Review: Dissident by Cecilia London

dissident by cecilia london alternate coverFormat read: ebook provided by the author
Formats available: ebook
Genre: contemporary romance, political thriller
Series: Bellator Saga #1
Length: 274 pages
Publisher: Principatum Publishing
Date Released: March 17, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

She once was important. Now she’s considered dangerous.

In a new America where almost no one can be trusted, Caroline lies unconscious in a government hospital as others decide her fate. She is a political dissident, wanted for questioning by a brutal regime that has come to power in a shockingly easy way. As she recovers from her injuries, all she has are her memories. And once she wakes up, they may not matter anymore.

Dissident is part contemporary romance and part political thriller, with elements of romantic suspense and speculative fiction. Told mostly in flashback, it details the budding romantic relationship between our heroine Caroline and Jack, the silver fox playboy who tries to win her heart.

My Review:

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. Actually, the state of Pennsylvania, and apparently the rest of the U.S. Not that we find out nearly enough about what’s gone wrong in the first book of the Bellator Saga.

Most of this story is told in flashback. Actually, so much of it is flashback that it feels like the few bits that are in the main character’s “present” feel like flash forwards. This feels like the very beginning of how things got the way they are, but it is so far back that there are no hints of the awful future that will come to pass.

It’s not that the future in Caroline’s world isn’t awful – because the tiny bits of it we see definitely are. It’s that we see nothing of even the very beginning of the road to hell – we just find ourselves with Caroline in the handbasket.

A handbasket which is still dark and not well lighted with description. All we see of it are Caroline and her husband attempting to escape to Canada, a doctor murdered, and Texas and California seceding from a very shaky locked-down Union.

Caroline is in a medical coma in a hospital, after a sadistic beating by the soldiers of this new republic, where the former U.S. Representative has been declared a dissident, for reasons that the readers still do not know by the end of the book.

What we see in the past is Caroline’s rocky road to romance with her second husband, also a U.S. Representative. It is a heart-warming and occasionally heart-rending romance between two adults who both have some serious damage.

Caroline is a relatively young widow. Her first husband died in an automobile accident, skidding on black ice and totaling the car and himself. (After the end of the story in the present, one can’t help but wonder if it was really an accident, but without enough information yet to determine why it might not have been.)

Jack is a rich playboy who seems to have bought himself a House seat. While he does a good job as a freshman congressperson, he has spent his life with his eye on the next chance. He sees himself as completely shallow, but seems to have fallen in love, for reals, with the likable and anything but shallow Caroline.

Also she’s a Democrat and he’s a Republican, but they both have a history of reaching across the aisle. That by the end of the book he wants to lead her down an aisle is a bit more reaching than either of them expected.

First they will have to get past his betrayal of their trust. The entire length of their relationship, he’s been planning to run for Governor of Pennsylvania, and never bothered to tell her. When the flashbacks end, their relationship is on extremely shaky ground.

When the story ends in her present, she is waking up from her coma to the memory of exactly how severely she was beaten. But we, the readers, still don’t know why.

Escape Rating C+: While I enjoyed this while I was reading it, there wasn’t anything that compelled me to keep going. I’m not sure why that is, but it is.

The one thing that drove me bananas is that there is nothing in Caroline’s flashbacks, and no details in the present, to let me know how the hell things got so f’ed up. While the details may be premature in the way that the author is telling the story, I need to have clues about how things got the way they are, and I felt completely dissatisfied at the end that there wasn’t anything to help me out.

I have a nasty feeling that this is going to be like Babylon 5, where a repressive government takes control of Earth through a coup that appears legitimate, then insidiously uses quasi-legal means to ramp up fear, create secret organizations that spy on citizens in the guise of safety and peace, and then outright repress all resistance until rebellion breaks out and planets and peoples start seceding.

But I’m guessing because I don’t know. I didn’t find any hints and that frustrates me no end. Most of the time, I felt like I was reading a contemporary romance. A pretty decent contemporary romance at that.

However, I needed to see where the shadows come in to accept this book as anything more.  And I just didn’t find the signs and portents I needed for that.

I also recognize that what I am looking for is intended to appear in later volumes. This is a serial novel rather than a series, and Dissident is only part one. My frustrations with it make me realize that I just don’t care for the serial novel concept. I need my stories to have a beginning, a middle, and an end, even if, as with books in a series, the end is a pause rather than a complete finish. There is still some intentional closure in each book in a series, and I like my stories that way.

