Wonder Valley: A Novel
Against a backdrop of a sprawling, wild Los Angeles, six lost souls do their best to outrun their demons. Ren, fresh out of juvie, yearns to find his mother and atone for both their sins. James and Owen try in vastly different ways to define their own lives apart from their cult-leader father. Britt will do just about anything to forget her own egregious mistakes, and Tony–affluent and successful–wonders if the real meaning of his life exists outside his familiar world. Finally, Blake, a violent criminal, devotes himself to a life on the run with the even more violent Sam–until tragedy pummels this unlikely duo and forces Blake onto a new and unwanted path.
Told in alternating viewpoints over a span of four years, Pochoda skillfully juggles her disparate cast of characters, all of whom are on the verge of despair or redemption or a queasy blend of both. She excels most in creating a vivid, unsparing picture of LA, where the desert and sun and chaos often render the ocean an afterthought. Framed by Ren’s journey to reach the water–so close and so far–Wonder Valley suggests that, for some, the search for community and meaning will never be fully over and that some are ultimately destined to be alone.
The Paris Protection
The Secret Service is in some ways like the NSA, CIA or some other government lesser known acronym group: just about everyone knows who they are, but they dont really know exactly how they operate or what they do. The Secret Services job is to protect the President of the United States 24/7, no matter what it takes. Their lives are always on the line for this one person. But what does this truly unique job entail?
The premise for The Paris Protection seems somewhat mundane and ordinary: a terrorist group has infiltrated the hotel where the United States President is staying and plans to assassinate her. They are fully confident in their success, while the Secret Service knows the job they have to do.
Abigail Clarke has done a lot of work – as a state prosecutor, US Senator, and governor of Virginia – and sacrificed much to become one of the most powerful and important people on the planet; many say THE most important. President Clarke does not take her job lightly and has very little free time. She is now in Paris for a summit meeting as she hopes to bring the prickly subject of organized crime to the international stage and address it as a terrorist attack. For now, the days work is done and she is at her hotel carrying out various conference calls with important people back on US soil and around the world.
Maximillian Wolff, who once served on the Israeli Security Protection team when Yitzak Rabin was assassinated, has suffered much during his life and holds the United States accountable for its world domination, and with a huge and highly trained team of mercenaries, his plan is to remove the head of power and bring the US to its knees. His right hand man, Kazim Aslan, has spent his time as an insurgent soldier in Iraq who has lost loved ones because of the United States policies and wants their assassination plan to be just as successful. Maximillian also has a hero: Hannibal Barca who once brought Rome to its knees.
The Paris Protection is three-hundred-and-fifty-odd pages that is anything but ordinary and mundane. Devore skillfully takes the reader step by step through the attack, giving POVs from both sides and plenty of detail of tactics, weaponry, and skill. It is a gripping thriller at its best. Here and there, he provides some back story to his characters–again on both sides–that help the reader understand what is fueling their desire and drive. Maximillian goes into numerous contemplations of how Hannibal handled certain situations to help them in their current one, which is juxtaposed with Secret Service Agents contemplating their skill and training and what past agents have done in similar situations.
It is the ideal blend of action and story with plenty of well-researched details that keep the reader glued to the page. The story passes throughout the hotel with some impressive battles, eventually leading down deep into the haunting Paris catacombs that serves as a terrifying arena for a chase scene. The Paris Protection is one of those books where you dont know who will make it out alive and how its really going to end; a perfect example of the thriller genre.
Death by Romance
Gordon Taylor is murdered right before Christmas, and right before his company makes its initial public offering. His wife, Jessica, is devastated, but alarmed that her partnership with Romance, Ltd., makes her a suspect in her husbands murder, along with many other supporting characters.
Years before the murder, Jessica’s friend, Mavis, concocts a business plan for a lucrative, investor-driven matchmaking service. She calls it Romance, Ltd. Mavis uses Jessica as her investment, using her resources to school her in philanthropy and high culture, with the aim of putting Jessica in Gordon Taylors path. The company’s goal is that the investment marries for money, and the investors get a cut of the spoils when the marriage eventually sours. But what if the investors are impatient, and the marriage isnt souring fast enough? It just might be a motive for murder.
Jessicas clear-eyed earnestness is admirable, if only a bit naïve. Jessica knows that Mavis makes money through their partnership after Gordon Taylors estate is settled, but doesn’t see this as a reason to suspect her. Jessica blames herself for her husbands murder, and continues to forgive Mavis over and over again for being a single-minded, greedy hag the whole time.
A shady lawyer and some investors with mob ties kept me guessing, and threw Ryan, the cop on the case, off the trail. Like many crime novels, the evidence points to multiple characters as being the murderer, but it was almost the one you least expected.
Death by Romance is short, simple and straightforward. The characters are deep and interesting. Jessica’s grief is the readers grief. Maviss anxiety is the readers anxiety. Ryan, the cop with whom readers will spend the most time, loves his cat and loves to cook, has a dismal relationship with his son, and can’t seem to let go of his late wife, Mary. Ryan’s vibrant personality will make readers feel like theyre solving the mystery right alongside him. While there wasn’t a ton of action, some excellent sleuthing made the ride entertaining.
