Tag Archives: Thrillers

THE SAMARITAN’S PISTOL by Eric Bishop – Review

The Samaritan's Pistol 3D

The Samaritan’s Pistol by Eric Bishop
Genre: Adult Thriller/Contemporary Western
Publisher: Jolly Fish Press
Release date: August 24 2013
Source: e-ARC from publisher
Pages: 350

four stars

In a word:  Cowboys vs. the mob, an unexpected combination of grit and sweet, complex characters that will tug at your heartstrings, and snappy dialog.

This is the first book I’ve read from publisher Jolly Fish Press, and I was pleasantly surprised. Stepping out of my comfort zone, which is usually horror and science fiction, I was treated to a book that’s very hard to classify. On one hand it’s a story about a rancher who has a run-in with the mafia and tries to steal a bunch of their money. And on the other, it’s a book filled with family values and even some romance. Many of the characters have personal obstacles to overcome, and Bishop smartly makes them work for their happily-ever-afters. The Samaritan’s Pistol had a depth I was not expecting, and combined with some terrifically gruesome shoot-outs, it offers a wide range of readers something unique: a book with a little something for everyone.

Jim Cooper is a modern-day cowboy and rancher who leads tourists on hikes and fishing trips near the Wyoming Rockies. But during one fateful trip, he comes across a man who is tied up and being beaten by three thugs. As he steps in to try to save the man, events spin wildly out of control, and before Jim knows what’s happened, he’s pulled out his gun and killed all three men.

His newly rescued friend, a giant of a black man named Larry, offers Jim a cut of the money he’s stolen from the mob, if only Jim will help him move it to a safe location. And so begins a wild adventure that moves from Wyoming to Las Vegas and back again.

I want to talk about the characters first, because I loved so many of them. Jim is a surprising man who has moments of unexpected violence, but who loves his horse to pieces and would do anything for his mother and his close friends. I found him intriguing and worrisome at the same time. In one scene he shoots three men to death with barely a second thought, and in the next he’s offering advice to a group of boys on a camping trip. Jim’s past as a Desert Storm war veteran is important to the story, and his experiences there color his everyday life.

One of the best things about Jim, however, is the way he’s immersed himself in the Mormon community that surrounds his ranch, which is surprising because Jim isn’t Mormon. He still struggles with a decision he made years ago that relates to his own religious beliefs, and you can tell that he wonders if he made the right choice. Bishop warmly describes the Mormon community and the folks that Jim comes into contact with every day, and his descriptions just made me feel good. Jim’s respect for these people is heart-warming, even as he’s battling his own feelings about religion, and I thought it was a nice touch to add to the story.

Other characters are well done too, including Jim’s cantankerous old ranch hand Brody, another character who’s got more under his hat than you think; a woman named Sally who is dealing with a controlling husband and trying to figure a way out of her unhappy marriage; and Larry, the man Jim rescues who turns out to be a big softy, despite the fact that he’s just stolen almost thirty million dollars from the mafia.

A few things didn’t work quite so well for me. An unexpected romantic attachment for Jim pops up about half way through the story, which I have to admit was a bit jarring. The romance between Jim and Sheila at times felt as though it was from another story altogether, although I did like the Bonnie and Clyde vibe I was getting from them! A few of the plot points seemed far-fetched, particularly the way Jim kept getting away with murder. And some sentences felt awkward and could have used a bit more editing.

But despite these small flaws, I had a blast reading The Samaritan’s Pistol. There’s plenty of action, especially near the end when Jim and Larry try to secretly move the money to Wyoming. The author’s first-hand ranching experiences lend an authenticity to the story that made me feel like I was right there with the characters at the foot of the Rockies.  I loved the characters, I loved all their layers, and I loved the unexpected moments of poignancy. If you are looking for a story that defies genre, The Samaritan’s Pistol will be right up your alley.

Many thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. Come back tomorrow for my stop on The Samaritan’s Pistol Blog Tour!

Watch the book trailer (a touch of graphic violence, be warned!)

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POISON SHY by Stacey Madden – Review

Poison Shy 3DPoison Shy by Stacey Madden

Genre: Adult Thriller

Publisher: ECW Press

Release date: Now available

Source: Paperback from author

Pages: 160

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four and a half

In a word: An unexpectedly dark and bloody tale, filled with unlikable yet sympathy-inducing characters, an over-the-top plot and pitch perfect dialog.

