Saturday, December 28, 2013

Runner by Patrick Lee

Runner by Patrick Lee is a thriller due out in early 2014 featuring a new hero, Sam Dryden.  This is a fast-paced, non-stop action book that moves quickly from the opening page all the way to the very end.  Dryden is ex-military recovering from a personal tragedy.  While out for a jog late one night, a young 12-year-old girl, Rachel, literally runs into him.  Rachel is on the run from a bunch of shadowy men whose allegiance and purpose is unclear.  All Rachel remembers is that they have held her captive for the last two months and she has no memory before that.

Lee succeeds in creating characters you can identify and sympathize with.  It’s made clear early on that Rachel has special abilities.  The extent of those abilities, as well as where they came from and what they mean is gradually revealed.  Who Rachel is, who she will become and what threat she poses as she regains her memory is a central theme.The chase moves back and forth across the country although who exactly the pursuers are, government agents, government contractors or others and what their interests are remains murky.

Against the backdrop of a run-for-your-life thriller, Lee mixes in such questions as how does our memory influence who we are, what sort of abilities are locked into our DNA and can they be unlocked?  The power of government surveillance tools and the skill and methods necessary to evade them are convincingly portrayed.

Runner can be enjoyed on multiple levels.  It works as a straight-up thriller with some slightly fantastical elements.  It also explores themes related to genetic research, memory and even how we perceive reality.

Patrick Lee has created a dynamic hero that I look forward to following in future books.  I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Innocent Blood by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell

Innocent Blood by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell is a great follow-up to the first book in the Order of the Sanguines series, The Blood Gospel.  

One of the things I like best about this series is the way they pluck characters out of history, biblical and otherwise, and smoothly integrate them into the story.  The main characters, Erin Granger, Jordan Stone and Father Ruhn are once again thrust into a quest to save the world, this time from Armageddon and the end of days.  They are joined by several characters we’ve met before as well as some new and interesting ones, particular the sanguinist Christian.

The Sanguine series is not short on action and Innocent Blood takes the action from California to the Vatican, to Sweden and back to the Mediterranean.  Any action junkie will enjoy the battles which involve guns, blades, explosions, beasts and other supernatural creatures as well as chases in cars, trains, boats and helicopters.  The plot moves steadily along as both sides try to unravel the clues necessary to either fulfill or thwart prophecy.  

A strength of this book is that the adversaries motives for their actions and goals are reasoned.  The lengths to which both sides will resort and what they are willing to sacrifice in order to achieve their respective goals highlight that none of the choices are clear cut and internal moral wrestling leaves the ultimate outcome in doubt until the very end.

Fans of the first book will not be disappointed in Innocent Blood.  Anyone who loves thrillers, particularly with a historical component to them, will enjoy this book.  I’m eagerly awaiting the next book.   Highly recommended.

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

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Hollow Bones, by CJ Lyons

Hollow Bones  by CJ Lyons is the third book featuring FBI Special Agent Caitlyn Tierney, but it reads fine as a stand-alone.  It is an exciting and entertaining read with a fresh plot and well-drawn, engaging characters.

Hollow Bones stretches from the United States to the jungles of Guatemala.  It involves luring an American college student into the Guatemalan jungle under the pretext of working on the discovery of a buried Mayan temple.  What is really unearthed is a conspiracy built on past war crimes that continue into the present in the form of a shadowy American biotechnology business with ties in both countries.

This is not a pulse-pounding thriller with gun fights and chase scenes every few pages, but it is an intense book with plenty of excitement and chilling scenarios.  One of the best things going for this story is the strong characters.  Maria is an intelligent student and while she might be a little naive, she doesn’t behave stupidly.  Likewise, FBI agents Tierney and Carver are not superhuman, but they are clever, resourceful and pursue their leads with hard work and research rather than have fortuitous information just drop into their laps.  The villains are multi-faceted and their actions, while evil and immoral, are realistically self-interested.   

The plot is well-researched and more than plausible enough.  It is all the more frightening because of this plausibility.   Hollow Bones is an intelligent mystery/thriller with engaging characters, a fascinating plot and vivid locales.  Recommended read.

