Friday, August 3, 2012

Where Angels Fear to Tread by Thomas E. Sniegoski
The Remy Chandler Chronicles, #3

Six year-old Zoe York has been taken and her mother has come to Remy for help. She shows him crude, childlike drawings that she claims are Zoe's visions of the future, everything leading up to her abduction, and some beyond. Like the picture of a man with wings who would come and save her-a man who is an angel.

Zoe's preternatural gifts have made her a target for those who wish to exploit her power to their own destructive ends. The search will take Remy to dark places he would rather avoid. But to save an innocent, Remy will ally himself with a variety of lesser evils-and his soul may pay the price...
-- Where Angels Fear to Tread
by Thomas E. Sniegoski
Copyright © 2010 by Thomas E. Sniegoski

My Review

I saw this novel as a kind of place-holder between Dancing on the Head of a Pin and A Hundred Words for Hate. While interesting, it wasn’t as compelling as the previous two novels. For me, this was due to the fact that Francis, Remy’s fallen-angel friend, was not in this story. Granted, his return from Tartarus is a story in itself, which should be covered in A Hundred Words for Hate, but with him missing, and Remy’s cop friend Steve barely getting a mention in this tale, I felt like my anchor was not in firm ground. I did like, however, Remy’s dream-like interactions with his late wife Madeline. She’s his anchor, and for him to be able to visit with her and get advice from her made me want to cheer for Remy.

I give this story THREE STARS.

The Bull Years

The Bull Years by Phil Stern

What would your 20-year-old self think of the 40-year-old you’ve become?

For Steve, Sophia, Dave, and Brooke, life hasn’t turned out as planned. Rather than easy fame and fortune, these four teenagers of the 1980's found young adulthood a mystifying series of dead-end jobs, failed relationships, family scandal, and surging frustration.

Now approaching middle age, these one-time close college friends want to reverse their gradual alienation from life and one another, reconnecting with their earlier, innocent selves.

But there’s only one problem. Before any of them can move forward, they must collectively confront the outrageous night that first drove them apart, revealing secrets potentially shattering everything they ever were.

Phil Stern’s groundbreaking novel explodes the traditional paradigm of success and failure in modern-day life, exposing the churning emotional turmoil of middle-class America at the dawn of the new millennium. Nothing is out of bounds in this stunning, often hilarious, and ultimately uplifting look within the secret lives of what is surely America’s Most Disillusioned Generation.

--The Bull Years
by Phil Stern
Copyright © 2011 by Phil Stern

My Review

Imagine yourself at your 20th High School reunion. You’re looking at the yearbook, thinking back on the plans you had for your life, all your dreams and ambitions. Then you glance up into a mirror hanging on the wall, seeing your reflection and thinking “what the hell happened?”

Steve, Sophia, Dave and Brooke aren’t at their reunion, but they are taking a good hard look at their lives and trying to figure out “what the hell happened.” Told in first person by each character, Steve, Sophia and Dave talk about the various watershed moments in their lives, the things that happened that helped make them the people they are today. At times funny, at times heart wrenching, and at times a little scary (seriously, Dave’s ex-wife is that scary-crazy-manipulative type of person you hope never gets involved in your life), this contemporary tale of every-day life will make you sit back and wonder what happened in your “bull years” and why you aren’t where you thought you’d be.

What, me? Oh, back in high school, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I had some half-formed dreams of being a writer or a psychiatrist, but figured I’d probably spend the rest of my life as an office worker. And for a long time, that prediction came true. But I’m doing other things now and slowly pursuing my writing dreams. Could I tell stories like these? In some cases, yes. And those, my friends, will remain my secret. Unless I feel like writing about them…someday.

I give this story THREE and a HALF STARS.


Hammered by Kevin Hearne
The Iron Druid Chronicles, #3

Druid Atticus O’Sullivan hasn’t stayed alive for more than two millennia without a fair bit of Celtic cunning. So when vengeful thunder gods come Norse by Southwest looking for payback, Atticus, with a little help from the Navajo trickster god Coyote, lets them think that they’ve chopped up his body in the Arizona desert.

