Tag Archive | thriller

Book review: Split Second by Douglas E. Richards

Split SecondSplit Second by Douglas E. Richards

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Physicist Nathan Wexler discovered how to send matter back one-half second in time. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? But the mathematics involved are of desperate interest to two separate groups, both of which are willing to go to any lengths to get their hands on Dr. Wexler and his equations. Wexler and his fiancée, Jenna Morrison, are kidnapped at gunpoint by one group and “rescued” by the other, but the rescue goes horribly horribly awry, and now Jenna is on the run. Alone.

The first half of the novel has to do with Jenna retrieving Nathan’s math. Although it’s revealed in the cover blurb, it isn’t until we’re halfway through the novel that the big time-travel idea makes its debut. The last half of the novel involves our heroine and her new-found protector, Aaron Blake, trying to stay out of the hands of the two mysterious factions after the time-travel formula. Car chases and hand-to-hand fighting and explosions abound.

As I read this, I was reminded of why I usually don’t read mass market genre fiction. Oh, it was a serviceable enough story, but predictable, cliché-ridden, and to tell the truth, so awful I could barely stand it. The reader is told on countless occasions — in fact, is nearly pounded over the head with the fact — that Nathan and Jenna both have incredibly unbelievably brilliant brilliant brilliant intellects; they must be the brightest people to have walked the face of the earth since Leonardo da Vinci. Plus, their colleagues’ brilliance is dimmed only by the supernovae that are Nathan and Jenna. And the former Special Forces/Black Ops-soldier-turned-private-detective, Aaron Blake? Wow, he’s just the most amazing, clever, resourceful reconnaissance-and-getting-out-of-scrapes guy ever!

By the time the time travel formula and its uses made an appearance, the only reason I was still reading was because I hadn’t figured out which group chasing our heroes were the good guys. But if you like predictable clichés, hyper-brilliant scientists, and lots of action and explosions, then this is the story for you.

I expect it to become optioned as the next Michael Bay movie at any moment.

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Book review: Written in Fire by Marcus Sakey

Written in Fire (Brilliance Saga, #3)Written in Fire by Marcus Sakey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The United States is in shambles and it’s all the fault of those dirty “brilliants”. Or so goes the thinking of the “normal” population, including what’s left of the U.S. government. Nick Cooper is wanted by his former law enforcement colleagues because it looks like he sided with the brilliants. Well, he is one of them, after all.

Confused? You won’t be if you’ve read the previous installments in this series, Brilliance and A Better World. Which you should. They’re pretty good. Quickly: some 30 years ago, children began exhibiting unusual traits and abilities: in intellect, in musicianship, in physical attributes, and even psychic abilities. These children became known as “brilliants”. As this first generation of brilliants grew up and the extent of their attributes became known, mainstream society began to fear them. Eventually, young brilliants were taken from their families and placed into special schools, away from the “normals”. Problem solved, yes? Of course not. The schools were a step above hellholes; brilliants rebelled; an underground leader of the brilliant movement emerged; and now the United States is two steps away from nuking its own people.

This series works on a couple of levels: on the surface, it’s your standard thriller about a devious mastermind with a plot to take over the world and the hero/anti-hero who risks life, limb, and family in an effort to stop him. And it works as the story of how society regards the “other”, those who are different, those who threaten the status quo and our own self-image. Put any minority population in the place of the brilliants and you have an excellent — if exaggerated — story of racism or homophobia as public policy.

All in all, a satisfying and somewhat open-ended conclusion to the trilogy.

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Book review: Sometimes the Wolf by Urban Waite

Sometimes the WolfSometimes the Wolf by Urban Waite
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I had put this on a list of “must reads” and requested it from the library, but to save my life, I can’t remember why. The only thing I can think of is I must have read a highly favorable blurb somewhere from some person or on some website I respect. It’s probably a good thing I don’t remember because that respect would be diminished.

“As muscular and laconic as anything by Cormac McCarthy” says the cover blurb. I’ve only read one book by McCarthy (The Road) and I did not enjoy it. This should have been my warning when I picked it up.

