Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Blind Side (by Michael Lewis)

Reviewed by Tracy L. Karol

5.0 out of 5 stars Great book, great movie, December 24, 2009
By Tracy L. Karol "" (Austin, Texas) - See all my reviews
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The Blind Side (Movie Tie-in Edition)

I really wanted to read this book before I saw the movie, and I started to several times but never got around to buying it and finally went to see the film on a whim. Wow, was I blown away. Great movie. I immediately came home and bought the book, which I read in a matter of days.

First, if you've seen the movie but haven't read the book you should know that the book is much more detailed than the film. It deals not just with the fascinating life of a young, basically homeless black youth in Memphis, Michael (Big Mike), who is eventually taken in by a wealthy family who only want to help him. This is a true story, which most of you probably know. Michael Oher was a first-round draft pick in the NFL in 2009 as a left tackle and now plays for the Baltimore Ravens.

The book starts with a brief history of why the position Michael plays, left tackle, is so important. If you don't follow football, maybe you won't find this as interesting as I did, but I think you probably will. Hard for me to judge as I'm a huge football fan and I immediately went to see who the left tackles are for the Dallas Cowboys and the Texas Longhorns (we need a better offensive line). The author moves back and forth between the history of football, how the offensive line evolved and became more important (crucial, really) with certain coaches paving the way, and how that paved the way for someone with the unique skill set and build of Michael Oher to come along when he did and have a chance at being so successful.

Michael was one of at least 12 children born to an addict mother. He managed to get into a private Christian school with the help of a neighborhood friend, but he really couldn't read and didn't have much in the way of social skills, and he lived clear across town, when he had a place to stay at all. Eventually, he is slowly absorbed into the family of Sean and Leigh Anne Tuohey, who have a daughter his age at the same school and who are both Ole Miss alumnae. They also have a younger son, Sean Jr. They don't see much athletic potential in Michael at first, other than possibly basketball, which Sean played in college, but they do see a gentle giant in need of help, and they set up an elaborate support system to give it to him.

The book deals with college football recruiting, the NCAA, legendary NFL football coaches who changed the game (as well as players), and the evolution of Michael Oher. It is a truly fascinating look at how nurture can change the direction of one person's life, and it really makes you think. I highly recommend it to football fans and the general public. If you've seen the movie, read the book for more insights. There were slight changes made in the film, but the gist of it is all there, and you get so much more information. I'm certain I will read it again. It is a book that stays with you long after you've put it down. And if you are a football fan, you will learn much and thirst for even more. Happy reading!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Show No Fear (by Marliss Melton)

Reviewed by Tracy L. Karol

I bought this book on my Kindle because Marliss Melton has become one of my favorite romantic suspense authors. I have really enjoyed this series and am sad that this is the last installment. With that said, I didn't enjoy the first part of this book as much as I've enjoyed her other books. In fact, I actually stopped reading it midway through and read several other books and only went back to it when I didn't have anything else to read. The very detailed sex scenes and something about the character of Lucy were not appealing to me.

That said, once I did start reading the book again, I finished the second half in one night. It was not a disappointment and Lucy's character grew on me. I still don't think this book was as good as Ms. Melton's others, but I appreciate that she was trying to make a statement in the story about FARC and the plight of kidnapped Americans (and others) in Columbia and Venezuela. For that, she did a very good job indeed.

The story starts off with the character of Lucy, a reckless CIA agent, almost dying in a warehouse explosion (after she was also almost raped by Venezuelan thugs/soldiers). She is saved at the last minute by a Navy SEAL, who turns out to be her old college boyfriend, Gus. She has no idea he is a SEAL - he was studying to be an architect when she broke up with him, and she was traveling overseas with friends. But they both suffered tragedies they didn't tell each other about: She was the victim of a cafe bomb, where her friends literally died in front of her eyes, leading her to join the CIA and with a hefty dose of survivor's guilt and a reckless disregard for her own life. Gus (who she knew as James), lost his father in the Twin Tower attacks on 9/11 and joined the Navy to fight the war on terror. So they are both fighting the same battle, but haven't had much contact and have not seen each other.

After the warehouse explosion, Lucy goes from this reckless fighter to a frightened woman suffering from PTSD. It takes months before she is ready to work again, and when she is, she is teamed with Gus to go into the jungle under the guise of UN peacekeepers trying to rescue hostages. These hostages happen to be friends and coworkers of Lucy's, so she desperately wants the job, but does not want to work with Gus.

This is where I got a little irritated. I would have liked the PTSD explained better, rather than just told that Lucy was a kick-butt fighter but not is afraid of her own shadow and clings to Gus, while resenting him, yet having quick, explicit sex with him. That's when I put the book aside. I shouldn't have, because it quickly moved past that. The sex scenes were still pretty explicit and didn't really do much to move the plot along, but I get that a lot of people like steamy sex scenes and that's fine. I'm not taking away stars for that - I just skip past them if they go on too long because I don't need to read about every lick and moan.

