I have heard John Marco is one of the more under-rated fantasy authors out there and so I had been looking forward to giving him a try for quite some...moreI have heard John Marco is one of the more under-rated fantasy authors out there and so I had been looking forward to giving him a try for quite some time. I may just have found another fantasy author to add to my power rotation. The Jackal of Nar is the first book in a trilogy referred to as the Tyrants and Kings Trilogy and I must say, even though this is the first book he ever published, if this is an indication of his writing talents and the types of fantasy stories he tells, then there is nothing but great things to come.
In some ways this novel reminds me a bit of GRRM’s A Game of Thrones. Major themes involve power struggles at the very highest levels, lots of political intrigue, lots of shifting loyalties and no clear cut good guys vs. bad guys. The main character is Richius Vantran, a prince who is among his homeland’s primary warlords. The novel begins in battle and there is a lot of tactical level warfare described throughout the novel, but it is not really about those battles. Most of the “fantasy” elements, like Game of Thrones involve swordsmanship and the creative use of non-magical machines of war. There is magic but it is not described in much detail yet. In fact most of the populace does not believe it exists and those few instances when we, the reader, get to witness its power, it is truly awesome in its capability. I have no doubt that the next two volumes of this trilogy will explore this magical force.
And also as with GRRM, John Marco is not afraid to kill off major characters.
The plot is fairly complex but the author, thankfully, is able to boil it down so we know exactly what is going on when we need to know it. There are lots of strangely spelled place names and character names throughout and normally that can be a turn-off for me. Places like Ackle-Nye and Aramoor and Criisia and characters like Lucyler and Dinadin can become confusing when there are many of them but the author balances those out with people like Dyana, Tharn, and Sabrina, etc. The result is that unmistakable feeling that you’re reading fantasy but you’re also grounded is some familiarity.
If I have one criticism, it is that many times the main characters shift loyalties a little too easily. We have people that have been best friends since childhood that choose different sides over a single action. Others have watched their life-long enemies kill their own family members and yet become strong allies and even friends after a few weeks. I had to suspend my disbelief a little over some of those and thus the only reason this one didn’t earn 5 stars from me.
Regardless, this was really a fun read. Look out book number two…I’m looking for you… (less)
The fourth book in the “Clifton Chronicles” series continues the family saga of the Cliftons and the Barringtons bringing them up through the year 196...moreThe fourth book in the “Clifton Chronicles” series continues the family saga of the Cliftons and the Barringtons bringing them up through the year 1964. As in the other novels of the series, we are treated to the various triumphs and tragedies of this extended family as they make their perilous way through the 20th century. Combining boardroom power struggles, financial back-door deals, art auctions, IRA terrorist plots, this book packs in a lot of story.
And Mr. Archer is not afraid to kill off a major character or two.
I have often thought that Jeffrey Archer is an outstanding writer of short stories that have a twist. His novels have usually been fun reads as well, but they usually aren’t as masterful as his shorter works. In this novel, even more so than in the previous books in the series, he succeeds by combining a number of what really amount to short stories. They are certainly all connected and there is an overarching story arc which concerns the building and launching of the ocean liner, the ‘Buckingham’, but really, what we have here is several complete short stories, each with their own beginning, middle, and end. It’s a technique Mr. Archer uses often in his novels. It runs the risk of resulting is a disjointed novel but I think it works pretty well here.
And just as in the last book of this series, this one ends in a major cliff hanger. Our questions about who lives and who dies will have to wait until next year when the next book is published. The publisher describes this series as a “five-part story of one man’s life over the course of a hundred years, taking in the major events of the 20th and 21st centuries and exploring the timeless themes of love, family, and honor and how even a single existence can change the world.” Perhaps this was drafted as a blurb at the time of the first book’s publication because it doesn’t seem to be holding true now. If, indeed it is to be a 5-part story then the next book is the last and must cover a lot of time. We’re only in 1964 at the end of book 4. Also, the idea of “one man’s life” seemed true after the first book; it was all about Harry Clifton and his adventures. But in this 4th book, Harry is very much a background character and has virtually no influence on what happens over the course of the novel. This one is mostly about his family and those that are aligned against them for one reason or another. But that is OK because Mr. Archer does a great job of building these characters so that we care what happens to them. The good guys aren’t always successful and the bad guys aren’t always thwarted so it all makes for a fine read.
