High Tech Hannibal Lecter

Digital Velocity (McAllister Justice Series #1)Digital Velocity by Reily Garrett

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ethan McAllister was shot in the leg when he and his partner responded to a tip and walked into a murder in progress. But it wasn’t a garden-variety murder. It was a psychotic torture session to be videoed and shown on the dark web. Lexi, a young orphan saved from the street by prostitutes and mentored by the aforementioned murder victim, was a digital wizard who was tracking the killers’ posts online. Her tips to Ethan had been anonymous until he was shot, then she made a clandestine visit to him in the hospital. From that visit was born a rather tentative romance and a mutual effort to catch the diabolical killer.

Digital Velocity exists in two worlds. It is a detective thriller and a steamy romance. The characters are nicely developed, and they are numerous. Ethan has many siblings who protect him and harass him in equal quantities. Reily Garrett’s prose is generously descriptive, which may appeal more to her romance audience than the thriller aficcionados who might find the pace slows in places. The story relies heavily on technology, but it does not burden the reader with jargon or arcane details. There is also a canine component to the story that adds humanity to the characters. The antagonist is deliciously evil—think high tech Hannibal Lecter.

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A Big What If

All the Way with JFK: An Alternate History of 1964All the Way with JFK: An Alternate History of 1964 by F.C. Schaefer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What if a tip to the Secret Service made Oswald’s bullet miss by inches? How would Kennedy have dealt with Castro in the aftermath of the Bay of Pigs? Would Johnson have ever been president? Could we have been spared the ‘Great Society’? These musings are adroitly explored in this intelligent and well-researched alternative history that covers the period from 1963 to 1999. What would the world look like today?

All the Way with JFK is written in first person from the viewpoints of several fictional players. A Marine colonel advises Kennedy on how to deal with Castro. A Texas oilman promotes Barry Goldwater for president. A lobbyist tries to push the Civil Rights Act through Congress. A young Republican woman works on the Goldwater campaign. Each tells a piece of the story in his or her own voice. This is an interesting approach that Mr. Schaefer has made to work very well even though this reader thought the book would have been improved with a few less voices. I found that it took a few paragraphs to remember who was telling the story when a new chapter began. However, it’s the plausibility of the ‘what if’ is what makes this a great read.

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Not Genesis Redux

Noah's WifeNoah’s Wife by T.K. Thorne

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Na’amah is different from the others in the village. Her hearing is uniquely acute as is her memory, but she lacks womanly skills such as weaving and spinning. Noah is a bit of an odd duck who lives outside the village where it’s convenient to steal logs from the beavers with which to build boats. He sees Na’amah in the market and smitten by her beauty, so he asks her father for her hand and receives it with the understanding that he will wait three years to take his bride who was young even for those days. Na’amah’s older brother, Tubal, is an abusive bastard who resents the fact that their mother died giving birth to Na’amah.

The one thing Na’amah loves to do is tend the sheep. She often shares the task with her childhood friend, Yanner, who develops a strong desire for her and conspires with Tubal to prevent her from marrying Noah. The plan is if she isn’t a virgin, Noah will reject her, so on the eve of the wedding, Tubal engineers for Yanner to forcibly rape her. For good measure, they also attack Noah and break his leg. Na’amah flees the village and is captured by slave traders before she reaches the sanctuary of the Mother Goddess’s cave.

Noah’s Wife is an engaging story that put me in mind of The Clan of the Cave Bear. As historical fiction, it resonates with verisimilitude and is not a retelling of Genesis. An unusual dynamic among the characters permeates the story in a curious way. The setting and the customs of the people seem real enough. Na’amah is a convincing and likeable character. The prose is clean and flowing if a little flowery for this reader’s taste. Ms. Thorne is fond of using unconventional verbs to describe actions in nature and more metaphors than I prefer. Most readers will find her style lovely and descriptive. There are scenes that I thought went on a little longer than was needed, but it did not diminish my enjoyment of the book.

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Slow and Tedious

Tabula Rasa (A Lambeth Group Thriller)Tabula Rasa by Gordon Bickerstaff

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Zoe is a super spy, which makes her a threat to the plans of an aristocratic family bent on world domination. The plan is to thwart climate change by slashing the human population to a scant fraction of its current level and replacing political leaders with scientists. The attempt to eliminate Zoe didn’t go well because the woman who the conspirators thrashed within an inch of her life was Zoe’s friend, Toni, who was staying in the flat for a few days. When Zoe finds her friend battered, raped, and near death, she called her brother, Michael, who arrived to consult about what should be done. After a disturbingly long discussion, they called an ambulance. Zoe vowed revenge and was assigned by her somewhat hands-off handler, Cairn, to get to the bottom of the scheme. Using a hapless academic, Gavin, as a foil she penetrated the Duke’s ancestral Silsden Estate, which was the headquarters of the monstrous plot. Posing as Gavin’s fiancée, Zoe was lured to the Silsden’s yacht on which she is tasered and left in the sea to drown. How will she save the world?

