Its been awhile since I've posted any thoughts on books I've read, so I thought I would write up a couple of brief reports.
-Coup d'Etat by Ben Coes is the 2nd novel in the Dewey Andreas series (the 3rd came out last summer, and the 4th is due out this summer). This one involved two main plot elements: a potential nuclear war between India and Pakistan, and a revenge element left over from the 1st novel. I have to admit I wished the entire novel had been based around the war plot element, though doing so might have limited the amount of page time given to Dewey. There was nothing wrong with the revenge element, I just wish they had been integrated a little more. The war element was downright scary, as Coes made me believe as if that sort of thing could easily happen in the real world. This "real world believability" has been the primary thing that has driven me to read more thrillers the last 18 months. Overall, I thought this was an enjoyable read, and a stronger novel than the first book in the series. I'm not sure I would put Dewey's character on the same level as Mitch Rapp, Gabriel Allen, or Pike Logan..at least not yet. But there was definite growth in this novel, and I have hopes that will continue in the next book in the series.
-Bad Luck In Berlin by Tom Wood is a digital-only novella that takes place between books 1 and 2 in the Victor series (I haven't found an official name for the series, and since the main dude is named Victor, I call it the Victor series). Tom Wood wrote one of my favorite books of 2010, The Killer (I'm guessing his publishers must have asked him to change his pen name). I was glad to see this novella, as it has been 3 years since the first book was published here in the US. I believe book 2 was published on time in the UK in 2011, but we here in the US had to wait an extra 2 years (the 2nd book, The Enemy, was published this month). As I mentioned, this novella bridges the story between books 1 and books 2, and serves as a good refresher for Victor's character. If you have not read The Killer, you can easily start with this one. Victor is a hired killer, an assassin. The thing that stands out for me in Tom's books, besides the great pacing, is the author's attention to detail. He goes the extra mile to sprinkle in technical details that other authors skip (and no, I don't mean mentioning the name brand of the watch the character is wearing, or the maker of the bullets or the gun, which is popular in some series). Maybe its the computer programmer/geek in me, but the deeper look into Victor's actions really works for me. And while this story is a novella, it is longer than most Kindle novellas I've read, so it feels more like a fully-fleshed out story. Bad Luck In Berlin served to remind me how much I enjoy Tom Wood's writing, and made me excited that the long awaited book 2 is finally here.
Patient Zero by Jonathan Maberry is the first book in the Joe Ledger series. I had avoided this one for awhile, as I had the impression it was "just another zombie novel"...I have as much interest in reading a zombie novel as I do in reading about quilting. In other words: none. But, I've seen lots of positive comments on Patient Zero, and with my recent trend of reading thrillers, I thought I would give this one a try.
Being a "Quick Take" this will be brief...but I wanted to mention the book here because I thought it was absolutely FANTASTIC! (yeah, I used capital letters there on purpose..to indicate how much I liked Patient Zero..PZ). Joe Ledger is one likeable dude...I seem to have an affinity for 1st person narratives recently. Especially in the thriller genre. And Joe is right up there with Brad Taylor's Pike Logan as my favorite new "thriller lead". It turns out that while the story does seem to be a bit of a zombie novel at first glance, once the details are explained, it is something quite different (and way more 'real-world scary'). In addition to Joe, PZ has a nice supporting cast, especially Church, Grace, and some of Joe's team. I know this is basically just a shout-out, yelling at you to "go read this!" without going into a bunch of details why...but that's all I have time for at the moment.
So..go read this! While it was not released in 2013, it will make my list of favorite books I've read in 2013.
The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen is the first book in The Ascendance Trilogy (the second book came out earlier this month). Before I jump into my thoughts, below is the synopsis from Amazon:
In a discontent kingdom, civil war is brewing. To unify the divided people, Conner, a nobleman of the court, devises a cunning plan to find an impersonator of the king's long-lost son and install him as a puppet prince. Four orphans are recruited to compete for the role, including a defiant boy named Sage. Sage knows that Conner's motives are more than questionable, yet his life balances on a sword's point -- he must be chosen to play the prince or he will certainly be killed. But Sage's rivals have their own agendas as well.
As Sage moves from a rundown orphanage to Conner's sumptuous palace, layer upon layer of treachery and deceit unfold, until finally, a truth is revealed that, in the end, may very well prove more dangerous than all of the lies taken together.
An extraordinary adventure filled with danger and action, lies and deadly truths that will have readers clinging to the edge of their seats.
That snippet above does a pretty good job of describing the story, actually. The meat of the story involves the training the orphans go through in order to win the role of the 'false prince'. There is a built-in tension, as we know that it is likely that while one of them will be chosen, that means the others will not be...which is also likely to result in the deaths of the losers. Will the boys start harming each other, to remove them from the competition? How can an orphan learn enough in just 2 weeks to impersonate a long-lost prince? Is Conner telling the truth about the threat to the kingdom, and how much does he really know about the real prince's death? Finally, what really happened to the King and his family that brought about this idea of creating a 'false prince'? How the answers to these questions slowly emerge keep the story moving briskly. The story is (almost) entirely told in the 1st person from Sage's POV. At times, he is not a very likeable character. He has moments where you see his true character emerge, but just as soon as you start to empathize with him, he does something that pushes you away again. So, at least for a good portion of the story, I went back and forth on how much I truly liked him. Plus, I felt like he (the narrator) intentionally left holes in the story/narrative to keep me off balance, and to prevent me from figuring out certain plot elements...so at times I felt like I was being a bit manipulated in order for the narrator to "shock" me with some big plot revelations. This is a minor complaint, though, as I really enjoyed the story..and the potential for the final 2 books.