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

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Parasite by Mira Grant

Parasite really ups the creep factor with a slow building sense of dread.  Mira Grant takes current medical technology and moves it into the near future in an all too believable direction.  Much like she did in Feed and the wonderful Newsflesh trilogy, she has created an all too believable world.  Instead of zombies, the world of Parasite is one where genetically engineered tapeworms are voluntarily implanted in virtually everyone to regulate our bodies and cure everything from allergies to diabetes.

We live in a world where we hear about antibiotic resistant bacteria and children and adults being so isolated from germs that they don’t build up tolerance for them.  It’s very easy to believe that a medical industry that promises relief from this as well as better overall health and a freedom from pills and shots in the form of a tapeworm would be welcomed with open arms.  It’s even easier to believe that a company that gets rich off this development will go to almost any lengths to protect its investment.

The heroine of the novel is Sal (Sally) who awoke unexpectedly from a coma, her body repaired -- thanks to her tapeworm, but her memory lost and her personality changed.  She is both grateful and mistrustful of the company that is responsible for saving her.  She chafes at her dependence on them and their desire to not only monitor her health but to study her.  She loves her family even as they both care for her and mourn the person she used to be before the coma.  

Grant does a great job of building sympathetic characters, as well as characters whose surface politeness makes you question their real motives.  Where she really shines though is in the creation of absolute terror from her depiction of the sleepwalkers.  Ordinary people who without warning shut down and seem to vacate their bodies.  Sal’s encounter with this, first in a crowded mall and later on a sidewalk with a man walking his dog are absolutely chilling in the sense of fear and dread they create.  

Sal’s fragility is a little annoying at times, but her desire to find answers is the driving force of this novel.  The tension mounts steadily as Sal gets closer to the answers.  The main mystery is pretty much understood by the end of the book, but the implications and resolution are left for the next book in the series.  One I’m very much looking forward to.  Highly recommended.

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

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Razor's Edge: Star Wars (Empire and Rebellion) by Martha Wells

It’s a tall task to take iconic characters and weave them into a story of your own invention.  Martha Wells does this very successfully in Razor’s Edge:  Star Wars (Empire and Rebellion). Her task is made all the more difficult by the setting, which takes place shortly after the events in the original Star Wars, pegging the personalities of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, Princess Leia and Chewbacca as very close to how they were portrayed in the movie.  

The characters and their interactions felt very authentic.  The plot involves a meeting at the out of the way location that gets derailed when Leia runs into a pirate attack led by a ship from her destroyed homeworld of Alderaan.  Leia and Han wind up on the Alderaanian ship headed toward a pirate base on an abandoned asteroid mine.  Leia must try to protect the Alderaanians, convince them to join the rebellion, rescue hostages from a captured freighter, defeat the sinister pirate leader, complete her mission and do it all before the Empire shows up.  Luke and Chewy are left to catch up and try to bail out their captured comrades.

This story was a lot of fun.  The pirate base on the abandoned asteroid mine was a fascinating and vividly described setting.  The characters, both familiar and new, were interesting and complicated.  The battles and fight scenes were wonderfully depicted and ratcheted up in intensity as the plot moved along with rising stakes at each step of the way.  I’ve long been a fan of Martha Wells and she certainly doesn’t disappoint here.  The Star Wars universe is incredibly vast with plenty of room for stories to tell.  Wells proves that there is plenty of fertile territory left to explore.  Both casual and die hard Star Wars fans will enjoy this story.  Highly recommended.

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


Never Go Back, by Lee Child

It’s impressive that a character can feel so fresh this long into a series, but Jack Reacher is as dynamic as ever and Lee Child continues to churn out exciting action thrillers.  Never Go Back starts with Jack Reacher letting his curiosity about the sound of a woman’s voice at the other end of a phone conversation lead him back to 110th Military Police Unit he used to command.  He winds up called back to active duty just to be charged with homicide and accused of having a daughter he didn’t know about.