I was not sure what to expect when I started reading Poison Shy, but it had some amazing blurbs on the back of the book, and I was looking forward to seeing if they were true. I’m thrilled to say those blurbs are spot on, and I spent a thoroughly enjoyable four hours inhaling it on the drive back from my vacation a few days ago. Madden’s writing is spare and to the point, and his dialog is snappy and realistic, and fits the tone of this all too brief story perfectly.

The story is told from Brandon Galloway’s point of view, a twenty-nine year old unmotivated and directionless man who can’t seem to escape the dreary small Canadian town of Fraynes. He’s just started working for an extermination company called Kill ‘Em All and is simply happy to have a regular job. But one day his uneventful life comes unhinged when he and co-worker Chad get a call to rid an apartment of bed bugs. There he meets the beautiful but unsettling Melanie and her unstable roommate Darcy. Brandon is instantly attracted to the sexually alluring Melanie, but his low self-esteem prevents him from asking her out. So he does the next best thing: he begins to stalk her. After an “accidental” encounter at her college library, he snags a date with her, and that’s when the real trouble starts.

As they begin an awkward relationship, the aggressively overprotective Darcy manages to thwart Brandon’s every plan to spend time with Melanie, and with the help of lots of booze and just plain bad luck, Brandon’s life is about to sink further into the toilet than it already is.

If you’re looking for lovable characters, then Poison Shy probably isn’t the book for you. Madden takes the idea of character flaws to a whole new level. Melanie in particular is brash and at times disgusting, and she tends to act like one of the boys whenever she’s hanging out with Darcy. She sleeps around, drinks a lot, and is a truly annoying character. I found it hard to believe that Brandon could be attracted to her at all. Yet Melanie has something that makes Brandon keep coming back for more, despite a very scary roommate who threatens to beat him up. Finally, at the end of the book, Madden paints Melanie in a whole new light, one that makes the reader sympathize with her, if only for a brief moment.

Brandon himself is a typical loser-type, which made me like him from the start. And let’s face it, he’s got a lot on his plate. His aging mother is a religious fanatic who is slowly losing her mind. His new job as an exterminator exposes him to poisonous chemicals on a daily basis, and his odd relationship with Melanie and Darcy isn’t proving to be healthy either. But even though he lets Melanie walk all over him, you can see him change as the story progresses. The Brandon at the end of the book is a guy that isn’t going to take shit from anyone, anymore.

Despite the violence and generally raunchiness, Poison Shy has its poignant moments. I especially loved the scenes between Brandon and his mother, a sad woman who carries around an unwashed security blanket. You can tell Brandon loves her even as she’s losing her mind.

Madden’s over-the-top plot starts out almost pedestrian, as Brandon tries to settle into a new job, make new friends, and get closer to the beautiful Melanie. But as one thing leads to another, his life begins to spiral out of control, and quickly. The author implies on page two that the story isn’t going to end well, and so the reader expects the violent parts of the story. I especially loved the details that give the story the extra layer that I’m always looking for. For example, Brandon has a baseball bat from his childhood that he’s named Red Hot, and it has its own back-story. The bat, which starts out as a sentimental object, figures into some of the dark action at the end. After all, if you’re going to show the audience the gun in Act 1, you damn well better use it by Act 3. Well done, Mr. Madden!

Much of the book centers around a local pub called The Bloody Paw, a seedy joint with gruesome photos of dead or injured animals on its walls. It works as a framework for the story, since many significant events happen there, including a worrisome relationship between Melanie and the owner of the bar, a man name Viktor Lozowsky. Though I won’t tell you how things wrap up, a shockingly violent scene near the end caught me off guard. But after thinking it over, I realized it was perfectly suited for this crazy story about how one’s life can go swiftly downhill if you meet and associate with the wrong types of people.

My only worry about this book is that I think it’s priced too high. Amazon charges $9.99 for the digital version, and the slim (only 160 pages) paperback has a whopping $18.95 list price. The publisher (who is Canadian, and that may factor into the cost) does a bang-up production job—it’s a high quality book in every way—but I’m not sure your average reader is going to want to pay so much.

But I hope you do! Poison Shy was a happy surprise, and Stacey Madden has an awesome future as a writer, in my opinion. Like a horrible accident scene caught in the glare of an oncoming car’s headlight, Poison Shy is an inescapable, in-your-face look at the tawdry lives of ordinary people.

