Saturday, 30 November 2013

JJ Ward


The cover stood out for its originality and blandness, but it wouldn't have tempted me to 'look inside' had I been browsing. It looked like a university student's course work.

The title 'Tales of M17' told me just that: tales e.g short  fiction tales of crime or thriller shorts. The small subtitle The Kramski Case inferred the tales would be all on one theme.

The blurb begins with a short excerpt, but it's not productive. The opening sentence is a mouthful and out of context it has no depth. It's cold. A pile of baked beans without buttered toast. The true blurb is better and straight to the point.

The look inside takes us to Cumbria where Jilly, a member of the latest music phenomenon, is climbing out of bed with a guy from a rival band. She can hear the paparazzi outside and we're lead to believe she's worried for herself (because she's been caught with her pants down, so to speak) but the  paparazzi are being assassinated and she's worried that, because of her, someone is going to die. And they do in this great beginning to M17.

When the scene switches to a prison I'm a little bereft but the setting is very visual: He sat at the table, straightened his back and flattened his hands on the Formica surface. Above him a single strip light buzzed and flickered. 'He' is Deputy Commissioner Khrantsov and he's on the point of recruiting prisoner Orlov, who's in for treason, and giving him early release. I'm presuming he's been signed to hunt for the murderers, but that's where the sample ends. Will have to buy the book to find out!

In short, the M17 have brought in three men: British, Jonathan Hartley-Brown, American, Lieutenant Detective Commander David Bronstein, and the newly-released prisoner Orlov from Russia to hunt for the killers who are spanning three countries. I'm expecting a lot of action with gun fire, helicopters and fast cars.

Jonathan Hartley-Brown is a 'posh Brit' and I find it hard to visualise him as a hardened man able to get his hands dirty, on the opposite scale Orlov is 'tough guy' Bruce Willis and I'm instantly routing for him. The American, David Bronstein, seems a lost in the great characterisation of the other two.

I became confused by chapter nine when, seemingly out of the blue, Jonathan Hartley-Brown and Jilly, from the opening chapter, fell in love. One moment he was questioning her over the shooting and next he was inviting her to meet his parents. Another problem I found was that there wasn't always any notice of scene jumps. Usually these are indicated with an asterisk or a blank line but in this Kindle version 
these were sometimes missing.

But I'm being picky, this is an excellent political thriller with a strong story. It may have had too many characters for me to keep tabs, but every character had their place. There were a few shockers, especially when one of my favourite characters died and another was indirectly linked with all the murders. There was also light relief in the eccentric Hartley-Brown family and I laughed out loud when Joy Hartley-Brown said (on discovering her son was gravely injured): "Tell the doctor we're with BUPA."

It's a mixed POV, and other than some absent scene breaks it was a very well-written political thriller and a fast read.

“The reason you’re incredulous, gentlemen,” Ruby Parker went on, “is because you haven’t the faintest conception of how MI5, MI6 and the FBI and CIA now work. Which is good news for us, bad news for the Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki, not to mention the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure and the Bundesnachrichtendienst. We’ve managed to keep our rivals in the dark for over a decade.” 
“Bravo,” Bronstein said. “Now maybe you could fill us in on what the hell you’re talking about.” He put his hands together. “No disrespect.” 
She sat down. “I won’t bore you with the details. There is no MI5. Not any more. It merged with MI6 nearly a decade ago to create MI7, the result of an initiative to bring intelligence – in the cybernetic sense of the word – into Intelligence. We continue under the MI5, MI6 designation in public for obvious reasons. And because people seem to like it.” “Right,” Bronstein said. 
“We’ve had effective departments of spies in this country since Francis Walsingham in the sixteenth century, Lieutenant Bronstein. The author of Robinson Crusoe was a spy. There was nothing special about MI5 or MI6.” 

When someone starts assassinating paparazzi in three countries, MI7 sits up. Apparently, the killer is none other than Dmitri Vassyli Kramski, retired SVR field-operative and former Kremlin protégé. True, the Cold War is long finished, but everyone knows Vladimir Putin is as unhappy for Russia to play second fiddle on the international stage as even the most strident of his Communist predecessors. In 2010 therefore, East-West relations remain as tortuous as ever. 

Kramski’s trail leads deep into London’s émigré community, forcing his pursuers into conflict with an unknown organisation bent on protecting him. Bit by bit, he begins to look less like a professional assassin and more like someone plotting to scupper the foundations of Western democracy itself. To compound matters, the Russians are as baffled by him as anyone.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Ellen Harger


The cover was plain but in the typical cartoon style of 'chick lit', the title was nice and large as was the author name. I liked the title. It was simple, yet appealed. I was put off by 'a midwest novel' tag on the microphone but only because being from the UK I felt I might feel excluded from urban slang and so forth (I wasn't).

