Quick Review: THE ROOSTER BAR by John Grisham (Doubleday/Hodder)

GrishamJ-RoosterBarUSGrisham had an issue or two he wanted to talk about

Mark, Todd, and Zola came to law school to change the world, to make it a better place. But now, as third-year students, these close friends realize they have been duped. They all borrowed heavily to attend a third-tier, for-profit law school so mediocre that its graduates rarely pass the bar exam, let alone get good jobs. And when they learn that their school is one of a chain owned by a shady New York hedge-fund operator who also happens to own a bank specializing in student loans, the three know they have been caught up in The Great Law School Scam.

But maybe there’s a way out. Maybe there’s a way to escape their crushing debt, expose the bank and the scam, and make a few bucks in the process. But to do so, they would first have to quit school. And leaving law school a few short months before graduation would be completely crazy, right?

As long-time readers of Civilian Reader will know, Grisham is one of my favourite authors — even though I think he’s quite inconsistent. Some of his novels have been excellent, while others feel either rushed or bloodless. I enjoyed Camino Island, a fun and quickly-paced caper-type novel. In The Rooster Bar he returns to the genre that has made him a global bestseller: a legal thriller. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy this as much as I’d hoped. Continue reading

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Quick Reviews: ORDER TO KILL and ENEMY OF THE STATE by Kyle Mills (Atria/Emily Bestler)

Flynn&Mills-MitchRapp15&16-1

The latest two novels featuring Mitch Rapp, the CIA super-spy and assassin created by Vince Flynn. I’ve read all of the books in the series, and it remains one of my favourites. These are Mills’s second and third instalments, following The Survivor (which he finished following Flynn’s passing). Both novels show the author becoming ever-more comfortable with the character, developing him, his colleagues, and returning antagonists brilliantly. The series is in very safe hands. I really enjoyed both of these novels.

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Review: AGE OF ASSASSINS by RJ Barker (Orbit)

BarkerRJ-AgeOfAssassinsUSAn interesting new debut fantasy series

It’s a game of assassin versus assassin

Girton Club-foot has no family, a crippled leg, and is apprenticed to the best assassin in the land.

He’s learning the art of taking lives, but his latest mission tasks him with a far more difficult challenge: to save a life. Someone is trying to kill the heir to the throne, and it is up to Girton to uncover the traitor and prevent the prince’s murder — and his own.

This is the first new fantasy series that I’ve read in quite some time. In fact, it’s only the second this year (the other was Ed McDonald’s Blackwing). Long-time readers of CR may have noticed that I’ve been struggling with the genre for a while, but Age of Assassins really worked for me. This is the start of an interesting, engaging and entertaining new fantasy series. I’m really looking forward to the sequel. Continue reading

Review: KILLFILE and FLASHMOB by Christopher Farnsworth (William Morrow/Zaffre)

FarnsworthC-KillfileUSThe first two John Smith novels… which will make you terrified of the internet

John Smith possesses a special gift that seems more like a curse: he can access other people’s thoughts. He hears the songs stuck in their heads, knows their most private traumas and fears, and relives the painful memories they can’t let go of. The CIA honed his skills until he was one of their most powerful operatives, but John fled the Agency and now works as a private consultant, trying to keep the dark potentials of his gift in check — and himself out of trouble.

Unfortunately, John is unexpectedly plunged into dangerous waters when his latest client, billionaire software genius Everett Sloan, hires him to investigate a former employee — a tech whiz kid named Eli Preston — and search his thoughts for some very valuable intellectual property Sloan is convinced he’s stolen. But before John can probe Preston’s mind, his identity is compromised and he’s on the run for his life, along with Sloane’s young associate, Kelsey Foster.

Hunted by shadowy enemies with extensive resources and unknown motives, John and Kelsey must go off the grid. And John knows that using his powers to their fullest potential is their only hope for survival — even if it means putting his own sanity at risk.

