Over 550 book reviews with full author links

23 February 2016

Julie Thomas: Rachel's Legacy

The Secrets of the Letters
One day art historian Dr Kobi Voight from Melbourne is given a set of letters by his mother who had come to Australia with her German parents in the late 1940's. The letters, written in Hebrew and filled with beautiful sketches, are the reflections of a young Jewish woman to her young baby in 1942. His mother thought that they were old papers which her mother had acquired during her long life - but they are a key that unlocks the past for Kobi and eventually his mother.

The letters are a young mother's personal messages to her baby who she gave away to a German couple to save her baby's life. The author, who called herself "Ruby" was part of a resistance circle, the Red Orchestra, that worked to undermine Hitler's Germany. For protection, she made up names for her friends and her family, many of whom had been killed or sent to concentration camps. The letters stopped in 1942 when the resistance circle was broken by the Nazis. Ruby's fate was unknown.

While looking for a priceless piece of art by German Renaissance master artist Albrecht Dürer, Kobi finds a link to its ownership by the Horowitz family who we already know from KEEPER OF SECRETS. The journey of discovery will take Kobi to Germany and the US. It will expose him to the horrors of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, through to the present day and will eventually unravel the secrets of the letters.

When I read KEEPER OF SECRETS I didn't foreshadow a sequel, nor, at first, did the author. However, in her extensive research for the earlier novel Julie Thomas learned a lot about the Red Orchestra, a very brave resistance and spy organisation that worried the Nazis. Using that information and weaving it around the Horowitz family Thomas has written another notable, sometimes harrowing and often emotional  tale. If you enjoyed the earlier book you will certainly enjoy this one. 4.5 stars.

19 February 2016

John A Heldt: The Mine

Interesting and tender time-travel tale
I am a bit of a sucker for the fantasy of time-travel tales. It is interesting to see the different time vortexes (eg jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge, using a special watch, and walking down special steps at the right time etc.), the different reactions to moving to another time period and the problems of whether to return home (if they can), and should they do things that might affect the course of history. With THE MINE John Heldt has started off a series of time-travel tales that are well written, and cleverly plotted to make the most of this fantasy genre.

In 2000 Joel Smith is a confident and adventurous college senior with no worries in the world. One day during a trip to Montana he sees a TV news item about a very rare significant planetary conjunction.  Soon after, following his keen interest in geology he breaks into a boarded-up abandoned mine, passes through a glowing passageway and when he comes out he finds himself in mid-1941, a time only a few months away from Pearl Harbour in days of swing music and a peacetime draft in anticipation of war.

After the initial shock of finding himself in the past, Joel quickly finds his way back to his hometown of Seattle by jumping a freight train. Down on his luck with no money, hungry and tired he helps an apparently rich young man, Tom, from being mugged. Tom takes him home and lets him live in a trailer in the garden. He also introduces him to his girlfriend Ginnie a lovely free-spirited young girl of 21. How would you react to meeting your beloved Grandmother in her youth?

Joel slowly settles down to life in the 1940's, becomes a star salesman in Tom's father's furniture store and makes a lot of money carefully betting on sporting events where he knows the outcome. He makes many friends, especially among Ginnie's circle of beautiful independent-minded young females. Then Joel meets Grace..... But then Pearl Harbour is just around the corner and the rare confluence of planets is about to happen again that may give him a chance to go back to where he belongs.

John Heldt is a great storyteller and seems to have had a lot of fun putting together a bunch of great characters in an unusual setting. I thoroughly enjoyed this fairly short, well-written, entertaining tale with frequently tender (but not explicit) relationships. I see that he has written 5 books in this series and look forward to joining Heldt's other time travellers in their adventures. 4.5 stars.

14 February 2016

Barry Lancet: Pacific Burn: A Thriller (A Jim Brodie Thriller)

Lancet's cross-cultural thrillers keep getting better
This is #3 in Barry Lancet's series featuring Jim Brodie, born in Japan to American parents, who went to Japanese schools and integrated Japanese society as well as a foreigner can. He has a great expertise in Japanese culture, history, and martial arts and shares his time as a dealer in Japanese art and antiques in San Francisco with running his late father's Tokyo-based private investigation firm.

