Showing posts with label thriller. Show all posts
Showing posts with label thriller. Show all posts

Friday, May 5, 2017

Someone Was Watching by David Patneaude


Rating: WARTY!

This was an audiobook that almost made it under the wire, but the more of this review I wrote the worse it seemed to me! Jeff Woodman's reading was very good, but the material lacked credibility or seemed like it was being artificially manipulated for the scare-effect. Consequently, the scares felt very much like they were tacked on...well, tackily, instead of being organically and intelligently incorporated into the story. The novel redeemed itself somewhat with the ending, but overall while initially thinking it's a worthy read for middle-graders, I found myself changing my mind, and I'll explain why.

The story begins three months after the young daughter, Molly, of this Wisconsin family has disappeared while they were picnicking in a park by a river. Everyone blames themselves for it, although the parents were shamefully lacking in attention. Chris, the thirteen-year-old son had gone off by himself, deliberately avoiding taking Molly with him, hence his guilt. Molly disappeared, of course, and the assumption by everyone is that she drowned, even though three months on, no body has been found.

This was my first beef: that a possible abduction had not once been considered. It felt completely unrealistic and makes the police look stupid. If it had been considered and dismissed for some reason, that would be one thing, but it never was, so for me, this was poor writing. This bad writing continues as the family therapist advises a trip to the same park where Molly went missing - for closure. The absurdism here comes from the abrupt turn-around in everyone's attitude: things miraculously - and unbelievably - change. They changed far too much, far too quickly, in fact, to have any credibility, and this is further highlighted by events that same evening.

As part of this therapy, they watch the video Chris shot that day (this was a 1993 novel, so no smart phones were to hand, nor was there any of today's digital technology typically available). Something bothers Chris about the video and keeps him awake. When he watches it again, he notices the arrival of the local ice cream van, but instead of sitting in the park with the music playing, selling ice cream, the van quickly goes quiet, stays only for a minute, and then leaves. This makes Chris suspicious, but for me, again, it was a a bit of a stretch. Maybe middle-graders won't care, but for me there should have been a bit more. just a bit.

Chris brings his suspicions to the attention of his parents, who summarily dismiss them all! This is the same family which, quite literally the day before, were dysfunctional to a painful degree, unable to come to terms with Molly being lost, yet now, they summarily dismiss what Chris says, and all but forbid him to talk about it.

Chris and his school friend Patrick decided to investigate further, back in the small village near the park where the ice cream folk, Buddy and his wife Clover, have a shop. They discover that the ice-cream vendors have left long before the season is over, with the excuse that Clover's mom is ill. Conveniently, there's an envelope in the mailbox, revealing where they went, so rather than take all of this to the police, Chris and Pat decide to fly down to Florida to pursue them, and see if they really have Molly.

Once they arrive in the Florida location, they have some poorly tacked-on encounters which stand out rather sore-thumb-like, such as the police officer showing an unnatural interest in them in a restaurant, and three young thugs trying to shake them down in the street. Maybe middle-graders won't be so picky about the tacky, but for me it did not work. The rescue was better, but even there the boys were shown as idiots rather than heroes.

They do rescue Molly of course - that much was a given -but instead of going to the nearest house and asking for help (it would be very easy to tell a story about a man chasing them - since it was true!), they keep running and almost get caught before they - finally - make it to the police station, where the story pretty much ends. There was an epilogue but I'm no more interested in reading those than I am prologues.

So while the reading was good and parts of the story were engaging, for me, overall, it was a fail. I'm more picky than middle-graders, so maybe they won;t care, but I think this was a wasted opportunity to educate middle-graders about how to behave - and survive - (given the unlikely premise that they fly to Florida in the first place), and I think the author blew a great opportunity for the sake of cheap and gaudy thrills. I can't recommend this one.


Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman


Rating: WARTY!

Read okay by Emily Janice Card, the problem with this 'Da Vinci Code' wannabe audiobook was that it was, once again, first person, which made for a tedious listen, since it's all about the main character all the time - hey look at me! Hey, see what I'm doing now! Hey check out my obsession with cute guys! With first person voice you are trapped inside this character and nothing at all can happen in your story unless she's present to witness it. Or unless we get an even more tedious info-dump from someone else about what happened when our narrator wasn't present. Frankly I would have preferred it if this story had not had her present at all.

The problem with doing this is that if you're going to write a mystery or a thriller about some ancient cipher, then you really need to focus on that and stop taking frequent detours through this girl's obsession with guys and endless whining about her broken family. It sucked and that's why I ditched this novel. It was a tedious story to have to wade through, even when all I was doing was listening. The "Lumen Dei" society was straight out of Dan Brown, and just as dumb. This book could have been half the size and told the same story. Pages went by with nothing of interest taking place. Where was the editor?! This just goes to prove that going the Big Publishing™ route doesn't guarantee you a readable book.

The Voynich manuscript is a real document dating to the early fifteenth century. It's a 240-some page volume written in a code which no-one has been able to decipher. This suggests, of course, that it's really a hoax, like the Turin Shroud, but it's a document ripe for having fiction worked around it.

In this fiction, the main character is drafted in to help translate Latin letters written by a young woman who is connected, somehow, with the manuscript. The fact that it was highly unlikely many young women would be able to even speak Latin, much less write it back then doesn't get in the way of the story. I can readily accept that there were special and talented women back then as there are in any age, but in this case you really need to make me feel there's a reason why this particular juvenile was so exceptional, and this story did not. Having said that, I did DNF it, so maybe this was addressed later and I missed it.

So the translation begins, but at one point the main character whose name I've blessedly forgotten, purloins one of the letters which is particularly intriguing to her. That same night, her professor is found unconscious, the safe open, and all of the papers they were working on stolen! How convenient. There's no explanation as to why the villains - who had easy access to the documents - did not steal them earlier.

Obviously the one the MC stole herself is the key to everything, but rather than ponder that, or anything else, she takes us away from the intrigue to once again focus on the boys in her life. La-di-dah, fiddle-di-dee. Her voice was so boring and off-track that I could not bring myself to pursue this story any further. I can't recommend this, based on the part I could stand to listen to.


Monday, April 3, 2017

Blowback by Valerie Plame, Sarah Lovett


Rating: WARTY!

I think this novel may have been misrepresented, because the smaller name on the cover did most of the writing, but that's just a hunch. Or maybe, given the novel's title, it's a hunchback? Valerie Plame's claim to fame, for shame is that she was framed by the lame Bush administration in revenge for her putting a kink in their lie that Iraq had nuclear weapons. Now she's turning to novel writing, but rather than trust her to do it on her own, Big Publishing&trade, in its usual inept fashion, paired her with established writer, Sarah Lovett, whom I've never heard of. I rather suspect that latter one did most of the writing, if not all, because the story looks like it was painted by numbers. There's not an ounce of originality, inventiveness, creativity or even life in it.

The main character has the same initials as Plame, and is in the same job. All that's missing to make it a truly wacky joke is a middle initial to make it VIP. The character is a flawed CIA officer (because you can't have one without some serious flaws, right - that's the writer's code. Well, they're more like guidelines really). True to form, the guy is square-jawed, but has a crooked tooth and a scar - not from his job with the CIA, but from childhood (like Indiana Jones), and is very boyish in appearance. Barf me a fricking cow. Seriously? I was completely turned off this novel at that point, and trying to read on a bit more didn't help.

The real problem with this (I'm sure there are many, but I DNF'd it) is that here we have an actual CIA operative who has been there and done that and has some impressive credentials, yet the story we get (supposedly) from her is exactly the same as every other story we've ever had about CIA operatives, with very few exceptions. In fact I reviewed one not all that long ago which had almost the exact same opening sequence as this one does: an assassination in Europe of a contact who was meeting a female operative?

My point is that if a legit CIA agent cannot write something fresh and original, then what is the point? What is the point if all she can give us is exactly the type of story we've been getting from non-CIA personnel for years? I don't see any point, and I'm not about to waste any of my time reading this when there are other more imaginative and more engrossing novels out there just begging to be read.


Saturday, April 1, 2017

A Vision of Fire by Gillian Anderson, Jeff Rovin


Rating: WARTY!

If I had known this was volume one of the 'Earthend Saga', I would never have picked it up. I don't do sagas, cycles, chronicles and any other of that pretentiously-titled garbage. Jeff Rovin is supposed to be (according to the book blurb) a New York Times bestselling author, but the problem with this novel was that it was boring, and Gillian Anderson's lethargic reading of it in audiobook format made it even more mind-numbing than it already was.

