Quick Review: MOSKVA by Jack Grimwood (Penguin/Thomas Dunne)

GrimwoodJ-TF1-MoskvaUKPBA missing girl, and a twisted mystery that reaches back to the last days of the Second World War

‘A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma…’

January, 1986. A week after disgraced Intelligence Officer Tom Fox is stationed to Moscow the British Ambassador’s fifteen-year-old daughter goes missing. Fox is ordered to find her, and fast. But the last thing the Soviets want is a foreign agent snooping about on their turf. Not when a killer they can’t even acknowledge let alone catch is preparing to kill again…

A Cold War thriller haunted by an evil legacy from the Second World War, Moskva is a journey into the dark heart of another time and place.

Exiled to Moscow after making a mistake in Northern Ireland, Tom Fox is supposed to be writing a report on the stubborn of religion in Soviet Russia. He doesn’t want to be there, but he can speak Russian and he is an experienced researcher. Very quickly, however, he gets roped into finding the British ambassador’s missing daughter. What follows is a twisty investigation through the Russian underground and corrupt echelons of the Muscovite elite, with roots in the Second World War. This is the first novel in a gripping new series. I really enjoyed it. Continue reading

Quick Review: THE BREAK LINE by James Brabazon (Berkley/Penguin)

brabazonj-mm1-breaklineushcAn assassin sent into the field with limited information, confronted by a bizarre, deadly mystery in the jungle

British intelligence operative and hardened assassin, Max McLean, battles a nightmarish enemy in this stunning debut thriller from an award winning war correspondent.

When it comes to killing terrorists British intelligence has always had one man they could rely on, Max McLean. As an assassin, he’s never missed, but Max has made one miscalculation and now he has to pay the price.

His handlers send him to Sierra Leone on a seemingly one-way mission. What he finds is a horror from beyond his nightmares. Rebel forces are loose in the jungle and someone or something is slaughtering innocent villagers. It’s his job to root out the monster behind these abominations, but he soon discovers that London may consider him the most disposable piece in this operation.

I’m so used to reading thrillers and spy novels starring American protagonists — be they independent contractors, CIA or FBI agents. It was therefore quite refreshing to read James Brabazon’s debut novel. It is, at times, wonderfully British in idiom and style and it left me a little homesick. It should definitely still appeal to an international readership, however (as a Brit living overseas, however, there were things that struck a chord of nostalgia). Overall, I enjoyed this quite a bit. A promising start to a new series. Continue reading

Quick Review: THE LAST by Hanna Jameson (Penguin/Atria)

JamesonH-TheLastUK2An excellent post-apocalyptic mystery novel

BREAKING: Nuclear weapon detonates over Washington

Historian Jon Keller is on a trip to Switzerland when the world ends. As the lights go out on civilisation, he wishes he had a way of knowing whether his wife, Nadia, and their two daughters are still alive. More than anything, Jon wishes he hadn’t ignored Nadia’s last message.

Twenty people remain in Jon’s hotel. Far from the nearest city and walled in by towering trees, they wait, they survive.

Then one day, the body of a young girl is found. It’s clear she has been murdered. Which means that someone in the hotel is a killer.

As paranoia descends, Jon decides to investigate. But how far is he willing to go in pursuit of justice? And what kind of justice can he hope for, when society as he knows it no longer exists?

It’s been some time since I last read a post-apocalyptic novel, after what felt like a glut in the early 2010s (some of them excellent, but ultimately I think I read too many). Hanna Jameson’s The Last received a fair bit of pre-publication buzz, and I was happy to interview the author. I wasn’t sure what to expect going into The Last, but what I found was an excellent, thought-provoking and quite gripping mystery. I very much enjoyed this. Continue reading

Interview with JAMES BRABAZON

BrabazonJ-AuthorPicLet’s start with an introduction: Who is James Brabazon?

I’m an author, journalist and documentary filmmaker. I live in the UK, and I’ve travelled a lot for work — 72 countries and counting — investigating, filming and directing in the world’s most hostile environments. When I’m not writing I oversee the security protocols for high risk deployments on behalf of the UK broadcaster Channel 4.

Your new novel, The Break Line, was recently published by Berkley. It looks really interesting.

Thank you!

How would you introduce it to a potential reader?

The Break Line is a thriller that follows the adventures of the Irish spy-assassin Max McLean – a completely deniable, off-the-books operator who works for the British Government. After more than two decades of loyal service Max is given a target he decides not to kill. The consequences of that decision take him on an adrenaline fuelled operation to Sierra Leone in West Africa where he uncovers a sinister plot to bring the West to its knees. Trouble is, the bad guys are a lot closer to home than Max could ever have imagined possible… Continue reading

Quick Review: LEADERSHIP by Doris Kearns Goodwin (Simon & Schuster)

GoodwinDK-LeadershipUSAn excellent examination of four presidents, their development into leaders, and how they overcame the challenges they faced

Are leaders born or made? Where does ambition come from? How does adversity affect the growth of leadership? Does the leader make the times or do the times make the leader?

