Sunday, August 31, 2014

Brief Reviews From The DNF Pile

Once again we are at the point where the towering pile of review titles is threatening to bury me under a landslide of words. As much as I hate not finishing a book, the overflowing shelves of titles waiting to be read demands that I put aside my literary OCD and make some hard choices. While my recent vacation gave me ample opportunity to dabble and sample, the real-world demands of starting a new job, coupled with a busy Sept/Oct ghost walk schedule, mean that my reading time is at more of a premium than ever before.

So, sadly, that means taking a pass on those titles that have failed to hook me, or which haven't been able to sustain my interest. The following are my thoughts and impressions on those that didn't work for me, but where I can see how there might be an appeal or a hook for other readers.

To Touch The Sun by Laura Enright
Published February 25th 2014 by Dagda Publishing

This one had definite potential with its more rational, scientific approach to vampires, but the execution was somewhat lacking for me. I just found the writing to be very heavy, very dense, as if she were trying too hard to force the narrative. The characters were interesting, and seemed to have some real depth, but the physical action often felt awkward.

Soul of Fire by Caris McRae
Published February 1st 2014 by Smashwords Edition

This is one of those books that I may try to find my way into again at a later date, but which just couldn't sustain my interest right now. Maybe it's the age of the protagonist, but it really felt like a YA adventure, when I was hoping for something more epic. Like I said, the tone (and my overall impressions) might change, depending on how much Sheba develops later in the story, but I just didn't feel like we were moving ahead quickly enough to maintain my interest.

The Flip by Michael Phillip Cash
Published May 4th 2014 by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform

While I enjoyed my first two encounters with the author, this one just didn't work as well for me. I think part of it was that I simply didn't like either of the main characters. Brad and Julia are well developed, and 'feel' like real people (particularly in the tension that grows between them), but I just didn't like them. The other aspect that bothered me was the horror itself - it was a little too soft or subtle for my tastes, lacking some of the shock value and power of Cash's other tales.

X-Novo by Ken Hagdal 
Published July 1st 2014 by Niflheimr Publishing

This is another book that I may revisit when I have the time and the patience. As interested as I was in the concept, I didn't really feel there was much substance to the reversal of gender roles. The first-person (female) narrator certainly didn't help matters, as I was looking for some outside commentary on why so little about the genders had changed, and why it seemed to be more political than social. Also, it felt like we were being dropped into this future dystopia with no explanation, which bothered me, although maybe there's more detail in the latter half. Interesting concept, and Lisa certainly had potential, but my own list of questions became too distracting to continue for now.

Fateful Encounters by Vovo Verdan
Published May 6th 2014 by Melange Books

I think this one is just a case of being the wrong audience for the book. The blurb itself really didn't reveal much, but I was curious about the 'erotic crime fiction' tag so I agreed to give it a try. While there is some very explicit sexual content, it's not critical to the story. Instead, this is largely a standard crime thriller, which is a genre I rarely read, and only watch when I can multitask on other things. It's perfectly fine, but when I found myself skimming pages, I knew it was time to set it aside.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Mailboxes, Shelves, and What I'm Reading

Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

First up this week are a few paperback reads I picked up at the local Book Outlet. On Stranger Tides just caught my eye (knowing Tim Powers inspired Pirates of the Caribbean certainly helped), Shadow Prowler is a series I've been curious about since reading Alexey Pehov's latest, and The Legend of The Crystal Lens had that immediate Romancing the Stone kind of appeal (even though I know nothing about Samantha Graves).

On the review front this week, I received a nice surprise in the mail from the good folks at Pyr - Sword of the Bright Lady by M.C. Planck. Just check out the opening paragraph of the cover blurb: "Christopher Sinclair goes out for a walk on a mild Arizona evening and never comes back. He stumbles into a freezing winter under an impossible night sky, where magic is real -- but bought at a terrible price."

On the digital review front we're definitely keeping it weird, with three new collections from Laird Barron (Year's Best Weird Fiction, Volume One), Elizabeth Hyder (All Wrapped Up), and D.K. Jernigan (Tall, Dark, and Wriggly). Big thanks to the gang at Undertow Publications and Storm Moon Press for the reads.


It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.