As always, YMMV.

***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Pleasantville by Attica Locke

pleasantville by attica lockeFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genre: mystery, thriller
Series: Jay Porter #2
Length: 432 pages
Publisher: Harper Collins
Date Released: April 21, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Book Depository

In this sophisticated thriller, lawyer Jay Porter, hero of Locke’s bestseller Black Water Rising, returns to fight one last case, only to become embroiled once again in a dangerous game of shadowy politics and a witness to how far those in power are willing to go to win

Fifteen years after the events of Black Water Rising, Jay Porter is struggling to cope with catastrophic changes in his personal life and the disintegration of his environmental law practice. His victory against Cole Oil is still the crown jewel of his career, even if he hasn’t yet seen a dime thanks to appeals. But time has taken its toll. Tired and restless, he’s ready to quit.

When a girl goes missing on Election Night, 1996, in the neighborhood of Pleasantville—a hamlet for upwardly-mobile blacks on the north side of Houston—Jay, a single father, is deeply disturbed. He’s been representing Pleasantville in the wake of a chemical fire, and the case is dragging on, raising doubts about his ability.

The missing girl was a volunteer for one of the local mayoral candidates, and her disappearance complicates an already heated campaign. When the nephew of one of the candidates, a Pleasantville local, is arrested, Jay reluctantly finds himself serving as a defense attorney. With a man’s life and his own reputation on the line, Jay is about to try his first murder in a case that will also put an electoral process on trial, exposing the dark side of power and those determined to keep it.

My Review:

black water rising by attica lockePleasantville was every bit as terrific as I expected it to be, and the story makes an excellent bookend to Jay Porter’s legal career. We saw it take off in Black Water Rising (reviewed here) and in Pleasantville we see what could be his swan song, or perhaps a new renaissance. Time will tell.

Jay’s own story seems to be a parable on the cliche that if it wasn’t for bad luck, he wouldn’t have any at all. He has an unfortunate knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and nearly getting himself killed extricating himself from the mess that he has accidentally landed in.

In this particular story, Jay also finds himself caught in the middle of a mess that could be described as “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, along with a cautionary tale about not getting in the way of someone who gets their jollies by being a very big fish in a very small pond.

I used to know someone who referred to some folks who fit that category as being a shark in a goldfish bowl. The problem that Jay discovers is that those type of sharks will do just about anything to maintain their sharkitude.

Pleasantville takes place in 1996, fifteen years after the end of Black Water Rising. During those intervening years, Jay’s career has risen and finally fallen. He’s gone from being in his 30s to pushing 50, and sometimes feeling 50 push back. In Black Water Rising, his wife Bernice was pregnant with their first child. In Pleasantville, he is a widower raising their two children alone, after Bernice’s death from cancer the previous year. His once burgeoning civil practice has sunk to one last case that he is afraid to go to court with – after the death of his wife, he has lost his own fire.

In the autumn of 1996 the country was about to elect Bill Clinton for his second term. In Houston, a historic mayoral race has come down to a runoff between the first black Houston police chief and the second woman to run a viable campaign for mayor. The politics are dirty and getting dirtier by the minute.

In the middle of the campaign, a young female campaign worker is murdered, and the pattern of the crime fits two other recent murders of young women in the Pleasantville neighborhood. The murder is tragic, but political considerations overtake the investigation of the crime.

Former police chief Axel Hathorne is from Pleasantville. His opponent, District Attorney Wollcott, decides to prosecute Axe’s nephew Neal for the crime, based on extremely flimsy evidence. As Neal is his uncle’s campaign manager, it looks a lot like a cheap stunt to tank Axe in the upcoming runoff election.

Jay takes Neal’s case. At first, simply because he is in the police station when Neal is brought in for questioning. A happenstance. The patriarch of the Hathorne family, Sam Hathorne, asks Jay to take the case for real when Neal is charged. Jay doesn’t trust Sam, doesn’t trust himself in a courtroom, but can’t manage to stop himself from taking up Neal’s case when it looks like he wasn’t just falsely accused, but falsely accused in order to finagle the outcome of the election.

But the case turns out to be much different than Jay imagined. Not because of the election angle, but because old Sam Hathorne, the unofficial mayor of Pleasantville, has committed many more and dirtier deals than anyone in his community imagined. He’s sacrificed everyone’s best interests in order to maintain his position as the shark in his particular goldfish bowl.

