#BookReview: Eastern Drift by J.M. LeDuc

Sinclair O’Malley Meets Her Match. I’ve said in reviews of earlier books in this series that Sinclair O’Malley is an even more bad ass Jack None Reacher, and this book is yet another example of this. And yet, an interesting wrinkle here is that when Sinclair has to keep her enemies close… it turns out one of them in particular is actually just as badass as she is, and is damn near O’Malley’s equal in pretty well every way – a very yin/ yang situation going on here, which was pretty awesome for LeDuc to include. You’ll never see Child doing that with Reacher, and indeed very few characters of this level of badassery ever get that camaraderie with a genuine yet darker equal. Thus, it introduced an interesting dynamic to the usual “beat the bad guys into submission” action trope. Also, with starting out featuring a different character altogether and having this particular character go through an entire development arc through this book, again LeDuc manages to craft more interesting wrinkles and make this series so much more than just “good guy is better than everyone”.

Mostly centered in the Miami area, the trip to beautiful lush Thailand is well done – and an interesting pairing with reading Sara Och’s The Resort, about suspicious deaths at a remote Thai resort, when read close together.

Overall yet another excellent entry in this series, though it does follow on almost immediately from its prior book and has several references to at least one other book earlier in the series (Painted Beauty, book 2 in the series), so for those who can never have any spoilers at all… go back and read those books if you haven’t yet. You’ll get awesome stories and be glad you have this one when you get done with them. 🙂

I, for one, am hoping we get Book 5 in this series with a much shorter gap between the books. 😀 Very much recommended.

This review of Eastern Drift by J.M. LeDuc was originally written on February 22, 2024.

#BookReview: The Girl In The Smoke by Matt Hilton

Relentless Action. This is one of those books that starts off with the barest semblance of “normalcy”, and then… well, I hope you like balls to the walls action, because that is what you’re going to get here. The heart of the crime here is typical enough to be easily understood, with enough wrinkles to make it interesting to try to figure out exactly what the hell happened. But the action is what you’re here for. If, like me, you found Hilton first through the Po and Villere thrillers… well, if you thought the action in those tales was relentless, you aint seen nothing yet. And here, the action is just as violent as anything you’ll see there… without the massive hulking excons to execute it. Indeed, in what could be a bit of a bridge too far for some, the young girl in question has more of a proclivity for violence than some of those entrusted with her care, which produces interesting relational dynamics at times. Overall a fun and short action thriller, great for those times when you just want some basic escapism without too much thinking involved. Very much recommended.

This review of The Girl In The Smoke by Matt Hilton was originally written on February 8, 2024.

#BookReview: Hollywood Hustle by Jon Lindstrom

Hollywood Hubris. The evocative and darkly hilarious tale of a kidnapping of a Hollywood star’s daughter is well paced and quite descriptive, though it does evoke more of the 70s/ 80s vibes than more modern times – despite clearly being set in said more modern times. So perhaps it feels a touch anachronistic at times as well, but it actually somehow manages to work?

No, the biggest problem here wasn’t the characterizations or the action or the (dark) comedy, it was the guns – and specifically the typical Hollywood hubris of not knowing basically anything about them. No, civilians do not have “automatic” pistols – those things are hard to get for even criminals, and generally extend a jail term much longer than they’re actually worth as a tool. Instead, every time Lindstrom says “automatic”, he *should* be saying “semi-automatic” or even simply “pistol”, if he is seeking to distinguish it from a revolver (which he also uses in this text). (Both revolvers and non-revolving pistols are semi-automatic, meaning one bullet fires per trigger squeeze vs automatic meaning bullets keep firing as long as the trigger is held down, for those reading this review who may be under the same lack of basic gun knowledge as Lindstrom and his editors.) Further, several times when someone is shot – both from a shotgun (which does in fact pack more of a punch, as depending on the load it can send up to 2-3 .45 caliber sized pellets flying at the same speeds that a pistol sends a single .45 bullet flying at) and a pistol – the body is described as flying backwards, as Hollywood tends to do. However, this is one that anyone who has watched Mythbusters knows is incorrect, as they specifically tested this exact myth and showed that it does not actually happen. And that is *without* even having any actual gun knowledge, as it is basic physics! (F= mA -> Force = mass x Acceleration, but the target also has standing inertia that the force must be powerful enough to overcome to achieve said result… and bullets that civilians might fire – yes, even the vaunted .50 BMG round – simply don’t have that kind of mass and acceleration. And by the time you get up to rounds that *do* have that kind of force… it tends to have a *far*… messier… impact than simply causing someone to fly backwards off their feet for a few feet.) A final note related yet not to these points about guns is that another author I know is actually a medical investigator in Saint Augustine, FL, and per his commentary over the years, the “tangy coppery” smell of blood that so many fiction authors use – including Lindstrom here? Also fictional. It is for all of these blatant inaccuracies – yes, even in fiction, as they actively perpetuate misinformation that could harm real people – that the star was deducted.