For a book that labels itself a thriller, this one moves very slowly. Tabula Rasa is part of a series, but it offers no back-story to help it stand alone. There are some references to old times in Bosnia, but I never discovered what the Lambeth Group was, whose side they were on, or who they worked for. There are orders from the Prime Minister and mention of SAS training, but the Silsden bad guys also have police on the payroll and tacit protection of the British aristocracy. I remain in the dark about who is fighting whom. Young Gavin flip-flops multiple times, and Zoe vacillates between wanting to sleep with him and wanting to kill him. She even momentarily gets on board with the dastardly plan except for the sticky detail of killing over six billion people. Mr. Bickerstaff’s prose makes no concession to point of view. It comes from the direction of whichever character appears on the scene. I found one case where the viewpoint switched within a single sentence. I hate posting a negative review, but I cannot be false. This was a letdown that went on way too long.

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A Classic

Captain BloodCaptain Blood by Rafael Sabatini

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Captain Blood

Rafael Sabatini

Peter Blood was an Irishman with a medical degree; however, he sailed as a mercenary for the French against the Spanish in the later seventeenth century. Later, he tended to the wounds of a man involved in the rebellion against King James II of England. For this, he was charged and convicted of treason and sentenced to hang. At the last minute, he was reprieved when James commuted the sentence to indentured servitude in the Caribbean. Blood was bought by a wealthy and well-connected planter on Barbados. The planter, Colonel Bishop, realized that Blood was worth more to him as a doctor than as a sugar cane cutter, so Blood was free to move about the island practicing his craft while Bishop collected the fees. An attack on Bridgetown by Spanish pirates gave Blood and a few other slaves the chance to make their escape by overpowering the scant guard left on the Spanish ship. Just before he made good his escape, he saved Bishop’s beautiful niece, Arabella, from the marauding Spaniards. Blood and his crew proved to be highly effective pirates, and he amassed a small fleet with which he plundered Spanish ships and colonies. His fame spread to England where James II decided to try to recruit him as a privateer, but Colonel Bishop couldn’t let go of his hatred for Blood, and Blood couldn’t let go of his infatuation with Arabella.

I was astounded to learn that Captain Blood was first published in 1921. The style and language are convincingly contemporaneous with the time setting. The story is told as the recounting of journals kept by one of Captain Blood’s lieutenants. I suspect that a modern editor would dismiss it out of hand, but it works quite well. Few books have sent me scurrying for the dictionary like this one. It also has some of the greatest epithets I’ve ever heard. Captain Blood is simply a great old-fashioned pirate tale. I loved it, and yes, in the end, he gets the girl.

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Raw Sewage

The Hooligans of KandaharThe Hooligans of Kandahar by Joseph J. Kassabian

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Joe has been in the Army for five years. At twenty-two, he is deployed to Afghanistan with a squad of misfits who he loves and hates. The living conditions are squalid, the Army can do nothing right, the Afghans want them dead, the Afghan police refuse to do anything, and his squad leader is insane. The summers are blisteringly hot, the winters are numbingly cold. The sanitation in camp is deplorable, and outside, it’s worse. Second Squad is sent on endless missions with no point but to stumble onto IEDs or draw the fire of the Taliban. Rules of engagement prevent them from even shooting back. To survive in the intolerable conditions with sleep deprivation and exhaustion, the soldiers steal, fight, brutalize civilians, and cause mayhem. They live on caffeine, nicotine, and sleeping pills. The only common denominator is the unwavering devotion they bear for each other.

The Hooligans of Kandahar belongs on the same shelf as M.A.S.H. and Catch-22. Joe Kassabian has penned a memoir that is raw, raunchy, gritty, profane, and brutally honest. His report of the conditions on the ground in Afghanistan resonates with truth. This paragraph struck me viscerally:

“Unless we captured Mullah Omar himself, nothing we did on the ground would ever really matter. There would always be some other inbred, bomb-making asshole to take the last one’s place. Our only hope was to make it home before one of those guys found his mark.”

Mr. Kassabian’s prose is brutal, solid, and wonderfully readable. It will offend many, but they should read it anyway to experience if only vicariously, the nightmare of all the American and Allied troops who have been deployed in the hellholes of the Middle East. This is more than a great book. Buy it, read it, get used to it. There is a problem out there that needs to be solved.

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Review of “Half Life” by Scott Skipper

Thanks, Marcha!

Marcha's Two-Cents Worth

HalfLifeCvr

The premise of this story is that a brutal earthquake and tsunami, similar to what happened to Japan a few years back, strikes California, causing a meltdown at a decommissioned nuclear plant. Due to various political stalemates, the fuel rods had been left on-site rather than being transported to a permanent storage location, causing considerable havoc as radiation saturates the populated area around Los Angeles. The credibility of such an occurrence is so high, that I can’t help but wonder how much of this book will turn out to be prophetic.

The story takes place during a gubernatorial election year and the political issues associated with this disaster are paramount. One thing potential readers need to know about Scott’s books is that they are extremely political incorrect. If telling it like it is bothers you, then don’t even try reading one of his books. It will just piss you off…

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