#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 Syndicate Spy by Brittany Butler

Near Future Examination Of Toxic Femininity. Did I grab you with that title? Well, as it turns out, one of the more interesting lasting features of this book is, in fact, its look at feminism and how even here, noble ideals can be perverted. But the setup to get to that particular moment – and its resultant *need* for Book 2 of this nascent series – is at least as compelling, showing two women from such divergent cultures – one “enlightened” Western, the other “repressed” Muslim – and how women truly live in each, for worse – and for better – and with all of the resultant struggles within each system. The action is intense and at times literally explosive, and the chase for the almost Osama Bin Laden type terrorist looming in the background is easily reminiscent of many of the Vince Flynn written Mitch Rapp thrillers. Overall a pretty solidly written tale that brings enough “new”/ “different” to the genre to be refreshing, without deviating so much from genre standards as to be alienating. Very much recommended.

This review of The Syndicate Spy by Brittany Butler was originally written on March 21, 2023.

#BookReview: Broker Of Lies by Steven James

The True Successor To Vince Flynn. That’s basically what this entire review is going to boil down to – if you liked Vince Flynn (and particularly if you object to someone else using his name on their books after his death) and have been searching for an author who can tell that type of tale at least as good as Flynn ever did… welcome to Steven James and Broker of Lies. One huge difference here is that while Mitch Rapp almost tends into superhero/ super-soldier status, our heroes here are very skilled… yet also very flawed in their own ways. Ways that enemies can exploit, if they are known. Ways that enemies do exploit here, because our heroes are not as hidden as they would like to think they are. So yes, we get a lot of different (yet fairly plausible) tech – including some fairly scary, yet known for over a decade now, ways to exploit any body scan security -, several car chases, several fight scenes of various forms from extremely up close and personal to more building level, a lot of cat and mouse, and one heck of an explosive revelation at the end that pretty easily sets up at least one more book here. This isn’t a short book, clocking in at nearly 420 pages, but that last 20% or so in particular… you’re not going to want to put this book down through that stretch at minimum. Very much recommended.

This review of Broker Of Lies by Steven James was originally written on December 9, 2022.

#BookReview: Out Of Time by Matthew Mather

Freaking LHC / CERN *STILL* Trying To Destroy The World! One of the most important websites you can check every morning is HasTheLargeHadronColliderDestroyedTheWorldYet.com … and here, in this action-packed continuation of the Delta Devlin series, Matthew Mather gives yet another reason this is true. One I had never even considered – passing data backward through time – … and doing other things that are certain to go into spoiler territory to name (even without a description of this book to judge “spoiler” by) but which are truly, utterly terrifying. Mather attains the best of the creativity of a Jeremy Robinson type of science fiction writer with the “straight out of the headlines” level current/ near-future tech of a more Michael Crichton type science fiction writer – high praise indeed, considering that both of the aforementioned authors are among my all-time favorites – and he uses this skill to create a tale that can stand up against most any action-based science fiction tale out there. I for one can’t wait to see what tech he tackles next in this series! Very much recommended.

This review of Out Of Time by Matthew Mather was originally written on September 28, 2021.

#BookReview: 101 Pat Downs by Shawna Malvini Redden

Enlightening. As someone who had their first flight literally weeks before 9/11 (ATL to MCO in late July 2001) and who has experienced TSA quite frequently in *cruise* terminals (rather than airline terminals, which are the focus here), I can truly say that I absolutely enjoyed this book and that the author’s general observations tend to ring true with my own. Where she goes off to examine the actual communication channels in more “research” mode… well, that was the very subject of her PhD dissertation, and thus the impetus for this very research. 🙂 The description of this book claims in part that it is “the story of Malvini Redden’s research journey, part confessional, part investigative research, and part light-hearted social commentary”. I would say that this is a spot-on summation right there. There is quite a bit here, much that even infrequent air travelers like myself will see from even our experiences. (Though many claim I am more observant than many, so perhaps the observations Malvini Redden shares here won’t be *as* obvious to others?) The approach here is much more conversational and much less “ivory tower”, and I seem to remember this book having a shorter bibliography that others – which is perfectly fine for a more first-person, personal investigation/ memoir style book. In other words, exactly this type of book. Overall a very good book to put in the hands of first time flyers and maybe even to have on hand for those situations where someone is being a major PITA through security at the airport – find a convenient way to offer them this book once you’re both through the line. 🙂 Ultimately, this was truly a fun and informative read, and thus is very much recommended.

