Tuesday, December 30, 2014

No Fortunate Son, by Brad Taylor

In the latest military thriller from the retired Delta Force Operator and New York Times bestselling author, a hostage situation places America’s most powerful political elite at the mercy of its worst enemies. 

When veteran operator Pike Logan and partner Jennifer Cahill receive a letter from Blaisdell Consulting—the umbrella cover company for their real employer, a top secret counterterrorist unit called the Taskforce—they expect orders for their next mission-impossible tasking. Instead, they learn that their latest actions have gotten them fired, despite having saved thousands of innocent lives.

Pike’s shock and fury is redirected when their commander, Colonel Kurt Hale, asks him and Jennifer for help with a personal matter: His niece Kylie, an exchange student in England, has gone missing. Neither Pike nor Jennifer understands how critical her disappearance will become.

Meanwhile, all Taskforce teams have been redirected to a developing situation. A terrorist organization has targeted military relatives of key members of the US government, including the vice president’s son. Their seizure of hostages was far-reaching and meticulously coordinated, and the full extent of the threat—and potential demands—has thrown the government into turmoil. They face a terrible choice: Cease counter-terrorist operations, or watch hostages die one by one. How much is a single life worth? Unless the Taskforce can decipher the web of lies devised by their enemies, the United States is about to find out.

No Fortunate Son by Brad Taylor is an exciting thriller that will both satisfy current fans of the Pike Logan series as well as win him new ones.

Nephilim “Pike” Logan is one of the great action hero names and he certainly doesn’t disappoint. Taylor adds some layers to his hero so it’s not constant run and shoot but requires some brains and some skill to unravel the terrorists plot. Here again, Taylor invents a nicely complicated terrorist plot involving the new IRA, a group of ruthless Bosnian jewel thieves and Somali terrorists on the one side, with a government stressed over high value hostages, red herrings, snooping journalists, and government assets on and off the books pulling in all different directions on the other.

The multi-layered plot is one of the things that sets this book apart from a lot of other military thrillers. Not only are some false paths laid out, but the actual clues lead in different directions because of the complexity of the terrorists plan leaving Pike Logan to rely on his instincts and a little bit of luck to lead him to the truth. It also creates enough doubt in his mind to realize one wrong guess could cause the death of the people he’s trying to rescue.

The action is also top-notch with great firefights, chase scenes and car chases. There is enough here to satisfy any action fan, with a little bit extra to satisfy those who like intricate plotting. This is an outstanding character and both a book and a series worth checking out.  Highly recommended.

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

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie


The sequel to Ancillary Justice, winner of the Hugo, Nebula, British Science Fiction, Locus and Arthur C. Clarke Awards.

Breq is a soldier who used to be a warship. Once a weapon of conquest controlling thousands of minds, now she has only a single body and serves the emperor.

With a new ship and a troublesome crew, Breq is ordered to go to the only place in the galaxy she would agree to go: to Athoek Station to protect the family of a lieutenant she once knew - a lieutenant she murdered in cold blood.

Ancillary Sword  by Ann Leckie is the followup to the wildly successful Ancillary Justice.  If you have not yet read the first book in this series, beware that this review may contain spoilers for that book.

Justice won just about every award for science fiction there is, and rightly so.  It is a novel full of ideas about gender, consciousness, identity, power, and social mores. My only minor quibble with that book was that it could have been a little more exciting. If that is indeed a fault, it is one that has been richly remedied in Ancillary Sword.  Sword is exciting from beginning to end and full of the same sort of searching questions that made the first book so popular.

The events in Sword pick up immediately where Justice  left off. Breq is given command of a ship and sent to Athoek Station in system which was annexed to the Radch empire several hundred years ago and also happens to be home to the sister of the person Breq once cared about, perhaps more than any other.