Anyway, while in the jungle things get complicated as Lucy and Gus, posing as husband and wife, grow close again but come under suspicion from the FARC guards who are negotiating for the hostages' release. I won't give more away, but it gets very suspenseful and fans will enjoy it.

What I really like about Ms. Melton's writing, as opposed to some other writers who I think are great and also write about SEALS, is that she has stuck to her guns. She seems to truly like her characters and hasn't changed her position with the political winds. There isn't a lot of humor in her books, but there is great suspense and action and details. You don't have to read any of the other books in the series to read this one; all work fine as their own novels. I highly recommend reading all her novels, though, and think you will enjoy this author very much if you like suspense with a good dash of romance. Just be prepared for some steamy sex too! Ms. Melton has now moved to my favorite romance author of Navy SEAL books. I haven't even bought the latest from my previous favorite. Great job, Ms. Melton!

Final Finesse (by Karna Small Bodman)

Reviewed by Tracy L. Karol

Final Finesse

4-1/2 Stars

I had never heard of this author until two friends of mine recommended her to me, and I was lucky enough to snag a free copy of her latest book, "Final Finesse," for free. I had an idea I would enjoy it as I'd downloaded the sample chapters, but I was eagerly awaiting my copy in the mail and started it very late Saturday night, didn't read any during the day, and then finished it late Sunday night/Monday morning. That, to me, is a good thriller/page turner.

A little background on the author, from what I gathered: She has a background in national security and certainly knows her stuff when it comes to energy and natural resources. I haven't yet read her first two books, but I definitely plan to do so.

This book starts out with a natural gas pipeline explosion in Oklahoma, during the middle of winter, that leaves countless people without heat and some dead. The company that owns the pipeline, GeoGlobal, cannot figure out how this disaster occurred. One of the head honchos, Tripp Adams, is in Washington D.C. and working on the problem.

Cut to the White House, where Deputy Director for Homeland Security Samantha Reid works. She has a background in energy but spends much of her time writing talking points for her boss, who loves to go on TV but can't seem to speak for himself and is dependent on Samantha for, well, just about everything. I think many women can identify with a boss who has taken the credit for a job they've done, so can well imagine Samantha's situation (men can as well, I'm sure).

There is a lot of insider information about the White House, from how lunch is eaten to where offices are allocated, that makes it clear the author knows her stuff and gives the reader an interesting glimpse into what it would be like to work in that rarified world. You really need to read the book to get the feel for the atmosphere, but Ms. Bodman does a good job of writing about what she knows.

Back to the plot: Soon another gas line explodes, and while to me this would seem like a disaster (I admit I knew nothing about pipelines going into this story), Samantha quickly pieces together that a gasline does not "just explode." She tries to bring the matter to the attention of her boss, but he isn't interested. Still bothered, she sets up a meeting with someone from GeoGlobal. Little does she know that the man she meets will be Tripp Adams, a college crush.

Sparks fly between Samantha and Tripp, despite of (or maybe spurred on by) the situation they are in. As more gaslines explode, they both suspect this is sabotage, but cannot figure out if it is the work of terrorists or what reason there is behind the attacks. No one is taking credit for them, but the cost of gas and oil is going through the roof while people across the country are left without heat and are dying.

As readers know, however, the work actually is a plot by Venezuelan oil workers on orders by the dictator of that country's right-hand man. It seems he wants to not only nationalize the pipelines in Venezuela (including those owned by GeoGlobal), but cause massive destruction in America and drive up the price of fuel, which he succeeds in doing. This is part of a convoluted plot before elections in his country.

Without giving too much away, there is just enough romance in this to make it an enjoyable read for women without annoying male readers who want a good national security thriller. I love a good romance as much as anyone, but I've gotten tired of really explicit sex scenes and usually skip past them if there is not a good reason for them (moving the plot along). In this case, there was enough romance that I enjoyed it and it was balanced just right.

When Tripp gets in trouble in Venezuela, Samantha doesn't sit idly by either. She doesn't suddenly turn into a ninja (another device I'm getting tired of -- not every female heroine has to be a gun-toting warrior, not that I have anything against them; it's just nice to see a regular woman use her brains and not be superwoman). She is smart and savvy and tries to get the agencies she works with involved, to little avail. She finally takes matters into her own hands and uses her brain to get what needs to be done, done.

I won't give more away, but I highly recommend this exciting thriller. I loved the national security angle, finding out new information in an interesting way, and the dynamics between the hero and heroine. The Washington insider stuff was a plus. I'm excited to see what this author comes out with next, and to read her previous novels. Sorry Amazon that I got this one for free, but I'm glad I discovered Karna Small Bodman! Happy reading. Other authors you might enjoy: Brian Haig, Vince Flynn, Nelson DeMille, Marliss Melton (for romantic suspense).