I get why, in this case, they chose an actor to read it since it was written by that same actor, but in general terms in my experience actors are the worst people to read audiobooks, and Anderson's flat and dragging recital proves it here. Her voice is slow and dead, and totally unappealing.

Worse than this, the story itself plods along at a snail's pace and the "action" isn't remotely interesting. I find it hard to believe that a story with this premise, that teenagers around the world are suddenly behaving inexplicably: speaking in tongues and setting themselves on fire, for example, could be made uninteresting, but this inanimate duo managed it with this story. I got two volumes from the library hoping that it would be a worthy read (or rather, listen!), but both volumes are going right back there because this isn't engaging me at all. I do not recommend it.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Red Angel by CR Daems


Rating: WORTHY!

This was an interesting novel, and the start of a series which I'm not sure I want to follow even though I liked this volume. I'm not a huge fan of series. Once in a while I find one I like, but more often than not, series seem to me to be lazy, derivative, and unimaginative, essentially traveling over the same ground that's already been trampled free of all character. I prefer stories that take the road less traveled, which is impossible with a series, by its very nature. I'm especially not enamored of trilogies which everyone and their uncle seems intent upon writing, particularly in the YA world.

This novel had some issues. It could have used a good editor, because parts of it were repetitive, saying the same thing over that had just been said a couple of paragraphs before, but that didn't happen often. Additionally, the story had a juvenile feel to it - like fan fiction, but for me that wasn't really a problem. I'll forgive a writer a lot if they tell me a good story, and this was a good and original story.

Main character Anna has an interesting companion. Her entire family was dying of the Cacao virus when she was four, but this krait, a type of snake, latched onto her and bit her, and the venom held the virus at bay. It did not cure her, nor did it kill her. The rest of her family died, and had the snake left her, Anna would have died too, but for reasons unknown, the snake stayed with her into adulthood, living wrapped around her neck or on her arm or leg, biting her once in a while to feed on her blood, but keeping her alive in the process, so she learns to live with it and eventually considers it to be a friend and a pet. The friendship aspect is covered a lot more than the biting and blood-sucking aspect!

The snake is repeatedly described by the author as poisonous, but snakes tend not to be poisonous: you can eat them without dying! What the writer means is that the snake is venomous, and the venom in this case is usually deadly except to Anna. People avoid these kraits like they would avoid someone who has the virus, but once it gets known that this red-headed krait can 'cure' the virus, Anna becomes a target of desperate people who also want this 'cure', so it's hard to find her a secure location with a foster family.

After a bullying incident at a boarding school, Anna comes to the attention of a navy magistrate who ends up adopting her, and thus Anna is trained at a naval academy, and there she thrives. When she's eighteen, she's offered a job with an investigative division in the Navy and she accepts. The team begins to investigate a wide-spread smuggling operation and Anna is instrumental in the pursuit. It's never quite clear what they're smuggling, although drugs are mentioned a lot.

The only problem I have with this is my generic one with these space operas. Space is far too large and habitable planets too few and very far between to make any kind of commerce financially viable unless the products are considered extremely valuable. Why would anyone pay for something to be shipped from many light years away when the can fabricate the same thing on the planet where they need it? Most sci-fi writers gloss over this, and pretend it's not a problem, but it distracts me from the story, so unless the story is really very good, I can't take it seriously.

Other than that, the story wasn't bad at all. it moved quickly and was engaging. Once in a while it was annoying. For example, Anna was, we were repeatedly told, a very mature young woman, but she presented as a rather immature one most of the time. Fortunately this was not a killer for me. Neither was the occasional grammatical or spelling gaff. For example at one point I read, "he'll made admiral some day" when obviously it should have been 'make', not 'made' (and you can also argue that 'some day' should be rendered as a single word if you like), but I'm willing to forgive these too, if the story is a good one, so this one passes and I recommend it. I might even read volume two of the series should I ever come across it, but I don't feel compelled to rush out find it.


Sunday, January 15, 2017

Snatched by Karin Slaughter


Rating: WORTHY!

This was a very short audiobook I picked up on spec from the library and it turned out, aside from a couple of dumb bits, to be not too bad of a story despite it being volume 5.5 in the Will Trent series. This is the second of this author's books I've reviewed. I did not at all like Undone which I read back in November of 2013, but this was a different story. Literally!

I am not a series fan so I won't be following this character or this series, but notwithstanding some negative comments from Georgia readers as to Karin Slaughter's lack of a decent grasp of law enforcement procedures in that state, this little interlude didn't sound bad to my ears, especially since reader Kathleen Early did a good job. My ears, FYI, demand only a decent story without too much of Le Stupide. I'm not a stickler for Tom Clancy-style authenticity in a novel. For me that spoils a story by bogging it down. I don't like it to be a dumb story, but I really don't care if some corners are cut (or missed altogether!) if the story is worth reading overall.

Will is apparently in his boss's bad graces and is consigned to toilet duty at the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International airport. Why his police department is doing this rather than airport security, or as we're reminded and which is actually a plot point, one of the other law enforcement agencies which cover this airport, is unexplained. Why he has to sit there inside one of the stalls for eight hours rather than simply sit comfortably outside and observe who goes in, entering only if it looks like some guys actually are going to be indulging in lewd behavior is a mystery, too.

But the point is that he gets a hunch about a guy who is literally hauling a young girl through the airport and which pair momentarily stop in the toilet. Will goes after them and pretty soon it becomes obvious that his hunch was right and that this is an abduction, but Will loses track of the pair and when he reacquires them, the girl is gone. He brings the guy in for questioning.

This brings me to three problems I had with this story. Will is supposed to be a seasoned police officer, yet he three major screw-ups. The first is that he wasted his phone battery charge playing games in the loo so now he can't use it to call his partner. The second is that he has no radio he could use, which made no sense to me, and the third is that when he chases the guy in the airport parking garage, he never once identifies himself as a police officer.

All of those things would have been fine if we'd been given some half-way decent reason for why things were that way, like maybe that he'd forgotten to charge his phone the night before and the charger in his car was missing or broken, that there had been no spare radios at the precinct to bring on the job with him that morning, and that he had called out who he was but some truck horn had drowned out his voice or something! It's easy to do, and to fail to do these things as a writer, makes your character look dumb or you look like a poor writer.

The failure to identify himself never was a plot issue so he could well have called out who he was, so forgetting to write that he had identified himself made no sense, but the lack of a communication device was not well done. Nor was it explained why Will's poor partner was condemned to airport duty with him, either! But those issues aside, I did like the story and I thought it was a worthy read.

I do not think that it's worth twenty dollars for the audiobook! This is the only format it seems to be available in (her links on her website do not work(!) and I was unable to find an ebook version on B&N. Karin Slaughter is an internationally best selling author who actually makes a living from her writing. Surely she could give this one away as a freebie? I don't get the mentality of some authors, but that said, she does support libraries, so she's not completely evil!


Critical Mass by Steve Martini


Rating: WARTY!

This is my first and probably my last Steve Martini novel. Am I sure it wasn't Steve Martin and not Martini? No! This was a plodding, predictable, obvious novel with no thrills at all, which is hardly surprising given his background as first a journalist, then a layer. What was I thinking?! I read only a third of this four-hundred-some page novel because I couldn't stand to read any more when I have other books literally weighing down my shelves. Life is far too short!

The only conceivable reason to include a lawyer in this novel is Martini's history. She had no other purpose. In fact none of the chapters in which she was featured made a lick of sense. On top of this was the obvious: it was painfully obvious who was behind the theft of the nuclear weapons before the plodding Gideon figured it out. It was glaringly obvious that 'Belden' never died in the airplane explosion. Pathetic.

The story is about the theft of two nuclear missiles from Russia. We know from the off that they will be discovered and disarmed at the last minute, and that since we have "weak, gullible" female character Joselyn the Lawyer and love interest for Gideon, she will be imperiled before the story ends (probably by Belden), so there were no thrills here, and I have considerably better reads to do with my time.


Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Candidate by Lis Wiehl, Sebastian Stuart


Rating: WARTY!

Please note that this was an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher. The Kindle app version was pretty crappy in terms of formatting both on my iPad and on my phone. Clearly it was a rushed job, and I hope that it will be fixed before the published version is released. There seems to have been some fancy capitalization of the first few words of each chapter which is never a good idea, not even in the print version, and this didn't translate well, plus several chapter numbers were missing (chapters 46, 47, and 48 for example). I know people complain about the Smashwords's meat-grinder process, but the kind of sloppiness in evidence here is the very reason Smashwords is so anal about ebook formatting!

