Thursday, December 24, 2015

Recommended Reading for Christmas

This holiday period I thought I'd bring you something different. It's the time of giving and there's nothing like a book for allowing someone you care for the opportunity to let their imagination soar as they traverse the tale crafted by the author. 

This week I'm going to recommend several 5 STAR book SERIES I have had the pleasure of reading in recent months. In all cases I'll reproduce the review I wrote (an excellent practice more readers should adopt - it's the writer's lifeblood!) and a link to book's page on Amazon.

I've chosen six series and apologize in advance to the authors of many others I've had to leave out through space considerations. Please note that often the review reproduced is not for the first book in the series, yet that's where you should start - click on the author's name to go to their Amazon Author page. So, in no particular order (well, ladies first as always), here are my recommendations:

Amazon Link
Judith Lucci's Nawlin's characters move to Virginia for this one, in a crackin' suspense thriller which I reviewed thus:

"The fourth book in the Alex Destephano series, ‘Toxic New Year’ by Judith Lucci has a difficult task to follow the high standard of the author’s previous medical thrillers yet takes that challenge and surpasses the goal with ease. It balances solid, fast-paced intrigue with a character-based story centred round her hospital lawyer protagonist. From the initial pages the reader is steadfastly drawn into the tale as we follow the events leading up to a deadly terrorist bombing. Fans of the author’s previous works will encounter new facets of familiar characters as the events unfold. Even the life of the protagonist is shaken to its core as she encounters her past and makes a series of decisions that take her into uncharted waters.

As usual, Lucci does a superb job of placing the reader in the New Orleans and Virginian society in which her heroine moves. With flowing descriptions and insightful dialogue she relates the hours before the attack, creating a convincing canvas against which the placid life of the New Year celebrations and marriage of two of her characters unfolds, only to bring this crashing down as harsh reality intrudes.

We are also introduced to three new characters, each with interesting backstories to reveal: Digger Stilgrove and his wife Mary each have important supporting roles in the first half of the novel. Stilgrove’s intriguing past is hinted at and I hope we get to meet him again in another novel. The third character, Jacob Stark, had to be the hardest to write, however, and a huge gamble by the author. An ex-CIA man turned co-author of the terrorist attack who, by an interesting turn of events, re-enters Alex Destephano’s life to add even more uncertainty to her future. Stark is a character you have to hate on a basic visceral level for his despicable acts at the beginning of the book, yet we are allowed to see, and even sympathise with, his reasoning. Truly a fine portrait of moral ambiguity by Lucci, one which helps to elevate this series to new heights.

A superlative follow-on for the Alex Destephano series. Highly recommended!"

Amazon Link

Fiona Quinn's Lexi Sobado series exploded on to my reading horizons this year and blew me away. Here's what I said about the latest book in the series:

"Earlier this year I read ‘Weakest Lynx’ by Fiona Quinn, the first novel in a new and original series which cleverly married tough Special Ops missions with a young woman with extraordinary (literally) abilities. The series promised much and I quickly devoured the next two books. They were exceptional, taking the characters and this cross-genre mix to even higher levels. A difficult act to follow, yet Quinn has not disappointed her fans with ‘Cuff Lynx’, the fourth book in the series. In fact, she’s taken everything to a new plateau, and given readers a degree of closure with the ongoing story arc to boot.

The threats this time are off the scale; not just the insidious machinations of the covert organization behind the events of the previous three novels, but a new ‘weapon’ that challenges protagonist Lexi’s own special abilities. The pace rattles along, the tension is everywhere, your emotions will be put to the test. Quinn’s no compromise writing style propels the reader into a frenzy of action and complex plotting. Spyder is back too and we get to see much more of Lexi’s enigmatic mentor. Several twists are introduced that give an entirely new perspective to Lexi’s background.

This series has exceeded all my expectations and this fourth volume is the cherry on top. Don’t miss it! If you haven’t already, start at book 1 and read them all. A 5 Star bombshell!"

Amazon Link

Sci-fi writer Ronel Van Tonder has created a series which will be listed amongst the classics of the genre in a few years. Awesome!

"In the preceding two novels of the ‘Corrupted SUN Script’ trilogy, author Ronel Van Tonder created a dystopian future world, split into factions that she provided the depth and substance necessary to support the complex tale of intrigue and deceit in which the distinct protagonists moved. And move they did, carrying the reader through myriad adventures both inside the domed structures managed by SUN and the wilder, visceral groups living in underground dwellings outside the ‘protection’ of SUN’s artificial intelligence system. The premise that treads through the third and final volume of the series is the conflict resulting from the clash of these different societies and their particular agendas as well as the collision course embarked upon by various dome dwellers.

Van Tonder has ramped up the tension and pace of this last volume to a degree that will have the reader flipping pages well into the night as the distinct storylines race toward the inevitable apocalyptic conclusion that offers both resolution and a small degree of hope and optimism. There are plenty of twists and turns along the way too to keep the reader on their toes and a major surprise as a further ‘antagonist’, replete with their own objectives, is revealed, adding a further element of suspense to this awesome read.

The author’s writing will draw you into the world she has fashioned and have you walking in the boots of the different protagonists and antagonists throughout the book’s pages; such is her power of the written word. You will feel the dry wind of the savannah, the cool air of the domes; you will smell the dirt of the underground dwellings, the blood spilt as the final battle arrives; you will taste the oil from the bakkies and bland food dispensed by the WeEats. Immersion in this futuristic world, via the magic of Van Tonder’s prose, is guaranteed. Remember the name; she’ll be mentioned with the greats of Sci-Fi in the coming years. Don’t miss this outstanding tour-de-force; a Sci-Fi epic to rival Dune or the Foundation series."

