The Camel Club has earned themselves some formidable enemies, but now things are getting much more personal. Men from Oliver Stone’s past are turningThe Camel Club has earned themselves some formidable enemies, but now things are getting much more personal. Men from Oliver Stone’s past are turning up dead and now Stone is being hunted by an invisible killer. Meanwhile, honorary member Annabelle Conroy is being hunted by Jerry Bagger – who murdered her mother and she stole forth million dollars from. With lethal threats on two fronts, the Camel Club will have to use every trick they have just to stay alive long enough to learn the secrets nobody wants them to know.
Stone Cold is David Baldacci’s third installment featuring the group of divergent individuals calling themselves The Camel Club. Each is plugged into the Washington D.C. establishment in one way or another, but they are all outsiders who have worked to prevent corruptible powers to harm the country. In the first two books, Baldacci succeeds in creating an espionage thriller with lots of action and more than a little heart. Not only does Stone Cold continue the story, it frankly takes it to another level.
The Camel Club books are all about action and intrigue. What makes them a cut above many other espionage franchises are the personalities of the characters. Oliver Stone has been the central character all along, but Baldacci really digs much deeper into his character in Stone Cold, and the story truly benefits from it. The conflicted nature of Stone – between the actions of his past and the desires of his new life – create a yin and yang nature to him that is compelling. Annabelle Conroy also comes into her own, fleshing out her backstory and helping to drive the plot on to separate, but interconnected fronts.
As with all of The Camel Club books, there is plenty of action, mayhem and double-crosses to keep you on the edge of your seat the whole time. Is Stone Cold over-the-top at times? Certainly. However, Baldacci has used it more effectively with each book and Stone Cold is the best yet. Still, it is the characters that make the series so good. As I said in my review of The Camel Club years ago, I hoped that the storylines would improve because the characters we so compelling. That is exactly what has happened.
Another fun read by Baldacci. I think Stone Cold is the best of the first three Camel Club installments. Of course, it is a bit over-the-top, but that's part of what makes the Camel Club series enjoyable to read. But it is still grounded enough to make sense and pass the suspension-of-disbelief long enough to get a lot of enjoyment. The strength is the fast-paced plot that never lets up and the engaging characters. Something about Baldacci's writing style just keeps you speeding along. ...more
“Hundreds of miles from civilization, two ships wreck on opposite ends of the same deserted island in this true story of human nature at its best – a
“Hundreds of miles from civilization, two ships wreck on opposite ends of the same deserted island in this true story of human nature at its best – and its worst.
Auckland Island is a godforsaken place in the middle of the Southern Ocean, 285 miles south of New Zealand. With year-round freezing rain and howling winds, it is one of the most forbidding places in the world. To be shipwrecked there means almost certain death.”
So begins Joan Druett’s book, Island of the Lost – Shipwrecked at the Edge of the World. It is a tale that would seem implausible, if not for the fact that it is all absolutely true. In 1864, near the end of the age of sail, two separate ships did indeed wreck along the coast of Auckland Island – a tiny sliver of land sticking out of the forbidding Southern Ocean – a place that remains uninhabited to this day. By piecing together logbooks, memoirs, newspaper accounts and Druett’s own personal trips to the desolate island, she is able to create a vivid account of two divergent stories of survival.
The schooner Grafton and its crew of five wrecks at the southern end of the island. Through inspired leadership and the camaraderie of the whole crew, they are able to eke out an existence in spite of the vast hardships. At almost the same time, the Invercauld wrecks at the north end of the island. In contrast to the Grafton, most of the 19 surviving crew of the Invercauld quickly succumb to the elements, infighting and a leadership vacuum.
Druett does an excellent job of weaving the two stories together, contrasting a crew working together with a crew in shambles. Her credentials as a historian insure an exhaustive level of research, while her award-winning skills as a novelist ensure that the text is entirely readable. Island of the Lost moves along nicely and never fails to give the reader a sense of just how precarious the castaways’ plight is. While the book spends perhaps a little too much time describing the multitude of ways to kill a seal and not quite enough time discussing the lives of the castaways after their ordeal, as a whole it is a wonderful effort at delivering a look into a place and time not widely understood.