And Jay won’t let him get away with it any more than he’ll let the DA and her dirty tricks manager get away with pursuing a trumped up murder charge to steal an election.

Escape Rating A+: Pleasantville was even better than Black Water Rising. The story has just as many thrills and definitely chills, but the scope was larger and the chills further reaching. While Black Water Rising was about one man’s fight against corporate corruption, Pleasantville has a broader theme about the far reaching consequences of political corruption, and the short term memories of the electorate. It’s a story about the changing nature of one community, and how that change is reflected in the wider world.

The dirty tricks campaign against Alex Hathorne in Houston is intended as a precursor of the long-drawn-out fight that turned into the 2000 presidential election where our fate was decided in a courtroom. The manager of the dirty tricks in this Houston mayoral race moves on to bigger and better (or worse, depending on perspective) things as a manager of the Bush campaign in 2000. It’s easy to see a connection between this mayoral campaign and the Swift Boat deceptive advertising in the 2004 election.

But this story personalizes the political dirt by focusing on the bogus case against Neal Hathorne. Through the case of one young man who has an alibi for the time when the crime took place, we see how easy it is to obfuscate the facts in order to forward an agenda. The opponents didn’t need to convict him, they just needed to dirty his name for 30 days, long enough to win the election. That Jay is willing to do whatever it takes to thwart that ambition tells both him and the reader that he still has something left to live for, and still has something to give back to his community and his clients.

That he is unwilling to bury a difficult truth in order to keep the status quo in power shows that he is still an idealist after all. And those choices are what make him so fascinating to follow.

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 2-22-15

Sunday Post

This was a week where I suffered long moments of extreme desperation – my iPad died (temporarily) one afternoon and I got a bit frantic realizing that my entire life was on the damn thing and that I hadn’t backed it up since Pluto was a planet. (Not quite, but too awfully close). I’m pretty sure I got this one when we lived in Atlanta the last time, so it’s at least three years old. In internet years, that’s a couple of lifetimes. I think this weekend includes a trip to the Apple store.

Also, in the note to self category, I need to remember not to schedule 3 (or more) creepy books in the same week. I like a little creepy of the ghostly/paranormal variety, but four close together is at least two too many. A book that is the wrong book for the time, even if it’s good, can serve as an albatross around the neck. In other words, avoiding reading the next creepy book on the schedule kept me from reading anything for a couple of days. And it’s not that the books were bad per se, it’s more that too much of even a good thing is not wonderful.

I’m all creeped out.

Current Giveaways:

$25 Gift Card + In Flames by Richard Hilary Weber
Those Rosy Hours at Mazadaran by Marion Grace Woolley

Winner Announcements:

The winner of the $10 Amazon Gift Card in the Share the Love Giveaway Hop is Michelle B.

homecoming by robyn carrBlog Recap:

A- Review: The Homecoming by Robyn Carr
B+ Review: Escape Velocity by Jess Anastasi
B Review: Those Rosy Hours at Mazandaran by Marion Grace Woolley
Guest Post by Marion Grace Woolley on The Music of the Night + Giveaway
C- Review: In Flames by Richard Hilary Weber + Giveaway
B+ Review: Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King
Stacking the Shelves (123)


jam on the vine by lashonda katrice barnettComing Next Week:

Miramont’s Ghost by Elizabeth Hall (blog tour review)
One Wish by Robyn Carr (blog tour review)
The Interstellar Age by Jim Bell (review)
Garrett by Sawyer Bennett (review)
Jam on the Vine by LaShonda Katrice Barnett (review)

Review: In Flames by Richard Hilary Weber + Giveaway

in flames by richard hilary weberFormat read: ebook provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genre: political thriller
Length: 188 pages
Publisher: Random House Alibi
Date Released: February 3, 2015
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

San Iñigo is a jewel of the Caribbean, a playground paradise for the foreign elite, a hell for unfortunate locals. For recent Princeton grad Dan Shedrick, San Iñigo promises the fulfillment of too many desires.

Dan hires on at a powerful American firm as a junior architect, but still finds time for tennis, booze, a reckless affair with the sexy wife of a resort owner—even a bit of reconnaissance for the U.S. cultural attaché. But soon he discovers that nothing on San Iñigo is without consequence. When a much-loved local radio personality is found on a beach with his head blown off, Dan’s lover becomes a suspect. And not long after his foray into espionage, he’s dragged away on a brutal journey into the heart of darkness.