But the mischievous Coyote is not above a little sleight of paw, and Atticus soon finds that he’s been duped into battling bloodthirsty desert shapeshifters called skinwalkers. Just when the Druid thinks he’s got a handle on all the duplicity, betrayal comes from an unlikely source. If Atticus survives this time, he vows he won’t be fooled again.

Famous last words.

by Kevin Hearne
Copyright © 2012 by Kevin Hearne
Published by Del Rey

My Review

With the aide of Coyote, Atticus O’Sullivan “dies” in the desert and Reilly Collins is born. Along with his sister, “Caitlin,” Atticus and Granuaile travel into the Navajo territory to pay Coyote back for his death-defying act. Coyote’s come up with a way to make the Navajo more self-sufficient, but he needs Atticus’ help. Coyote dies for Atticus, Atticus helps the Navajo. It’s a win-win situation.

Lief Helgarson, Atticus’ vampire lawyer, survived his trip to Asgard…barely. While he was gone and while he healed, another vampire managed to take over his territory (which, by the way, was the entire state of Arizona). Now that he’s back, he wants Atticus’ help in getting rid of his rivals. Atticus isn’t interested. He has no desire to meddle in the affairs of vampires and tells Lief so. Lief accepts this and leaves, but Atticus is wary of his former friend’s motives, and as it turns out, he has every right to be wary. Lief has a plan, you see, one that almost gets both Atticus and Oberon killed. That pretty much severs any friendly ties the Celtic Druid had with the vampire. After depositing Oberon at a veterinarian’s office to heal, Atticus and Granuaile return to the Navajo territory to finish off his commitment to Coyote.

There’s a little something Coyote failed to mention to Atticus and Granuaile. There’s a pair of skinwalkers determined to stop the Navajo from achieving their plans, and these guys play rough. Atticus has never come across skinwalkers before and isn’t sure how to handle them. But since his and Granuaile’s survival depends on it, he’ll think of something. He has to. Oberon is waiting for his chicken apple sausages!

I hate to write reviews where all I can think to say is “Awesome story! Can’t wait for the next one! Everyone needs to read this story!” But considering I read all four of these stories back to back to back to back, there’s little more that I can say. Kevin Hearne is a great writer with a fantastic sense of humor, and with Luke Daniels narrating the audio book, the experience is unbelievable. Hearne plans this to be a six-book series, with number five coming out at the end of November. I will be very, very sad to see the end of this series, but will look forward to any new offerings by Kevin Hearne.

I give this story FIVE STARS.


Hammered by Kevin Hearne
The Iron Druid Chronicles, #3

Thor, the Norse god of thunder, is worse than a blowhard and a bully—he’s ruined countless lives and killed scores of innocents. After centuries, Viking vampire Leif Helgarson is ready to get his vengeance, and he’s asked his friend Atticus O’Sullivan, the last of the Druids, to help take down this Norse nightmare.

One survival strategy has worked for Atticus for more than two thousand years: stay away from the guy with the lightning bolts. But things are heating up in Atticus’s home base of Tempe, Arizona. There’s a vampire turf war brewing, and Russian demon hunters who call themselves the Hammers of God are running rampant. Despite multiple warnings and portents of dire consequences, Atticus and Leif journey to the Norse plain of Asgard, where they team up with a werewolf, a sorcerer, and an army of frost giants for an epic showdown against vicious Valkyries, angry gods, and the hammer-wielding Thunder Thug himself.

by Kevin Hearne
Copyright © 2011 by Kevin Hearne
Published by Del Rey

My Review

Atticus O’Sullivan wants nothing to do with Thor, but in the previous novel of the series, Hexed, he promised his vampire lawyer, Lief, that he would help him get rid of Thor in exchange for his assistance. Assistance given, Atticus must now make good on his promise. While many want Thor gone, several others warn Atticus that he would be wise to stay out of it (Jesus is your friend, and when He tells you to butt out of a situation, you really should butt out). But Atticus made a promise and he intends to fulfill it.

