TO DIE IN VIENNA by Kevin Wignall

June 16, 2018

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A very neatly done novel about conflict between different spy agencies. Freddie Makin had once been an agent for a super secret group known as S8. He was a survivor of an ambush in Yemen five years ago when three of his fellow agents had been killed when driving towards a rendezvous with suspects wanted by their group. Freddie had been so traumatized by the killing, blaming himself for poor planning that he resigned his position. He than became a spy for hire and the story finds him doing surveillance on Jiang Cheng an academic. After many months of observing Cheng Freddie finds that there really isn’t anything in Cheng’s behavior to warrant the attention given.

Suddenly the situation changes radically. Someone is sent to kill Freddie who fortunately turns the tables on his would be killer. He quickly realizes that it is probably something that he saw in relation to his watching Cheng that has prompted the attempt on his life. The novel than becomes a masterful study of Freddie’s old trade craft returning as he begins unraveling the reason for the attack on himself and on people including Cheng and others. And is it the CIA that is doing the attacking? Freddie is well portrayed as a normal human being prone to being hurt and possibly killed while looking into what is happening to him. Clues are available to the reader and the reason for the attacks is a logical one resulting in a logical finale to the book.

NOTE: Soon to be a major motion picture starring Jake Gyllenhaal. The book certainly has the ingredients to be a good one.

6/18 Paul Lane

TO DIE IN VIENNA by Kevin Wignall. Thomas & Mercer (June 14, 2018).  ISBN 978-1477805169. 270p.

ON THE JAVA RIDGE by Jock Serong

June 14, 2018

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Serong has written two novels in one. First it is a story involving men against the sea. Than it is a strong political message about the harm being done by the Australian policy regarding refugees from their neighbor, Indonesia. The “Java Ridge” is a boat sailing out of Indonesia providing tourism to groups of well heeled individuals. Sailing at the same time is the “Takalar” a boat similar to the “Java Ridge” but bearing people looking to escape the horrors of life in Indonesia.

The Java Ridge puts in to a sheltered reef on the Indonesian island of Dana with a storm approaching. The Takalar is caught by the same storm and driven into the shelter, but not before it has been destroyed by the power of the gale. In the meanwhile a new maritime policy regarding aid to asylum seeking vessels in distress has been put into place by the Australian government. Cassius Calvert who is the minister for border integrity is being browbeaten by the Prime Minister as a new election takes place. The PM wants him to enforce the policy without thought about any people effected by it.

With the circumstances enveloping both boats brought together by fate on the island of Dana, Serong presents the individuals comprising those sailing on the boats. Isi Natoli is the skipper of the Java Ridge. She is part owner of the boat with her boyfriend who was not able to make this trip. Roya and her pregnant mother are on the Takalar looking forward to freedom away from a repressive government. All are brought together by the circumstances presented to them by fate.

Serong has written a totally engrossing novel about people caught up in a set of uncaring government regulations and paying a great price through no fault of their own. The book moves inexorably towards an ending that is both frightening as well as indicative of the uncaring nature of government regulation. Certainly a mesmerizing description of government out of control.

5/18 Paul Lane

ON THE JAVA RIDGE by Jock Serong. Text Publishing Company (June 12, 2018).  ISBN 978-1925498394. 320p.


May 29, 2018

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Harriet (Hal) is a young girl that has reached the end of her tether. Her mother was killed in an auto accident. There is very little money to support herself except for one thing. Hal’s mother had a small business on a pier dedicated to fun and games for the public. She told fortunes, in particular reading of Tarot cards, for people believing in those things.

When her mother was killed Hal had no recourse other than to take over the business and dedicate herself to the Tarot cards. She owes money all over the place and has even gotten herself into the clutches of a loan shark who has threatened her with violence if she doesn’t pay a now very inflated sum of money.

A mysterious letter inexplicably is sent to her with the notice that she has received a substantial inheritance. Looking at the data on the letter Hal feels that she has no choice but to use her people skills acquired via the Tarot readings to try and collect the inheritance which she knows is not hers. She soon finds herself at the funeral of the woman who has apparently made the bequest to her and immediately feels that there is something very wrong with everything – the inheritance, the other people present who think that she is part of their family. But her decision is made – Continue!

