Category Archives: book review

Book Review: The Prisoner

“better safe than headless”

I’m on Alex Berenson’s email list, and when he sent a message to his readers that John Wells was “back undercover in the Muslim world” I immediately went to Amazon and pre-ordered.

I was excited, but also a little worried.

Wells is a great character. Berenson is an incredibly gifted writer. But of late, a number of usually reliable thriller authors have used the Jack Bauer “24” method of going undercover with disastrous consequences (e.g. I have serious reservations about buying any future Scot Harvath books). I felt Berenson was right on target with his idea – I can’t imagine any fan of John Wells not wanting to read about him going undercover in Afghanistan for a second time – but I feared the worst, that Wells would morph into a bad superhero caricature and Berenson would have ruined a great series.

Now that I’ve read the book, I apologize to Mr. Berenson – sorry I doubted you. This is the best post-9/11 thriller I’ve ever read. In fact, it might be the best thriller I’ve ever read, period.

It begins with a CIA mission in ISIS territory. Hence, this great line from one of the operators: “better safe than headless.” After the mission, it’s clear that someone is giving sensitive intelligence to ISIS. Shafer and Wells – with support from President Duto – launch a bold plan to uncover the mole, and what unfolds is nothing short of mesmerizing.

Berenson takes readers on a vivid, surreal journey with pacing and prose that are masterfully executed and a plot that is all too real and terrifying. Berenson has clearly been to Afghanistan and the other dangerous / exotic locales used in the book – for no one could carry a reader down this path so well unless he first traveled it himself.

The book builds to a frenetic pace, and then Berenson cranks it up even more as it turns into a race against the clock to stop ISIS from carrying out an attack that rivals 9/11.

If you enjoy thrillers, read this book. If you really enjoy thrillers that also fall into the “literary” category, then you absolutely need to be reading Alex Berenson. I used to say no one writes that category better than Daniel Silva, but I think Berenson is at the top now.

Read this book – I highly recommend it, 5/5 stars.

Use this affiliate link to read more about The Prisoner on Amazon.

Book Review: The Black Widow

If there was any doubt as to whether or not Daniel Silva is the best contemporary writer of literary thrillers, then The Black Widow should resolve the debate. The plot is intricate and multilayered, while the prose is as lyrical as a classic novel – add Silva’s grasp of the difficult terrorism related issues facing the world today and this book is a phenomenal achievement.

The story begins with a terrorist attack by ISIS on a Jewish center in Paris. It’s reminiscent of the recent terror attacks in France and Belgium. In response, Gabriel Allon and the Mossad work with the Jordanians and the French to infiltrate a network set up by the Islamic State.

The first two-thirds of the book is centered on the recruitment and training of the agent, and ultimately the operation itself. The final third of the book is non-stop, edge-of-your-seat thriller as Allon and his colleagues try to prevent an ISIS attack on American soil.

In the author’s note at the end of the book, Silva writes, “The Black Widow is a work of entertainment and should be read as nothing more.” However, he also adds that he “did my utmost to explain the roots and explosive growth of ISIS accurately and dispassionately.”

Silva is right on both accounts. You can simply read and enjoy this as a literary thriller, but you can also look to it as a primer on ISIS. It presents a clear and accurate picture of how ISIS evolved and why it is so dangerous. And finally, with his fiction, Silva offers a vivid, horrifying scenario for what could happen in the U.S. if our leaders are unwilling or unable to deal with this plague.

I highly recommend this book for thriller/literary fiction/political readers: 5/5 stars. Use this affiliate link to read more about The Black Widow on Amazon.

Book Review: Influence

I think pretty much everything written by Bart Hopkins Jr. is worth reading. His style feels old school, and I mean that as a compliment – he uses language very carefully, and smartly (unlike so many thriller authors I’ve read recently who make me feel like my IQ takes a hit every time I read a few chapters), and his stories are always multilayered and thought provoking.

Influence is primarily set in Galveston, an area the author knows very well. It’s the second novel by Hopkins with Cass Destry as the protagonist. Last time around the 20-something PI put a serial killer in the ground. This time the stakes are even higher.

The first half of the book finds Cass on a seemingly innocuous case – locate a young adult female who doesn’t want her mother to know where she is. But after locating the woman in Colorado, Cass is witness to a horrific event – and then the tension and stakes begin to mount quickly.