Still, for those who simply want an almost “Expendables” type action/ thriller with a cast of “seasoned” Hollywood dwellers trying to resolve a kidnapping of a family member of one of their own on their own… this really is quite a strong tale in that particular vein, and as long as you approach it as just that type of Hollywood action movie and check your brains at the door, you’ll find a quite strong and enjoyable tale.

Recommended.

This review of Hollywood Hustle by Jon Lindstrom was originally written on January 15, 2024.

#BookReview: The Ezekiel Code by John Sneeden

Solid Adventure W/ The Promised Christian Apocalyptic Themes. Going into this review, I was going to call out the heavy use of a particular version of Christian eschatological (end times) thinking, one that the reader of both this review and this book may or may not agree with/ have issues with (but you should absolutely read this book even if you do, as it *does* work within-world). But then I noticed the description of the book, and a careful reading there actually points the reader to knowing that these themes will be there. So hey, you’ve now been warned both in the description and in this review. Still, again, even if you are die-hard 100% adamantly opposed to believing anything remotely similar to this strain of thought… read this tale anyway. It is more action/ adventure/ spy thriller than anything overly Christian, and even when it gets into its (several) eschatological discussions, it isn’t preachy about it. Instead, the tale lays out the in-world reasons for thinking this way, and as this is admittedly a fiction tale, it never actually makes “real”-world claims about the authenticity of any of them. Yes, prayer and conversion are also discussed here, but again, always in world and never overly preachy, and those familiar with American conservative evangelicalism will likely be familiar with most of the speech patterns used here. (Even if you’re not familiar with that particular version of Christianity, it will be close enough and explained well enough in-world to follow along.)

No matter what else, this is absolutely a fun adventure with tinges of the scifi, and absolutely worth the read no matter your thoughts on any “real”-world issue. Very much recommended.

This review of The Ezekiel Code by John Sneeden was originally written on November 7, 2023.

#BookReview: The Babylon Plot by David Leadbeater

Complex Heroes + *Dark* Villains + Taut Suspense = Winning Combo. While this particular tale almost seems like the ending of at least Phase 1 of these heroes (and you should absolutely start at the beginning of this series, rather than jumping directly into this book), this is also a book that features some of the most complex and complicated heroes I’ve come across in fiction – which is a worthy aim as an author, and one Leadbeater pulls off remarkably well. It also has some of the most brutal, sadistic killers I’ve ever come across in fiction – which is another win, certainly for those who like that particular type of villain. And seriously, from pretty well Page 1, the stakes are sky-high and never really drop, even as different team members get different parts of this particular tale to truly shine in. Truly one of the better crafted team-based adventure series I’ve ever come across. Very much recommended.

This review of The Babylon Plot by David Leadbeater was originally written on October 19, 2023.

#BookReview: The Last True Templar by Boyd Morrison and Beth Morrison

Middle Ages Mediterranean Adventure. One of the interesting things for me when reading this book is that David Wood released his book Baal just a couple of weeks before this one came out, and both books are rather similar at the highest of levels – in that both are adventure books touring the Mediterranean Sea region in search of lost treasures. Separated by a few hundred years and thus with completely different specifics as far as character motivations, transportation, weapons used, cultures, etc. And to be clear, with Beth Morrison – an apparently renowned Medieval period scholar – as coauthor here, the actual historical aspects – from the various factions involved to the different cultures of the various Italian cities to even exactly how different things worked and who would have what skillsets, are apparently spot-on, so best as I could tell anyway. Paired with her brother Boyd’s action story sensibilities, once again the two create a spectacular historical fiction tale that anyone interested in any modern action/ adventure tale can also love – and showing those who “only” read historical fiction that modern tales can also be just as great. Overall truly an outstanding book, and I hope these siblings can continue to work together for many more books to come. Very much recommended.

