germans without Nazi background to govern their people. Then they moved on to Berlin and the struggle with the Russians for control of the ruined city, finishing with the Russian blockade and the Berlin airlift.

Jason Matthews: Palace of Treason *
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 continues to work as a double agent for the CIA.

This is a top-notch espionage thriller that has everything - double-agents, betrayal, violence, great street-craft (avoiding surveillance), revenge, blackmail, and murder. Add some romantic interludes between Dominika and Nate, her CIA handle and the pages sizzle.

Pat Conroy: Prince of Tides (Audiobook)
This was a superb emotional story by Pat Conroy brought to life brilliantly by an Audiobook narration by the late Frank Muller (Conroy said that Muller "gave me ... a work of art"). Conroy is one of my favourite contemporary American authors. His prose is almost poetic and his love for his the beauty of South Carolina's low country stuns the imagination. Surprisingly while I had seen the Oscar-winning movie of Prince of Tides with Barbra Streisand and Nick Nolte I had never read the book, which has an even greater emotional impact.

"Prince of Tides" is the story of the Wingo family living in comfortable poverty on a small island of the South Carolina coast. It is the turbulent story of Tom Wingo and his supremely talented but very troubled twin sister Savannah as they come to grips with the legacy of their extraordinary family and the dark things that happened to them during their childhood. In New York Savannah has tried to kill herself again and Tom travels there to tell her psychiatrist, the beautiful but enigmatic Dr Susan Lowenstein, things about his family history that he and Savannah have repressed to try to keep their sanity.

Jodi Daynard: The Midwife's Revolt (Audiobook)
This was one of the most compelling, captivating, and compulsive historical novels that I have read for some time. It is set in Braintree, Massachusetts near Boston from 1775 onwards during the American Revolutionary War and brought to life a period of history that I, as an Aussie, knew little about.

The "heroine" is Elizabeth "Lizzie" Bolyston, a strong and independent woman whose husband is killed in the struggle for independence, and as a single woman, she does her part to advance the struggle.The story is also in part a biography of Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams, who played a major role, albeit indirectly, in the founding of the United States. John Adams, a country lawyer, was a key figure in the creation of a the new nation and went on to become Vice President to George Washington and eventually the second President of the USA.

Once again I enjoyed this tale even more through the talented narration of the Audiobook by actress Julia Whelan which further brought the period to life for me.

Walter Tevis: The Queen's Gambit
This is a charming story about a young girl, orphaned at the age of eight who gets taught chess by the janitor of the orphanage. Chess becomes her life and at thirteen, she wins a local chess tournament. With the help of her foster-mother, by the age of sixteen, she is competing in the US Open Championship. Her ultimate challenge is to go to Russia to face and beat the Russian world champions.

The Queen's Gambit is a more than a story about chess - it is fundamentally a thriller with the same kind of adrenaline-filled action that takes you into the heat of battle on the chessboard in a similar way that Bernard Cornwell takes you with Richard Sharpe into the heart of battles between the British and the French in the Napoleonic wars.

This was an exciting and beautifully crafted book which had a profound effect on me emotionally.

Ward Larsen: Assassin's Games *
This is the sequel to Larsen's great debut espionage thriller, "The Perfect Assassin". David Slaton, Kidon (Assassin) with Mossad no longer exists, At the end of that book David quietly exited his job to recover from multiple gunshots and is now living a happy peaceful life in Virginia under another identity with his wife Dr. Christine Palmer who had helped his pursuit of Mossad double-agents involved in hijacking a couple of nuclear weapons.

Despite his dreams of a normal life, a Kidon can never expect to retire completely. When his wife's life is threatened David is given the choice to become an assassin again as the only way to save her. He is faced with a dilemma - go to Geneva and kill an Iranian scientist, or lose his new life forever. Christine's words echo in his brain "If you kill this man in Geneva .... don't ever come back to me".

Paula McLain: Circling the Sun
This is a remarkable tale about a remarkable woman - a fictional biography of the life of Beryl Markham, a record-setting female aviator who was the first person to fly solo from east to west across the Atlantic from Europe to America.