Also hampering his promise-keeping intent is a group of Russian demon hunters who decide Atticus is a demon and must be…hunted. These guys actually provide a bit of comic relief before Atticus takes care of them.

Meanwhile, his apprentice Granuaile continues to learn and observe and makes preparations for the future, for when Atticus returns from Asgard. And other plans, just in case he doesn’t.

Accompanied by the local werewolf pack leader, a sorcerer and one or two others with strong motives to do in Thor, Atticus travels to Asgard for the epic showdown.

Little spoiler: Atticus does return safely, but not with all of his companions. And, sadly, he and Granuaile must abandon their lives in Tempe. Find out where they travel to next in the fourth book in the series, Tricked.

I give this story FIVE STARS.


Hexed by Kevin Hearne
The Iron Druid Chronicles, #2

Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, doesn’t care much for witches. Still, he’s about to make nice with the local coven by signing a mutually beneficial nonaggression treaty—when suddenly the witch population in modern-day Tempe, Arizona, quadruples overnight. And the new girls are not just bad, they’re badasses with a dark history on the German side of World War II.

With a fallen angel feasting on local high school students, a horde of Bacchants blowing in from Vegas with their special brand of deadly decadence, and a dangerously sexy Celtic goddess of fire vying for his attention, Atticus is having trouble scheduling the witch hunt. But aided by his magical sword, his neighbor’s rocket-propelled grenade launcher, and his vampire attorney, Atticus is ready to sweep the town and show the witchy women they picked the wrong Druid to hex.

by Kevin Hearne
Copyright © 2011 by Kevin Hearne
Published by Del Rey

My Review

Just a few short weeks after dispatching his centuries-long enemy, Aenghus Óg, Atticus finds himself fielding calls from a number of other gods, wanting him to kill this god or that. The Norse god of thunder, Thor, seems to be at the top of everyone’s list, including his vampire lawyer’s.

As much as he’d like to accommodate them, killing-for-hire just isn’t his thing. He has other issues to worry about, like training Granuaile, his new apprentice. And dealing with a new group of witches bent on his destruction. Oh, yeah, and someone is making a killing—literally—at a local high school. And let’s not forget the band of Baccants that decided to stop in and party hard at a local night club, giving a new meaning to “party ‘til you drop.” Not to mention the police who keep showing up at the most inopportune moments.

Atticus just wants to live in peace, but if it’s a fight they want, he’ll give it to them. Just keep in mind, he hasn’t lived for twenty-one centuries without learning a thing or two about how to take care of problems such as these. Armed with his magical sword, Fragarach, his wise-cracking dog Oberon, and the Native American shape-shifter Coyote, Atticus takes care of things in Tempe, while keeping his eye on the battle yet to come.


I give this story FIVE STARS.


Hounded by Kevin Hearne
The Iron Druid Chronicles, #1

Atticus O’Sullivan, last of the Druids, lives peacefully in Arizona, running an occult bookshop and shape-shifting in his spare time to hunt with his Irish wolfhound. His neighbors and customers think that this handsome, tattooed Irish dude is about twenty-one years old—when in actuality, he’s twenty-one centuries old. Not to mention: He draws his power from the earth, possesses a sharp wit, and wields an even sharper magical sword known as Fragarach, the Answerer.

Unfortunately, a very angry Celtic god wants that sword, and he’s hounded Atticus for centuries. Now the determined deity has tracked him down, and Atticus will need all his power—plus the help of a seductive goddess of death, his vampire and werewolf team of attorneys, a sexy bartender possessed by a Hindu witch, and some good old-fashioned luck of the Irish—to kick some Celtic arse and deliver himself from evil.

by Kevin Hearne
Copyright © 2011 by Kevin Hearne
Published by Del Rey

My Review

Mr. Hearne, you had me after the first paragraph.