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Pursuit of Honor: A Novel (by Vince Flynn)

Reviewed by Tracy L. Karol

Pursuit of Honor: A Novel, by Vince Flynn

I will admit my bias up front: I am addicted to Vince Flynn and have been a fan since his first novel, "Term Limits." Some have been better than others, and "Pursuit of Honor," in my opinion, clearly stands out as one of his best ever.

The novel starts off just days after the events after the end of his last book, "Extreme Measures." That would probably be my one beef - that I had to wait so long for the book and it takes place immediately following his last novel. But as a follow up to "Extreme Measures," this book is actually much better and Flynn really pushes the envelope. He's not afraid to get his hands dirty with his opinion (fictionally) about where this country is headed, and he really is not afraid to let his main character, Mitch Rapp, get his hands dirty (though in reality we've seen Rapp do much more damage in other books).

As to plot: Washington D.C. has been attacked by Muslim extremists who, this time, specifically target senators and other political types. Rapp and his protégé, Mike Nash, were also attacked at the Counterterrorism Center, where many of their colleagues were killed. Now it's up to Rapp to bring the three who got away to justice, if he can find them, while hunting down a traitor in the CIA, dealing with left-wing senators who are upset because he used "extreme measures" to get information on said terrorists (he dislocated a guy's arm), and other bureaucratic issues. Rapp is not, as you might guess, a happy man. There are actually a few funny parts in this book, which I enjoyed because the suspense and "thriller" action was so tense I could barely put the book down long enough to make it last two days (I truly had to force myself to drag it out that long). One example: Rapp is interrogating a traitor who he knows lies for a living. Mitch warns him not to lie to him because he will know...yet the guy does so anyway. Mitch tells him, "Fight it, fight it," while pointing a gun at the guy's foot. I can picture the scene so vividly in my head I really did laugh.

There was also some closure with Mike Nash, whose character had me scratching my head a bit at the end of "Extreme Measures." I wondered what Flynn would do with him, but knew it would be good and looked forward to it. I wasn't disappointed.

As the three escaped terrorists make their way across America and you see the fighting going on between them, it's clear that Vince Flynn knows how to create characters that are not one dimensional. I used to love to read Tom Clancy, but often would have to go back and find out when a character was introduced and who he was (not to mention heavy on the jargon). I still love the Clancy classics, and have read most of them more than once. But Flynn gives you a thriller like no other writer out there today. This book might not be for everyone - but it should be. There will certainly be people who will find things offensive in this book, and those are probably the same people that Rapp (and there are men and women out there like him) are on the line to protect. I highly recommend it, and recommend that you read it with an open mind and never forget that this war on terror is not over and is not played by the same rules as anything else we've ever seen. Other authors you might enjoy: Nelson DeMille, Brad Thor, Brian Haig (one of my newest and favorite), and Karna Small Bodman (another new find). Enjoy!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Stossel, healthcare, and a life unfinished

This is supposed to be a political blog about a luncheon I attended on Thursday featuring John Stossel. He was there to speak about healthcare, and I was one of a handful of bloggers invited to cover the event for the Texas Public Policy Foundation. Stossel had some enlightening insights, and I fully intend to cover them all. In fact, while there I was tweeting live about the event, so my actual notes are on Twitter at -- but more on that another time. You can use the #stossel hashtag to find exactly what I was writing, as well as what the other bloggers wrote.

I had the honor, while there, of sitting next to a UT student, Brianna Becker, who was an intern for TPPF. While we were obviously all very busy, we did exchange a few words and I mentioned that I had graduated from UT myself. She told me she was a student there now. We went on about our business, covering the speech. Stossel had, as I said, some interesting views on healthcare, comparing insurance to "grocery insurance." I will go into more depth in a later article.

I found out this morning that, tragically, Brianna was killed while jogging at UT Friday afternoon, hit by an SUV. I was stunned. She was vibrant, full of life, full of potential. I only knew her briefly, but she had her entire life ahead of her.

So while this story should be about the Stossel event, I am choosing instead to pay homage to a life unfinished - to Brianna Becker. I only knew her briefly, but I could tell she had a bright future. May she rest in peace.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Kingmaker (by Brian Haig)

Reviewed by Tracy L. Karol

The Kingmaker

In this outing, our hero, Sean Drummond, is summoned to defend a man he despises who has been accused of espionage. The man is a general, no less, and is married to the woman Drummond loved in college.

While the general is clearly a jerk and his wife, a CIA agent, put up with a lot of gruff from him (which Drummond wonders continuously WHY she ever married the guy), Drummond begins to have his suspicions if, despite his otherwise odious personality, he is truly guilty of the crimes he of which is accused. If so, he would be the greatest traitor our country has ever seen, having given secrets to the Russians and, before that, the Soviets for decades.