This review of The Last True Templar by Boyd Morrison and Beth Morrison was originally written on September 28, 2023.

#BookReview: Baal by David Wood and C.B. Matson

Wild Ride Action Adventure. This one has everything – exotic (at least to American audiences) locations throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, unintentional/ intentional skydiving, long distance endurance swimming, running from bad guys via various means, lots of guns, a few explosions here and there… and a touch of the mystic, just because this *is* Maddock and Bones and, well, that’s kind of what they do these days in particular. 🙂 This time, they’re back with the more complete team, and as such this *is* one of the longer, more involved adventures – this isn’t one of the shortish adventures that may be able to be read in an hour or two, but it also isn’t so long as to feel out of place in the overall series or genre. So sit back, strap in, and enjoy the ride. Very much recommended.

This review of Baal by David Wood and C.B. Matson was originally written on September 16, 2023.

#BookReview: Nemesis by Jeremy Robinson

τὰ γὰρ ὀψώνια τῆς ἁμαρτίας Νέμεσις. In one of the more famous Biblical passages amongst at least certain American crowds – and, based on Jonathan Edwards’ Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God and Dante’s Inferno (itself based on earlier works by St. Thomas Aquinas and non-Biblical yet popular Apocalypse tales that circled in the early centuries within the Christian community), possibly among the more famous Biblical passages in all of Christendom, St. Paul once wrote in his Epistle to the Romans “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23, NIV/ NKJV)

The title of this review is actually Robinson’s spin on that particular verse, which he essentially used to reboot and retell the story of Νέμεσις – Nemesis, the ancient Greek god of vengeance he originally crafted a balls to the wall kaiju action series around in PROJECT: NEMESIS. Which led to his very *first* ‘Avengers Level Event’ (my term for it) collaboration at the end of that series. If you want the actual translation of the title… you’re gonna have to read the book. Though this review so far should give you a pretty good idea of what it says. 😀 I can honestly say that the very first time I saw that particular phrase in the book, I IM’d Jeremy directly immediately and said “this *has* to be your next image in your TeePublic store“. It was that awesome. 😀

And the rest of the story is equally amazing, unexpectedly bringing back yet another creature from the Robinsonverse – whose origin even in its standalone tale was tied to an “alternate dimension” Nemesis + another connection to yet a third Robinsonverse tale, and whose origin remains intact (in at least these two respects) in this tale. Indeed, the unexpected just keeps coming within this tale, as the presence of this particular creature – and specifically how it is created here – draws Nemesis herself in for yet again more very creative monster/ kaiju fighting. Indeed, even for long time fans of Nemesis herself… old girl’s got some new tricks here, particularly since this is a *different version* of her. 😉 And not just Nemesis. Other features of those books also get entirely rebooted, including a new “Betty” with some interesting new abilities that turn our heroes into in some cases even more badass versions of a particular red and gold Marvel superhero. Also note to be missed is Robinson’s commentary on a particular 2010s era movie that may or may not have included one particular scene that may or may not have been *eerily* reminiscent of the earlier Nemesis tales, in one exact moment in particular.

One thing I need to make 100% crystal clear though: Old fans, new fans, whoever you may be: This is a 100% standalone book. You don’t need to know *anything* about literally anything to enjoy this tale as it is written. You don’t need to have read every Robinson book (or nearly so). You don’t need to have a deep knowledge base of Christian thought. You don’t even have to have any knowledge of pop culture (and in some cases, some relatively obscure areas that wouldn’t necessarily be described as overly “popular”, more along the lines of “cult” at best). This is still the New God of Science Fiction doing what he does best, and that which he does better than anyone else I’ve ever come across – giving you kick ass, balls to the wall, science fiction action/ thrillers that sometimes make you think, often times have connections all around that don’t impede the story, and are always upping themselves in just how creative their creator can be.