This book is marked as a YA fantasy novel, and for the most part I agree with that. But, as usual, YA doesn't mean it won't appeal to adults as well. I know I found a LOT to like, and it has a chance of making it into my top 10 of 2013.
Firebrand by Gillian Philip is the first book in the Rebel Angels series (the next book is due out in November 2013. There is also a prequel short story available in ebook form). As usual, I won't cover the plot here, as you can get the from the book page on Amazon. What I really want to do is say how fantastic I thought this novel was. It took awhile for me to truly get into it...the story is told in the 1st person by a young character who starts out a bit like an anti-hero. Early on, I wondered how much I could truly like him, and hence the story. But after the first 50 pages or so, I settled in to the story, and turned out to like Seth (the POV character) a LOT. There is not much magic in this one, other than some "mind magic" (my term), and I am guessing the Sithe are really the same as the Sidhe (not sure I am spelling that right). The way Philips builds your dislike for the "bad guys" is great..its not "here are the bad guys, so start disliking them now". The bad guys become the bad guys (and girls) based on their actions, and its been a long time since I have had such a strong reaction (dislike) to the bad characters. On top of that, the relationships among all the characters truly shine..and are the real highlight of the story for me. In fact, the epilogue is one of the more emotional things I've read in quite awhile. Truly moving. I know the Amazon reviews are mixed, but I thought this novel was nothing short of fantastic, and one of the best fantasy novels I've read in the last couple years (yes, years). Highly recommended!
Note: I believe all 3 books in the series (assuming this is a trilogy, though it might be a longer series...I'm not sure) are out in the UK. So if you are able to buy books from Amazon UK, you don't have to wait for the next 2 like us US folks do. I know I wish I could dive into both of them now.
I will preface this by saying I wasn't sure how I would react to this one. Yeah, it sounded great on paper...the kind of comic mystery I used to really like. But I've had trouble reading this type of book the last couple of years. Especially the Tim Dorsey books, which I start and put back down within 100 pages. And I used to freaking love those. So I wondered: "Can I still enjoy a comic mystery?". Thanks to Hallinan, I know the answer is now a definite YES.
Before I go further, below is the book summary from Amazon:
JUNIOR BENDER UNTANGLES ONE OF THE WEIRDEST MYSTERIES IN TINSELTOWN
LA burglar Junior Bender has (unfortunately) developed a reputation as a competent private investigator for crooks. The unfortunate part about this is that regardless of whether he solves the crime or not, someone dangerous is going to be unhappy with him, either his suspect or his employer.
Now Junior is being bullied into proving aging music industry mogul Vinnie DiGaudio is innocent of the murder of a nasty tabloid journalist he'd threatened to kill a couple times. It doesn’t help that the dead journalist’s widow is one pretty lady, and she’s trying to get Junior to mix pleasure with business. Just as the investigation is spiraling out of control, Junior's hard-drinking landlady begs him to solve the disappearance of her daughter, who got involved with a very questionable character. And, worst news of all, both Junior's ex-wife and his thirteen-year-old daughter, Rina, seem to have new boyfriends. What a mess.
First off, while I have referred to this as a comic mystery, don't let that throw you off. Yes, there are (lots) of moments of humor, mostly due to the dialog and the wittiness of the lead character, Junior. But there is also a good, old-fashioned noir-style mystery here, too. And a bit of family drama, as Junior is divorced and has a 13 year old daughter, both of which get ample page-time. Thus, there is a lot more to the story then what might appear from the summary above. If I had to make comparisons, it felt a bit like a cross between a Carl Hiassen and an Elmore Leonard novel. There were some Hiassen type characters, speaking the snappy Leonard type dialog. If you enjoy either of those 2 authors, I think you would enjoy this.
Junior is a super-likable lead. Yeah, he is an admitted thief, but he is also a softie when it comes to his family and associates. However, while he might have a soft heart, he also can be hard when necessary. Junior's complexity is intriguing, and gives him more depth then your typical lead character. On top of that, his voice, and the superb dialog are what kept me turning the pages. The various storylines were good as well (and as noted above, there are actually several stories going on at once here). This is a book that seems simple on the surface, but just like the lead character, there is a surprising depth. I thought the book was truly fantastic, and will be on my "best of 2013 list". In fact, that means I've read 2 books in a row that will likely be on my list of top reads of 2013 (the other book was Enemy of Mine by Brad Taylor). Something to note: Taylor and Hallinan both have another book in their respective series coming out in July.