Tour’s Books Blog

November 11, 2016

A Last Post and Then – A Long Break

I suspect you’ve noticed I’ve been posting less these last few months, in part due to repetitive computer issues and in part due to issues with my eyes.  Like most folks my age with light eyes I’ve had cataracts for years.  These last few months saw a marked changed in my vision and it is difficult for me to work on the computer for any length of time.

Yes, I am getting surgery on both eyes, but I have to wait for openings which put’s it out later than I had hoped.  Still, it will be good to get it done.  Hopefully, it will be drama free and mark the end of a very expensive year of car repairs, extensive dental work, multiple trips to the computer place (where I was mistaken for an employee), and ending with eye surgery.  Could have been better, could have been worse.

I’ve been on a spy/assassin/action thriller binge with multiple authors in various formats.  I belong to Goodreads and I occasionally post (in fits in starts) in two groups, The Orion Team, a group for fans of action thriller/spy/espionage type books and the VERY large Mystery, Crime, Thriller group.  I am almost never around the fantasy and paranormal groups I belong to.  The latest Mitch Rapp book, Order to Kill by Kyle Mills who took over for Vince Flynn and did a really spectacular job of The Survivor, the previous book in the series is reviewed below.  By comparison, I found Order to Kill …… well, average or slightly above.  My comment brought out Ryan – self-styled ‘The Rappologist” – a Mitch Rapp superfan who runs a blog dedicated to Mitch Rapp who took exception to my views.  So I did something I rarely do, I sent an email to the author, Kyle Mills.

Now I email my many political representatives and office holders in DC and tell them off or agree with them (can’t remember the last time that happened) and sent the email expecting ‘Thanks for writing’, canned reply of a similar nature.  But lo and behold, within a few hours Kyle Mills replied himself.  And not some rote response, but a thoughtful look at what books of his I liked and how I loved The Survivor, but not Order to Kill.  A part of his response was:

“My impression of the Rapp books is that he is a bit of a superhero.  Realism is less important than the fact that he be the master of his universe.  Part of that is shown through his actions and part is through the deference others show him.  Further, because The Survivor leaned toward the cerebral (in the context of the series) I wanted to do more of a pure action thriller this time out.”

I thought about his reply awhile and about what books I liked best and those that ended up annoying me and came to the conclusion I do prefer the cerebral thriller.  There’s plenty of action, but the characters are more nuanced, flawed, and human, so more relatable.  See, even a thriller teaches us something about ourselves.  And kudos to Mr Mills.

On to the reviews!

PS – Belle Chasse by Suzanne Johnson, the next in the Sentinels of New Orleans series is due out next week.  If I have a moment, I’ll post a short review before surgery.  Happy Holidays!

NOTE: All books purchased by me unless otherwise noted.

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Image result for order to kill vince flynn

Order to Kill has Rapp back in Pakistan works with the team of ex-Seals to locate the now mobile nuclear missiles the Pakistani Army is playing dangerous games with.  Then he is pulled away when the wife and son of the Louis Gould, the man who tried to kill him, are in jeopardy.  Apparently, the safe home in South Africa is breached by ISIS rebels led by a low-level Russian thug.  Rapp saves the day (of course) but feels this urgent need to get back to Pakistan.  He sends the mother and son to his house the one he’s he’s finally finishing so many years after the death of his first wife.  The best line in the book is the interior decorator who is increasingly frustrated by his non-responses to texts about things like countertops and threatens him with pink Formica if he doesn’t reply.

Then we go off the rails.  Mills’ Putin clone orders his best assassin to kill Rapp.  And the ‘Rapp is Superhero’ song begins.  It’s annoying beyond belief.  Everything in Pakistan will fall apart if Rapp is there and without him their operations are crippled?  Seriously?  He’s the ONE man who can see this and wreck the ‘big plan?  Maybe he should check with the Johnny Carson estate to see if his Carnac hat is available for sale.  All Rapp was missing was a clingy body suit and big red ‘S’ on his chest.  I just took what came next as shallow, predictable, and kind of tedious in that like a romance novel, the ending was never in doubt, just how he got there.  You couldn’t even hate the competent Russian assassin, who was just doing a job.  We can hate ISIS, but big deal.

