Thriller

Review: The Sandpit by Stephen Leather

the sandpit

The Sandpit by Stephen Leather, (Spider Shepherd, #0.5), eARC from Netgalley, May 2016, 160p.

4 out of 5 stars.

I reviewed previously:

Black Ops (Spider Shepherd, #12) 4 stars.

The Sandpit is a prequel to the Spider Shepherd series. Just a heads up, I’m not an impartial reviewer of any of Leather’s Spider Shepherd books – it’s my favourite series. Over the past couple of years, Leather has been releasing short stories of Dan ‘Spider’ Shepherd’s time in the SAS before he stumbled into his life undercover. The novels follow Dan as he goes undercover and brings down a criminal or terrorist organisation using the skills taught to him by the SAS, and to a lesser extent, the police.

The Sandpit is similar to those short stories, as opposed to the traditionally published series. That’s not to say The Sandpit is a short story – it has body and is longer than some thriller books out there. It’s just not a 500page heavyweight that the Spider Shepherd books usually are. There is more plot and intrigue in The Sandpit than any of the short stories written so far in this series.

The plot was interesting, if far fetched – it took us back in time to Afghanistan, and followed an interesting plot that although simple, drove the story forward. The best part of The Sandpit had to be returning to some of my favourite characters from previous Spider Shepherd novels, like Jimbo, Geordie and Jock. There were also the right amount of Andy McNab jokes for a book about the SAS.

The Sandpit excited me for the next Spider Shepherd novel, to the point I pre-ordered it. I also think it could be a good introduction to the series to people who usually read Andy McNab or Chris Ryan style books – the character of Dan Shepherd is similar to the protagonists from military thrillers, but he’d been dropped into the police force and assorted intelligence agencies. In The Sandpit we get Shepherd being a soldier, but still with his unique personality.

The book seemed longer than the stated 160p, it felt more like a 250p novel, but I’m not sure if that is because it was marked wrong on Amazon or that it wasn’t as easy to read as Stephen Leather’s previous books. I will happily buy any more books that Leather writes in this universe, including ones set before the ‘main’ series of books.

Review: Off the Grid by C.J. Box

28276968

Off the Grid by C.J. Box, (Joe Pickett, #16), Kindle edition, Head of Zeus, March 2016, 500p.

3 out of 5 stars.

I reviewed previously:
Endangered (Pickett, #15) 4 stars
Stone Cold (Pickett, #14) 5 stars

I am a huge Joe Pickett fan – I binge read the series over the last couple of years, and most of the books are excellent, fun filled romps through Wyoming. I now pre-order the books on kindle and usually read them in a single sitting or two the week they are released. As this is book 16 in a very long series, I know a lot of people new to this universe pick up a later book to read as a standalone, but I really recommend if you like the idea of this series (and it is amazing) to give it the time it deserves and read from book 1, Open Season.

This felt like the weakest offering in this series in awhile. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed it and the characters are still entertaining and the settings are wonderful, but there’s a few things that doesn’t sit well with me. First off, this plot, while enjoyable and action packed, doesn’t really fit in with Joe Pickett being a game warden. I understand that he’s now the governor’s attack dog, but it just feels wrong. I want to read about Joe being a game warden and the weird and wonderful people that he comes across and the landscape. This plot would have been better if it was in a standalone – or even if it was predominantly a Nate spin-off. My preference would have been a standalone with a sheriff, police officer or local vet taking on these issues.

This book also felt like a Nate Romanowski book that had cameos from Joe Pickett and his family. Sure, more words were given to Joe, but most of the character development came from Nate. I’m a fan of the battle hardened Nate, but I admit that I prefer the stories in which the focus is on the Pickett family and Saddlestring.

The setting itself needs mention, because it made me feel at home. It was set in a desert area, and the description of red dirt and no features for as far as the eye can see made me think of Australia and what the outback is like, and although that’s familiar, I love the Joe Pickett novels for their description of a landscape that is utterly alien to me.

I am really interested to see where the next book goes because the last page of Off the Grid had a teaser that really made me start salivating for the next book. Despite everything I wrote about some of the flaws in Off the Grid, I am still enjoying this series and will certainly still be pre-ordering the next one.

If you are a Pickett fan, I’d advise still reading Off the Grid, because it does further the lives of the characters in this universe. If you’re new to Saddlestring, Wyoming – I’d start at the beginning of the series with Open Season or one of the best books (at least, according to me) with Below Zero, Cold Wind, Breaking Point or Stone Cold.