Buffeted by aggression, depraved ritual, and personal betrayal, Dan discovers fierce truths about San Iñigo . . . and himself. In the island’s forbidding mountain jungle, his life goes up in flames—a deadly inferno that will forever change him, if he survives at all.

My Review:

I finished this last night, and I’m still not quite sure what it is intended to be. It takes stabs (sometimes literally) at a lot of different genres and ideas, but never quite settles on one or the other (or the other).

At first we have a young man on a tropical island. While it sounds like paradise, it obviously is not. Dan Shedrick is a recently minted architect with a degree from Princeton, and no job prospects. It’s not him, it’s the Great Recession. Jobs for new graduates, along with everyone else, took a multi-year nosedive.

This may just be my own background.showing, but “Shedrick” reads way too much like “Shmendrik”, which is Yiddish for “stupid person”. The resonance was strong because Dan Shedrick comes off as a “shmendrik”. He is stupid, or at least clueless throughout much of the book. In The Joys of Yiddish by Leo Rosten, a shmendrik is defined as an apprentice shlemiel, meaning loser or fool. Dan is certainly both of those, too.

I would say I just digressed, but I’m not sure I did. Dan embodies both of those dubious qualities through the entire story. It was a concept that I could not get out of my head.

Dan gets a job, but not in the U.S. He becomes a contractor for the U.S. based Xy Corp., designing oil rigs and other architectural/engineering constructs, on the tropical island San Iñigo. The place is described as lawless and dangerous outside of the protected zones, and Dan sees the gun emplacements surrounding the airport as solid proof. The U.S. is propping up a corrupt government in order to get access to the offshore oil and other natural resources, and Xy Corp. is their chief contractor. Or chief extractor.

Of course there are rebels who want their island and their country back. I say “of course” because that is the common narrative for these type of stories, and it is also the narrative in the news about many such places.

Dan gets sucked in to the strange otherness of the ex-pat community on San Iñigo. He is seduced by the lifestyle of clinging to the protected zones, his own former countrymen, and living a life of relative luxury at the golf and tennis club while he drinks his nights away. He is also seduced by the young wife of the club owner, totally oblivious to the fact that Elaine seduces every man in the club for ends that are only vaguely realized or understood.

Even when Dan is recruited by the local U.S. CIA Station Chief to operate a listening post for the U.S. Government and its interests in San Inigo, Dan remains oblivious to the sheer number of people who are using and manipulating both him and the San Inigo officials.

Until Elaine literally throws him to the wolves and he finds himself kidnapped by the local rebels by mistake. He sinks into his own “heart of darkness” as he battles the jungle with his captors, and then battles against them and that same jungle in order to escape.

Once he is out, he discovers that he is not really free, and that he never has been. Just as he was used by everyone on all sides prior to his kidnapping, he emerges only to realize that everyone has plans to use him and his story for their own ends once he has escaped.

And there doesn’t seem to be anything he can do to stop them.

Escape Rating C-: For this reader, the problem was that the story started out with multiple possible plot lines, and ended up absolutely nowhere. Dan Shedrick was a shmendrik.

Because the story is told entirely from Dan’s point-of-view, we only know what he knows and only see what he sees. And Dan never does seem to know very much. Even at the end, he only thinks he’s figured out what is going on in tropical San Iñigo (and with Elaine). It doesn’t ever feel as if he either finds or discovers anything like the whole truth. Which means that we don’t either.

There are lots of secrets hinted at but none are ever revealed. Elaine might have been sleeping her way through the San Iñigo government. The U.S. might (is probably) propping up a corrupt dictatorship through proxies and military contractors. Dan is almost certainly being used by the U.S. propaganda machine, but he (and we) never get to the bottom of why.

This might be more tolerable if Dan were a more interesting or even sympathetic character.I never cared about him, so I didn’t care what happened to him. In Flames is not quite a mystery, but did not have the breakneck pace of a thriller. It did leave me with a lot of questions about San Iñigo, and especially about who was using who.


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This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.
***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.

Review: Supreme Justice by Max Allan Collins + Giveaway

supreme justice by max allan collinsFormat read: ebook provided by NetGalley
Formats available: Paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genre: Thriller, Mystery
Length: 338 pages
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Date Released: July 1, 2014
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Book Depository

After taking a bullet for his commander-in-chief, Secret Service agent Joseph Reeder is a hero. But his outspoken criticism of the president he saved—who had stacked the Supreme Court with hard-right justices to overturn Roe v. Wade, amp up the Patriot Act, and shred the First Amendment—put Reeder at odds with the Service’s apolitical nature, making him an outcast.

