Archive for February, 2020

The President
For President Jonathan Bennett, reaching the White House was the realization of a lifetime’s ambition. He’s leader of the free world and the most powerful man on earth. But public support for his administration is wearing thin. And if the terrible truth about his rise to the top was exposed it would bury him. He will not let that happen.

The Assassin
As a boy, Evan Smoak was taken from his foster home and inducted into a top secret Cold War programme. Code-named Orphan X, he was trained to become a lethal weapon, then dispatched around the world to do whatever was required to keep his country safe. When Evan discovered the mission was rotten to the core, he got out using his skills to hide in plain sight while helping those who can’t help themselves

The Reckoning
But Evan knows about the President’s dark past. And that’s dangerous knowledge. To save himself and his country, Evan must ask himself one simple question: how do you kill the most well-protected man on earth? And, when he knows you’re coming for him, how do you stay alive long enough to try? One thing is certain: a desperate call for help from another unfortunate in urgent need of Evan’s protection isn’t going to make it any easier . . .

Out of the Dark: Orphan X #4

Gregg Hurwitz

Michael Joseph

Borrowed from Auckland Libraries

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

After finding out why the President wants him dead, Evan knows the only way he can live is to kill the President of the United States.  A simple task. NOT.

The Nowhere Man also has the task of helping a mentally challenged man – Trevon – find safety from a drug lord.  He hideously murdered Trevon’s entire family and framed him to send a message to others not to cross him.

I liked seeing past characters – some surprisingly helpful – and I enjoyed leaning of Joey’s scorched earth plan for her school friend’s rapist.  The whole family sound sleazy and I have no doubt she’ll succeed.   I loved the character of Trevon and adored how close his family was.  I hated the drug lord and wished he’d suffered more.

More of the incredible action and breath-takingly fast paced plots that are every Orphan X story.

Impatiently waiting for Orphan X #5!

Hellbent: Orphan X #3 review here

Naomi seems to have everything. A beautiful daughter, a gorgeous house, a perfect life. Behind the scenes, though, she and her husband are drifting from one another and struggling to conceive their second child.

Then Naomi meets a parent at her daughter’s nursery. Sean understands her, or so she thinks. Looking for a connection, for a friend, she joins him at a swimming lesson with their children. That day, Naomi makes a terrible mistake.

Weeks later, when Naomi attempts to contact Sean, he has disappeared without a trace. But as she begins to piece her life back together, it becomes clear that someone else knows her secret. Someone who wants to make sure she never forgets what she did at the pool.

Happy Ever After

CC Macdonald

Harvill Seeker

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

The story started off slow and became more interesting over time.

As more detail was given the events became clearer.  I then had to keep reading to see what happened next.  I did not connect with the characters and Naomi annoyed me with her ‘baby baby baby’ focus.   Maybe it’s because I don’t have a maternal bone in my body but I didn’t ‘get’ her.

I really, really enjoyed the ending as I did not see that twist coming.   The last few pages – oh, that was so vindictive of Sean – a great way to mess with Charlie’s mind.

The story takes awhile to get interesting but keep reading, as it’s worth it.

It is twenty years since the events of La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Volume One unfolded and saw the baby Lyra Belacqua begin her life-changing journey.

It is almost ten years since readers left Lyra and the love of her young life, Will Parry, on a park bench in Oxford’s Botanic Gardens at the end of the ground-breaking, bestselling His Dark Materials sequence.

The Secret Commonwealth: The Book of Dust #2

Philip Pullman

David Fickling Books and Penguin

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Stephen Litten

Pantalaimon witnesses a murder. The father of one of Lyra’s fellow students is going bankrupt due to a lack of quality rose oil. A web of intrigue connects these two seemingly random events with a shadowy religious order. And thus, begins The Secret Commonwealth, the second volume of Pullman’s The Book of Dust series. I want to say trilogy, but authors are tricky beasts.

The events of La Belle Sauvage are about 20 years in the past. But Oakley Street is still present, keeping a watchful eye on Lyra. So too is Malcolm Polstead, now a lecturer at Oxford, though at a different college to the one Lyra attends. Lyra and Pantalaimon have a difficult relationship, in part due to her forced abandonment of him in a previous adventure and also due to her reaction to a couple of books popular for their philosophy. So Pantalaimon sets off to find Lyra’s imagination. This event, early in the story, sets Lyra on a course both dangerous and lifesaving. The web of intrigue is closing around her. In her quest to find Pantalaimon she heads for the Blue Hotel, a legendary building said to be home to separated daemons. Where the plot takes an even bigger twist.

Pullman tells a deft tale. The Secret Commonwealth is at times a whodunnit, a spy-fi, a thriller and a bit of a travelogue through his alternate world. And at almost 700 pages there is plenty of plot and character development. Villains display elaborate backstories that make their motivations and actions sensible. I liked that Pullman retained his heroes from the previous volume and trilogy, as well as his gentle nod to events that happened in reality.

This is a great read, not only for the young adult market it supposedly is aimed at. Any fan of modern fantasy should have Pullman and this series on their shelves. I thank Penguin Random House for the review copy. Nice one.

To some he was Orphan X. Others knew him as the Nowhere Man. But to Jack Johns he was a boy named Evan Smoak. Taken from an orphanage, Evan was raised inside a top-secret government programme and trained to become a lethal weapon. By Jack. And yet for all the dangerous skill he instilled in his young charge, Jack Jones cared for Evan like a son.