 

 

Review: Promise by Tony Cavanaugh

promise

Promise by Tony Cavanaugh (Darian Richards, #1), Trade paperback from library, March 2012, 327p.

4 out of 5 stars.

I reviewed previously:
Kingdom of the Strong (Darian Richards, #4)

I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump recently, and even the latest book from a favourite author couldn’t drag me from my hole. The slump wasn’t all bad, as I wrote lots (just for a friend, nothing serious), caught up on some TV shows and helped a family member through a small crisis. Eventually I decided it was time to pick up a book again, and I decided to read Promise by Tony Cavanaugh. I’m glad I did – it dragged me from my slump kicking and screaming.

The fifth book in this series, Kingdom of the Strong, was published last year and made it into my Top 15 of 2015. I decided to go back and start this series from the start, in the hopes of a new release this year. One of the things that sets the Darian Richards series apart is the setting – the Sunshine Coast in Australia. As an Australian, my family holidayed in Queensland, and often on the Sunshine Coast so the descriptions of the setting are particularly vibrant to me.

Promise is a tightly written, plot driven serial killer thriller with one of the creepiest killers creating chilling havoc on every page. The baddie is hilarious and strange (letting me know he got his duct tape on special at Bunnings for 3.99) with a ritual and system to killing that made me feel quite ill. The killer reminded me of the serial killers that used to feature in Matt Hilton’s Joe Hunter novels, and there are some other similarities between these two authors. However, Cavanaugh goes more the police investigation route as opposed to the vigilante.

It would be remiss of me to review this book, or any book in this series without talking about Darian Richards – Promise sets him up as such an interesting and complex character. He’s a hard-bitten ex-cop who just wants to be left alone, but can’t really leave the cop’s investigation alone either. He’s conflicted, and has a strange relationship with 92 Berettas and the women in his life. Cavanaugh has done a wonderful job building a fabulous lead character, that I want to follow over multiple books.

This leads me to one of my few complaints about this book – the background characters are weak. Casey, Maria, the police officers and Detectives all seem like caricatures of actual people. I wanted to scream at how many times Darian thought something along the lines of ‘female cops are smarter than male ones,’ I get it, you want me to think of Maria as being intelligent – and I can’t because what you make her do is stupid half the time. It’s this kind of ‘telling’ and not ‘showing’, especially when they are at odds with one another that pains me. I don’t even have an opinion on Casey yet, because he just seems wishy-washy. I know that Casey and Maria especially become strong, fleshed out characters by the fourth book, so I’m happy to run with it.

The ending was good, if a little dissatisfying, and certainly left me hankering for the next book in the series. I have book three (The Train Rider) already waiting for me, but need to get my hands on #2 first!

Bout of Books #16 Sign up & TBR

boutofbooks

Hey guys! I’m emerging out of blogging and reading obscurity to take part in one of my favourite bloggy/reading events – Bout of Books! I’m looking forward to dedicating a whole week to catching up with some of my favourite authors and shunning the outside world.

I am going to challenge myself this time to read over 2,000p over the week, so I won’t be committing too much else. There will be no blog updates on here, and I might complete a challenge or two, but they won’t be my priority. Also, I’ve decided not to host a challenge this BOB, so that’s a little pressure off my shoulders. Interesting to see that all the challenges will be hosted on the Bout of Books blog this year. If you haven’t before, and are interested in this wonderful event, check them out here.

Most of my Bout of Books’ing will happen on twitter, where I am @bookybecksa and am much more active than here! I’m trying twitter as my primary platform because I find blogging to be time intensive during a readathon, and I always end up having to compose and combine multiple day’s updates in one post. If I remember, I will post a summary/wrap up at the end of the week, linking that to the Bout of Books blog too.

I’ve got a cautionary TBR prepared, but will allow myself room to mood read if need be. I’ve tried to include long but easy reading books and new books by favourite authors so that I can hopefully hit my word count!

TBR

Novels

Deathlist – Chris Ryan
Fire Point – Sean Black
State of Emergency – Andy McNab
The Black Echo – Michael Connelly
First Response – Stephen Leather
Dead Girl Sing – Tony Cavanaugh

Short stories/Novellas

Budapest/48 – Sean Black
The Soft Touch – Tony Cavanaugh
The Sandpit – Stephen Leather

Review: The Redeemers by Ace Atkins

24475882

The Redeemers by Ace Atkins (Quinn Colson, #5), Hardback from Library, July 2015, 373p.

I live tweeted this book: #visitingjericho

I have reviewed previous titles in this series:
The Ranger, The Lost Ones and The Broken Places (books 1-3)
The Forsaken (book 4)

3 stars.

