Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Star Trek: Prey: Book Two: The Jackal's Trick by John Jackson Miller

The Jackal’s Trick is the middle book in the Prey trilogy set in the Star Trek Universe. The book  picks up shortly after the events at the end of the first book, Hell’s Heart. Korgh continues to sow discord that threatens the century long peace between the Federation and the Klingon Empire after the Khitomer Accords. Korgh’s influence in the Empire grows as the Unsung and their shadow wing of Birds of Prey ships continue to wreak havoc and disrupt peace talks aimed at creation of a safe corridor of space for travel by numerous races.

Admiral William Riker works at maintaining the fragile peace while his flagship, along with the Enterprise and Captain Picard continue to hunt the Unsung as well as whoever is behind them. Meanwhile, Worf is once again isolated and outnumbered as he takes on a mission that has become deeply personal for him.

This second book explores more of the history of Cross, the Kruge impersonator who is key to Korgh’s schemes. The plight of the unsung and the role of discommendation in general in Klingon society is an interesting subtext to the events in this book and this series. The role of honor among Klingons is well known, but the implications of the Klingon treatment of those judged without honor is explored more fully here.

John Jackson Miller has a firm grasp on the characters in the Star Trek Universe. He delivers an exciting book with great action scenes and a riveting conspiracy. Hidden agendas and secret plans spice up the action. More favorite characters, such as Tuvok, pop up in this book both in aid of unraveling the current conspiracy as well as to provide insight into past events that have helped shape the present. Miller does a great job of interspersing outstanding action scenes in amongst a fascinating conspiracy and characters who are not always what they appear to be. This book is a blast and I can’t wait to see how the series concludes.

Robert Petkoff’s narration is once again amazing. He voices a large cast that includes humans, Klingons, and various other alien races. His pace complements the story and underscores the action. He manages to draw you into the story without ever distracting from it. An outstanding performance. Highly recommended.

I was fortunate to receive a copy of this book from the publisher.

Description: The Klingon-Federation alliance is in peril as never before. Lord Korgh has seized control of the House of Kruge, executing a plot one hundred years in the making. The Klingon cult known as the Unsung rampages across the stars, striking from the shadows in their cloaked Birds-of-Prey. And the mysterious figure known as Buxtus Cross launches a scheme that will transform the Klingon Empire forever.

Into danger flies Admiral William T. Riker and the USS Titan, charged with protecting the peace forged nearly a century before during the Khitomer Accords. Aided by Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the USS Enterprise, Riker and his officers scour the stars, seeking to find the Unsung and uncover the truth behind the conspiracy before time runs out.

Yet even as Commander Worf departs on a deeply personal mission of honor, hidden sinister forces seek to turn the crisis to their advantage. And the conspirators’ plans threaten to spiral out of control, jeopardizing the very empire they aspire to rule.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Exit Strategy by Steve Hamilton

In Exit Strategy, Steve Hamilton has created a dynamite followup to The Second Life of Nick Mason which introduced us to the titular hero.

Nick Mason traded his life to criminal kingpin Darius Cole in exchange for his freedom. The freedom to see his family, an ex-wife and a young daughter. Now, whenever Nick’s phone rings, he must do Cole’s bidding with no questions asked. In The Second Life of Nick Mason, Mason learns he has traded one cage for another. In Exit Strategy, Nick must keep doing increasingly dangerous jobs, including killing the people in witness protection who stand between Darius Cole and freedom.

Exit Strategy starts with a bang, literally, as Nick finds himself sent to gun down one of the witnesses from Darius Cole’s trial who is back in Chicago in preparation to testify again at the retrial. Nick must continue to perform his tasks while searching for a way out of his seemingly impossible predicament. Each step seems to take him further away from the man he thought he was. His latest task sets him on a collision course with a dangerous assassin: the man he replaced in Cole’s organization.

The first Nick Mason book gives us some background on how Nick came to be in his current predicament and what he was willing to trade to see his family again. In this book, the action leaps off the page from the very beginning and continues at a breakneck pace all the way to the end. Nick has to compromise his morals to the point where it’s unclear they still exist. What is clear is that failure to follow Cole’s instructions place the lives of his family in jeopardy, as well as anyone else who is close to him. Nick is placed in the impossible situation of helping Cole win his freedom, which will only put Nick further under Cole’s thumb.