I found Breq to be a hard character to warm to in the first book, but her continued development makes me like her more and more.  Her history as a former AI of a ship who is used to seeing through the eyes of hundreds or thousands of vantage points cleverly leads to a multiple first person perspective.  Her motivations and suspicions are closely held as is the chess game she is playing with Anaander Mianaai, the leader of the Radch empire who is literally fighting a civil war against herself.  Dancing around the edge of the action is the spectre of the  mysterious Presger.  An alien race far superior to the Radch whose motivations are almost entirely unknown, but whose power is not.

The characters in this book feel even more fully developed than in the first novel. The characters on Athoek station and the tea-producing planet below are complicated both individually and culturally. Leckie once again poses hard questions not only about gender roles and identity, but about justice. What is justice?  Is it ever black and white? How does the perception of what justice is change depending on your perspective? Whose responsibility is it to see justice done?

Ancillary Sword and the Imperial Radch series has the feel of a seminal work of science fiction.  This is a story you can lose yourself in and the questions it makes you ask yourself are almost endless.  You can enjoy this book on any number of levels. Expect to see this book on the usual list of award nominees this year. Wherever Leckie is going next with this series, I’m going along for the ride.  One of the best books of the year.  Highly recommended.

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

Willful Child by Steven Erikson

From the New York Times Bestselling author Steven Erikson comes a new science fiction novel of devil-may-care, near calamitous and downright chaotic adventures through the infinite vastness of interstellar space.

These are the voyages of the starship A.S.F. Willful Child. Its ongoing mission: to seek out strange new worlds on which to plant the Terran flag, to subjugate and if necessary obliterate new life-forms, to boldly blow the...

And so we join the not-terribly-bright but exceedingly cock-sure Captain Hadrian Sawback and his motley crew on board the Starship Willful Child for a series of devil-may-care, near-calamitous and downright chaotic adventures through ‘the infinite vastness of interstellar space.’

The New York Times bestselling author of the acclaimed Malazan Book of the Fallen sequence has taken his lifelong passion for Star Trek and transformed it into a smart, inventive, and hugely entertaining spoof on the whole mankind-exploring-space-for-the-good-of-all-species-but-trashing-stuff-with-a-lot-of-high-tech-gadgets-along-the-way, overblown adventure. The result is an SF novel that deftly parodies the genre while also paying fond homage to it.

I’m a great admirer of Steven Erikson, especially his Malazan books. I also like science fiction, Star Trek and humor. So why when they all got put together in Willful Child did it all fail so miserably for me?

Willful Child is a tongue-in-cheek send up of the Star Trek universe, particularly the original characters.  The starship Willful Child is captained by a newly commissioned officer, Hadrian Sawback who is handsome, cocky and headstrong. His crew is a mixture of beautiful women and barely competent men.

Sawback divides his time between trying to bed his crew and charging headlong into danger, blowing things up and sorting out the consequences later.  His rash decisions tend to work out improbably for the best, although they usually leave him with his shirt in tatters.

The problem I had with this book is that it was too over the top and everything was too obvious. The plot moving the book forward was very thin and mainly served as an excuse to move from one episodic adventure to another.  (Get it?  episodes?).  Places where I think I was supposed to be laughing I found myself sighing instead.

It’s not that the writing is bad; it’s not.  Erikson is too good a writer for that to be a problem.  The problem is that the characters, while perhaps somewhat intentionally so, are way too shallow.  I didn’t care about any of them. Where Galaxy Quest mocked the same conventions, it did it with more care and with more sympathetic characters. This book was a miss for me.

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

Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes

A criminal mastermind creates violent tableaus in abandoned Detroit warehouses in Lauren Beukes's new genre-bending novel of suspense.

Detective Gabriella Versado has seen a lot of bodies. But this one is unique even by Detroit's standards: half boy, half deer, somehow fused together. As stranger and more disturbing bodies are discovered, how can the city hold on to a reality that is already tearing at its seams?

If you're Detective Versado's geeky teenage daughter, Layla, you commence a dangerous flirtation with a potential predator online. If you're desperate freelance journalist Jonno, you do whatever it takes to get the exclusive on a horrific story. If you're Thomas Keen, known on the street as TK, you'll do what you can to keep your homeless family safe--and find the monster who is possessed by the dream of violently remaking the world.

