Review: Ring of Spies – Richard Prince #3 (Alex Gerlis)

Richard Prince is back in this third installment of his eponymous series. While it is not necessary to have read the first two books, it certainly does help.

The book opens with an English officer describing the debacle at Arnhem (Operation Market Garden, for those into the European theater of operations during WWII). He’s insistent that the Germans knew the plans for the operation.

One of the issues with series characters is giving the reader some backstory so they know enough to agree to go along on the ride the main character is about to take, but aren’t overwhelmed to the point that they miss that bus. Generally, it’s a good idea to drizzle in the backstory like you’re making your own aioli: slowly. Doing infodumps isn’t a good way to go, just as dumping all the oil in at once into your aioli isn’t: in the case of the latter, it causes the mix to break, and in the case of he former, it breaks the reading experience. Unfortunately, Ring of Spies starts with a lot of infodumping. There are also numerous “As you know, Bob” moments where one character is telling another character something they already know as a way to get that information to the reader.

Once past all this, the story picks up, and we find out the Germans have placed numerous agents in England. Prince is back in Lincolnshire, having recovered his lost son (book two) and basically policing an area that has no huge issues with crime, and almost zero serious crimes. He’s approached again, just as he was in the first book, to join the intelligence service to help root our the German moles.

While he resists at first, he also acknowledges that he is a bit restless, having grown accustomed to the action of being a spy, where any misstep could be the last one. He agrees, and we’re off into skullduggery within England itself.

There are scenes from the German side of the war, as there have been previously in this series, and we get infodumps on this side as well, but the positioning of the agents in England, how they are insulated from one another (to make them more difficult to detect, and to make it more difficult for them to give up the entire ring), and how they communicate with the Germans was quite interesting.

The ebb and flow of the war – even though we know that in the year of book, 1944, victory in Europe is coming sooner rather than later – and the danger war brings are still very real for the participants. The book continues at a good pace through the machinations of ally and foe alike. The ending, though, feels a bit rushed, even with the buildup of action as the Allies move ever forward to victory.

Even with that, however, it’s a worthy entry to the series. I didn’t find it as good as the first book in the series, but I did like it more than the second. It’s well worth a read for thriller fans and history buffs alike.

A solid four out of five stars.

Thanks to Canelo and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: Complex (A.D. Enderly)

Complex is a complex (get it?) work. based on the premise that in a dystopian world set sometime in the future. Civilization has basically collapsed, and now corporations have formed their own city nations called Complexes, which have their own “citizens”, akin to serfs toiling away and being used for the corporations’ purposes, assigned to whatever job the corporation deems fit for the citizen to have. Anyone not attached to a Complex and who does not have a high enough social score lives in Legacy, a remnant of the loss or degraded civilization.On the Legacy side, people rarely work, and receive money each month to enable them to buy food and do whatever else they need to do.

On the Complex side, forces are working to generate a war between the Complexes and Legacy, as they believe, cynically, that recruitment for the Complexes.. There are conspiracies galore, double crossing, many fights, and an epidemic that threatens to run out of control.

The premise is a good one, and the story is well told. There are a lot of characters introduced right off the bat. The point of view shifts between these characters with every chapter, and keeping track of all of them can sometimes be tough, requiring flipping back to recall just who everyone is. The world itself is done *very* slowly and does take some getting used to. Likewise, as the end rushes toward all the characters, the world is quite disorienting, and sometimes comes so quickly, it’s difficult to understand how the various levels interact with one another.

Beyond that, I liked the book. All of the POV characters were drawn out nicely, and their various motivations were not difficult to understand. The tech – it is an SF dystopia, after all – was good, and the fact all citizens had AIs iimpanted in them was intriguing. The ending leaves open the possibility of a sequel, something that isn’t always everyone’s cup of tea, so just be warned on that point.

Three and a half stars, rounded up to four.