Ware provides the reader with a mesmorizing feeling of continued suspense throughout the novel; a feeling that keeps one glued to the pages. The characters are done very well, and Hal herself becomes a person that one roots for and entertains the hope that in spite of committing what would be a major crime she will come out ahead and utilize what is happening to her as a method of bringing herself out of the situation she is in moving forward in her life. Certainly Ruth Ware is a force in the world of literature with her books being sought out by an expanding group of followers.

5/18 Paul Lane

THE DEATH OF MRS. WESTAWAY by Ruth Ware. Gallery/Scout Press (May 29, 2018). ISBN  978-1501156212.  384p.



May 28, 2018

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Cold As Thunder is a more sedate version of George Orwell’s classic novel “1984” but carries the same message. If the people don’t look after their own welfare it will fall on a less than benevolent government to administer the nation as they see fit rather than a system that protects the rights of all. In the case of this novel, power has been consolidated with the “Eagle” party, a political party that has eliminated all other parties and established a docile populace.

The Eagle party has established a system of laws that basically squash any and all thought in opposition to it’s own ideology. Thinking independently has been driven out of the normality of most of the people and non conformity is a non starter Apps has placed a level of importance on certain factors present and made worse by the Eagle Party’s attitude. The most important is the issue of climate change that is not being addressed. Consequently areas of Florida and the Northeast are covered by flood waters and not inhabitable. Weather forecasting has been sold to private companies who don’t have the means to actually do any forecasts. This makes storms of any sort a menace for all, but especially for farmers subject to all weather conditions.

An opposition group has evolved in attempting to set up learning systems for the people now accustomed to being led by their noses. These are groups of “oldsters” that are disguised as volunteer groups supporting the Eagle mantra. The novel follows the growth and development of one such group located in Wisconsin and how it manages to influence events in the rest of the country.

The novel makes for an entertaining read with the only drawback an insistence on good always triumphing over opposition with little variance which would appear in any human endeavor having varying opinions present. Character development and any attempt at looking at individual motivations goes by the wayside. The concepts, however are interesting and make reading the book a worthwhile experience.

5/18 Paul Lane

COLD AS THUNDER by Jerry Apps. University of Wisconsin Press (May 29, 2018).  ISBN 978-0299315900. 232p.


May 23, 2018

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From the publisher:


An addictive psychological thriller about a group of women whose lives become unexpectedly connected when one of their newborns goes missing.

A night out. A few hours of fun. That’s all it was meant to be.

They call themselves the May Mothers—a group of new moms whose babies were born in the same month. Twice a week, they get together in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park for some much-needed adult time.

When the women go out for drinks at the hip neighborhood bar, they want a fun break from their daily routine. But on this hot Fourth of July night, something goes terrifyingly wrong: one of the babies is taken from his crib. Winnie, a single mom, was reluctant to leave six-week-old Midas with a babysitter, but her fellow May Mothers insisted everything would be fine. Now he is missing. What follows is a heart-pounding race to find Midas, during which secrets are exposed, marriages are tested, and friendships are destroyed.

This is one of the latest psychological thrillers with an unreliable narrator; in this case, there are several. Plus there’s a missing baby and the setting is Prospect Park in Brooklyn, and my son lives right near there and spends many weekends in that park. So I was hooked.

But….I had a hard time following all the characters and I found it very slow. I know I’m in trouble with a book when I keep putting it down and looking for something else to read. It took me a week to read this, and I read 5 or 6 other books during that time. I was determined to finish it – Kerry Washington, after all, and Brooklyn, and a missing baby for heaven’s sake. But no, this was just not my favorite.

Any time there is a baby missing, that automatically ups the suspense, at least for me. But here it didn’t work, it just got lost (no pun intended!) as the story wanders off too many times. I much prefer a tighter book. There is a trope with these kinds of thrillers where the main incident is brought back time after time with a bit more information given after each revisit, and I have seen that done to great effect many times. Here, it just felt slow and repetitive.  I also didn’t understand why each chapter started with an email of parenting tips; I found it distracting (was that why?) and ultimately pointless.