This review of 101 Pat Downs by Shawna Malvini Redden was originally written on April 23, 2021.

#BookReview: Divided By Terror by John Bodnar

Blatantly Biased, But Well Written Within That Bias. I gotta admit: When I picked up this ARC, I was hoping for something as transcendental as 2020’s Divided We Fall by David French, but focusing on the issue of terror and how it has divided America in the post 9/11 world. I’m someone that has been on “both” sides of that divide, growing from a conservative Evangelical Christian Republican 18yo college student born and raised between the two endpoints of the American Civil War’s Great Train Robbery to a now 38 year old anarchist professional living even further South. So this book, based on its title and description, looked promising.

Its actual text though… didn’t fulfill that promise. Not for me.

To be clear, this is a very well documented examination of much of the response to 9/11 and the War on Terror, from many divergent angles ranging from the personal and private to the governmental to the societal to the cultural. Bodnar does a tremendous job of highlighting facts that even as someone living through this history (though usually from several States away from the events he is describing at any given moment), I simply did not know and often had never heard of.

The problem is that this examination is very blatantly one sided, and even the language Bodnar chooses to use often reflects this blatant bias. Thus, for those that agree with this particular bias, this book will probably be much more well received than for those who disagree with it – and the level of one’s beliefs either direction will likely reflect how such a person feels about this book in a similar manner.

In the end, there is nothing technically wrong with this text, other than the blatant bias – and therefore the bias itself is the basis for the removal of one star. Yet even there, the bias isn’t *so* horrible as to rate the deduction of a second star, and there is a tremendous amount of needed history documented within these pages. Thus, I am satisfied at this time with the four stars I give the book. And yet, because of the bias, I cannot *highly* recommend the book and therefore it is…


This review of Divided By Terror by John Bodnar was originally written on February 9, 2021.

#BookReview: CyberWar by Matthew Mather

Action Packed Finale. This book picks up moments after the ending of Book 2 (CyberSpace), and therefore you *really* need to read at minimum that book before reading this one. (Reading Book 1, CyberStorm, isn’t *as* imperative, as most of what you need to know from that book is explained in CyberSpace – but you should absolutely read that book as well anyway. :D)

That noted, this really is an action packed finale, with levels of action similar to Matthew Reilly or Jeremy Robinson’s craziest stories – which is high praise indeed, as I’ve rarely seen any other author even approach that level of insanity. Indeed, this book feels a lot like riding the Kraken rollercoaster at SeaWorld Orlando – absolutely insane, your mind is never really sure what the hell is going on or what is coming next. It misses the overall sense of dread that CyberStorm invoked, and it largely even misses the overall sense of scale that CyberSpace at least attempted to invoke. But what you *do* get here is an intensely personal tale that manages to balance the personal and the larger impact a bit better than either of the two previous books. Several shocking revelations, a few solid points about real-world politics (though absolutely in service of the particular story being told here, rather than being preachy), and a bit of a mind bending finish that is explained in the extended epilogues. (Though nowhere *near* as extended as The Return Of The King from Lord of the Rings, where it feels like half the dang tale is epilogue. This is more 3 ish chapter epilogue rather than short coda most books do there.) Ultimately a fun and satisfying read if you’ve made it this far, and thus very much recommended.

This review of CyberWar by Matthew Mather was originally written on February 2, 2021.

Featured New Release Of The Week: What’s Worth Keeping by Kaya McLaren

This week we’re looking at a strong tale of often under-explored topics. This week we’re looking at What’s Worth Keeping by Kaya McLaren.