Hamilton does a great job of keeping the action moving from beginning to end. He never lets you feel comfortable that anyone is safe and the surprises keep coming all the way to the end. This is turning into a really good series and Nick Mason is a great creation. I can’t wait to read the next one. Highly recommended.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.

Description: Nick Mason has been given a true mission impossible: Infiltrate WITSEC, the top-secret federal witness-protection program that has never been compromised, locate the three men who put his boss Darius Cole behind bars for life, and kill them.

But first he has to find them—they’re ghost prisoners locked down around the clock in classified “deep black” locations by a battalion of heavily armed U.S. marshals charged with protecting them—and the clock is ticking. Cole is appealing his conviction, and these witnesses are either his ticket to freedom or the final nail in his coffin. If they testify, Darius Cole will never step foot in the outside world again. If they are killed, he will walk out a free man.  

As he risks everything to complete his mission, Mason finds himself being hunted by the very man he replaced, the ruthless assassin who once served, then betrayed, Darius Cole. Rather than waiting to be Mason’s next victim, he has escaped witness protection to hunt down and kill Mason himself.

In an action-packed journey that leads from a high-security military installation in the Appalachian Mountains to a secret underground bunker hidden far below the streets of New York City, Nick Mason will have to become, more than ever before, the lethal weapon that Darius Cole created.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Pawn: A Chronicle of the Sibyl's War by Timothy Zahn

Timothy Zahn kicks off a great new space opera trilogy with Pawn: A Chronicle of the Sibyl’s War. Zahn is no stranger to space adventure and Pawn shows he is still hitting on all cylinders.

19-year-old Nicole and frenemy/street thug Bungie along with the ER doctor they’ve kidnapped to treat Bungie’s wounds are in turn abducted and find themselves on the spaceship Fyrantha where they have been recruited as part of a maintenance crew.
Nicole finds that she is a Sibyl, which means with some pharmaceutical help, she can understand the living ship’s instructions and relay them to others. Nicole discovers she has it better on Fyrantha than she ever did on the streets of Philadelphia. Bungie, however, is desperate to escape and Nicole’s fear of his wrath leads her to explore areas of the ship which should be off limits. She discovers that there are several alien races on board beyond the ones who abducted her and that the ship holds a lot of mystery. How big is it? What is its purpose? And who is really in control?
Zahn does a great job of letting you see the ship through Nicole’s eyes, with new discoveries and new mysteries around every corner. Her actions have consequences both intended and unintended. Nicole’s life has been spent keeping her head down and trying to survive. But she is skilled at reading people, and her newfound and growing confidence on board Fyrantha sees her start to come out of her shell and steer her destiny rather than be swept away by it.
Pawn is a great story of discovery and adventure. Zahn captures the wonder of space and starships and aliens. The characters are solid and interesting, the action is exciting and the mystery will keep you turning the pages to find out what happens next. Pawn kicks off a space opera adventure trilogy that will keep you up until you finish it and then have you eagerly awaiting the next installment. Fans of his previous work will love it and it’s a great place for new fans to jump in. Highly recommended!
I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.
Description: Nicole Lee’s life is going nowhere. No family, no money, and stuck in a relationship with a thug named Bungie. But, after one of Bungie’s “deals” goes south, he and Nicole are whisked away by a mysterious moth-like humanoid to a strange ship called the Fyrantha.
Once aboard, life on the ship seems too good to be true. All she has to do is work on one of the ship’s many maintenance crews. However, she learned long ago that nothing comes without a catch. When she’s told to keep quiet and stop asking questions, she knows she is on to something.
Nicole soon discovers that many different factions are vying for control of the Fyrantha, and she and her friends are merely pawns in a game beyond their control. But, she is tired of being used, and now Nicole is going to fight.


Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Rising by Heather Graham and Jon Land

The Rising by Heather Graham and Jon Land is an ambitious sci-fi thriller featuring two young protagonists, a world-threatening mystery and lots of action. Alex Chin is captain of the football team and one of the most popular kids in school and on track to a college scholarship. Samantha Dixon is his tutor and left her own athletic career behind to pursue academics. She has a highly coveted NASA internship that places her on her own path to success. A freak football accident lands Alex in the hospital. Alex’s doctor discovers a medical anomaly and is murdered and so are Alex’s adoptive parents, who die trying to preserve secrets about Alex that even he is unaware of. When he flees for his life, Samantha refuses to leave his side. They end up on the run and unsure of who to trust. To survive, they must unravel the secrets of Alex’s past and prevent a disaster that could bring about the end of the world as we know it.