Regardless, of the publisher’s blurb, I am enjoying this series a lot and look forward to the next. I do hope book 5 is not the end and there are at least 4 or 5 more. (less)
This 7th novel of the Area 51 series by Bob Mayer (Pseudonym: Robert Doherty) is the “final” novel in the main story line and wraps up the events that...moreThis 7th novel of the Area 51 series by Bob Mayer (Pseudonym: Robert Doherty) is the “final” novel in the main story line and wraps up the events that have been building over the six preceding books. There are a couple of more stand-alone novels that I understand are prequels of a sort and I plan to read those as well. The author has continued on with the spinoff series, Area 51: Nightstalker.
This one is titled “The Truth” but actually we get lots of truths revealed throughout this book. Many of them have been strongly hinted at and were easily pieced together and in fact, the main truth revealed at the end was very much expected. I felt there was no other way to properly end the saga. This series has been great fun, combining historical mythology and lore with science fiction themes and military page-turning action. I love it when a series of books can combine strong myths and ancient mysteries like Atlantis, Stonehenge, Easter Island, the Sphinx, Excalibur, King Arthur, Merlin, the Arc of the Covenant, the Great Wall of China, the Black Death, the Holy Grail, etc. with historical personages like Sir Richard Francis Burton and Nikola Tesla. Throw in a nice mix of fictional heroes who have to navigate the puzzles and use their brains to save mankind from rival, battling immortal aliens and you have a recipe for fun reading.
These novels won’t win any prizes for literature but serve as excellent relaxing escape-from-reality reading experiences. (less)
My chronological journey through the world of the original James Bond novels continues with the fifth novel to be written and published, and widely he...moreMy chronological journey through the world of the original James Bond novels continues with the fifth novel to be written and published, and widely held as the beginning of the best part of the entire series. In this one, Russia is tired of continually losing the battle in the grand spy game and has decided to assassinate one of the West’s most prestigious spies. After considering several countries’ intelligence programs to target, they settle on Britain’s MI-6 and who better than the famous James Bond.
The first 1/3rd of the novel and perhaps a bit more is all build-up, from the Russian’s point of view, their leadership, their assassins, etc. Mr. Bond himself does not enter the novel until almost half-way through. But it’s a fun ride to watch Bond fall into the trap they have set for him and try to get out.
Historical note: Up to this point, Ian Fleming and his publishers had been disappointed in the sales for the first four Bond books and they had failed to crack the all-important American market. Fleming was reportedly ready to throw in the towel completely (and had even thought to go so far as to kill off his main character) but he would give it one last try. He really put his all into it with much re-writing and re-thinking, resulting in this fifth novel which shows a definite step up in quality. It’s also the longest Bond novel and the resulting best seller status that resulted launched the golden period of Bond novels to come, including the following novel, James Bond: Dr. No.
For fans of spy fiction, these novels are must-reads. (less)
I found it difficult to get into this one despite the medieval historical setting. Perhaps it is the era in which it was written (1920's). That lends...moreI found it difficult to get into this one despite the medieval historical setting. Perhaps it is the era in which it was written (1920's). That lends a certain style and pace that is a little slower and a tad more "literary". Despite the novel's heritage as an award winner, it would be difficult for me to recommend this to children for fear they would toss it aside declaring it to be too boring. Those of Polish ancestry would likely consider it more of a duty to read and, indeed, quite possibly finding it more engaging than I did.(less)
What happens when an iconic comedian named Koo Davis, known for his radio program and USO tours (think Bob Hope) is kidnapped by a bunch of radical hi...moreWhat happens when an iconic comedian named Koo Davis, known for his radio program and USO tours (think Bob Hope) is kidnapped by a bunch of radical hippies who demand the release of ten incarcerated fellow radicals? I’m not really sure but I’m not sure the answers are in this book either.