Brodie is asked by a friend in the SFPD to help out at a murder scene in the Napa Valley to translate for a very frightened eight-year-old Japanese boy who saw his father murdered outside a major cultural centre in Napa. Brodie knows the victim because he is the son of renowned Japanese ceramic artist Ken Nobuki. With the help of a talented police artist, the young child is able to create a realistic sketch of the killer.

A few days later Brodie leaves City Hall with Ken Nobuki when a sniper attacks them from the top of the Asian Art Museum. Nobuki is hit in the head and left in a near-death induced coma in hospital. Then Nobuki's daughter Naomi, a journalist with a long term fixation on the "nuclear mafia" protecting SEPCO the owner of the damaged Fukushima nuclear power station, comes into the killer's sights.

When Brodie travels to Tokyo he finds that he is also targeted by the killer and it becomes clear that there is a contract out on the Tobuki's and on Brodie. It is not clear if the contract has been taken out by the nuclear mafia or if there is a more personal connection. The Japanese assassin, nicknamed the "Steam Walker", has an unblemished record and martial arts skills to overcome even those of Jim Brodie.

This is a fairly short but very fast moving thriller, moving from the US to Japan and showcasing Lancet's deep understanding of Japanese life and culture. I was impressed by the short chapters which increased the pace of the action.

Tokyo Kill was better than the debut novel Japantown and this one goes a step further to enhance Lancet's undoubted skills as a writer of cross-cultural thrillers. It once again centres on many aspects of  Japanese culture and behaviours. My only reservation was that I did get a bit lost with some of the US security connections, plus the need for Brodie to once again to use Japenese mythology to give the tale more authenticity. It was a short, well-written and fast-paced page-turning thriller with a difference. 4.5 stars.

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

10 February 2016

Stephen Coonts: The Art of War

One of the best Grafton/Carmellini adventures
Stephen Coonts has written many military/political suspense thrillers featuring Jake Grafton and his sidekick Tommy Carmellini. When I read the synopsis I thought that Coonts had taken this series too far, but I was very wrong as he manages to make an otherwise unbelievable plot almost believable and authentic and has the two main characters chasing down the Chinese dragon threatening the doors of the US.

The basics of the plot are that the Chinese, with a small navy, want to be able to dominate the South China Sea but this will never happen with the predominant naval strength of the US. The scenario has the Chinese smuggling a nuclear weapon underwater into the midst of the largest naval base in the US in Norfolk, Virginia, with plans to destroy much of the US fleet when all nuclear aircraft carriers are scheduled to be in port during December. This would be another Pearl Harbour which will leave the US without world naval power for years. The Chinese hope that the explosion would be blamed on a nuclear bomb accident on board one of the carriers.

As the Chinese plans unfold, at the same time there are a series of assassinations of key US security officials, starting with the head of the CIA. While he is not next in line, the President chooses Jack Grafton to be interim head of the CIA. Grafton loses no time in starting to track down the killer and soon realises that he could become a target himself and gets his pit-bull, Tommy Carmellini, to handle his security. Things go from bad to worse when Air Force One is taken down by an EMP on a drone. At first, the Russians are implicated in the attack and Tommy is sent off to make contact with a Russian contact to find the truth.

All in all, this is a closely plotted thriller that seems to defy believability but has sufficient potential authenticity to overcome my worries about reading outlandish thrillers. Grafton and Carmellini shine again but never get close. Carmellini is still one of the best operatives in this kind of action-packed thriller, and this time the action gets very much up close and personal for him. Grafton is always cool and collected and is able to work well with the various security agencies and the White House to get things done.

One of the key elements of  Coonts' writing is his ability to write about the administration of government without getting involved in political issues as many other authors of this kind of thriller. As usual, Coonts includes some nail-biting military action which is a signature of most of this series. Other best-selling authors have covered similar ground with nuclear weapons being smuggled into the US by the Russians and Islamic terrorists but this is the first time I have seen the Chinese involved.

All in all, I really enjoyed this page-turning and adrenaline churning thriller and recommend it to anyone who is a fan of this kind of genre. 4.5 stars.