Reacher finds the woman he came to meet and ends up leading the military, the FBI and a group of shadowy government operatives on a chase from the east coast, to the west coast and back again.  The strength of these books is Jack Reacher, and Never Go Back is no different.  Reacher is intelligent, clever, a skilled fighter and always as cool as a cucumber.  He is a dynamic character and his magnetism leaps off the page.  

Child skillfully plays out the clues that lead you and the characters from one conclusion to another and take you from one action scene to the next.  Reacher acknowledges the role that chance plays when you have limited options and confidently follows his decisions.  The fights in this book are as good as it gets.  The stakes are highly personal and though they have some international implications, it’s not an end of the world situation.  These sort of stakes only work if you care about the characters, and Lee Child makes sure that you always do.  This is a great book for anyone who likes strong action heroes and should appeal both to newcomers as well as long-time fans.  Highly recommended.

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

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Return: A Novel, by Michael Gruber

Michael Gruber’s The Return is the literary equivalent of a Sergio Leone western.  A larger than life protagonist, well-defined and interesting characters and a landscape that really comes to life.  

Gruber manages to flesh out a large number of characters while still leaving them with enough mystery that you don’t entirely figure them out until the end of the book, if then.  Richard Marder is a fascinating character and protagonist.  A gun-owning New York book editor who is former Air Force who served in Viet Nam along with a tough as nails Marine(Skelly).

Once Marder is diagnosed with a terminal condition (no spoiler here, it’s revealed on the first page), he decides to head to the birthplace of his now-deceased wife and take care of some unfinished business.  Along the way his former Marine buddy decides to join him and, unexpectedly, his daugher.  The motives of all of these characters, as well as the criminals, drug lords, government and army personnel and natives at their destination in Mexico are murky and difficult to fathom.  This is part of the genius of this book.  There is plenty of action, and a lot of maneuvering and preparing for the larger conflict, but you are constantly wary of everyone’s motives and trying to figure out who is the manipulator and who is the manipulated.

Richard Marder is magnetic personality and knowing that he is going to die is liberating and makes him plausibly fearless.  Episodes from Marder and Skelly’s time in Viet Nam are interspersed and add depth to the story as well as shine a light on their personalities and friendship.  The conclusion of the book is both realistic and satisfying.

Michael Gruber is a talented writer and The Return is a cut above your ordinary thriller.  Highly recommended.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Full Ratchet: A Silas Cade Thriller by Mike Cooper

Full Ratchet:  A Silas Cade Thiller is the second Silas Cade book by Mike Cooper.  The “hook” of this series is that Silas is an accountant who uses his military background to even the score for financial malfeasance.  It seems like an interesting premise, and the book is well-written, but ultimately it does little else to distinguish itself in the crowded thriller field.

The major failing of Full Ratchet is a muddled plot where even at the end I’m not entirely sure what they were fighting for or why they were fighting.  Silas is engaging enough as an action hero, but he doesn’t really seem overly competent, as is shown later in the book when he partners up with Harmony, a woman hired to find him for murky reasons, who proves to be seemingly much better prepared, skilled, and financed than Silas.  

A significant plot point is Silas meeting the brother he didn’t know he had in a small town outside of Pittsburgh.  The meeting is part of Silas’s reason for taking a job that leads him to Pittsburgh, but both brothers seem to quickly become very reliant on each other and far too trusting.  Silas’s brother Dave is just too inconsistent of a character for me to like or trust him.  He makes a big deal about his “baby” a souped up race car that he only drives to race, but ends up driving around in (somewhat out of necessity) for most of the book with no reference to his earlier misgivings.  His treatment of his friends, even viewed through Silas’s somewhat forgiving eyes, is too unlikeable for him to be a sympathetic character.

Cooper does several things well in this book.  The description of Pittsburgh as a contrast from major metropolis to rusting steel belt city, as well as his description of the more rural suburbs and surrounding countryside have an authentic and genuine feel to them.  The action scenes, gunfights and car chases are all exciting and well-paced (with the exception of one eye-roll inducing scene above a closed auto body shop).  The villains, however, don’t really have a face to them.  They are generic Russian thugs, one of whom is exceptionally tall and strong, but their motives or their employers motives are never sufficiently conveyed.  At least not in a way that identifies a clear path for Cade to counter.