In Leadership, Goodwin draws upon the four presidents she has studied most closely — Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson (in civil rights) — to show how they recognized leadership qualities within themselves and were recognized as leaders by others. By looking back to their first entries into public life, we encounter them at a time when their paths were filled with confusion, fear, and hope.

Leadership tells the story of how they all collided with dramatic reversals that disrupted their lives and threatened to shatter forever their ambitions. Nonetheless, they all emerged fitted to confront the contours and dilemmas of their times.

No common pattern describes the trajectory of leadership. Although set apart in background, abilities, and temperament, these men shared a fierce ambition and a deep-seated resilience that enabled them to surmount uncommon hardships. At their best, all four were guided by a sense of moral purpose. At moments of great challenge, they were able to summon their talents to enlarge the opportunities and lives of others.

This seminal work provides an accessible and essential road map for aspiring and established leaders in every field. In today’s polarized world, these stories of authentic leadership in times of apprehension and fracture take on a singular urgency.

Doris Kearns Goodwin is one of the best presidential historians working today. Best known for her superb, exhaustive biography of Abraham Lincoln’s Cabinet and presidency, Team of Rivals, Goodwin has also written substantial biographies of Lyndon B. Johnson (who she worked for), Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. In Leadership, she examines how Lincoln, Johnson, FDR and TR developed into the leadership roles they inhabited. It is an excellent distillation of her previous scholarship with that specific question in mind. Engaging, rigorous, and illuminating, this is an excellent history. Continue reading

Upcoming: THRAWN — ALLIANCES by Timothy Zahn (Century)

ZahnT-SW-Thrawn2-AlliancesTimothy Zahn‘s Thrawn novels are considered many to be among the best (if not the best) of the original Expanded Universe (now “Legacy”) Star Wars novels. The author has brought this fan-favourite character into the new Star Wars canon in Thrawn, and now Thrawn: Alliances. Here’s the synopsis:

Grand Admiral Thrawn and Darth Vader team up against a threat to the Empire…

“I have sensed a disturbance in the Force.”

Ominous words under any circumstances, but all the more so when uttered by Emperor Palpatine. On Batuu, at the edges of the Unknown Regions, a threat to the Empire is taking root — its existence little more than a glimmer, its consequences as yet unknowable. But it is troubling enough to the Imperial leader to warrant investigation by his most powerful agents: ruthless enforcer Lord Darth Vader and brilliant strategist Grand Admiral Thrawn. Fierce rivals for the emperor’s favor, and outspoken adversaries on Imperial affairs — including the Death Star project — the formidable pair seem unlikely partners for such a crucial mission. But the Emperor knows it’s not the first time Vader and Thrawn have joined forces. And there’s more behind his royal command than either man suspects.

In what seems like a lifetime ago, General Anakin Skywalker of the Galactic Republic, and Commander Mitth’raw’nuruodo, officer of the Chiss Ascendancy, crossed paths for the first time. One on a desperate personal quest, the other with motives unknown . . . and undisclosed. But facing a gauntlet of dangers on a far-flung world, they forged an uneasy alliance — neither remotely aware of what their futures held in store.

Now, thrust together once more, they find themselves bound again for the planet where they once fought side by side. There they will be doubly challenged — by a test of their allegiance to the Empire… and an enemy that threatens even their combined might.

Thrawn: Alliances is due to be published next week in the UK by Century and in North America by Del Rey.

The publisher is currently running a pre-order promotion, too! If you pre-order the novel, and fill out this form, then they will send you a replica-pin of Thrawn’s rank insignia (below). Which is rather nifty.

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Review: ALL OUR WRONG TODAYS by Elan Mastai (Doubleday)

MastaiE-AllOurWrongTodaysUSAn excellent debut novel, one of the first must reads of 2017

There’s no such thing as the life you’re “supposed” to have.

You know the future that people in the 1950s imagined we’d have? Well, it happened. In Tom Barren’s 2016, humanity thrives in a techno-utopian paradise of flying cars, moving sidewalks and moon bases, where avocados never go bad and punk rock never existed… because it wasn’t necessary.

Except Tom just can’t seem to find his place in this dazzling, idealistic world, and that’s before his life gets turned upside down. Utterly blindsided by an accident of fate, Tom makes a rash decision that drastically changes not only his own life but the very fabric of the universe itself. In a time-travel mishap, Tom finds himself stranded in our 2016, what we think of as the real world. For Tom, our normal reality seems like a dystopian wasteland.

But when he discovers wonderfully unexpected versions of his family, his career and — maybe, just maybe — his soulmate, Tom has a decision to make. Does he fix the flow of history, bringing his utopian universe back into existence, or does he try to forge a new life in our messy, unpredictable reality? Tom’s search for the answer takes him across countries, continents and timelines in a quest to figure out, finally, who he really is and what his future — our future — is supposed to be.

Elan Mastai is the writer of, among other things, The F Word — a movie set in Toronto that I found utterly charming and amusing. When I discovered that he’d written a novel, I immediately tried to get a review copy. I eventually did (thank you, Doubleday!), and I am delighted to report that the novel did not disappoint. All Our Wrong Todays is an endearing, amusing, thought-provoking novel. Certainly, it is one of the year’s first must-reads. Continue reading