This is a classic mystery. In fact, Haig gets so much right in this book about how Russia actually operates and how the Soviet Union fell, along with how the new powers came to be, that his latest novel, The Hunted, was inspired by a man who read this novel and lived through that time. Read my review on The Hunted for more. Clearly Haig known that of which he writes, and he writes it expertly. He knows just when to insert a line of humorous dialogue or acerbic wit. Think John Corey in a military uniform. I love Sean Drummond! If you haven't read the Drummond series, this is as good as any place to start, but I recommend reading all his books.

His latest novel does not feature Drummond, but is still likely the best novel I've read in years. Brian Haig is, in my opinion, in league with Nelson DeMille, Vince Flynn, Robert Crais, Lee Child, and others. I'm so glad I discovered him. This novel will have you hooked until the very end. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

"The President's Assasin" by Brian Haig

[[ASIN:0446617113 The President's Assassin]]

I admit it. I'm addicted to Brian Haig. In the past two weeks I've read every book he's written (well, I'm almost done with "Man in the Middle") and I'll probably go into withdrawal until he releases a new book, as I've already read "The Hunted."

In this outing, our hero Sean Drummond has sufficiently annoyed his bosses that they've loaned him out to the CIA. That doesn't stop his wise-cracking, smart-mouthed tactic, however.

The book opens with a murder scene (a particularly bad one) and the clock starts ticking on a seeming threat to the president's life.

Drummond is paired with a by-the-book FBI agent who is also an ace profiler. And Drummond is angry about these murders (more come in the following days). Not so much the political ones as the senseless murders of a Secret Service agent, the brutality shown by the killers, and more. The crimes quickly escalate and a suspect is identified. To say more here would be a spoiler, but Haig truly makes you feel the pain of the victims no one seems to care about and you understand his anger.

I read this book, as usual, in about a day or so. Drummond reminds me of John Corey, the hero in Nelson DeMille's novels (Plum Island, The Lion's Game). As I've rushed through Haig's books I don't understand why I never heard of him before and why he isn't a top name author. He really is that good. I hope he comes out with another book soon. I am thoroughly enjoying "Man in the Middle." Review to come soon, along with others of the previous books in this series. This one will leave you guessing up until the end, though you might have a clue about the bad guy.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

"The Hunted" by Brian Haig

[[ASIN:0446195596 The Hunted]]

In the opening pages of this book, Brian Haig pays homage to Nelson DeMille, calling him his favorite author (he also happens to be one of mine) and says that Nelson once gave him a piece of advice that went something like this: "You'll only write a certain number of books in your life. Make sure each of them are the absolute best they can be." I'm sure I've mangled that quote but I'm completely sleep deprived after staying up all night to finish "The Hunted." Let me just say that Brian Haig more than delivered.

This is a fact-based thriller based on a real-life couple (their last name is slightly changed in the book), Alex and Elena Konevitch. It starts out a bit slow, with KGB agents and others sitting around discussing the imminent fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of Boris Yeltsin. What they can't figure out is where Boris got the money to finance a campaign that actually succeeded in bringing democracy to the USSR. Finally they discover that a 22-year-old expelled student from Moscow University (Alex) bankrolled Boris, but managed to stay in the shadows.
Alex, it seems, was a capitalist in a communist country years before the Iron Curtain fell. He was running businesses out of his dorm room at Moscow University, but was turned in by a jealous classmate and expelled. No matter; he went on to build an empire and within a few years was worth millions. Somehow this very young man had a grasp of finance and business that would make Donald Trump green with envy. How the Soviet Union produced such a man is a mystery, but this actually happened. And Alex wanted to bring democracy to his country, so he helped Boris Yelstin win the presidency and toppled the Soviet Union.

Soon Alex meets Elena and they fall in love. He continues to grow his multitude of businesses and works with Boris. He is young and handsome and his wife is beautiful. But the KGB cabal has not forgotten him, and in a conspiracy they kidnap the young couple, horribly torture Alex, steal all his money and businesses and plan to murder the couple. Yet Alex and Elena manage to escape to America, where they are granted political asylum.
Without giving away too much of the plot, I will quickly summarize what happens next. Alex, working now with Elena (at her insistence), begin new lives and are soon making money hand over fist. Alex is simply brilliant with finances and knows the market. It is the beginning of the dot-com craze and he anticipates what to do. He also keeps in close touch with his immigration attorney, MP, who got the couple asylum.

But Alex's reputation back in Russia is in complete tatters. He has been framed for stealing from his own companies and making off with millions. The cabal that did this to him is already planning on their next victim, while Alex's original businesses are failing miserably under the control of the KGB man who ordered the frame. They want Alex and Elena back in Russia and dead. Yet Alex has taken precautions; he has left a false trail in America and is being hunted in the wrong city.

All his planning is for naught, though, when the FBI director decides he wants to expand the Moscow station. He promises to send Alex and Elena back to Russia to face trial for their "crimes" if he can do this. Of course he has no idea if Alex is guilty, nor does he appear to care.
This quickly turns into a nightmare for the young couple. Once again their money is gone (frozen this time), they are jailed, and a hit is put out on them. It is truly a tale of corruption in both countries, with some contemptible characters on each side and some honorable ones as well.