If Lauren Beukes's internationally bestselling The Shining Girls was a time-jumping thrill ride through the past, her Broken Monsters is a genre-redefining thriller about broken cities, broken dreams, and broken people trying to put themselves back together again.

Lauren Beukes is an author I’ve heard a lot of hype about for a while now and Broken Monsters confirms that the hype is right.  Broken Monsters works on a lot of levels and in a lot of different ways.

Broken Monsters is a mystery with some fantastical elements and a varied cast of characters.  Detroit, where the book is set, is as much a character as any of the people.  The point of view shifts between a number of characters and none of them are giving short shrift.  Each of these people is broken in some ways, much like the city they inhabit.

Detective Gabriella Versado is given the job of solving a gruesome murder of a young boy who has been dismembered and fused with a deer.  She has to balance her job as a detective with the job of being a single mother to a teenage daughter who has her own personal drama going on.  Beukes skillfully weaves together this main storyline with stories of high school angst, bullying, disillusioned journalists, homelessness and a budding serial killer.

Beukes manages to tie all these storylines together and makes all of her characters come to life.  None of them feel like stereotypes and all of them are complicated. The characters don’t seek or inspire pity but they do make you admire the way they handle adversity.  It’s hard to do justice to the skill on display here as Beukes moves these various stories forward and brings them together in solving the main mystery.

There are so many things going on in this book. Questions about identity, who you are, who you appear to be, how others see you, how you see yourself. It’s about a city and what happens when it decays and when you try to change it. It’s about transformation. None of the characters are offered or take shortcuts. They have to work towards their goals whether they are noble or twisted.  

Broken Monsters is not necessarily a page-turner, but neither is it ever boring.  It is a book to be savored as it develops and unfolds.  Lauren Beukes is an author to keep an eye on and she is becoming must-read.  Highly recommended.

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

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

O, Africa! by Andrew Lewis Conn

The comparisons for O, Africa aimed too high and delivered too little. The comparisons to E.L. Doctorow and Michael Chabon raise expectations that Andrew Lewis Cohn can't meet in O, Africa. The story of two 1928 filmmakers and their ambition to travel to Africa to make their grand epic film should have the potential for either great humor or at least great thrills, but it ultimately provides too little of each.

I found the book difficult to get into and harder to continue. The pacing was glacial and the writing, while occasionally interesting, was inconsistent. I give the book points for an interesting time period and premise, but it failed to deliver an interesting story.

I received an advance copy of this book for review.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

Book Description:

The city of Bulikov once wielded the powers of the gods to conquer the world, enslaving and brutalizing millions—until its divine protectors were killed. Now Bulikov has become just another colonial outpost of the world's new geopolitical power, but the surreal landscape of the city itself—first shaped, now shattered, by the thousands of miracles its guardians once worked upon it—stands as a constant, haunting reminder of its former supremacy.

Into this broken city steps Shara Thivani. Officially, the unassuming young woman is just another junior diplomat sent by Bulikov's oppressors. Unofficially, she is one of her country's most accomplished spies, dispatched to catch a murderer. But as Shara pursues the killer, she starts to suspect that the beings who ruled this terrible place may not be as dead as they seem—and that Bulikov's cruel reign may not yet be over.

I had heard a lot of good things about Robert Jackson Bennett, but City of Stairs was the first book of his I had read.  I understand now why everyone has such good things to say about him.  He’s earned it.  City of Stairs is wonderfully complex, thought-provoking and wildly entertaining.  

City of Stairs takes place in a world that was once dominated from the city of Bulikov and the gods who built it.  The gods have been killed and the people who were formerly enslaved by them now rule in Bulikov.  The city and the country have been devastated and the people are forbidden from acknowledging much of their history or even the existence of lingering magic.  The story centers around the murder of a visiting scholar from the now-ruling empire of Saypur and the enigmatic ambassador sent to investigate, Shara Thivani and her even more enigmatic assistant Sigrud.