As for what I'm reading, it's quite a bit lately (spending a lot of time in hospitals with family does keep me reading), and while I have relegated several to DNF shelf, these are the ones that I expect to be reviewing soon:

It Waits Below by Eric Red
A sunken 19th century treasure ship, a salvage operation, an alien lifeform, and modern day pirates - sounds like fun!

Yesterday's Kin by Nancy Kress
The cover blurb had me at "Aliens have landed in New York" and a deadly plague that threatens human extinction sealed the deal.

Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon by David Barnett
The first Gideon Smith tale was a Victoriana / steampunk mash-up, an old-fashioned horror story, a penny dreadful romp, and an adventure worthy of Indiana Jones. Can't wait for the sequel!

What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, August 29, 2014

Thriller Review: The Valhalla Prophecy by Andy McDermott

Although I've had The Hunt for Atlantis and The Tomb of Hercules loaded up on my Kobo for ages, and have been eagerly anticipating my first adventure alongside Nina Wilde and Eddie Chase, The Valhalla Prophecy is actually my first encounter with the world of Andy McDermott - and I'm pleased to say it definitely won't be my last.

Yes, it's formulaic and predictable, falls prey to pretty much all the clichés of the genre, and belongs to that catastrophic excavation side of archaeology, but that's precisely what we come to enjoy. If you're a fan of Clive Cussler, David Gibbins, Will Adams, Thomas Greanias, Matthew Reilly, and the lot, then Andy McDermott is going to be another author you want to make room for on your shelf.

What sets The Valhalla Prophecy apart and makes it more than just another archaeological, treasure hunting adventure is the depth of the backstory. Nina Wilde and Eddie Chase are partners in every sense of the word, both a romantic pairing and professional colleagues. There's chemistry there, personality, and the kind of genuine conflict anybody who has ever been in a long term relationship with recognize. In this volume (their 9th outing) we also get a significant look into Eddie's past, with a mission from the days before becoming the hero we know today, including an earth-shattering secret that threatens to unsettle his marriage when it's revealed.

The use of Norse mythology is both educational and entertaining, with some interesting suggestions as to how those myths sprang to life. There's a definite Dan Brown sort of element to the archaeology there, with each piece of the puzzle leading Nina and Eddie closer to Valhalla itself, but it works. Like I said, the story falls prey to the usual Indiana Jones type clichés, with discoveries coming fast and easy, and with the need to save the world taking precedent over the desire to preserve precious historical artifacts, but it does make for one heck of an adventure.

There's also a deeply unsettling element of government conspiracy, human experimentation, and biological warfare to the story that ties the search for Valhalla to Eddie's past. It's dark and it's grim, and almost seems out of place in such a 'fun' sort of popcorn adventure, but it lends some real credence to the end-of-the-world scenario. The god and monster slaying eitr is real, and it's been used to breed horrible atrocities in the past - with at least one clandestine government agency anxious to take those experiments to the next level.

No surprises here. The good guys win, the world is saved, treasures are revealed . . . and historical sites are destroyed. It's a fast-paced adventure, full of beautiful scenery and interesting history, populated by characters you can cheer for (and against). Whether you've yet to meet Nina and Eddie or are old friends, The Valhalla Prophecy is well worth the read.

Kindle Edition, 512 pages
Expected publication: September 30th 2014 by Dell

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Waiting on Wednesday: Prince Lestat by Anne Rice

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

Prince Lestat: The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice
Expected publication: October 28th 2014 by Knopf Publishing Group (Author)

A stunning departure, a surprising and compelling return…From Anne Rice, perennial best seller, single-handed reinventor of the vampire cosmology-a new, exhilarating novel, a deepening of her vampire mythology, and a chillingly hypnotic mystery-thriller.

"What can we do but reach for the embrace that must now contain both heaven and hell: our doom again and again and again…" -from The Vampire Lestat

Rice once again summons up the irresistible spirit-world of the oldest and most powerful forces of the night, invisible beings unleashed on an unsuspecting world able to take blood from humans, in a long-awaited return to the extraordinary world of the Vampire Chronicles and the uniquely seductive Queen of the Damned ("mesmerizing" -SF Chronicle), a long-awaited novel that picks up where The Vampire Lestat ("brilliant…its undead characters are utterly alive" -New York Times) left off more than a quarter of a century ago to create an extraordinary new world of spirits and forces-the characters, legend, and lore of all the Vampire Chronicles.

