Review: Extinction Aftermath (Extinction Cycle Book 6) by Nicholas Sansbury Smith



Odds are, if you’re reading a review of this sixth installment in Nick Smith’s popular Extinction Cycle series, you’re already a fan and I won’t be able to tell you much you don’t already know. If you’ve not yet picked up any of these books, and provided that military horror thriller creature features are your bag, then you’ll want to stop here and proceed directly to the first book in this series, Extinction Horizon.

Extinction Aftermath picks up in the months following Extinction End, and Team Ghost, now under the leadership of Master Sergeant Joe “Fitz” Fitzsimmons, is preparing to invade Europe in an effort to quell the Variant threat overseas. Back at home, Reed Beckham is settling into civilian life with the very pregnant Dr. Kate Lovato, and President Ringgold is trying to stitch America back together through a series of Safe Zone Territories. Needless to say, everything goes to hell in a handbasket, and pretty darn quickly, too.

For my money, Aftermath just might be the best EC book yet, which says quite a bit about Smith’s growth as an author and thriller writer. This title hits a few sweet spots that I’ve been waiting for the series to tackle, particularly taking the war to Europe (we get plenty of well-staged action scenes in France) and the introduction of some quite interesting mutations on the Variant side of things. The cover gives you a good hint of what one such mutation Smith’s introduces is, but there’s a few others that are pretty spiffy.

More intriguing, though, is the sense of scope Aftermath possesses. Now that the war against the Variants has gone global, there’s a great sense of sprawling epicness to the story, with the action taking us from the shores of France, back home to Plum Island, Florida, and a few other locales. And the new threat facing America serves to heighten and propel the threats abroad to dangerous levels, while also raising the stakes for our series heroes considerably.

My only real complaint with Aftermath is the lack of resolution. Nearly every plot thread ends on a cliff-hanger, some bigger than others, making this book merely a prelude to the next novel, Extinction War. On the other hand, it’s not like I wasn’t going to continue on with this series regardless. Even if everything had been neatly wrapped up, I’d still be plunking down the cash for whatever Smith has lined up next. From the looks of it, Book 7 should certainly be a doozy.


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Review: Extinction Aftermath (Extinction Cycle Book 6) by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Review: Pressure by Jeff Strand (audiobook)



My original Pressure audiobook review and many others can be found at Audiobook Reviewer.

Pressure can be defined as the exertion of force upon something by something else, as well mental or physical distress. Either definition is appropriate for Jeff Strand’s aptly titled suspense thriller, Pressure. At its core, this a story of two forces impacting one another, forcefully and violently, and the result is a hefty dose of distress.

Alex and Darren are two boarding school brats, their friendship cemented by a late-night excursion into the woods behind a strip club, where they hide out and hope to catch sight of the action inside. Darren, though, has a secret, and once Alex and their schoolmates discover Darren’s morbid fascinations nothing is the same. What follows is a decades-long story of friendship, adversarial rivalry, and gruesome deeds that can only leave one of them alive.

Strand does a terrific job building his characters, giving them enough dimension and subtle shadings to make them relateable, even if you don’t particularly want to relate to them. And although Darren’s actions are often outside the din of understanding, you at least get what motivates him, even if the results are terribly aberrant. Alex is a solid every-man character caught up in a situation beyond his control and struggling to cope, struggling to make sense, and, mostly, struggling to find a solution to the problem that is Darren. The first-person viewpoint Strand uses allows us to see the world from Alex’s point of view, and while the story itself is pretty pitch-black, Strand, via Alex, is able to interject enough levity and enduring positivity to keep Pressure from collapsing under its own misery.

Pressure is narrated by Scott Thomas, whose voice talents I greatly enjoyed in a prior Strand title, Wolf Hunt. Here, Thomas exhibits a nice a range and listeners are unlikely to confuse characters during stretches of dialogue. While the story belongs to Alex, Thomas injects plenty of different voices and speech styles to mark the other characters that inhabit Pressure. Soundwise, this is a cleanly narrated book, with terrific production quality and no technical issues to speak of.