McLain's story revisits the scene of Out of Africa with Beryl's childhood in Kenya and her friendship as an adult with Karen Blixen (who as Isak Dinesen wrote the classic tale Out of Africa) and her attraction to Karen's lover, safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton, From Denys she not only discovers the greatest love of her eventful life but also her long-term love for flying.

The book is set against the magnificent wild country of 1920's Africa, and the growth of Nairobi into a major city. It is a powerful, and frequently emotional tale of historical fiction about an amazing independent woman who was really ahead of her time.

Candice Fox: Fall *
This is #3 in the Archer and Bennett series by outstanding Australian author Candice Fox. It is as dark, violent, quirky and outstanding as her first two highly awarded thrillers. The action is fast, intelligent and frequently very violent.

There is a strange bond between Detective Frank Bennett and his partner Detective Eden Archer. While they have worked together for some time, Frank is not really that close to Eden. One reason is that he knows that as well as being a very effective policeman, in the background Eden is also a serial killer, who hunts down and kills whatever lowlife she finds, in a kind of Robyn Hood role. Frank knows and has worked for Eden's "father" Hades Archer who brought her up in a world where he is an expert in body dismemberment and disposal in his own garbage tip.

There is no doubt that Candice Fox is one of the most creative authors of Australian crime thrillers. She has recently landed a co-authorship with James Patterson of a book set in Australia which should help her international reputation.

Philip Kerr: Berlin Noir Trilogy *
This trilogy was written between 1989 and 1991. The books are a great introduction to the excellent Bernie Gunther series by Philip Kerr - one of the best hardboiled police/crime series I have read for a long time. It is extra special because the series is set with meticulously researched historical detail in Nazi Germany before and after the war and is seamlessly integrated with some of the key happenings and powerful personalities of that time.

This is a brilliant trilogy - MARCH VIOLETS, set in 1936; THE PALE CRIMINAL, set in 1938; and A GERMAN REQUIEM set after the war in Berlin and occupied Vienna. The books were so good that it is the first time I have sat down and read all books in a trilogy without a break.

Bernhard (Bernie) Gunther is a Berlin detective who served eleven years as a homicide detective in Kripo (Berlin's criminal police) and left in 1933 when the National Socialists started to purge the force of all non-party members. He becomes a private investigator and then is forced back to Kripo by the Nazis. After witnessing mass killings he fights on the Eastern Front and becomes a POW with the Russians.

Gunther was never a Nazi or a war criminal but went through the war at the front because opposing what was happening was too painful to contemplate. He is not averse to some brutality where necessary in his work, has a tough and rough sense of humour, is constantly cynical but while he is sometimes morally-compromised he has a pragmatic sense of right and wrong.

Philip Kerr didn't revisit Bernie Gunther for 15 years and since then he has written a further 6 books in the series which have been highly acclaimed. This year he released The Lady from Zagreb which I thoroughly enjoyed. I haven't read the other books but plan to do so in 2016.

Charlotte Bronte: Jane Eyre (Audiobook)
During 2015, I discovered Audiobooks and also discovered the joy of hearing several classic novels narrated by magnificent voice actors. I have listened to several marvellous classics but my pick so far is Jane Eyre, one of the most brilliant classic novels of English literature. The skills of the narrator, English actress Emma Messenger, brought the book to life in an emotional and compelling way.

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.

29 December 2015

Bernard Cornwell: Sharpe's Company

Once more into the breach - to save his family
Once again Bernard Corwell puts us in the frontline of battle when Richard Sharpe joins the Siege of Badajoz, January to April 1812. Sharpe has to go into the one of the bloodiest battles of his life to rescue the woman he loves and his young baby.

It has been a very hard winter for Sharpe. His promotion to Captain has been turned down by the bureaucrats in Whitehall and he has lost his command to someone who could afford to purchase his old command. Now as Lieutenant Sharpe he also has to contend with his oldest enemy from days in India, the malevolent, crazy and dangerous Sergeant Hakeswill who was his arch-enemy in India.