There is also a thorough collection of notes at the end that provide many more factual details. However, its greatest attribute is the way it shines a spotlight on a teachable moment of history – how survival is often determinant on who you are with and how well you work together. If you have any interest in sailing history or stories of survival in the remote reaches of the world, this is a great book to have. ...more
Two years removed from his ten-year-long investigation tracking beautiful serial killer Gretchen Lowell, Portland Detective Archie Sheridan is a brokeTwo years removed from his ten-year-long investigation tracking beautiful serial killer Gretchen Lowell, Portland Detective Archie Sheridan is a broken man. Kidnapped and tortured at the hands of the very killer he pursued, she unexpectedly let him live and turned herself in. Now he is estranged from his wife and children as he uses massive amounts of drugs to cope with the mental and physical pain. And while he tells everyone that his weekly visits to see Gretchen in prison are to get her to divulge the locations of more of her 200 victims, Archie knows that the truth is he can’t stay away. But when several teenage girls are abducted and murdered by a new serial killer, Archie is asked to come back off of medical leave and lead the investigation. Archie has his own reasons for coming back, and newspaper reporter Susan Ward may be caught in the crossfire.
“Something about the way she moves through the world does not lend itself to the care of fragile objects.”
Heartsick is the debut novel for Chelsea Cain. It is also the first in a series of investigative thrillers featuring Detective Archie Sheridan and captured serial killer Gretchen Lowell. I found the premise of Heartsick quite interesting. Cain does a masterful job of revealing the backstory over the course of the book without leaving the reader completely baffled. The best part of the story is Detective Archie Sheridan and reporter Susan Ward. Both characters are portrayed as damaged people who are fighting to maintain some sense of control over what is left of their lives. Cain delves deep into what makes both of them tick. It is an intriguing interaction between the two characters as they try to use each other to their own ends without necessarily hurting the other.
There have been many comparisons between serial killer Gretchen Lowell and Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Silence of the Lambs). While they are both hyper-intelligent serial killers, the similarities frankly stop right there. Gretchen is her own kind of monster. Not as nuanced or cultured as Lecter, Lowell is an evil in a nearly pure form. She might be even more frightening than Lecter. However, it is that lack of nuance or culture than makes her less interesting than she might otherwise have been. She is bad to the point of bordering on cliché. Cain’s remaining characters serve their purposes, but are not memorable.
The culmination of the pursuit of the serial killer is interesting and done well, although I think it wrapped up a little too neatly in the end. That quibble notwithstanding, it was the actual final page of the book that I found most interesting. While I can’t go so far as to give Heartsick a recommendation, it gave me enough to chew on in those last few sentences that I was compelled to go out and purchase the second book in the series, Sweetheart. We shall see if that curiosity on my part will go rewarded or punished. Given the general quality of Heartsick, I don’t think I will be disappointed – but I am hopeful that the next installment can take things to another level. Heartsick is a good first novel with the promise of more to come. ...more
Anything can be taken to the extreme, and book collecting is no exception. From rummaging through dusty bookshops to multi-million dollar auctions toAnything can be taken to the extreme, and book collecting is no exception. From rummaging through dusty bookshops to multi-million dollar auctions to outright theft of nearly priceless works, bibliomania has been the driving force of the assemblage of the greatest caches of literature in the world. Investigative reporter Nicholas Basbanes delves into both the past and the present to provide the most thorough examination of what it is to be a bibliophile.
“A strong and bitter book-sickness floods one's soul. How ignominious to be strapped to this ponderous mass of paper, print, and dead men's sentiments! ”
It is evident in A Gentle Madness that Nicholas Basbanes has a true love of books. Even so, this testament to the highest levels of book collecting – going all the way back to the days of The Great Library of Alexandria – isn’t always a flattering portrait. In fact, it is apparent that most of these collecting extremists have virtually no interest in actually reading the books that they travel the globe paying astronomical sums of money to possess. So why write a book about what at its core appears to be a rather narcissistic pursuit? Mostly because our understanding of history is built from the collections of books and papers that collectors gather up.