The world building in this story is detailed, fascinating and unique.  The political machinations that are revealed throughout make you reexamine the roles of all the principal characters throughout the book.  The characters are layered and the events that take place reveal more and more about them as the story progresses.  There are so many things going on in this book and all of them interesting: the history of the world, the gods themselves, where they came from, what they did and why, how they were killed, if they were killed, the murder, political ambitions on both sides and the various futures that some are trying to stop and others to bring about.

City of Stairs can be enjoyed on many levels.  It entertains as a straightforward mystery in a fantasy setting and it also can be enjoyed for its many deeper layers with political intrigue, magic and fascinating characters.  It’s worth reading the book just to meet the character of Sigrud even if for nothing else.  Do yourself a favor and pick up this book.  Highly recommended.

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

Prince of Fools by Mark Lawrence

Book Description:

The Red Queen is old but the kings of the Broken Empire dread her like no other. For all her reign, she has fought the long war, contested in secret, against the powers that stand behind nations, for higher stakes than land or gold. Her greatest weapon is The Silent Sister—unseen by most and unspoken of by all.

The Red Queen’s grandson, Prince Jalan Kendeth—drinker, gambler, seducer of women—is one who can see The Silent Sister. Tenth in line for the throne and content with his role as a minor royal, he pretends that the hideous crone is not there. But war is coming. Witnesses claim an undead army is on the march, and the Red Queen has called on her family to defend the realm. Jal thinks it’s all a rumor—nothing that will affect him—but he is wrong.

After escaping a death trap set by the Silent Sister, Jal finds his fate magically intertwined with a fierce Norse warrior. As the two undertake a journey across the Empire to undo the spell, encountering grave dangers, willing women, and an upstart prince named Jorg Ancrath along the way, Jalan gradually catches a glimmer of the truth: he and the Norseman are but pieces in a game, part of a series of moves in the long war—and the Red Queen controls the board.

There is a new contender for favorite fantasy duo.  Jal and Snorri, the main characters in Mark Lawrence’s newest novel Prince of Fools, book one in The Red Queen’s War, are as mismatched and ultimately complementary pair as you are going to find.

Jal is a minor royal, far enough from the throne not to take anything seriously, close enough to use his connections to further his favorite pastimes of drinking, gambling and seducing women. Snorri is a fierce norse warrior with a strong sense of honor and a single-minded purpose.  When the Queen’s Silent Sister, who appears to be seen by few except Jal, sets a deadly trap that nearly kills Jal, the resulting magic binds Jal and Snorri together.  As the pair quest north, it’s unclear if they will stop a war, or if they are merely pawns in a battle long in the making.

Lawrence’s writing has greatly matured and the narrative in Prince of Fools flows smoothly from beginning to end.  The characters are dynamic, the plot moves forward rapidly and the book is filled with humor and powerfully descriptive, memorable phrases, such as ripping a bear “from groin to growl.”  

While Snorri is an immensely likeable character, it is Jal who is the more complicated one.  He studiously avoids both responsibility and heroism.  He is an accomplished liar, but the person he may be lying to the most might be himself.  There are depths to him and not all the lessons he was taught growing up went as unheeded as he likes to pretend.  His journey with Snorri, and Snorri’s unflagging confidence and sense of purpose, give Jal a sort of confidence or excuse to be a better person.

There is a lot going on in Prince of Fools, a magical binding, a potential war, an undead army and unscrupulous and formidable foes both in front and behind Jal and Snorri.  The battle scenes are fun and intense, but the strength of this story is the characters.

I listened to the audio version of this story.  The narration by Tim Gerard Reynolds was incredible.  The character of Jal walks right up to the edge of obnoxious and unlikeable, but is ultimately endearing.  That sort of character takes great skill to write and equal skill to narrate.  Reynolds does it brilliantly.  The character voices are distinct and he perfectly captures the flow of the narrative, enhancing the enjoyment of the story and never getting in the way of it.