Wellesley, now Lord Wellington, has to capture Badajoz to secure the Portuguese - Spanish frontier and allow him to advance into Spain. Badajoz was a formidable fort and the French had added some formidable barriers and trenches to make a siege almost impossible. Sharpe is so demoralised by his situation that he asks Wellington to let him be in the first wave of the attack on the breaches.

Again this is historical fiction at its best, with a back story about Richard Sharpe to make it more interesting. Again you are in the centre of a bloody battle - one of the bloodiest of the Napoleonic Wars. On viewing the aftermath of the Battle, Wellington lost his composure and cried at the sight of the bloody carnage in the breaches.

This #13 in a #21 book series. They are all magnificent reading and highly recommended.

27 December 2015

Candice Fox: Fall

Dark, Violent and Quirky
This is #3 in the Archer and Bennett series by Candice Fox and it is as dark, violent, quirky and outstanding as her first two highly awarded thrillers.

There is a strange bond between Detective Frank Bennett and his partner Detective Eden Archer. Maybe it is because Frank is damaged because he had seen his girlfriend murdered or because Eden volunteered to go underground to trap a couple of serial killers who had slit her open from her sternum to navel. However, the strongest bond is because Frank knows that Eden is also a serial killer, who hunts down and kills whatever lowlife she finds, in a kind of Robyn Hood role. It is also because Frank knows and has worked for Eden's "father" Hades Archer who brought her up in a world where he is a body disposal expert using his own garbage tip.

Eden is still recovering physically and is now able to get around with only one crutch. Their first case when they get back to work is a couple of gruesome murders of night-time joggers in Sydney's public parks. The killings look very personal with violent destruction of the victims' faces. There is great public interest in the killings and there is a race to find the killer before he/she strikes again.

Frank is dating Imogen, the psychologist trying to banish his anxieties following his girlfriend's death, who just happens to be a dangerous narcissist. She is especially dangerous because she is digging up the 20-year-old Tanner case and wants to prove that Eden was one of the missing children.

Fox also introduces us to another unusual character "Hooky" who is a diminutive young Vietnamese girl recovering from personal tragedy when her sister murdered her parents. She is a genius, dresses as a punk-Japanese-rocker, and has superintelligence which saw her get top honours at University in computing science with an engineering major. Her chosen therapy is to work with the police who investigated her parents' murder and she soon becomes an unofficial but very valuable asset to Frank and Eden, especially in using the dark web to hunt down and identify pedophiles. The scary part is when she meets Hades and Eden on their home turf, at the tip.

While the serial killer case is reasonably straightforward, there are a couple of clever endings that come out of left field and will leave you stunned.

Candice Fox sprang to fame as an Australian author of very different type of thriller when she released her award-winning debut novel HADES a couple of years ago. Last year she followed up here success with a similarly quirky, dark and violent successor, EDEN. I have been a Candice Fox fan from the beginning and this book certainly caps an outstanding trilogy. There may be a clue to the direction of further​ books which could be stunners.

There is no doubt the Candice Fox is one of the most creative authors of Australian crime thrillers. I see that she has landed a co-authorship with James Patterson of a book set in Australia which should help her international reputation. I wish her well with that venture and hope that the Patterson book editing factory doesn't decimate her writing talents to bring them into line with their standards.

Bernard Cornwell: Sharpe's Battle

Sharpe fights for his life and career
The setting is Captain Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Fuentes de Oñoro, May 1811 - shortly after the destruction of Almeida (Sharpe's Gold). Almeida is still under siege and the French are mounting a campaign to relieve the forces held at that fort.

Sharpe and his small band of riflemen and Redcoats come across the ferocious French Wolf Brigade led by Brigadier Loup, whose colours have wolf tails hanging from them. With Loup is clearing the way for the main French forces, and clearing means total violent clearance of the population without any exceptions.

Sharpe comes across a village in the process of clearance, with dead bodies piled up and two violent rapes in process. When he captures the village from the departing Wolves he meets Brigadier Loup under a white flag discussion and both men know that at some time they will try to kill one another. Sharpe is so incensed at the slaughter that he brings out the two rapists and has them executed by firing squad in front of Loup. This kind of execution is outside the rules of war followed by Lord Wellington, head of the British and Portuguese troops fighting against the French.