The blurb for this book (and this one isn't alone in this) is laughable: "With each death, her foreboding grows. Is she next? And can she find out in time if the country's beloved candidate is what he seems...?" Well yes, of course she can, otherwise why are we reading about her instead of about the person who can achieve these goals? Big Publishing™! LOL! Do they really think their readers are so gullible and clueless? I hope not, but if not why let their blurb writers get away with unoriginal and tedious blurbs like this?

This is why I self-publish, but the blurb, like the cover itself, has nothing to do with the author, so it doesn't factor into my review (other than to mention it here). The problems with this book are not the blurb or even the endless gushing recommendations for other books contained in the beginning (like I care!), but the story itself which is so implausible as to be worthy of a parody.

This is evidently book 2 in the Newsmakers series, which I did not realize when I chose it for review. With rare exceptions, I'm not a fan of series and I certainly have no intention of pursuing this one. It just doesn't spark any enduring interest in me and the main character isn't very engrossing, or realistic. Nether does she make me care what happens to her. Note also in passing that there are other books with this same title, such as The Candidate by Josie Brown, by Samuel L. Popkin, by Tracey Richardson, The Candidates by Bette Browne, and so on. A different title would have been a wiser choice.

This book manages to feel rather like it's written in first person voice, which is far from my favorite. It actually isn't in that voice, but it's written in present tense, which I think contributes to the feeling. It's worth noting from a writer's perspective: immediacy without first person! Who knew? I hope YA authors are paying attention! Anyway, to give you a taste, I'm writing my review in the same voice. So I'm reading, for example, "She drives south on the New York State Thruway and then exits and heads west to the village of Woodstock," instead of something like, "She drove south on the New York State Thruway and exited at Woodstock." It felt weird, and reminded me often that I was reading a novel, preventing me from full immersion in the story.

Other than that - which strikes me as odd - the writing itself is technically not bad in terms of grammar and spelling - once I got by this clunker, that is: "chemistry that sparks." No, electricity sparks, not chemistry! The story moves fairly quickly, but at times I feel like it's so improbable that I don't see how it moves at all. For example, the central theme of this book, as is apparent long before main character Erika Sparks starts putting two and two together, is mind control, but the source of this isn't from modern studies and techniques, but from an antique Chinese philosophical treatise. More on this anon. This strikes me as a poor plot device.

Worse than this though, is that I find it hard to believe that a reporter of Erika Sparks's purported stature and insight isn't onto this long before she actually starts thinking about it. It makes no sense either that she is the only one who notices it. The whole thing is presaged by information we get early (and on more than one occasion) that one of the candidates for the upcoming presidential election was a prisoner of Al Qaeda in Iraq for several months and managed to miraculously "escape". Perhaps if she had no meandered through far too much distraction, none of which contributed to the story, and all-too-often bogged it down, she would have got there faster?

This makes me suspicious of 'The Candidate' from the off. The real mystery here is why no one else is, especially since it's exactly the same plot device that's employed in the first season of the Homeland TV show which I quit watching after I realized that every season is the same as last, with a twist or two and a character change. This book doesn't follow that show exactly, but it's the very same idea. It feels very tired, and there's far too much telling and nowhere near enough showing.

I have to disagree with Erika over her medical knowledge. She's a bit too casual - or the writing describing her behavior is. If you're considering applying a tourniquet, then you need to be fully aware that you're simultaneously considering sacrificing the limb below the tourniquet. It's important therefore to try and save as much of the limb as you reasonably can, and include the joint if you can. If you can't, you can't, but to have her blindly apply the tourniquet above the joint without telling us something along the lines of "this was the wisest decision" is misleading, and it makes her look inept or ignorant. That's not a good look for a news reporter!

That Erika is rather slow in the mental acuity department is one of the saddest things about her. She's also a very weak character until the great escape at the end of the book, which is what makes me quit reading in disgust at 92%, because it's completely ludicrous, and utterly unbelievable. Additionally, she's easily manipulated and rather vapid - in short, not the kind of woman I look up to or want to read about. She presents herself far more as a "desperate housewife" than ever she does as an award-winning and popular news reporter.

One example (of many) of her dependency on others is when she responds to Josh, her pointless and brief love interest, showing up to take her out: "It must be Josh. Who is exactly the person she needs right now to pull her out of this dark mood. Well, Erika soon gets shot of this guy that she feels is so important at this point in the story! Caprice much?!

I get that having a friend stop by gives a person a good feeling, and that wouldn't have been so bad had it not been accompanied by everything else, but as it is, it's merely one more example of yet another female character needing to be validated by a guy or rescued by him like she's some maiden tied-up in front of a dragon, needing St George to gallop in and save her. Worse than this, there's YA-style triangle, or at least the makings of one, which is not only totally unnecessary - the story would have been better without any romantic entanglements - but which serves only to make her look like she's at best, a ditz and at worse, callous.

On that score, this book hosts what is an ongoing problem with obsession with women's looks. In some ways I can see a male author zeroing in on this (not that that makes it justifiable), but what disturbs me is that so many female authors do the same thing. I read on one page after another: "She's a reasonably attractive young redhead in her early twenties," and "By the way, you're much prettier in person," and "thunderstruck by the singer's beauty," and "His wife, Margaret, is an attractive woman in her forties," and "Claire is a raven-haired, Stanford-bred beauty."

My question here is what does any this have to do with the story? There's no comparable description of the men like this. If there had been, it would at least not have been so biased, but it would still have been guilty of reducing someone's entire worth to their looks alone. These people are not models. If the novel is about runway models or female actors, it would have offered some grounds to address their looks, but this novel isn't about any such topic, and it was nauseating to read all this.

So why does this author put so much stock in women's looks? Is it because she thinks this is all women have to offer? Is it because she believes that men have so much more to offer? Or is it because she's simply selling-out to people who think this is how women ought to be portrayed in novels? Frankly it's despicable, and I think it's shameful for anyone - and for a female author in particular - to bring women down to this shallow depth of skin. This is the main reason why I'm rating this negatively. Women deserve better. It's not the only reason, by any means as we shall see.

One of those quotes about beauty is what a guy says to Erika ("By the way, you're much prettier in person"). This by itself isn't a problem, because this is how some people think and worse, how they behave. The problem in that particular case is that this is spoken by Erika's new love interest before he's anything more than a new acquaintance, and she never calls him on it. Instead she actually basks in it.

This obsession with skin-depth evidently extends throughout the series. When I go back and look at the blurb for the first book I read this: "Beautiful, talented, and ambitious, Erica grew up dirt poor..." Again with the beauty. And note that the beauty precedes all her other "qualities" because it's quite obviously the most important! You can argue that this is in the blurb, and therefore has nothing to do with the author, but clearly the author has the same idea judged by what's in this book.

Erika is investigating one of the two candidates for the presidency, and she's growing ever more suspicious of him. Well into the novel, I discover that she's begun reading a memoir he wrote about his time as a prisoner in Iraq. Wait, what? She's been covering this guy for many months, and she's only just now, reading his memoir? Worse than this, she visits Iraq to follow-up on his story - and she's the first reporter to do this? No, that's simply not credible. Nor is this: "inhaling a plate of eggs and sausage and potatoes." I hope that's beef or turkey sausage because you can't get pork sausage in the Middle East - not in a hotel anyway! It's against Muslim dietary laws.

Another fail was the number of things which are launched with great fanfare in this novel only to sink out of sight faster than the Titanic (unless they all feature prominently in the last eight percent!). Erika has her teenage daughter with her. This kid serves no purpose whatsoever other than to lard-up the story. Erika had fought for custody, we're told, even though her daughter is her last priority. Erika is a bad parent, period. She spends no time with the kid, and this is raised as a point of contention, but it's never pursued. On the other hand her daughter is unnaturally clingy and juvenile for her age, so perhaps Erika has a point. LOL! The real point here though, is why include the kid in the story? She serves no purpose other than to be an annoying distraction.

On top of this is the ongoing nonsense with Erika's fiancé, who never actually appears in this story, but is dealt with through constant references and an occasional phone call. Again, I saw no reason to have him in this story at all. At one point Erika gets pissed-off with him and starts dating guy number two (at least that's how he's treated!). She leads him on and then summarily ditches him, which again serves no purpose other than to offer one more reason to detest Erika - and I need no more reasons at this point.