How Alex and Elena get through the next years, and the outcome of this tale, is remarkable. You absolutely must read this book. I guarantee that you won't be able to put it down once you are a few chapters into it. It turns out that Alex actually wrote a biography of the events himself and contacted Brian Haig with the story (which was quite public in the USA and Russia at one point), telling him he might be interested in it. While Brian Haig shortens the story into a novel and fictionalizes some characters, the basic story is true. However, from what I can determine Alex and Elena actually suffered even worse atrocities over a longer period. I will certainly buy the book written by Alex to get the full story.

If you read just one book this year, read "The Hunted." It is a thriller, a spy classic, romance, espionage, suspense -- everything, and it is absolutely riveting. I'm only awake long enough to write this review as I stayed up most of the night finishing the book. It truly is that good. Highly recommended. If I could give it more than five stars, I would.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Vanished (by Jospeh Finder

Reviewed by Tracy L. Karol

Tracy Karol "" (Texas) - See all my reviews Vanished I like Joseph Finder. I first read him with "Paranoia" as a Kindle freebie, and that pushed me to buy "Power Play," which I thought was even better. "Vanished" is written several years later (I'm catching up) but I decided to buy it anyway. I do wish I'd waited a few days as I kept watching the Kindle price and it hovered at 12.22. Right after I finished the book it went down to 9.99. Oh well; it was still worth the money. Apparently Finder plans this to be the first in a series featuring Nick Heller, a former special forces soldier who now works for a corporate security firm. Nick is an interesting guy. He reminds me a bit of Jack Reacher, but only in his military background and his, for want of a better word, aloneness. He is stubborn and determined to do the right thing and do it himself. Other than that, he's really not like any of the current crop of heroes (he's no Mitch Rapp or Elvis Cole type, for instance). Finder has created his own unique character, which I like. Nick grew up rich, with an older brother who was smart but geeky and a father who was a crook. Think Madoff. The old man is still in prison and is famous for his crimes. The two brothers don't get along well, but Nick likes his brother, Roger's, wife, Lauren, and her son. For their sakes he makes an effort to be around. One night after dinner Roger is kidnapped and Lauren is attacked. While Lauren is in the hospital, her son calls Nick for help. There has been no ransom demand; Roger has simply vanished. The book is very intense and interesting. Roger and Lauren work for the same company, where apparently they met, and Roger makes a good living but is unhappy that he isn't doing better. Lauren is assistant to the CEO. It soon becomes obvious that Roger may be complicit, at least in some way, with his own abduction -- either by helping the abductors or by getting himself into a situation in which he was way over his head (following in his father's footsteps). Soon Nick is investigating a government/defense contractor, Paladin, that might have Roger. I don't want to give more away, but the good guys and the bad guys are not who they seem (I guessed one but was off on most of the others). "Vanished" has twists and suspense to thrill any reader of suspense fiction. I look forward to seeing how Finder works the kinks out and develops the characters in the next installment. I think he will only get better, and Nick Heller will join the ranks of Jack Reacher and others as some of my favorite series characters.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

"If I Am Missing or Dead: A Sister's Story of Love, Murder, and Liberation (by Janine Latus)

Reviewed by Tracy L. Karol

I read this book several months ago and was really bothered by some of the reviews, which is why I finally decided to write my own. The author has been attacked for telling her own story and not much of her sister's, Amy, who was murdered. But that is a big part of the story. Amy hid what was happening to her and the results were tragic. Janine also does a great job at delving into their shared childhood and what led both sisters to the choices they made. Haunting, powerful and tragic. A reminder of what to watch for in our own lives.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Fear the Worst (by Linwood Barclay)

Reviewed by Tracy L. Karol

5 stars

I actually feel guilty because I absolutely LOVE every book I've read by Linwood Barclay but for some reason I seem to forget about him (he's not on my "watch list") until I stumble across one. I'm so glad I found this one. He never disappoints. If you are looking for a good thriller, look no further than Linwood Barclay.

In this outing, Tim Blake is a divorced dad, not really over his ex, probably not living up to his full potential in life, but comfortably. His 17-year-old daughter Sydney is spending the summer with him instead of living with his ex and her boyfriend, a rich car dealer. (It just so happens that Blake is also a car salesman, but not such a sleaze as the new boyfriend, Bob).

Sydney goes missing one morning after a fight with her dad. When he tries to find her, he discovers that the place she said she worked never heard of her. Her best friend, who you know is somewhat hinky and is obviously wild, tries to help (perhaps too much?). Blake does everything he can to find Sydney. Think of the movie "Taken" but with and ordinary father who doesn't know what happened to his daughter and with cops who are not really helpful.

