Quick Review: WARHAWK by Chris Wraight (Black Library)

WraightC-HHSoT5-WarhawkOne of the most-anticipated battles of the Horus Heresy finally comes to pass

The Inner Walls are breached.

Traitor vanguards tear towards the heart of the Palace, sensing victory. Desperate gambits are attempted: an unwilling saint is released into the ruins, as well as an enthusiastic sinner. A black sword rises, forged from spite, ready to create a legend. But amid the slaughter, Jaghatai Khan, Warhawk of Chogoris, prepares to launch the most audacious strike of the conflict. His goal is nothing less than the liberation of the Lion’s Gate space port. Cut off from any help, he stakes everything on one desperate counter-offensive, launched against an old enemy who has been made far greater than he ever was before. As the White Scars ride out against the newly crowned lords of life and death, they know that defeat for them dooms not only the Legion, but Terra itself.

And so we come to the penultimate book in not only the Siege of Terra series, but the Horus Heresy over all. It’s been quite a journey, with many twists and turns of the story along the way. In Warhawk, fans will finally get to read about a particular confrontation that has been a long time coming. It’s one of the most epic duels I’ve read in Black Library fiction (or any other), and Wraight has done a fantastic job of realizing it on the page. I very much enjoyed reading this. Continue reading

Quick Review: STATE OF TERROR by Hillary Clinton & Louise Penny (Simon & Schuster)

ClintonPenny-StateOfTerrorUSHCAn engaging, well-written globe-trotting political thriller

After a tumultuous period in American politics, a new administration has just been sworn in, and to everyone’s surprise the president chooses a political enemy for the vital position of secretary of state.

There is no love lost between the president of the United States and Ellen Adams, his new secretary of state. But it’s a canny move on the part of the president. With this appointment, he silences one of his harshest critics, since taking the job means Adams must step down as head of her multinational media conglomerate.

As the new president addresses Congress for the first time, with Secretary Adams in attendance, Anahita Dahir, a young foreign service officer (FSO) on the Pakistan desk at the State Department, receives a baffling text from an anonymous source.

Too late, she realizes the message was a hastily coded warning.

What begins as a series of apparent terrorist attacks is revealed to be the beginning of an international chess game involving the volatile and Byzantine politics of Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iran; the race to develop nuclear weapons in the region; the Russian mob; a burgeoning rogue terrorist organization; and an American government set back on its heels in the international arena.

As the horrifying scale of the threat becomes clear, Secretary Adams and her team realize it has been carefully planned to take advantage of four years of an American government out of touch with international affairs, out of practice with diplomacy, and out of power in the places where it counts the most.

To defeat such an intricate, carefully constructed conspiracy, it will take the skills of a unique team: a passionate young FSO; a dedicated journalist; and a smart, determined, but as yet untested new secretary of state.

It will probably come as no surprise that I was very eager to read this novel. I pre-ordered it as soon as I could, and read it right away. (For some reason, I’ve struggled to get into review-writing, hence the delay in publishing this one.) This is a well-paced, quite substantial, globe-trotting political thriller. I very much enjoyed it. Continue reading

Quick Review: UNREQUITED INFATUATIONS by Stevie Van Zandt (Hachette)

VanZandtS-UnrequitedInfatuationsUSHCA fascinating and fun memoir from one of rock’s great guitarists and characters

Uncover never-before-told stories in this epic tale of self-discovery by a Rock n Roll disciple and member of the E Street Band.

What story begins in a bedroom in suburban New Jersey in the early ’60s, unfolds on some of the country’s largest stages, and then ranges across the globe, demonstrating over and over again how Rock and Roll has the power to change the world for the better? This story.

The first true heartbeat of Unrequited Infatuations  is the moment when Stevie Van Zandt trades in his devotion to the Baptist religion for an obsession with Rock and Roll. Groups like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones created new ideas of community, creative risk, and principled rebellion. They changed him forever. While still a teenager, he met Bruce Springsteen, a like-minded outcast/true believer who became one of his most important friends and bandmates. As Miami Steve, Van Zandt anchored the E Street Band as they conquered the Rock and Roll world.