But Jack knew too much about a programme that had gone rotten – he was a loose end that needed to be dealt with. But if you go after the only person who ever treated him like a human being, you can guarantee that the Nowhere Man will be coming for you. Hellbent on making things right . . .

Hellbent: Orphan X #3

Gregg Hurwitz

Michael Joseph

Borrowed from Auckland Libraries

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

The man hunting Evan made a huge mistake.  He went after the man who made Evan who he is, the man Evan thought of as a father – Jack Johns.    Jack loved Evan like a son, so sacrificed himself for him.  But not before giving Evan one final mission…….

While Evan hunts down Van Sciver, the man trying to kill him, he answers a call on his RoamZone from a father desperate for help with his son.  Though not fitting the Nowhere Man’s criteria of who to help – needing help for yourself, not someone else – Evan accepts and finds himself in a deadly fight with the most feared street gang in the world, Mara Salvatrucha.

The plot is very clever, tightly wound, moves rapidly, and with lots of action.  There are some familiar faces – does Candy NEVER die! – and we finally find out why the President ordered Van Sciver to kill Orphan X dead, though the details of the why are unclear.

I loved the story and need to read Orphan X #4!

The Nowhere Man: Orphan X #2 review here

Jacob just wanted to have a good time with his friend Samantha and fellow geeks at the fan convention. But when dead bodies start turning up, Jacob has to start a little early on his hoped-for detective career. After all, the police are out of their depth in a world where nearly everyone wears a costume or uses an alias. But Jacob has a secret of his own, and it looks like someone is bent on revealing him to the entire con. If Jacob’s history comes out, his police career will end before it begins, even if he can find the killer. And if he can’t, more fans will die.

Con Job

Laura Vanarendonk Baugh

AEclipse Press

Purchased at Geysercon

Reviewed by Jacqui Smith

I’ve played the Con Game. By which I mean that convention simulation game where pretty much anything that can go wrong, does go wrong. But none of the scenarios I’ve come across ever included a series of dead bodies… Which is what is going down at Con Job. Yes, the name of the book is indeed a pun on multiple levels. Honestly, I’m not sure what I’d do, beyond the obvious – like call the police.

The murder mystery is interesting enough, though not terribly complex. An experienced reader of murder mysteries will figure out who done it reasonably easily. But it’s the characters, in several senses of the word, that make this book entertaining. It’s about the people who make the story, many of whom are ‘characters’ in the own right, and the characters that they cosplay as.

It’s a very American book, full of US geek culture references, and I’m quite sure I missed a number of them, partly because of the different background, and partly because I’m not that immersed in anime. And there’s plainly a lot involved in US SF conventions that I’ve never had to deal with. Consequently, I suspect this book may have a somewhat limited audience – but if you happen to be part of that audience, I think you’d enjoy it a lot.

Fusing history, nature writing and travelogue, The Lost Pianos of Siberia is a captivating exploration of an extraordinary and largely unknown part of the world and its unexpected musical legacy.

Siberia’s story is traditionally one of exiles, penal colonies and unmarked graves. Yet there is another tale to tell.

Dotted throughout this remote land are pianos – grand instruments created during the boom years of the Nineteenth Century, and humble, Soviet-made uprights that found their way into equally modest homes. They tell the story of how, ever since entering Russian culture under the influence of Catherine the Great, piano music has run through the country like blood.

How these pianos travelled into this snow-bound wilderness in the first place is testament to noble acts of fortitude by governors, adventurers and exiles. That stately instruments might still exist in such a hostile landscape is remarkable. That they are still capable of making music in far-flung villages is nothing less than a miracle.

But this is Siberia, where people can endure the worst of the world — and where music reveals a deep humanity in the last place on earth you would expect to find it.

The Lost Pianos of Siberia

Sophy Roberts


Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Stephen Litten

Cultural history can follow some odd paths, and on the surface of it, The Lost Pianos of Siberia is certainly setting off on an odd path. Ask most people about Siberia, and they will mention cold, vastness, cold, isolation, cold, and exiles. Did I mention the cold? The genesis of the book is given toward the end of chapter one. The author sets herself the task of finding a piano for a Mongolian prodigy. A truly British piece of eccentricity. Thus, begins a chase covered in the following 12 chapters and epilogue.

Roberts tells the story of pianos in Siberia in 3 acts: Tsarist, Soviet, and post-communism. But why pianos? Russia in whatever guise was as afflicted by piano mania as every European (and pretender) country. Pianos usually bear serial numbers, making proving provenance possible. Pianos were a powerful cultural icon, denoting civilisation. Many countries, including Russia, had thriving piano-manufacturing industries. Russia, off many people’s cultural radar since the Bolshevik Revolution, was a stop of importance during the time of the tsars.

Roberts follows the advance of Russian influence and the march of events. Each chapter has a small map showing locations mentioned at its beginning, thus reducing the immensity of Siberia to a more human scale. But more than a story of pianos, this is a story of people; those who chose Siberia, or more frequently had Siberia chosen for them. The pianos came by sled, by boat, by train, by plane. They were the property of governors, exiles, free settlers, merchants, the military, the state, and evacuees. And like the people, the climate and conditions in Siberia killed more than a few.

Naturally, there is a New Zealand connection. The skipper of the boat taking Sophy and a group of birders around the Commander and Kuril Islands is a Kiwi.

Roberts has told an excellent story here. It encompasses the nature of Russia and Siberia, along with the quintessential cast of characters that are Russians in their full idiosyncratic glory. This is a book that both satisfies and encourages wanderlust. Read it.

Thanks to Penguin Random House for the review copy.