I’ve been waiting on The Redeemers since reading the last book in the Quinn Colson series: The Forsaken, which had such a great cliffhanger I have been thinking about it for around a year. The Redeemers did a great job in resolving that cliffhanger – leaving Jericho shaken up and the reader feeling very satisfied.

Atkins’ talent lies in creating strong, believable characters that you can’t help but root for. Lillie Virgil is one of these, and in The Redeemers she really gets to shine. I enjoy how she had a starring role in this book, she is tough as nails and mentally strong that she often comes across as cold, but in the past book or two of this series she has been revealed as one of the most generous and awesome of people. I’d happily hand over my hard-earned for a series of books in which Virgil is the main character.

I want to also quickly talk about Johnny Stagg. He’s a baddie who walks that line between despicable business man and despicable human being, and every scene that he is in I end up laughing uncontrollably. The Redeemers is strange in that Colson and Stagg don’t actually have to do with one another, but as always they are still connected and constantly thinking of their nemesis.

The thing that always drags me back to this series is the setting. I like the characters, but I LOVE the setting. Tibbehah County and Jericho feel so real, I actually googled them to see if they are real places (they’re not). It feels like Atkins is writing about real – fleshed out – places. I get (and appreciate) the small town vibe, I grew up in a small town but Tibbehah is still so foreign to me, the American South is a million miles distant from the Australian South. There are some similarities between the places, and there are familiar character tropes, the ‘redneck’ is essentially our ‘bogan’. I feel connected but distant from the people in the Colson series.

To conclude, I enjoyed The Redeemers by Ace Atkins – it is a good addition to the series. It’s a solid three star read for me.

Review: Hellfire by Chris Ryan

25344242

Hellfire by Chris Ryan, (Danny Black, #3), Trade paperback from library, August 2015, 391p.

I live tweeted this book: #iloveoilrigs

4 stars.

Hellfire slowly built up the tension and suspense until I was frantic in the final 70 pages. I always forget how epic the conclusions of Chris Ryan’s works are, and Hellfire certainly delivered. At times it felt like I was racing against the clock alongside the protagonist of this series, Danny Black. I’m a sucker for anything with nautical themes, and so seeing a picture of an oil rig on the front of a favourite authors’ book – I jumping up and down to get reading!

This is the third novel in the Danny Black series, and I have given all the books in the series a four star rating. I feel like each one adds a little more to the background characters that feature in the series. The most infuriating character ever written (ever!) features in this series, Mr. Hugo Buckingham. The desire to punch Buckingham in the face is all encompassing, and I certainly was rooting for Danny to just lose his cool and let fly.

Danny Black as a character is fairly stock standard, he is the guy you want to come to your rescue. I found it interesting in this novel when he was thinking about his morals, convictions and motivations. Black spends much of the book looking down on his team mate Tony because he seems to be associated with some shady business and is a general all around douchebag. Tony is connected with the seedy underbelly of London, and I sure didn’t like the guy. However, all of the torture that Black seems to constantly engage in doesn’t even get a second thought from the protagonist. Now, I understand that this is an action novel, where it’s all about the thrills – plus – in a time constricted, high stakes situation maybe torture could be used (that is a could, not a should), but the fact that Danny Black seems to be completely at peace with what he has to do to get the job done seems a bit strange to me. Maybe I’m just becoming too much of a bleeding heart in my old age.

In Hellfire we are introduced to a new character, Caitlin. She is Australian and awesome. As an Australian woman myself, I am partial to kick ass Aussie women. I would have liked a little bit of information on her, but she certainly held up her end and was portrayed as just as capable as the men in the unit. At the beginning of the novel there certainly was an element of the unit being unsure if she would be a liability – but Ryan wrote the character with integrity and a no-nonsense attitude. By the end of the novel she was just another member of the unit, and the only concession made to her was people not referring to the unit as ‘guys’ or ‘men’. I hope that she shows up in future novels, because I think her story could be very interesting!

Those who are familiar with Ryan’s style will be comfortable with this effort – it is condense, terse and fast paced. There are few adjectives and when they are included they are usually to describe machines or pieces of kit. This is exactly the type of prose I enjoy – to the point and no-nonsense. It can take a while to settle back into this style after reading wordy literature for school, but I always appreciate the break.

If you are looking for an action-packed thrill ride (with added oil rig!), you can do no wrong in picking up a Chris Ryan novel, although I would advise starting with the first in the Danny Black series – Masters of War.