The novel opens with the vampire world in crisis…vampires have been proliferating out of control; burnings have commenced all over the world, huge massacres similar to those carried out by Akasha in The Queen of the Damned…Old vampires, roused from slumber in the earth are doing the bidding of a Voice commanding that they indiscriminately burn vampire-mavericks in cities from Paris and Mumbai to Hong Kong, Kyoto, and San Francisco.

As the novel moves from present-day New York and the West Coast to ancient Egypt, fourth century Carthage, 14th-century Rome, the Venice of the Renaissance, the worlds and beings of all the Vampire Chronicles-Louis de Pointe du Lac; the eternally young Armand, whose face is that of a Boticelli angel; Mekare and Maharet, Pandora and Flavius; David Talbot, vampire and ultimate fixer from the secret Talamasca; and Marius, the true Child of the Millennia; along with all the other new seductive, supernatural creatures-come together in this large, luxuriant, fiercely ambitious novel to ultimately rise up and seek out who-or what-the Voice is, and to discover the secret of what it desires and why…

And, at the book's center, the seemingly absent, curiously missing hero-wanderer, the dazzling, dangerous rebel-outlaw-the great hope of the Undead, the dazzling Prince Lestat…

While I didn't particularly care for her Mayfair Witches series, and still can't quite wrap my head around her strange dance with the Church, there's no question she is the queen of Gothic fiction, and I'm curious to see if she can recapture the magic of her earliest works. This does sound truly epic, bloody, and not at all sparkly. :)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Counterspy by Matthew Dunn

Chapter 1 Counterspy by Matthew Dunn

Being drowned was not part of the deal, but the victim put up with it because so much was at stake.

And even though drowning sucked, the victim had survived it before, when he was five years old and couldn’t stay afloat in the deep end of his parents’ ornate swim- ming pool in their palatial Rajasthan residence. Then his distraught mother had yanked him out of the pool and summoned a kind Sikh doctor, who’d held him upside down to get the water out of his lungs.

Now, age twenty-two, the diminutive Indian was being pinned down by four CIA men who were the antithesis of the Sikh doctor. They were in a bare cell in a top-secret U.S. military base in Afghanistan, and the CIA men were using a towel and a bucket to put water in his lungs and make his body convulse in agony. They called it waterboarding.

It sounded like a kind of sport the Indian’s rich friends played on the shores of Goa.

But there was nothing sporting about this. It was torture of the very worst kind—just one splash of water onto the towel convinced you you were going to die. Most people broke at this point, and that’s why the Agency used the technique. But today the CIA officers were cursing, shouting, and red faced with impatience because the victim was being drowned for the fourth time and showed no signs of breaking.

Their anger was exacerbated by the fact that the Indian hadn’t uttered a word to his captors in the two days since they’d grabbed him in a remote farm in Kapisa province, put a hood over his head and shackles on his sinewy arms and legs, thrown him into the back of a jeep, and driven fast over ground that had been rough enough to toss the man’s body up and down. Since that agoniz- ing journey, the victim had been kept in isolation on the base, stripped naked, blasted with a power hose, slapped around the face, struck in the gut with socks filled with wet sand, and forced into agonizing stress positions.

Throughout his brief but excruciating period of incar- ceration, the only people he’d seen were the four men. He didn’t know their names; all they’d told him about them- selves was that they answered to no one aside from the head of the CIA, the president of the United States, and God. The Indian thought that the introduction had been somewhat presumptuous, because when he was ten his Muslim father had given him a copy of the Bible and told him to read it cover to cover so that he could understand that Christianity wasn’t a bad religion. As far as he could recall, there was no reference in the Bible to CIA officers being authorized agents of God.

And right now he wasn’t sure his father was right, be- cause the four men didn’t seem like good people. On the contrary, they looked like the bad guys he’d seen in the old Hollywood movies his wealthy father had projected onto a huge screen so that the poor kids in their local village could get ninety minutes of escapism. Wearing matching white shirts, sleeves rolled up, suit trousers, and smart wingtips, the CIA men could have been gang- sters, corrupt detectives, or contract killers.

