January 27

Altar of Eden by James Rollins

9781409113553Last year I spent some time reading from the backlist. At one stage I was getting 15-20 books for review each month, and while working full time, it is impossible to read that much. So inevitably some got left for later, even if they came highly recommended. If you can’t order a copy of this from your local bookshop, try your local library.

James Rollins is best known for his adventure series featuring Sigma Force. When I filed this, I assumed that it was another in this series. Imagine my surprise when I actually discovered that it is a stand alone science fiction adventure.

An old trawler is found floating south of Louisiana, completely derelict. When investigated, all kinds of animal oddities are found, like a featherless parrot, a two headed snake and a saber-tooth lion. At the same time a rogue alligator is on a killing spree. Dr Lorna Polk, a research vet, is called in to assist with the investigation. It appears these animals are not only genetically engineered, but share a telepathic link  that allows them to share a common consciousness. How scary is that? You will have to read the book to find out.

This was a surprisingly good read. The scientific ideas held together logically. Not surprising since Rollins is a qualified vet. The settings and situations were credible, and this added a lot of power to the suspense. You will need to allow long reading sessions because there are many times within this book that it is impossible to put down.

January 27

The Sentry by Robert Crais

9781409116004I had not read anything from Robert Crais before, although I have certainly seen many of his TV episodes. And this book is apparently about 12th in his Elvis Cole series, but that doesn’t matter so much because the story is really about sidekick Joe Pike. This book successfully stands alone, and be warned there are a lot more Joe Pike books by now.

Joe is an ex-cop and his instincts tell him that the group of tattooed guys walking into a sandwich shop are after more than just a sandwich. He follows them, and is soon caught up in rescuing an old man from a life-threatening beating. The daughter is grateful, and Joe is captivated by her. Quickly he realises that the father and daughter have upset some very bad people, and it becomes Joe’s quest to protect the girl. As the body count mounts, questions arise about the innocence of Dru and her father. Are they really the Katrina refugees that they appear?

This is definitely an action adventure. You simply have to keep the pages turning, and there is fresh violence in nearly every scene. This book is not going to challenge your thinking, but if you love thrills and action, I suspect you will enjoy the whole series.

January 27

The Blinding Knife by Brent Weeks

9781841499086Literally a year ago I reviewed book one of this fantasy trilogy. This book was read a few weeks later, but then last year was not a good year for either reading or reviewing. I certainly remember putting the book aside wondering how on earth I could write any comment or review that made any sense at all. Add to that the frustration of waiting for volume 3. So far there is no hint of a publication date, and I am really hanging out.

Gavin is dying. His White Prism power is fading and he must hide that fact skilfully if he is going to even survive a year. He has upset his father, who controls the governing council for the kingdom, and as a result he is effectively exiled from anyone who can help. His jilted fiance has discovered too many of his secrets, the disclosure of which can ruin him. His bastard son is showing more power every day, but unschooled he is dangerous. And then there is the rebellion…

As I have said many times, the whole point of book two is to thicken the plot, move the pieces on the chessboard and draw up the battle lines. In this book 2 the plot is definitely thicker, and the characters are moving into position. (I like the flying boat by the way.) However, the hero is losing everything, and the anti-hero may actually be the hero. All that confusion makes the battle lines difficult to find.

As always, Weeks takes a traditional fantasy formula and gives it a twist. Theme – Good vs. Evil? First you need to be able to tell which is which don’t you?

Please, please hurry with book 3.

 

January 18

The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper

9781409122586Do you enjoy reading suspense or horror? If so than you will surely enjoy this very scary book. Not that the horror is particularly graphic or explicit. But your whole reading experience is certain to be stressful.

Professor David Ullman is a world authority on demonic literature. In fact his particular passion is for Milton’s Paradise Lost. Not that he actually believes in demons, but he considers that they are a literary representation of evil during specific historical periods. When he is offered a luxury trip to Venice to consult on an unexplained phenomenon, he not only accepts but agrees to take his 11 year old daughter on a holiday.