This book had me on the edge throughout. I really, really enjoy Barclay's novels. I honestly couldn't figure out what was going on completely until the end. My only complaint would be that the ending was a bit abrupt -- I would have liked to see an epilogue to tie up a few loose strings, but otherwise it was top notch. I'd also recommend his other thrillers. And keep him on your watch list. Great writing and great thrillers, suspenseful reading!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

"The Whole Truth" by David Baldacci

Reviewed by Tracy L. Karol

Baldacci is back in top form with "The Whole Truth." I was not a big fan of the Stone books, but this was Baldacci back at his best. In an international thriller dealing with the topic of "perception management," (this of is as extreme public relations, but with spins that are outright lies) Baldacci masterfully introduces a topic that is widely known and used in politics but not to the general public. It could be, in fact, how the last election was won (though not, obviously, through a fictious war -- possibly through financial misdeeds). The truth doesn't matter to the bad guys in this novel -- only the perception of the truth and what it can do for them in the public's opinion. The bad guy needs a war, so he has a team manufacture one for him so he can continue to sell his weapons. There are even references to real-life events. This is one book everyone should read if they want to know how politics really work.

I hope Baldacci continues writing in this style. It was truly one of my favorites, and though I read it months ago and am just now getting around to writing the review, I plan to read it again to remind myself what is at stake. And, of course, for the pure please of his writing.

"Secret Sanction" by Brian Haig "Can You Handle the Truth?"

Reviewed by Tracy L. Karol

OK I couldn't resist the title of this review. I am so glad Amazon offered a "freebie" deal on Brian Haig's books (buy one, get one free) or I would never have discovered this wonderful author. His style truly reminds me of a mix between Nelson DeMille and Robert Crais. I LOVED the character of Sean Drummond.

First, the plot, which has probably been covered extensively since this book was written so many years ago. Drummond is a JAG attorney assigned to determine whether a group of special forces troops in the Balkans should be prosecuted for crimes (they supposedly massacred a bunch of Serbs).

You should know a bit about Haig. He is the son of Alexander Haig, former SecState to Reagan. He also worked under Nixon. Some of this seeps through in Brian Haig's writing. He refers to Drummond's father as someone who loved Nixon, but he also seems to respect him very much.

This book is about duty, honor and country and could easily be written today. Those who march for peace will probably not like parts of it. I'd have to say, get over it. This is war. Granted the time period and the fight was a humanatiarian war, but the atrocities were very real and only become clear as the novel progresses. Drummond is witty, sarcastic and self-deprecating. I look forward to reading more about this character, and certainly more from this author. So glad I discovered him. Thank you, Amazon, for offering this buy one, get one free deal!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Time Traveler's Wife (by Audrey Niffenegger)

Reviewed by Tracy L. Karol

(4.5 stars)

I begged Amazon to make this book available on the Kindle, but it never was. I almost bought it years ago but for some reason never picked it up. When I saw the movie trailer, I knew I had to read the book before I saw the film. Easier said than done. I scoured every bookstore in both Austin and San Antonio (used and new), Wal-Mart, you name it -- Barnes and Noble told me it would take a week to get. After being spoiled by getting a book in less than a minute on my Kindle, I wasn't willing to wait to order it, but I was about to do so from Amazon. Then lo and behold my local HEB grocery store was stocked full of copies of "The Time Traveler's Wife." Grabbed one and finished it in days. (Sorry for those of you who don't live in Texas and can't get to an HEB!)

I really liked this book, although I spoiled the ending for myself by accidently opening the back and reading a "book club guide" question. Glad I can't do that on the Kindle.

Most of you probably know the plot by now. But a quick summary: Clare waits, literally, her entire life for Henry, who has a condition that causes him to unexpectedly time travel. It's often brought on by stress (it was compared to epilepsy, which I found interesting since I have epilepsy and could relate to the stressors that caused Henry to disappear).

This was a true love story. While Clare knows, from the time she is six, that she is in love with Henry, he doesn't discover the same until he is an adult. The science could be explained a bit better and I had a few other quibbles, but nothing major. The crux truly was that Clare spends her life waiting for Henry -- waiting for him to appear as a child, then waiting to meet him, then waiting for him to return to her. I won't give anything away, but there were parts that reminded me a bit of the movie "Somewhere in Time."

The story was very poignant. I laughed, cried, and was touched. I'm a bit amazed that the author hasn't written anything else in the intervening years, but I see that she has something in the works. I eagerly await the film. I pictured Eric Bana as Henry while I read the novel.

Highly recommended for romance and literature fans.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Power Play (by Joseph Finder)

Reviewed by Tracy L. Karol

I bought this book after getting hooked on Paranoia, which I got as a Kindle freebie. Power Play was even better. While you had somewhat of an anti-hero in Paranoia...though still good guy, Jake Landry, our hero in Power Play, was my kind of man. Thrown into a corporate getaway setting where he clearly does not belong and knows only his ex, Ali, he's the outsider who is the only one capable of saving the group of execs when a band of thugs targets them. Throughout the book Finder expertly sprinkles backstory about Jake and Ali and Jake's troubled past...which is what gives him the skills to survive this ordeal. The plot twists make this a thriller that will keep you up well into the night. And I have found a new author to watch. 4.5 stars, highly recommended.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Last Detective (by Robert Crais)

Reviewed by Tracy L. Karol

Having read the books before and after this, I'm writing my review from that perspective. But reading to book at the time, I really enjoyed it just as it was -- not knowing what would come later.