When the men had raced into his home while he’d been kneeling toward Mecca and asking Allah for for- giveness, they’d smashed his face against his prayer mat. He’d had no doubt that it wouldn’t be the last act of vio- lence inflicted on him by the officers. But he’d known that he had to stay strong if he was to survive, so he’d tried to pretend the bad things that had been happening to him had not been real, and instead he was in a 1950s movie that would end very soon.

To help him perpetuate the mind trick, he’d secretly ascribed each CIA officer a name.

Jack Palance, Lee Marvin, Henry Fonda, Robert Mitchum.

Their eyes held hate, and they swaggered with the physicality of men whose bodies were naturally chiseled and tough and didn’t need to spend one minute in a gym. They were bruisers who could tear someone twice their size into pieces.

And yet the Indian was half their size but physically and mentally far superior to the CIA officers. They were huffing and puffing, and all the while they didn’t know that they were in a movie of the victim’s choosing and that he was waiting for the moment when he could say something of vital importance. A moment when they thought he was a broken and truthful man.

That would happen after the fifth drowning, the victim had decided at the commencement of the water- boarding.

At that point, the four heavies would believe anything that came out of his waterlogged mouth.

Palance grabbed the Indian’s hair, pulled his head to within inches of his V-shaped jaw, and used the same menacing tone. “We hate you.”

Mitchum toweled the sweat off his arms and face and shoved the stinking rag back over the victim’s face.

Fonda leaned in close, his piercing blue eyes identi- cal to those of the psychopathic gunman in Once Upon a Time in the West. “We know you understand English because of all the English books we found at your home. So listen to me carefully. We’ll keep waterboarding you until you die.”

Marvin nodded at his colleagues, took a swig from a liter bottle of mineral water whose label proclaimed Water Gives Life, spat the mouthful onto the Indian’s face, and poured the remaining contents onto the rag. Marvin’s spit and the water went the wrong way down the victim’s gullet and made him think he was back in his family’s swimming pool; head throbbing, limbs thrash- ing, lungs in agony.

Mitchum let out a loud belch and laughed before asking, “Who are you?”

When the rag was removed and the Indian stopped

gagging, he decided that Mitchum’s question was the only reasonable one he’d heard since being imprisoned.

Because he wasn’t a victim at all. He was a man whose base of operations in Kapisa had guns, bomb-making equipment, and numerous cell phones containing the numbers of known terrorists. After someone had tipped off the Agency, he’d been caught red-handed with the equipment by men who knew what he was but didn’t know his name.

Mitchum waved the dripping rag in front of the Indi- an’s face. He no longer looked angry and held an expres- sion that momentarily perplexed the Indian. Mitchum sighed, glanced at his colleagues, and returned his atten- tion to the captive. “This is your choice, not ours. Best we get this over with.”

Of course—Mitchum’s expression was one that some men have when they realize that every other option had been fruitlessly pursued and all that was left was death.

The Indian could not and would not let that happen. He shook his head, hoping he looked petrified even though in truth he felt calm and very much in control.

It was the same feeling he’d always had as a teenager when amazing his fellow students and teachers by per- forming acts of escapology on the stage at his boarding school. Padlocked metal boxes, water tanks, chains and ropes lashed around him—he’d escaped them all and had never once felt fear or doubt that he would succeed. Now was no different, although he had to look and sound like a wretched and terrified victim in order to be convincing. “Please . . . please, I beg you to stop.”

“Begging’s of no use to you.” Fonda pointed at him. “All it does is prove to us that you’re weak scum.”

The Indian wished he could tell the American that his observation was wholly inaccurate, because after the swimming pool accident he’d spent the rest of his life honing his physical and mental skills so that he would never be weak again. “I . . . I will tell you anything you need to know. But please, please, no more water.”

Palance yanked the Indian’s arm to sit him upright. “That’s more like it. Talking’s good. We need your name, who you work for, and details of your targets.”

The Indian lowered his head.
“Head up!”
He did as he was told, looking at the other men before

returning his attention to Palance. This was the moment he’d been waiting for, the time for the words that he’d been reciting in his head ever since he’d been imprisoned. “I’m an Indian intelligence officer, code name Trapper. My role in Afghanistan has been to operate deep cover to infiltrate terrorist cells.”

All of the men frowned.