Clocking in at seven hours, Pressure is a solid psychological suspense thriller with dashes of Strand’s typical wry humor, and packed with plenty of history between the central antagonist and his nemesis. It’s entertaining, occasionally bleak, but highly worthy of attention. Between the two works I’ve listened to that Strand and Thomas have collaborated on, I think it’s fair to say they make quite a good team. As long as Strand keeps writing, and Thomas keeps giving a voice to those words, I’ll be listening.

[Audiobook provided for review by the]


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Review: Pressure by Jeff Strand (audiobook)

Review: Order to Kill by Kyle Mills





When Mitch Rapp returned last year with the help of a new author following the death of his creator, Vince Flynn, I was initially skeptical. Kyle Mills proved to be an adept writer fully capable of handling Flynn’s characters though, and The Survivor won me over pretty quickly. Order to Kill proves that Mill’s prior effort was hardly a fluke or one-off. Mills is not only capable of taking on Flynn’s rough-and-ready CIA assassin, but shows he’s the natural heir apparent to continue this series for the foreseeable future.

This fifteenth installment, which picks up mere weeks after the finale of The Survivor, finds Mitch Rapp squaring off against a Russian assassin who is not only Rapp’s equal, but may be even better. This is framed within a story of rogue Pakistani nukes and ISIS idiots, and a particularly violent, and personal, attack that strikes close to Rapp’s heart when a mission goes awry.

The most important element here for me, and one that I think Mills did a superb job with, was making Rapp a bit more three dimensional and human. In his latter books, Flynn was turning Rapp into very nearly a caricature of his former self, with his with-me-or-against-me attitude and desire to kill anybody who dared to disagree with him. Mills, thankfully, has dialed that way back and we see a Mitch Rapp who may finally be emerging from the darkness brought on by his wife’s death and who isn’t afraid to feel. While this certainly is not a guy who will soon be crying into his cup o’ tea anytime soon, there are certain events that occur here to remind Rapp that he is at least human and we see a man now seeking to reconnect with the people around him after so many devastating losses.

It’s these losses that I feel also highlight Mills work over these last two books. The operators and assassins of these novels are certainly men and women who fit into the Hero Worship mold pretty easily, and there’s a lot of extrajudicial fantasy stuff that goes into them (somebody says something about the Constitution you don’t like? Well, just snap their neck and grab a can of Coke afterward! And while we’re on the fantasy aspect, the next time one of these jihadist morons refers to our Christian Constitution, could we please have Rapp correct that erroneous, much too-widespread misunderstanding of this secular document before cracking their skull apart?), but too often they feel like larger-than-life superheroes. Mills has been working hard to make these people human, and while the characters are unquestionably adept and skilled at their jobs, they can still be hurt (and quite badly, at that) and killed. The Survivor presented a big shake-up to the status quo, and Order to Kill packs a certain punch of its own kind with a long-time series regular in serious danger.

Thanks to Kyle Mills, Order to Kill is one of the best, and certainly most satisfying, Mitch Rapp novels in quite some time. With high-stakes action and some much-needed emotional development, and perhaps even a hint of romance to come, for our series hero, fans of Vince Flynn can rest easy with Mills at the helm.

[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title for review from the publisher, as part of their #MitchRappAmbassador Program.]



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Review: Order to Kill by Kyle Mills

Sept. 2016 Read and Reviewed Roundup

Happy October! It’s hard to believe we’re closing in on the end of another year. Halloween is coming up soon, and it’ll be a short jaunt from there to Thanksgiving, and Christmas will rear up fast after that. Yowza.

In hindsight, September was pretty busy and hectic. On a personal note, it was my son’s very first birthday. My baby has grown into a little boy, and he’s hitting all the right milestones pretty much on target. He is also thoroughly a mama’s boy, big-time, but I on occasion he’s willing to tolerate me and I can get to make him laugh, which always feels amazing. His birthday required a good deal of preparation as we gathered the family at a park for kiddo’s cake smash, which he enjoyed quite a lot. By the end of that, he was pretty covered in frosting and smiling exhaustedly. I think I was even more tired than him by the end of it all, though.

Book-wise, I read, mostly, a lot of good stuff and some very, very good stuff. Chills hit some sweet spots for me, but Barry Eisler’s upcoming release, Livia Lone, was easily the best book of the month for me.