What’s missing?  Well, there’s plenty of action and the pacing is excellent.  Mills knows his way around writing a thriller, but in trying to imitate Flynn’s later works where Rapp is less human and more a cartoonish, shallow, always right, he lost the nuance that he brought to The Survivor, what I thought was one of the best books in the series for some time.  That he deliberately changed the style to better match Flynn is precisely why I found myself annoyed with it.  I’d grown tired of Flynn turning Rapp into an almost inhuman superhero.  I did like Grisha Azarov, the Russian assassin and he has some potential for future books as he manages to get away from both Rapp and Russia.

If Mills sticks with this ‘superhero’ approach, I’ll likely quit buying after the next book.  It’s like a good, but unsurprising action movie rather than an intellectual challenge with action an integral part.  Plus Rapp is getting too old to be fully credible in plots that are all about physical challenges without the redeeming factors of human error or character flaws.  To his credit, he did leave Rapp with the widow and child now living in his house and not knowing how to handle things.

Order to Kill gets a C+ (3.4*) rating for me and will be loved by dedicated Rapp fans – 70% of whom gave it 5* on Amazon.  I found it tedious and annoying and actually a step back from the far better book, The Survivor.  There are far too many of the ‘James Bond’ superspy genre out there.  Shallow and to me, ultimately unsatisfying.  Read it if you are a Flynn fan.  I’m sure you’ll at least like it as it is was well written and paced and you like the ‘avenging crusader’ style of thriller.  If you’re NOT a huge fan, borrow it from the library, buy it used, cheap in about 6 months (or less as remainders are already down to $10 including shipping on Amazon) or hit the FOL sale in about 2 months when they start removing extras from their shelves.

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Image result for foreign agent brad thor

Scot Harvath, like Mich Rapp, is getting a bit long in tooth (this is book 16 to Rapp’s 15th – but Flynn’s death caused a break in time before a new author was selected) to be the only guy to do the job again, and again, and again.  Like Kyle Mills and Vince Flynn, Thor brings a sense of realism to his settings and action, but Foreign Agent lacked the originality of his earlier books and like Rapp, Harvath has become a bit too much – though Thor is giving him more humanity and a strong sense of his mortality.  The series is suffering from character fatigue.

Harvath, like Flynn, chose to go the route where action takes priority over over character and complexity of human nature.  The plot becomes the story and characters are stoically going through the motions of playing out scenes.  I give him credit for slowly developing the self-realization of his and the fact this cannot last.  Still, it’s almost cut a paste in parts from prior work.  Not a patch on Black List, which was excellent, one of his best.  This can be a trap when the protagonist must start confronting in changes age brings and the equally harsh realization that they want a life beyond the endless action, beyond being responsible for the whole world.

And it is that humanity, the flawed person, that makes characters go from good to completely memorable.  And it’s that element of the plot that raises a book from decent read to amazing.  Now you can do that with some other elements like he did with Black List, but that made the PLOT great, not the characters.  Here, the plot cannot push the book from average to amazing.  It’s a decent plot – and like Kyle Mills, he mixes Russians and ISIS are the antagonists against whom Harvath must match wits and killing skills.  But here the Rissian involved with ISIS is not an apolitical professional assassin like Mills’ Grisha Azarov, but a nutcase who hate Americans.

Again, no question Thor knows the area, the techniques, technology, and keeps things moving, but he’s at the ‘fish or cut bait’ point with Harvath.  Made a few books more, but his character is too old and fire that drove him is changing.