Thanks to Luminary Media an NetGalley for the review copy

Review: War of Shadows (Gershom Gorenberg)

If you’re interested in WWII, and specifically, the North African Theater battles between the Desert Fox himself and British forces, this is a book for you.,

Gorenberg helpfully provides a listing of all the players at the front of the book, so if you’re not intimately familiar with everything that was going on in the chaos of North Africa, you’ll find that handy, The story, at its heart. is about people: their victories, but also their great failures. Both are abundant here – it is a war, after all.

It’s a dense book, and requires attention. Here and there, it strays a little outside the lines (and it is clear the author is both very familiar with and very passionate about the period examined during these periods). However, it is a worthy read, an these occasional ramblings are worth it in the overall scheme of things.

Four and a half stars out of five, for the rambles, rounded up to five for a well-written and entertaining (as entertaining as war can be) book.

Thanks to Perseus Books/Public Affairs and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: The Good Sister (Sally Hepworth)

The Good Sister starts off slowly – to be perfectly honest, it starts out slowly for the first third of the book. However, if you hang on, the rest of the book will definitely be worth your attention.

Rose and Fern, fraternal twins, grew up with a sociopathic abuser of a mother. Fern, who clearly is autistic (most likely Aspberger’s) is protected both in her youth and in her adulthood, by Rose. Fern of course lives a fairly regimented life until she finds out that Rose cannot get pregnant. Fern decides she’ll show her love for her sister by having a baby for her. The narrative is provided from the point of view of Rose, via her journal, and Fern, via her simply living her life.

That’s the basic storyline, and it doesn’t really take off until Fern has to start varying her routine, given that her routine has not thus far allowed her to do things like go and dates and such. We also find out that Rose is not quite the doting and caring sister we think her to be based on the opening of the book.

There’s a lot to like in this: it’s a psychological thriller, without a doubt, has some good twists, and has one of the main characters afflicted with a condition without taking that character into some weird place, which happens all too often. The writing is good, and there are no major plot holes. If the front end was a tad speedier, I’d give it five stars, but it still is a solid four star read.

Thanks to St, Martin’s Press and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: 13 Days to Die (Matt Miksa)

Sometimes, I don’t mind if a book doesn’t quite know what it wants to be when it grows up.

This is not one of those times.

13 Days to Die spreads itself across several genres – thriller (political, medical), mystery (hunting an ID to attach to a person), flat out political commentary, conspiracy theories, etc.

The basics: a man comes out of the forest in Tibet, looking like Patient Zero of a new bug that could easily become a pandemic, which will look pretty familiar to anyone living through 2020. An American intel officer impersonating a journalist, Olen Grave, is sent off to investigate this, and teams up with a Chinese medical doctor, Dr. Zhou, also investigating it.

It doesn’t spoil anything to say that Patient Zero is not just some random dude, but is more than he seems to be. Grave (it isn’t necessary to telegraph what’s going on by naming someone Grave, author, unless you want to add pulpy fiction to the list of genres) and Zhou get caught up in a (shocker!) conspiracy involving their respective countries. They have to figure out what is going on before the planet gets nuked into oblivion.

There are some unnecessary afterwords about characters at the end, and it’s at this point where the train really goes off the rails.

The story is okay, but the book could have been better if it decided whether to go into full-on conspiracy theorist ground.

Two out of five stars.

Thanks to Crooked Lane and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: The Skylark’s Secret (Fiona Valpy)

There are some books that you can’t say a ton about in a review, because it all involves spoilers. This is one of those books. It isn’t to say that the details are worth skipping, because they are not. This is quite a good book about homecoming and relationships and how family members interact with one another and the world around them.

We have a protagonistic duo in this book – both daughter (to open the book) and mother (as we travel between time periods) are involved in making the story that is shaped by their experiences both in the small Scottish town in which they live but also by the larger world outside that town.

If you enjoy literary fiction with familial conflict and the secrets small towns can hold, you’ll very probably like this book, even if you have never set a toe on Scottish soil.

Four out of five stars.

Thanks to Amazon UK and NetGalley for the review copy.

 

Review: The Last Exit – Jenny Lu #1 (Michael Kaufman)

The Last Exit features two main characters:on is Jen Lu, a cop in a near-future earth where climate change has ravaged the planet and the Russians appear to have taken over DC(?) but we still have a President and Vice resident. The other is Chandler, an AI implant in Lu’s head, who only “lives” for five years.