This book focused on Elvis Cole but really brought in more of his partner, Joe Pike (my personal favorite). Elvis is in love. He's watching his lover's son, Ben, when the boy is kidnapped. Naturally, his girlfriend blames him and starts to see all his flaws, as well as what a "violent" person he is, along with Joe, even though only the two of them can save young Ben. You really have to feel for Elvis, because he truly loves this woman (though I found her rather annoying) and, without giving away any spoilers, none of this was his fault.

This was a good installment in the series. Again, Robert Crais manages to write a book with enough backstory that you don't have to be a regular reader to pick up this book. You can start anywhere in the series and understand what's going on. At the same time, he doesn't annoy his regular readers with too much backstory, but gives a little more history of the characters each time. You really saw Elvis suffer this time, and the complexity of the relationship between him and Joe Pike.

Do yourself a favor and read every Robert Crais novel you can. And then read them again. I think I've read "L.A. Requiem" three times, at least.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Torn (by Chris Jordan)

Reviewed by Tracy L. Karol

I read "Taken," "Trapped," and now "Torn." Each had me riveted. I picked up Torn at a used bookstore (sorry Amazon), while I normally read everything on my Kindle, but I was looking for a book for my husband that the Kindle didn't carry and stumbled across it. Glad I did.

In "Torn," Shane is back to rescue another missing child. This time we learn a little more about Shane himself (if I remember correctly -- I might have to read the others again, which I probably will just for fun anyway). No one thinks the boy is alive except for his mother, Haley, whose husband died the year before. Turns out she has good reason for believing what she does: her husband had been in hiding his entire adult life from a cult-like group run by his father, and had hinted that something might happen to him. There is little evidence to suggest Haley's son is actually dead, and you can feel her agony. But she is no victim and insists on becoming a partner with Shane.

I won't give away any spoilers, but if you've read Jordan's previous two novels, you'll be happy with this one. And glad to see that he leaves it open for more sequels.

Oh, and if you have a Kindle, BUY the book. You won't be sorry. I would have read it much sooner had I found it on there.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Apostle: A Thriller (by Brad Thor)

Reviewed by Tracy L. Karol

5 stars

This was my favorite Brad Thor novel. I waited for the price to go down before I bought it on my Kindle, but I would have paid the extra few books had I known how good it was.

In this installment, our hero, Scot Harvath, has been fired from his job at the CIA by the new president, who ran on a platform of "change" and was elected largely due to the maneuverings of a media maven. (Any of this sound familiar?) The new administration is quick to make changes, ushering out programs and leaders and bringing in "new" and "diverse" but not necessarily better (or qualified) people to take their places. Harvath is fine with it -- he's ready to work in the private sector. But he's a patriot, and when duty calls he's unable NOT to answer.

Turns out the beloved new president and is media mogul friend need a guard dog when times get tough and her (Stephanie Gallo's) daughter, who is a doctor working in Afghfanistan, is kidnappaned and the people holding her ransom don't want money -- they want the release of a known Taliban terrorist.

All Gallo's money is of little use, and the campaigning, the peace, the closing of Gitmo, the Geneva convention -- none of that matters when her daughter's life is at stake. This truly makes one wonder if those who protest for the freedoms and securities of these terrorists -- because they certainly are NOT soldiers -- would fold when their own lives were at risk. Do they realize they sleep easily at night because brave men and women are willing to risk their lives? Or that they can protest because a soldier gives them that right?

No matter...Gallo begs the president for help, but he's not willing to budge, until she blackmails him, which leads to a subplot. Of course, this president is not clean. There are some interesting parallels in this book, but not too close to get Thor into trouble. Enough that you can easily spot them, though.

Without the official backing of the United States, Harvath must do what he can to free the terrorist and save Julia Gallo. Not an easy task, and not something he's willing to let go, considering what this terrorist might do in the future. But I won't give away any spoilers. Besides, you'll be so hooked you'll read the book in a matter of days.

Highly recommended. Great job. I eagerly await the next installment.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Out of Control (by Suzanne Brockmann)

Reviewed by Tracy L. Karol

4-1/2 stars

I'm not sure what it was about this book that had me so hooked. Certainly Suzanne Brockmann has a knack for writing great characters, and Ken "Wild Card" Karmody wasn't exactly the alpha male to end all alpha males, but I really, really liked this couple. I've read this book several times, and I truly wish SB would go back to writing characters that she seemed to like.