FBI agent Patti Rogers finds herself paired with the unpopular former agent on a task force investigating the killing of Supreme Court Justice Henry Venter. Reeder—nicknamed “Peep” for his unparalleled skills at reading body language—makes a startling discovery while reviewing a security tape: the shooting was premeditated, not a botched robbery. Even more chilling, the controversial Venter may not be the only justice targeted for death…

Is a mastermind mounting an unprecedented judicial coup aimed at replacing ultra-conservative justices with a new liberal majority? To crack the conspiracy and save the lives of not just the justices but also Reeder’s own family, rising star Rogers and legendary investigator Reeder must push their skills—and themselves—to the limit.

My Review:

This was so much fun! I know there are terrible crimes committed, etc., etc., but the story was so tight and the point-of-view character had just the right touch of baddassery/snarkitude that I poured through it in one evening.

The story is a mix of early Tom Clancy (before they stopped editing him and the books got very bloated) and the Liam Neeson movie Taken. Supreme Justice has a relentless pace and a completely absorbing story. It is a bit of a formula political thriller, but in a good way.

The book is set in a near-future time period, and the suspense relies on Washington D.C. being very much a company town, with said company being the U.S. Federal government. (Shades of Clancy). The near-future is easy to determine, because the current president is the second African-American president, after the first one with the middle name “Hussein”. No guesswork required.

But the setup is that in between these two liberal Democratic periods, the U.S. got through 8 years of an absolute neocon who packed the Supreme Court and pushed through legislation that beefed up the Patriot Act, gave all police officers even wider authority for search and seizure, pretty much wiping out the 4th amendment, reinstated prayer in public schools and repealed Roe v. Wade.

For liberals, it was a seriously sucky eight years. Former Secret Service Agent John Reeder feels more than a bit responsible for four of those eight years. He took a bullet for the neocon president, even though he hated every policy the man stood for. Reeder did his job, and made the president a hero in the process. Reeder retired because he couldn’t stand the politics any longer.

Which doesn’t mean he wasn’t good at his job. He is. He’s so good that he was able to parlay his government experience into creating a very successful security consulting firm.

When a Supreme Court justice is killed in the middle of a botched robbery, Reeder’s old friend at the FBI calls him in as a consultant. And the first thing he notices is that the whole mess was not a botched robbery. It was an assassination concealed by a botched robbery.

Even before a second justice is murdered, Reeder is the first one to figure out that someone is knocking off conservative justices, with an eye to letting the current president fix the balance of the Court. But when Reeder starts to close in on a possible lead, someone close to the investigation decides that the best way to derail it is to kidnap Reeder’s daughter.

If the motto is to “keep your friends close and your enemies close”, then who is so close that they know Reeder is the investigator with an inside track to the killer?

Escape Rating A-: Some of the early Clancy books had this same sense of tightly packed political thriller with hidden conspiracy theory agendas. And Liam Neeson’s Taken is the story of an ex-CIA Agent on the hunt to find his kidnapped daughter.

But just because a story has been done before (everything has been done before, after all) doesn’t mean that it can’t be very entertaining when it’s done well. Supreme Justice is done extremely well.

It hinges on Reeder being an intelligent and likeable character, which he is. He’s pretty honest about how he feels about people and situations, even when that honesty gets him in trouble. His amazing ability to read people makes him an expert investigator. He doesn’t just look at the evidence, he studies the people who are making the evidence.

Even when he doubts himself, he is constantly trying to figure out everyone else, and usually succeeding. His big failure is what makes this case work.

As much as I might personally dislike (or even hate) the conservative turn that the country has taken between now and the setting of the story, the way that it happens makes perfect sense. And so in the end does the motivation for the crime spree.

If you enjoy tightly plotted political action thrillers, and I do, Supreme Justice is absorbing fun to read.

This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews.


The author is giving away a copy of Supreme Justice to one lucky US/CAN winner!
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***FTC Disclaimer: Most books reviewed on this site have been provided free of charge by the publisher, author or publicist. Some books we have purchased with our own money or borrowed from a public library and will be noted as such. Any links to places to purchase books are provided as a convenience, and do not serve as an endorsement by this blog. All reviews are the true and honest opinion of the blogger reviewing the book. The method of acquiring the book does not have a bearing on the content of the review.