Mississippi Roll by Various Authors (edited by George R R Martin)

Mississippi Roll by Various Authors (edited by George R R Martin)Mississippi Roll by George R.R. Martin, Stephen Leigh, David D. Levine, John Jos. Miller, Kevin Andrew Murphy, Cherie Priest, Carrie Vaughn
Published by Tor Books on December 5th 2017
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 336
Format: Ebook
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
three-half-stars

Perfect for current fans and new readers alike, Mississippi Roll is an all-new, adventurous jaunt along one of America's greatest rivers, featuring many beloved characters from the Wild Cards universe

Edited by #1 New York Times bestselling author George R. R. Martin, Mississippi Roll features the writing talents of Stephen Leigh, David D. Levine, John Jos. Miller, Kevin Andrew Murphy, Cherie Priest, and Carrie Vaughn.

I feel as though I should open with a disclaimer, that while I have read some of the books/anthologies in the Wild Cards series, I have by no means read all of t hem. In saying that however, I do understand the world that He (being George R R Martin) has created in conjunction with the other authors who contribute to this shared world. Mississippi Roll in a collection of interwoven stories set on a paddle steamer named the Natchez filled with colourful and intriguing characters who really jump off the page.

I have always appreciated Martin’s sense of place, and the unique settings he has created, although some of the stories that are told within that setting are not as interesting as others. One of the major threads in the stories in Mississippi Roll seems to be a discussion of the morality, and worthiness of taking in illegal immigrants, and while I can take or leave the politics of this, I really had no interest in the story being told. The plot with the ghostly captain? That was a much more emotional, ripping yarn. As a consequence, I found myself reading this book in fits and starts.

The publisher notes that this is suitable for newcomers to the Wild Card series, but I believe that to do so would be like being thrown in the deep end, without any context of the politics and environment in which these stories are set. The authors take some steps to explain the origins of the Wild Card virus, but you have to have a basic understanding of a lot of the terminology used. There were several times I found myself running to the wiki for clarification on some points.

For fans of the Wild Cards series, this latest collection is more of the same of what they have enjoyed in the past. Whether some of the messageyness of the stories suits your brand of politics, or can be overlooked, that’s up to you. This is a solid addition to the Wild Card universe.

I received a review copy from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

three-half-stars
Rating Report
Plot
three-half-stars
Characters
four-stars
Writing
four-half-stars
Pacing
three-half-stars
Cover
three-half-stars
Overall: four-stars

Breaking Van Gogh by James Grundvig

Breaking Van Gogh by James GrundvigBreaking van Gogh: Saint-Rémy, Forgery, and the $95 Million Fake at the Met by James Ottar Grundvig
Published by Skyhorse Publishing on October 4th 2016
Pages: 280
Format: Ebook
Goodreads
three-stars

In Breaking van Gogh, James Grundvig investigates the history and authenticity of van Gogh’s iconic Wheat Field with Cypresses, currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Relying on a vast array of techniques from the study of the painter’s biography and personal correspondence to the examination of the painting’s style and technical characteristics, Grundvig proves that “the most expensive purchase” housed in the Met is a fake.

The Wheat Field with Cypresses is traditionally considered to date to the time of van Gogh’s stay in the Saint-Rémy mental asylum, where the artist produced many of his masterpieces. After his suicide, these paintings languished for a decade, until his sister-in-law took them to a family friend for restoration. The restorer had other ideas.

In the course of his investigation, Grundvig traces the incredible story of this piece from the artist’s brushstrokes in sunlit southern France to a forger’s den in Paris, the art collections of a prominent Jewish banking family and a Nazi-sympathizing Swiss arms dealer, and finally the walls of the Met. The riveting narrative weaves its way through the turbulent history of twentieth-century Europe, as the painting’s fate is intimately bound with some of its major players.