Foreign Agent gets a C+ to B- (3.5*) and will be a huge hit with action thriller fans.  It shows less prescience and tension than Black List, the book I now judge his others by.  Like all books in the action Thriller genre, the price on remainders drops like a stone pretty fast and you can get a HC new book delivered from an Amazon reseller cheaper than the paperback.  Or go buy it at the FOL sale or borrow it from the library.  It wasn’t worth the HC price, but I share this series, like the Rapp series with my brother, so off to him it goes.  Print only.  He and amy SIL do NOT do ebooks.

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Image result for a time to die tom wood

Victor the assassin is back with another excellent installment.  Unlike characters like Rapp and Scot Harvath, Victor is a true anti-hero.  An assassin for hire with a certain code, the first priority being his own survival.  He trusts no one and leads an existence devoid of human ties.  But he keeps his promises.

A Time to Die finds Victor on a train to fulfill a contract for MI6 as part of deal they made.  But he’s not alone.  There are other assassins out to get him.  Someone has put a price on his head.  But Victor now has his focus divided between Rados, the worst of the many Balkan war criminals and mass murderers, now a crime boss, and those who are hunting for him.

Patience and attention to detail are what have kept Victor alive when most other assassins would have sought retirement and refuge.  But it also means someone sold him out and it can only be one person – the middleman who acts as the go-between Victor and is clients.  No time for that now, now he must find a way to dig deep enough into the criminal underground to find Rados who has evaded all who have sought to bring him to trial for war crimes.

It is a wonderfully twisted knot of a killer seeking to kill a killer while another killer is trying to kill him and the target that Victor ends up close nearly gets to live …….. but he seals his fate by causing Victor to break a promise.

Assassin novels are very different from ones where the protagonist is a hero fighting for a cause or belief and someone who has made his life about the art of killing and going unnoticed.  Victor is gray, he has limits, a personal code, but is morally flexible on some things.  He does not kill unnecessarily nor is he any kind of patriot.  Just a killer.  Complex and fascinating in his own way.

A Time to Die poses some interesting perspectives on the nature of true evil.  One of Tom Wood’s best and most mature from a plot and character perspective, with plenty of action and twists.  It gets a solid B (4*) and a highly recommended read for fans of early John Rain books by Barry Eisler, Solo by Jack Higgins, or Shibumi by Trevanian.  I’m not sure why this series is not more popular.  It’s really well done a Victor makes a wonderful anti-hero.

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Image result for tokyo black by andrew warren

I bought the ebook, Tokyo Black by Andrew Warren, the first in the Thomas Caine series, from Amazon through a Book Bub sale and figured I’d give it a try.  Tokyo Black is about an ex-CIA covert operative who got set up and is getting set up again by the same man.  Using an alias, he’s lived a comfortable and quiet life in Thailand’s resort area doing minor smuggling of designer knockoffs.  His partner sets him up with a narcotics rap and he lands in prison.  His was out is an ex-lover who needs him to some work in Japan, part of his old territory before things went sideways in the Mideast.

This setup moves quickly into the story where Caine is in Japan where he uses a favor owed him by a Yakuza boss to try and find out what’s going on.  Unlike most spy novels, this thriller is more tied to organized crime than national secrets or terrorist groups.  Sort of The Godfather meets John Rain – and I hope that didn’t give away the ending, which was well done.

The story is a really good, fast-paced read but not nuanced as I like my thrillers, just a personal preference in style.  Caine is a really good character and it will be interesting to see where this goes as he ends up agreeing to work freelance for the CIA.

Tokyo Black gets a solid B (4*) from me.  For lovers of the John Rain books, Gray Man series, and the Keller books by Lawrence Block.

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Image result for Curious Minds by evanovich

From well-crafted thrillers to mystery fluff with as much substance as meringue.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing inherently wrong with fluff when it’s well done, which this is not.  In the tradition of Clive Cussler, Tom Clancy, and James Patterson, we add Janet Evanovich, aging doyen (75 years old) of the increasingly awful Steph Plum books (once favorites of mine, 14 books ago), cooking up ways to ‘expand the brand’.  God, the money machine runs on her name.  The books are mostly written by her co-authors, but it is HER name that sells them.