Basbanes does a fine job of chronicling the evolution of book collecting, especially the 19th and early 20th centuries when some of the great institutional libraries were born of the collecting efforts of the wealthiest individuals on both sides of the Atlantic. While A Gentle Madness is interesting and historically relevant, at times the stories become repetitive as the efforts to obtain the choicest works look pretty much the same. The books themselves may be different, but reading about one auction after another…well, book collecting isn’t really a spectator sport.
Probably the most disheartening facet of A Gentle Madness is finding out that most of these bibliophiles don’t have any interest in actually reading the books they spend so much effort and money collecting. One woman who amassed one of the largest collections of children’s books in America not only didn’t read them, she didn’t even like children and didn’t want anyone else to touch them. And that was the one theme that I couldn’t quite grasp as a lover of literature – why do it if not for what’s inside those beautiful books?
A Gentle Madness shines a light into the rarified air of extreme book collecting. As a documentary piece, Basbanes does a thorough job. Unfortunately, it is a world that is very difficult to relate to, especially for those of us who value the ideas inside the books more than the object itself. Still, A Gentle Madness does provide some insight into how some of the great libraries of our time were founded and how they continue to grow to this very day. ...more
In the near future city of York, 16-year-old forensic investigator Luke Harding is tasked with investigating why the local hospital has more and moreIn the near future city of York, 16-year-old forensic investigator Luke Harding is tasked with investigating why the local hospital has more and more patients dying than ever before. But when Luke and his robotic partner MALC discover DNA evidence linking Luke’s father to the crimes, Luke must confront his family’s past while finding out who the killer is before anyone else dies.
Blood Brother is the sixth installment of Malcolm Rose’s Traces mystery series featuring young Luke Harding. While I have not read the preceding stories, I found it easy to slip into the world that Rose has crafted. The series is geared for young adults and as a result the writing is simple and straight forward. This is probably a strength because this allows the story to move along quickly never allowing the tension to slacken. Rose does a very good job of making his primary characters interesting. There isn’t a lot of character development beyond Luke however. His trials and tribulations have depth, but his relationships aren’t a priority. The real story is in the chase and it is laid out quite well.
Blood Brother is definitely ideal for young readers who want some action and technology in there reading. And while the mystery isn’t very complex, it holds together well and should give adult readers some quick entertainment as well. An enjoyable story. ...more
Ben Bova - who has been writing science fiction for more than 40 years, including books such as Moonrise and Titan – continues his Grand Tour series aBen Bova - who has been writing science fiction for more than 40 years, including books such as Moonrise and Titan – continues his Grand Tour series about the colonization of the solar system with Mercury. The story begins in the late 21st century as three characters – Astrobiologist Victor Molina, “New Morality” Bishop Elliot Danvers and Billionaire developer Saito Yamagata – come to the scorched surface of the planet closest to the sun. Each has their own myopic agenda, but they are all unaware that they have been lured there by Mance Bracknell so he can avenge the rolls that the three of them played in his destruction a decade earlier.
The story really drags early on and it is difficult to have empathy for any of the characters. They are all uniformly shallow, egotistical and appear oblivious to what any of the others are doing. The second act goes back in time to try and explain where Mance’s wrath originated and the pace of the storytelling picks up a bit, but by then there was little chance to salvage any interest in what would happen to any of the characters. In the finale, Mercury makes a clumsy attempt to make some sort of moral statement of the responsibility of big business and the evil of religious zealots in a future where seemly everyone lives as extremists, but by then the whole story seems unimportant.
Even Bova’s usually engaging science fiction imagery seems to have been sacrificed in this installment. Maybe it was a product of the barren landscape of Mercury, but there just wasn’t anything interesting or unique about the world-building which is a prerequisite of science fiction writing. This book really failed to live up to some of Bova’s other writing and it was a struggle to finish. Mercury is not one of his best works. ...more
“You know, schizoid behavior is a pretty common thing in children. It's accepted, because all we adults have this unspoken agreement that children are“You know, schizoid behavior is a pretty common thing in children. It's accepted, because all we adults have this unspoken agreement that children are lunatics.”