Granted, she wrote this when patriotic fever was at its pitch, but still -- the story is solid, Karmody proves himself a worthy hero (despite his "nerdy" ways, which actually are rather sexy), and the heroine is no slouch, even though she is rich beyond what most of us will ever dream of and way out of Karmody's league. I love the jungle plot and the dialogue between the characters, and how Karmody finally comes to realize that he loves this woman and faces down reporters at the end.

This is one book I highly recommend, and I hope to see Suzanne Brockmann go back to this style of writing. I'll read it again (for the 4th time?) just for the pure pleasure of it. It reads fine as a stand alone, though it is part of a series. No plot problems with this book.

Great job, Suzanne Brockmann! Please go back to this style of writing!

L.A. Requiem (by Robert Crais)

Reviewed by Tracy L. Karol

I don't even remember why I picked this book up, but I didn't realize at the time that it was part of a series. I admit that when I did I was a bit disappointed because I was afraid I wouldn't be able to follow along.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, there's nothing better for a reader than to find a great writer and realize that he or she already has a body of work published and you can go back and read it all, rather than waiting a year or two for the next book to be published.

L.A. Requiem introduced me to the wacky, wise-cracking world of Elvis Cole, private investigator ("the best detective in the world" as he calls himself) and his enigmatic partner, Joe Pike. Of the two, it's hard to say which character I like better. Elvis Cole narrates in first person, and he's truly funny, but tough. Joe Pike has a dark side, but he's loyal and in this book you really get to see some backstory of Pike (as I realized later, after reading some earlier Robert Crais books). If I had to date one? I think I'd have a good time with Cole, but be hopelessly attracted to Joe Pike.

I've read every book written by Robert Crais since I picked this one up, and I've never been disappointed -- even with the ones that aren't in the series. My understanding is that Crais has sold the movie rights to his books that don't feature Cole/Pike (such as "The Hostage") but won't sell the Elvis Cole books. Which is fine with me, because I don't know if any movie could live up to my expectations of the great characters Robert Crais has created.

You can pick up the Cole series anywhere, as I did, but do yourself a favor and start near the beginning. Every single one of his books are worth at LEAST one read (I've read most several times). I can't wait for the next installment, and understand it will be another Joe Pike novel.

Five stars -- Highly recommended!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Beautiful Lies (by Lisa Unger)

Reviewed by Tracy L. Karol (4 stars)

This book is not easy to pigeon hole. Unger's writing style is a cross between first person, almost a journal and even something of a blog at times. She breaks all the rules, but as the saying goes it's OK to break the rules as long as you know them, and Unger knows them, clearly. Still, be warned if you aren't a fan of nontraditional writing styles you should either avoid this book or open your mind to some great new writers...I suggest the latter.

Ridley Jones is both the narrator and main character in this novel, which seems to focus on how the little choices we make each day change the course of our lives. I didn't feel a lot of suspense through the book, but it did make me think and I read it in less than two days...a mark of a good read if it pulls me away from other things to finish it. In Ridley's case her little choices added up to one big one...saving a young boy's life, which led to the unraveling of her own. To me the subject was brilliant...I often womder what if I hadn't stopped impulsively to apply for that job where I met my husband? Or how many times have we avoided a deadly wreck because we left the house 5 minutes late? Ridley finds out that her life has been a lie based on little choices she makes. Unger's literary style works perfectly with this type of writing. I would have liked a bit more mystery or suspense but overall it really held my attention. Certainly recommend it.

Gone Tomorrow: A Jack Reacher Novel (Lee Child

Reviewed by Tracy L. Karol

Jack Reacher is one of my favorite fictional characters, along with Mitch Rapp, Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. I keep wondering who will play him in the films. In Gone Tomorrow he is back in top form: a hero who won't let go as he is sucked into yet another crisis. This time it's when he mistakenly id's a woman, Susan Mark, as a suicide bomber on a NY subway. As he works to unravel the mystery of why this woman really killed herself, as usual he won't let go when the authorities tell him to stay out of it. But this time Reacher is taking on a more global enterprise, and the hero in him refuses to let sleeping dogs lie (literally) when the pieces start to come together. The suspense builds, and it's an interesting twist as it's one of the few Reacher books told in first person. Much better than his last novel. I highly recommend it and look forward to the next installment in the Reacher series. This was not my favorite Lee Child book (that honor goes to one of his earlier efforts), but he's certainly back in top form and it's up there with the best of them.

On a side note, I also bought this on the Kindle and am rating the book, not the price. If you wait a week or so, maybe a bit longer, the price usually drops to the 9.99. I'm giving this 5 stars instead of 4 to make up for the 1 star ratings people gave because of the pricing. I bought a Kindle book today that I could have waited a few weeks for until the price went down, but wanted it bad enough to pay the extra few bucks. Just some advice...wait if you want to pay the lower price.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Book Reviews

I've reviewed many books on and I will repost them here, as well as add more depth to the reviews. If you have a book you'd like reviewed, please contact me and I'd be happy to review it for you. The first reviews will start showing up in the next few days as I build this site. In the meantime, you can find me on Amazon by searching for my name under profiles.