It is actually quite funny me in particular. Yet again, Robinson said “I’m working on this new concept” and said what it was. Yet again I was skeptical. And yet again, Robinson earned every praise I can ever give his storytelling and world crafting abilities. (I famously did this with the Chess Team/ Jack Sigler Adventures when he first told me about them – and they became one of his greatest early career innovations.)

Truly a fun bit of escapist science fiction that will nearly be as deep as you want it to be – and no more. Exactly what the best science fiction has always done. Very much recommended.

This review of Nemesis by Jeremy Robinson was originally written on August 23, 2023.

#BookReview: Aeon Burn by Matthew Mather

Solid Middle-Of-Trilogy Tale. This book is one of those that has basically one goal – tell a solid tale that picks up well from the opening book and sets up the final book to be MUST. READ. It does that job pretty solidly. It continues our various storylines from the first book, though it perhaps could have used a “Last Time, On…” bit at the beginning for some of the storylines that don’t get *as* much attention. But the two main storylines – in the Amazon and on a race through the US – are well done, the chapters nearly all end on the classic mini-cliffhangers that make you want to read the next chapter immediately (while skipping to one of the other storylines for the next chapter and thus making you wait to come back to the cliffhanger you just left). The reveals get more and more impactful, all while the overall situation continues to deteriorate in light of the events of the opening book. And yet… *so much more* is coming. Indeed, the only real weakness of the tale here is that while so much more is indeed coming and this book truly sets up the final book where those things, along with the major confrontation between our heroes and primary antagonist, will be resolved… because of the *timing* of those So Much More events, the ending here takes a much more expanded time scope than the rest of the tale before that point, which leaves one with a minor sense of pacing issues. Still, this is a problem even the great T2 trilogy by S.M. Stirling faced – and wound up working quite well. So we’ll see how this works out when AEON FURY releases next year.

A note here: This is the book that Mather had apparently mostly completed when he was tragically killed in a car accident in September 2022, and thus this is his last work. While it is always a high honor to be able to work such a book as an Advance Reviewer Copy, my thoughts on the tale itself above are *just* about the tale and how it was completed out by Dale Nelson, whom Mather’s family brought in to do just that. This book really does do quite an honor to Mather’s legacy, but my own hope is that Nelson’s name can be on the cover of AEON FURY along with Mather’s, recognizing his work both here and in that book. I do not know if FURY will be entirely Nelson (or some other author, potentially)’s work or if Mather had at least left some level of notes or perhaps even rough drafts of some of that tale, but to my own thinking the cover author there should perhaps read something like “[smaller letters]In Memory Of[/smaller letters][big letters]Matthew Mather[/big letters][smaller letters]Written By[/smaller letters][medium letters]Dale Nelson (or whoever it turns out to be)[/medium letters]”. But this is just my own thoughts there based on my own sensibilities, and won’t really actually affect that book in any way.

Final thoughts:
Overall, this book truly was a solid Book 2 of a trilogy, one that did a great job of extending the story from Book 1 and setting up an exciting conclusion in Book 3. The more complex emotions relating to this being its author’s final work only add a touch of extra “spice” to the feelings of a genuinely good book. Very much recommended.

This review of Aeon Burn by Matthew Mather was originally written on July 8, 2023.

#BookReview: The Last Odyssey by James Rollins

Good Change Of Pace After The Last ‘Trilogy’. The prior three books in the Sigma Force series proved to be almost an in-series ‘trilogy’, with a lot of events playing directly off prior events. Here, we get a good change of pace – Kowalski actually starts the tale, and he has some major things going on. Gray and Seichan come in later, when things get a bit more hairy, and Kat and Monk, and even Painter, are barely mentioned at all after playing major roles in the prior books. The actual story here is one of the more intriguing in the series, particularly with more modern findings establishing that at least parts of the Illiad and Odyssey may have been factual. Rollins then does his thing with combining history and science into fascinating “what-ifs”, with plenty of action and drama and double crossings to boot. If you’re reading these – or virtually any – action/ adventure books expecting 100% realism… well, you’re probably *really* fun at parties, aren’t you? (/sarcasm) For the rest of us looking for a few hundred pages of fun escapism… let’s go on a romp from one end of the Mediterranean to the other, with a couple of stops in some other places to boot, shall we? Very much recommended.

This review of The Last Odyssey by James Rollins was originally written on July 1, 2023.