Mark Lawrence is one of the best writers of fantasy working today and I think Prince of Fools is his best book yet.  I am eagerly looking forward to the next installment.  Highly recommended!

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

Those Who Wish Me Dead by Michael Koryta

Book Description:

When fourteen-year-old Jace Wilson witnesses a brutal murder, he's plunged into a new life, issued a false identity and hidden in a wilderness skills program for troubled teens. The plan is to get Jace off the grid while police find the two killers. The result is the start of a nightmare.

The killers, known as the Blackwell Brothers, are slaughtering anyone who gets in their way in a methodical quest to reach him. Now all that remains between them and the boy are Ethan and Allison Serbin, who run the wilderness survival program; Hannah Faber, who occupies a lonely fire lookout tower; and endless miles of desolate Montana mountains.

The clock is ticking, the mountains are burning, and those who wish Jace Wilson dead are no longer far behind.

Those Who Wish Me Dead  by Michael Koryta is a different sort of thriller.  Set mainly in the wilderness of Montana, this is the story of a boy who witnesses a murder and needs to hide from the killers in a somewhat unconventional setting.  The killers appear to have a connection to law enforcement which makes normal methods of securing a witness unsafe.

The man selected to safeguard young Jace is a survivalist teacher, Ethan Serbin, whose clients are military, law enforcement and similar types part of the year, and troubled youth the other part of the year.  What’s refreshing is that Ethan is not a supernaturally skilled fighter or marksman.  He teaches survival skills and has an intimate knowledge of the Montana wilderness.

The two brothers on the heels of the young boy entrusted to Ethan’s protection are cold, calculating, cautious, and almost preternaturally skilled killers.  They exude quiet menace.  When they arrive in Montana, the tension and danger ratchet up.  The boy slips away from Ethan and the group of boys with him in the mountain and it becomes a race to find him.  A fire started by the killers threatens the mountain and adds to the danger.  Jace enlists the help of a fire ranger fighting demons of her own and the race is on in earnest to see who will escape and who will die.

One of the best parts of this book is the strength of the characters.  Ethan’s wife Allison and the fire ranger, Hannah, are the equal of any of the men and are not in need of rescuing.  The brother killers are highly skilled, but not overconfident, making the outcome in doubt all the way to the end.  It seems sometimes like they are unrealistically lucky in putting things together, but Koryta explains this in surprising but credulous ways.

There is a lot of writing skill on display in this story.  Not the most conventional thriller, but highly entertaining.  Recommended read.

I listened to the audio version of this book which was done quite well.  The characters were distinct and easy to differentiate.  Narrator Robert Petkoff does a particularly good job of capturing the menace and eerie cadence of the speech of the brothers, Jack and Patrick.

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

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Wolf: A Novel by Lorenzo Carcaterra

Book description:

In this thrilling novel by Lorenzo Carcaterra—the #1 New York Times bestselling author ofSleepers, Gangster, and Midnight Angels—organized crime goes to war with international terrorism in the name of one man’s quest for revenge.

My name is Vincent Marelli, though most people call me The Wolf. You’ve never met me, and if you’re lucky you never will. But in more ways than you could think of, I own you.

I run the biggest criminal operation in the world. We’re invisible but we’re everywhere. Wherever you go, whatever you do, however it is you spend your money, a piece of it lands in our pockets.

You would think that with that kind of power I would be invincible. You would be wrong. I made a mistake, one that a guy like me can never afford to make. I let my guard down. And because I did, my wife and daughters are gone. Murdered by terrorists with a lethal ax to grind.

That was my mistake.

But it was also theirs.

I wasn’t looking for a war with them. No one in my group was. But they’ve left me with nothing but a desire for revenge—so a war is what they’ll get. The full strength of international organized crime against every known terrorist group working today. Crime versus chaos.

We will protect our interests, and I will protect my son. We won’t get them all, but I will get my revenge, or I will die trying.

They will know my name.

They will feel my wrath.

They will fear The Wolf.