In the blurb I'm introduced to the main character, Whitney, who is average in just about everything. But she wants to change. She's tired of being average. What I liked about the blurb is that there wasn't any mention of 'she wants a man'.

The 'look inside' was disappointing. I like to get to the hub of the book to see if it's something I can read and hopefully download, but first I had to scroll through the three pages of TOC, then the blurb again, then the introduction and prologue (which wasn't very interesting).

The book (finally) opens introducing the alter ego of Whitney - DJ Kelly Carter. Kelly is bright, outgoing and full of energy. Whitney prefers to fade into the background. Already it's different to the normal 'chick lit' novels and I feel this is going to be an interesting read...

The chapter titles were song titles and very apt for Whitney's profession. Clever, I thought. Whitney is a nervy lady but her alter-ego (the DJ)  is not. She has a nice set of friends in Sadi, Leah and Marc. There was good characterisation with the characters but Whitney should have been centre-stage for most of the time. She's wasn't, and at times I wondered whose story I was reading.

Strong Enough takes you through the dynamics of friendships, and the humour is subtle but Whitney as a character is someone you'd want to slap. She's so suspicious of everyone's intentions and beyond. I did sometimes wonder how she managed to keep such a strong friendship going with the feisty Sadi.

Over all, the book focuses on the loves and lives of several women: Whitney, Sadi and Leah with a few others not too central to the book, it's a fun read. Not too heavy and with many laughs dotted around. It has some clever shocks where the author lures you into thinking you know a character but then that character turns out to be a nasty piece of work.

I wasn't drawn into the book though, and I couldn't put my finger on the problem. There was no editing issues, and the storyline was all there. The characters didn't always gel together and maybe that was the issue. They seemed, at times, to be unlikely friends.

I awarded it a high three out of five. 


Starting over is hard. And sometimes, you have to burn a few bridges to do it.

Whitney Brown is average--average height, weight, and personality--but she wants to be someone new. To kick-start her rebirth, she wears formal mourning, a black veil and vintage dress, to a wedding in her hometown, Woods Cross, a community that treasures family values. Is it an attack on marriage or has she just gone bonkers?

Emboldened but lacking a plan, she forces her foot in the door of a radio station in Sundown. A small metropolis of nearly 150,000, Sundown is a notch of urban flair along the Midwest's Bible Belt.

Getting in proves to be the easy part and the anonymity of being a DJ suits her well. But off air (and in person), Whitney must stand up to Sadi, an angry feminist and the bane of her college years while an old friendship with her former roommate, Leah, devolves around a guy. 

It's 2002 and the Midwest radio scene is changing. Just as Whitney hits her groove, the radio station undergoes its own identity crisis. But what rocks Whitney to her core is the moment the condom breaks. Her abstinence only background leaves her embarrassed and facing a difficult choice.

Friday, 15 November 2013

James Patrick

The Invincibles

The cover of this book was dark and 'horror' looking with the full moon, sinister house and strange figures lingering outside. The title made me think of superheroes and the font sent the message that it was a children's book. The cover has great imagery and really striking. It instantly held my attention.

The blurb was fast-moving and told me the genre was YA. It sounded English with its boarding schools, and I couldn't help but think of Harry Potter. Not a bad thing, but it meant I had high expectations.

The sample was straight to the story and we're introduced to Jack. The writing, though, wasn't top-notch and I'm disappointed: Jack squirmed lower in his seat as he peered through the battling... 'squirmed lower' and 'peered' don't match and it's impossible to do both simultaneously. This will confuse the reader. Another was Jack's mum slammed her foot down hard and their brand new BMW X5 4*4... what does that tell you? It told me she'd stopped the car, but instead the car 'roared up the driveway'. These small discrepancies matter. A reader is building a picture but if they have to keep redrawing that picture they aren't going to enjoy the book.

That aside the first chapter had intrigue, secrets and fear as Jack was driven to a boarding school he didn't want to attend. He has a 'plan', which we're not informed of yet, and was nicely slipped into the story to further hook the reader.

The final sentence of chapter one was somewhat a shocker: If he is found guilty David Crawford will be hauled out of his cell and led into a small courtyard to be executed by firing squad. --but compelling.

As twelve year-old Jack Crawford settles into the boarding school, I, unfortunately find my attention wandering. The POV is all over the place, and even though grammar and spelling is OK, it's over-written and the author has no sense of punctuation. Also, you can 'hear' the author's voice (an adult) and not twelve year old Jack. That's the bad news, but there are some fantastic one-liners: Jack smirked as Mr. Keeling wilted like a chocolate bunny in a microwave.-- is just one of them.

