Monday, January 29, 2018

Book Review: Blackout (Sam Archer Book 3) by Tom Barber

Lots of Action in a Good Guys against the Bad Storyline

Blackout is an action thriller, with the good guys (Archer and his teammates) against the bad.  And for that simple storyline, it has all the right parts.  The pacing is fast.  You hardly have time to relax from one attack to the next.  The action scenes are intense, explicit, and sometimes grisly (be forewarned).  The tension is good, with a foe that appears invincible.   And all of those parts are well done.  But if you’re looking for more – say character development beyond the minimal or even a bit of a romantic backstory?  Well, you need to look elsewhere.

Blackout builds suspense by methodically revealing first, what’s happening, then who’s involved, and finally, why.  In fact, the why continues to almost the end of the book…which is possible because there are ten targets and seven killers, not including Archer’s organization, the Armed Response Unit (ARU).  We end up with a lot of stories about upbringing, battles, and family, but these generally serve to reinforce a stereotype.  Even Archer, who seems to lament his time away from a woman he likes, puts himself squarely in the macho, save-the-world mold when he thinks, “To be with her, he would have to leave the Armed Response Unit. And right now that wasn't something he was prepared to do.

The tension in Blackout is stoked by the fact that the good guys are less experienced, less well armed, and less ruthless than their foe.  That stumped me at first, as a job with “one of the two premier counter-terrorist squads” in London would seem to attract ex-special forces personnel.  But for some reason, the men of the ARU came up through the police ranks, a fact that becomes clear later in the book.  Yeah, you’re not going to stop a terrorist by reading him his rights.

Although I’ve said the storyline is simple, the good guys are wearing gray hats, not white, as you will find.  More could have been made of that issue, but then, it probably would have come at the expense of the action.  And action is this book’s forte.  I can’t fault the author for his decision.

There were only a few places where I ended up scratching my head.  For one, the bad guys’ safe house was a recently completed office building.  It had such poor security that they seemed to come and go at will over several days, even wiring it for self-destruction in advance.  Or in another case, one of the targets decided to hide in an unknown location…after telling everyone else in the office where they would be.  That seemed to go well beyond naivete.

But these concerns were small and overall, the tension and pace of this action thriller are hard to beat.  Just don’t look for too much beyond the good guys against the bad.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Book Review: Brain Storm (A Taylor Morrison Thriller Book 1) by Cat Gilbert

Good Action and Characters, But the Emotional Angst Slows the Story

Brain Storm introduces us to Taylor Morrison, Private Investigator and high-volume coffee drinker.  Her story follows a familiar path for paranormal novels, as she discovers she has psychic abilities, only to find out that others already know and that they will kill to capture her.  She ends up on the run with her friends, trying to understand her new skills and how they can be used to save the day.  While this sounds like a formula for a taunt, action-packed thriller, the constant angst of the protagonist and the bickering among the characters hurts the overall pacing.

There is plenty of action in Brain Storm, from a bank heist (of sorts) to commando-style raids to car bombs and gun battles.  These scenes are well-written and tense.  The suspense and mystery are also good, primarily because of all the double-crosses and mixed allegiances of the characters.  I also enjoyed the secondary characters – Trinity, Jonas, and Mama D.  They are well developed and likeable.  There is a twist in the story; unfortunately, it uses a ploy that has become all too common in thrillers.  Once I read the setup in the first few chapters, it was just a matter of waiting for this shoe to drop. 

The pacing of the book, however, is inconsistent.  The pages with action flew by, but in between, the story dragged.  Part of the problem was the author’s tendency to repeat events.  For example, when Taylor’s friends did not see the action inside the bank, Taylor repeats for them, even though the reader has already been through it.  But the major hit on pacing comes from Taylor’s emotional angst and the frequency of bickering over trivialities among the friends.  For example, at one point Taylor worries that Trinity will want a scientific explanation for her abilities and she hopes that she can be forgiven because there isn’t one.  (I was going to disappoint her if that’s what she was looking for and I just had to hope she could forgive me for it.)   Isn’t that like apologizing because you’re breathing someone else’s air?  Fortunately, the angst is less prevalent later in the book.

Even though the plot is a bit well-worn and the twist somewhat common, the author’s voice is fresh and the action scenes are good.  The major problem comes in pacing, where Taylor’s inner battles and bickering among the characters slow the story to a crawl.

Friday, January 12, 2018

My Top Five Blog Posts of 2017

Like many of the blogs I frequent, I’d thought I’d take a quick look back at 2017, and answer the question I’m sure everyone is wondering about. 

Just what were my top five blog posts of 2017?  But before that (sorry, but I’m a mystery/suspense writer), a couple of observations.