Not since The Godfather has there been a mobster who’s as much fun to root for as Vincent Marelli, aka “The Wolf”.  I heard about a lot of buzz coming out of 2014’s Book Expo America about The Wolf by Lorenzo Carcaterra.  I was thrilled to be able to get my hands on a copy and more thrilled once I started reading it.  This book packs a punch both literally and figuratively.

Carcaterra describes a mob that’s a lot more modern than other versions, from Mario’s Puzzo’s mob to more recent incarnations like the Sopranos.  This is a high-tech version that operates not so much in the shadows, but from behind so many legitimate fronts that they are hidden in plain sight.  What this mob shares with its literary predecessors though is absolute ruthlessness and iron will.

After his wife and daughters are killed in a terrorist attack, “The Wolf” is galvanized to protect his son and take action to lead all of the various world mafia organizations in an attack on international terrorism.  Not just to punish them, but to bring them to their knees.  These organizations are motivated not by any sort of altruistic feelings, but by the long-term threat to their bottom line posed by terrorism.

Vincent Marelli is a character you can both admire and fear.  None of the characters on either side of the conflict are pushovers.  Marelli has the tacit support of most of the world’s criminal organizations, but it’s clear that support is shallow and could disappear if Marelli’s will weakens or results are not forthcoming.  He is going up against terrorists with no scruples about civilian casualties.  The Wolf and his associates have those scruples, but they are otherwise unshackled from the rules of engagement that  sovereign nations and law enforcement alike are bound by.  The result is both a cat and mouse game and a ruthless battle.

The pace never slackens from the beginning to the end of this novel.  Along with his terrorist nemesis, Marelli must battle betrayal within his own organization as well.  This book is well written; there is not a wasted word.  Carcaterra ties up the story nicely, but leaves plenty to be explored in hoped for sequels. If you like crime novels, mob stories, or just a good thoughtful action thriller, pick up this book.  Highly recommended.

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

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Conquest by John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard

Book description:

Earth is no longer ours. . . .It is ruled by the Illyri, a beautiful, civilized, yet ruthless alien species. But humankind has not given up the fight, and Paul Kerr is one of a new generation of young Resistance leaders waging war on the invaders.

Syl Hellais is the first of the Illyri to be born on Earth. Trapped inside the walls of her father’s stronghold, hated by the humans, she longs to escape.

But on her sixteenth birthday, Syl’s life is about to change forever. She will become an outcast, an enemy of her people, for daring to save the life of one human: Paul Kerr. Only together do they have a chance of saving each other, and the planet they both call home.

For there is a greater darkness behind the Illyri conquest of Earth, and the real invasion has not yet even begun. . . .

Conquest by John Connolly and Jennifer Ridyard is the first volume in The Chronicles of the Invaders.  This is a great introductory volume in what looks to be an exciting series.  The book takes place largely in and around Edinburgh, Scotland.  I found the setting to be a refreshing change for an alien invasion/occupation story.  The countryside and the history of Scotland played as important a role in the story as the characters.

The aliens were nicely detailed, both in their character’s descriptions as well as their internal politics and history.  The authors pick up the story after several years of occupation giving us a look at how earth’s population settles into an uneasy equilibrium with its invaders.  The aliens are highly advanced, but not invincible.  There is an active human resistance but it is largely cautious and just barely coordinated.  

It becomes clear that the Illyri invaders are still hiding secrets, both from the humans and from each other.  The main plot moves forward largely around four young people who become inadvertently entangled in each other’s lives; two Illyri girls and two human boys.  The romantic angle involving these four is my least favorite part of the book, but it is a fairly minor quibble.  The romance is understated, but it seems unnecessary to the plot.  The adult characters are compelling and the book moves forward at a good pace.

Hidden agendas and secrets are everywhere.  It gradually becomes clear that the future of two civilizations is in the balance.  Each answer revealed leads to more questions.  Some of the actions are truly evil and hint at a great danger remaining, perhaps to both races.