Another issue is this ancient book of philosophy which seems to be such a crucial topic at one point in the book and then it disappears from the story entirely. We're presented with these purportedly ruthless and obsessed villains who are assassinating anyone who gets in their way, yet when this "critical" book appears, and a guy starts translating it, the two of them ignore it completely! There's no theft of the book and no assassination. There's no interest in it whatsoever.

The villains are a joke, BTW. They're more like naughty, immature, high school bullies than ever they fit the role of evil behind-the-scenes manipulators. It was as sad as it was pathetic, and the ending (at least the part I read before I quit in disgust) is just not credible. This is a woman who has been held in captivity for a week tied to a chair. She's been constantly blindfolded, injected with god knows what, sensory-deprived, (and all this after coming back from two touristy days in Iraq with PTSD?), yet she plots her escape and executes it flawlessly and ruthlessly, taking out two guys on the way despite being shot in the leg? I'm sorry, but this is when I quit. It was absurd and completely implausible. I wish the authors all the best with their careers, but I cannot recommend a book that feels like I'm reading poor fan fiction.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Livia Lone by Barry Eisler


Rating: WORTHY!

Note that this was an advance review copy for which I thank the publisher.

I enjoyed this novel very much. Normally I'm not a fan of flashbacks, but though the ones here were extensive, they were done well, and were integral to the story rather than filler or back-story for the sake of back-story. The entire novel moved quickly and determinedly. There was no fluff here and no time-wasting, and no young-adult-style first person, for which I personally thank the author! This is a book for grown-ups and will make even those feel uncomfortable. Events were credible (even when they were incredible!) and organic to the story, and the main character - Livia - was amazing: believable, endearing, demanding empathy, yet not pitiful. She was a woman with a mission and she never let anything get in the way of it, yet she did not ride roughshod over others to get what she wanted. She was patient and determined and in the end her dedication paid off, yet the ending was neither sentimental nor clichéd.

I grew to like this character from the start, and only admired and rooted for her more as the story continued. She was my idea of a strong female, and not necessarily in that she was physically tough - although in this case she was. She had more than that, though: she had spine and grit, both of which she direly needed after what she'd endured, but endure she did, never letting life get in the way of being a human-being no matter how single-minded she was in service to her cause. She had a habit (nicely not over-done) of saying "Yes, that!" which both evoked her non-English past, and made her at once endearing and sad. I found myself adopting that phrase in my mind from time to time when I was just going about my daily business, it made such a warm impression on me.

Her personal story was horrible. Sold by her uncaring and impoverished parents into sex slavery, thirteen year-old Livia's only concern was for her younger sister, who was sold with her in Thailand. Only one of them arrived in Portland, USA, and for the next two decades, Livia spends her time struggling to survive what befalls her and at the same time stay alive no matter what, so she can find out what happened to her sister Nason.

Just when her path looks like it will become straight and narrow, it meanders into serious problems, but upholding her silent promise to her sister, she keeps on going, true to herself, and eventually works her way into a position where no man can overwhelm her and take advantage of her again, and that's not simply because she becomes a police officer. As a law-enforcement officer however, she can now try to track down her sister, but after all this time, will the trail have gone too cold to follow? That life and that mission is what this story is about, and it was excellent from start to finish.

The story was told well, with sufficient detail and technical knowledge to make it believable, but not so much that it looked like the author was showing off, or you felt like you were reading a technical training manual rather than a novel, which is how Tom Clancy's novels sound to me. Whether in the US or Thailand, it felt real and it entertained and engrossed, and it lived and breathed. I loved the ambiguity of the title, which sounds a bit like 'leave ya alone'. Definitely my kind of phrase! So all in all a great book, and well worth reading.


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Woman In the Mirror by Cathryn Grant


Rating: WARTY!

Note that this was an advance review copy from Net Galley, for which I thank the publisher.

I'm not sure I agree with the blurb's premise that "Everyone knows someone who deserves to die." I personally don't, although I would argue that there are asses which need kicking from time to time! I won't hold it against the author, because unless they self-publish, authors have little to do with the blurb or the cover. That's why on my blog I talk very little about covers, and I don't even show them any more in the reviews. It's the plot and the story-telling that's the only important part of a book. Covers are window-dressing at best, and honestly irrelevant unless you're not really a serious reader.

While vigilante "justice" is clearly wrong-headed in reality, it does make for some interesting stories, which is why the last sentence of the blurb intrigued me: "Alexandra Mallory isn't like other women - she gets rid of people who make the world a dangerous place." I was far less curious to know exactly how she dealt with her dangerous people than in how she determined who they were and which ones deserved dispatching. The problem I had was that this novel seemed far more interested in diverting into endless, tedious flashbacks and info-dumping histories than ever it was in propelling the story forward. It lost my interest short-order, and I gave up on this without finishing it, so keep that in mind with regard to this review.

That wasn't the only problem. I shall lightly step-over the fact that this title (girl/woman in mirror) is way over-used, and move on to the voice I most detest in story-telling: first person. Countless authors seem obsessively-compulsively addicted to it even when it harms their story. One of the many major problems with 1PoV is that it severely limits the ability to tell a good story, and this author admits this after the very first chapter by abruptly vaulting from first to third, which would be impressive were this a baseball game; not so much in literature, though. The story bounces back and forth between perspectives, but the second chapter is from the guy's perspective, and for some reason the author deems him unworthy of 1PoV! He merits only third place. Why, I don't know, but it seemed genderist at best. I mention that particular aspect because the guy has a decidedly warped perspective on the worth and valuation of women, and telling it in third person made it even worse than if it had been delivered in first.

His first take on Alexandra, the protagonist, is all about her "beauty" and physical qualities. Clearly if you've just encountered someone, the only knowledge you have of them is how they appear, but Jared's super power is quite evidently sex-ray vision: he can see only skin deep and immediately objectifies Alex without a second thought. I find it obnoxious that so many authors, especially female ones, are so addicted to this approach to describing their female characters. I mean, you can say a guy found a woman attractive without belaboring physical attributes to excess, and risking making other women feel like crap if they don't measure-up, just as you can describe a male character without making guys feel inadequate. Frankly, I wanted to ditch this novel right there, and never pick it up again, it was so shallow, but this was at about 2% in, and I felt compelled, against my better judgment, to press on at least a little further. It wasn't a charmed plan, as I discovered when it became bogged-down in flashbacks.

Alex is thrown together with professional liar Noreen, and "studly" Jared (see? That's how it's done! LOL!), all three living under one roof when Noreen sublets her rather precarious cliff-top house to them. It seemed pretty obvious where this was going, and it was all downhill from the top of the cliff. This was the beginning of yet another series, and I am rarely a fan of series. They tend to be repetitive, lazy, derivative, and unimaginative. I can't get on board with this one, which was far too wordy for my taste when the words conveyed so little and did nothing to move the story along. I wish the author all the best with her series, but I cannot recommend this based on what I read of it, which was more than I honestly wanted to.


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Kris Longknife: Undaunted by Mike Shepherd aka Mike Moscoe


Rating: WARTY!

My attempt to get through all fourteen (or whatever it is) of the Kris Longknife (aka Mary Sue) series this year, continues apace. This here is volume seven of the series, so I'm half way through, but I can pretty much cut & paste my review from previous volumes since they all run along the same lines. Indeed, I routinely copy the title from a previous review, and simply change out the third word, and it seems like the review could follow that same sort of principle since the stories are typically so formulaic. This is one reason I am not a fan of series, but I think even the author was getting bored with himself since this one was rather different in some regards - but depressingly the same in others.

This departure made it interesting to me to begin with, but it went downhill pretty quickly. I don't know if the author couldn't flesh out a plot for his usual "the hapless Kris & crew stumble upon a remote planet which the rival Peterwald family is trying to take over, gets into bombings and firefights, wins over the local down-home populace with her self-deprecating style and comes out victorious," or what, but this one failed disastrously. There seemed to be no intelligence built into it at all. Kris meets the Iteeche. They refuse to talk to anyone but Kris's "Grampa Ray," despite the fact - we learn later - that channels have been kept open with the Iteeche! It all comes down to this impossible 'chance' meeting in remote space between the 'son' of the Iteeche leader and the daughter of the Human leader? It's not remotely credible.

From the point onward, the story meanders pointlessly. The aliens, which the author makes a valiant attempt at rendering them alien initially, turn out to be exactly like humans in everything but physical appearance. They're more like centaurs with beaks and extra arms, yet they're purportedly descended from an aquatic species. And despite this, Kris finds herself physically attracted to the leader? What?!!! The Iteeche young are spawned in shallow saltwater and left to the mercy of predators, until they're later "chosen" by an adult to raise to adulthood. These then become 'family'.