In the second half of the book a villain emerges, and as Cass travels to Washington, California, and ultimately to a confrontation in Colorado, she will need all of her wit, survival instincts, and a few bullets if she’s going to survive. This is an excellent PI/thriller novel and I highly recommend it to readers who enjoy this genre: 5/5 stars. Use this affiliate link to read more about Influence on Amazon – or visit: http://www.barthopkinsjr.com/

 

Book Review: Tom Clancy’s Duty and Honor

This is a much better book than the author’s previous contributions to the series (DEAD OR ALIVE, UNDER FIRE). One difference is Jack Jr. isn’t out to save the world — he’s just trying to avoid being killed, and to do that he hunts down the men that are trying to kill him and tries to find a logical explanation for why he’s been targeted.

This allows Jack’s character to be less of a superhero caricature (as he was in the previous books) and more of a flawed good guy who is introspective and trying to find and learn from his mistakes. It makes for less action/excitement in the book, but it actually improves the overall quality of the book.

Forced to work without The Campus and its resources, Jack pulls in some new allies along the way as he crosses America, Europe and ultimately Africa in pursuit of the answers he needs to stay alive.

Another thing I really liked: I expected when the reason he’d been targeted was finally revealed that we’d flip back to superhero caricature mode and Jack would suddenly save the world in the final pages of the book. Well, I was so wrong. The reason is logical and compelling, and Jack’s response to it was even more so.

It all leads to a satisfying conclusion.

Hope this book will get the whole Campus series back on track. I highly recommend it to military/spy/thriller fans: 5/5 stars. Use this affiliate link to read more about it on Amazon.

Book Review: World Wide Gone

This sci-fi short story is set in a future world where books and paper have been obsolete for decades, teachers have been replaced by IFs (instructional facilitators) that remotely monitor students, smartphones are also obsolete (replaced by APDs — All Purpose Devices), interplanetary travel is common, Mars is colonized, space vacations are commonplace, and a new form of energy fuels everything.

But it’s also a future where nothing works without the internet. Everyone and everything is plugged into and dependent upon the internet 24/7. Until suddenly they’re not.

Simeon wakes up to find a strange message and an entirely different world. There’s no internet, nothing works, and the message says wait for instructions. His girlfriend Karina and roommate Mess confirm this isn’t a nightmare — it’s real, and their carefully constructed lives begin to crumble.

What’s really interesting about this story is the author’s careful and smart observations about society and the potential pitfalls to being “plugged in” 24/7. He pits his young star-crossed lovers/protagonists against a seemingly impossible situation that is vividly imagined and all too plausible.

I highly recommend this short story for science fiction and short story readers: 5/5 stars. Use this affiliate link to read more about author Bart Hopkins and World Wide Gone on Amazon.

Book Review: Liberty’s Last Stand

I’m annoyed that the product description is misleading. It says: “The president of the United States stands on an outdoor stage, flanked by powerful members of his administration and party. Television crews are preparing for broadcast. High above the stage, on a nearby rooftop, a decorated sniper adjusts the scope on his rifle. Afterwards, America will never be the same.”

However, that scene isn’t in the book and nothing of the sort even happens. In truth, it’s not even a Jake Grafton novel — he’s a minor figure in the first 80% of the book, and when he does emerge near the end it’s for some really silly fight sequence / dialogue.

The book is really a “what-if” that has Texas declaring its independence after an Obama-esque president oversteps his authority. If you lean left politically then you’ll hate this book — but if you like conspiracy theories interspersed with action then give it a read.

I did think the concept was entertaining and enjoyed reading much of the parts set in Texas — however, I read this book because it was marketed as Grafton / Carmellini … but it’s such a departure from other titles in the series that I’m left to wonder how Coonts could return to these great characters again in the future. It would have been much better had this been a standalone book with completely new characters.

I know there is an audience for the author’s message, but as a novel it’s just 3/5 stars for me. Use this affiliate link to read more about Liberty’s Last Stand on Amazon.

Book Review: End of Watch

Stephen King got everything right with this book: the pace, dialogue, plot, and a brilliant blend of supernatural creepiness and rational detective work. It adds up to his best book in a long time, and easily the best of this trilogy.

Hodges, Holly and Jerome are back to face Mr. Mercedes — Brady Hartsfield — one last time. Weird things have been happening in the traumatic brain injury unit where Hartsfield lives his days trapped inside his body. But surely he is an impotent monster, right?

Wrong.

King is at his absolute horror-minded best — and the result is a Mr. Mercedes who is supernatural, otherworldly, and more deadly than ever. The plot is chilling, the action is frenetic, and the protagonists are truly heroic characters.

I absolutely loved this book and recommend it to anyone who enjoys mystery / thriller / horror novels: 5/5 stars

Use this affiliate link to order it now on Amazon.