Many thanks to the author for supplying a review copy. You can purchase Poison Shy here and follow Stacey Madden on Twitter here.

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ARCLIGHT by Josin L. McQuein – Review

Arclight 3DArclight by Josin L. McQuein

Genre: YA Science Fiction/Thriller

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Release date: April 23 2013

Source: e-ARC from publisher via Edelweiss

Pages: 416

four and a half

In a word: terrifying, amazingly inventive, heartbreaking and a world like nothing you’ve ever seen.

Like many readers, I was initially drawn to this book because of the amazing cover. I am a sucker for a colorful book cover design, and this is still one of my favorites so far this year. I was hoping for an equally amazing reading experience, and I was not disappointed. Arclight has got to be one of the most unusual and surprising books I’ve read in quite some time. It was nothing like I thought it would be, and it was much more than I expected. And because of my reading experience, I am doing something in this review that I’ve never done before: including images! I’ve always felt that reading is a personal experience, and that each reader should use their own imaginations when they read, but for Arclight, I feel compelled to add some visual aids. Although McQuein is an amazing writer and uses gorgeous imagery, I was left confused by the actual setting of the Arclight, a problem other bloggers have talked about in their reviews. I’m using these images to enhance my review and help others understand how I interpret this amazingly constructed world.

Here’s the setup of the story: a teen named Marina lives in a protected compound with a group of survivors who do everything in their power to keep their enemy out, creatures called the Fade who want to infect and take over the bodies of humans. They live behind a wall of lights called the Arclight, lights that blaze all night long and scare away the Fade.  But Marina is different from the others in the compound. She has no memories of where she came from, who her family is, or what she was doing outside in the Grey when she was found and brought back to the compound. All Marina knows is that everyone seems to hate her, and blames her for several deaths that happened during her rescue.

A boy named Tobin, whose father was lost to the Dark that day, is drawn to Marina and befriends her. One night, Marina and Tobin discover that a Fade is in the room with them, and during a struggle he is caught and taken to a place called the White Room, a hidden laboratory with a cell built to hold a Fade.  When Marina realizes she can communicate with this Fade and that he might have answers to her questions about her forgotten past, Marina sets out on a journey that will change everyone’s lives forever.

Let’s start with the world-building. I loved this world so much, but at times I was confused about how all these elements came together in space, if you know what I mean. After reading the book, and re-reading a few passages, here’s what I came up with:

arclgiht world

Now, this is a very rough sketch. This drawing by no means includes everything in the world of Arclight. I’m just not that talented, LOL! But I believe this gives you a pretty good idea of what human existence was like. Humans are confined to a group of buildings that are surrounded by bright lights, and crossing over the lights is not allowed. It’s dangerous. The Fade will get you! The Grey is the area between the Arclight and the Dark, and this is where Marina was found. The Dark is a seemingly impenetrable wall of twisted tree branches and vines, beyond which dwell the Fade. The Fade sometimes cross over at night and try to breach the Arc, in order to try to take back Marina. (Or so the humans believe). McQuein’s gorgeous gothic-style writing describes Marina’s reaction when she first sees the Dark:

The amorphous swath of no-man’s-land called the Dark is literally the stuff of nightmares. When the Arclght’s citizens put heads to pillows at dawn and close their eyes, it’s the Dark that lies behind them. Phantoms and ghosts of fears that have compounded on top of each other for generations churn in a new primordial soup that gives birth to the end of the world. It creeps like the misty fog beyond our boundaries, and it’s into that void I’ve now traveled.

By far my favorite part of Arclight were the Fade, a truly amazing creation that, once again, is hard to describe. So I’ve found a visual of what the Fade look like to me:

blendy person2

Artist Liu Bolin makes himself almost invisible with paint. Via The Daily Mail.

The Fade are able to blend into their surroundings and hide in plain sight. They have long, sharp claws that allow them to climb walls and hover near ceilings. They seem to be shrouded in a black cloak, and their eyes glow silver. They communicate with images and single words rather than familiar speech patterns. But they are so much more than this, and I don’t want to spoil the story by telling you more than that.

The story was surprisingly emotional, because each character is driven by a desire to search for something they’ve lost. Marina is looking for her true home and family; Rue (the Fade that is captured) is looking for his lost love, a Fade named Cherish; and Tobin is convinced that his father is still alive somewhere out in the Dark, and he will do anything to find him. These three characters form a love triangle of sorts, which I can’t explain without giving away a very cool plot twist. Each character broke my heart when they finally found what they were looking for, especially Rue. His love for Cherish was told in simple but heartbreaking prose.