This makes zero sense from a biological and evolutionary perspective. No organism on this planet, least of all the sentient ones (and with an odd exception or two such as the cuckoo), grow and raise young in this manner. It couldn't work for a truly human-like species, notwithstanding the fact that humans have historically adopted children here and there. I'm talking about biological evolution here, not culture.

It's a sad fact that Americans are really poor at science and it's also a fact, in my opinion, that we'd get better sci-fi if we had a better science education, but given that the US reading audience is just as poorly educated about science as far-too-many sci-fi writers are, I guess it doesn't really matter in the final analysis, does it?! Except that we'd get far better and more compelling and engrossing stories if this sorry state of affairs was rectified. There's a quiz at the link. I got 100%, which surprised me, because I thought I might have missed at least one question, but at least now I can say I know what I'm in the top 6% and I know what I'm talking about! LOL!

Back to the novel in progress. Instead of getting Ron directly to King Ray, the perennial Lieutenant Kris meanders through space to visit her "aunt" Trudy because of problems she's been having with her personal computer, Nelly, which are never actually resolved. Far from it. Instead of fixing it, Nelly buys computers for the closest people in Kris's retinue, so the problems of one computer are now exacerbated several-fold. Only then, when Kris has her personal needs taken care of, does she get back to the diplomatic mission and they go visit King Ray, who offers them nothing whatsoever, so off they trot into space. Kris never stays on the ground.

Instead of going off investigating the Iteeche disappearance problem, she calls in at a planet named Texarkana which is based on American (surprise!) interests and which has a city folk v. country folk mentality. Yawn. Kris gets blown up, the bad guys are captured in short order, Kris's millions open a bank and the local problem is solved. Everybody loves Kris-who-can-do-no-wrong. Boring.

This one was different in that the usual bombing/firefight was merely an end-note to the main story which was the discovery of the Iteeche in "no man's land" space between the human and the Iteeche empires. Of course Kris does everything right and befriends them even though the evil Peterwald contingent is trying to shoot the crap out of them. This was interesting to me because in every volume the evil Iteeche are mentioned, yet we learn literally nothing of them. There was a huge war eighty years previously, documented in a previous series by this author. I have no interest in reading that. Here we learn something about them, and it turns out that there's something the Iteeche have discovered with which they need human help. I found this a bit too incredible to believe.

The Iteeche have lost three scout ships in a certain part of remote space they were trying to colonize. It would seem like this story would lead to an investigation, but it doesn't - it's merely a cliff-hanger for a subsequent volume in the series, which means there isn't really a story here. This volume is more of a place holder while the author actually thought up a plot for the next volume. It leads to Kris transporting the Iteeche to Wardhaven so the leader - who is known as Ron - can meet with Kris's grandfather, the elected king (don't even ask; Kris is a princess, but her brother isn't a prince?!) of the United Sentients - named that way so the author, who is as gingoistic an American as ever lived, can name his warships the 'US Whatever'. They did the same thing is Star Trek which despite the fiction that it's an all-inclusive united federation of planets, is really American from root to core to stem to bloom. Despite the fact that the United Sentients are supposed to be descendants of the entire planet Earth's population, we only ever really meet white southern Americans with patriotic values and guns.

Then Kris takes the Iteeche back to her own planet and then back again out into space. Huh? We get the usual 'everyone disses Kris and she doesn't even react any more', yet the same people who diss her are utterly devoted to her safety and welfare. Despite having been in firefights and bombings. Kris routinely tries to slip her marine guard and personal body-guard, Jack (the tediously trope-ishly named jack). This is how she gets blown up. She's a moron here.

The marines are incessantly praised as the ultimate mean, tough, disciplined, incapable of failure fighting force, and the reader is constantly hit in the face with this ad nauseam. The author is completely in love with the phrase 'full battle rattle' to the point where it's a mantra chanted endlessly - again, tedious. The author repeats tired old military phrases and similies like they're fresh and new (such as 'no battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy') and like the reader has never heard them before - and in this same series.

In addition to this there's the same nonsensical crap about interstellar trade, which is farcical. Yes, even with jump points that allow ships to bypass light-years of space, it is still not economical to transport trade items unless they're desperately-needed items that cannot be grown or fabricated locally, or very expensive items such that the transportation coasts are more than made up for in sale price. No one is going to be transporting weapons or tractors, unless a planet is freshly being colonized. So, yes, I've let more than one volume in this series slip past as a worthy read, but this one I cannot. It was less than it ever should have been and simply not worth reading. I will contend right here that you can skip this one altogether and move to the next in the series without missing anything of import or utility.


Saturday, July 2, 2016

Transformed: San Francisco by Suzanne Falter, Jack Harvey


Rating: WORTHY!

Well I have posted fifteen reviews today. That's a personal record for me and a warning never to get so far behind again! LOL! This was an amazing story set in the LGBTQIA world of San Francisco, and featuring four main characters, one of whom is a religious nut-job who is planning on unleashing a sarin attack on a gay event to teach all those sinners a lesson. How such a lesson would be internalized by dead people is a bit of a mystery, but religion is not big on logic, and the parallels with the nightclub slaughter down in Florida recently were both chilling and sobering for me.

There's no end of religious nut-jobs, and the hypocrisy of Christians who purportedly preach love, but actually spew hatred is as staggering as it is entirely unsurprising given the brutal content of the Bible and the bloody history of Christianity. if oyu don't believe me, check out this link on CNN's website: "Hey, are you sad that 50 pedophiles were killed today?" Sacramento, California, pastor Roger Jimenez said from the pulpit the Sunday of the shooting. "No, I think that's great. I think that helps society. I think Orlando, Florida is a little safer tonight ... The tragedy is more of 'em didn't die."

The main villain here is named, hilariously, Randy Peter Tytus. I had a hard time taking that seriously, I confess. Ego te absolvo. Thank you father! Randy hails from the loins of a psychotic religious dad who runs a church of hatred which is very possibly modeled on a certain "church" which delights in harassing gays, but Randy's problem is not that he's very likely homosexual; it's that he can't face this truth, and can't deal with his reality. His 'solution' is to poison others with chemicals, mirroring the way his own mind has been poisoned by his father and his religion.

Arrayed against him is a startling trio which consists of Charley, a CIA operative who is temporarily suspended from duty because of some irregularities with taxes and expenses. He's a female to male transgendered person who is rather anguishing over whether to pursue what several reviewers have termed "bottom surgery"! I find this term odd and misleading. He's not, of course contemplating surgery on his ass, but on exchanging his vagina for a penis. Charley meets two females and through this acquaintanceship, a vital trio is formed.

The first member is an ex-navy lesbian police sergeant named Frankie. The second is a pseudo celebrity known as "The Society Dominatrix." Pamela has moved to SF to get away from the publicity on the east coast, but seems hard-pressed to shed it, despite changing her name to Electra. Some reviewers have described her as professional dom, but in fact she was just having fun with the husbands of some of her acquaintances. She doesn't become a professional until she starts to embrace who she really is and become Elektra in more than just name.

I must say I found the character names a bit clichéd! Frankie and Charley? Elektra? That seemed a bit over the top for me, but all four of these main characters are in pain in one way or another. Frankie is mourning her deceased wife, and struggling with corruption in the SFPD, a struggle which has put her in the sights of the corrupt powers-that-be, so she's been benched on trumped-up 'charges'. Charley is struggling with the loss of his job and with his indecision about when or even whether to undergo further surgery. Elektra also suffers loss - her daughter won't speak to her, and she's away from her comfort zone. Randy is simply a dangerous mess. I've seen some reviewers complain that this story needed to be "punched-up" with intrigue and sub-plots and what-have-you, but for me, it was perfectly told exactly the way it is. This is not a movie, and trying to write it like it was a screenplay would have been entirely wrong and would have destroyed it for me.

I'm not averse to a good action-adventure, even one with clichéd slo-mo departures from explosions which always seem to have a disturbing (and polluting) amount of gasoline in them, but this is not that story. This is much better. Watching these people move and interact, and grow and coalesce was wonderful, and poetic in the way it came together. It was a real pleasure to read and I wouldn't change a thing about it, except maybe to have given Frankie more of a role. She really took a back seat to Charley and Elektra, but since this was named Transformed: San Francisco, I wonder if it's to be the start of a series of 'transformed' novels set in different cities.