“Indian intelligence?” Mitchum looked unsettled. “Research and Analysis Wing?”

The R&AW was India’s primary external intelligence agency.

Trapper nodded. “My cover’s been intact for three years since I’ve been in the country. Now I’m not so sure. Who sold me out to you?”

Fonda answered, “We got ourselves a source. Says you’re a bomber, among other things.”

“A source?”

“Yeah, but you ain’t getting his name.” Mitchum looked at the rag he was holding. “If what you’re saying is true, it sounds like your cover’s still intact. People still think you’re a terrorist. But I’m thinking you could be spinning us a crock of bullshit. We’re going to need to check you out with R&AW.”

Trapper had anticipated this and responded care- fully. “Only R&AW senior management is cleared to know my code name and what I’m doing here. They’re going to be very pissed you grabbed me. You could call them. But if I were you, I’d send someone in person to smooth waters.”

Marvin leaned closer to Trapper’s face. “That could take hours to arrange, maybe days.”

“I’m prepared to wait; I urge you to do the same.”

The room was silent. The four men were clearly think- ing through options.

Fonda broke the silence. “Alright.” He pointed at the bottle of water. “No more of this stuff while we get your story checked out.” He said to his colleagues, “Put him back in his cell.”

When the Indian was on his feet, he said in an implor- ing tone, “Would whoever you send to R&AW headquar- ters please be kind enough to relay to my bosses that I didn’t break cover until the fifth waterboarding?”

Fonda nodded. “I’ve not seen anyone hold out this long. I respect that. We’ll make sure your management knows you kept your mouth shut longer than we thought possible.”

“Thank you.”

By the time his captors had received confirmation from R&AW that Trapper’s claim was a complete lie, Trapper would have escaped his cell and vanished.

“There’s one more thing.” Trapper looked directly at Fonda, deciding that he was the highest-ranking officer in the room. “I know from one of my terrorist affiliates that a senior CIA officer is being targeted for assassi- nation. It’s revenge for the officer’s assassination of a high-ranking Taliban leader. I was about to relay that to R&AW so that they could pass on the intelligence to you guys, but then,” he shrugged, “you guys stormed my house and brought me here.”

Fonda, Palance, Mitchum, and Marvin stared at him. Fonda asked, “Does the CIA officer have a name?” Trapper rubbed water off his face, hair, and chest

while wondering if the Agency torturers would grab him for doing so without their permission. Instead, they were motionless and expectant. Just as he’d imagined they would be when, weeks ago, he’d constructed his plan to get to this moment, had made an anonymous call to the Agency’s headquarters in Langley, and had given the secret location of an Indian Muslim terrorist who was hiding in Afghanistan and who happened to be him. Nearly everything the Agency operatives in the room thought was real was in fact an almighty sleight of hand. But two things were not false: the very real threat to the CIA officer and his name.

Trapper was motionless in the center of the room, water still dripping off his thin but strong body. Heimagined his captors’ surprise when they realized he’d escaped from his cell using a penknife he’d stolen from Mitchum’s pocket while the agent had been pouring water down his throat. “His name is Will Cochrane.”


About the Author

As an MI6 field officer, Matthew Dunn coordinated special operations, and acted in deep-cover roles throughout the world. He was trained in all aspects of intelligence collection, deep-cover deployments, small-arms, explosives, military unarmed combat, surveillance, and infiltration. During his time in MI6, Dunn conducted approximately seventy missions—all of them successful. He lives in England. He is currently at work on his fifth Spycatcher novel.

Connect with the Author


About the Book

Title: Counterspy (Spycatcher Series)

Author: Matthew Dunn

Genre: Spy/Thriller

Publish Date: August 26, 2014

Publisher: William Morrow Impulse an imprint of HarperCollins

~ Synopsis ~
MI6 agent Will Cochrane, now living in Washington, D.C. with his fiancée, has decided to leave the spy game for good. But when a dangerous terrorist, codenamed Cipher, escapes from a top secret CIA military base, Will learns that his former enemy has been nursing a deadly vendetta against him. T hen Will receives a letter from Cipher detailing everyone he plans to kill—and the names of Will’s friends and family are on it.

Now Will’s only hope is to uncover Cipher’s true identity, hunt him down and neutralize the threat or risk losing everyone he’s ever cared about.

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