The writing here is solid, but the plot is too muddled and the characterization, particularly of the secondary characters could have been stronger.  Full Ratchet is an interesting read, but it doesn’t really motivate me to pick up more books in the series.

I was provided an advance copy of this book.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Excalibur Alternative by David Weber

The Excalibur Alternative by David Weber is based on the short story Sir George and the Dragon.  It’s a story of Englishmen ripped out of their timeline by an advanced alien civilization and forced to fight battles on their behalf on other worlds.

Like sometimes happens with short stories expanded to novel length, this book slows considerably in the middle and suffers bouts of over-long self-examination and overwrought exposition.  Setting those parts aside, though, the rest of the book is a lot of fun.

The concept of transplanted ancient earth warriors has been done before (namely the excellent Misplaced Legion/Videssos Cycle by Harry Turtledove), but it is done very well here.  The characters are richly drawn and sympathetic.  The aliens are very alien in their appearance, if not as much in their thoughts and actions, however inscrutable they may appear.  The battles are exciting, if one-sided.

As Weber sometimes does, he throws in a pretty big game changer or two about three-quarters of the way through the novel.  Things move pretty quickly and decisively at that point and lead to a thrilling if somewhat predictable conclusion.  

I’m a big fan of Weber’s and have never failed to be entertained by one of his books.  Sometimes, however, it seems as if he is trying to cram an entire series into one book.  He starts off with a great plot concept, slowly plays it out, and then suddenly introduces rapid changes and a big conclusion.  He has either the seeds of an extended series or the foundation of a single non-stop action book, but with inconsistent pacing manages an uncomfortable marriage of the two.

The Excalibur Alternative is a fun read and definitely worth the time.  It may leave you with the feeling it could have been much more than it is.  Recommended read.  3.5 stars

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Kind of Cruel, by Sophie Hannah

Kind of Cruel is a complex mystery by British author Sophie Hannah.  It’s an interesting book in that it has absolutely no sympathetic characters, but a very compelling mystery that moves the story along.  
Kind of Cruel demands that you pay close attention because it is told in shifting first person narratives, and the characters lie not only to themselves but to you as well.  The themes are especially interesting, with subtle emotional abuse and the damage it takes on people well into their adulthood and how it affects their personal development and interpersonal relations.  

The mystery of the murders, and a mysterious christmas disappearance and reappearance by several family members years ago are extremely intriguing and hidden behind a wall of unreliable memories and subconcious inferences.  The unraveling of the mysteries and the unwinding of the memories are both fascinating.

There are a number of red herrings that may turn off some people, and a complete cadre of fairly unlikeable characters.  While unlikeable, they are interesting and the ultimate payoff is both satisfying and a little chilling.  Recommended read.

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

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp

Nothing Lasts Forever is the book that the movie Die Hard was based on.  This is one of those rare instances where the movie is better than the book, but the book is still solid in its own right.  Fans of the movie will appreciate those ways in which the movie closely followed the book and may also appreciate the ways in which the movie improved on the book.  It’s difficult to write a review without comparing the two.

One of the ways the book feels limited is in its confinement exclusively to the first person perspective of the hero, Joe Leland.  There is a lot of action going on around Joe, but much of it is only seen secondhand and motives are often surmised or interpreted.  Nothing Lasts Forever is darker than the movie and a little sadder.  

The book provides a lot of action even if it seems quite dated.  Joe Leland is a solid, everyman sort of protagonist and easy to root for.  I would compare this book to First Blood, by David Morrell.  Morrell’s book is the better book and stands the test of time better, but both are solid stories on their own and worthwhile experiences for fans of the movie who are interested in the original story and how it compares.  Recommended read.

I was fortunate to receive a review copy through netgalley.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Gameboard of the Gods by Richelle Mead

Gameboard of the Gods by Richelle Mead is an interesting blend of dystopian science fiction and fantasy.  Set in a future ravaged by a genetic disease, one part of the world responds by severely curtailing religion and enforcing strict genetic diversity requirements.  They emerge from the decline as the most powerful and technologically advanced country.  A dystopia is only as good as it’s premise, and I loved the premise here.  Devastating biological disaster and a harsh, far-reaching response.  The society that sprang up in response is fascinating and very clever.