Sharpe's tells one of his Portugues allies about his actions and plans. He immediately comes under the risk of a military inquiry or court martial that could finish his career. Before that happens the French attack Wellington's forces in a battle that could easily have seen his forces overrun. Of course,  despite being ordered to look after re-supply of ammunition, Sharpe manages to get in the middle of this battle, and of course, Sharpe is looking out to take his revenge on Brigadier Loup.

This is vintage Sharpe with vivid battle scenes where you are in the centre of the fight, the cannon fire, the gunpowder of the rifles and muskets, and the bloody sword and bayonet carnage. However, this time, it seemed to lack a little something that would have made it outstanding. Maybe it was because this book was written out of sequence, maybe it was because Sharpe didn't find female companionship, maybe it was because Sharpe didn't play a key role in the battle. Or maybe Cornwell found it more difficult to write this book because it was probably forced onto him to complete part of the Sharpe's television series.

Despite that, if you are a Sharpe fan it is another excellent adventure and history lesson - and there are still many more to come, this is #12 out of #20 in this fantastic series.

26 December 2015

Tony Park: Empty Coast

Exciting adventure set in Namibia
Tony Park is renowned for his adventure stories set in different parts of Africa and can be relied upon for thrilling stories set in some of the most beautiful but frequently very dangerous places in the world. This story brings back two strong characters from Park's earlier stories - Sonja Kurtz (from "The Delta"), an ex-soldier turned mercenary and Hudson Brand (from "The Hunter"), ex-CIA, now a safari guide who also moonlights in dangerous insurance investigations.

Sonja is in Vietnam on a contract to track down and kill a wealthy businessman who is involved in the illegal smuggling of financially valuable horns from endangered Rhinos into SE Asia.

At the same time, her daughter Emma, a student archeologist, is on a dig at the edge of Namibia's Etosha National Park which discovers a body that dates back to the war of liberation from South Africa in the 1980's. The body has dog tags identifying it as Hudson Brand, but Brand is alive and well living in South Africa. What she doesn't know is that the body could be a vital clue to locating a modern-day lost treasure and when the news is released other dangerous people join in the hunt.

Emma immediately sends an urgent text message to Sonja for her help in finding out what has happened. On her return to Africa after her successful mission, Sonya gets the message from her daughter, but when she gets to Namibia she finds that Emma has disappeared. Brand also finds out about the discovery and goes to Namibia as well because he knows more about the victim from his time in the civil war. Both Sonya and Brand have to face up to their own past history in Namibia and must join up to find Emma.

Once again this is an exciting and frequently page-turning adventure set mostly in the game reserves of Southern Africa. This time, the action also moves to the "Skeleton Coast" on the Atlantic seaboard of Namibia, in one of the dryest and most inhospitable deserts in the world.

I am a fan of Tony Park's work, especially as it tells me a lot about Africa, its wildlife, the environment and its frequently very violent history. This one has an especially important environmental message about the ongoing battle to prevent the unnecessary slaughter of critically endangered Rhinos for their horns.

Kate Forsyth: The Beast's Garden

A Nazi Fairy Tale romantic thriller
My wife read this book and recommended that I should read it because I have read a lot of historical fiction about Nazi Germany. I am glad that it did because it gave a different perspective to most of the books I have read about that era. This time, the perspective is seen through the eyes of Eva Falkenhorst, an Aryan German woman whose closest family friends are Rupert and Jetta who are Jewish.

In November 1938, the Nazis made a  massive, coordinated attack on Jews throughout the German Reich, now known as Kristallnacht or The Night of Broken Glass. On that night when she finds herself in the middle of the trouble Eva meets and is helped by a handsome young Nazi officer, Leo von Lowenstein who works for Admiral Canaris, chief of the Abwher, the German intelligence service. Despite his Nazi credentials, Eva is immediately attracted to him and the attraction is mutual. Although they have very different backgrounds and beliefs they fall in love and when things get hard for the Falkenhorst's and their Jewish friends, Eva agrees to marry Leo.