And then, in the early ’80s, Van Zandt stepped away from E Street to embark on his own odyssey. He refashioned himself as Little Steven, a political songwriter and performer, fell in love with Maureen Santoro who greatly expanded his artistic palette, and visited the world’s hot spots as an artist/journalist to not just better understand them, but to help change them. Most famously, he masterminded the recording of “Sun City,” an anti-apartheid anthem that sped the demise of South Africa’s institutionalized racism and helped get Nelson Mandela out of prison.

By the ’90s, Van Zandt had lived at least two lives — one as a mainstream rocker, one as a hardcore activist. It was time for a third. David Chase invited Van Zandt to be a part of his new television show, the Sopranos — as Silvio Dante, he was the unconditionally loyal consiglieri who sat at the right hand of Tony Soprano (a relationship that oddly mirrored his real-life relationship with Bruce Springsteen).

Underlying all of Van Zandt’s various incarnations was a devotion to preserving the centrality of the arts, especially the endangered species of Rock. In the twenty-first century, Van Zandt founded a groundbreaking radio show (Little Steven’s Underground Garage), created the first two 24/7 branded music channels on SiriusXM (Underground Garage and Outlaw Country), started a fiercely independent record label (Wicked Cool), and developed a curriculum to teach students of all ages through the medium of music history. He also rejoined the E Street Band for what has now been a twenty-year victory lap.

Guitarist in the E Street Band, long-time friend of Bruce Springsteen, Silvio Dante in The Sopranos, political activist, standard bearer for rock ‘n’ roll. Stevie Van Zandt has been, and still is, many things. As evidenced by this memoir, he is also a great storyteller. I had high hopes for Unrequited Infatuations, but it absolutely exceeded them. Fascinating and fun, I really enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: JUDAS 62 by Charles Cumming (Harper)

CummingC-2-Judas62UKHCThe (excellent) second Lachlan Kite novel

A spy in one of the most dangerous places on Earth…

1993: Student Lachlan Kite is sent to post-Soviet Russia in the guise of a language teacher. In reality, he is there as a spy. Top secret intelligence agency BOX 88 has ordered Kite to extract a chemical weapons scientist before his groundbreaking research falls into the wrong hands. But Kite’s mission soon goes wrong and he is left stranded in a hostile city with a former KGB officer on his trail.

An old enemy looking for revenge…

2020: Now the director of BOX 88 operations in the UK, Kite discovers he has been placed on the ‘JUDAS’ list – a record of enemies of Russia who have been targeted for assassination. Kite’s fight for survival takes him to Dubai, where he must confront the Russian secret state head on…

Who will come out on top in this deadly game of cat and mouse?

The announcement of this novel was a very nice surprise — it arrived much sooner than expected after the release of the first book, BOX 88. A long-time fan of Cumming’s novels, I eagerly sought out a review copy and was lucky enough to get my mitts on one. I’m happy to report that it lived up to my high expectations. Another excellent novel from a modern master of spy fiction. Continue reading

Quick Review: GIANNIS by Mirin Fader (Hachette)

FaderM-GiannisUSHCThe Improbable Rise of an NBA MVP

The story of Giannis Antetokounmpo’s extraordinary rise from poverty in Athens, Greece to super-stardom in America with the Milwaukee Bucks — becoming one of the most transcendent players in history and an NBA champion…

As the face of the NBA’s new world order, Giannis Antetokounmpo has overcome unfathomable obstacles to become a symbol of hope for people all over the world, the personification of the American Dream. But his backstory remains largely untold, and Fader unearths new information about the childhood that shaped “The Greek Freak”—from sleeping side by side with his brothers to selling trinkets on the side of the street with his family to the racism he experienced in Greece. Antetokounmpo grew up in an era when Golden Dawn, Greek’s far-right, anti-immigrant party, patrolled his neighborhood, and his status as an illegal immigrant largely prevented him from playing for Greek’s top clubs, making his rise to the NBA all the more improbable. Fader tells a deeply-human story of how an unknown, skinny, Black-Greek teen, who played in the country’s lowest pro division and was seen as a draft gamble, transformed his body and his game into MVP material.