And here’s what I had to say about the book on Goodreads:

Strong Look At Often Unexplored Topics. Glancing through the other reviews (as I generally do before writing my own, fwiw), it seems that so many people miss what I happen to see as the overall point of the book: Exploring how individuals can find themselves again and discover what they feel is worth keeping in the face of overwhelming tragedy. Here, McLaren uses three primary characters: A mother who has “survived” cancer, including a mastectomy and radical hysterectomy, only to have to piece back together her sense of self and whether she is still attractive. (A battle, it seems, that the author herself went through in real life.) A father who began working as a cop in order to provide for his then-young family, and who was one of the first responders shifting through the rubble behind Timothy McVeigh trying to save as many people as possible after the bombing of the Alfred P Murray Federal Building in Oklahoma City – a tragedy that still haunts him all these decades later, at the end of his career. And a daughter who learns that her mother’s cancer is to some degree hereditary, causing her to question any future she may have even as she graduates high school.

In these situations, McLaren points to tragedies and situations that are relatable to many of us, and paints a story that even across roughly 500 books read in under three years, I’ve rarely if ever seen. A story of survival (which is common, in and of itself) and of finding love (also common), but these particular wrinkles of the overall story have often been overshadowed in the stories by other, “flashier” topics.

While I am genuinely sorry that the author lived through at least some of this, I am exceedingly happy that she was able to use those real life experiences to craft this tale in this way. It is a story that needed to be told, and it is a story that needs to be read by far too many. And for that reason, it is a story that is very much recommended.

#HypeTrain: White Peak by Ronan Frost – the Q&A!

This past Sunday, I shared a bit about a new release this week from St. Martin’s Press by “debut author” Ronan Frost called White Peak.

This book was seriously one of the best adventures I’ve read in a while, and the twist ending makes it even more compelling for me. Since I don’t want to wait seven years for the sequel, I’m promoting this book a bit more than normal in the hope that I get to come back to this world sooner rather than later. So go buy it! That’s right, for those that checked the link on “seven years” or recognized that I’ve only ever noted that particular fact for exactly one particular book, “Ronan Frost” is indeed a character in Steven Savile’s SILVER and GOLD. GOLD was a Featured New Release of the Week here back when it released in September, and Steven has been a Facebook friend for many years dating back to when I joined a particular book club on Facebook that he was already an active member in. Below are some questions from me about White Peak in particular, and Steven reveals several things about himself in his answers that I had never known. So let’s get to the Q/A, shall we?

Q: This story begins with an active shooter situation in a shopping mall that sounds somewhat similar to a real life events that happen all too often these days. Was this scene inspired by real life events?

A: A couple of years ago I was sitting in a small café with one of my closest friends, just having a catch up. Life’s pretty slow here in the wilds of Sweden—there are about two thousand trees for every soul—and we’re just BSing about Brexit and the madness of the world when he notices he’s got 35 missed calls from his partner. The stomach tends to sink when you look at your phone and realize someone is that desperate to reach you. So, I decide I better give him a little privacy, thinking something must have happened and wanting to be pretty much anywhere other than that café, right then. So, I take my phone out and decide to give him as much privacy as I can as he tries to call back. I open the app for one of the national papers and the headlines, still developing, claim that a terrorist attack is happening right there and then in Stockholm. So he’s still trying to reach his wife but the phone network keeps dropping the call. I push my phone across the table and he stares down at the news that an eighteen wheeler has killed pedestrians and driven into the perfume department of the big flagship department store. My mate’s face then, I’ll never forget it. His wife has gone down to Stockholm for the day, shopping. Suddenly the 35 missed calls make sense.

He gets through. She’s upstairs in the department store. People are panicking. They don’t really understand what’s happening. But she’s okay. Natural instinct is to go down, there are three main escalators, two banks of elevators. But the elevators come out too close to the perfume department, same with two of the escalators.