Then follows a bit of a fairy tale about how Eva can love and live with a Nazi while helping her Jewish friends and working with the Berlin underground resistance. Rupert is arrested and sent to a concentration camp and Jetta lives in hiding to save her life. Leo is deeply disturbed with what he sees in Poland and with his knowledge of into what is happening. He slowly gets involved in dangerous plots to assassinate Hitler.

As the war progresses Berlin is bombed into ruins and the occupants, including Eva, live a hand-to-mouth existence. The Gestapo relentlessly hunt down the remaining Jews in Berlin for transport to elimination camps and ruthlessly track and eliminate any resistance. Eva's life and eventually Leo's hangs in the balance.

This book is essentially a romance, with a backdrop of violence, cruelty, war and a fight for survival. It gives an interesting and sometimes very different view of life in Germany during the Nazi's and the struggles of the German people to survive the impact of war.

I enjoyed the book despite some credibility problems, especially towards the finale and in the aftermath. Readers should bear in mind that the story is loosely based on the Grimm Brothers' "Beauty and the Beast". Fairy tales are the basis of most of the Australian author Kate Forsythe's other works - she has a doctorate in fairy tale studies.

My wife gave this book 5 stars. I was more cautious but gave it 4.5 stars because of the different slant it gave to an era that has been covered by so many other novels and war stories.

Brett Battles: The Silenced: A Novel (A Jonathan Quinn Novel Book 4)

Family ties get involved in the "cleaning" business
Jonathan Quinn is a fascinating fictional character who runs a "cleaning" business - but he is not your normal cleaner. He contracts to "clean" away dead bodies, sometimes making them disappear and sometimes leaving them to be found in what appears to be accidental circumstances. Of course, he is always equipped for cleaning up a murder scene and well equipped to deal with dangerous situations.

This time, things are a little different because the job he is contracted to do impacts on his family - the family that he abandoned long ago. He has just lost his father (who he hated) and at the funeral while his mother is loving, his sister, Liz, still despises him because he left home without an apparent reason. Of course, the family have no idea what Quinn does for a living. You may also start to get a bit confused with Quinn's real name, Jake Oliver which he changed a long time ago.

When Quinn is "cleaning" on a contract for a man called David Wills, at the scene Quinn spots another team who turn out to be Russian. They have a very different agenda as they are tracking down someone they call "The Ghost" who has been killing off all of the people who are in an old photo with "The Ghost". Then another brutal team comes into the action and threatens to kidnap Quinn's mother (in Minnesota) and his sister (in Paris) to stop his pursuit of  "The Ghost".

Quinn arranges protection for his mother but protecting a sister who hates him is much harder. In the process of finding and defeating "The Ghost" and his team, Quinn must also protect the family he abandoned so long ago, which he still loves.

This is a convoluted and clever plot bringing together Quinn's current life with his former one. It is a great action-packed page-turning adventure that should be enjoyed not only by anyone who has read any earlier books in the series but also by newcomers because Battles has seamlessly included a great back-story.

13 December 2015

Mark Greaney: Back Blast

Is this the best or the worst CIA thriller I have read?
This could be both the best and the worst CIA thriller you have read - the choice depends on whether you like your action to be basically believable or totally unbelievable.

Court Gentry is probably the best covert agent that the CIA has ever had. Then one day he changed from being the hunter to being the hunted, with all of his buddies sent out by their CIA leader to kill him because of something he had done. The problem is that nobody has told Gentry what he has done wrong.

In previous books in this series, Gentry has avoided death by killing all of his old buddies. To clear his name, he must return to the US to find out the truth. Within hours of smuggling himself into the country, he is involved in a huge shootout at a drug dealer's house and left on the run from the CIA and an unexpected group of other assassins.

If you like your CIA action thrillers to be fast-moving, adrenaline pumping, with the "hero" doing impossible things then you will love this book as Greany is a master of this kind of action. If you don't have any problems with unbelievable corruption at top levels in the CIA then you will also love this book. If you are of this opinion you might give this book 5 stars.