All in all, not a great read for me. But if you like mommy books like those from Liane Moriarty (which I loved), or unreliable narrators, The Perfect Mother may be the perfect book for you.

5/18 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

THE PERFECT MOTHER by Aimee Molloy. William Morrow; 1st Edition edition (January 2, 2018). ISBN 978-0062678416. 448p.


FIELD OF VALOR by Matthew Betley

May 22, 2018

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Logan West Thrillers Series, Book 3

This is an exciting, action packed novel featuring Logan West and his deadly task force. While it is based on some facts from a previously written book about a world wide plot to take down the U.S. government and pit America against China, it can be read in one gulp. The plot is the same as other Matthew Betley books with West and his task force. A huge amount of military style action and danger filled sequences set on a stage in the U.S. itself. The area is near Washington D.C., i.e., Virginia, Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. The enemy is a gigantic, extremely well funded international organization with the means to rival many first world countries.

Leadership of this titanic organization runs to the very top of the U.S. government with the means to learn secrets only held by a few.

Betley does include some humanizing facts about the warriors comprising West’s task force. Two of the members are in the starting stages of a romance with the girl as much of a fighter as her boy friend. Logan himself is married with his wife aware of the dangers he faces and worried about him for that. The book is a fast read, as indicated as much action as can possibly be crammed into it’s pages, and certainly a draw for those books featuring Logan and his task force coming out in the future.

5/18 Paul Lane

FIELD OF VALOR by Matthew Betley. Atria/Emily Bestler Books (May 22, 2018).  ISBN 978-1501161988. 400p.


May 17, 2018

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Jonas works as an analyst for the British secret service with no background as an agent in the field. He is confronted with the taking prisoner of his father by ISIS gunmen in Syria and with no apparent interest by his agency in freeing the man decides to take matters into his own hands. Realizing that the most interesting thing he can bring into any negotiation with ISIS is documents with intelligence gained by his agency. Accordingly, he proceeds to steal some of what he feels might be the most interesting pieces of information from his agency’s files.

Jonas’s next step is to travel to Beirut and there contract a Swiss priest: Father Tobias. The father takes the job even with an episode of being captured in the past by ISIS and barely escaping from them. He agrees to again travel into territory controlled by the Islamic state and inform them Jonas is willing and able to bargain for his father’s life.

At this point the British and also the American governments realize that they have a traitor on their hands looking to leak information and have to start their own action to halt Jonas. The ingredients presented give rise to a novel repleat with action and suspension. The question of getting both his father and Tobias out alive becomes of paramount importance to him.

Wolff (not his real name) is indicated as having a long background with the British government and is more than qualified to set up the events and places where the action occurs. He has also done an interesting job in creating a distinct personality for Jonas; a quiet man definitely not the literary hero type and content to work behind the scenes suddenly forced to become a man of action in a kill or be killed world.

The author already has another book in the works reported to be ready for publication sometime in 2019. It is sure to be a novel well worth obtaining to undoubtedly devour in one long sitting.

5/18 Paul Lane

BESIDE THE SYRIAN SEA by James Wolff. Bitter Lemon Press (May 15, 2018). ISBN: 978-1908524980. 320p.


May 15, 2018

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Jonathan Hunter is an employee of the CIA who has not seen his family for years due to assignments in places like Afghanistan, Iraq and other mid-eastern hot spots. Out of the blue he gets a call from his brother Kevin to rush home to help him. In spite of being estranged for 15 years Jonathan goes AWOL from his duty station and rushes home.

Unfortunately it is just in time to meet Kevin dying by a lake that both brothers are familiar with and hear his last words, “Khalifah not them, Maya.”

Kevin has obviously been murdered and Jonathan, in spite of not seeing him for so long, vows to find and execute his killer.

With the violence of the killing beginning the novel it is a safe bet that the remainder of the book will feature more of the same. And that is certainly what happens. While going after the killer or killers Jonathan meets his brother’s widow, his adopted son and has his CIA supervisor find him up and okay the search. Oh yes, seems like Kevin’s death is tied into a plot by extremists to cause a mass killing of Americans in several areas and the forcing of action against the perpetrators by the U.S. government. Also Kevin’s widow develops an attraction for Jonathan, and she also has an adopted son that is somehow tied into Islamic terrorists.