When he eventually arrives at the address he has been given, what he sees shakes him to the core. His immediate reaction is to leave with Tess, quickly. But before he can escape, she falls into the Grand Canal crying out ‘Find me!’ The search for his daughter leads David into a world of nightmares.

This is a book you will need to be ‘in the mood’ for. It is not one that you will easily put aside once it grabs hold of your imagination, but on the other hand, you may need a break and a chance to return to normality. And if you haven’t read Paradise Lost recently, it may pay to have a copy of the Cliffs notes handy.

If you enjoy suspense that tickles your imagination then put this on your reading list. The new paperback edition will be out in March.

January 18

Tessa Masterson Will Go to the Prom

9780802723598It is amazing how the definition of what is acceptable in YA fiction has changed over the past 20 years. Once upon a time just the mention of a same sex relationship was taboo or the whole source of tension within the novel. But now in YA literature there is a lot more freedom, and the writing is a lot more natural and realistic.

Lucas and Tessa have been friends forever. But now that the end of High School is approaching, Lucas has started to try to picture his life without Tessa, and finds the prospect very uncomfortable. Is this love? Maybe he should find out before it is too late. so he asks Tessa to go to the prom, not subtly, more like a huge road sign. But she says no! She wants to take a girl from work, on a date! You see Lucas is a good friend, but Tessa is simply not interested in him ‘that way’.

Now we all know that American culture is changing. But the small town where they live is proud of it’s fundamentalist Christian heritage. There is no way that a same sex couple is going to be allowed through the door at the prom. In fact the whole community, including the school administration decides to cancel the prom instead of allowing such behaviour. Now Lucas is caught between Tessa and all the rest of his peer group. Talk about pressure.

I love it when I find a book written by co-authors that is seamless. Obviously this is the result of excellent editing. I also approve of the cover. Well done to Bloomsbury/Walker for their high production values.

And the story? I liked the realistic and down to earth storytelling. Even the final solution to the whole mess just feels right. I can highly recommend this.

January 18

The Intercept by Dick Wolf

9780751551143

What does a screenwriter/producer do when he is approaching retirement? Turn to writing fiction of course. You are probably most familiar with Dick Wolf’s writing through the many episodes of Law & Order you have watched over the years. Well now he has diversified into thriller fiction.

Jeremy Fisk is working with the NYPD intelligence unit. Since he speaks Arabic fluently, he is seconded to an interdepartmental team that works with Homeland Security. And Fisk is one of those policemen who knows enough to follow his hunches.

The story opens with a young Muslim setting out to explode a bomb in the New York Subway. The FBI has information that the attack is set for three days time, but Fisk has the feeling it is going to be sooner. Naturally Fisk is right and his team prevents disaster. Later a plane on the way to Newark is carrying a hijacker. Six passengers stop the hijacking and become instant celebrities. According to the FBI, that is another attack prevented, done and dusted. But something just doesn’t feel right to Fisk.

As you might expect, this is a real page turner. Not too much time spent on setting scenes and character development, but enough to make sure your care about the danger. Fisk is not exactly well rounded, but there is more to him that gunfights and international travel.  The second novel in the series was released this week, and I am looking forward to Fisk’s further adventures, and hopefully, his growing complexity.

If some mysteries are considered police procedurals, this novel could be considered an espionage procedural. It is full of plausible technical details, like what happened to all the ‘stuff’ gathered when Bin Laden was eliminated. Surely the surgical operation gathered up everything they could find, but then what happened? This novel offers an explanation that sounded pretty logical to me.

Generally a fun read that won’t take overly long.

January 15

Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell

edb300c77826cc8791e44ebc2c3131caAnother book for younger readers. This time it is a whimsical historical adventure about chasing dreams and finding the truth.

Sophie has always been told that she was orphaned in a shipwreck while she and her musician mother were travelling across the channel to England. But Sophie is convinced that her mother also survived and is currently living in Paris. So she runs away to look for her mother.

