Saturday, February 23, 2013

Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines

The field of zombie novels is crowded, but there is always room for fresh ideas and well-told stories.  Ex-Heroes has both.  Take your zombie apocalypse, add superheroes, and come away with a great story!

Ex-Heroes is the story of a group of superheroes gathering what survivors remain in Los Angeles into a former Hollywood studio lot converted into a fortress.  The story is told in shifting first-person perspective as well as jumping from the present to the past, shortly before and during the early stages of the zombie outbreak.  

As the first novel in a series, there is a lot of exposition and a lot of development of the characters, particularly the superheroes and their origins.  Peter Clines manages this without sacrificing action and steadily moving forward to a very thrilling climax.  The fights and battles are intense and exciting.  The fact that the superheroes can die and worse yet, become zombies makes the danger feel real and adds to the excitement.  

On top of the typical pervasive zombie threat, there is an organized human threat of those who envy what the superheroes have in their fortress, The Mount, and want it for themselves.  This adds another layer to the danger and gives the book a focus beyond the typical “kill all the zombies”.  The heroes themselves are fascinating and their stories are easily as entertaining as the main plot.

It’s amazing how much action and backstory is packed into a relatively short book.  Ex-Heroes is a fun, fast and very exciting read.  It creates a world that has room for many more stories in it, and I look forward to the next book.  I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book.  Highly recommended.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Night Ranger, by Alex Berenson

The Night Ranger is the latest John Wells novel by Alex Berenson.  Instead of Aghanistan and the Middle East, this time the action takes place in Africa, specifically Kenya and Somalia.

Alex Berenson is one of the rare authors who seem to get better and better each time out.  This book is exceptionally well-researched.  I felt like I was in Africa.  The complexities of both everyday life and the political situation in Africa were clearly conveyed while also being smoothly integrated into the story.

John Wells is one of my favorite action characters.  As it says in the book, “John Wells is awfully simple and awfully complicated.”  He is not superhuman, bullets don’t bounce off him and he makes mistakes.  He also makes choices that aren’t always the right or moral ones, but he questions those decisions himself and has to bear the consequences.  He feels more “real” than just about any action character I can think of.

Berenson also makes great use of Wells’ former CIA bosses (Shafer and Duto) and his complicated relationship with them and their complicated relationship with each other.  The conversations between Shafer and Duto highlight the political considerations that take place and the dichotomy between loyalty and callousness.  With limited page time, these characters are very well fleshed out.  

The plot and the action here are also top-notch.  The plot moves forward steadily, punctuated with great action sequences combining both brute force and the latest in military technology.  Berenson does a good job of conveying the limitations of both.  You are left guessing as to what’s really going on and none of the characters are guaranteed to be safe.  Some guesses may be right, but nothing is certain until the last page.  

Exciting plot and action with real depth both in the locale descriptions and the characters make for a page-turning thriller.  Alex Berenson is at the top of my must-read list and The Night Ranger cements that status.  Highly recommended.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Death Relic, by Chris Kuzneski

The Death Relic is the latest Payne and Jones thriller from Chris Kuzneski.  It’s an exciting page-turner with an interesting backdrop.

One of the things I like best about the Payne and Jones books I’ve read is the extensive research that goes into the setting and the story.  In this book, it’s the Maya and Aztecs as well as the Spanish conquer and rule of central and south america.  The characters are a lot of fun too, particular Payne and Jones as well as their historian and antiquities friend, Petr Ulster.  The non-stop banter between Payne and Jones is entertaining, if a little sophomoric.  The action sequences and battle scenes are exciting and well plotted.

While the background for the story is well-researched, the information is not always interjected smoothly into the story.  Kuzneski often conveys this information in lumps or lectures that don’t flow well with the story.  This was more noticeable early in the book than in the latter part.  Kuzneski also feels a need to explain simple concepts, like what a “benchwarmer” is in a sports setting that makes it seem like he’s talking down to you and had me rolling my eyes in a few places.  There were also a couple of scenes where Payne became angry for reasons that did not seem to make any sense and took me out of the story for a while.

The Death Relic is another entertaining chapter in the Payne and Jones series and a very quick read.  There are a couple of minor annoyances in the story, but if you can overlook those it’s a lot of fun.  Recommended read.  I was fortunate to receive an early review copy of this book.