Quick Review: LETHAL AGENT by Kyle Mills (Atria/Emily Bestler, Simon & Schuster UK)

MillsK-MR18-LethalAgentUSHCStandfirst

An unprecedented and terrifying bioterrorism plot threatens to kill millions in the midst of a divisive presidential election…

A toxic presidential election is underway in an America already badly weakened by internal divisions. While politicians focus entirely on maintaining their own power and privilege, ISIS kidnaps a brilliant French microbiologist and forces him to begin manufacturing anthrax. Slickly produced videos chronicling his progress and threatening an imminent attack are posted to the Internet, intensifying the hysteria gripping the US.

ISIS recruits a Mexican drug cartel to smuggle the bioweapon across the border, but it’s really just a diversion. The terrorist organization needs to keep Mitch Rapp and Irene Kennedy distracted long enough to weaponize a deadly virus that they stumbled upon in Yemen. If they succeed, they’ll trigger a pandemic that could rewrite the world order.

Rapp embarks on a mission to infiltrate the Mexican cartels and track down the ISIS leader who he failed to kill during their last confrontation. But with Washington’s political elite increasingly lined up against him, he knows he’ll be on his own.

The 18th novel in the Mitch Rapp series, and the fifth written by Kyle Mills. The story picks up quite soon after the previous novel, and while it felt a little slower to get going than normal (usually I’m hooked within a page or two), Lethal Agent builds nicely: there’s politics, action, betrayal, and a pretty satisfying ending. As expected, I enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: MOLLY BIT by Dan Bevacqua (Simon & Schuster)

BevacquaD-MollyBitUSThe story of the stratospheric rise of an enigmatic Hollywood star and her legacy

A tragic death was not part of the script.

Molly Bit doesn’t believe she’s destined for success — she knows it.

This certainly helps her get through the countless auditions featuring actors who look and dress just like she does; helps her swallow the indignity of less talented actors landing roles; even helps her endure the industry’s aggressive over-sexualizing of young women.

When Molly is offered a lead role in a major film, she knows, too, that to seize this opportunity she must sacrifice everything. Even her commitment to an old friend.

It’s her big break, and Molly becomes a star. But she soon learns the hardest part of fame is everything after.

Molly Bit begins as a portrait of the artist as a young woman and transforms into an ode to the strange, personal magic of moviemaking, and our obsession — public and private — with performance. In Molly Bit, Dan Bevacqua announces himself as a force of wit and insight with his profound reflections on celebrity, beauty, violence, and the power of art.

I was initially intrigued by this novel for two reasons: its connection to Hollywood, and also the pitch stated that it was akin to Daisy Jones and the Six, one of my favourite novels from 2019. Having read the novel, I’m not sure that connection is as strong as they might hope, but I understand why they chose it. Molly Bit is an interesting novel with a lot to say about Hollywood, celebrity, and an individual’s legacy. Continue reading

Upcoming: THE COMPANIONS by Katie M. Flynn (Scout Press/Gallery)

FlynnKM-CompanionsUSI stumbled across The Companions by Katie M. Flynn while browsing a Simon & Schuster catalogue. Pitched as “Station Eleven meets Never Let Me Go“, I thought it sounded really intriguing and also rather unsettling. Naturally, this means I really want to read it. Here’s the synopsis:

An unsettling near future where the dead can be uploaded to machines and kept in service by the living.

In the wake of a highly contagious virus, California is under quarantine. Sequestered in high rise towers, the living can’t go out, but the dead can come in — and they come in all forms, from sad rolling cans to manufactured bodies that can pass for human. Wealthy participants in the “companionship” program choose to upload their consciousness before dying, so they can stay in the custody of their families. The less fortunate are rented out to strangers upon their death, but all companions become the intellectual property of Metis Corporation, creating a new class of people — a command-driven product-class without legal rights or true free will.

Sixteen-year-old Lilac is one of the less fortunate, leased to a family of strangers. But when she realizes she’s able to defy commands, she throws off the shackles of servitude and runs away, searching for the woman who killed her.

Lilac’s act of rebellion sets off a chain of events that sweeps from San Francisco to Siberia to the very tip of South America. While the novel traces Lilac’s journey through an exquisitely imagined Northern California, the story is told from eight different points of view — some human, some companion — that explore the complex shapes love, revenge, and loneliness take when the dead linger on.