Conquest does a good job of telling a complete story in and of itself while simultaneously setting the stage for much more exploration of its universe.  The story leads to an action packed climax and sets the stage for the next entry in the series.  I’m very much looking forward to seeing where this story goes from here.  Highly recommended.

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

Sentinels of Fire by P. T. Deutermann

Book description: P.T. Deutermann's World War II navy series began with the award-winningPacific Glory, followed by the brilliantly reviewed Ghosts of Bungo Suido. His new novel Sentinels of Fire tells the tale of a lone destroyer, the USS Malloy, part of the Allied invasion forces attacking the island of Okinawa and the Japanese home islands.
By the spring of 1945, the once mighty Japanese fleet has been virtually destroyed, leaving Japan open to invasion. The Japanese react by dispatching hundreds of suicide bombers against the Allied fleet surrounding Okinawa. By mid-May, the Allied fleet is losing a major ship a day to murderous swarms of kamikazes streaming out of Formosa and southern Japan. The radar picket line is the first defense and early warning against these hellish formations, but the Japanese direct special attention to these lone destroyers stationed north and west of Okinawa.
One destroyer, the USS Malloy, faces an even more pressing issue when her Executive Officer Connie Miles begins to realize that the ship's much-admired Captain Pudge Tallmadge is losing his mind under the relentless pressure ofthe attacks. Set against the blazing gun battles created by the last desperate offensive of the Japanese, Executive Officer Miles and the ship's officers grapple with the consequences of losing their skipper's guidance—and perhaps the ship itself and everyone on board.

Sentinels of Fire by P.T. Deutermann is a great fictional World War II story set in the Pacific. It tells the story of a lone destroyer, part of a picket line involved in the battle for Okinawa; the last island before the expected invasion of Japan itself.

Deutermann conveys a realistic and terrifying sense of life on a destroyer, living in constant fear of kamikaze attack and the knowledge that death could be waiting for you every second of every day.

Today we see daily demonstrations of advanced military technology and precision, and the pervasiveness of it on TV and the internet has a certain desensitizing effect. Deutermann convincingly portrays what it is like sitting in the middle of the ocean depending only on your eyes, your ears, and a system of radar that was still in its technological infancy.

The story is told from the perspective of newly arrived Executive Officer Connie Miles. Not only is he transitioning from the relative safety of a large aircraft carrier to a small destroyer on the front lines of the attack, but he soon comes to realize that his Captain, Pudge Tallmedge, has had his nerves frayed to the breaking point and may be losing his mind.

Deutermann vividly takes you to that time and place. You can feel yourself in the middle of the ocean, eyes and ears straining for any warning that an attack is coming your way. Each battle is more thrilling than the last. The desperation of a Japan that knows it is lost but appears willing to die to the last man in an effort to inflict as much damage on the Americans as it can. Both the Japanese and the Americans alter tactics to outwit the other side. Death awaits the loser and living one more day is the prize for the victor. The cat and mouse game makes for an intense, and intensely satisfying story.

Great characters, historically realistic setting and well-written action sequences make for a highly entertaining novel. Recommended for any lover of action and war stories.
I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this novel.

The Last Town by Blake Crouch

Book description: Welcome to Wayward Pines, the last town. Secret Service agent Ethan Burke arrived in Wayward Pines, Idaho, three weeks ago. In this town, people are told who to marry, where to live, where to work. Their children are taught that David Pilcher, the town’s creator, is god. No one is allowed to leave; even asking questions can get you killed. But Ethan has discovered the astonishing secret of what lies beyond the electrified fence that surrounds Wayward Pines and protects it from the terrifying world beyond. It is a secret that has the entire population completely under the control of a madman and his army of followers, a secret that is about to come storming through the fence to wipe out this last, fragile remnant of humanity.

Warning:  This review makes reference to the first two books in the Wayward Pines series, so if you haven’t read them yet, do two things.  First:  READ THEM!  Second, either read the third one or come back and read this review.