Mead creates very interesting characters and a fascinating world.  She develops the world in an unusual style, throwing the reader into the deep end and only slowly explaining throughout the book the reasons this world is the way it is and the reasons these characters came to be the way they are.  It’s different, but I found it to be refreshing and enjoyed the way explanations were slowly meted out.  

The book also deals with gods trying to reinsert themselves into a world that has turned their backs on them and the personal and political stakes that go along with that.  The mystery that is set to be solved, a series of murders with supernatural overtones, is mostly a device to move the characters from place to place and create a deadline for resolution with consequences for failure.  The solving of the mystery does reveal critical information about the state of this world.

This book crosses multiple genres, science fiction, fantasy, and a little romance.   I found the world of Gameboard  fascinating and the characters very enjoyable, if a little blockheaded sometimes in terms of their personal relationships.  While a complete story in and of itself, Gameboard of the Gods also creates a world and characters with a lot left to explore.  

This is a great springboard into a new series and Richelle Mead is obviously a very talented writer. I look forward to seeing what happens next.  Highly recommended.

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

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Eye for an Eye by Ben Coes

When they talk about fast-paced, adrenaline-filled nonstop action, Eye for an Eye by Ben Coes is the type of book they are talking about.  It’s a little (ok a lot) over the top, but man is it fun.

Dewey Andreas is a great action hero.  He’s impossibly handsome and incredibly good at his job.  When his fiance is accidentally killed by Chinese agents during an attempt on Dewey’s  life, a fiance who happens to be the US National Security Advisor, it sets Dewey on a mission to kill the head of Chinese intelligence.  A mission that will take him back and forth across the globe leaving a trail of destruction behind him.

This is the kind of book where you check your critical thinking at the door and just relax and have fun.  A lot of the action strains believability, as well as the laws of physics, but you are so invested in the characters and story, you don’t really care.  The bad guys are ruthless and evil, the good guys are determined and on the side of angels, but they are not one-dimensional.

Coes does an incredible job of fleshing out his characters and making them three dimensional, while also delivering an incredible page-turning action filled book.  This book starts fast and stays fast.  When you get used to the pace, Coes kicks it up another notch.  There is a car chase scene on the highways of Portugal that has the pages turning so fast they almost catch fire.  Coes’ style of short passages and alternating perspectives really works to ratchet the action and the tension up.

The story uses China’s dominance in both the financial market as well as electronic surveillance and hacking as key parts of the plot, which gives an anchor of believability to the story.  Coes is a talented writer and Dewey Andreas is a great action hero.  I look forward to more entries in this series.  A great summer read and a top-notch thriller.  Highly recommended.

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

Monday, July 8, 2013

Stoker's Manuscript by Royce Prouty

Stoker’s Manuscript is an interesting first novel.  Royce Prouty goes for more of the classical vampire with a gothic feel.  It doesn’t get more classical than the son of Dracula.

Prouty does a good job of creating a gothic feel to the novel.  The mood feels dark and foreboding.  The landscape itself is menacing.  The problem is that in creating the atmosphere, the book sacrifices pacing.  The first half of the novel moves very slowly.  Even the violent scenes, and some are quite violent, are written so low-key that they do not inspire a great deal of horror. The characters are well-written and interesting, but none of them are terribly charismatic.  The second half of the novel moves along more quickly and comes to a satisfying conclusion.  

The plot itself is quite interesting.  A mystery surrounding the original manuscript of Dracula that may hold clues to the location of bodies the family of Dracula would very much like found.  The clues themselves are quite clever, although the intuitive leaps to decipher them come a little bit too easily.  

Prouty is a good writer and the novel itself is well-written.  I look forward to seeing where he goes next.  If you are looking for an atmospheric thriller with a gothic feel that builds slowly to its conclusion, you’ll enjoy Stoker’s Manuscript.  3.5 stars.