Jack Torrance has had a rough life. And while the down-on-his-luck recovering alcoholic has recently lost his teaching job and nearly lost the wife and child he adores, his luck may finally be changing. His former drinking buddy who he jumped on the wagon with has set him up with a plum job. Tasked with being the caretaker of a luxurious Overlook Hotel in the Colorado mountains, Jack, his wife Wendy and their 5-year-old son Danny will live together as he maintains the hotel through the long, hard winter. Jack might even be able to finally finish that play he has been writing for so long. The problem is that his son Danny is a boy with extraordinary gifts to read other people and see into the future and he may have awakened a place with a long, sordid history hidden away. It is a place that wants the Torrance family to become permanent residents.
The Shining is a locked-room horror thriller featuring the struggling alcoholic father Jack Torrance who is desperate to make this last chance work for his family. King’s portrait of Jack, Wendy, Danny and their relationship is amazingly nuanced. The subtle ebb and flow of Jack’s moods forms the ocean that Danny and Wendy try to navigate on a daily basis. The intricate psychology at play with the characters is woven with such skill; it is difficult to believe that it was written so early in King’s career. The family relationship is the centerpiece of the entire story and it makes the tragedy all the more compelling. Wendy and Danny love and fear Jack, but even at the end they never quite give up on him.
The Shining also features one more key character – the Overlook Hotel. The hotel itself is a living, breathing creature in the story. It isn’t an evil without reason that the other characters contend with. Unlike many horror novels, the Overlook is an evolving character that comes into its own consciousness as the story moves along. There is a sophisticated malevolence in King’s portrayal. The Overlook ultimately becomes a reflection of the struggles of its inhabitants and elicits a reasonable – although very wicked – motivation.
Much of King’s early writing elicits a raw, unrefined quality that rubs some readers the wrong way. The Shining is no exception. The language of the story is visceral and violent. There is no vulgarity – no matter how taboo – that goes unused here. Frankly, it is not writing for the faint of heart. However, it is part of what makes The Shining crawl under your skin and horrify, so it must be said that it the writing is effective in its purpose.
The Shining is a classic Stephen King paranormal tour-de-force. If you think you know this story because you have seen the film version starring Jack Nicholson, think again. There is very little similarity between this book and the movie version. The Shining is psychological horror at its pinnacle and I wholeheartedly recommend it. ...more
Temperance Brennan is the ideal main character to build a crime series around. Strong but flawed, Tempe shows the reader all sides in Deja Dead. AvoidTemperance Brennan is the ideal main character to build a crime series around. Strong but flawed, Tempe shows the reader all sides in Deja Dead. Avoiding the heavily mined ground of detective leads, Reichs provides us the unique perspective of a forensic pathologist, which I thoroughly enjoyed for the educational value alone. But Reichs doesn't stop there. All of her characters are interesting and memorable. Strong dialog and turbulent relationships keep things entertaining and the pursuit of the killer is engaging and authentic.
I am completely hooked on this series and am really looking forward to reading and collecting all of the installments - 17 and counting as of this review. Reichs has created a really gripping series with a wonderful lead character. I can't wait to read the next one....more
People are dropping dead in Washington, D.C. First the Speaker of the House falls victim to a hitman in a carefully orchestrated murder in front of doPeople are dropping dead in Washington, D.C. First the Speaker of the House falls victim to a hitman in a carefully orchestrated murder in front of dozens of the city's power elite. Next, the director of the Library of Congress's Rare Books Room dies in a book vault, but no one knows how. Caleb Shaw, Camel Club member, nearly falls victim, too. Across the country, a gifted con woman assembles an A-list team to pull off one of the most audacious scams ever, against one of the most dangerous men in the world. When the worlds of Washington and the elite con collide head-on, the Camel Club finds itself teamed with a person they don't really trust but whose skill helps them unravel a secret that threatens to bring America to its knees.
The Collectors is the second installment of the Camel Club series of stories by bestselling author David Baldacci. The first - The Camel Club - was previously reviewed. This installment picks up shortly after the conclusion of the first. As with the first, this story really revolves around the core group of four characters that make up the Camel Club, and Baldacci has once again done a wonderful job of drawing the reader into the lives of idiosyncrasies of each of the characters.