First, reads definitely increased over the year.  All of the top five are July or later.  Where posts were getting dozens of reads in the first quarter, they were in the hundreds by the end of the year.  Thank you!

Second, the top five are heavily book reviews (4 out of 5).  That makes sense, as I am a book blogger.  But I also write about writing in general and of course, I have the occasional self-promotion post (sorry, but I gotta eat).

Interestingly, if I opened this list up to 2016, a couple of non-book review posts would show up including: - I love this cover, but who knew it would get so much attention; and

So, the suspense is high enough.  Here’s my top five posts from 2017.

5. – a tongue-in-cheek about TBR lists on Goodreads.  It got a ton of reads on Facebook too.

Drum roll please…

Happy writing…and blog reading too,
Image by Alex Grech from Malta (Open the door!) [CC BY 2.0 ( licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Monday, January 8, 2018

Book Review: Fight for Life by T.J. Frost

A Slow-Burn Introduction Leads to A Fast and Tense Finish

Rachel Phelps, the strong, female protagonist in Fight for Life, faces more than her fair share of challenges.  Her mother is swindled out of her life’s savings, then dies mysteriously.  Her husband prefers drinking and gambling to work and seems to know more about Rachel’s mom’s death than he’s saying.  Rachel is responsible for her younger brother with Down’s syndrome because there’s no one else.  And then, some shadowy figures involved in high-tech, genetic research in a foreign country show more than a healthy interest in her life.  Yes, author T.J. Frost concocts a setting rife with potential for tension and action.  That potential is realized, but it takes some reading. 

The evil geneticist theme in the author’s synopsis caught my interest, and the man appears in chapter 1.  But that mention is largely a teaser and he doesn’t reappear until chapter 27, more than halfway through the book.  What’s happening in the intervening text?  Mostly, character development and scene setting, and the author does them well.  We learn to love strong, yet self-deprecating Rachel.  We come to dislike, or at least distrust her get-rich-quick husband.  And we learn a fair amount about their acquaintances and their failing business.  But while the characters may be enigmatic and the events mysterious, little happens.  The pace is a bit plodding.  Even the dialog reinforces this ‘all in good time’ feel.  For example, early in the book when Rachel’s mother announces she wants to die, Rachel’s response is “Mum, whatever is the matter?”

The pace quickens and the tension increases markedly in the second half of the book when Rachel takes matters into her own hands and decides to investigate.  The pressure becomes palpable, as the characters become darker and the action grows more intense, more gruesome.  After the first half, the second almost felt rushed, and I wondered if the story would end in a cliff-hanger.  But Frost ties up all the loose ends, even to the point of explaining the motivations of several minor characters.  As for the outcome of the final confrontation, it was somewhat predictable given the situation of the principals.  Even the motivation behind the “multi-million-dollar conspiracy” is foreshadowed.  But there was still plenty of action and ample opportunity for nail-biting getting to that conclusion.

Overall, Fight for Life gets high marks for character and setting development, albeit in a somewhat plodding manner.  The climax, although somewhat predictable, still provides an adrenaline rush, as Rachel seemingly battles alone against powerful forces allied against her.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Book Review: Silent Waters by Jan Coffey

Action-filled Military Thriller with a Touch of Romance

Silent Waters is the story of Commander Darius McCann and Ship Superintendent Amy Russell as they try to free the nuclear submarine USS Hartford from the hands of hijackers.  The bad guys are apparently intent on targeting New York City with its deadly weapons.  On shore, NCIS Investigators Lieutenant Sarah Connelly and Commander Bruce Dunn work the clues, investigating who is behind this contemptible plot and why.  Although it’s a somewhat typical military thriller, it gets high marks on action and a cozy romance in the back story.

Silent Waters is filled with action, as the protagonists onboard the sub have their hands full battling the hijackers against formidable odds.  And when the story shifts to land, the action doesn’t stop; it simply transitions to car chases and gunfights.  What you won’t find in this book, however, is much suspense.  It’s fairly clear to the reader what’s happening, almost to the point of wondering why the NCIS investigators don’t see it.  But then, few would want to entertain this possibility in real life without some pretty overwhelming evidence.

There is one backstory romance and a second possibility, adding a bit of a respite from the action.  It also helps to develop the characters, making each of the four principals a bit more real – a detail that doesn’t get covered in every thriller.

So, if you’re seeking intense suspense and clever twists as part of your military thriller, this is probably not your book.  But if you like action-filled stories with a touch of romance, and especially if you enjoy sub stories as I do, Silent Waters is a recommended read.

Monday, January 1, 2018

I was thinking…

Perhaps I’d lie down under this palm tree and read a book.

Or maybe, I’d get my laptop and write a few chapters.

But unfortunately, the snow (and the frigid temps) keep spoiling the illusion.

HAPPY NEW YEAR…and Happy Writing,