Everyone loves a good scandal, especially when it comes from the rather pretentious world of high, and expensive art. Breaking Van Gogh seeks to uncover one of the examples of a scandal in plain sight, which is a fake Van Gogh which may or may not be hanging in a prestigious museum.

I must confess that I had not heard this particular story before, and while he takes a somewhat long-winded approach to it, the author does a good job of weaving an interesting tale. It certainly paints a sordid picture of how the art world functioned in the late 19th and early 20th Century.

The author lays out his case very well, and manages to keep it interesting enough for someone who does not have a great deal of knowledge about the subject. As I mentioned before, there are times when it felt like he was belabouring the point, and going over the same material, but one doesn’t need to read everything. While this was something of an expose, I suppose, Grundvig puts the information out there but it lacks a certain punch.

Breaking Van Gogh is a generally-enjoyable narrative non-fiction book that I found informative, and intriguing, and covered a subject I was not previously aware of in a way that was easy to understand.

three-stars
Rating Report
Writing
four-stars
Pacing
three-stars
Cover
three-stars
Overall: three-stars

Violated by Carolyn Arnold

Violated by Carolyn ArnoldViolated by Carolyn Arnold
Published by Hibbert & Stiles Publishing Inc on April 28, 2016
Genres: Thriller
Format: Ebook
Goodreads
one-star

Sometimes the past should stay there…

The murder is one of the most heinous FBI agent and profiler Brandon Fisher has ever seen. But that’s not why he and two members of the team are rushing to California. The Bureau is interested because the prime suspect is one of their own, Paige Dawson.

But Paige didn’t go to Valencia to kill anyone. She had set out on “vacation”—her new lover in tow—only to confront the man who raped her friend twenty-some years ago. While the hands of the law are tied, she wants him to face the fact that he destroyed a young woman’s life and know that, as an FBI agent, she’ll be watching his every move. Yet, instead of accomplishing her goal, she wound up in the back of a police cruiser.

Now Paige must face off with a hard-nosed detective determined to stick a murder charge to a fed. But with the trained eyes of the FBI on the case, it’s becoming more and more obvious that the evidence lends itself to a serial killing, not an isolated incident. And as long as the local authorities are focused on Paige, the real murderer is still out there, possibly waiting to strike again…

Violated purports itself to be a police procedural/thriller novel, but quite frankly is a weird love triangle dressed in sheep’s clothing. There are so many things wrong with this book that destroys any credibility that it might hope to achieve.

Paige is an FBI agent who is arrested in the process of casually breaking an entering someone’s house. She is charged with murder, because that person was found dead, murdered in a weird kink scene. She uses her one phone call to call her FBI partner, who happens to be her ex-lover, who for some reason is allowed to inject himself into the investigation. In what world outside of plot convenience would this be allowed to happen, I ask? This destroyed any sense of realism right off the bat.

A whole lot of largely pointless plot connivance happens, Paige’s current love interest gets involved. I really lost interest in what was happening, and when the View Spoiler » angle started, I was done with this novel. There was a serious lack of subtlety with this novel.

As I said at the beginning, this is pure daytime television drama nonsense, and attempts to take itself far too seriously for the fluff and nonsense that it is. There is a lot of overt violence in the novel, but this feels like window dressing to the real story, which is the love triangle.

If that’s what you’re looking for, have at it, but don’t sell me mutton dressed up as lamb.

one-star
Rating Report
Plot
half-star
Characters
half-star
Writing
half-star
Pacing
half-star
Overall: half-star

Hellraisers by Axl Rosenberg, Chris Kovatin

Hellraisers by Axl Rosenberg, Chris KovatinHellraisers: A Complete Visual History of Heavy Metal Mayhem by Axl Rosenberg, Chris Krovatin
Published by Race Point Publishing on October 24th 2017
Genres: History, Music
Pages: 288
Format: Ebook
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
four-stars

A pair of metalheads well versed in everything from Anthrax to Zeppelin take you through the metal halls of history in Hellraisers. Time to crank the volume and throw the horns!

