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Friday, July 26, 2013


4-1/2 stars (out of 5)

After reading Cussler's disappointing Poiseidon's Arrow, co-written by his son Dirk Cussler last year - I gave it just 3 stars - I wasn't expecting this to be much better (read my review here). That book was the 22nd "starring" Dirk Pitt, who since his introduction in 1965 has "graduated to head up the National Underwater and Marine Agency. Pitt makes an occasional appearance in that capacity in Zero Hour, but this one (Book 9 of The Numa Files) follows friends Kurt Austin and Joe Zavala and the rest of the Numa team as they try to stop a mad scientist who's bent on destroying the world as they know it.

The focus, if you will, is on "zero point energy," which is a theoretical state of energy that well-known scientists like Nikola Tesla reportedly espoused but for which his designs mysteriously disappeared before they could be tested. If tapped, it could be used as an energy source for the betterment of the world; but misused, the consequences could be dire. Here, the Numa team learns that a discredited and paranoid scientist has mastered the technology and, together with his son, plans to unleash it by targeting a fault line that runs through the middle of Australia and splitting the continent right down the middle.

As the team searches to find and shut down the villain before that happens at "Zero Hour," the chase moves along nicely, making this book hard to put down. On occasion, the boundaries of what the human body is capable of are tested a bit as the testosterone levels shoot up (literally and figuratively), but it never quite reaches the point of super-human that always bugs the heck out of me when I run across it in other books of this genre. All in all, a great job! 

Zero Hour by Clive Cussler and Graham Brown (Putnam Adult, May 2013); 400 pp.

Monday, July 22, 2013


4 stars (out of 5)

It was the setting - St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest city in the United States - that made me take a closer look at this book, which, when I got it, was free on the Kindle. My husband and I have friends in the Sunshine State who have taken many beautiful photos of the attractions there, like the historic lighthouse and the Alligator Farm, so I was hoping I'd be getting an enjoyable bargain.

And that I did. The first in a series featuring private investigator Quint Mitchell (the second, Bringing Down the Furies, has been published as well), it's very well written and held my interest right to the very last page. And to my special delight, some of the action actually takes place at those two landmarks I mentioned earlier.

The story begins as Mitchell is helping at an archaeological dig, where a more recent and gruesome find turns up. When the lead archaeologist and Mitchell's personal friend is charged with the murder, the PI sets out to find the real killer. In the process, he runs afoul of local law enforcement, city leaders and politicians who have irons in fires that have yet to start burning. 

If I'm honest, I must say I suspected how this one would end. But at no point did I know for sure until the author (whose real name is Victor DiGenti, by the way), put it in writing. All in all, I very much enjoyed Quint Mitchell's debut - and I look forward to reading the next one (which takes place in South Carolina).

Matanzas Bay by Parker Francis (Windrusher Hall Press, March 2011); 258 pp.

Friday, July 12, 2013


5 stars (out of 5)

What's in a name? If it happens to be mine, you can be sure I'll take notice. I first discovered C.J. Box's series featuring Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett years ago with the first - Open Season - simply because Pickett is my family name. I'd have read it just because of that, but the fact that it fell into the genre of books I love most made me even more eager to check it out.

That was then - 2001 - and I've been a happy reader ever since. As always, I couldn't wait to get the 13th and latest, Breaking Point, on my Kindle. And like all the others, it was hard to put it down and the ending, which of course I won't reveal, made me want to learn what happens next.

Part of the books' appeal is that they're not simply about the game warden and his adventures, but his wife and children as well. But now, his daughters are practically grown (one is in college), and I was curious to see how the family dynamic would be worked into this story. And in fact, while Joe's wife Marybeth has a bit of a role here, there seemed to me to be noticeably less emphasis on the family angle in this installment. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out in the next book in the series.

This one, which brings into play the dire consequences of government power gone wrong, is based on a true story that ended up before the Supreme Court (Sackett v. EPA 2012). Butch Roberson, Joe's family friend and business owner, has become the target of the Environmental Protection Agency, which apparently is out to get him by ruining everything he's tried hard to build up by declaring a tract of land on which Butch and his wife plan to build a retirement home a protected wetland. But then, two EPA agents are murdered, and the evidence points to Butch as the killer - suggesting that he he may have reached his breaking point.

As Butch goes on the run, a manhunt ensues, and it becomes clear that the powers-that-be aren't looking to capture him alive. As the local game warden and a man who is familiar with Butch, Joe is called into service to assist in the hunt. But early on he begins to suspect that something is very wrong and that some of the very people who employ him may be less than honorable - and who, by the end, bring Joe to a breaking point of his own. 

If I have a criticism, I suppose it would be that almost all of the U.S. government folks are shown in a much less-than-positive light - bringing to mind the political rants late author Vince Flynn would insert into his novels (for the record, he's a favorite author too). At the same time, author Box is a life-long resident of Wyoming, so I'm sure the Sackett case struck a few personal chords. And, much of the criticism is justified; sometimes, the government really is out to get you.  

Breaking Point by C.J. Box (Putnam Adult March 2013); 384 pp.

Thursday, July 4, 2013


4 stars (out of 5)

By the time I'd read the first half-dozen chapters in the latest adventures of Harvard professor (and art historian who specializes in iconography) Robert Langdon, I concluded this book must have been written with a movie in mind. And now that I've finished it, I'm even more sure of it.

I'll also say up front that my reason for giving the book 4 stars instead of 5 (as I did for two of the author's other incredibly popular Langdon books, The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons) is - ironically - that this one seemed easier to read: much less complex and difficult to follow. And in many instances, that's is a good thing. But ease of reading doesn't necessarily mean better - and while I enjoyed this one, I can't honestly say it's as well written as those other two.

That Brown has done considerable research is obvious; if nothing else, this book is a history lesson on the architecture of important buildings in all the places in which Langdon finds himself as the plot develops as well as insights into a literary masterpiece, Dante's <i>Inferno</i>, from which the book gets its title. But frankly, such in-depth descriptions of the meaning of every little nook, cranny and horse's foot can get a little tiresome fairly quickly.

From the start, Langdon and his female companion in this book, the beautiful and secretive Sienna, spend much of their time evading capture by forces out to get them (which includes the U.S. government), scurrying in and out of seemingly inescapable hidey-holes. And too often, the situations they encounter seemed contrived (bringing the concept of writing for a movie back to mind again). Yes, Langdon has an eidetic memory, but the uncanny knack of knowing exactly where the secret passageway is and how to get it open sort of strains credulity after the second or third time. 

The same can be said about Langdon's responses at the times when interpretation of a symbol, word, or lines from Dante's work are crucial to solving a particular mystery. Oh, whatever does this mean? Oh wait! I'll just spin around three times, turn the letters upside down, eliminate all the vowels and spit into a silver bucket and eureka - now I've got it! 

Still, it's fun to watch as Langdon uncovers not only who the bad guy is but what he's up to - something that threatens humankind as we know it - and then unearths clues that hopefully will lead him to a way to stop it from happening. There are a few surprises (although not altogether unpredictable). There's even one plot twist that's reminiscent of the ending of Bob Newhart's second TV show when he wakes up in bed next to Suzanne Pleshette, his wife from the first show.

Apparently, I'm not alone in my criticism of this book; of the 220 reviews of the book at at the time of this writing, 92 readers gave it three stars or less. But all things considered, I say it's a decent book - just not quite up to the level of writing I'd expected.

But hey. Maybe this will be one of those rare books that works better on the big screen.

Inferno by Dan Brown; Doubleday (May 2013); 480 pp.