  1. Red Right Hand by Chris Holm
  2. The X-Files: The Truth Is Out There (audiobook), edited by Jonathan Maberry
  3. Devils In Dark Houses by B.E. Scully
  4. Out by Natsuo Kirino (audiobook)
  5. Chills by Mary SanGiovanni
  6. The Warren by Brian Evenson
  7. Livia Lone by Barry Eisler
  8. Stranded by Bracken MacLeod
  9. Corpse Rider by Tim Curran
  10. Ship the Kids on Ahead by Bill Stokes (audiobook)

Looking ahead a bit, expect a review on the latest Vince Flynn novel, Order to Kill, by Kyle Mills soonish. I’m reading a paperback ARC of it, which the publishers were kind enough to send my way after selecting me to be a Mitch Rapp Ambassador. I was pretty geeked about that! And I just bought the latest Alastair Reynolds title, Revenger, which is sitting pretty on my Kindle. Hopefully I can get to that one next!

Sept. 2016 Read and Reviewed Roundup

Review: Livia Lone by Barry Eisler



Livia Lone may be the darkest, and most accomplished, book from Barry Eisler yet. I’ve been a long-time reader of Eisler’s work, and a big fan of his series character, John Rain, but early on into his latest I found myself already needing more Livia Lone books. It may be heretical, but as much as I love Eisler’s mournful assassin, if, for whatever reason, we never hear from John Rain again, I’ll be OK as long as there’s plenty more of Livia Lone to fill the gap.

Livia is a tragic, tortured, and psychologically fascinating character. She’s also incredibly strong and capable, both mentally and physically, and is a protector at heart. Sold into slavery alongside her sister by her parents, Livia and Nason are shipped across the ocean from Thaliand to the USA, and separated along the way. Although Livia was rescued and adopted, the whereabouts of her sister are a mystery that has driven her for more than a decade, and she now works a police detective in the sex crimes division of Seattle PD. She also has some less than legal extracurricular activities targeting rapists.

Right from the get-go, Eisler tackles rape culture and male privilege with an appropriately seedy and disturbing examination of a would-be rapists mindset, and had me instantly rooting for Livia.

Although Lone metes out some incredibly satisfying vigilante justice, Eisler never fails to shy away from the grotesqueness of the world she inhabits. This is not a feel good read, and much of the book made me downright uncomfortable and disgusted. Livia Lone is absolutely brutal, and oftentimes quite graphic, in its depictions of human trafficking, violence, child abuse, and rape. The streaks of hope that do sparingly exist herein are fueled by revenge, and Livia’s willingness to overcome whatever obstacles are put in her way. While she may get beaten down, she refuses to be defeated, even at a young age. A dragon resides within her, and when she lets it loose, woe be to anyone stupid enough to get in her way.

Livia Lone is stark and uncompromising, bleak but rewarding. Like his titular heroine, Eisler does not pull any punches here, and although it often left me despairing for humanity I think it’s a better book for it. And Livia, herself, is a heroine that I need much more of.

[Note: I received an advanced copy of this for review from the publisher via NetGalley.]


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Review: Livia Lone by Barry Eisler

Review: Devils In Dark Houses by B.E. Scully



Devils In Dark Houses by B.E. Scully is a collection of four interrelated crime novellas, linked together by the appearances of Detectives Shirdon and Martinez.

The first of these novellas, The Eye That Blinds, was released as a stand-alone title by DarkFuse last year. Although I gave that one three stars at the time, I’d be hard-pressed to tell you much about it more than a year later. Having already read it, and despite not recalling anything about it, I opted to not reread it but do believe that this collection suffers from the same problems I’m presently having in drumming up any recollections of The Eye That Blinds. The stories here may be good, but none of them strike me as being particularly memorable.

Even just days after starting in on this book, I’m already forgetting what the second book was supposed to be about. Maybe this is just because of life stuff getting in the way and making my reading experience choppy and piecemeal, so take this review as you will. Thankfully, the book’s description tells me this story is named Each Castle Its King, and I do remember the couple at the story’s heart bought a disheveled home they dubbed The Blood House. I think it was kind of a haunted house but not really sort of story.