Take a journey through the history of metal music from its earliest roots with Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath to its popular modern incarnations like experimental black metal, stoner doom, and djent. Get incredible looks at modern prog metal musicians tearing up the fret board, or remember some of your favorite, old 38s from years gone by. Everything from AC/DC and Anthrax to Meshuggah and Mastodon is on display in this superfan's-eye-view exploration of metal’s most innovative and hardcore sounds that can be heard around the world.

Co-authored by Axl Rosenberg and Chris Krovatin of the hugely popular blog metalsucks.com, this is a visually dynamic history, complete with exclusive band interviews, over 200 full color photos, genre-by-genre playlists, and plenty more to keep you throwing horns all night long.

The Heavy Metal genre of music is quite a broad church, and trying to capture even the current state of the industry, let alone the origins of it is an ambitious task the authors have set themselves. You may well argue that they have taken some missteps along the way, and not everyone is going to agree with their categorisation of various bands under the umbrella term “heavy metal”, but I think they have done a sterling job at hitting the right notes along the way. This book is obviously written by people who are passionate about the topic, and their knowledge and appreciation of the music and bands really shines through.

As a fan of the genre, or probably more accurately, certain sub-genres of heavy metal, I found that the authors did an excellent job of hitting the key points of each phase in the development of the music. The book starts off as a history lesson of the birth of rock and roll, and wends its way through the history of hard rock, and how it developed into heavy metal. The latter half of the book is given over to the various sub-genres of metal, although inevitably I am sure it misses some of the more obscure. Some of the more entertaining parts were the descriptions of the starter kits required, which often described in painfully-accurate detail the fans of the period or sub-genre. For those readers looking for an introduction into a particular era or there are helpful lists of artists and songs suggested at the end of each chapter.

This is a book that you can easily drop in and out of, pick and choose what interests you or want to learn more about. Frank Zappa is often quoted as saying that writing about music is like dancing about architecture, and in some ways this book is trying to fill a number of spaces. It is part history, part encyclopedia, and part love letter to a genre of music which is often derided, and its fans mistreated or misunderstood.

Hellraisers is an attempt at writing a reasonably comprehensive history of Heavy Metal, and in that aim, I believe it has succeeded. As a fan of metal, I found myself nodding along to a lot of the descriptions, as this book is clearly written by authors who “get it” which I find is rare.

This is a very entertaining read, although not for everyone, and the latter third might well carry a warning of disturbing material, but that comes with the territory.

I received a review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

four-stars
Rating Report
Writing
five-stars
Pacing
four-stars
Cover
four-stars
Overall: four-stars

Abduction by Alan Baxter

Abduction by Alan BaxterAbduction by Alan Baxter
Published by Ragnarok Publications on November 1st 2017
Genres: Urban Fantasy
Pages: 388
Format: Ebook
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
four-half-stars

The past often catches up with you, but when it's Alex Caine's past the results can be deadly.

Alex Caine has been suffering the weight of the world, and some days it's hard to even get out of bed. Alone one night, a band of Fey overwhelm him and steal him away from the mortal realm. Silhouette, desperate to save her lover, calls in Armour, but the organization seems reluctant to help. 

Claude Darvill, his fragile alliance with Alex at an end, is still searching for the remains of his father, Robert Hood. In frozen wastes of Iceland, Darvill is driven by a deep-burning grudge and a need for revenge. His efforts are backed by all the considerable resources of Black Diamond Incorporated.

Silhouette must overcome her greatest fears and use all her skills to locate Alex. Even if she can find him, that's just the start of their problems.

In this third Alex Caine book, sequel to Bound and Obsidian, old enemies and new share a common goal. Alex Caine hates to be the center of attention, but he and Silhouette need to pull together as the world is threatened once more, and only Alex can save it.

Where do I begin with the Alex Caine series? Abduction is the third in the series, and I highly recommend following this story from the beginning, as Alan Baxter has crafted an excellent, modern urban fantasy that is laced with a fantastically dark sense of humour.