Reportedly, when Donald E. Westlake wrote this novel, a similarly-themed movie had just been released so Westlake chose not to publish it and instead handed it off to his friend Max Allan Collins who later had it published after Westlake’s death. I suspect Westlake would have done some more polishing had circumstances been different. The novel begins well with a nice setup and a good introduction of characters. But I felt the second half dropped off considerably and left several plot threads dangling.
The Point of view moves around some in the novel. I enjoyed the parts from Koo’s perspective as the kidnap victim a lot. He can’t ever quite stop saying or at least thinking in one-liners which serves as a great tension release for himself as well as the reader. The kidnappers were kinda cool as well at the beginning but in the second half of the book too much time was spent on their utopian views of what the world should be and how the US had been screwing that up for decades. Throughout all of this, those that were trying to gain the safe return of Koo Davis never really materialized fully as characters. I kept hoping to hear more from the FBI lead on the case; his backstory was set up nicely but then…nothing.
Still, the novel was a fun read if you don’t look too deeply and the ending was certainly climactic. It’s not a long novel so definitely worth the time. (less)
Every time I read a novel by William Martin, I feel so lucky to have found him and have long since elevated him to my favorite author list. I’ve yet t...moreEvery time I read a novel by William Martin, I feel so lucky to have found him and have long since elevated him to my favorite author list. I’ve yet to read a bad or even an “OK” book by him. They all hold precious real estate on my best book shelf. I can now add that his Peter Fallon series is among my favorite series of all…ever. This series combines many of my favorite genres: historical fiction, historical mystery, and modern day thrillers, all in a single superb novel. They can be read as stand alones but it would be better to read them in order.
This is the second of the Peter Fallon books (following the excellent Back Bay) and the first thing I noticed is that we’ve jumped a number of years forward from the end of the last book. Peter is now a well-regarded antiquarian book dealer and has stumbled across a clue to a long lost, never before known, Shakespearean play titled ‘Love’s Labours Won’, a companion to his well-known play with a similar name. In the hands of a lesser author such a premise would strike me immediately with thoughts like ‘here we go again’ and ‘haven’t I seen this before’ and I would most probably pass it by in search of a better book to read. But since it is William Martin, I knew I was in for an amazing journey.
As in the first book of the series, chapters alternate between the present day Peter Fallon mystery/thriller plot where he hunts for further clues to the history behind the lost play, all the time being hounded by rivals willing to kill for such a valuable find, and the past whereby we get to witness history unfold and actually see what happened along the way. Every time Peter uncovers a new piece of the puzzle we get to then go back and see how that actually came to be. This leads to a fascinating, page-turning read.
There are numerous historical characters in this novel as you might imagine considering we get to travel through all of American history from 1605 to the present, following the fictional Wedge family and their caretaker approach to the Shakespearean manuscript. In 1605, a good friend to Shakespeare, Robert Harvard, received the play as a gift and it is his son, John Harvard who was instrumental in founding the first college in America. The setting for most of this novel is Harvard University and, indeed, it really becomes a character in and of itself. So many major American historical figures graduated from Harvard or taught there, or both and the novel benefits from all of them. Major events and eras such as the Puritan’s witch burning, the fires of the Civil War, the riots of the 1960’s and famous figures such as Cotton Mather, heroes of the Boston Tea Party and the Revolutionary War, through the era of Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, Joe and Jack Kennedy, etc. etc. all play out on the Harvard stage. And through it all runs the thread of the lost Shakespearean play.
I must say, I have never been a huge fan of Harvard University. Not sure why really other than a life-long image of an old stodgy institution that seemed in a world all its own and so not for a common sort of fellow like myself. But this novel really opened up my eyes about Harvard and helped me to appreciate its history and what it stands for. Just the fact that Harvard (formed initially in 1636 and known as ‘New College’) was renamed for John Harvard in 1639 because of his gift of his personal library of some 400 books is awesome. And to see the school meander its way through history, witness its ups and downs, its triumphs and controversies, is really to watch the evolution of the entire country as well.