In Killfile, we’re introduced to John Smith: the man you call if you need a situation handled quietly, and out of the eyes of the law. He’s also the one you contact if you need to extract information or discover others’ intentions. You see, from the opening pages, we learn that he is pretty unique: he is psychic — actually psychic, not a parlour magician who’s just very good at reading gullible tourists.

Killfile is a briskly-paced novel, and one that will pull the reader through from start to finish. I blitzed through this in just two sittings, and immediately began the sequel. A strong series opener, in a series that looks like it could have strong staying power. Continue reading

Quick Review: IRONCLADS by Adrian Tchaikovsky (Solaris)

TchaikovskyA-IroncladsAn interesting new SF war novella with a twist

Scions have no limits

Scions do not die

And Scions do not disappear

Sergeant Ted Regan has a problem. A son of one of the great corporate families, a Scion, has gone missing at the front. He should have been protected by his Ironclad – the lethal battle suits that make the Scions masters of war – but something has gone catastrophically wrong.

Now Regan and his men, ill-equipped and demoralised, must go behind enemy lines, find the missing Scion, and uncover how his suit failed. Is there a new Ironcladkiller out there? And how are common soldiers lacking the protection afforded the rich supposed to survive the battlefield of tomorrow?

A new book from Adrian Tchaikovsky is always something to be cheered. Ironclads is something a little different — although, given Tchaikovsky’s growing body of varied work, this is perhaps something that we can now expect? Ironclads is an interesting re-imagining of the world: corporations have come to dominate the new world, but supernatural elements of the old world are pushing back. A squad of American soldiers are thrown into a special mission, and everything they thought they knew about the war turns out to have been wrong… Continue reading

Quick Review: THE ARMORED SAINT by Myke Cole (Tor.com)

ColeM-ST1-ArmoredSaintThe first part of what promises to be an interesting new fantasy series

A story of religious tyrants, arcane war-machines, and underground resistance that will enthral epic fantasy readers of all ages.

In a world where any act of magic could open a portal to hell, the Order insures that no wizard will live to summon devils, and will kill as many innocent people as they must to prevent that greater horror. After witnessing a horrendous slaughter, the village girl Heloise opposes the Order, and risks bringing their wrath down on herself, her family, and her village.

I’ve been a fan of Myke Cole’s work since his debut novel, Control Point — the first in a series that has improved with each new book. His new novella is quite a bit different, but continues the trend of showing an author who is continuing to improve and hone his craft and skill for storytelling. There’s a lot to like in The Armored Saint. Continue reading

Quick Review: DOWNFALL OF THE GODS by K.J. Parker (Subterranean Press)

ParkerKJ-DownfallOfTheGodsAn entertaining tale of gods behaving badly

If you visit the Temple and ask nicely for forgiveness, you might get it — assuming you aren’t Lord Archias and you haven’t killed the Goddess’s favorite musician, Lysippus. But even goddesses are expected to follow certain rules, and as much as she wants to punish Lord Archias it seems her troublesome, all-powerful father forbids it. So the Goddess will just have to get around that by forgiving Lord Archias if he can manage some simple — or, rather, seemingly impossible — tasks. A Goddess has to do what a goddess has to do.

And in World Fantasy Award winner K.J. Parker’s sharply inventive new novella Downfall of the Gods that means everything from soothing supernatural egos to accompanying the argumentative Lord Archias on an epic quest to save his soul… and get her own way. As the Goddess and her mortal charge make their way across the world to the Land of the Dead, a host of divine surprises await them. Could what they find at the end be the downfall of the gods themselves? Only time will tell.

“The generally accepted form of communication in my family is melodrama,” says the divine narrator of Downfall of the Gods. Fans of Greek and Roman mythology will certainly be familiar with this notion. In this novella, K.J. Parker turns his playful pen to dissecting humanity’s relationship with its gods, and how pernicious and frustrating the gods can be. A quickly-paced, well-written and amusing novella. I really enjoyed this. Continue reading