I am reminded of an old website called They Fight Crime, which randomly generated a crime-fighting duo. In some ways the main characters Alex Caine and Silhouette feel a bit like one of those random pairings. He’s a martial artist with the ability to anticipate his enemies moves, she’s a half Fey who likes to eat things, they fight crime!

Silhouette discovers that someone has abducted Alex from his home, and launches a rescue operation that is just the start of a battle against enemies who will stop at nothing to succeed in their dastardly plans. I think that a hero is only as good as the enemy he is pitted against, and the great thing with Alan Baxter’s novels is that – honestly – the really bad guys don’t fuck about. Baxter does a great job of developing his bad guys as credible threats, and they are in keeping with the dark and gritty nature of this novel.

It is hard to talk about this novel without going into the details of what has come before in the series, but I cannot recommend this author highly enough. It is easy to draw comparisons to authors like Jim Butcher and Benedict Jacka, and this is series which would be enjoyable for fans of those authors. However, the Author has brought his own unique take and taste to this genre. New readers should start at the beginning, but this is an excellent edition to Alex Caine series.

I received a review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

four-half-stars
Rating Report
Plot
four-half-stars
Characters
five-stars
Writing
five-stars
Pacing
four-stars
Cover
four-half-stars
Overall: four-half-stars

Stalingrad by Antony Beevor

Stalingrad by Antony BeevorStalingrad: The Fateful Siege, 1942–1943 by Antony Beevor
Published by Penguin Books on May 1st 1999
Genres: History
Pages: 494
Format: Audiobook
Goodreads
five-stars

The Battle of Stalingrad was not only the psychological turning point of World War II: it also changed the face of modern warfare. Historians and reviewers worldwide have hailed Antony Beevor's magisterial Stalingrad as the definitive account of World War II's most harrowing battle.

In August 1942, Hitler's huge Sixth Army reached the city that bore Stalin's name. In the five-month siege that followed, the Russians fought to hold Stalingrad at any cost; then, in an astonishing reversal, encircled and trapped their Nazi enemy. This battle for the ruins of a city cost more than a million lives. Stalingrad conveys the experience of soldiers on both sides, fighting in inhuman conditions, and of civilians trapped on an urban battlefield. Antony Beevor has interviewed survivors and discovered completely new material in a wide range of German and Soviet archives, including prisoner interrogations and reports of desertions and executions. As a story of cruelty, courage, and human suffering, Stalingrad is unprecedented and unforgettable.

Antony Beevor is one of my favourite nonfiction authors, and Stalingrad is typical of his impeccably researched, well-spun tales that takes the reader behind the scenes of the battle for Stalingrad, which was one of the great turning points of the Second World War.

It is difficult to sum up the excellence of this book. Beevor relies on primary sources, including battlefield reports, and letters home to weave a story that puts the reader on the ground in the gruelling conflict. You can really get a sense of the battle to simply survive in the harsh Russian landscape, let alone trying to wage a war. The stories told in Stalingrad range from the high ranking officers on both the German – and their allies – and the Russian sides, as well as those of the average fighting men and women.

This is a book which gives the reader a deep understanding of what went on in this pivotal battle, and an appreciation for the appalling sacrifices which were made in the name of both Communism and Fascism. Beevor approaches the subject with an even, neutral base, and it is easy to see the It is impossible to come away from this book without feeling affected by it.

Antony Beevor has turned his careful, practiced hand to telling the story of the battle of Stalingrad, and produced a superb tome that will inform, entertain and enlighten. This is a very accessible book to any fan of history looking to learn more about this particular conflict.

five-stars
Rating Report
Writing
five-stars
Cover
five-stars
Overall: five-stars

Assassin’s Code by Ward Larsen

Assassin’s Code by Ward LarsenAssassin's Code by Ward Larsen
Published by Macmillan-Tor/Forge Format: Ebook
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
three-half-stars

Former assassin David Slaton discovers a cryptic message: on a memory stick, a photograph of the man who will soon assume command of DGSI, France’s elite counterterrorism force. With the country reeling under a wave of ISIS attacks, Zavier Baland will be trusted to make the Republic safe again. The problem—Slaton has seen Baland’s face before. He is Ali Samir, a terrorist Slaton is certain he killed fifteen years earlier. Unable to reconcile these facts, he heads west to investigate.

