book reviews

A Promise to Kill by Erik Storey

A Promise to Kill by Erik Storey, eARC from Netgalley, Scribner, August 2017, 320p

Previously reviewed titles in this series:
Nothing Short of Dying – 5 stars

4.5 stars

Clyde Barr is back! and is still as gifted at making enemies as before. Nothing Short of Dying was one of my favourite reads of 2016, so I was hotly anticipating the sequel to the first Barr novel, and boy, has Erik Storey delivered with A Promise to Kill.

Barr fits the stereotypical drifter protagonist prototype in so many ways, but the way Storey writes the characters in this novel enables their backstories and relationships to really come alive. Barr has a difficult time maintaining relationships, and that really does come through in A Promise to Kill. Barr finds himself helping the Ute people, who are a group of Native Americans, to protect themselves from a group of outlaw bikies that have blown into town. Things quickly escalate and get out of control, and Barr is forced to go to war to protect his new found friends.

The plot in A Promise to Kill is interesting, but nothing too out of the ordinary. There were no surprise twists or unanticipated endings, but an action packed, adrenaline filled sequence of battles and complications that kept the reader engaged and thirsting for more. Storey navigates his plot in a succinct manner, only providing brief snapshots of setting and characterisation and focusing heavily on action and driving the plot. To me, that’s fine, because I’m here for the thrills.

Although A Promise to Kill can be read as a standalone novel, I highly recommend starting this series with Nothing Short of Dying, which in my opinion remains one of the best debut thrillers out. It really helps connect the reader to these characters and especially Clyde’s backstory, if you know what happened in the previous book.  If I hadn’t read the first book in the series, this book would have been less enjoyable, as some of the comments and actions that Clyde makes can seem a little strange unless you understand where he is coming from.

I’m hotly anticipating the next book in the Clyde Barr series – and definitely will be reading it when it comes out. I’d recommend this series to fans of Lee Child, C.J. Box and Ace Atkins – the readers of those long standing series will really enjoy the plot, setting and style of the Clyde Barr novels. Just remember to start with Nothing Short of Dying.

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Review: Marked for Death by Matt Hilton

5 stars

Previously reviewed titles in this series:
The Devil’s Anvil (Joe Hunter #10) 4.5 stars
No Safe Place (Joe Hunter #11) 4 stars

I’ve followed Matt Hilton’s Joe Hunter series for a long time, from before I started blogging. Marked for Death is the 12th instalment in this long running series and each book that is released, I worry that Hilton will lose the magic that I find so enthralling. It only took me ten minutes of Marked for Death to know it is a firm five star read, and maybe even a contender for my favourite books of all-time list.

Hunter’s impulsiveness is one of the things that I really enjoy about this series. So many other protagonists are portrayed as deep thinkers who analyse everything that is happening, whereas Hunter reacts in the moment and often doesn’t think through possible consequences. Sometimes he’s the last person in the team to work out what’s going on, and I love that. It’s a different character trait from the Spider Shepherd, Jack Reacher and Joe Pickett novels that I enjoy of the same genre.

So when Hunter’s impulsiveness leads him to step in to protect a glamorous party attendee from her abusive husband, he gets himself caught up in more than a toxic relationship. The plot of this novel travels at breakneck speed from one physical altercation to the next, with Hunter leaving a trail of bodies in his wake. Every Matt Hilton book I read reminds me that there is no one else who writes fight and battle scenes quite like this – they are full of detail and suspense, but do not drag on and on. When you are reading the final confrontation, it feels like you are there with them, in the thick of it.

I’ve talked a lot about Hunter, but I need to talk about his brothers in arms – especially Rink. The relationship between Rink and Joe is one of the best aspects of this series, and it is nicely included in this book. The banter between these two characters cracks me up but underneath it all you can see that they are family to one another. I love families of choice in fiction, especially when characters don’t have positive familial ties.

The character of Trey looks weak when compared to the established characters of Joe and Rink, but she’s still an interesting addition to the crew for the duration of this novel. Her backstory is heartbreaking, and you really do come around to her by the end of the novel. She’s a good catalyst character, much stronger than some of the others that are included in novels of the thriller genre.