Arclight has many horror elements in addition to the science fiction ones, reminding me of both Alien and the TV series Torchwood at different times while I was reading. McQuein adds some stomach-turning scenes that had me gasping. The Fade spread by attacking the human body, and the only way to stop them from taking over is to burn them out. I’ll leave the rest up to your imagination (or better yet, just read the book for yourself!)

The romantic element in the story is very subtle, and I applaud the author for keeping it that way. Arclight has so much depth that a heavy romantic storyline just wasn’t needed. The budding romance between Marina and Tobin is not much more than a few quick kisses, although you can tell that their emotional involvement runs deep. What interested me more was the love between Rue and Cherish. So few words are said, since the Fade have such a different way of communicating, but the agony of lost love shines through nonetheless.

It’s hard to stop writing about Arclight, but alas, this review is already too long! If you are looking for an original and emotional tale that goes beyond the borders of genre and cuts to the heart of the human condition, Arclight is a book that should not be missed.

**Stop back next week when I’ll be giving away a finished copy of Arclight during the Spring Fling Giveaway Hop!

Many thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. You can purchase Arclight here and visit Josin L. McQuein’s blog here.

Please note: the quote above was taken from an uncorrected proof and may be different in the finished book.

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MURDER TAKES TIME by Giacomo Giammatteo – Review

Murder Takes TimeMurder Takes Time by Giacomo Giammatteo

Genre: Adult Mystery/Suspense

Publisher: Inferno Publishing Company

Release Date: April 16 2012

Pages: 362 pages (digital version)

four and a half

I don’t read a lot of police procedural/murder/thriller books, not because I don’t enjoy them, but because I just don’t have time, and I prefer to focus on my favorite genres. But I’ve read some exceptional thrillers this year, and Murder Takes Time is one of them. Set in Brooklyn and Wilmington, Delaware, the story hops back and forth from the present to the past as Frankie “Bugs” Donovan, a detective who is investigating a string of murders with curious clues left at the crime scenes, tells his story, a story that begins over thirty years ago. I was impressed with not only the solid writing and well-constructed story arc, but the emotional relationships among the characters, an element that gave this story so many extra layers.

My favorite part of Murder Takes Time is the way Giammatteo takes his time building the story, like a brick layer adding one brick at a time. The story begins during the present day as Frankie is called to a crime scene to investigate the murder of a man who was shot twice, once in the head and once in the heart, but with obvious signs of having been tortured beforehand.  It’s the second murder with the same M.O., and Frankie is beginning to have a bad feeling about who the killer might be. At the latest scene a dead rat is found in the freezer, and Frankie knows that someone from his past is leaving him clues.

The story starts out in third person from Frankie’s point of view, and a couple of chapters later it switches to the first person narrative of Frankie’s childhood pal Nicky “The Rat” Fusco. We are introduced to the colorful characters of Nicky’s old neighborhood and the boys he grew up with, including Frankie and Tony Sannullo, who is still Frankie’s good friend in the present day, and a mob boss to boot.  As Frankie, Nicky and Tony grow up, they have a slew of adventures and close calls, but the most important part of their friendship is the code of “friendship and honor” that they live by, an oath they took as boys to always protect and stand by one another.

Now that Frankie suspects that one of them might be responsible for the brutal murders, he is faced with a huge dilemma: uphold his promise as a law enforcer to protect the public, or honor the promise he made in his youth. The answer is not an easy one, and Giammatteo skillfully fills in the blanks as he goes back and forth between the two narratives, bringing the reader closer and closer to the truth.

The reason this novel works so well is not that the reader is kept in suspense as to who the killer is, because honestly, it’s not that hard to figure out. What is compelling and makes you keep turning the pages, even after you know the identity of the killer, is the desire to know why he’s doing it. And that is exactly what this story is about, the many layers of experience that have made these characters who they are today.

Often in a book of this type, where the story shifts from past to present and back again, the author does a better job of writing about one over the other. But in Murder Takes Time I honestly couldn’t choose which narrative I liked better. I loved the richness of the characterizations as Nicky related the crazy events of his childhood, but I also hung on every word as Frankie’s investigation unfolded. When the two stories finally meet up near the end, I’ll admit that I shed a tear or two. The only problem I had with the book were some digital formatting issues, and this is a complaint that I often hear from reviewers who use e-readers. In my copy the novel lacked any kind of scene breaks, which made for some confusing transitions. But not even these small glitches could change my overall enjoyment of this first-rate tale.