Thousands of miles away, ISIS’s chief information officer tries to keep networks running amid crumbling infrastructure. With the caliphate’s very survival at stake, the leadership commits to a last-ditch gambit: France must be attacked on a massive scale, forcing the West into the battle of the Apocalypse.

I had never read a David Slaton book before, but I was interested in getting on board with a new thriller writer. The main character is a former Mossad assassin who gets hooked back into a life of mystery and intrigue in a fairly standard plot device for such this kind of book. It was very reminiscent in that way of the Jason Bourne series in style, and for the most part it kept me sucked into the world.

If I had a criticism of the book, I never really understood what the stakes were in this book. Yes, there was a terrorist who might be getting appointed as the head of some French intelligence agency. But these things just feel like the excuse to write a book in this world, where as the personal story is the more interesting.

It has been a couple of weeks since I finished this book, and I really don’t feel like it had an effect on me that would keep me coming back, in the same way that books by Robert Ludlum or Tom Clancy have. This was a relatively middle-of-the-road book that was just okay.

I received a review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

three-half-stars
Rating Report
Plot
three-stars
Characters
four-stars
Writing
three-stars
Pacing
three-stars
Cover
three-stars
Overall: three-stars

The China Sea by Richard Herman

The China Sea by Richard HermanThe China Sea by Richard Herman
Published by Endeavour Press on July 25th 2017
Genres: Thriller
Pages: 249
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads
two-stars

The Chinese Dragon has awoken - and is narrowing its sights on the South China Sea.

America - and it's president Morgan Taylor - cannot permit such territorial expansion to go unchecked. But America also cannot afford to go to war. To square the circle the President decides to employ the services of David Santos, a retired air force general and intelligence officer, and his "Bravo" team, a company of trained specialists.

As the unit is deployed into South East Asia they know that America will deny all knowledge of their existence. Capture will mean torture - and death. Santos and Bravo team must try to prevent a war, working in the shadows. But they will not be alone. China has deployed its own unit, to counter the Americans and foment conflict and conquest. The fate of Bravo team in the South China Sea could shape - or shatter - the peace between two global superpowers.

The clock is ticking. The race is on.

I’ve hesitated about writing a review of this book, so I could see whether it had a lasting memory on me. I read so many thriller novels, and there needs to be something different about a novel to really rise above the pack. I find the political dynamics in the South China Sea to be quite interesting, and is likely to be the next big thing in thriller novels, taking over from the Russians who dominated the genre’s Bad Guy Ranks for so many years.

There are some interesting characters in here – a South Korean super sniper who infiltrates the North on a dangerous mission for instance; a group of Vietnamese rebels who call themselves the Viet Cong – but apart from these I really struggled to keep a track of everyone else. There were a few big set pieces involving the American president, and the North Korean president, but apart from that I really struggle to elucidate just what the point of any of it was. I understand – from a geopolitical point of view – what China thinks about the control of the South China Sea, but beyond that this book really felt like a bunch of talking heads who travelled from Australia to Vietnam and… didn’t seem to do anything.

I think this book tries to be a throwback to a Spy v Spy novel, where the two sides never really come into contact with each other. But this felt really generic, and lacked a clear vision of what was going on. It felt like watching the news – you get a lot of segments of stories that are short, sharp, and to find out anything new about any individual piece, you need to wait a while.

There are a lot of great thriller writers out there, and an abundance of books to choose from and I just can’t find a reason to recommend this book.