One of the ways that Matt Hilton has kept the Joe Hunter books current is by setting novels in the here and now. Marked for Death takes place in Trump’s America and the plot is something that you could imagine happening. It’s jarring to have Trump’s name dropped – multiple times – in this novel. I won’t go into politics on this blog, but I saw it as a risky thing for Hilton to include in this novel, but he handles the political minefield well. He’s unlikely to anger anyone with the inclusion of President Trump, while not actually pushing his political agenda. I wonder how this book will read in the future, when Trump is no longer President. I suppose that will depend on how this period of history is recorded. This was my first novel that has referenced Trump, but I assume that a lot of the books published later this year will do so, and I will be keeping an eye on how authors use this period of history in fiction.

I would recommend this novel to any fans of action packed thrillers. It is my favourite new release of 2017 so far. Matt Hilton’s writing is accessible, his characters dynamic and his plots first rate. Although you can read Marked for Death independently from the rest of the Joe Hunter series, I really do recommend going back and starting from the first book in the series, Dead Men’s Dust.

Thanks to Canelo Press for the e-ARC of this book

Hated the book, love the author.

Ranty Runt's Rants

Something devastating has just happened. I’d been waiting for a new book by one of my favourite authors, a long awaited follow up to a favourite novel. Once I had it in my hot little hands I cracked it open and started reading with glee.

Only to find I didn’t like it. The story was boring and then things got even worse. This author started to offend me. Casual racism and sexism. Rape culture being endorsed. I was positively seething. This wasn’t what I expected from one of my favourite authors. I started to hope that this was written by a ghost writer, and I couldn’t believe that I hoped that one of my favourite authors hadn’t written his book. I’d spent my hard earned on this, and it wasn’t worth it.

On top of the fact that I was offended to my very core, the characters were flat and one dimensional, the plot was badly constructed and boring. The novel read like a first draft. I knew that the author wrote a series of independently books that dealt with harder (as in violent) subject matter, but this book was a follow-up to one of his traditionally published novels. It was a follow up to a thriller that wasn’t overly sadistic. Violence is one thing, but torture and sadism for the sake of a thrill is a whole different ballgame.

I want to review this book. Usually I would have no problem giving a negative book review, I’ve done a few. But I’ve never ripped a book to shreds that was penned by one of my favourite authors. I’ve raved and recommended this author to lots of people on the internet and in real life, and I don’t feel right giving an honest review of this book when I’m such an advocate for this author. He re-blogs my reviews, comments on them and such. It just seems awkward. I’m not going to share the author’s name, but I’m sure if you’re interested you can wait for my review that corresponds with this discussion post.

I’m going to review the book. I’ve written some of my ideas, but it’s brutally honest. I was wondering how other bloggers deal with this conundrum when reviewing a favourite author. Do you still post detailed reviews of books that you’ve hated, even by a favourite author? Do you keep things short and sweet? Or do you just skip reviewing that title? Is there etiquette here? Has posting a negative review ever backfired on you? I want advice, my book blogging friends. Help me please.

Other installments in Ranty Runt’s Rants:

The worst time to love a reader
My personal war on romance
Breaking a blogging slump
Hated the book, love the author

Ranty Roundup – January

January was a strange reading month for me – it started off so strong, but then there was a period of about 14 days that I didn’t read anything. Not a single page. The month started off with a very successful Bout of Books readathon, in which I hosted a challenge and did a significant amount of reading. You can read my wrap of of that here.

A friend and I then drove to South Gippsland in Victoria (about a 13 hour drive) to go to a music festival. It was a camping festival and we did quite a bit of drinking and meeting new and wonderful people. We saw some of our favourite bands, like Parkway Drive, Stray from the Path, Confession and Neck Deep. Needless to say, I didn’t get to read a single word. Normally I would read while my friend drove, but I did most of the driving and we talked so much. It was just so nice to be able to have a pressure free weekend and be able to catch up with a good friend.

Anyway, onto more bookish things – my favourite book of January was without doubt Dispatches by Michael Herr. It was my classics club spin, and I had DNF’d it a couple of years ago when I just wasn’t in the mood for nonfic. It just shows that I am such a mood reader that something I DNF’d could then become a favourite after a couple of years. My other reads for the month were not spectacular, and I was quite disappointed with Dead Wake by Erik Larson, because I had such high hopes and expectations.

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Books read in January – 7

Birthdays for the Dead – Stuart MacBride – 3 stars

Dead Wake – Erik Larson – 3 stars

The Devil’s Bounty – Sean Black – 3 stars

The Business of Dying – Simon Kernick – 4 stars

A Good Day to Die – Simon Kernick – 3 stars

Dispatches – Michael Herr – 5 stars

The Payback – Simon Kernick – 3 stars


 

Book Reviews

Dead Wake – Larson

In The Cold Dark Ground – MacBride

Ethan Frome – Edith Wharton

Dispatches – Herr

Review Spree – Lynn, Black & Kava


 

 

Challenge progress

Read my Books Challenge

The Business of Dying by Simon Kernick

1 book read in January / 1 in 2016

Classic a Month Challenge & Classics Club

Dispatches by Michael Herr – Reviewed

Series a Month

Dennis Milne series by Simon Kernick – read 3/3 books.


 

February TBR

 

I’m not going to try and complete a series in February, rather I am going to focus on my steadily growing netgalley pile and clear my backlog. Currently I have 5 on my shelf that need to be read. My goal will be to read 4 of them at least.

I’ve also got quite a few books from the library that need attention, plus my monthly classic. So the following is my tentative TBR for Feb – however I’m not really expecting to read this whole list – maybe five or six from this list.

The Martian – Andy Weir

The Light Between Oceans – M.L. Stedman

The Innocent – Sean Black

One Hit – Jack Coughlin

The Wrecking Crew – Taylor Zajonc

Youngblood – Matt Gallagher

Islamism – Tarek Osman

Red Line – Brian Thiem

Agnes Grey – Anne Bronte

I am so so excited that I am hosting a readathon for Agnes Grey, it’s the first time I have ever hosted one, so I am so grateful to have people to share this experience with. If you want to be involved, feel free to sign up – it’s still early days!

Agnes Grey Readalong

Review: Dispatches by Michael Herr

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Dispatches by Michael Herr, Picador Classics Paperback, 1977, p. 272.

5 stars.

It is really tough to review those books that touch you on such a deep level, change your thinking regarding a topic and leave you a different person. I read a lot of war and military themed fiction and non-fiction, and consider myself not an expert, but an enthusiast in this field. I had become jaded – since reading Matterhorn a couple of years ago, no war novel (covering a real life war) had come close to romancing me – and no non-fiction about war was as engaging anymore. Until I picked up Dispatches. It was a Classics Club Spin – and it just proves that sometimes you need a little encouragement to read books that might become favourites in the future.

I will try to offer my opinions and impressions of this book, but I can assure you that they will be childish, trivial and kitsch in comparison to the actual work reviewed. Dispatches starts with a chapter entitled “Breathing In” and as I started reading it I thought it was about literally breathing in the air in Vietnam. Herr uses the senses in exquisite ways to convey the story, and I just thought the chapter was alluding to that. Once I realised the final chapter was entitled “Breathing Out” I became sure that these chapters were in reference to death, and the writers’ brush with death and his survival. Dispatches talks about death in a unique fashion, treating it as a gruesome reality that is viewed by some as a spectator sport. It was only when I sat back and thought more about the book and the final chapter that it became clear that Herr was talking about things on a much grander scale, a much deeper scale, then I could fully appreciate.

The book holds its breath from the first page to the last – and it reflects the way that Herr sees his time in Vietnam.

He held his breath, and he ceased to exist outside of Vietnam, his time in the war there meant he had lived two different and completely disparate lives – the life ‘back home’ and the time in country, when he was holding his breath.

I also think it is in homage to the fact that the young men who were over in Vietnam stopped living as soon as they were in Vietnam, to the Americans at home they were fighting an unpopular war and were almost invisible – and soldiers deaths were often under-reported. They stopped living in the minds of their commanding officers, the brass and the politicians – they became bodies to be utilised in a grand-scale and ultimately doomed chess game. Most horrifying of all however, is that they stopped living in their own minds – Vietnam came to consume them, and for so many, death or serious injury was a welcome vacation away from their horrible reality, Herr describes more soldiers dealing with insanity and mental illness than soldiers processing their time healthily. Because in reality, how can you process a war such as Vietnam healthily?