Review: The Devil’s Anvil by Matt Hilton

25204416

The Devil’s Anvil by Matt Hilton, Hardback, June 2015, 317p.

4.5 stars.

The Joe Hunter series keeps getting better and better! The Devil’s Anvil is my favourite book featuring Mr. Hunter, I love the direction that this series has taken. To begin with, the books were fairly black and white, with Joe taking down a supreme evil (usually a really messed up serial killer), but the books have become more grey, with the baddies not quite so cut and dry, and packed with more suspense and action.

That’s not to say that the bad guy in this book didn’t chill my blood, because they certainly did. I’ll try not to give anything away, but my favourite killer of any Joe Hunter book so far features in this book. Also, the involvement of the ATF was a bit different and I liked the way that Hilton handled that influence.

Books like The Devil’s Anvil are exactly what I need when I’m tackling heavy textbooks for school – I usually read them in a day or two, they are full of excitement, they immerse me fully in another world, and aren’t tough going (just full of tough guys). I reserve the Tolstoy’s and Dickens to my uni holidays, and indulge in good thrillers during semester.

Rink is exceptional in the sidekick stakes, I just love the guy- frankly I would read a book that consisted of only Rink and Joe’s banter, it doesn’t seem contrived and reminds me of conversations I have with my friends – insulting on the surface, but underneath there is a sense of loyalty. I would have liked more Rink time in The Devil’s Anvil, but I’m sure I say that after each Joe Hunter book.

I’ve now got the long wait for next year’s installment, which certainly won’t come soon enough! (I’ll secretly be wishing that it’s set in England, Rink in England… be still my racing heart!)

Review: Black Ops by Stephen Leather

24417606

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.

Weekly Review Spree 15/3/15

Fire Force Matt LynnFire Force – Matt Lynn – 3 stars – Paperback from library

Fire Force is the second novel in Matt Lynn’s Death Force series, following the exploits of a group of mercenaries headed by Steve West. I found this book to be interesting, with a plot line that isn’t too common in action novels, but the action sequences were very much the same as what you read in other books of this genre. The characters in this series are excellent – I love Dan and Nick the best, and it’s fun to actually not like the main protagonist, who I find to be hypocritical and annoying. The writing in this series is pretty average, and there was even a grammatical error on the cover of the copy I read, but I don’t read action novels for well put together literature, I enjoy them for the plot.

22395145Endangered – C.J. Box – 4 stars – Kindle edition

I’ve been waiting for this book to be released since reading the last Joe Pickett novel, Stone Cold. I really do love this series, and after each one I wonder how C.J. Box is going to make the next book interesting, because there have been 14 books in this series prior to Endangered. As I was reading this book, I kept thinking that there was something different about Endangered, and it wasn’t until I finished that I worked out what it was. Usually the main conflict in Joe Pickett novels arises from Joe’s job as a Wyoming game warden, or from the community of Saddlestring itself, but in Endangered the conflict and action occur because of issues within Joe’s family – I’m usually the reviewer lamenting the lack of involvement of families in novels, so it was so nice to be able to read a story where the ‘big bad’ was not naughty for hurting the environment, or the people of Saddlestring, but rather, Joe’s family.

I’m a massive fan of Joe and Nate’s relationship, and this book hurt me so much. I won’t elaborate too much because I don’t want to ruin what happens, but let’s just say that this isn’t one of those books where Joe and Nate pair up and take on evil with shotguns and Nate’s awesome Special Forces background… but it is still satisfying. So satisfying.

As always I will be pre-ordering the next Joe Pickett book as soon as it comes available for pre-order on kindle. And I’m not going to consider that there won’t be another one because there has to be, or else I’ll to riot. If you haven’t read any Joe Pickett, you really should start – go read Open Season, the first of bunch. You won’t regret it. Or maybe, you will regret having to spend all your time catching up, it is a BIG series and highly addictive.

24190989As the Crow Flies – Damien Boyd – 3 stars – netgalley copy

As the Crow Flies was an enjoyable, fast paced read. There was an interesting murder enquiry to follow and DI Nick Dixon has the makings of being an interesting character. There was quite a bit of rock climbing vocabulary in this novel which completely lost me, but I decided to push through that and I am glad I did.

The plot was tight – I didn’t guess the ending at any point of the novel, although I did work out some parts, I never figured out who killed Nick’s friend Jake. It came as a shock when it was revealed. As the Crow Flies is fast paced, and a short novel of only 200p, so there was only the single main plotline with no intersecting subplots, which I would have preferred to have.