Giacomo Giammatteo is definitely a writer to watch. His combination of tense drama and emotional connections between his characters add up to a story you will love to read.

Many thanks to the author for supplying a review copy.

You can visit Giacomo Giammatteo’s website here and purchase Murder Takes Time here.

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Waiting on Wednesday (30) ARCLIGHT by Josin L. McQuein

Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Breaking the Spine, and is a great way to showcase books you can’t wait to read! This week I am totally judging a book by its cover:) I can’t help it, it’s fantastic:

Arclight by Josin L. McQuein. Release date: April 23 2013 (Greenwillow Books). Isn’t is gorgeous? And according to the author’s website, the book cover is sparkly! Here’s Goodreads’ description:

No one crosses the wall of light . . . except for one girl who doesn’t remember who she is, where she came from, or how she survived. A harrowing, powerful debut thriller about finding yourself and protecting your future—no matter how short and uncertain it may be.

The Arclight is the last defense. The Fade can’t get in. Outside the Arclight’s border of high-powered beams is the Dark. And between the Light and the Dark is the Grey, a narrow, barren no-man’s-land. That’s where the rescue team finds Marina, a lone teenage girl with no memory of the horrors she faced or the family she lost. Marina is the only person who has ever survived an encounter with the Fade. She’s the first hope humanity has had in generations, but she could also be the catalyst for their final destruction. Because the Fade will stop at nothing to get her back. Marina knows it. Tobin, who’s determined to take his revenge on the Fade, knows it. Anne-Marie, who just wishes it were all over, knows it.

When one of the Fade infiltrates the Arclight and Marina recognizes it, she will begin to unlock secrets she didn’t even know she had. Who will Marina become? Who can she never be again?

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I love the thriller/science fiction premise of this book. What are you waiting on?

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PALE HORSE by Brett Battles – Review

Pale Horse is the third book in the Project Eden series, an exciting, edge-of-your-seat kind of story about biological warfare and what could happen if one powerful group of people decided to annihilate 99% of humanity by releasing a deadly flu virus into the population. When I started reading this installment, I figured it was going to be the final book and would wrap everything up at the end. Pale Horse, however, is not the end, although I wish it had been. There is a lot to enjoy about the book, but as a part of the whole Project Eden experience,  it fell flat in some ways. It’s hard to review this book without giving the story away, so I’m afraid I will have to invoke these dreaded words: Warning: This Review Contains Spoilers!

At the end of Exit Nine, one of the characters was about to press a computer key and unleash hell on earth. Pale Horse picks up at that moment, but Battles cuts away to another storyline and makes the reader wait a while for the outcome. It worked as a device for keeping the suspense high, but it was only the first of many frustrating moments for me. Battles uses the same formatting as the previous two books by jumping from character to character in order to give an overall picture of what’s happening around the globe. I quite like this style, and I think it works really well for this type of suspenseful writing. Most of the characters carry over from Exit Nine,  but there are some new ones as well.

One of my favorite story lines takes place in India, and follows Sanjay and his girlfriend Kusum as they try desperately to rescue Kusum’s family. Sanjay is an employee of Pishon Chem, a company that is part of Project Eden and is making its workers spray the city with what they think is an anti-malarial spray, but is actually the Sage Flu virus. Sanjay has figured out the truth and has obtained some vaccine to protect himself and Kusum. But now Kusum wants to vaccinate her family as well, and their tension-filled journey through the flu-infested city streets to steal more vaccine was one of my favorite parts of the book.

Likewise, I enjoyed following the characters of the Resistance at their Montana ranch through some very suspenseful moments, especially Ash’s son Brandon who becomes trapped outside the compound after the rest of the Resistance members have barricaded themselves in a secret underground bunker.  Brandon is much more than a scared kid who has been separated from his family. He is resourceful, brave and determined to follow the survival teachings of his father and find a way back to his family before Project Eden can kill him. In one of the creepiest sections, he sneaks into a garage to find shelter for the night, but has a terrifying run-in with the old lady who lives there.