The world of this future has those in their late 40s and early 50s having a good chance of contracting mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, in this work, changed slightly to become the acronym ROSE). The top scientists have decided it’s because there are too many old people, so the official policy becomes this: a child can receive the treatment for ROSE, but only if their parents decide to exit when they reach their mid 60s. The policy, of course, tends to result in a lot of elder abuse, with parents at time being abused by their children because the parents don’t want to exit. The mega-rich, naturally, live by a different set of rules – they neither have to exit, nor do their children lack for the treatment, should they need it. The adults who seem to live forever are called Timeless, a strata unreachable for the usual day to day population.

Lu hears rumors of something called Eden – she isn’t sure if it’s a place or a treatment, but keeps running into mention of it, usually at murder scenes. She mentions it to her boss, but he tells her to stow it and focus on her job. But with Eden popping up again and again, she can’t help but poke into it, despite the warnings from her boss, and despite the shadowy figures, including a rep from BigPharma, of course, who meet with her precinct to warn of a counterfeit treatment that causes people to age like progeria on steroids, leaving them dead within three days. Conspiracies galore!

The AI, Chandler, seems to be a route through which the author can get to the reader without it being infodumpy, and it does work to an extent. There were a couple of times when I wondered how it could have seen anything if Lu just scanned past something. These were minor issues, though.

Overall, it isn’t a bad mystery, and while the social justice stuff is here, it is not completely in your face, so if you’re of a more conservative bent, it likely won’t be too preachy for you.

Three and a half stars out of five, rounded up to four.

Thanks to Crooked Lane Books and NetGalley for the review copy.

 

Review: The Artist’s Journey (Kent Nerburn)

What would you say if you received a letter from a young artist, asking if it was possible to make a life in your art?

Most people, of course, will realistically say the odds are long – a truth. Some people would go further and say it’s a waste of time – an untruth..

I have a lot of thoughts about pursuing art in the course of a life, regardless of whether it is full time or squeezed in between other life duties. Many of those thoughts are echoed in this book, which I’d say is geared more toward younger people just beginning their trek on the artist’s path, whether that art is writing, painting, designing, dancing, or any other other ways they might express themselves. It’s easy to get into the negatives – most artists don’t make enough money to survive solely on their art, it may take years or decades to make a name, rejection is practically a given, and so on – and these, while necessary truths, need not be the only lens through which one views their art.

Nerburn incorporates these truths in this bookish response to the young artist, but weaves them into a larger framework of making good art, as Neil Gaiman would say. The question is not whether one may make a living in their selected art, but whether the continued practice and pursuit of an art is worthwhile in the life one is currently living.

Spoiler: it absolutely is.

There are many books and blog posts and videos that say this, but I found Nerburn’s version to be well written, quite thoughtful, and a good read, regardless of the age of the reader pursuing their art and if they are a neophyte or grizzled veteran.

A solid four out of five stars.

Thanks to Canongate and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: The Vatican Conspiracy – Marco Venetti #1 (Peter Hogenkamp)

A fine debut in a new series!

Marco Venetti – scratch that, Father Marco Venetti – is a former sailor in the Italian Navy. Not just a sailor, though: he has the skillset of a special forces member. This skillset isn’t often necessary in his current job, but when his ex shows up, carrying stories of human trafficking, it’s a good thing he has them.

Venetti is a good character – he’s not happy about taking lives, and he’s a bit on the fence about his vows and weighing those against helping Elena. It’s nice to have a main character whose flaws and hangups do not involve them being stalked by serial killers and the like. Venetti’s introspection revolves around him taking proactive steps in life (before this book begins and within it) versus having the forces of life act upon him.

The action begins on the first page and doesn’t let up. As with most conspiracies, there’s more than just the surface level in play.

If you like Dan Brown or Gregg Hurwitz – an odd pairing, I know, but trust me on this – you’ll enjoy this one.

A solid four out of five stars.

Thanks to Bookouture and NetGalley for the review copy.

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