In Paris Sophie soon makes friends with other homeless children who escape the authorities by living on rooftops. Together they gradually gather information that may lead to finding out the truth about what happened to Sophie’s mother.

This is an easy comforting read targeted very nicely for the 9-11 age group. A little bit of suspense, a lot of resilient children, and a wonderful setting to fill the imagination. The serious themes are woven into the fabric of the story subtly, making the whole reading and learning experience a lot of fun.

January 15

Omens by Kelley Armstrong

9780751553468Kelley Armstrong is a well known paranormal romance author for young adult readers. This book is far more focussed on the paranormal, with very little romance found within the covers. But it is a wonderfully weird read filled with superstition and darkness.

Olivia is the only child of a wealthy family with all the right connections. She has finished her studies and has recently celebrated her engagement to on of the most eligible young bachelors in Chicago. Her life is on track to become the envy of all, when she discovers that she was actually adopted. Worse yet, her biological parents are notorious serial killers Todd and Pamela Larson. With that in her heritage, she simply cannot marry into the best families.

Olivia runs away, looking for time to think and work out what she wants from her life. Somehow she ends up in the town of Cainsville, Illinois, and strangely, she seems to be expected. Her birth mother makes contact and soon Olivia is investigating the final murder by her parents, the killing that is supposed to prove her parents were innocent. Strange things seem to happen all around her without reason, and the crazy old lady across the road does not seem at all surprised. And then there is her mother’s lawyer…

This is the opening book of a trilogy and it very successfully sets the scene and builds interest in the remaining volumes. Now we all have to wait for part two.

January 15

In the Wings by Elsbeth Edgar

1370314108387It seems like forever since I have reviewed a book for younger readers. Admittedly they have not been a priority for reading this year, but now suddenly they are back on the list.

Every stage production depends on the unseen workers behind the curtain. Ella suffers badly from stage fright, so her ideal position is stage managing. During the school production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, she branches out into set design, so she is closely involved with the cast from the very first rehearsal. When her crazy grandfather arrives to live with the family, the show becomes her favourite excuse to escape. It is a real shame that that arrogant new boy Sam threatens to ruin all her fun. It seems like life just can’t get any worse when Sam discovers that her grandfather was once an actor, and once played Sam’s role professionally. Now she has no chance to escape.

This is a fun read about families and friends, first impressions and coming to the rescue. Ideal for kids interested in acting and theatre, but highly recommended for any YA with a strong creative flair.

January 15

The Lives of Stella Bain by Anita Shreve

9781408702970How unusual to find a historical novel that is short enough to be read in a couple of sittings.  Normally authors spend so much space explaining the history and setting the scene that the story gets lost, or at least disguised. Definitely not the case in this little treasure from Anita Shreve.

Stella wakes up injured in France just behind the front lines during WWI. Unfortunately she can remember nothing. The name Stella feels right, so she adopts it. Dressed as a volunteer nursing assistant, she takes on the work. Her accent is American, but beyond that there is no clue about home and family.  Overhearing mention of the Admiralty, she is overwhelmed by a feeling that she has to get to London because someone there will recognise her. Granted leave, she heads for London.

A foreigner alone in London during the war, with no money or clear idea of what she is doing, she eventually collapses on a park bench, very ill. Rescued by the wife of a doctor who lives on the square, she accepts their hospitality while she recovers from pneumonia. Dr Bridge, a cranial surgeon, is fascinated by the new study of psychiatry, and offers to help Stella try to regain her memory, and help her get into the Admiralty. From there the story gets really started.

As you can probably tell, this was a tremendous read. Shreve drags her reader through the trenches and eventually back to the field hospital where bloody surgeons are waiting. Within the  pages one can experience the nightmare of ‘shell shock’ and the equally nightmarish treatments. For most authors this would be plenty, but Shreve also examines the growing rights of women in the early 20th century.

Whether you are sweltering in unseasonable heat, or suffering the effects of a polar vortex, this is a great way to spend your days sheltering indoors.