Technology is an incredible thing, using my phone we can watch live footage of the news streaming from the department store, and see where the worst of it is, so we know to tell her not to head down into the perfume department. There’s a staff staircase near the back which leads out into an underground parking lot. We tell her to head for that, keeping the line open.

In reality it was a happy ending, but my brain doesn’t work that way. Even as she’s going down the stairs talking to him I’m thinking: Christ, could you imagine anything worse than listening to a loved one caught in the middle of a terror attack and there’s nothing you can do… the answer of course was yes, there’s one thing worse, that’s listening to your loved one die in the middle of an attack and desperately scrabbling around for coins to keep the line open while you do… the fact that the story is set initially in the US meant looking for the kind of terror that is all too common, and that was always going to be more mundane, domestic, if you like. An active shooter situation, watching it play out on live tv, Rye, the hero, trying to steer his wife out of there and instead putting her right into the path of the shooter.

Q: It seems you were pretty busy in your former life and that this debut novel is a way to calm down from that. Is there any new insight you can offer about the terrorist incidents across Europe in the last few years and your involvement in working to stop them?

A: Hah, yeah, that stuff was a long time ago, and not as glamourous as it sounds. I graduated uni in the early 90s, right around the fall of the iron curtain, the end of the cold war. Back home we were rationalizing and centralizing our defence operations. We had several depots duplicating the work of others, so were looking to move all navy operations to Bath, for instance, closing down a lot of the regional stuff. My first day I was basically introduced as a hatchet man. I was going to spend the first few months there evaluating everyone and then writing the competitive tenders for parliament to see who kept and who lost their jobs. I’m basically a kid at this stage, and I’m telling 25,000 people you won’t be able to pay your bills next month. So, when the opportunity to get involved in more faceless stuff, I leapt at it.

A lot of the stuff is covered by the Official Secrets Act, so I can’t go into detail, even though we’re over 25 years on stuff ought to be declassified by now. Better safe than sorry. What I can talk about was after I quit, I decided to go back to uni and do my PhD. Within days of getting the okay I was approached by my old professor from my economics and politics degree, saying he’d been asked to put together an advisory group to go to Russia and help find alternatives for the economic crisis they were experiencing. I don’t know if you remember the times, but you’d see food queues going halfway down the block and around the corner, just hoping to buy a loaf of bread, and McDonalds had just opened their first restaurant in the city, where a Big Mac menu was a full week’s wage for a Russian worker. So, when he came to me asking if I wanted to be involved, given my other background with the MoD, I jumped at it. I mean, few weeks away, all expenses paid, in a different world, who wouldn’t? When everything was set up, all the visas and permits secured, and we were basically on the runway we were approached by intelligence and given various briefings for what was expected of us. There were moments when it felt like I was living in a Le Carre novel, to be honest. It was a different time. There were lavish diplomatic parties and the sheer extravagance of the new money wanting to prove anything and everything was buyable, there were new businesses trying to set up and get established that didn’t understand that everything was dependent upon bribes, even meetings with government officials. Nothing happened without the wheels being greased, but these people weren’t going to say ‘this is what we want to make x happen’ so part of what we did there was work out what it was they wouldn’t or couldn’t say they wanted, and make sure our people knew. Wheel greasing.

Of course, my namesake or should that be pseudonym’s sake, has a much more interesting life than me. You see, I am Ronan Frost and Ronan Frost is me, but long before I became him, I created him. Back in 2011 I wrote a novel under my real name, Silver, which was one of the top 30 bestselling books in the UK that year. It was an assassination plot novel, with Ronan Frost a member of the deniable ops group caught up in the middle of it, trying to stop the credible threat on the Pope’s life…