I received a review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

two-stars
Rating Report
Plot
two-half-stars
Characters
one-half-stars
Writing
two-stars
Pacing
three-stars
Cover
two-stars
Overall: two-stars

7/7 and 21/7 – Delving into Room 101 by Cliff Todd

7/7 and 21/7 – Delving into Room 101 by Cliff Todd7/7 and 21/7 – Delving into Room 101 by Cliff Todd
Published by Matador on October 11, 2017
Genres: True Crime
Format: Ebook
Source: NetGalley
Goodreads

When I heard that this very brief book was a memoir by one of the forensic investigators into the bombings in London, I thought that it might be an interesting read. While there have been libraries written about the September 11 attacks, the London terror attacks seem to have gone unexamined.

The problem with this book is a serious lack of depth. It is a personal memoir from Cliff Todd that covers a relatively short period of time, and gets so bogged down in the technical detail of bombs and explosives, almost to the point where it lacks any sense of a human connection to the events.

I guess I was expecting more storytelling, rather than a dry recitation. It is both a blessing and a curse that the book is so short, because it quite frankly bored me.

One for the truly interested in such matters.

I received a review copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

From a Certain Point of View by Ben Acker, others.

From a Certain Point of View by Ben Acker, others.From a Certain Point of View by Ben Acker, Renee Ahdieh, Tom Angleberger, Ben Blacker, Jeffrey Brown, Jason Fry, Christie Golden, Pierce Brown, Ashley Eckstein, Mur Lafferty, Ken Liu, Griffin McElroy, John Jackson Miller, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Nnedi Okorafor, Daniel José Older, Ian Doescher, Mallory Ortberg, Madeleine Roux, Gary D. Schmidt, Matt Fraction, Cavan Scott, Sabaa Tahir, Kieron Gillen, Glen Weldon, Chuck Wendig, Gary Whitta, Meg Cabot, Pablo Hidalgo, E. K. Johnston, Rae Carson, Adam Christopher, Zoraida Córdova, Delilah S. Dawson, Paul Dini, Alexander Freed, Claudia Gray, Paul S. Kemp, Elizabeth Wein, Beth Revis, Greg Rucka, Charles Soule, Wil Wheaton
Published by Del Rey on October 3rd 2017
Genres: Sci-Fi
Pages: 477
Format: Ebook
Goodreads
four-stars

In celebration of Star Wars’ 40th anniversary, Del Rey is going to shine the spotlight on those unsung weirdos, heroes, and villains with a unique, new anthology. Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View, coming October 2017, will bring together more than 40 authors for 40 stories. Each will be told from the perspective of background characters of A New Hope — from X-wing pilots who helped Luke destroy the Death Star to the stormtroopers who never quite could find the droids they were looking for.

From a Certain Point of View markets itself as Star Wars fanfiction, and I suppose in a way it is. This is fanfiction written by some of the biggest names in science fiction, and consists of short stories written to sit alongside the events of Episode IV.

There are stories told from the points of view of Jawas, Droids, Dancers, Imperial Officers and many more. It was a little reminiscent of the “Tales from…” series of anthologies released in the 90s.

I think with this sort of collection you can pick and choose the kinds of story that work for you. There are plenty to choose from, and while I read most of them some just didn’t tickle my fancy. I really enjoyed the story called The Sith of Datawork, about an Imperial underling who tries to cover up for the officer on the Devatastor who let the escape pod go, using a series of convoluted paperwork. But my favourite would have been the one from the POV of a mouse droid on the Death Star.

It broadens one’s mind beyond the big heroes and names who have their stories told on the silver screen, and helps to flesh out the universe of Star Wars, and helps to humanise some of the more unlikable, or unknown characters that a movie doesn’t have time to deal with.

This is definitely one for the fans. You will find plenty of laughs, and a couple of moving moments here, in a neatly packaged form that allows you to drop in and drop out of.

four-stars
Rating Report
Characters
five-stars
Writing
four-stars
Overall: four-half-stars