The patriarch of the fictional Wedge family and good friend to John Harvard, Isaac Wedge was fond of saying “A man is best known by his books”. That is a sentiment that I can certainly relate to and I am proud to count this book among my own library. (less)
This is a very nice, tightly woven short story involving a group of American men caught out on a long range patrol during the Vietnam War. It is told...moreThis is a very nice, tightly woven short story involving a group of American men caught out on a long range patrol during the Vietnam War. It is told from the first person POV and the main character (who remains unnamed throughout the story) is the Lieutenant in charge of the patrol. He is forced to try to deal with a sniper who is methodically taking out his team. It's a race to get back to the rendezvous point for their helicopter pickup.
I've read almost all of DeMille's novels but this is the first of his short stories that I have come across. I don't believe he is well known for his short fiction either but I thought this one was done very well. Just enough tension to capture the reader without weighing you down with a full novel of the horrors of war.(less)
This horror novel takes the traditional haunted house paradigm and expands it to an entire town. The town in question is McGuane, Arizona, a very smal...moreThis horror novel takes the traditional haunted house paradigm and expands it to an entire town. The town in question is McGuane, Arizona, a very small town with a fairly large percentage of Russian Molokans. Gregory Tomasov, a Molokan himself, has recently won the California state lottery and has decided to uproot his family from the LA suburbs and move them back to his hometown of McGuane. Big mistake.
Bentley Little often reminds me of early Dean Koontz in that he does a great job of introducing characters, particularly regular middle class families, letting us get to really know them and like them and then toss them gradually into the horror of the larger plot. This was a fun novel to read but make no mistake; it is not “comfortable” at all.
The horror builds along two main arteries. The supernatural horror grows as expected, its intensity growing as the novel progresses and culminating in some pretty explosive terror. The other branch of horror is what many people experience every day in the real world: prejudice. The Molokans in the town of McGuane are blamed for everything that isn’t perfect so of course they must be responsible for the supernatural horrors that grow in the town as well. Reading some of these parts of the novel was probably more uncomfortable than the more traditional horror aspects.
I've been told that it does not matter in what order these books are read. They are all stand-alone stories and so I took a risk and skipped number 2...moreI've been told that it does not matter in what order these books are read. They are all stand-alone stories and so I took a risk and skipped number 2 (I don't have a copy of that one) and went right to number 3. It seems fine to do so. Even book number one didn't seem like the first in a series.
In this one, CIA operative Sam Durell parachutes into Russia to help prevent a rogue member of the Politburo, known as "Comrade Z", from launching one of Russia's first ICBMs toward the US. Sam Durell has a mere handful of days to stop this event which will happen on May Day. The book was first published in 1958 and it is interesting to see the perspectives between the US and Russia at that time. Also of interest is the similarities to Ian Fleming's Bond books which first began appearing in 1952.
This novel was much as I expected. Lots of spy action without much spy craft. There is the usual good guys and bad guys and the occasional misconstrued identity. And, of course, there is the obligatory Bond, er Durell girl. The mystery part surrounds the identity of just who is Comrade Z. There is a nice climax at the end to wrap up the story.
I enjoyed the first two Sam Durell books I've read so will keep on with them. They are quick reads so serve well as a break between weightier material.(less)
My review for the previous novel in this series Crunch Time was not particularly kind to the author or the novel and I had made several recommendation...moreMy review for the previous novel in this series Crunch Time was not particularly kind to the author or the novel and I had made several recommendations for the future of the series. It appears Ms. Davidson read my review with interest and attempted to follow my advice. Unfortunately, she was not as successful as I had hoped.
For the uninitiated, this is a cozy mystery series revolving around the main character, Goldy Schultz, a caterer who suffers from what is often referred to as “Cabot Cove” syndrome. (That’s a reference to Murder, She Wrote wherein the character of Jessica Fletcher has just happened to be in the vicinity of over 200 murder cases and solved them all…mostly within the small town of Cabot Cove). Goldy is a survivor of an abusive ex-husband and currently married to a detective in the Furman County Sherriff’s office named Tom. They live in Aspen Meadows, Colorado, probably the main reason I keep coming back to this series. Goldy has a whiny teenage son named Arch and a nosy best friend, Marla.