It wasn't all plain sailing. There were some issues, such as sentences like, "In the meanwhile, the final glory hole of hell he would personally reap upon the blasphemers was nigh." That made no sense whatsoever! Maybe this is what oyu get when ytwo writers are editing the same novel! LOL! I think it would have been better worded: "In the meantime, the final Hell he would personally wreak upon the blasphemers was nigh." I wonder if the authors actually know what a 'glory hole' is - or more to the point, whether Randy knew what one was and would ever use that term, even in his own mind. At another point, I read, "Thy will be done, not mine, he incited." I think the authors meant 'recited', but these are minor considerations and every author trips up with the language now and then, so they didn't bother me.

Overall, this story was excellent, I loved it and read it with appreciation and warmth, and I recommend it.


Stripped Bare by Shannon Baker


Rating: WARTY!

Not to be confused with Stripped Bare by Emma Hart, or with Stripped Bare by Susan MacNichol, or with Stripped Bare by Penny Clark or with Stripped Bare by Lena Matthews, or with Stripped Bare by Rebecca Moon, or with Stripped Bare by Lacey Thorn, or with Stripped Bare by Lowri Turner, or with Stripped Bare by Aurora Rose Lynn, or with Stripped Bare by Nikka Michaels, or with Stripped Bare by Phil Martin (and so on!), this rather unoriginally titled novel was an advance review copy from Net Galley which I got by accident!

Not sure if I wanted to read this without looking at more detail, I tried to log into Net Galley not by clicking on the link in the email they'd sent me, but by logging-on separately and finding the title through an author search, yet this still got the book automatically added to my list! In the words of John Hurt's Olivander, "Yikes!" Having been saddled with it, I did give it the old college try, but it was not for me. There were too many writing issues and I could not stand the main character.

In what is obviously the opener for a series (I'm not a fan of series), this story is about Sheriff's wife Kate Fox who is guardian of her young, troubled relative, Carly. The novel gets into the action right from the off, which is always a good thing, when Carly’s grandfather, Eldon, is shot and killed, and Kate's philandering husband, Grand County Sheriff Ted Conner who is up for re-election, is seriously wounded. Kate's juvenile charge is missing.

It seemed likely from the start who the villain was, but I'm usually bad at guessing these things so I was surprised I was right. I had to go check since I did not read all of this novel, and the reason for this is that I took a disliking to Kate pretty much from the start. She's supposed to love her husband (she doesn't know right at the start that he's having an affair), yet she fails to get into the ambulance with him. This woman named Roxy who curiously happens to be present, goes with him instead? I couldn't get past that because it was so wrong and Kate was so stupid not to see what was happening here. We were told repeatedly how desperate she was to get to her husband and be with him, and then she lets the ambulance take off with Roxy, and she stays behind? It made zero sense, and no rational reason was offered for it.

There were other reasons not to like Kate. She lives with her husband on a cattle ranch, and at one point she processes this thought: "I could tolerate ears and tails frozen off, a common casualty of spring snowstorms..." This callousness on her part - that she could tolerate pain and suffering in the very animals she relies on for her living turned me right off her. I did not like her one bit after this and was rather hoping the villains would get her. I honestly don't care if cattle ranchers really do view their 'livestock' like that or not. It was unacceptable to me if you want me to like your character.

Kate was unlikable in many other ways. Her dangerous driving to get her to where her wounded husband lay resulted in her smacking into a fence post. I read, "The post didn’t break, but it tilted out, drawing barbed wire with it and snapping the line post six feet away." Her response? “Sorry, Elvis.” Is Elvis the owner of the property she's just criminally damaged? Nope. Elvis is what she named her aging pickup truck. Yes she was worried about her husband (the one she couldn't be bothered to get into the ambulance with), but now she's shown me twice how callous and selfish she is. Plus for a rancher, you'd think she'd know the difference between an AutoGate and a cattle guard (aka a vehicle pass, a Texas gate, or a stock gap). You can "sail over" a cattle guard. You cannot sail over an AutoGate unless your car flies. Shades of Harry Potter again!

When she finally takes Elvis to the hospital, she selfishly parks right under the awning at the entrance to the ER instead of finding a parking space! The hell with other people coming in! The hell with ambulances delivering other patients! Once again she proves herself selfish and thoughtless. At this point I couldn't stand her, and I was actively rooting for Ted and Roxy.

Some of the writing was weird. I read, "Because the railroad depot was the first building in Hodgekiss, in 1889, and the main reason for the settlement, the town had grown up along the tracks." How does this work? There was literally nothing there, but they built a railroad depot anyway, and then a town grew up? Where was the need for the depot if there was no one there to begin with? I'm sorry but that's not how these things work!

There were sections where there was far too much info-dumping, such as:

I started off on another trek to Broken Butte. I had to drive over most of Grand County and into Butte County, sliding just a mile or two through Choker County, which ran along Grand’s eastern edge and north to Nebraska’s border with South Dakota. We’re a bunch of square states, and Grand County copies that pattern. Sprawling over six thousand square miles, it’s bigger than Connecticut, Delaware, or Rhode Island, with about as many people living inside its borders as there are square miles.
TMI!

At another point, Ted, who has literally just come out of a coma, is able to update Kate on where everyone is. How he managed that feat would have made a much more interesting story than the one I got! At around this point, I was unable to read any more of this story because it was turning me off on every page. I wish the author the best of luck in putting yet another detective series on the market, but I can't in good faith recommend this one based on what I read of it.


Silent Thunder by Iris and Roy Johansen


Rating: WARTY!

I quit this audiobook about two fifths the way through because it was becoming ever more boring. The essential plot was really nothing more than a modern day pirate treasure hunt, and it took far too long to get going. It began with a woman and her brother who were supposed to be examining a Russian submarine which was about to go on display at a museum. Why they were even involved is a mystery. Purportedly they were ensuring that it was safe, and determining which areas needed to be cordoned off from the public, but none of this explained why they were digging around behind panels and moving consoles on a submarine which hadn't even been cleared for hazardous substances.

Clearly they were only there so the brother could get killed and the sister find some secret codes which she promptly loses. There were less ham-fisted ways to do this. The way it was done made no sense whatsoever, but arguably worse than this was the reader's voice. Jennifer van Dyck has this way of reading which sounded odd to me from the start. At first I couldn't figure out why she sounded so weird, but then I realized she was putting the same stress on every syllable, so everything she read sounded almost like a question. It was hard to listen to for any appreciable length of time to begin with, and it did not become easier.

If the story had been more interesting I might have persevered, but why bother when it's this bad from the off? At least it wasn't in first person otherwise I never would have made it through to twenty percent. Of course it's the start of the inevitable series (yawn), but I have no interest whatsoever in pursuing it.


Rock Paper Tiger by Lisa Brackmann


Rating: WORTHY!

This was an advance review copy I got from Net Galley, and I really appreciate the opportunity to have read it. Thanks to the author and publisher, and to Net Galley!

I loved this novel! It was refreshingly different, had something interesting and out-of-the-ordinary to relate, and had a believable main character and a believable plot. This was written for adults and it showed. Though the main character was quite young, she was beyond the YA range and definitely more mature than your trope special princess YA character about whom I've seen far too many novels. Indeed, my desire to break that detestable mold was why I wrote Femarine!

Rock Paper Tiger is about a woman who's down on her luck, feeling sorry for herself, and in some sort of nebulous trouble that she can't get a good handle on, but she hangs in there and wins through in the end, and all without having some shining white knight coming to rescue her. This pretty much defines what I mean when I talk about a strong female character. Of course there are different varieties of strong character, but this is definitely an admirable one. She's not strong in that she can kick anyone's ass. In fact she gets her own kicked in different ways more than once. She has no super powers. She's not paranormal. In fact she's rather weak in some senses, because she's hurting inside and she's physically disabled after being the victim of a mortar attack while serving in the Middle East in the US Army, yet she keeps on going and she never gives up. It can be done, you YA authors! You can write a novel with a female character, and have her go it alone, and have her be credible!

The first thing which impressed me was that this was written in first person - a voice which I routinely detest - and yet it was completely readable. Not once did I feel nauseous reading it! See? It can be done well enough to impress even a decidedly-biased curmudgeon like me! That doesn't mean it has to be done, and it certainly doesn't mean every novel should to be written this way. I'd be a lot happier if there were significantly fewer such novels, but this one definitely made the grade. There were also flashbacks which I normally detest, and even those were interesting and actually contributed to the story, so way-to-go Lisa Brackmann! If you can write a novel that impresses me, and it's in first person, and there are flashbacks, you can't be writing wrongs!