In large cities throughout the world, shipping containers that have been dropped off in strategic areas are mysteriously beginning to open up. It seems that Project Eden’s plan is finally coming together. Or is it? Battles stretches out the suspense in a maddening way, perhaps too well.  He keeps the reader guessing for almost 300 pages, but uses foreshadowing at the ends of chapters to suggest that the bad guys might be winning this game. (Example: “With a smile, she continued down the street, unaware that later that evening she would be cooking her last meal.”) I felt it was an intrusive device that took the storytelling away from the characters and put it back in the hands of the author.

The writing throughout the book is top-notch, but one writing choice in the last chapter of the book puzzled me. Battles switches from past to present tense, and it felt completely out-of-place. I’m sure he intended it to ramp up the suspense at the end, and usually using present tense is a good way to accomplish this. But Pale Horse was already suspenseful at this point, and I didn’t care for the change in tense.

Although filled with engaging characters and pulse-pounding excitement, I ultimately felt cheated by Pale Horse’s cliffhanger ending.  As part of a series, nothing much is resolved, and I didn’t have that satisfied feeling at the end that I look forward to when reading a book. But if you are a suspense junkie and enjoy being toyed with, you will love Pale Horse. And you won’t have to wait long for the next installment. Ashes, Book Four in the series, comes out this fall. Whether or not it will be the end of Project Eden, you’ll just have to wait and see.

Many thanks to the author for providing a review copy.

Tammy recommends reading the first two books in the Project Eden series first:

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THE DESTROYED by Brett Battles – Review

One of Battle’s most popular characters is at it again, the intrepid and satisfyingly complicated Jonathan Quinn, cleaner extraordinaire. This is the sixth Jonathan Quinn novel, and they just keep getting better and better.  The Destroyed may be my favorite of Brett’s books to date, as it combines highly entertaining and suspenseful action with truly interesting and human characters. Add a healthy dose of unexpected humor and you have a successful combination that should please just about any reader.

Since the demise of a close friend in the last book (The Silenced), Quinn has been living a peaceful and introspective life in Thailand and distancing himself from his highly dangerous job as a cleaner. But when a girl from the past resurfaces and once again becomes the target of a powerful group of people, Quinn realizes he has no choice but to get back in the game and help her out. Mila Voss was a courier six years ago when she witnessed and video-taped something she wasn’t supposed to see, and soon after was scheduled to be eliminated. As luck would have it, Quinn was assigned to do her clean-up, and when he is told the name of the target before the job goes down and realizes who it is, he sets up an elaborate and dangerous plot to save Mila, fake her death, and change her identity so she can live out the rest of her life free of danger. In alternating flashback scenes the reader is slowly given the details of her rescue, after which Quinn grimly informs her that the life she knew is now over.  If she ever comes out of hiding she’ll risk everything Quinn did to help her.  But six years later Mila discovers something about one of the men who wanted her dead, and she can’t stay hidden any longer.

Nate, Quinn’s diligent apprentice, who has been carrying on Quinn’s work and even using his name, arrives unannounced in Thailand to ask Quinn to help track down Mila, who has been spotted alive on a video camera in Tanzania. Joined by Quinn’s Thai friend Daeng, the three begin their mission to locate and save Mila in what turns out to be a globe-hopping cat-and-mouse game of epic proportions.  Quinn’s sometime-girlfriend Orlando also shows up to help, and even Quinn’s former boss Peter, from The Office (if you’ve read the other Quinn books you’ll understand that reference), makes an appearance. There are twists and turns galore as the Quinn and the gang hatch a complicated scheme to bring down the men who would kill Mila, and save another innocent in the process.

Battles tempers the many exciting action scenes with some real in-depth character development and shows us the underlying emotional relationships between Quinn and Nate, Quinn and Orlando, and Mila and her erstwhile love Julien, described in flashbacks.  We even see a burgeoning friendship begin to develop between Nate and Daeng, whose first meeting is rocky. Quinn is still the best drawn character, in my opinion, and Battles lets him grown and change with each book, which is one sign of a good writer. All the characters in Quinn’s world make the occasional mistake and remind us that even spies are human. I also found The Destroyed to have the most humor of the Quinn books.  There were many memorable lines and lots of bantering between characters, especially Quinn and Orlando, whose relationship is anything but smooth sailing.

Battles switches back and forth from the past to the present in order to paint the entire picture of Mila’s near-assassination and what exactly it was that she saw that landed her in so much trouble. The device of slowly doling out information to the reader works well, and although it was sometimes frustrating to have the characters talking to each other on the phone without sharing their plans, it made for a tension-filled story that makes the reader want to keep reading.