My quibble is not with the story.  The story’s fine: A disgraced sheriff is released from prison to the custody of his adult son, now the deputy sheriff of the same small town, but the FBI agent who investigated his previous crime still doesn’t believe justice has been served; family drama ensues.  All the twists and turns are quite well done.

My quibble is with the writing itself, most especially with the constant incomplete sentences that make up the majority of the paragraphs. At times I found myself saying, out loud, “For crying out loud, just put a verb in there, would ya?” I also rewrote sentences in my head as I read them, adding punctuation here, joining clauses and making complete sentences there, so the paragraphs weren’t so choppy and disjointed. This is not “muscular and laconic”, this is lazy writing and turn-a-blind-eye editing.

Look, I’m all for authors developing their own style, and use of the occasional subordinate clause in place of a full sentence is fine for effect — emphasis being on “occasional” — but generally speaking, the conventions of sentence and paragraph structure must still apply, or else why bother?

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R.I.P. IX — More stuff I’ve read

RIP 9 Peril the First
Today we’re going to discuss the Amazon Kindle freebies read in connection with R.I.P. IX. Amazon freebies are always hit-and-miss as far as quality goes. The books I pulled out of my library of Kindle freebies were no different. Let’s start with Awakening: Children of the After #1.
Awakening: Children of the After #1Siblings Jack, Samantha, and Will emerge from the family security vault six months after their father left them inside and told them not to come out until he returned. Upon reaching the last of their stores of food and water, they decide to take a chance and open the door upon a devastated Chicago. The rest of this short novel follows their trip across town in search of (a) food and water; and (b) the way to Grandma’s house outside the city. While the story is reasonably well-written, it has one fatal flaw: The author decided to switch perspectives continuously between the three children; and reading about the same event three times from three POVs (one of which is that of a 7-year-old boy) is annoying. Given that annoyance, my minor intrigue into the mystery of what happened to the world isn’t sufficient to warrant seeking out the other books in the series. 2 stars (out of 5).

The Bird EaterThe Bird Eater by Ania Ahlborn is good on atmosphere, not so good on character development. 20 years after being orphaned, Aaron returns to his childhood home in Northwest Arkansas to grieve the death of his son and the collapse of his marriage. He moves into his aunt’s old house, itself abandoned for the last 20 years, and starts making repairs, with the idea that he would sell it and be done. Then odd bits of vandalism begin, often accompanied by a quick sighting of a young boy.

As Aaron begins asking questions, trying to find out who this boy is, he learns his old home is considered haunted or possessed or just plain evil by the townsfolk. Naturally, Aaron scoffs at the idea, but when one of his childhood buddies turns out to be an amateur ghost-hunter, he becomes a little more open-minded. Throw in the now-married childhood sweetheart who never got over her crush on Aaron, and the recipe is complete for a Ozark Peyton Place by way of Dark Shadows.

While this book isn’t totally awful, I quickly grew tired of the two-dimensional characters and heavy-handed Portents of Dread that permeate the narrative. And I wasn’t satisfied with the skimpy explanation of the origin of the evil the author eventually provided. It’s almost like she remembered near the end of the book “Oh, yeah, I have to give the reader some kind of closure, don’t I!” Kudos for the pervasive gloom and some genuinely terrifying moments. 2 1/2 stars.

The BarkeepThe Barkeep by William Lashner isn’t exactly your standard-issue thriller. Justin Chase tends bar in one of the city’s more trendy nightspots. It’s more trendy because Justin is behind the bar. He has a following. He also has a father in prison for the murder of his mother; and an older brother who resents him because his testimony was instrumental in the conviction of their father. Then one night a man with the unlikely name of Birdie Grackle walks into the bar and tells Justin he was the one who murdered Justin’s mother. He had been hired to do so. And would Justin like to know who hired him? Enjoyable noir-ish fluff. Bartender psycho-analysis dispensed with pseudo-Zen philosophy and a dry vodka martini, blended with beautiful women, fisticuffs, and mayhem. I liked it. 3 stars.