The Last Town is the concluding volume in the Wayward Pines trilogy by Blake Crouch.  Each of the books is a nicely self-contained arc in the trilogy.  The first book, Pines,  drops Secret Service Agent Ethan Burke into the middle of a seemingly idyllic town in the Pacific Northwest.  His memory foggy, he finds the actions of the townspeople, and sometimes their very existence, incongruous.  His refusal to conform leads to him running for his life and eventually uncovering the mystery.

The second book, Wayward, has Burke agree to keep the secret about Wayward Pines and assume the role of sheriff.  While struggling with his own duplicitousness in concealing the truth from the townspeople, he is asked to investigate a murder and to ferret out those unwilling to abide by the towns’ strict rules.  When Burke decides to reveal to everyone the truth behind Wayward Pines, the towns mysterious benefactor decides to turn off the electric fence that is the only thing protecting the town from deadly creatures outside.

The Last Town picks up immediately after the events concluding in the previous book.  Each book is terrifically paced, but The Last Town may be the fastest paced of them all.  Ethan must organize the townspeople as best he can to escape the slaughter that is headed straight for them.  He also must expose the corrupt David Pilcher who conceived of and constructed the town and has demonstrated that he will stop at nothing to protect or destroy his vision.

The characters in this book and series are terrific.  Ethan Burke is a hero with enough faults and internal conflicts to keep you guessing what he might do.  Pilcher is a true megalomaniacal genius that leaves you wondering if he can be defeated or will he self-destruct.  The other supporting characters are equally well-drawn with just enough depth to keep them real.  The mystery of the town and the behavior of everyone living there is riveting.  Unraveling the mystery leads to both surprise and terror.

This is a popcorn thriller with a sci-fi touch and a lot of fun.  I was surprised by the ending of each book and the series as a whole, even though I had plenty of guesses about what was going on all along the way.  The breakneck pace keeps you moving the entire time and draws you deeper and deeper into the story.  The ending is very satisfying.  Do yourself a favor and pick up these books.  Highly recommended.

I was fortunate to receive an advance copy of this book (The final book only).

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Half a King, by Joe Abercrombie

Title: Half a King
Publisher: Del Rey
On Sale Date: July 15, 2014

Description from Amazon:

“I swore an oath to avenge the death of my father. I may be half a man, but I swore a whole oath.”

Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains, and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea. And he must do it all with only one good hand.

The deceived will become the deceiver.

Born a weakling in the eyes of his father, Yarvi is alone in a world where a strong arm and a cold heart rule. He cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge.

The betrayed will become the betrayer.

Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast and the lost, he finds they can do more to help him become the man he needs to be than any court of nobles could.

Will the usurped become the usurper?

But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi finds that his path may end as it began—in twists, and traps, and tragedy.

Joe Abercrombie has been on my list of authors I’ve really wanted to read and Half a King didn’t disappoint.  It is fast-paced, a little gritty, exciting and thoroughly enjoyable.  

Prince Yarvi is immediately sympathetic.  With one crippled arm and two disappointed parents, Yarvi’s future is forever changed when his father the King and favored older brother are murdered, leaving him next in line for the throne.  Betrayal soon follows and while Yarvi is nearly killed, a bit of luck and some quick thinking leave him alive, but sold into slavery.

As weak as his arm is, Yarvi’s mind is equally strong.  As an outcast, he earns the loyalty of other outcasts while plotting first his freedom, and second his revenge.  Yarvi is a complex character, inheriting a throne he didn’t want but refuses to let be stolen from him.  All the characters in this novel have depth to them. Abercrombie creates twists in both the plot and in the characters.  Much like young Yarvi, the reader can never entirely trust anyone or know what hidden surprises and motivations they may have. Everyone is trying to manipulate the others and that keeps you guessing until the very end.

Half a King is the first volume in the new Shattered Sea series.  It tells a complete story on its own and can be read solo.  Abercrombie’s writing skills are on full display here creating a world, characters and story that is a thrill to read.  I’m looking forward to future installments in what promises to be a great series.  Highly recommended.

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