If I may…

There are may perks to living for twenty-one centuries, and foremost among them is bearing witness to the rare birth of genius.  It invariably goes like this:  Someone shrugs off the weight of his cultural traditions, ignores the baleful stares of authority, and does something his countrymen think to be completely batshit insane.  Of those, Galileo was my personal favorite.  Van Gogh comes in second, but he really was batshit insane.

After that kind of opening, how can you help but to read on?

Atticus O’Sullivan is the aforementioned twenty-one hundred year old druid currently living in Tempe, Arizona and running an occult/new age shop.  He has a long-standing feud with an Irish god named Aenghus Óg and has decided it’s time to stop running and settle things.  Which means Atticus will have to kill Aenghus.  Not an easy thing to do, killing a god, but Atticus has one or two gods on his side and more than a few tricks up his sleeve.  And an awesome dog named Oberon to provide commentary when things get interesting.

This urban fantasy is filled with great dialogue and a hero with a great sense of humor.  You’d have to have one, I suppose, if you pre-date Christianity.  Atticus is fun, but he’s also serious about his own survival and he does what it takes to make sure he keeps on living.  Along the way to his showdown with Aenghus, he’ll do battle with a local coven of witches, the minions of Aenghus, a beautiful barmaid that is currently channeling the spirit of an Indian witch, and, oh yeah, his grouch of a neighbor.  And when the Tempe police come calling, he just siccs his werewolf lawyer on him.  But that’s during the daylight hours.  After dark, he can call on the werewolf’s law partner, a vampire.  Yep, he’s got a blood-sucking vampire for a lawyer.  How can you not love this guy?

A word about the narrator of the audio book version.  Luke Daniels is hands-down fabulous.  Okay, okay, that’s more than one word.  Seriously, he’s fabulous.  His pronunciation of the Irish slides right off his tongue like English and his command of accents and voices is unforgettable.  When switching between Atticus’s American accent and, for example, the witches’ Polish or the werewolf’s Icelandic, he doesn’t miss a beat.  The voice for each character is distinctive and unique and you, as the listener, have no difficulty knowing who is speaking just by the voice Daniels’ uses.  I knew I’d have no choice but to listen to the remaining stories in this series (rather than, you know, reading the books) simply because of the narrator.   I even purchased another author’s series just because Daniels narrated them.  He’s that good.

And so is this story.  If you like urban fantasy, you’ll love this story.

I give this story FIVE STARS.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Dangerously Close

Dangerously Close by Dee J. Adams

Bad-boy rock star Seger Hughes hit rock bottom after a near-fatal tragedy at his concert. He hates how his life has spun out of control. After changing his appearance and his name, he transforms into a different man: Mel Summers. Now he just needs a place to hide out from rabid fans and paparazzi.

An isolated cliffside mansion is perfect. Ashley Bristol, his only neighbor, is blind-and her assistant is a classical music fan. They have no clue who he really is, but someone else does and she's waited her whole life to be with him.

Struggling to find her way after an accident that took her sight, Ashley is determined not to feel anything. Yet she gets to know Mel and can't help falling for him. When her assistant mysteriously disappears, Ashley must rely on Mel more than ever. But then his past comes back to haunt them both, and just when they must pull together to avoid danger, betrayal and lies threaten to tear them apart...

--Dangerously Close
by Dee J. Adams
Copyright © 2010 by Dee J. Adams
Published by Carina Press

My Review

What a great story!  It felt good reading a story with characters who felt real.  A young woman with a lot to live for has her eyesight taken away in a freak accident and her next door neighbor just happens to be a rock star who wants to hide from the world for a while.

Mel’s grateful that Ashley doesn’t recognize him as a Rock Star and lets her get to know the Real Guy.  They strike up a good, solid friendship before it slowly evolves into a romance.  That’s the kind of romance I like, where two people can be friends before it grows into something more, rather than rushing into bed with each other and then trying to decide if they’re compatible.  Much more satisfying the other way, in my opinion.