Wake Me Up
Four students from Chris Bullet’s Middleton, Montana, high school viciously beat him up because they earmark Chris to be gay. It is 2004, an election year. As “the Presidential cycle warps into full-blooded hatred of anyone gay, anyone different, and fills political campaign war chests,” Chris lies comatose at a children’s hospital. In an out-of-body experience, Chris views various people and their situations, such as the goings on in his school and also the fictional story loosely based on Chris’ demise written by Deepika, his father’s lover. While the affair is disconcerting to Chris, this is only the beginning of the drama that unfolds within his dysfunctional family, especially when his dad attempts suicide.
Justin Bog punctuates the sexual stigmatization that results from a bigoted societal mindset in Wake Me Up. Divided into four sections, Bog uses the Greek Chorus in parts one and four to present the collective voice of the many characters of whom Chris observes during his astral travel. Narrated by Chris, Bog’s first-person plot constantly alternates between Chris’ observances, character scenes, Chris’ childhood and school recollections, and the moments leading up to Chris’ attack. Key to many of Bog’s character scenes, which function like substories, is how he highlights sexual bondage. Good examples include the student who runs out of Chris’ mom’s English Literature class with no explanation after being harassed by other students, Deepika’s personal and familial lives, specific characters in her story based on Chris, and Chris’ dad’s past.
Bog’s attractive writing style, set to present tense, combines storytelling via the narrator and engaging dialogue. Although homosexuality is a top theme, Bog focuses much of his attention on relationship building: Chris’ dad’s issues with depression and suicide, his mom’s MS diagnosis, and Deepika’s decisions to move on with her life. As the story builds, so does Chris’ case, because all four boys are identified as his attackers. Wake Me Up is well written, thought-provoking, and a definite must-read by all!
Energy Dependence Day
Energy Dependence Day by Christian F. Burton is a complex, complicated labyrinthine, and yet wildly intriguing, read that weaves a magnitude of hot topics. Mr. Burton engages his readers into a realm where politics, religion, and social issues takes precedence in the molding of ones thinking and upbringing. Mr. Burton showcases an in-depth tale of different motivations for ones decision and the onset ramifications it sets forth.
In this novel, Mr. Burton takes his readers down a rabbit hole of some sort where readers are immersed with the raw and gritty tale of real life for the people living in a country where politics, social injustices, and religion are highly regarded. This novel is somewhat an in your face literary piece that exposes the ugly facets of the world. It reveals the side where money, politics, war, humanity, and social issues are an everyday reality. It is a world where, basically, we are defined by wealth and social standing. And in such, Mr. Burton exposes and weaves another layer of one hot issue that cannot be contained. Terrorism.
The issue of terrorism and its breeding ground is such a hot topic, and so Mr. Burton does not sweep this issue under the rug. Instead, he allows his readers to come face-to-face with this important social issue. Not only does Mr. Burton weave that element of terrorism, but he also incorporates the reality of social inequality of women in the Middle East.
In the backdrops of two different political and social views, Mr. Burton allows readers to see and feel both sides of the story. This is a novel that allows you to see two different perspectives from the eyes of two men. One has lived with brutality, terrorism, poverty, and social injustice, and the other has lived a life to serve and protect his country. Mr. Burton pieces together a puzzle of some sort to give a raw, gritty, emotional, and thought-provoking literary tale. My only concern about this book was it was quite lengthy and had too many character names, which did cause some confusion at times. But overall, this novel was bold, provocative, and riveting. It pushes readers out of their comfort zone to see the real and gritty side of the world we live in.
The Nash Criterion
Obama’s term has come to an end, and Elaine York has stepped up to the plate as the newly inaugurated 45th President of the United States. She soon finds herself compromised, however, as a coup, seemingly initiated by a faction of the military, divides the nation, and America descends into civil war.
Events set in motion by a genius hacker named Fawkes, after he has unleashed a super-virus, have triggered the chaos. Once again, a team of FBI and CIA agents find themselves pitted against the forces of evil, including many within their own government. This story, book four of the Intel 1 series, follows on from The Anonymous Signal, in which an FBI cyber crimes unit went off-reservation with their crime-fighting methodology, and the chief and members of his team were forced to defend themselves and their actions in a military-style trial. However, this novel does function as a standalone, and can be successfully read as such.
Feds John Savas and Rebecca Cohen have to prove themselves worthy of their earlier exoneration, as they attempt to aid the ailing president. Meanwhile, a crack team, including super cybersecurity girl Angel Lightfoote, work on deciphering a secret code which obscures the unpublished work of brilliant mathematician John Nash. Once cracked, it promises to defeat a hidden enemy and restore peace and harmony to the nation. As if this weren’t enough, both groups must battle a divisive contingent of the military, pledging allegiance to this opposing set of puppet-masters, with sophisticated modern weaponry and advanced computational power at their disposal.
The author continues to develop his original creations, an interesting and quirky cast of non-stereotypical misfits, but, in places, paints quite a broad sweep when it comes to character perspective. Though successful in initial chapters when were inside Sava’s and York’s heads, the storytelling becomes less focalized as we switch between the two interwoven plotlines to spend time with the secondary group. It feels like if the reader were to be privy to the interior monologues of all of the characters and their motivations, a much stronger connection could be made, along with a sense of the cast having been more fully-developed. In this instance, I believe this series could be propelled into a league alongside tech thrillers written by masters such as Barry Eisler.
The author’s jargon and technical know-how is believable, as is the convincing fight choreography. All of this, along with the complex and intelligent plotting, makes for an extremely satisfying and page-turning read, and the incorporation of several hot politic topics and fascinating conspiracy theories about elite shadowy governments make it all the more compelling. Erec Stebbins is definitely one to watch, a good writer who just gets better and better.