Graham’s skill with suspense and romance blend well with Land’s strength in action sequences. The action centers around Alex and Samantha’s efforts to discover the truth and prevent disaster from happening, all while on the run up and down the California coast. It soon becomes apparent that more than one group is after Alex and Samantha, some of whom want to help, some who don’t. The action scenes are well done and interesting. The mystery of who Alex is and why he is there is a little convoluted and ultimately unsatisfying. The main characters are believable and have some depth to them, but aren’t terribly interesting. The other characters are a bit thinly drawn so it’s hard to know what to make of them.

The audio version of the book is narrated by Luke Daniels. Daniels does an effective job distinguishing among the characters in the book. Each voice is quite distinct. He also complements the pace of the story with the pace and emotion of his reading. This is sometimes hampered by the structure of the book which is broken up into small chapters with some of the breaks coming in mid-conversation for reasons that are unclear. Some of the choices he makes for character voices are a little over the top and verge on distracting.

The Rising is a solid sci-fi thriller that concludes its story arc and sets itself up for a sequel. The mystery is a little underwhelming and characterization, particularly of the antagonists, could be stronger but an entertaining read.

I received an advance copy of this book.

Description: Twenty-four hours. That's all it takes for the lives of two young people to be changed forever.
Alex Chin has the world on a plate. A football hero and homecoming king with plenty of scholarship offers, his future looks bright. His tutor, Samantha Dixon, is preparing to graduate high school at the top of her class. She plans to turn her NASA internship into a career.
When a football accident lands Alex in the hospital, his world is turned upside down. His doctor is murdered. Then, his parents. Death seems to follow him wherever he goes, and now it's after him.
Alex flees. He tells Samantha not to follow, but she became involved the moment she walked through his door and found Mr. and Mrs. Chin as they lay dying in their home. She cannot abandon the young man she loves. The two race desperately to stay ahead of Alex's attackers long enough to figure out why they are hunting him in the first place. The answer lies with a secret buried deep in his past, a secret his parents died to protect. Alex always knew he was adopted, but he never knew the real reason his birth parents abandoned him. He never knew where he truly came from. Until now.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Ararat by Christopher Golden

Ararat starts on the mountain of the same name, the fabled resting place of Noah’s Ark. When an avalanche reveals a new cave, the race is on to be the first to explore the site. Getting there first is not the dangerous part though. What lurks inside is.

Adam Holzer and his fiancee Meryam Karga are adventurers, authors and documentary makers. When they win the race to the cave and the right to explore the ark, the mysteries begin. When they discover a sarcophagus with an ancient creature inside, one with horns, things get decidedly worse.

Christopher Golden does a wonderful job of creating a slow-building tension that invades you as you read. The kind that will have you jumping at sudden noises and seeing faces in shadows. One of the clever things Golden does is have a multinational and multi religious crew exploring the ark. Many are scholars in different disciplines and some are native guides. This mixture fuels the discord that would naturally occur in a discovery of this magnitude. The sense of unease is magnified in the face of a blizzard which traps the crew inside the ark with no hope of escape even if there wasn’t an evil presence trapped with them. When people begin to go missing, natural paranoia ratchets up, in some cases into blind panic.

Golden’s use of shifting first person narratives helps you get to know a large and interesting cast of characters. Along with Adam and Meryam, there is Ben Walker from the National Science Foundation accompanied by linguist Father Cornelius Hughes and U.N. observer Kim Seong as well as native mountain guides Feyiz and Hakan. These, as well as other characters, each have their own agendas and fears which fuel the conflicts. The sense of foreboding present at all times leads to a lot of self-examination especially as they are increasingly unsure of who or what they can trust.

Ararat is an entertaining thriller with steadily mounting tension and horror. It also manages to be thoughtful in its exploration of how different cultures and religions inform both our faith and our fears. Highly recommended read.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.

Description: Christopher Golden’s Ararat is the heart-pounding tale of an adventure that goes wrong…on a biblical scale. When an earthquake reveals a secret cave hidden inside Mount Ararat in Turkey, a daring, newly-engaged couple are determined to be the first ones inside…and what they discover will change everything.