Curious Minds is mildly original, very choppy, meant to have this brilliant and eccentric lead character (a copy of the TV series version of Elementary, except Emerson Knight has none of the flaws and is a LOT richer) and the ever reluctant female in the late 20’s trying to break into the financial world who is assigned to keep him as a customer of the financial house.  Riley Moon is the reluctant sidekick in his plans.

This is supposed to be funny, and apparently, some people found it so.  But a decade’s old scheme to replace the gold in the US Federal Reserve in NYC with gold plated tungsten while moving the actual gold elsewhere is not only improbable, it makes no sense how Knight works it out.

Curious Minds has a few really amusing throw-away lines, but it was so choppy and jittery, it got annoying.  Though it got 3* from me on GoodReads, it’s really a D+ to C- (2.6*) effort.  I know the style was deliberate, but that did not make it less annoying.  Riley is too young for her years and lacks the maturity to make this pairing work, so she comes off a dimwit with multiple degrees from Harvard, an unlikely combination.  I found it frustrating as the concept was good, it was just not well done.  For Evanovich fans, none of this will matter.  For anyone else, give it a miss or get it free or really cheap somewhere.

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Image result for the breakup doctor book

Oh dear God, why do I do this to myself?  I hate chick lit and buy the ultimate chick lit ebook because of the reviews.  On the upside, I got it super cheap, on the downside, about half way through I gave up.  It was that or throw up.

OK, a psychologist learns her building is being demolished and the two weird people she shared the practice with both knew and had new jobs.  She’s left holding the bag with even her file lost.  (The improbability of all this boggles the mind.)  So she starts a column called The Breakup Doctor with the help of the friend she was counseling when the demolition started.

She starts getting clients and missing the fact that she also missing all the signals her own romance is about to hit the rocks.  All that was missing was a flashing neon sign.

At a quarter of the way through, I’d had enough.  It’s mildly amusing, annoying, and beyond belief – with amusing being only 20%, 50% annoying and 30% not remotely believable.  The Breakup Doctor gets a DNF since I couldn’t make myself finish it.  The writing was solid but the characters everything I loathe in chick lit.  Unless this is your thing, (please, don’t tell me, I’ll just cringe) give it a miss.  If it is your thing, it gets 4.5* on Amazon, but they tend to overrate these things.

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Image result for belle chasse suzanne johnson

OK folks, it came election day and I read it all that day.  I did vote first.

Belle Chasse picks up soon after DJ and Jake make good their escape from the trial Zarkovi  – with the help of Christof Winter Prince, Jean Lafitte, René, and Adrien – getting Eugenie out at the same time.  The are now in Old Barataria at Jean’s home.  Alex stayed back to get the inside scoop on the Council.

The pace is quick as Faerie descends into civil war with the queen on her deathbed.  Eugenie’s sister is killed by vampires – but who did it?  Rand, the elf father of Eugenie’s son, the or the wizards?  Then a group of vampires attack Lafitte’s home in Old Barataria and end up paying the price as the gang arrives back before they can kill any but the undead.  Then a strange woman arrives who turns out to be her cousin Audrey, Lennox’s daughter.  They a young ally to get holy water and take messages.

Then the war the war in Faerie goes bad as Florian kills their aunt and claims Christof is to blame seeking help from the council, help denied by Zarkovi.  With the holy water and her staff, they get to eavesdrop on the council meetings.

The ending is fast and furious as Zarkovi grows more desperate to prove himself.  Old loyalties die hard, but we also lose one of the characters I really liked, so it kind of sad.

Suzanne Johnson did a really good job in keeping this series fresh and interesting and action packed.  Belle Chasse ends on a very surprising note.  Only downside, the book was pricey for a trade sized hardcover just barely over 300 pages.  I give Belle Chasse an A- (4.8*) but a big negative on cost.  Borrow it from the library or wait for a few months and get a used one.  Even the ebook is overpriced.

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