The third story, Nostri, was centered around a brilliant premise but tried a little to hard to create a Fight Club mystique that ultimately did not work for me at all. I did greatly appreciate the concept of holding big-mouthed politicians accountable and forcing them to put their money where there mouth is. The story kicks off with a right-to-life politicians being surprised to find an abandoned baby on her doorstep and forced into either providing the child with a chance at life, or proving herself a hypocrite and abandoning the kid into a state home. It’s good stuff, and the plot slowly escalated to build on this premise.

The final story revolves around a homeless schizophrenic and the investigation into a missing cop in Devils In Dark Houses. By the time I reached the three-quarter mark of this one, though, I was already deeply bored with the collection as a whole and ready to move onto new reading material. I mustered through what I could, but eventually found myself skimming through to the finale to find out the answers behind the story’s whodunnit.

And I can almost hear the screeching and gnashing of teeth at my admission that I skimmed. I know, I know. But let me explain here. Again, I was bored. And much of this boredom stemmed from Scully’s insistence to shoehorn in pages upon pages of infodumping atop flashbacks galore. This really began to grate on my nerves with Nostri, where I read about a tertiary character’s entire upbringing by her old-school parents and life under their thumb in the 1960s almost up through the present, and her years at college, and her meeting of her husband, and on and on and on. By the time the third flashback rolled around in the the final story, I’d completely had it.

So yeah, unfortunately Devils In Dark Houses just was not my cup of tea at all. The stories had promise, but fell flat in their execution, and just when things began to heat up and draw me in, Scully would insist on disrupting the narrative to tell me all about this whole other thing that happened to somebody way back when before jumping back to the present. It frustrated the hell out of me, frankly.

[Note: As a member of the DarkFuse Book Club, I received this title for review from the publisher via NetGalley.]


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Review: Devils In Dark Houses by B.E. Scully

Review: Red Right Hand by Chris Holm



The premise of Chis Holm’s latest series is simple – Michael Hendricks is a hitman who kills other hitmen – and, with Red Right Hand, the second entry after last year’s The Killing Kind, Holm is already showing there’s enough elasticity in this concept to make Hendricks a welcome new anti-hero for thriller buffs.

After a terror attack in San Francisco, Hendricks is put on the tail of a retired killer, one thought long-dead by the FBI, in the hopes of moving one step closer to bringing down the global criminal enterprise known as The Council. Along the way, his path toward revenge against The Council gets a bit bumpier than anticipated, which is bad for Hendricks but good for readers since it gives Holm plenty of chances to write nifty action sequences as his characters stomp around SanFran and engage in some long, twisty games of cat and mouse. (Movie Geek note: action film fans will likely recognize some of the tertiary character’s names as being lovingly borrowed from a few Hollywood directors, and you can feel the cinematic influences seeping into the pages here. Seriously fun stuff!)

In terms of characterization, Holm is free to allow Hendricks to run wild, having already previously established this dude’s background and place in society. Some additional details to Hendricks’s personality are shaded in, giving him a welcome touch of humanity even as his overall mission plan maintains an appropriate level of gray. His relationship with tech-savvy Cameron is fun, and she’s a new character here that I hope gets additional time to shine in future volumes. And although Hendricks is, by and large, a “good guy,” he’s still a pretty far cry from being a saint despite having a strong moral compass. His job as a hitter of hitmen is largely dependent on the targeted victim being able to pay an exorbitant fee and determine just how much his or her life is actually worth in order to properly motivate and secure Michael’s assistance. The lack of pure altruism is what makes this guy so interesting to me, and I’m hoping we’ve got a good number of Hendricks titles ahead of us as the years go on.

Lesser authors, I suspect, would be tempted to take the premise of ‘killer of killers’ and merely cut-and-paste their prior efforts and slap a new title on it. Red Right Hand avoids this, and while the series premise remains strongly intact, Holm puts enough wrinkles into the story to twist expectations enough to keep things feeling fresh. Setting his story against the backdrop of a terror investigation raises the stakes, while also putting a bit more meat on the bones of the story’s framework without dulling the thrills. Holm manages an easy, breezy pacing and keeps things chugging along seemingly effortlessly.

[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title for review from the publisher via NetGalley/Edelweiss.]


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Review: Red Right Hand by Chris Holm