The cave is actually an ancient, buried ship that many quickly come to believe is really Noah’s Ark. When a team of scholars, archaeologists, and filmmakers make it inside the ark, they discover an elaborate coffin in its recesses. Inside the coffin they find an ugly, misshapen cadaver―not the holy man they expected, but a hideous creature with horns. Shock and fear turn to horror when a massive blizzard blows in, trapping them thousands of meters up the side of a remote mountain. All they can do is pray for safety. But something wicked is listening to their prayers…and it wants to answer.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Twenty-Three by Linwood Barclay

The Twenty-Three is the concluding volume in the Promise Falls Trilogy by Linwood Barclay and it’s one of the best literary thriller trilogies of the last several years. Each of the earlier books in the series has a mystery which is solved by the end of the novel, while also furthering a larger mystery which comes to a head in this concluding volume.

The Twenty-Three starts with the people of Promise Falls waking on a Saturday morning to find that their water supply has been contaminated with deadly consequences. Hundreds of victims overwhelm emergency services and hamper the investigation into discovering the perpetrator. Simultaneously, a homicide victim turns up that points to a serial killer in their midst. Clues from the first two novels center around the number “23”. Discovering the significance of that number as well as exploring who stands to benefit from the disasters lead inexorably to the unmasking of the killer, but how many more people will die along the way?

Barclay creates a cast of interesting and well-drawn characters. One of his most impressive talents is in describing objectionable, even loathsome characters. The character of former and erstwhile future Mayor of Promise Falls, Randall Finley, is an incredible creation. He’s an immoral, opportunistic and manipulative person who you want to be guilty of something, even if you are never sure if he is. Other characters such as Detective Barry Duckworth, private investigator Cal Weaver, and former journalist David Harwood are all great characters in their own way as well. Each of them have stories that continue from earlier books and that come to conclusion in this story.  The central mystery as well as the separate crime that takes place in this book are nicely wrapped up by the end of the book. The only criticism is that there are so many plot threads in play that not all of them are wrapped up with the same level of satisfaction. The plot involving Harwood in particular ends somewhat limply. Nevertheless, the book and the series builds to an exciting conclusion.

The audio version of the book is narrated by Richard Poe and Brian O’Neill. Both do a great job with pacing the book and voicing strong and distinct characters. They convey character emotions convincingly and are a complement to the story.

The Twenty-Three is a very good book and concludes an even better series. The series is best read in order. Highly recommended.

I was fortunate to be provided a copy of the book by the publisher.

Description: Everything has been leading to this.
It’s the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, May 23rd, and the small town of Promise Falls, New York, has found itself in the midst of a full-blown catastrophe. Hundreds of people are going to the hospital with similar flu-like symptoms—and dozens have died. Investigators quickly zero in on the water supply. But the question for many, including private investigator Cal Weaver, remains: Who would benefit from a mass poisoning of this town?
Meanwhile, Detective Barry Duckworth is faced with another problem. A college student has been murdered, and he’s seen the killer’s handiwork before—in the unsolved homicides of two other women in town. Suddenly, all the strange things that have happened in the last month start to add up…
Bloody mannequins found in car “23” of an abandoned Ferris wheel…a fiery, out-of-control bus with “23” on the back, that same number on the hoodie of a man accused of assault…

The motive for harming the people of Promise Falls points to the number 23—and working out why will bring Duckworth closer to death than he’s ever been before…

Hell's Heart: Star Trek: Prey #1 by John Jackson Miller

Hell’s Heart is the opening book in the Star Trek: Prey trilogy. The events of the book span the time from shortly after the Star Trek 3 movie, Search for Spock to shortly after the time of The Next Generation. The death of Klingon commander Kruge at the hands of James Kirk at the end of Star Trek 3 kicked off a series of events with repercussions felt more than 100 years in the future.

Kruge’s death left a Klingon house in disorder, with a young Klingon, Korgh, the intended heir of Kruge never formally designated as successor. Without a clear heir, battle breaks out between officers loyal to Kruge and rival family members who want to pick clean the house Kruge had built. A last stand by the officers on a planet where a phantom wing of twelve advanced Birds-of-Prey are intended to turn the tide ends in disaster when the ships go missing. The defeat of the officers by a joint attack of Kruge’s relatives leads to an unprecedented power-sharing agreement among the family members and the discommendation of the defeated officers along with all of their families.

One hundred years later, the Enterprise under the command of Jean Luc Picard is present for a ceremony commemorating the anniversary of the battle. The Enterprise is snared in a trap 100 years in the making, leading to a crisis that upends the Klingon empire and puts its alliance with the Federation in jeopardy.