Has there been a better-timed book, recently? Shortly before this book’s release date, the Milwaukee Bucks, led by Giannis Anetokounmpo, won their second NBA championship — the franchise’s first was in 1971 (a team led by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar). Like many fans of the NBA, I was aware of Giannis and his incredible impact on the court. However, I didn’t know that much about his past or upbringing. In Giannis, Mirin Fader offers readers an engaging, well-written and nuanced portrait of Antetokounmpo’s rise to greatness, and the forces that have shaped him as a player and man. Continue reading

Quick Review: CAN’T KNOCK THE HUSTLE by Matt Sullivan (Dey Street Books)

SullivanM-CantKnockTheHustleUSA behind-the-scenes account of the 2019-2020 NBA season, by way of the notorious Brooklyn Nets and basketball’s renaissance as a cultural force beyond the game.

The Nets were already the most intriguing startup in the NBA: a team of influencers, entrepreneurs and activists, starring the controversial Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. But this dynasty-in-the-making got disrupted by the unforeseen. One tweet launched an international scandal, pitting the team’s Chinese owner and the league’s commissioner against its players and LeBron James. The sudden death of Kobe Bryant, after making his final public appearance in Brooklyn, sent shockwaves through a turbulent season.

Then came the unimaginable. A global pandemic and a new civil-rights movement put basketball’s trend-setting status to the ultimate test, as business and culture followed the lead of the NBA and its empowered stars. No team intersected with the extremes of 2020 quite like the Brooklyn Nets, and Matt Sullivan had a courtside view.

Can’t Knock the Hustle crosses from on the court, where underdogs confront A-listers like Jay-Z and James Harden, to off the court, as players march through the streets of Brooklyn, provoke Donald Trump at the White House, and boycott the NBA’s bubble experiment in Disney World. 

Hundreds of interviews — with Hall-of-Famers, All-Stars, executives, coaches and power-brokers across the world — provide a backdrop of the NBA’s impact on social media, race, politics, health, fashion, fame and fandom, for a portrait of a time when sports brought us back together again, like never before. 

Matt Sullivan’s Can’t Knock the Hustle is, quite possibly, one of the best basketball books available. Counterintuitively, this is in large part because it’s not all about basketball — rather, the Brooklyn Nets and other athletes and personnel who make an appearance, are a lens through which readers see the changing political and social landscape of America. Expertly written, I really enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: WHILE JUSTICE SLEEPS by Stacey Abrams (Harper/Doubleday)

AbramsS-WhileJusticeSleepsUKA twisty political thriller, set in the halls of the Supreme Court and corridors of power in DC

An explosive secret

When legendary Washington judge Justice Wynn falls into a coma and puts his law clerk, Avery, in control, Avery’s world is turned upside down. Because Justice Wynn had a secret. One that nobody wants to come out…

A life in the balance

As Wynn lies in hospital, Avery begins to unravel a sequence of clues, and realizes the puzzle will lead her directly into danger.

A showdown that will change everything

But how high a price can you put on the truth? And is Avery brave enough to expose the White House itself?

I’ve been looking forward to reading this ever since it was announced. I was lucky enough to get an advance review copy, and dove in as soon as I could. I’m very glad to report that it is great: an excellent example of the genre, well-written and gripping. Continue reading

Quick Review: GREAT CIRCLE by Maggie Shipstead (Knopf)

ShipsteadM-GreatCircleUSA sweeping, engaging story of adventure, determination, and the ties that bind

An unforgettable story of a daredevil female aviator determined to chart her own course in life, at any cost…

After being rescued as infants from a sinking ocean liner in 1914, Marian and Jamie Graves are raised by their dissolute uncle in Missoula, Montana. There — after encountering a pair of barnstorming pilots passing through town in beat-up biplanes–Marian commences her lifelong love affair with flight. At fourteen she drops out of school and finds an unexpected and dangerous patron in a wealthy bootlegger who provides a plane and subsidizes her lessons, an arrangement that will haunt her for the rest of her life, even as it allows her to fulfill her destiny: circumnavigating the globe by flying over the North and South Poles.