If you like to have some semblance of believability in this kind of story then it will definitely not be to your taste. I am of this opinion and I do admit to laughing out loud many times at the many unbelievable and nonsensible parts of this book. Because of this I rated it as one of the worst, if not the worst, CIA thriller I have read (and I have read a lot of them) and could only give it 2 stars.

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

Steve Robinson: In the Blood (Jefferson Tayte Genealogical Mystery)

An unusual Genealogical Mystery
Jefferson Tayte is a genealogical consultant who tracks down family trees and solves long-lost family secrets. In this book, he is hired to track down the descendants of a family who left Boston for England at the end of the American War of Independence. This should have been fairly straightforward, but Tate finds some disturbing discrepancies at around the time the family gets to Cornwall.

Despite his fear of flying, he is persuaded by his client to travel to England to find out more on the spot in Cornwall. He is immediately immersed in unexpected happenings, including murders and attacks from unknown assailants. The family secrets have disturbed some very unsavoury people.

The idea of a mystery based around trying to discover 200-year-old family history secrets is a novel one which was the start of a successful series of books featuring Jefferson Tayte. I found this book pretty vanilla and the character of Jefferson Tayte not very compelling. This may be because I listened to this as an audiobook and the narrator didn't really bring the book to life for me.

I have the other books in the series in my library which I picked up as daily deals but it may take some time before I read another one.

Michael Connelly: City of Bones

An early Harry Bosch thriller
In preparation for reading Micheal Connelly's latest Harry Bosch book THE CROSSING - #16 in the series -  I took the opportunity to read this book (#8) which I had missed several years ago. I am glad I did because it reminded me of some of his past with LAPD but also reminded me that Harry Bosch, the detective, really hasn't changed much over the years.

This time, Bosch gets involved in investigating some bones found in a shallow grave. The victim is a young boy, killed about 25 years ago, who appears to have been subject to extensive physical abuse. The discovery gets a lot of press attention and it soon becomes clear that there is a serious information leak from police or other sources connected to the case which has tragic results.

This is classic Bosch as he finds things that others would overlook. It is also classic Bosch because he doesn't follow normal procedures in his key investigations and is in constant conflict with his superiors, especially when they think they have found a suspect.

I was glad that I read this book as it highlighted the talent of America's top crime thriller author who is still at the top of his game in his latest book in the series.

Peter Watt: Beneath a Rising Sun: The Frontier Series 9

Wallerie still haunts the Macintoshes and the Duffys
This is another great episode from Peter Watt, one of Australia's top storytellers, in the excellent long-running family saga/feud between the Macintoshes and the Duffys. The feud started in the 1860's (see Cry of the Curlew) when David Macintosh and his men kill most of the Darambal tribe on Glen View Station in northern Queensland. While Aboriginal elder Wallerie has passed on, his spirit still follows the feud and protects and/or haunts the current protagonists.

Peter Watt does his best to tell some of the earlier back stories, but this is a very complex family saga so, even for those like me who have read the full series, the family tree of both families is an essential starting point.

Beneath a Rising Sun is set in a single year, 1943, when Australia was at war with Japan and under threat of an invasion. The Duffy's are in action around the globe and at home. Sergeant Jessica Duffy works in MacArthur’s Brisbane headquarters and with the help of Donald Macintosh, (one of the good ones in that family) she is also secretly reporting on the Americans to the Australian Prime Minister. Tom Duffy is patrolling Northern Australia and nearly loses his life from a snakebite. Captain James Duffy from the American side of the family is a Marines fighter ace, taken out of active duty on stress leave to sell War Bonds in LA and go hobnobbing with Hollywood stars. Sean Duffy is still a top Sydney lawyer, but his life is frequently in danger of his life from the evil side of the Macintosh family.

Major David Macintosh, another good one, has fought battles around the world but has to deal with his devious cousin Sarah, with whom he had a brief fling with in the previous book. She battles with her cousin Donald for ultimate control of the company. Her father George Macintosh, a real nasty, is in the final stages of syphilis. Both George and Sarah will do anything including arranging murders to advance their causes.