The only thing that was missing from this novel was strong characters – as there were so few pages, and most pages were dedicated to furthering the plot. I struggled to remember people’s names, and when I did remember them, I wouldn’t be able to tell you much about them besides their relationship to Nick Dixon. I feel like the author could have given more time (and pages) to developing the characters, maybe some more dialogue between characters about their lives, or even using more description when setting scenes.

Overall I enjoyed reading As the Crow Flies and will certainly be picking up the next book in the series.

17559237 One Way Trip by Scott McEwen with Thomas Koloniar – 4 1/2 stars – hardback from library

One Way Trip has been sitting on my TBR list for over a year (and I borrowed a copy from the library two months ago that has been sitting on my shelves!), and I am so glad that I picked it up to read, because it is one of the best books I have read in this genre. The hero in this book, Gil, certainly is an interesting creation, blending the cowboy aesthetic with the tough as nails Special Forces soldier, and it works so well. Often I find it hard to connect with American characters in these novels, because I don’t share the over the top patriotism for America as they seem to always be written with. I get that it’s a good hook for patriotic Americans, but for an Australian who has studied Middle Eastern History and often doesn’t agree with American (and Australian) policy in that region of the world, I find it hard to get through political rhetoric. One Way Trip definitely does have some things that make me cringe – a love of the word Haji and a general “America good, everyone else bad” disposition, but it comes across more as believable attitudes of soldiers rather than political and racial posturing by an author.

The storyline of One Way Trip was interesting, I liked the aspect of rescuing a downed pilot who was injured and had been raped. It was interesting to think on some of the issues that this raised, for example, would the Special Forces community be as desperate to rescue the hostage if it was a man? I also liked the way that politics, the media and the military were all interlinked and affected one another. Often in military fiction the media and politics don’t seem to make much of a difference to the soldiers, whereas in One Way Trip, they were affected by outside forces.

The ending, with the final battle, was one of my favourite scenes so far this year, with some very touching and interesting moments. Certainly not believable – but I read these novels like most people read fantasy – ‘Hey, its not real, but isn’t it cool?!’ I’ve already put the next book in this series on hold at the library, and I can’t wait to get my filthy little hands on it – I want to catch up with Gil and see how he’s going with everything that happened!

Other bookish/non-bookish stuff

I’ve got a very busy week coming up this week, I’ve got two assignments and two tests to study for, and I’m already bogged down in my coursework. I’m going to spend Wednesday and Thursday getting caught up with everything. So this week I am going to limit myself to reading two novels – and only the second one once my course reading is done.

We’re also getting our carpets cleaned, which means lots of furniture moving, which does not bode well with my joints. But the BF said he would do most of it, and I just need to do things that require two people. I’m hoping my body can survive the process, but last week I spent two days doing some autumn cleaning and I almost DIED.

I’m currently reading “Breaking Creed ” by Alex Kava, and so far, enjoying it. It’s nice to read about men and their dogs, and I’m already liking the Ryder Creed character. I might need to go hunt out some more of Alex Kava’s books, because I’m certainly enjoying his one!

 

Book Review: The Forsaken by Ace Atkins

18693779

The Forsaken by Ace Atkins, 2014, Hardback borrowed from library, 384p.

Three out of five golden stars

The Forsaken is the fourth book in the Quinn Colson series and in my opinion, the weakest thus far. The novel spends much of its time tidying up loose ends from a shootout that happened in the previous novel, the amazing The Broken Places. It was refreshing to see characters face consequences for their actions, but at the same time it wasn’t really interesting until the second half of the book. My main issue with The Forsaken was that it took me a while to get into the primary storyline, which included investigating an old crime. One of the main things I like about the Colson novels is the action – there is usually so much action, but in The Forsaken, Quinn spends much of his time in meetings and talking with people. This is the main reason I dislike legal thrillers – as soon as the main character is in a meeting that lasts more than a page, my brain tunes out. I don’t know why, but it has always been like that. The big action scene that these books usually deliver was present, but seemed flat, formulaic and not long enough – more gunfights, less verbal jousting, thanks.

I know I’ve just spent the previous paragraph bitching about this novel, but there were plenty of things that I did really enjoy about it – mostly things that the Colson novels always nail. Firstly the characters are awesome, although I would have preferred more Boom in this story, I still love all the people! Second, Atkins creates the little town vibe so well, you feel like you know all the places the action takes you.

But the real reason I will be picking up the next book in this series was the ending. OMG. So good. I didn’t see something coming, even though I should have, but it has made me SUPER excited for the next novel. So yes, although I didn’t think The Forsaken was perfect, it was still a decent instalment in an otherwise terrific series.