A century later, Hadley Baxter is cast to play Marian in a film that centers on Marian’s disappearance in Antarctica. Vibrant, canny, disgusted with the claustrophobia of Hollywood, Hadley is eager to redefine herself after a romantic film franchise has imprisoned her in the grip of cult celebrity. Her immersion into the character of Marian unfolds, thrillingly, alongside Marian’s own story, as the two women’s fates — and their hunger for self-determination in vastly different geographies and times — collide.

This is the first novel I’ve read by Maggie Shipstead, and it turned out to be an excellent one to begin with. It’s mostly the story of Marian Graves, and the people who fall in and out of her life, and her (successful) pursuit of a career as a female aviator. It is also the story of Hadley Baxter, an actress in the present day who finds herself cast in a biopic of Marian’s life. Alternating between the two stories, it’s a sweeping, engaging, and immersive novel. I really enjoyed it. Continue reading

Annotated Excerpt: THE UNBROKEN by C. L. Clark (Orbit)

ClarkCL-MotL1-UnbrokenToday, I’m very happy to be able to share with you an annotated excerpt from The Unbroken by C. L. Clark. One of the most hotly-anticipated fantasy debuts of the year, and the first novel in the Magic of the Lost series, it is the story of two women who “clash in a world full of rebellion, espionage, and military might on the far outreaches of a crumbling desert empire”. Due out next week, here’s the synopsis:

Touraine is a soldier. Stolen as a child and raised to kill and die for the empire, her only loyalty is to her fellow conscripts. But now, her company has been sent back to her homeland to stop a rebellion, and the ties of blood may be stronger than she thought.

Luca needs a turncoat. Someone desperate enough to tiptoe the bayonet’s edge between treason and orders. Someone who can sway the rebels toward peace, while Luca focuses on what really matters: getting her uncle off her throne.

Through assassinations and massacres, in bedrooms and war rooms, Touraine and Luca will haggle over the price of a nation. But some things aren’t for sale.

And now, on with the excerpt…!

Continue reading

Very Quick Review: KG: A TO Z by Kevin Garnett (Simon & Schuster)

GarnettK-KGAtoZAn interesting and unorthodox memoir from one of Boston’s Big Three

A unique, unfiltered memoir from the NBA champion and fifteen-time all-star ahead of his induction into the Hall of Fame.

Kevin Garnett was one of the most dominant players the game of basketball has ever seen. He was also one of its most outspoken. Over the course of his illustrious twenty-one-year NBA career, he elevated trash talk to an art form and never shied away from sharing his thoughts on controversial subjects. In KG A to Z, published ahead of Garnett’s induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame, he looks back on his life and career with the same raw candor.

Garnett describes the adversity he faced growing up in South Carolina before ultimately relocating to Chicago, where he became one of the top prospects in the nation. He details his headline-making decision to skip college and become the first player in two decades to enter the draft directly from high school, starting a trend that would be followed by future superstars like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. He shares stories of playing with and against Bryant, James, Michael Jordan, and other NBA greats, and he chronicles his professional ups and downs, including winning a championship with the Boston Celtics. He also speaks his mind on a range of topics beyond basketball, such as fame, family, racism, spirituality, and music.

Garnett’s draft decision wasn’t the only way he’d forever change the game. His ability to play on the perimeter as a big man foreshadowed the winning strategy now universally adopted by the league. He applies this same innovative spirit here, organizing the contents alphabetically as an encyclopedia. If you thought Kevin Garnett was exciting, inspiring, and unfiltered on the court, just wait until you read what he has to say in these pages.

Kevin Garnett — long-time Minnesota Timberwolves star, member of the Boston Celtics championship-winning Big Three. KG is one of my in-laws’ favourite players. As I’ve mentioned (probably too frequently, now), I grew up loving the game of basketball, but completely cut off from access to the NBA. So, after reading Michael Holley’s The Big Three, I was keen to learn more about the eponymous trio. Garnett’s memoir, which I ‘read’ as an audiobook, offers an interesting, well-told, and engaging insight into one of the NBA’s great players. Continue reading