Amazon Link
Another discovery this year. Brandt Legg's three trilogies accompanied me throughout 2015 and I'm pleased to announce Brandt will be my first Guset on this blog in 2016, so don't miss it.

"With the pace of a high-speed train, Brandt Legg’s latest trilogy, ‘The Justar Journal’ raced to its climatic finale in book three, ‘The List Keepers’. Fortunately at the controls author Legg guides the tale to a satisfactory conclusion after leaving the reader wondering if the devastation, double-crossing and twists and turns that filled the preceding pages would leave anyone alive in the last chapter. Suspenseful doesn’t describe the emotional drive of the narrative as we follow the distinct protagonists on their respective journeys, each fraught with imminent disaster and death.

As I mentioned in my review of a prior novel in the series, I found myself supporting not just the obvious protagonists but characters who had clearly been antagonists throughout as Legg threw spin after spin into the tale. Yet at no point did the solid storyline, replete with some very serious themes and warnings, suffer in the slightest, such is the mastery Brandt Legg exercises in his creations. The characters, as always, even the ‘Bad Guys’, were cleverly crafted to remain believable despite their incredible escapes from mortal danger. This trilogy has to be the author’s best yet.

I would make one observation to anyone unfamiliar with Legg’s work: read both the ‘Inner Movement’ and ‘Cosega Sequence’ trilogies first. Your overall enjoyment and wonder at the epic tale woven in these nine books will be further enhanced once you reach this final volume of ‘The Justar Journal’. Here is a true master of modern fiction at work."

Amazon Link

That Man hisself, Scottish author Seumas Gallacher's latest volume in his Jack Calder thriller series pits his hero against corrupt cops and deadly drug lords:

"‘Killer City’, the fourth book in writer Seumas Gallacher’s Jack Calder series, scores a bullseye in the crime thriller genre. In it he pits the might of International Security Partners against corrupt cops and deadly crime lords in the North of England and Tajikistan. The tale is a solid page-turner, with plenty of intrigue, betrayals and bodies to satisfy the most exigent of his fans.

As usual, the pace in Gallacher’s tale is superb as it moves us from Manchester to London then to Spain and Eastern Europe. The writing is taut and straight to the point, reminding me of the earlier Lee Child novels, wasting no time plunging the reader into the plot. The characters, for the most part, will be familiar to followers of this series, and there are several convincingly-crafted villains to make the storyline more interesting.

In my opinion, Gallacher’s Jack Calder novels have come of age with this one; it’s easily the best of the four books published so far. Looking forward to reading the next. Highly recommended for lovers of compelling crime thrillers."

Amazon Link
And last, but by no means least, John Dolan's latest incursion into the life of his off-beat Private Investigator. This time we discover his backstory:

"‘A Poison Tree’ is billed as the third book of the ‘Time, Blood and Karma’ series yet, in a sense, it’s also both the fourth and the second. That may sound odd to any reader who’s not read John Dolan’s previous works, so I’ll explain my reasoning. The author’s first tale, a short humorous romp featuring Jim Fosse and an interchange of communication over an expense claim that ends in a highly unexpected fashion, introduces the reader to a strong character whose presence is a driving force in this novel. Fosse possesses the despicable intelligence of the psychopath and is a master puppeteer who manipulates people and situations at whim. Here his spider web lands the protagonist, David Braddock in his third outing, in an almost untenable position. So in that sense the Fosse-centric book becomes part of the series, making this the fourth.

Then there’s the foundation stone that cements Braddock’s current existence in Thailand, which is the essence of this novel. It’s almost as if the author had a need to explain the why’s and how’s of his protagonist’s Asian sojourn through this peek into his backstory, before continuing with the chronicle of Braddock’s life in future novels. Chronologically, this novel takes place before Braddock leaves the UK for Samui Island and the more exotic adventures related in the ‘Everyone Burns’ and ‘Hungry Ghosts’ novels. That would make this book the second in the series.

Irrelevant mathematics aside, author John Dolan’s tale of infidelity and frustration is an intricate interweaving of relationships that seems to become more complicated with every new chapter as the reader discover matters are never quite what they seem. As usual with Dolan’s work, the characters are exceptionally solid, realistic and well-drawn and the scene-setting provides a credible backdrop for the events that unfold. The author expertly manages the reader’s emotional reaction through exemplary prose, so be prepared to laugh a few times, grin a lot more, and feel the contrasting emotion of deep sadness as some secrets are revealed and others kept.

Overall this novel is far more than an explanation of David Braddock’s presence in Thailand; it adds further dimension to the already complex character that Dolan had birthed and sets the stage for future episodes in the protagonist’s life. I have only one request of the author: please bring back Jim Fosse in a future tale: he’s a modern Moriarty, the villain whose deeds we love to hate whilst simultaneously admiring his cunning guile. 

Despite this book being the second, third or fourth in a series, it can be read as a stand-alone with ease. I would thoroughly recommend it to all lovers of exceptional fiction. Looking forward to the next from this author."

I'll be back next week with some more recommendations; next time it will be stand-alone novels I recommend as New Year reads. 

In the meantime, keep reading, and my very best wishes for the Holiday season to you all.

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