John Jackson Miller has written a thrilling book that rings true to the characters and events familiar to Star Trek fans as well as taking them in exciting new directions. Kirk and Spock kick off events that lead to unpredictable outcomes. Picard and Worf must unravel a conspiracy that threatens everything the Empire and the Federation have built together. Miller carefully unspools information that both illuminates what has already happened and raises the stakes for what is coming next. The action scenes are exciting and there are plenty of nods to characters and events from throughout the Star Trek universe sure to please any fan of the series.

The audiobook is narrated by Robert Petkoff who was a revelation. He breathed life into a huge cast of characters, Klingon, human and Vulcan. The accents were spot on and each character was easily distinguishable from each other. In some cases, the voices bordered on impersonations of the well-known actors who originated the roles. The narration complemented the story, propelling the action along and adding depth to the quieter moments. Petkoff’s performance with this book is worthy of audio award consideration.

Hell’s Heart is an exciting novel that leaves you anxious to continue the adventures in the rest of the trilogy. The audio version is extremely well done and adds to the enjoyment of the story. Highly recommended.

I was fortunate to be provided a copy of this book by the publisher.

Description: When Klingon commander Kruge died in combat against James T. Kirk on the Genesis planet back in 2285, he left behind a powerful house in disarray - and a series of ticking time bombs: the Phantom Wing, a secret squadron of advanced Birds-of-Prey; a cabal of loyal officers intent on securing his heritage; and young Korgh, his thwarted would-be heir, willing to wait a Klingon lifetime to enact his vengeance.
Now, 100 years later, while on a diplomatic mission for the United Federation of Planets, Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the crew of the USS Enterprise are snared in the aged Korgh's trap - and thrust directly in the middle of an ancient conflict. But as Commander Worf soon learns, Korgh may be after far bigger game than anyone imagines, confronting the Federation-Klingon alliance with a crisis unlike any it has ever seen!

Phantom Pains by Mishell Baker

Phantom Pains is the second book in The Arcadia Project Series and the follow up to one of the best fantasy debuts of last year, Borderline. Phantom Pains starts with Millie, a young woman with borderline personality disorder, reluctantly returning to the Arcadia project where the situation starts at dire and heads toward world-wide calamity.

Millie is trying to live her life away from the Arcadia project, starting by reopening the movie stage which was the site of a tragedy that included the loss of Millie’s partner, Teo, at the end of Borderline. A strange encounter involving fey magic while trying to clear the stage with her former boss, Caryl, leads to a meeting with Arcadia agents from national headquarters. This results in another death and Caryl suspected of the murder. Millie is convinced of Caryl’s innocence but proving it is difficult. Especially while trying to stop a plot that could destroy two worlds and bring an end to the Arcadia project.

Mishell Baker has created a world and a cast of characters that stands out in a fantasy landscape otherwise filled with a lot of sameness. Millie has both emotional and physical disabilities that affect her daily life. Her characteristics make her unique both in our world and the world of the fey. These difficulties are not presented for pity, but discussed more in terms of their impact on how Millie goes about what she must do. Many of the characters in and around the project, both human and fey, are damaged in different ways. Millie must unravel the mystery while also navigating and manipulating the different personalities involved, her own included.

Baker has built on and expanded the world(s) first created in Borderline, introduced new and interesting characters while deepening the development of the already strong characters who return. This is a compelling novel that pulls you in with well-drawn characters and an ingenious plot. She reveals more about Arcadia and the fey, shedding light on that world and its interaction with our own. Phantom Pains is an outstanding story and part of a series that keeps getting better. Sign me up for whatever Mishell Baker has in store next, because I’ll read it. There is serious writing talent on display here. Highly recommended.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.

Description: Four months ago, Millie left the Arcadia Project after losing her partner Teo to the lethal magic of an Unseelie fey countess. Now, in a final visit to the scene of the crime, Millie and her former boss Caryl encounter Teo’s tormented ghost. But there’s one problem: according to Caryl, ghosts don’t exist.

Millie has a new life, a stressful job, and no time to get pulled back into the Project, but she agrees to tell her side of the ghost story to the agents from the Project’s National Headquarters. During her visit though, tragedy strikes when one of the agents is gruesomely murdered in a way only Caryl could have achieved. Millie knows Caryl is innocent, but the only way to save her from the Project’s severe, off-the-books justice is to find the mysterious culprits that can only be seen when they want to be seen. Millie must solve the mystery not only to save Caryl, but also to foil an insidious, arcane terrorist plot that would leave two worlds in ruins.