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

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The King's Deception by Steve Berry

Secret societies, british and american spies with hidden agendas, and a centuries old secret involving Henry VIII and Elizabeth I lie at the heart of The King’s Deception.  Cotton Malone is dragged unknowingly into a CIA plot to discover a secret the British government would prefer to remain secret.

This book is a lot of fun.  Part of the fun is the excellent historical detail which Steve Berry sprinkles into the story.  A generous helping of fact with some plausible speculation form the backdrop for an exciting thriller.  Cotton Malone is a great character.  He is clever, resourceful and, while not superhuman, still pretty good at handling himself in a sticky situation.  Elevating the tension here is that his son is in jeopardy, along with a british boy Malone was delivering to authorities in London.

The action moves along swiftly, aided by short passages shifting perspective among the many characters.  The backstory involving the british monarchy is perhaps the most interesting part.  The only drawback in this story was that the bad guys didn’t really seem to be all that much of a threat.  They were violent, ruthless, and arrogant, but not very competent.  Malone and others seemed credibly in danger much of the time.  They were so clearly superior to their adversaries, though,  that the threats didn’t seem all that scary.  That being said, Cotton and some of the other characters, particularly Miss Mary and her sister were very likeable.

This is a quick, fun book and a great summer read.  The historical backdrop was both informative and entertaining.  The theories behind Elizabeth I are perhaps the thing that will stick with me longest.  I look forward to reading more Cotton Malone thrillers.  Highly recommended.  3.5 stars.

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

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Kill Room by Jeffrey Deaver is a great mystery/thriller with surprisingly intense suspense and action scenes.  I found the characters extremely interesting, particularly the villains who were well-drawn, complex and chilling.

This is my first time reading these characters, and while I’m sure there is much background and history I am lacking, I had no trouble relating to them and picking up on the relationships.  The story itself was nicely complex with several twists and turns that keep you paying close attention along with the investigators to follow the clues back to the perpetrators.  While the crime is revealed in the opening pages, the full motives behind it, as well as how it was accomplished and the role of each of the villains is gradually revealed.  Several false starts and dead ends keep you guessing along with the lead characters, Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs.

The book alternates viewpoints between the good guys and the bad guys.  This plot device can be overdone, but Deaver uses it well here creating both misdirection and suspense without overdoing it.  One of the villains, Jacob Swann, is particularly chilling in a Hannibal Lecter sort of way.  He is intelligent and equal parts fascinating and horrifying.  

I was truly on the edge of my seat due to the intensity of some of the passages.  Very minor quibbles with the overuse of certain terms.  It is impressive that this many books into a series, the characters feel so fresh and the storytelling is so crisp.  This is a quick read and a book certain to please long-time fans as well as win new ones.  Highly recommended.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Ex-Patriots by Peter Clines

I really enjoyed Peter Clines first zombies vs. superheroes book, Ex-Heroes, but he really takes it up a notch in the second book, Ex-Patriots.  

The action in this book moves from Hollywood to a secret army base near Yuma, Arizona, where a group of super soldiers has survived and is protecting the small base.  Cline takes some of the common zombie tropes (like never trust the army in a zombie film/book) and turns them, not quite upside down, but on their side.  He does this in a self-referential way so that the reader is in on it with him.  

Cline maintains the same style of shifting first-person accounts, as well as alternating between “then” and “now” to fill you in on the backstory and reveal some of the motives and the plot twists along the way.  The best part about Ex-Patriots is that being the second book in the series, there is not as much exposition needed and that leaves more room for action.  A lot of action.

The first part of the book does a good job of setting up the story, creating suspicions and doubts as to who the good guys really are.  That leads to the second half of the book as disaster strikes and a nice, long, well-written battle takes place.  Some parts are forecast a little bit, but Cline does a good job of meting out the twists and surprises that make the whole story come together.  Sometimes things get a little over the top and testosterone-filled, but we’re talking about superheroes and super soldiers and zombies.  A little over the top is to be expected.

The characters here are worth rooting for which is what really makes the book work.  Along with the new characters, you get to know some of the core characters from the first book even better.  This is a great, summer, escapist read.  Both this book and the series thus far.  I can’t wait to see what the third book has in store.  Highly recommended.

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