However, unlike the first book, I don't have a complaint about The Collectors becoming outlandish or unbelievable. Quite the contrary, the story is very timely and a bit frightening in how easy it is for a small number of individuals with the right contacts can put a lot of people's lives in jeopardy. I think it also rings quite authentic when the driving force for it inevitably about money.
The Collectors has a few good plot twists along the way. Of course - as a book collector - I was fascinated by the intricacies of the Rare Book Room of the Library of Congress and the detailed research of the book trade as a whole. While I would not put this book on a par with Baldacci's masterpiece, Absolute Power, I think it is an improvement upon The Camel Club storyline and continues to develop the characters in an interesting way. It is a fast-paced read with very little unnecessary fluff to slow you down. I recommend it for anyone who enjoys a good thriller and especially for anyone who has enjoyed previous books by David Baldacci....more
I decided to start at the beginning of this lengthy historical fiction series and I'm glad I did. I expected I would probably like Sharpe's Tiger, butI decided to start at the beginning of this lengthy historical fiction series and I'm glad I did. I expected I would probably like Sharpe's Tiger, but I ended up liking it even more than I had hoped I would. Enough that I have already picked up the first four books in the series in hardcover. That should say something right there. The main character of Richard Sharpe hit all the important points for a series protagonist - smart, resourceful, good looking. He is protective when he can be and ruthless when he needs to be. But he isn't cliché. Some have likened him to an 1800s James Bond. A actually see him more closely resembling a Jack Reacher. Just as effective are the surrounding characters who are nuanced and every bit a part of the story as the protagonist. Cornwell's storytelling is very well done and his attention to detail regarding getting the history to integrate with the plot is exceptional. He even details the where he departed from the actual history in the notes at the end of the book. Sharpe's Tiger is an all-around great story and I'm really looking forward to the series....more
Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surêté du Québec is summoned to the small town of Three Pines to investigate the death of 76-year-old Jane Neal.Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Surêté du Québec is summoned to the small town of Three Pines to investigate the death of 76-year-old Jane Neal. While everyone in town loved Jane and the locals are certain it is a hunting accident, Gamache senses there is more going on in the tiny hamlet than first meets the eye. But even Gamache’s own team disagrees about what has happened and who might be responsible for shattering the placid little village. It is going to take a lot of perseverance and quite a bit of help for Gamache to piece this mystery together.
“Clara shrugged and immediately knew her betrayal of Peter. In one easy movement she'd distanced herself from his bad behavior, even thought she herself was responsible for it. Just before everyone had arrived, she'd told Peter about her adventure with Gamache. Animated and excited she'd gabbled on about her box and the woods and the exhilarating climb up the ladder to the blind. But her wall of words hid from her a growing quietude. She failed to notice his silence, his distance, until it was too late and he'd retreated all the way to his icy island. She hated that place. From it he stood and stared, judged, and lobbed shards of sarcasm.”
Still Life is the first installment of the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache crime series and I must say right from the outset, I love Louise Penny’s writing. There is a quiet, composed beauty to the way she uses language. She doesn’t write a story as much as she weaves it together with subtle hues. Written as a closed-room mystery, the best part of Still Life is how Penny begins with what appears to be a town full of people who love each other and everyone gets along. Slowly, but surely we find out that this isn’t necessarily the case. There are many simmering feuds and relationships that only require the slightest bit of kindling to bring to a boil.
In addition, Gamache is a subtle, highly nuanced lead character, in contract to the never-ending parade of hard-edged detectives in literature these days. Frankly, as someone whose brother is a detective, I must say that Gamache is the most realistic detective I’ve seen in fiction in a long time. Coupled with Penny’s writing, it fits so perfectly. The flow of the story telling in Still Life meshes well with the story itself. The plot is well done and the conclusion wraps up so well.
If you are looking for a wiz-bang thrill ride of a story, Still Life isn’t the book for you. However, if you are looking for a treatise on what happens to people and close relationships when an unexpected death takes place, you are in for a real treat. I completely enjoyed Still Life and am looking forward to continuing Penny’s series. ...more
We humans like to think we are at the top of the food chain. We are the ultimate predators capable of dispensing with anything that gets in our way. OWe humans like to think we are at the top of the food chain. We are the ultimate predators capable of dispensing with anything that gets in our way. Our biggest threat is really only to each other. Right? In a word…wrong. There are predators that have been around since long before we came out of the trees – predators that we can’t fight, can’t stop – can’t even see. And they have been right on our doorstep and we didn’t even know it.