Now, I have to admit, the Paula character made me nervous.  Which was good, because this is a woman with no conscience and will do literally anything to get what she feels is rightfully hers, which in this case is The Rock Star.  She’s manipulative, conniving and, frankly, dangerous.  I disliked her from the start because I immediately knew she was only there to get in Mel and Ashley’s way and those stalker-types can be really scary.  But, of course, a stalker-type character was needed for there to be conflict in the plot, and boy did Paula provide it.  We all know how it’s going to end—Paula is “taken care of” and Mel and Ashley live happily ever after, but its how they get there that had me at the edge of my seat and reading way past my bedtime.

Awesome story.  I’ll be looking for more from this author.

I give this story FOUR STARS.


Vanish by Tom Pawlik

Three strangers each encounter the same mysterious storm and awake the next day to find that everyone else has vanished. There's Conner Hayden, a successful but unscrupulous trial lawyer who has forsaken his family for his career; Helen Krause, a middle-aged model struggling to come to grips with her fading beauty; and Mitch Kent, an enterprising young mechanic unable to escape a past that still haunts him. Afraid and desperate for answers, their paths eventually cross and they discover they are being watched. Elusive and obscured in shadows, the “observers” are apparently forcing them to relive vivid hallucinations of events from their past. They discover a mute homeless boy in tattered clothing and believe he may hold the key to the mystery, but the “observers” soon become aggressive and the four are forced to flee. When the boy disappears, the four decide to head from Chicago to Washington, D.C. in search of answers…and more survivors.

by Tom Pawlik
Copyright © 2008 by Tom Pawlik

My Review
First of all, I must say that the above description (copied from Amazon) is somewhat misleading.  While the four people mentioned do meet, they also meet up with several others along the way—two teens named Devon Marshall and Terrell Carter, Ray Cahill and Howard Bristol. Also, I don’t recall any mention of the group deciding to go to Washington D.C.  I’m a fast reader and sometimes I skip over a passage or two so maybe I missed it.  Since I read it on my Kindle, I searched for Washington D.C. but couldn’t find it.  So…a somewhat misleading summary.

That aside, let’s go to the review.  Conner, Helen, Mitch, Terrell, and Devon all awaken one day to find everyone else in the world has vanished.  While looking for answers, they encounter each other and decide to stick together until they can figure things out.  Along the way, each person suffers from odd, flashback-like hallucinations, highlighting some of the more disturbing parts of their lives.  In addition, Conner begins having strange, seizure-like spasms, something he’s never had before.  Oh, and they’re being watched by aliens.

Yes, aliens.

Has Earth been invaded?  Is that why everyone else has disappeared except for this group?  And could there be more survivors out there?  And what do the aliens want with them?  One by one, as each member of the group is taken, the answer to that seems obvious.  Can the remaining survivors hang on long enough to find out exactly what’s going on?

The answer, when you get to it, may surprise you. 

Aside from the somewhat choppy, disorienting beginning chapters—each one focusing on the lives of Conner, Helen, and Mitch and how they came to be in this strange, abandoned world—they all eventually come together, along with the other characters.  Well-written with an interesting plot, the tension builds to a climax that will lead you in an unexpected direction.  Some may not enjoy the religious angle of the ending, but I’d encourage readers to keep an open mind.  The story isn’t preachy or overly-religious like the Left Behind series, but the overall message—your choices determine your destiny—is one worth thinking about.

I give this story THREE and a HALF STARS.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Girl Who Disappeared Twice

The Girl Who Disappeared Twice by Andrea Kane
Forensic Instincts #1



Despite all her years determining the fates of families, judge Hope Willis couldn't save her own. Her daughter taken, she's frantically grasping at any hope for Krissy's return. Her husband dead-set against it, Hope calls a team not bound by the legal system. 

Forensic Instincts: a behaviorist. A techno-wizard. An intuitive. An ex-Navy SEAL. Unconventional operatives. All with unique talents and personal reasons for joining Casey Woods's group, they'll do whatever it takes. 

Able to accurately read people after the briefest of encounters, Casey picks up in the Willis household signs of a nervous spouse, a guilty conscience, a nanny that hides on her phone. Secrets beg to creep into the open. 