This is also the first in a series about which I know little. I think maybe there are two more, but this doesn't mean I'm going to rush out and read them. My biggest fear is that any sequel to this, however loosely connected, cannot be as good as this one was! This is one reason I'm not a fan of series either, although there are some which have been worth pursuing. I just feel that if I read the next and it wasn't as good, it would tarnish my memory of this one! But I am tempted, which is a rarity for me.

The story is about Ellie Cooper, who has been for some time out of the US Army after being injured in a mortar attack on the base in the Middle East where she was a medic. She had a severe leg injury, but in the end didn't lose her leg - just a chunk of muscle from it, rather like Gregory House and like House, she's in frequent pain. Unlike him, she is not an addict, and doles out a meager ration of her dwindling Percocet™ supply to herself when the pain becomes too much.

She lives off her miserly benefit she got from the Army after she was invalided out. Since her injury was not obtained in combat, and for a variety of other reasons (read: excuses) she didn't get as much as she'd hoped for, but it's enough to get by on in China. What she did get was a marriage proposal from the guy she was having casual sex with on the base. Shortly after that, when he left the military for a more lucrative private employment, they moved to China where his job took him. Shortly after that she came home unexpectedly early to find him at home with a Lily - of the human rather than the Lilium variety, and he told her he's in love with Lily and wants a divorce so they can marry. Ellie is dragging her heels, and is hurting from this state of affairs too. Or is it the state of an affaire?!

She also has a drinking problem, and doesn't seem to eat very well or exercise. She gets herself into foolish situations, but none of this prepares her for the situation she's about to get into when she comes into contact with a Uighur who is staying with an artist friend with whom she's had a casual sexual relationship for some time. Because of this contact, she now finds herself both under surveillance and threatened not only by the Chinese Public Security people, but also by some anonymous Americans who are probably CIA. Her art friend disappears, as does the Uighur, and all these suits seem to think Ellie is the key to finding both of them. The story follows her as she ambivalently tries to "help" the suits to keep herself out of trouble, whilst also trying not to sell-out her friend. She suffers for that friendship.

I have to say I had to wonder why she didn't simply leave China when this began, if not at the beginning, then certainly at the end, although the author kind of has that covered. but on the other hand, she was being watched, and if she had tried to leave, maybe she would have simply been picked up. I would certainly have lit out, but maybe Ellie is tougher than I am, or maybe she simply loves the life there despite the hassle. I also had to wonder why these people thought she had such a handle on what was going on that she could tell them what they wanted to know, but maybe these suits aren't as informed as they claim to be. Intelligence only goes so far when it comes down to the way governments operate, after all, doesn't it?!

On the down side, there were some formatting issues with the ebook - a hyphen missing from between words here and there, some lines ending in a carriage return long before the edge of the screen was reached, but I assume these will be fixed in the actual released edition. Other than that, the writing was excellent - I mean really good and eminently readable. This is why I am so tempted to move on to the next thing Lisa Brackmann wrote, even if it is a sequel, despite having a list of books to read that's a mile long (and probably literally so at this point).

I loved the way the author conveyed the feeling of paranoia and claustrophobia that a person has to feel in a situation like this - not knowing who the good guys are, fearing there are none, not knowing who to trust, not knowing where to go or what to do next. That's how a totalitarian society works, and from whence its power is derived, and that came through five by five. The author has actually lived in China, so this is authentic. I didn't get the sense that she'd been in the military, but that, too, sounded authentic to me, and in the end that's all I care about! I don't require Tom Clancy detail or authenticity - in fact, that turns me off a novel - but I do like one that reads like it's true no matter how fictional it is and either way, this one worked. I really liked it, sped through it effortlessly, and was pleased by how it went and how it ended. I recommend it unreservedly.


Sunday, June 12, 2016

Salem's Cipher by Jess Lourey


Rating: WARTY!

Be warned there are spoilers in this, I've kept descriptions as vague as I can and also somewhat out of order - in order to minmize spoilers, but I can't address specific problems with a narrative unless I talk about what those problems are, otherwise it's simply a vague list of complaints without any supporting evidence, and I'm not that kind of reviewer. It's of even less help to a writer if I don't explain what the problems are, but I shall try not to go into more detail than I have to, to make a point.

I struggled with this one in consideration of whether it was a truly worthy read or not, but when I went back and analyzed my notes afterwards, I had no problem downgrading this. In some ways, it had a lot going for it, but in the end, the highly improbable plotting, the literally incredible coincidences, and some really poor and/or thoughtless writing made my mind up for me. The ending did not help the case at all, so I can't recommend this novel. Plus it was way too long for what it offered, and as if that isn't bad enough, it's the first of a series where even though the bad guys are soundly beaten in this volume, we find they're not really beaten at all in volume two. What?! Yeah, that's what I mean about improbable.

I am not a fan of inane story arcs like this any more than I'm a fan of the 'girls in peril' genre of horror movie where the psycho is killed two or three times but always gets resurrected and comes after the girl(s) again just when they think it's safe - and this is all in the first movie! As if that wasn't bad enough, we get not one, not two, but three villainous assassins, two of which are straight out of horror movies. Their behaviors make little sense. One of them is supposed to be so strong and muscular that he can dislocate your shoulder by a simple squeeze of his fingers - and this guy travels around under the radar? No! Another of the villains can literally rearrange his face so his appearance changes. He can even pass for a woman. What? No! Just no! This isn't a Marvel comic book!

Written very much in the Dan Brown mold of "impossible to solve" puzzles which are really rather juvenile, and in the National Treasure mold of hidden booty and arcane clues which are so old they don't even matter any more, this one featured a female protagonist by the name of Salem Wiley, who we're told is a 'genius cryptanalyst', but we see very little of that (although she is smart enough to know that lightning does strike twice in the same place!). She's partnered with a Chicago cop named Isabel who was a lot more interesting, but who got second-billing and relatively little air time. There never was any good reason why these two resisted going to the police or the press, or the Internet with what they knew at any given point in the story. In fact, most of the time it would have made far more sense if they had. I don't mind stories where they go it alone or avoid the police, but there has to be a good reason for that. Here, and for the most part, there was not.

After every few chapters there was a huge info-dump on Salem's past which I took to skipping after perusing the first one. They were boring and unimportant and they brought the story to a screeching halt if you stopped to read them, as did the chapters which pursued the campaign of the "first viable candidate for election as a female president," which were irrelevant to the main thrust of the story and should have been omitted. Oh, and excuse me, what is Hilary Clinton - chopped liver? Well, only if you're a Republican!

Worse than this, the extra pages bulked-up the novel embarrassingly and were, frankly, a potential waste of trees, as was the formatting of this book with blank pages all over the place. In this era of ebooks, trees are not so raped and pillaged as they used to be, but if this novel ever went to a significant print-run, I would fear for the forests to the tune of a hundred or a hundred-fifty or so superfluous pages.

The story's central premise is the most ridiculous of all: that there's a secret society of men which is dedicated to keeping women out of power (and it's not even the Republicans! LOL!) - to the point of assassinating them if necessary. Excuse me? Since when have men ever needed a secret society to step on women? The whole thing is utterly absurd, as are the links the author makes, calling in Emily Dickinson to offer clues to Thomas Beale's treasure via absurdist non-puzzles hidden in even more silly, improbable, and risky locations offering an inanely ancient, but still extant trail of clues which any middle-grader worth her salt could uncover, and at the end of this trial is a list of the members of this society - which itself is really irrelevant given how much families have intermarried in the intervening century and a half?

The list is supposed to be still relevant because it travels in bloodlines, so we're expected to believe that in a republic which came together to overthrow a monarchy, power is passed down like royalty from mother to daughter to combat the status quo which is power passed down like royalty from father to son? How is that even an improvement?!

My question here is why would any secret society keep a list of their members hidden by simplistic clues so that their enemies could find it? If it's passed from mother to daughter, why would they even need such a list? Why would anyone care about such a list if all they wanted to do is keep women down, for which they're already doing a fine job by sabotaging "uppity women", and undermining them, and assassinating them if necessary? Why would they even be considered a threat (or conversely, a success) if they're doing such a lousy job that women have sprung-up everywhere around the world into positions of power and influence despite all this?! The premises of this establishment were vacant!