“In biology, nothing is clear, everything is too complicated, everything is a mess, and just when you think you understand something, you peel off a layer and find deeper complications beneath. Nature is anything but simple.”
The Hot Zone reads like a fiction thriller. In fact, Richard Preston is a best-selling fiction writer. He is also a journalist who has traveled to where the nastiest viruses on earth have originated. However, The Hot Zone isn’t fiction. It is an unnerving account of how one of the deadliest viruses on earth – Ebola – which kills up to 90% of the individuals infected with it, in a unimaginably gruesome way, ended up finding its way in to a monkey house in a suburb of Washington D.C.
The Hot Zone is very well written and chilling in how it relates two things. First, how viruses such as Ebola and Marburg can evolve and mutate entirely on their own, disappear from view and reappear when we least expect it. The second – and most unsettling to me – is how powerless and ill-prepared we are to deal with something like this. It can be spread around the world in a day and infect large numbers of people killing most and there is no cure. In this era of jet travel, something like this represents nature’s ultimate doomsday device.
Any nonfiction book that can make Stephen King call it “one of the most horrifying things I’ve ever read,” and Suzanne Collins say “I just read it a few weeks ago. Still recovering,” is something that needs to be read. It will certainly give you pause – if not the creepy-crawlies – after reading it. ...more
Detective Inspector Jack Caffery has a lot on his mind. He has a girlfriend he doesn’t love. He has a neighbor haunting him who may have murdered JackDetective Inspector Jack Caffery has a lot on his mind. He has a girlfriend he doesn’t love. He has a neighbor haunting him who may have murdered Jack’s brother years ago. He has parents who don’t want to be around him. And now he has five mutilated bodies that were found buried at a construction site in Greenwich, England. Soon Jack finds that it is not just the killer he is fighting against. There are others in the Major Crime Investigation Unit who don’t want to see him succeed. Jack isn’t sure if his boss does either. Employing every forensic and investigative weapon at his disposal, Jack tries to find the sexual serial killer in spite of the distractions. But even when he has found his suspect, it still might not be the end of the reign of terror by psychopath known as The Birdman.
Birdman is British novelist Mo Hayder’s first novel, and the first featuring Detective Inspector Jack Caffery. The series now totals five installments. Right from the start, Hayder does a masterful job of capturing the utter confusion that surrounds a police investigation, where there are far more unknowns than reliable facts. Jack Caffery makes for a compelling hero – not without many flaws – but duty-bound to do the right thing when he knows what the right thing is. He is an everyman with a knack for putting disjointed pieces together. Hayder also provides the characters around Caffery with diverse personalities and vivid dialog.
It is with the crime that Birdman really hits its chilling stride. Without ruining the plot, I will say that it is very well constructed and produces a really big twist in the middle of the story. There are a few well-placed red herrings to keep the reader guessing, but no dirty tricks to spring a manufactured “gotcha” on you. Everything passes the plausibility test with flying colors. Hayder also brings a dark, foreboding edge to the world of her characters. It isn’t over-the-top gothic, but it is just inauspicious enough to make you want to tiptoe through the pages so as not to draw attention to yourself.
Birdman is also quite unsettling. It is graphic and at times sadistic. The villain is so incomprehensible, and yet realistic, that is will give you the chills right from the beginning. The scenes are intense and there don’t seem to be any taboos to Hayder’s storytelling. It is not a crime story for those with a weak stomach. However, this is one of the only negatives – and it depends on the reader as to if it is truly a negative – that I can identify in this page-turning crime thriller
Birdman resonates with a raw intensity. It is not perfectly written. Some of the sentences seem clunky at times, but the story moves very well. The characters are real and the peril is even more so. I kept turning the pages feeling a bit like a voyeur wondering what was going to happen next. I will certainly be picking up the next book in the Jack Caffery series. ...more