As always the spirit of the mythical elderly Aboriginal warrior Wallarie still haunts the family members, protecting some and warning others of danger.

Despite the complexities of the family plot, Peter Watt brings it all together pretty seamlessly in another episode of this excellent Australian historical saga. This time, the setting was Australia at war in the Pacific. What surprised me was that the book only covers one year of the war, so there are many more episodes to come. That is something to look forward to at the end of next year.

Leon Uris: Armageddon

Superb historical saga about the start of the Cold War
I have read many great historical sagas but have to admit that this is the best one I have read by the late Leon Uris. I was totally absorbed by this superb historical reenactment of the fall of Germany, the occupation by the winning Allies, especially by the Russians in the divided city of Berlin and the Berlin Airlift.

Uris first introduces us to a General Andrew Hansen and Major Sean O'Sullivan in 1944 when they are planning what needs to be done when the Germans surrender and the occupying forces take over. The task is formidable, not only how to find and treat the defeated Nazis but also to govern areas mostly flattened by bombing with essential services destroyed.

Hansen and O'Sullivan first cut their teeth governing a medium sized city where some buildings survive but most of its factories have been destroyed. They are immediately faced with the discovery of a nearby concentration camp, not as bad as Auschwitz but with thousands of prisoners left near to death. They are also faced with tracking down and arresting the worst of the Nazis. Sean's reaction to the atrocities is to make sure that all of the locals see the local camp firsthand. Most locals deny that they knew anything about the camp, despite the smell of the camp being evident for miles.

Sean struggles to try to understand how the German people supported the Nazis but are now denying that they had anything to do with them. While he is a just and frequently sympathetic ruler, at heart he has a basic hatred of the Germans, especially as both of his brothers were killed in the war.

After successfully tackling a smaller city both Hansen and O'Sullivan are moved to Berlin to face immense destruction plus the problems of shared occupation of the city by the four main allied powers, America, Russia, England and France. From the start, the Russians play their own game and make things harder and harder for the other powers with dirty tricks after dirty tricks. The real game changer is when Russia closes down all land communication to Berlin from the other occupation zones.

This triggers the Berlin Airlift. At first, this seems a virtual impossibility but American enterprise and the development of advanced aviation air traffic control and radar technology keeps the non-Russian sectors of Berlin alive, even during the worst of winters and appalling flying conditions.

While Sean gradually gets closer to an understanding of the German people he continues to face up to his personal hatred of the people who had taken away most of his family.

This is an epic historical saga written from the American point of view which revealed a lot about a period of recent history that I really didn't know too much about.

A wise American General asked, "Will the German people change?" The reply was "Come back in 25 years and I will tell you". The last 65 years have seen major changes with the building and removal of the Berlin wall leading to reunification with East Germany. Today we see them as the leading power in the EU and facing up to absorbing almost as many refugees as there were in pre-war Germany.

I highly recommend this excellent book to anyone who wants to know more about the period and to enjoy an absorbing and page-turning story of turbulent times.

Leon Uris:Exodus

Classic story of the birth struggles for Israel
I have seen the movie based on this book several times but had never read the book which is very different. It is basically a history of the early years of Jewish settlement in Palestine and the first years of birth struggles for the state of Israel.

There is a dramatic story featuring a range of Jewish settlers, an American nurse, the British and the Arabs, but, in reality, it seemed to be a back-story as the action takes up less than half of the book. Most of the book is a very detailed journalistic history of some of the most important events in recent Jewish and Middle Eastern history.

I am fascinated by the history of the Jews and their dreams of returning to Israel but at times, the history was very detailed and somewhat boring. Uris switched between the two themes almost randomly and it was difficult to keep abreast of the back-story.

During the UN vote on the partition of Palestine, one of the Arab states said, "...we will never recognise the Jews. There will be bloodshed over this day..." So much of the history of the Middle East in the book hasn't really changed since then but has probably got worse.