I found this novel to be marginally better than the previous one but, unfortunately, it was still far from the interesting good ‘ol days of this series. Goldy, herself, is less obtrusive this time around but still resorts to bribery and threats to get information during her investigation. Tom, her husband, is painted as the perfect loving and supportive husband but when you stop to think about it, he must be entirely incompetent at his job because even with the resources of the Sherriff’s department and their “investigative team” he never gets one lead on his own. I have no idea what he does all day at work. In this novel, the investigative team only serves as bodyguards to Goldy and her family as they do the investigation. One time Tom even accompanies Goldy and Marla to Boulder where they interview somebody who may shed some light on what happened but Tom remains outside in the car. Overall, without Goldy breaking the law every other page to get more information (as she did in the last novel) the plot in this one was rather boring.
Arch, the now 17-year old son is as whiny as ever. Most teenagers are often whiny but Arch has never changed over 17 novels. At least Marla provides some grins.
One of my major complaints about these novels is the lack of character development among all the rest of the cast. They all seem to be bred from the same mold, so much so that they are often indistinguishable from each other, which also makes it difficult to really care who dunnit. I wish the author spent half as much time on character development as she does on recipes.
There is a lengthy epilog in this novel. Most of it served as an information dump at the end to explain “here’s what was really happening all along”. That’s lazy writing in my view. It also seemed to serve as a possible coda for the entire series. My advice after the previous novel was to retire Goldy the caterer and end the series. It seems possible that my advice was taken but not necessarily. I remain hopeful the author will try something else as she has shown herself to be an excellent novelist in earlier books. However, the lure of continuing commercial success may sway her back to Goldy. (less)
It has been over 10 years since we’ve been treated to a full Farseer novel (not counting the 2013 publication of the Farseer prequel, The Willful Prin...moreIt has been over 10 years since we’ve been treated to a full Farseer novel (not counting the 2013 publication of the Farseer prequel, The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince. The Tawny Man trilogy concluded with the publication of Fool's Fate in 2003 and many of us have been hopeful of a return to this story for all of that time. Robin Hobb has provided other stories in that same world (but unrelated to Fitz's story) over the intervening years but I feel confident that almost every Robin Hobb fan yearned for a return to the story of Fitzchivalry, the Fool, and the Six Duchies.
So it was with relish that I dived into the first book of this new trilogy, both anxious to get started and simultaneously dreading the end of it for knowing it would be at least a year before book two would be ready for my reading pleasure. As always with a Robin Hobb novel, I took my time with it, relishing her story telling talents, the beauty of her words and living in her world. And there is a lot of living going on in this novel. Much of it is about life and the ever changing tides that affect us as we stumble our way through it. If you’ve read of Fitz in the two previous trilogies (and why would you not?) you know that he often stumbles through life himself, always trying to make good decisions but often choosing poorly, or so it would seem.
This novel is told in the first person point-of-view, but not always through Fitz’s eyes. I can’t offer more on that without major spoilage but suffice it to say that Ms. Hobb has produced yet another fantastic character that may even top the Fool for uniqueness. And it is just that which always brings me back to Robin Hobb’s work: her characters. They are complete, full of all of that which makes all of us unique from one another. As a reader, you really get to know them and absolutely care what happens to them. And not just her main characters; even side characters with very little stage time seem somehow to be fully realized.
So yes, the book achieved my high expectations. The plot was engaging and drew me into its deep and sometimes dark corners. It moves at a slow pace at times but is always building and twisting back on itself. It will make you smile and it will make you cry. It’s that kind of novel. And it leads us right into the second book, a cliffhanger of sorts which promises the darkest and most disturbing times for Fitz and friends are still ahead. With 80 pages to go, I had planned to read a bit on my 30 minute lunch break and then finish it off tonight. But I simply could not stop. I missed some work but I finished the book and all is right with the world. Now if I can just catch a time machine and get off at the stop when the next book of the trilogy will be published… (less)