So why take the name? Well, it goes back to a conversation with my editor at St Martins, who said ‘Why don’t you give us a novel like Silver?’ and we knocked a few ideas around, came up with White Peak, and he said, ‘We’re going to need a name for the contract, doesn’t really matter what it is, we can change it down the line…’ I hate picking pseudonyms. It’s a seriously weird thing to do. So, because he’d said he wanted a book like Silver I plucked Frosty’s name out of the air purely for the contract. Six months later, as I was delivering the book I had a different name on the file, and my editor saw it and said, ‘What’s with you changing the name? We’ve been working with Ronan Frost for months now, let’s stick with it…’ so, when I was wrapping up Gold, the conclusion to the story started in Silver, I got to the last page, all the shouting is done, the bad guys vanquished, and one of the other characters turns around to Ronan and asks, ‘So what are you gonna do now?’ to which he replies, ‘I think I might write a book…’

So, Ronan’s been involved in some pretty hair raising stuff. He certainly made enemies in high places. And done a lot more to fight terror than his creator. But, there’s a line from Silver I think sums a lot of it up – it’s about inspiring the emotion of fear, that means it’s about the spectacle. I grew up during what we called The Troubles in Northern Ireland. These were the days when the IRA were perpetrating terrorist attacks on the mainland. We couldn’t have garbage bins in train stations and shopping malls for fear they’d be used to hide bombs. It was almost civil. They had code words they’d use to identify themselves when they called in to the police to warn them a bomb had been planted in x location. Most of the time that gave people the chance to evacuate, though we did see a loss of life it was nothing like the scale of what it might have been. But that all changed after 9/11. The sheer scale of the horror of that attack made what was happening between the Catholics and protestants in North Ireland almost redundant. They just couldn’t instill fear on a comparable level. There was a new kind of terror. The old gods were dead, if you know what I mean?

Jeff Note here: That last question was designed for Ronan as an easy way for Steven to promote SILVER and GOLD as well as White Peak, and wound up telling me a lot of fascinating stuff about my friend that I had never known!

Q: In any adventure book such as this, the locations tend to be nearly as important as the action itself. Did you get to do any traveling to see the regions these characters find themselves in? What locations presented the most challenges to describe in the context of the story?

A: I’m a huge lover of travel. I’ve got a peripatetic soul. I swear, by the time I was forty I’d lived in forty different houses. The last few years have been the most settled I’ve ever been. I’ve got some bucket list places I still haven’t visited, places like Machu Pichu and the Great Wall, but yeah, I’ve been to a lot of the places that feature in the book, and will feature in subsequent books if the series gets to continue. The private bank scene, for instance, that’s the truth the whole truth and nothing but. And seriously bizarre. But I’ve never made it as far as the Himalayas. The thing is, where I live temps regularly drop down into the low -20s/-30s and if we get snowfalls in November they’re with us until April or May. Last year we had about nine weeks where the snow was knee deep at least, and where it had banked up was head high along the ploughed roads, etc. I’ve got a dog, Buster, an Irish Wheaten Terrier. We go out into the woods every day and hunt for deer spores and stuff to activate his mind. The woods in the wilds of winter, knee deep snow, -30s, it’s not such a stretch to imagine the hell that is high altitudes and low temps. I’d come in from a walk having focused on a turn of phrase or idea to encapsulate the burning muscles, frost-burned lungs, etc, without having to imagine all that hard.

Q: Do you believe there is any factual basis to the legendary myths such as those tracked in this tale? If so, might it be possible to locate them now? If not, why not?

A: I think there’s an element of truth in some of these, sure. I mean, do enough research you start to notice patterns. The idea of wisdom falling from the stars, for instance. It’s vague. It doesn’t feel unreasonable. It’s not like claiming the holy grail is literally a cup that Christ drank from and his blood was collected in, so therefore would contain trace elements of his divine DNA. But legends, some, like King Arthur, not so much, but I like the stories. Others, like the Seal of Solomon being able to translate all languages and command demons, yeah, more unreasonable. But there’s a power to the myths that gives them longevity. We need them. We need the stories of Achilles and Agamemnon, of Lancelot and Galahad, Siege Perilous and the Spear of Destiny. Life would be lessened without them. They resonate with us for a reason, they’re speaking truths we understand and need to hear. But are we going to be able to dig under the ice and find a lost race? Nah, though if we get lucky maybe we’ll find a lost evolutionary step or something equally incredible. And maybe just maybe those legends will inspire new generations to want to look. That can’t be a bad thing.