Forensic Instincts will dig through each tiny clue and eliminate the clutter, working around the clock. But time is running out, and Casey's team knows that the difference between getting Krissy back and her disappearing forever could be as small as a suspect's rapid breathing, or as deep as Hope's dark family history.

--The Girl Who Disappeared Twice
by Andrea Kane
Copyright © 2011 by Andrea Kane

My Review
At the beginning of Chapter 5, I figured out who kidnapped Krissy.  Truthfully, I had my suspicions almost from the start, but at this point, I knew.  Of course, I had no clue as to the kidnapper’s motive, or the truth behind Hope’s “dark family history,” so I kept reading.  Right about the half-way point, when Casey is talking to both Hope and her mother about that “dark family history,” I knew who was responsible for that one as well.  Again, didn’t know the motive and all the whys and wherefores, so I kept reading. 

I don’t know why I honed in so quickly on these two.  Perhaps because I’ve read a lot of mysteries (or stories that have mysteries in them) and I’ve learned to spot the odd turn of a phrase or the “subtle” hint that is the keystone to the mystery and from there can divine the answer to the puzzle.  Goodness knows I’ve ready plenty where the bad guy remains a mystery to me up until the very end.  I guess there was just something about the way Kane dropped her hints…they whispered to most people, but they shouted at me.

Okay, my Nancy Drew sleuthing skills aside, what did I think of the story?  I thought it was great.  The team of Forensic Instincts is well organized and run (and fun!) and by the end of the story has picked up three new staff members which they truly needed.  And I love the added complication of Casey being romantically involved with Hutch, a member of the FBI Task Force assigned to the case.  They’re both dedicated to solving the case, but the methods Casey sometimes uses causes a bit of conflict between them.  It’s a delightful complication that will surely continue into the ensuing books in the series. 

Will I read the next book, The Line Between Here and Gone?  Yes, it will go into my queue, because I want to learn more about this team and see how Casey and Hutch resolve their next conflict (there’s bound to be one).

I just hope I don’t figure out the answer, or at least part of the answer, to the mystery so quickly.  If I do, I may have to chalk it up to the writer’s skill and will be leery of the third book in the series (whenever it’s released).

I give this story THREE STARS.


Brainrush by Richard Bard

When terminally ill combat pilot Jake Bronson emerges from an MRI with extraordinary cognitive powers, everyone wants a piece of his talent--including Battista, one of the world's most dangerous terrorists.  To save his love and her autistic child, Jake is thrust into a deadly chase that leads from the canals of Venice through Monte Carlo and finally to an ancient cavern in the Hindu Kush Mountains of Afghanistan--where Jake discovers that his newfound talents carry a hidden price that threatens the entire human race.

by Richard Bard
Copyright © 2011 by Richard Bard
Published by Amazon Digital Services, Inc.

My Review
An earthquake during an MRI causes Jake to receive an electrical shock and his life is changed forever.  His new-found mental abilities come to the attention of the Institute for Advanced Brain Studies in Venice, Italy and its founder, Signore Battista.  His institute is conducting ground-breaking research into autism and believe Jake's new abilities are the key to finding the cure.

But Battista is doing far more than just autism research and he's much more than he seems.  If his plan succeeds, he will unleash a jihad in America.

...but again, there's even more behind this man's agenda. It has to do with a mysterious object hidden in the Afghani mountains, almost as old as man itself, with glyphs inscribed on it that no one has been able to transcribe...until Jake.  When Jake unlocks the obelisk, life on earth suddenly has more to fear than Battista's jihad.

I would have finished off this review by saying it’s wide open for a sequel, but guess what?  Bard already wrote one!  I have a few other books in queue, but the sequel is already in that queue and should be read and reviewed within a month or two.

I give this story FOUR STARS.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Dancing on the Head of a Pin

Dancing on the Head of a Pin by Thomas E. Sniegoski
The Remy Chandler Chronicles, #2

Once he was known as the Angel Remiel, but generations ago, Boston PI Remy Chandler chose to renounce heaven and live on earth, where he found a secure place among us ordinary humans…

But now, having lost the love of his life, Remy finds himself turning more and more away from his human friends and his everyday existence. He’s begun to seek out dangerous jobs—those that involve the supernatural, those that bring him into contact with his past.