In the DarkI’ll tell you right up front I didn’t finish In the Dark by Brandon Massey because I didn’t like either of the main characters and the story wasn’t interesting enough to put up with people I didn’t like. Len and Olivia Bowden have finally purchased their dream home: a classic Victorian in an upscale historic Atlanta neighborhood. But they’ve hardly begun to unpack when the home’s former owner knocks on the door, bluntly states the house was stolen from him, and gives them three days to leave or else. He utters some kind of weird chanting and makes odd hand gestures before Len shuts the door on him; and Len thinks: “Voudou? Nah, no such thing.”

Regardless, secure in the knowledge that their purchase of this foreclosure was legal and aboveboard, the Bowdens ignore the old man. After that, I assume bad stuff started happening, but I quit reading at around page 80. Why? Len was wimpy and hid nekkid RIP 9 Portraitpictures of his college girlfriend (who wasn’t Olivia, by the way) in the bottom drawer of his desk. Olivia treated her husband like she thought he was stupid and wouldn’t tell him why she was so afraid when Len described the chanting and gestures made by the old man. This marriage has severe communication and trust issues. And while that might be realistic, in this setting it made for two extremely unlikeable people. So, when I don’t like either of the main characters, and the story isn’t good enough to tolerate unpleasant people, it’s time to bail. And that’s exactly what I did. 1 star.

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Book review: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nick’s beautiful wife Amy disappeared on their fifth wedding anniversary. To all appearances, Amy was kidnapped with some violence from their riverfront home in North Carthage, Missouri. And naturally, suspicion for such foul play falls on Nick. As the police become more and more focused on his possible involvement, to the point that even Amy’s parents think him guilty, and as national media attention falls on Amy’s disappearance, Nick becomes more and more desperate to prove his innocence.

I wish GoodReads allowed 1/2 stars, because I would rate this somewhere between 3 stars “I liked it” and 4 stars “I really liked it”. I mean, I liked it more than most books I’ve rated three stars but less than most books I’ve rated four stars.

And finding a way to review this without spoilers? Hoo buddy. Suffice to say I alternated between “He didn’t do it” and “Of course, he did it!” for at least half of the book, then got hit with a “Holy cow!” moment, subsequently followed by an intense dislike of everyone involved in this mess. Except for Margo, Nick’s twin sister. Margo is only innocent among these players, presenting a loyal family front to the vulture throngs of media correspondents, while asking sincere and probing questions of her brother in private.

Gone Girl is truly a “good read”, filled with twists and turns and mindbending WTF moments. I don’t think it’s as good as Dark Places, Gillian Flynn’s previous novel, but it’s definitely worth the time spent reading.

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Book review: The Edge of Normal

The Edge of Normal
The Edge of Normal by Carla Norton
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

When Reeve was 12 years old, she was kidnapped and held prisoner for four years. A freak accident led to her freedom and, six years later, she’s still putting the pieces of her life together. But things are looking up. She’s changed her name to avoid publicity; she’s down to one session a week with her therapist; and she even has a job.

Then one day, the cameras are blazing and the headlines are screaming about another young girl who has been found and freed from captivity. Reeve’s therapist is called in to assist the family. At the request of that family, he asks Reeve to assist him. She reluctantly agrees.

What follows is a not-quite-standard-issue thriller, as the police question the kidnapper they arrested, not suspecting there was more than one man involved. And that unknown man has fingers inside the investigation itself.

R.I.P. Review SiteI enjoyed this story thoroughly, with all the back and forth between the kidnapping mastermind, the police investigation, and Reeve’s interaction with the young kidnapping victim. That is, I enjoyed it right up to the instant that Reeve made a completely pointless and bone-headed move which placed the novel squarely into the stupid fem-jep category. At that juncture, I only had 70 pages to go, so I finished the novel instead of throwing it across the room in disgust.

I can’t even tell you what our heroine did or what I think she could have done instead, or could have at least made an effort to do, without creating major plot spoilage, but yeah. It’s just too bad the author decided on that particular plot twist, because otherwise it’s a great story.

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This book was read as part of R.I.P VIII, Peril the First Challenge. Click that badge up there that says “Review Site” to see other participants and their reviews.
Peril the First