Q: Since we’re all about book confessions on BookAnon, what is your juiciest secret as an author? What about as a reader?

A: Hmm, that’s not as easy as it might sound… okay. It’s not exactly secret, but… my first stories for were for what we call lads mags in the UK, top shelf stuff. I did maybe half a dozen for different soft core porn mags. I was about 17 at the time, too young to actually buy the magazines my stories appeared in. They had terrible titles like Beating the Meat… a boxing sex story haha… anyway, one weekend my mum was cleaning up my room and found the stash of porn mags under my bed and threw them away… so I don’t have any copies of my earliest stories.

As a reader, I don’t think I have any secrets… though… now I come to think of it… post-divorce, back when I was still teaching and fairly new to Sweden, I used to go to my mate’s bar because I couldn’t be bothered to cook. I’d order the ribs or a burger and read at the bar for a few hours while he pottered around serving people and having a good time, and no one ever bothered me. I mean not once. They didn’t ask what I was reading, or if I minded if they joined me, nothing. It was like a cloak of invisibility. Then one day I decided I’d check out this new book I’d heard a bit about, maybe it was something we could use teaching the kids… So I go into the bar, order my food and start reading and within five minutes this woman comes over and asks if the book is any good. We chat for a few minutes. Then she leaves me alone. Maybe fifteen minutes later another woman smiles and comes over saying how great the book is, she’s reading it to her daughter at the moment. And this goes on all night. Seriously. There must have been a dozen women who came up to talk to me that night. The book? Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. It was way before the hubbub. The next night I was back to reading my normal stuff and no one talked to me. I mentioned it to my barman mate, and we decided to test the hypothesis, so every other night I’d read Potter in the bar, and every time I did at least five or six, and as many as a dozen women would come to talk to me, using the book as an ice breaker. But only Potter. So, during the days I’m teaching college English. I ask the kids to ponder why it might be, what is it about the book that makes it work. And we came up with an answer. See, the women who talked to me were invariably single mums, and there I was, a guy who either had kids or was comfortable enough in myself to read a kids book in public, or a guy in need of mothering. For a little while it was like I’d discovered a super power haha.

Many thanks to Steven for writing this book and giving such great responses to my questions, NetGalley for hosting the ARC I read, and St. Martin’s Press for granting the ARC request and asking me to be on this blog tour. Now go out and buy this book so I don’t have to wait seven years to see a sequel! 😀

#HypeTrain: White Peak by Ronan Frost

White Peak is a book from “debut author” (at least under this pseudonym) Ronan Frost that starts out with a literal bang and becomes an adventure race across much of the northern hemisphere. As of this post, it releases in just a couple of days, on May 21, and can be preordered from any of several outlets via this link.

My Goodreads/ Amazon review shows a few of my thoughts on this book:

Who Knew A Fictional Character Could Write This Well? In this debut work by fictional character Ronan Frost, we get a solid action/ adventure tale of a man haunted by being on the other end of the phone when his wife is killed in a mass shooting being recruited to find a mysterious map for one of the world’s wealthiest men. The action is taut, the mystery is compelling, and the locations include some rarely if ever used in novels before. Truly an outstanding work. Particularly for a fictional character.

Here’s hoping we get a sequel from this new author far faster than we got the sequel he appears in. 😉

Yes, Ronan is fictional and a pseudonym for a real-life long time friend. Ronan is actually one of the primary characters in a book that has been reviewed on this very blog last year, though for now I’m still playing into the mystery and choosing not to reveal him (even though it isn’t an actual secret). All will be revealed on Weds, May 22, when I post a Q and A #HypeTrain post about this same book with the real life friend… that we conducted through St. Martin’s Press’s official channels, as said official channels are actually where I was invited to this blog tour from. 🙂

For now, how about I let you check out the explosive first chapter of the book that I describe in the review above?
Continue reading “#HypeTrain: White Peak by Ronan Frost”