In general, the writing was technically good, which you would (hopefully!) expect in an author's thirteenth novel, but the plotting too often felt like it came from an author's debut novel, with far too many convenient coincidences and overly dramatic characters. Some of the writing left something to be desired ranging from the minor to the major (as I've already explored). There were instances like, for example where I read, "Cards and gifts at all the appropriate holidays" which would have made more sense if it had read, "Appropriate cards and gifts at the holidays." Is there an inappropriate holiday to send cards?! But then I wondered: is it cipher?!

Once again I was sorry to see that I had run into yet another female author who was practically labeling women as worthless unless they were physically attractive. At one point I read, "Pretty flight attendant" and at another, "Catherine wasn't beautiful, but she was smart." Excuse me? Beauty comes first, but since she's ugly at least she has the consolation prize of being smart? It's not as good as beautiful, but being smart is the best she can do? It's sad, but it's all she has to offer? In a novel about a "genius cryptanalyst," smarts is on the back burner? That's frankly a disgraceful insult to women. I didn't get why the flight attendant's looks were remotely relevant, unless we're to understand that her death would have been somehow less tragic had she been 'homely'. That kind of writing is nauseating and obnoxious - and it's unacceptable.

There were unintentionally amusing portions where for example, I learned that Emily Dickinson lived behind the green door. No wonder she was depressed! I'm guessing the door wasn't green when she lived there, but who knows? Maybe it was! There were some instances of intentional humor, but not many. Unfortunately, there were lots of minor hiccups such as when a guy comes in dressed for Halloween and has five-cent pieces taped to the back of his T-shit. How did Salem see them when he never turned around? Nickelback never sounded so bad. On another topic, I think by "200 convening years" the author actually meant "200 intervening years."

There were larger issues, though. One of the most glaring was when they were supposed to get rid of their phones and one of them doesn't. The other knows she has not done so because she's shown the phone with her phone number in the case, yet later the other one is supposed to be pissed-off upon just discovering that her trusted friend lied about ditching the phone? In movies this is known as poor continuity, and the sad thing was this part (showing her phone number in the case) could have been completely excised! It wasn't necessary to the story. This is the problem with long novels: you grow tired of reading through them to catch errors like this and inevitably some get missed! We've all been there. This is why I don't write long novels!

At one point Salem and Isabel take a trip to Massachusetts, and the timing for the various stages of their journey is completely amiss throughout the trip, with hours disappearing unaccounted-for so we have sunset and sunrise popping with undue haste or undue tardiness. Also on this trip we have an assassin who is itching to kill these two women, and yet when he has his best opportunity - when they're sleeping in the car on the side of a deserted road at night, he has six hours in which to kill them, yet he fails to act despite previously vowing he will get them asap? There was no explanation for this, except of course that these two are our heroes so we can't kill them off - and this assassin is quite literally the most inept assassin ever.

That makes my case for not viewing this novel as a worthy read so I'l leave it there. This author can write, for the most part, and I wish her luck with her career, but this novel fell flat for me despite the appealing premise of two women taking care of business without needing men to save them. I'm sorry I could rate it better.


Saturday, June 4, 2016

Truth Lies Buried by Lesley Welsh


Rating: WORTHY!

This was an advance review copy and I was very grateful to the author and publisher for the chance to review it.

I loved the title of this - which can be read in two ways - but that's just me. I love the English language and I love playing with it. I wish more authors did! Anyway...Alice Samantha Riley spent her twenties in the British army and now in her mid-thirties, she's a bodyguard to Monica Cohen and her son Brando. Mr Benny Cohen, the seedy underworld boss, isn't around any more because Sam bumped him off and buried his body out in the woods, but now that it's been unearthed, the cops are trying to discover who did it. Sam is all about protecting her lover - Mrs Cohen - until she can settle up her late husband's criminal business affairs, and the two of them can move to Spain and retire together. At least she thinks that's the plan. She thinks wrong.

When other London mobsters start showing great interest in carving up dead Cohen's turf - and anyone who gets in the way of their plans - and Monica seems to have a male lover stashed away somewhere, Sam realizes that she has less of a sunny outlook than she does a murky pout-look (see I warned you!). Now a tall red-headed cop is on Sam's tail (and not in a good way), Monica has become vindictive, and Sam finds herself appointed temporary legal guardian of Brando, Benny's young, spoiled son. What else can jump the tracks? In this novel? Plenty!

The novel was written in first person PoV, which I detest, but some authors can carry it, and this one can. However, the tragic weakness of 1PoV was made crystal clear as the author found herself forced into jumping back and forth between voices and it made for really, truly clunky reading at times. If all of the third person sections had been excised, the story would have been much improved, but realistically the whole thing should have been in third person. That said, I liked the story overall, but if the artificial 'romance' had been omitted, it would have improved it greatly.

Frankly, I didn't get why a romance was needed at all in this story. The male interest (in whom I had a total lack of) had so little of a part in the novel, it was painfully obvious that his only purpose was to serve as the 'necessary male' in the female main character's life, and it was completely irrelevant and totally a waste of time. This is evidently deemed to be a requirement by far too many authors - this blind, headlong rush to 'validate' their female character with a male love interest - and quite honestly it's a bit sickening.

This story would have been excellent had this one character been eliminated (and of course he almost was, but purely for dramatic purposes), but having this man swoop-in to carry off the female felt like a complete betrayal of Sam, who was independent, strong and determined, and pretty awesome despite her shady behavior and poor decision-making skills, and who started out in a lesbian relationship. At one stage in the story, the male love (dis)interest pointedly tells us that a boy needs a dad. Well, he's entitled to his opinion, but I call a big BS on that one.

Having two parents is good idea because it's always smart to have more than one perspective to play into raising a child and to share the stress and work, but scores of single parents both male and female do sterling jobs, as do gay couples both male and female, so this felt like a betrayal of Sam. If she had to have a love interest, why couldn't it have been the female cop who was also in the story, and a lesbian? To be fair, Sam was bisexual, so her future partner was in no way cut-and-dried, but the trope "happy ending" was a misstep, I felt. Sam was fine on her own.

There was one other minor item, too, which is that at one point, a stolen laptop is offered in evidence. I doubt that this would be of any utility whatsoever except in furthering investigation. As evidence in itself, it seems to me that it was useless, because the chain of evidence was broken the minute it was stolen. The defense would have a field day with something like that, using it to cast doubt on every other piece of evidence, so I seriously doubt the police would be interested in it as evidence per se (not per say!).

That aside, the story was great, and if I ignore the "nomance", I have no problem rating this very positively. The story was engaging, interesting, and kept the reader off balance like it was a fairground cakewalk, because you never knew exactly what was coming next (except for the love interest where you knew exactly how it would play out). I recommend it as a worthy read.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Crystal Skull by Manda Scott


Rating: WARTY!

Well I guess I'm done with Manda Scott as an author of interest! This is the second I've tried of hers and it was a non-starter - or more accurately, it was a great starter, but rapidly fell apart. Reader Susan Duerden's voice wasn't bad, but neither was it wonderful. It was okay.

Not to be confused with Crystal Skull by Rob Macgregor, this story had a wonderful premise which was sadly squandered, but what lost it for me was when the book started flashing back to Elizabethan times and modern times got boring. I lost all interest. In a print book, and somewhat in an ebook, you can skip parts you don't like and get to the next good bit, but it's really hard to do that in an audio book!

The story was of two young newly-weds, Stella and Kit, whose wedding gift to each other was to explore one of the limestone caves in Yorkshire, England (which is where my parents were born! Not in a cave, silly, in Yorkshire!). They were the first to enter this one particular cavern in over four hundred years (hence the Elizabethiana), and just as this one obscure legend had it, they discovered the heartstone, which appeared to have mystical powers. Either that or Stella seriously needed a brain scan to detect that tumor she certainly has growing in her skull.

Of course it's not that easy. The authorities don't care of course, that someone who values life very little wants to take that stone from them, either to own it or to destroy it, yet instead of turning the stone and the location of the cavern over to appropriate authorities, these two complete dicks start squirreling it away. Stella lies, even to her husband, that she's disposed of it. I stopped liking them both at that point. They are irresponsible jerks and I lost all interest in reading any more about them. If they'd had good reason to do as they did, that would be one thing, but the author gives us no reason other than selfishness and stupidity for them to hold onto the stone and keep the cave secret, and that never makes for a fun story in my experience. The monotonous flashbacks to that delusional charlatan Michele de Notredame and the wa-ay overrated John Dee were trite and laughable, worthy of an amateur writer, not a professional. I can't recommend this based on what I listened to.