The idea behind this book seems brilliant, but I could only get as far as chapter eight before I gave up on it. The author has a good story, an awesome cover and an eye-catching blurb so I wonder why he stopped at an editor? It's a shame.

Only gifted hacker 12 year old Jack Crawford can save his father from death row. But for his own protection Jack has been sent to a remote Scottish boarding school with no internet connection. Jack needs help but everybody seems to hate him... even the teachers. Somehow he must motivate a bunch of rich, spoiled, lazy, resentful misfits to work together and risk everything to help him save his dad’s life. 

To succeed, Jack must forge The Invincibles into a crack team of daring escapologists, whip-smart cryptoanalysts, cunning App programmers and robotic engineers. Racing against the clock, The Invincibles must learn to work as a team, overcome their worst fears, crack a secret code, unmask a traitor, evade a killer, seize control of their school and......

...learn to talk to girls.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Steve Holak


The Winds of Heaven and Earth

Both the title and cover of this book was beautiful but I couldn't gage anything from it. The lone man on the cliff top, was he about to jump? Admiring the view? Disposing of a body? It could be a love story, thriller, romance or possibly a fantasy.

The blurb straightens out the genre: fantasy, so now the title takes on a whole new meaning. One thing that did confuse me a little was the line: What he discovers about his adopted wife's hidden past. Having read the book, I now understand that line but at first, I felt it was a typo - he'd adopted his wife?

The sample didn't hook me straight away, I must admit. It opened like a run-of-the-mill crime story, and the newspaper stories were dull. It wasn't until chapter one that my interest was piqued. 

I loved the opening line Demons chased Jordan Parish down the beach and as the book opens, I learn that Melanie, Jordan's pregnant wife has gone missing. Jordan's anger is apparent (he's feeling helpless, lost and confused) but I get no grief or sadness from him and that makes him a little cold.

The Winds of Heaven and Earth took off for me when Jordan travelled to Hawaii after his missing wife's necklace was found on Big Island. There, the magic and fantasy began, and with a cynic like Jordan, it was interesting to see how his character would come to terms with the supernatural elements of the story. 

I discover that, as a child, Melanie was found wandering without knowing how she got there and without memory of her past. 
It’s fascinating to be there with Jordan as is dawns on him that Melanie’s stepbrother, Chase (his close friend) knows the mystery to her disappearance, and that it’s no coincidence that his grandmother, Lena, was also “found” as a child and without a memory of her past. The two people who he trusts the most seem to be conspiring against him, but before he demands answers dark forces whisk Jordan and Chase away. They are separated and Jordan thinks Chase is dead.

Jordan ends up seemingly back in the past (it made me think of Merlin and King Arthur), where he learns his wife is a princess and her father, High Lord Namana, believes her to be dead. He also thinks Jordan is her murderer. It takes a lot for Namana to believe that not only is she alive, she grew up, married Jordan and is expecting his grandchild.

In this new world Jordan discovers Lena, his wife's grandmother and Chase were the keepers of his wife’s secret and know of the prophecy that she, or rather her baby, has to fulfil. It's a very visual read, and as you can probably tell from my review, heavy at times.

It has a strong storyline with excellent characterisation that you have affinity for. The main character, Jordan, seemed like a real flesh and blood person lost in a fantasy novel. He's potty-mouthed, aggressive and impulsive, and at times I wanted to throttle him but it made the story REAL.

It is a complex story with many twists and turns and with characters, which I think, will come into their own in the follow up to The Winds of Heaven and Earth. It's not a stand-alone read, but the ending isn't too much of a cliffhanger. 

The chapters opened with quotes from famous poets or authors like Merwin and Arthur C Clarke, which had a nice touch.

No editing issues.


How far would you go to save your wife and child?

To another world?

When Jordan Parish's wife Melanie disappears shortly after the couple announce their pregnancy, everyone assumes the motive is ransom.

But six months pass with no demand, and when the FBI discovers the only clue to her disappearance, a missing family heirloom worn by Melanie the day she vanished--with Jordan's blood on it--the investigation turns to the temperamental and volatile Jordan.

Desperate to find his wife and clear his name, Jordan mounts an investigation of his own. What he discovers about his adopted wife's hidden past plunges him plunges him into the world of mystery and magic surrounding their families. And when Jordan and Melanie's brother Chase pursue strange assailants into a mysterious storm, Jordan is cast into a realm where he finds his child at the center of a struggle for power surrounding the culmination of a centuries-old prophecy.

The Winds of Heaven and Earth launches a new fantasy trilogy, blending epic and contemporary genres in the tradition of Stephen R. Donaldson's Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever and Roger Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber