review

Review: Painted Skins by Matt Hilton

Painted Skins by Matt Hilton, (Tess Grey & Po Villere, #2), eARC from netgalley, Severn House Publishers, December 2016, 256p.

4 out of 5 stars.

Painted Skins is the latest book in the Tess Grey & Po Villere series, and although I haven’t read Blood Tracks, which is the first title, I was still enthralled in the lives of these characters. In Tess Grey, Hilton has managed to build a believable, real and strong female protagonist who carries the action of this series easily. Often female leads in crime thrillers are either infallible action stars who single-handedly take on gangs of bad guys and come out without a scratch, or they are purely the brains behind the operation and then rely on the men around her to deal with the sharp end of the action. Tess and Hilton fall into neither of these traps, and that’s refreshing.

The characters in Painted Skins are great, I really enjoyed both Tess and Po – they come from such different backgrounds and work together in a wonderful way. I loved that although they are romantically involved, there’s no subplot about their relationship – that often gets tedious and stops the momentum in thrillers – but you learn about their relationship while they are navigating the case and trying to save a young woman from a kidnapper.

I will try not to give anything away, but Painted Skins reminded me a lot of Matt Hilton’s early Joe Hunter novels, it is two friends hunting down a deranged individual and stopping at nothing to deliver justice. The bad guys that fill both the Hunter and Grey & Villere series are some of the darkest, bone-chilling monsters I’ve ever encountered in literature. I’m not very squeamish, and I read many thrillers a year, but Hilton’s bad guys always stick with me for years to come, and I have a feeling that this book’s villain will be the same.

Hilton’s writing is great – to the point and polished. Painted Skins is a tightly constructed and well-executed crime thriller. Whenever I am asked for advice on what constitutes a good fight scene I just point to the closest Matt Hilton book.

I will certainly be hunting out the first book in the Grey & Villere series, I can’t wait to return to this universe!

Thank you to Severn House Publishers for providing a review copy of this book.

Review: Grunt by Mary Roach

Grunt by Mary Roach, ARC, Oneworld, November 2016, 285p.

4 out of 5 stars.

Grunt is a book about war unlike any other I have encountered – and I’ve certainly read my fair share of war books. Mary Roach goes behind the science and technology of modern soldiering, and the issues and advances that scientists are making for the men and women on the front line. This is not a book for the faint hearted, it is full of blood, gore and swearing and doesn’t shy away from some hard truths about the US Defence Force. Grunt is a book for those curious about how uniforms come to be, what happens when you take shrapnel to your, uh, nether regions? Do soldiers get travellers’ diarrhoea like the rest of us? What is life aboard a submarine like?

Roach, of course, has investigated and researched all these topics and more and written a brilliant non-fiction book that is very accessible. Much of the research is communicated by descriptions of her conversations with people in the military, and her experiences while researching. Sometimes Roach throws in a reference from a medical or scientific journal, but most of her evidence takes the form of interviews with experts and those who are actually experiencing the technology and science – the grunts. This makes this book very easy to read and digest, but not something I would be reaching for as a reference text. Its value is purely entertainment, and on that score, it delivers.

Grunt is richly and at times, darkly humorous. There were quite a few times that I was laughing at a dead body or something that may have killed someone – most of the book is framed in a humorous fashion, with quips and hilarious facts accompanying the science and evidence. Grunt is also the first book that I felt physically ill reading (I don’t recommend eating BBQ meat while reading Chapter 9: The Maggot Paradox). I imagine some men would also feel a bit delicate reading through chapters 4 & 5, both of which deal with damage and recovery from injury to the male groin. Entertaining and informative for a woman, but when I read a couple selected paragraphs to my boyfriend, he promptly asked me to stop and made pained wincing facial expressions.

A could of years ago I added Roach’s book Stiff, which is all about the science of dead bodies, to my Goodreads TBR. I’m not sure when I removed it, but I certainly didn’t read it, but I will now be adding that back onto my TBR – Grunt sold me on Roach’s style and approach to writing and science. I’m looking forward to working my way through her back catalogue of weird and wonderful books full of strange and surreal facts. And I’ll be buying Grunt as a Christmas present for a family member who loves war non-fiction and has a really twisted sense of humour. I want to see his reaction to chapters 4 through 5. I might also put a putrid scratch and sniff at the start of Chapter 10: What Doesn’t Kill You Will Make You Reek.

Thankyou Oneworld publishers for the review copy. This book was provided to me in exchange for an honest review.

Review: Nothing Short of Dying by Erik Storey

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Nothing Short of Dying by Erik Storey, (Clyde Barr, #1), eARC from Netgalley, Scribner, August 2016, 320p.

5 out of 5 stars.

Nothing Short of Dying is the debut offering from Erik Storey, and it’s one of the best thriller novels I’ve had the pleasure of reading. The advance praise and blurb of Nothing Short of Dying make comparisons to Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series in the way all lone wolf thrillers currently do – but Clyde Barr, the protagonist of Nothing Short of Dying, has launched a full scale assault on the tradition of the Reacher style novel and now the old man is bleeding out in the wilderness. Nothing Short of Dying novel is tense and full of action, while still evoking a beautiful wild setting.

The comparisons to Reacher aren’t that accurate, in my opinion. Personally, I think the atmosphere of Nothing Short of Dying is similar to that of a C.J. Box or Ace Atkins work – full of flawed characters who are just trying to get by in this world. Storey has Barr operating in a morally grey area that Box wouldn’t usually allow – letting Barr be a flawed and dangerous man walking a tight-line. Plus, his history isn’t as clean and palatable as the standard protagonist we usually see in thriller novels. He has no jurisdiction besides his sense of what is wrong and right, and that makes his character intriguing.

Storey is fearless with his characters – both in characterisation and how he handles them in the plot. In an attempt to avoid spoilers, I will say that something shocking happened half way through the novel, and at first I was shocked and angry, but when I put those feelings aside I saw the author had just plunged another knife into Clyde Barr, and upped the stakes even higher.

The plot races long quickly, if at times predictably, with multiple high tension battles and the odds always seem to be stacked against the good guys. The plot doesn’t focus so much on what the crimes are, or how the criminals came to be where they are now, just that there are bad guys to be brought to heel, and Barr is the man to provide the lesson and a can of whoop-ass.

With a setting that I won’t soon forget, Storey writes landscapes and places in an unrivaled fashion, transporting the reader to the mountains, rivers and forests – I was crawling with Barr through snow and mud, losing my mind in rivers with him, hoping that we were both going to make it to the other side.

Storey has a very sparse writing style – there’s no excess wordage in Nothing Short of Dying – he’s a gifted enough writer that when he does devote a paragraph or two to description, he does so with great effect and the imagery of place is extra evocative.

Without doubt, I will be checking out the next book in the Clyde Barr series, and as the character has such fabulous backstory and character traits, I’m excited to see where Erik Storey will be taking Barr next.

 

Review: The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, Penguin English Library Edition, 1905, 400p.

5 out of 5 stars.

House of Mirth is sensational. A true classic in every sense of the word, it immerses the reader deep into the world of Lily Bart and drags you down with her. I’m only just discovering Edith Wharton, I loved my read of Ethan Frome earlier this year, but felt like the style was a little sparse – looking back on my review, I noticed that I wrote,

I felt like I could have enjoyed Ethan Frome more if it was fleshed out into a fleshier novel, the novella length generally doesn’t satisfy me when there is so much potential for a good story.

House of Mirth answered my question brilliantly – Wharton does pen a truely singular novel, and the extra wordage, the flowing quality of her writing certainly does not take away from the plot – the plot in The House of Mirth is full, lively and engaging.

I really felt for Lily Bart. As far as female characters go, she would have to be one of my favourites I have read up to this point. I’ll avoid spoilers, but some of the things that she allows people to do and say to her are just appalling, but she seems to be out of her depth most of the book. The issue is that she thinks she’s able to cope with everything until her whole life comes crashing down around her. As someone who feels sometimes like life is conspiring to bring me down, reading about Bart’s trials makes me feel a little better about my own life. The way that Lily thinks about problems and especially, financial issues, is very close to the way that I myself consider these problems – I’m always anticipating the lucky event around the corner, always counting and spending money that I should be saving. It’s a problem that I’ve recognised in myself – one that I still battle with to this day, and watching Lily Bart come to the same realisations is painful but enlightening.

As far as male characters go in this book, I’m lukewarm on all of them. My least favourite would have to be Selden – and I feel like he was saved by Lily’s grace and love. I felt like we were meant to be rooting for them to get together, but that idea was repugnant to me, and I hoped that Lily would come around to living in poverty, despite it being so against her character. Rosedale was actually somewhat more to my liking – despite being crass and inelegant, I felt that he was most honest. The last scene with Rosedale turned me with disgust, but up to that point I kinda liked the guy!

Wharton’s writing style is lyrical and flows naturally, the plot seeming to meander along as a slow pace, but when you look back, you see that it’s actually been close to breakneck. It’s an interesting feeling, one that I’ve rarely noticed in early 19th century books, but as I read more from this era I feel like it might come to me more. Wharton’s descriptive style is interesting – there’s little description of landscapes, clothes and houses and more description of people’s thoughts, motivations and actions. I find other descriptive authors, like Dickens, to be weary and dull, but I think that is because his style is more about things that to me do not further the plot.

I will be adding the rest of Wharton’s work to my next classics club list – I’m not even half way through this one and I’m already considering what will be on the next one!

Review:The Edge of Alone by Sean Black

The Edge of Alone by Sean Black, (Ryan Lock, #7), Kindle edition, 2016, 426p.

2 out of 5 stars.

I reviewed previously:

Gridlock (Ryan Lock, #3) 4 stars

The Edge of Alone is a mediocre book living inside an exceptional series. I read the book previous to this new release, Fire Point, which was an excellent romp through the dangerous world of Lock and his buddy, Ty. I was so enthused by book 6 in this series that I picked up The Edge of Alone immediately after finishing and was disappointed.

The first thing that stood out to me about The Edge of Alone was that the bad guy in the book resembled the bad guy from the last book, Fire Point. Let me expand on that a little – both were women who were experts at manipulating the men around her. Don’t get me wrong, I like a woman being a bad guy in these books, it usually adds variety, but in The Edge of Alone it seemed more cliche. Add in the fact that both women were called Gretchen – and I just felt like the author was being lazy.

This book fails in reaching the standards set in previous books also – the first third of the book dragged and barely touched the main characters, Lock and Ty. If I was a first time reader of this series I would have put the book down in boredom. The establishment of the evil school took so long, and the girl that the two men were being hired to protect seemed to suffer from special snowflake syndrome pretty badly. Finally when Lock and Ty are on the case, the action followed the supporting character, Ty, more than Lock. As much as I enjoy Ty as a character, I read these books for Lock.

The Edge of Alone is poorly edited, with the wrong names being used on numerous occasions, so many grammatical errors that the English teacher in me wished to dig a hole and bury myself and even a paragraph repeated twice. All things that the most rudimentary editor should have picked up. I’m unsure how a book with so many errors has been added to a stellar series. I’ve seen that the author is planning on releasing a edited ‘fixed’ version of The Edge of Alone, but I’m not sure if the other issues with this novel beyond spelling and grammar will be addressed in that correction.

The plot, once we actually got to the part in which Lock and Ty were taking down the school was enjoyable, and I didn’t hate reading it – which means I’m comfortable giving this book a 2 star rating. Sean Black writes action scenes so well, and the last half of the book flew by and I was flipping the pages faster and faster. I will be reading the next novel in this series, but I certainly was disappointed by this effort.

Review: The Innocents by Ace Atkins

the innocents

The Innocents by Ace Atkins, (Quinn Colson, #6), Netgalley copy, 12 July 2016, 384p.

4 out of 5 stars.

I have reviewed previously:
The Ranger, The Lost Ones and The Broken Places (Quinn Colson, #1, #2, & #3)
The Forsaken (Quinn Colson, #4)
The Redeemers (Quinn Colson, #5)

The Innocents is a glorious return to thriller form for Ace Atkins. Quinn Colson and the residents of Tibbehah County are fantastically interesting characters who live in a world believable but disjointed from my own reality. The world building that Atkins has put into this series is unrivaled (I actually googled a year ago to see if Tibbehah County was a real place. It’s not.) and when I step back into a Colson novel it is like visiting best friends who have been away on holiday.

When a woman is found walking down the highway, on fire, the community demands a quick result from the Sheriff, Lillie Virgil. She and Quinn Colson, recently back from training the police force in Afghanistan, have to investigate the crime and discover an insidious conspiracy of silence. As always, the focus of the investigation soon falls on the local titty bar, although it is no longer owned by Stagg. The new owner, Fannie Hathcock, is delightfully dark and a force to be reckoned with. While we are talking about Fannie Hathcock, let me just say that her name is even better in Australia – where a woman’s vagina is called a fanny. I assume in America it’s something similar, but we don’t say ‘fanny-pack’ here because that’s just too dirty. Anyway, I think that is the first time I’ve ever talked about genitals in a book review. ONWARDS!

The last two Colson novels were somewhat lackluster compared with the first three, and The Innocents certainly takes back the trophy and holds it high. The characters, setting and plot all combine to create an atmospheric thriller that took hold of my interest and didn’t let go. The atmosphere that Atkins creates in these novels is surreal, and his ability to get across a mood took me by surprise. My one pet peeve with the writing style of The Innocents is that the description of the people seemed over-done and unnecessary. We get hardly any description (which is what I prefer) of the main characters in this book, but know everything background characters are wearing (including brand names) and what they look like. It did lead to a fun game in which I tried to use Ace Atkin’s style to describe random people on the street to my boyfriend. This is such a minor issue that it feels silly to mention it, but it did stand out to me. I find this is the accepted style as opposed to what I actually prefer.

Now I have to wait for a year for the next book to be released. I really want to see what happens in Quinn’s personal life now that my shipping dreams have come true. I’m trying to avoid spoilers here, but oh, my god. Just grab yourself a copy of this book and be blown away!

 

Review: First Response by Stephen Leather

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First Response by Stephen Leather, Hardcover, Hodder & Stoughton, Feb 2016, 377p.

4 out of 5 stars.

Another cracking thriller from Stephen Leather. If you have ever spoken to me about books, or read any of my previous reviews of Leather’s work, you will know that I am a pretty major fan of the Spider Shepherd series. I loan out copies of the books often because I want to convert others to the series – and most often I’m successful. Before the Spider Shepherd series began, Leather wrote a string of standalones, most of them excellent. On my bookshelves, the oldest saddest looking books are these standalone novels. Whenever I’m a little stuck for inspiration I pick up one of those older books and read. First Response is the first standalone that Leather has had traditionally published in a long time and it certainly deserves all the accolades and gushing that is now to follow in this review.

Let me start by discussing the protagonist of this wonderful story, Superintendent Mo Kamran. I loved reading about a Muslim in a position of authority in the police force. So many thrillers that the bigger authors write have a white hero defeating the great unwashed, brown enemy. Although Kamran is a Muslim, he is much more than that – he’s not perfect (which is sometimes the temptation when writing a subversive character, I’ve noticed) nor is his religion actually that important when he is doing his job. To me, this feels closer to real life.

I’d be remiss to leave out that he is dealing with a Islamic terrorist attack, but the way that is handled is amazing. The twist at the end – I didn’t see it coming. I knew something was going on, but I didn’t actually guess the whole story. It had the feeling of a murder mystery but it is firmly a thriller book, with a tense race towards a deadline. Leather has a knack in writing books that seem to straddle the action, mystery and thriller genres, and in First Response, he’s kicked that into high gear.

Due to the type of incident that Kamran is dealing with, there were lots of moving parts – and instead of having a hero cop or SAS trooper or something of the type, Kamran has an overarching view of events in the book, and interacts with politicians, police, intelligence agencies and the SAS. It felt more believable because Kamran was juggling all these different pressures and priorities and there was no single ‘hero’ who went in, all guns blazing, to save the day.

I’d love to see more of Mo Kamran, but I have this feeling that this book was a standalone and the universe won’t be expanding. First Response would make an excellent movie, with so many different incident points and a grand scale, it would certainly be something I’d go to a cinema to see on the big screen.