The Companions is due to be published by Scout Press/Gallery in North America, on March 3rd, 2020. (I couldn’t find any information about a UK publisher or release.)

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Quick Review: NEON PREY by John Sandford (G.P. Putnam’s Sons/Simon & Schuster)

SandfordJ-NeonPreyUSLucas Davenport’s 29th outing…

Clayton Deese looks like a small-time criminal, muscle for hire when his loan shark boss needs to teach someone a lesson. Now, seven months after a job that went south and landed him in jail, Deese has skipped out on bail, and the U.S. Marshals come looking for him. They don’t much care about a low-level guy–it’s his boss they want–but Deese might be their best chance to bring down the whole operation.

Then, they step onto a dirt trail behind Deese’s rural Louisiana cabin and find a jungle full of graves.

Now Lucas Davenport is on the trail of a serial killer who has been operating for years without notice. His quarry is ruthless, and — as Davenport will come to find — full of surprises…

This is the 29th novel in Sandford’s excellent Lucas Davenport/Prey series. I started reading them, I think, when Certain Prey, was first published in the UK. Since then, I’ve managed to read almost all of them (the first few weren’t available in Britain at the time, but are all getting published this year). With each new novel, I was impressed by Sandford’s ability to keep the series fresh and interesting. Neon Prey is no exception: I really enjoyed this. Continue reading

Quick Review: BEST. MOVIE. YEAR. EVER. by Brian Raftery (Simon & Schuster)

RafteryB-BestMovieYearEverUSAn excellent examination of “How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen”

In 1999, Hollywood as we know it exploded: Fight Club. The Matrix. Office Space. Election. The Blair Witch Project. The Sixth Sense. Being John Malkovich. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. American Beauty. The Virgin Suicides. Boys Don’t Cry. The Best Man. Three Kings. Magnolia. Those are just some of the landmark titles released in a dizzying movie year, one in which a group of daring filmmakers and performers pushed cinema to new limits—and took audiences along for the ride. Freed from the restraints of budget, technology (or even taste), they produced a slew of classics that took on every topic imaginable, from sex to violence to the end of the world. The result was a highly unruly, deeply influential set of films that would not only change filmmaking, but also give us our first glimpse of the coming twenty-first century. It was a watershed moment that also produced The Sopranos; Apple’s Airport; Wi-Fi; and Netflix’s unlimited DVD rentals.

Best. Movie. Year. Ever. is the story of not just how these movies were made, but how they re-made our own vision of the world. It features more than 130 new and exclusive interviews with such directors and actors as Reese Witherspoon, Edward Norton, Steven Soderbergh, Sofia Coppola, David Fincher, Nia Long, Matthew Broderick, Taye Diggs, M. Night Shyamalan, David O. Russell, James Van Der Beek, Kirsten Dunst, the Blair Witch kids, the Office Space dudes, the guy who played Jar-Jar Binks, and dozens more. It’s the definitive account of a culture-conquering movie year none of us saw coming…and that we may never see again.

Best. Movie. Year. Ever. is an excellent, illuminating discussion and examination of the movies that defined 1999: a year that produced an incredible number of excellent, ground-breaking movies. They broke the moulds of their respective genres, updated certain outmoded mores and tropes, or created something wholly new. A fascinating book that is a must-read for movie fans. 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

Quick Review: TURBULENCE by David Szalay (Scribner/Jonathan Cape)

SzalayD-TurbulenceUSA novel of the intersection of twelve lives

A woman strikes up a conversation with the man sitting next to her on a plane after some turbulence. He returns home to tragic news that has also impacted another stranger, a shaken pilot on his way to another continent who seeks comfort from a journalist he meets that night. Her life shifts subtly as well, before she heads to the airport on an assignment that will shift more lives in turn.

In this wondrous, profoundly moving novel, Szalay’s diverse protagonists circumnavigate the planet in twelve flights, from London to Madrid, from Dakar to Sao Paulo, to Toronto, to Delhi, to Doha, en route to see lovers or estranged siblings, aging parents, baby grandchildren, or nobody at all. Along the way, they experience the full range of human emotions from loneliness to love and, knowingly or otherwise, change each other in one brief, electrifying interaction after the next.

This is the first of David Szalay’s novels that I have read, and it will not be the last: I was very impressed. A relatively short novel, it offers an interesting look at the lives of twelve different people and the events that connect them. Insightful and interesting, I enjoyed this. Continue reading