O’Connor vividly portrays the hierarchy of the CIA to which Jonathan is attached. His direct supervisor, Oscar LaRue, shows up in time to tie many other side factors to the murder and orders Jonathan to investigate these while he is working on his brother’s case. Tall order, but our hero is certainly able to do so in spite of all the factors working against him. He gets involved with a female FBI agent who starts out very antagonistic but does develop a liking for him, and a local police officer that is so certain that Jonathan is guilty of something that he becomes a tormentor to him.

The ending leaves enough clues to make it almost a certainty that there will be future books featuring Jonathan Hunter, his supervisor and others who are front and center in “The Consultant”. I look forward to these for the promise of steady action in those novels.

5/18 Paul Lane

THE CONSULTANT by Tj O’Connor. Oceanview Publishing (May 15, 2018).  ISBN 978-1608092833. 432p.


May 13, 2018

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In the history of the United States, several presidents have been assassinated. In none of these murders has the killer ever been brought to justice and tried in a court of law for the crime. Buffa has set up a riveting novel describing how such an event might take place.

A newly elected president takes a trip to San Francisco and while still aboard Air Force One, accepts a visit from the junior senator from California. This man is seen as one that could run against the president and due to his popularity, win the next election and take the office.

While still on the plane, shouts are heard and people running into the area where Kevin Fitzgerald, the senator, had met the president  who is seen lying on the floor with wounds on his body. Senator Fitzgerald is holding a bloody knife and quickly confesses to the murder. He demands a trial indicating he wants to bring out the reason that he killed the president.

Joseph Antonelli, a character used by Buffa in previous novels and known as the defense attorney that has never lost a case, is asked to take the case on behalf of Kevin Fitzgerald.

The handling of the trial and the back and forth action is guaranteed to keep the reader glued to the book. There are enough events occurring to make a very rewarding read even better than normal, including a love affair that captures Antonelli’s interest. The ending is not telegraphed and is a surprise and one not expected by the reader but upon reflection, a very apt one.

5/18 Paul Lane

NECESSITY by D.W. Buffa. Polis Books (April 24, 2018).  ISBN 978-1947993082. 352p.

BEYOND THE PALE by Clare O’Donohue

May 11, 2018

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 A World of Spies Mystery, Book 1

O’Donohue gives us a thoroughly delightful tale featuring two charming main characters, a plot that features international criminal activity, murder, and mayham but presented in a slightly tongue in cheek manner, blunting any horror.

Hollis and Finn Larrson are two married professors with at least PhDs teaching at the same university in Michigan. They have arrived at the top of their professions, have academic tenure, great reputations in their subject field, but have reached a point in their married lives in which they may be taking the other partner slightly for granted. Our story begins when Finn proposes a vacation involving a trip to Chicago in which he will go to Wriggly Field to watch baseball with Hollis dutifully tagging along. Hollis is not too thrilled with such a vacation but their marriage is too solid to have a big fight over it.

Right out of the blue Hollis gets a visit from a friend of hers who was a companion during a short period that she actually worked for the CIA, taking the training in preparation for a career with the organization. There are some hints that the “friend” was involved with her until she left the CIA to return to graduate school where she met Finn; they married and several years later both are teachers at the college level. But her friend is there to make an offer to the two which would set a different tone for a getaway. He indicates that the CIA would pay for a trip to Dublin, Ireland if Finn, an expert in the field would pick up a manuscript, quickly authenticate it and, if real, deliver it as directed. A twenty minute task paying for a priceless trip to Ireland Hollis jumps at the chance, and although Finn is not that thrilled with the idea he goes along with the woman he loves.

The trip starts with a bang. Their contact is not there; they run into various individuals that would love to get their hands on the manuscript, they are forced to run all over the section of Ireland that they have gone to. Their lives are at risk and a twenty minute job turns into a life threatening situation . Needless to say the book is an all nighter with enough suspense to keep one wrapped tightly into it. I can’t help but hope that Hollis and Finn can find other non academic adventures to get involved in in the near future.

5/18 Paul Lane

BEYOND THE PALE by Clare O’Donohue. Midnight Ink (May 8, 2018).  ISBN 978-0738756509. 360p.