You don’t need to read the other Quinn books first to appreciate the great story-telling in The Destroyed, but if you haven’t read them, you’ll want to go back and catch up after finishing this one. Although I won’t reveal the ending here, I will tell you that Nate and Daeng will hopefully be major players in Quinn’s next chapter. The last lines of the story are perfect, yet another reason Battles is at the top of his game.

Many thanks to the author for providing a review copy.

You can purchase The Destroyed here.

Add The Destroyed to your Goodreads books here.

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EXIT 9 by Brett Battles – Review

I read Sick and Exit 9 back-to-back in one frantic, tense, and exciting week, and I’m glad I did.  Sick is the first book in the Project Eden trilogy, and introduces us to a group of bio-terrorists who want to rid the world of 99.9% of the population in order to start a new and better breed of humans.  Now, this concept isn’t new or original. There have been plenty of books and movies, not to mention historical events, which deal with the idea that humanity is out of control, and the only way to make things right is to start from scratch.  But in typical Battles fashion, Brett has created an exciting story about the race to stop the bad guys from carrying out their plan, and he’s added some new twists to the mix.

Sick takes place during the testing stages of Project Eden, the nefarious plan to decimate the population.  Daniel Ash and his family have moved into a housing development for ex-military families and are adjusting to their new home.  One night Ash is awakened by a cry from his daughter’s room, and by the end of Chapter 1, Ash’s wife is dead, both his son and daughter are direly ill, and Ash himself is forced to run for his life. There’s a virus out there killing people called the sage flu, and almost no one survives. Except, we discover, Ash and his children, who appear to be immune.

Exit 9 picks up eight months after the thrilling conclusion to Sick, as Ash and his children have changed their identities and are hiding out in a small town in Iowa. In other parts of the world, Project Eden’s wheels are still turning, and Implementation Day, the day they plan on releasing sage flu on an unsuspecting world, is only weeks away.  A band of resistance fighters, including Pax and Matt from Sick, are trying to locate Bluebird, the secret base of Project Eden.  When one of their many teams fails to report in after a routine scouting operation, Ash is recruited and joins Pax and Chloe, another character from Sick, on what turns out to be a dangerous mission to Northern Canada to see what went wrong. Elsewhere around the globe, we get a glimpse of just how big Project Eden really is, as we follow various minor characters in their discovery of the mysterious shipping containers that seem to be popping up everywhere. The reappearance of Olivia, an imprisoned character from Sick who was once part of the Project but seems to have switched sides, adds excitement to the story as she joins Ash and the others and convinces them she is trying to help bring down Project Eden.

This break-down of the story barely scratches the surface.  There is a lot going on in Exit 9, and it happens fast and furiously.  Brett skillfully jumps from place to place as each character moves closer to the dangerous truth and the bodies start to pile up. He is also adept at delving into the lives and back-stories of his characters. One of my favorites is Chloe, a damaged woman who has an as yet undisclosed past with Project Eden and struggles with her fear of those in charge and her desire to stop them.  Is there a vaccine? What’s in those shipping containers? And why the heck is the book called “Exit 9”? The answers to these questions and more are waiting for the patient reader, and although the ending is gleefully devilish and you may be cursing Brett by the time you finish, have faith:  Book Three will be out soon.

Many thanks to Brett for supplying me with free review copies of Sick and Exit 9.

You can purchase Exit 9 here and Sick here.   And for more Brett Battles, please visit his website here.

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Read Me! THE ROOK by Daniel O’Malley – Recommended Reading

Welcome to 2012 and the first “Read Me!” of the year!  If you saw the post of my Top Ten Books I’m Excited to Read in 2012, you’ll recognize The Rook.  It’s described by reviewers as a “supernatural thriller,” which gets my attention right away.  Here’s the blurb from Amazon:

“‘The body you are wearing used to be mine.’ So begins the letter Myfanwy Thomas is holding when she awakes in a London park surrounded by bodies all wearing latex gloves. With no recollection of who she is, Myfanwy must follow the instructions her former self left behind to discover her identity and track down the agents who want to destroy her.

She soon learns that she is a Rook, a high-ranking member of a secret organization called the Chequy that battles the many supernatural forces at work in Britain. She also discovers that she possesses a rare, potentially deadly supernatural ability of her own.