Like his latest case: the theft of a cache of ancient weaponry stolen from a collector who deals in antiquities of a dark and dubious nature. The weapons, Remy knows, were forged aeons ago and imbued with unimaginable power. If they fall into the wrong hands, they could be used to destroy not only Heaven but also Earth. And to prevent that, Remy Chandler must decide whether he is willing to lose the last of his own humanity…

 --Dancing on the Head of a Pin
by Thomas E. Sniegoski
Copyright © 2009 by Thomas E. Sniegoski

My Review

A few months after the death of his beloved Madeline, Boston P.I. Remy Chandler is slowly starting to get back to his life.  It’s difficult for him, having never before suffered such a heart-wrenching loss, but time goes on and he needs to keep going. 

He’s also struggling to hold on to the humanity he so carefully crafted the many millennia he’s lived on earth.  He’d only let his angelic nature out twice in the last fifty years, once to Madeline and once to a cop who is now one of his closest friends.  In order to avert the Apocalypse, however, he had to become Remiel and do battle as an angel of the Host Seraphim.  Now, he’s having a hard time keeping that part of him inside.

Life in Boston—and around the world—has changed subtly since the Apocalypse was averted.  Things are darker now, more surreal, and supernatural things are happening all around.  Like the black-market selling of an angel’s internal organs.  He’s investigating that particular case with his friend Francis, a fallen angel and guardian of Tartarus, when he receives a call.  An antique weapons collector has had several of his prized pieces stolen.  He agrees to check it out and quickly discovers that the missing weapons are known as the Pitiless, a sword, battleax, twin daggers and a pistol made of material not of this earth. 

The Fallen angels of Heaven want the weapons in order to free their master, the Morning Star, from his tomb in Tartarus so that the great war of the heavens can resume.  Remy must do everything in his considerable power to stop this from happening, even if that means shedding his prized human form forever.

I give this story FOUR STARS.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Zero Day

Zero Day by David Baldacci

John Puller is a combat veteran and the best military investigator in the U.S. Army’s Criminal Investigation Division.  His father was an Army fighting legend, and his brother is serving a life sentence for treason in a federal military prison.  Puller has an indomitable spirit and an unstoppable drive to find out the truth.

Now, Puller is called out on a case in a remote, rural area in West Virginia coal country far from any military outpost.  Someone has stumbled onto a brutal crime scene, a family slaughtered.  The local homicide detective, a headstrong woman with personal demons of her own, joins forces with Puller in the investigation.  As Puller digs through deception after deception, he realizes that absolutely nothing he’s seen in this small town, and no one in it, are what they seem.  Facing a potential conspiracy that reaches far beyond the hills of West Virginia, he is one man on the hunt for justice against an overwhelming force.

--Zero Day
by David Baldacci
Copyright © 2011 by David Baldacci
Published by Grand Central Publishing

My Review

John Puller is a U.S. Army Special Investigator sent to Drake, West Virginia to aid local law enforcement to figure out why a high-ranking military officer and his family were killed.  Puller piggy-backs onto the locals' investigation and discovers more than just this one family has been killed.  There doesn’t seem to be any connection between the two families, and yet there has to be, right?

Coal is the major source of revenue for the town and some people don’t care much for Puller’s investigation, but Puller’s not there to make friends.  He’s there to solve a murder and wherever the clues take him, that’s where he’s going to go.

As Puller investigates, he uncovers some of Drake’s dirty secrets and its dark past, a past that has nothing to do with coal mining and everything to do with the potential destruction of Drake.  And West Virginia.  And a good chunk of the Eastern portion of the United States.

I personally don’t understand how David Baldacci can keep so many different series going (Camel Club, King & Maxwell, Shaw & James) and then turn around and start a brand new one!  But in true Baldacci style, he’s crafted an intriguing tale full of twists and turns without bogging down the story with too much history or technical detail.