Dispatches is not written from memories of a soldier’s time, Herr was a war correspondent who was sent to Vietnam for Esquire magazine. The soldiers don’t understand why he is there (he chose to be there, they were ordered), and it seems that the other correspondents working for the larger papers look down at him for writing for a ‘lesser’ publication. I just think that there is such an element of irony to Dispatches that most people won’t ever read those news reports sent back to the states (unless one is a historian, really) but Michael Herr’s novel is rightfully considered a classic and will be read by many generations in the future.

The introduction to this book, which I read after reading the book itself, is enlightening. Kevin Powers was a serving soldier in the U.S. Army when he read Dispatches in Iraq and while reading his very harrowing introduction, one his passages made clear to me why Dispatches is such a hard hitting book:

“What readers of Dispatches have is meaningful reportage about death. It is in my estimation the most lucid, resolute, and compassionate writing to have ever been done on the subject. It sets aside every manner of illusory thinking that would distract us as readers from the fact that war is in the simplest terms an industry of which death is the sole product.” p. ix

Dispatches is one of the best books about war I have ever read. (And I’ve read dozens, maybe even hundreds) It’s a firm favourite for me, and I will certainly be revisiting it in the future.

Review: Black Ops by Stephen Leather

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Black Ops by Stephen Leather, Hardback, July 2015, 400p.

4 stars

I pre-order every Stephen Leather book that is published, and Black Ops validated that somewhat expensive luxury to me. Black Ops is everything a thriller should be – fast, tight and exhilarating. I’ve felt that the last couple of Spider Shepherd books have been fun and enjoyable but starting to play by a familiar formula. Stephen Leather writes books to that formula better than any other author, in my humble opinion, and that is why I enjoy these books so much, but Black Ops broke from that formula slightly and shines because of it.

Personally, I loved that Black Ops had so many plotlines and was more intricate than most other thrillers, despite this, I didn’t find it hard to follow or heavy. The multiple subplots were excellently handled and juggled for maximum thrills. I loved the involvement of Liam, Spider’s son. Every time Liam is involved in a plot, I feel like the drama is notched up another level. Of the cast that were included in this book, all my favourite characters got parts with the exception of one tassel shoed American.

Much of Black Ops seemed to be concerned with building up the character of Lex Harper, who I do really enjoy – and I am hoping that Lex gets spun off into his own series. However, I’m always concerned that it will mean I don’t get to see my favourite characters feature in their own books. I want Lex to be a spin off series, not a replacement one! So I’m a little anxious about that. I also love all of the job offers that Spider had thrown his way through the last couple of books, so maybe we would see him in that side career that is being constantly hinted at? That would be interesting, but I’m afraid a little out of character. This review most likely makes little sense to someone who hasn’t read any Spider books.

I powered through Black Ops during some of the busiest weeks of my year, and it was the perfect break from stress. I really struggled to decide if it was a four star or five star read for me, but I usually reserve 5 star reads to my favourite of my favourites – and although I did enjoy this book it didn’t quite make it to that level. I’ve rated a few Spider books 5 stars in the past, and recommend this series to anyone who likes fast paced thrillers, my only advice is to start with the first book, Hard Landing, because there is quite the retinue of characters in the later books.

Review: Split Second by Alex Kava

19250151Split Second by Alex Kava, paperback from library, 2001, 408p.

Alex Kava’s Split Second is the second book in Kava’s Maggie O’Dell series, and was an enjoyable read. I did prefer the first book in the series, and felt like Split Second was weaker, like so many second books are. It took me awhile to read it, even though it wasn’t a hard or long read, because I kept getting distracted by other books.

Maggie is a good character, and I do like her, although sometimes I want to smack her over the head for stupid decisions that she made. I find this with most crime series, that the main characters usually make reckless decisions because it is fun to read about the aftermath of these actions.

The plot in this story wasn’t my favourite. The serial killer seemed to be a caricature of the worst serial killer you could imagine, and the police’s inability to stop him when he was being reckless annoyed me. I love Kava’s writing style and her characters, but this plot just didn’t capture me.

I have the next book in this series on my bookcase to read, and I will be giving O’Dell another bash, but I just hope that the plot of the third book is stronger than that of Split Second.