In her quest to uncover which member of the Chequy betrayed her and why, Myfanwy encounters a person with four bodies, an aristocratic woman who can enter her dreams, a secret training facility where children are transformed into deadly fighters, and a conspiracy more vast than she ever could have imagined.

Filled with characters both fascinating and fantastical, THE ROOK is a richly inventive, suspenseful, and often wry thriller that marks an ambitious debut from a promising young writer.”

And the reviews are pretty good:

“Utterly convincing and engrossing—totally thought-through and frequently hilarious. The writing is confident and fully fledged. Even this aging, jaded, attention-deficit-disordered critic was blown away.” (TIME Lev Grossman )

“The pace never lets up in this entertaining high-action read….First-time novelist O’Malley has fashioned a near-perfect supernatural thriller. The heroine is appealing, the villains all monsters or freaks, and something unexpected happens on almost every page. Don’t start this book unless you’ve got lots of time, because you won’t want to put it down. It’s that good.” (Library Journal David Keymer )

“Impressive debut, a supernatural detective thriller distinguished by its adept use of humor….Dry wit, surprising reversals of fortune, and a clever if offbeat plot make this a winner. Dr. Who fans will find a lot to like.” (Publishers Weekly )

The comparison to Dr. Who sold me! You can visit Daniel’s website here.

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DRIFT by Andrew Cyrus Hudson – Review

Today I would like to welcome Andrew Hudson to my blog, whose first novel Drift is now available in e-book format.

Drift is about a man who is trying to fix past mistakes in his life but ends up getting more than he bargained for.  When Hudson asked me to review Drift, he mentioned that Stephen King is one of his biggest influences, which is one reason I agreed to read his book.  I am happy to say I saw many shades of King throughout the story, which combines elements of mystery and horror.

Travis Benson is working for a communications company when he gets the urge to drive to a small town in Colorado to look up his estranged wife and son.  After several chapters in the present, the story starts to jump back and forth in time as we learn about Travis’ past, how he met Eileen, his wife, and how they came to be separated.  As Travis makes the long drive from Connecticut to the town of Greenwood, he reflects on his life’s mistakes and wonders if he’s doing the right thing.  Along the way he suffers nightmares that may or may not be prescient, and the bad feelings that made him up and leave in the first place make his journey to Colorado all the more urgent.  Interspersed with these chapters, we learn that there is indeed something dangerous lurking at the end of the road, and before long Travis’ homecoming and the dangerous elements in Greenwood collide in a very Stephen King-esque sort of way.

The story itself has much to offer: suspense, flawed characters that are trying to do the right thing, and an overall feeling of unease that hovers just below the surface.  But, as I’ve found with other self-published novels, this reads as more of a first draft than a finished, polished piece.  In many cases, I felt Hudson was going for shock value over carefully crafted suspense.  The three elements that push stories into the adult category – strong language, sex and violence – burst out of nowhere in Drift, and yes, they shocked me. Not because I haven’t seen them all before, but because there was no warning. A more experienced writer would integrate these elements consistently in order to establish the tone of the writing. But throwing in a graphic sex scene that doesn’t have any reason for being in the story just feels desperate. The violence too is overdone to the point of coming off as silly.  In one scene near the end, our killer attacks two men in the woods with a knife, and begins “…puncturing hole after hole into Mike’s intestines, lungs, and gut.  Blood, bile, and fluids stained both of their clothing.”  As a reader, I want the writer to earn these gratuitous moments by putting in the work necessary to pull them off.

I also found many puzzling instances of word usage and phrasing that actually made me laugh, and I’m pretty sure that is not what the author intended.  One of Hudson’s biggest mistakes was trying to write about children when he clearly isn’t a father himself. (Please don’t misunderstand: it is certainly possible to write convincingly about children if you don’t have them.  You just have to have the foresight to do your research first.) Travis refers to his three-year-old son as a “baby” (and indeed, they are feeding poor Kurt baby food), and at one point mother Eileen says “I just need to put Kurt away” when she clearly intends to put him down for a nap. These are the kinds of rookie errors that pull the reader out of the story and stop the narrative flow.

Overall, I found Drift to have potential as a successful and suspenseful thriller, but I wanted more:  more rewrites, more editing, and more attention to the details of life.  Hudson has the gift of storytelling, now he just needs to work on the mechanics.

You can purchase Drift here and visit Andrew’s website here.

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