Like all of the Baldacci stories I’ve read, the mystery starts out small and in no time escalates into a huge, complicated and complex conspiracy, so it’s a bit formulaic, however, Baldacci crafts a uniqueness into each story that keeps them fresh and keeps me coming back for more.

Although there are similarities between John Puller and my own favorite fiction hero, Jack Reacher, this story is definitely not a Jack Reacher clone (as some have suggested).  I definitely felt some of Reacher in Puller, as they are both intelligent men and determined to see justice done at whatever cost.  But they are different, too, in that Reacher relies on his wits and Puller has the entire Army and its resources at his back.

At the end of the story, Puller takes some well-deserved time off.  He packs a bag, loads his cat (named AWOL—love that!) into his car and takes off, driving aimlessly across the country.  Doubtless he’ll run into a mystery or two in his travels that beg his unique skills to solve.  I’m definitely keeping an eye out for the next installment in this series.

I give this story FOUR STARS.

The Voynich Cypher

The Voynich Cypher by Russell Blake
Second in the Dr. Stephen Cross series

When a sacred relic is stolen from its subterranean guarded vault, Dr. Steven Cross, amateur cryptographer, becomes embroiled in a deadly quest to decipher one of history's most enigmatic documents - a 15th century parchment written entirely in unbreakable code; The Voynich Manuscript. Stalked by secret societies, and aided by the daughter of a murdered colleague, a trail of riddles catapults Cross from England to Italy to the Middle East, where a Byzantine web of ancient secrets leads him to a revelation so profound it will change the world order.

--The Voynich Cypher
by Russell Blake
Copyright © 2012 by Russell Blake

My Review
The basis of this story, the Voynich Manuscript, is a real thing.  Its exact age is unknown but is believed to be several hundred years old.  About a hundred years ago, it was “rediscovered” by Wilfred Voynich and has been on display at Yale University ever since.  Cryptologists all over the world consider this document the Holy Grail of ciphers and would likely give their entire fortunes for the key to its decoding.
Steven Cross, an amateur cryptologist, thinks he may know the key, but without a missing portion of the document, he cannot decode it, and neither can anyone else.

A year ago, he contacted another cryptologist, Winston Twain, about his theory but never heard back.  Now, out of nowhere, Twain calls his office.  Before Steven can return his call, Twain is murdered.
Shortly afterward, Twain’s daughter, Natalie, shows up on Steven’s doorstep.  Her father was murdered because of the Voynich, she tells him, and the only way to solve the crime is for them to band together and do what they can to decode the document.

A missing section of the document, a potential key to its decoding, has been held secretly by the Catholic Church.  The Church won’t even admit to owning it, but no worries, Natalie says.  I stole it two weeks ago.  Between the two of us, we can figure this thing out and find out who killed my father.
Can these two decipher the Manuscript before those who wish to keep its secrets hidden—and those who wish to know its secrets for themselves—deal with them in a most permanent manner?

The characters of Steven and Natalie are very well developed and I couldn’t help but like Steven and wanted him to be successful in his mission.  Natalie rubbed me a bit wrong, however.  I dislike characters that always seem to be able to contact the right people and make the right thing happen at just the right time in order to keep the story going.  A little bit of that is okay, but Natalie’s “connections” went a touch too far in my opinion.  Still, I did like her and the story wouldn’t have gone very far without her.  I also didn’t care for the way Natalie was constantly referred to as a “girl” when she was obviously a woman.  I suppose it was Steven’s way of keeping her at arm’s length, but once that bridge was burned, it was silly to keep referring to her that way.  There were also a few minor plot holes that I glossed over in favor of simply enjoying the story.  An interesting adventure worth a weekend’s read.

Although this is the second in a series, it easily stands alone as an independent story.  While reading it, I had no idea there was a previous novel, although it does makes sense because we are given very intriguing hints about Steven’s background before he moved to Italy.  I hope to get to the first and third books in the series before the year is out.

I give this story THREE and a HALF STARS.