Review: The Stranger by Harlan Coben

Harlan-Coben-The-StrangerAbout The Stranger

March 24, 2015
#1 New York Times bestselling master of suspense Harlan Coben delivers his most shocking thriller yet, proving that a well-placed lie can help build a wonderful life– and a secret has the same explosive power to destroy it.

The Stranger appears out of nowhere, perhaps in a bar, or a parking lot, or at the grocery store. His identity is unknown. His motives are unclear. His information is undeniable. Then he whispers a few words in your ear and disappears, leaving you picking up the pieces of your shattered world.

Adam Price has a lot to lose: a comfortable marriage to a beautiful woman, two wonderful sons, and all the trappings of the American Dream: a big house, a good job, a seemingly perfect life.

Then he runs into the Stranger. When he learns a devastating secret about his wife, Corinne, he confronts her, and the mirage of perfection disappears as if it never existed at all. Soon Adam finds himself tangled in something far darker than even Corinne’s deception, and realizes that if he doesn’t make exactly the right moves, the conspiracy he’s stumbled into will not only ruin lives—it will end them.


About the Author

Harlan Coben is the bestselling author of sixteen previous novels, including the #1 New York Times bestsellers “Long Lost” and “Hold Tight.” Winner of the Edgar Award, the Shamus Award, and the Anthony Award, Coben lives in New Jersey with his family.


My Thoughts

[Note: I received an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher, via Netgalley, for review.]

I’m a bit divided on my thoughts regarding Harlan Coben’s latest, The Stranger. On one hand, it’s a crackling thriller rife with suspense, conspiracy, and a bit of small-town internecine politics. But on the other hand, I spent a lot of my reading time struggling to comprehend the motives behind, what at first felt awfully flimsy, the inciting incident revolving around the revelation of a faked pregnancy.

This secret is revealed to the husband, Adam, by The Stranger in the novel’s opening pages. Adam then spends a good amount of time going back and forth on whether or not his wife, Corrine, faked her pregnancy and miscarriage, but the more he hunts for the truth the more he comes to realize that the secret is legit. After Corrine disappears and is accused of stealing money from the school’s lacrosse treasury, Adam becomes desperate to find her and to uncover the truth behind the stranger.

It’s a solid mystery with all kinds of twists and turns, but Coben’s idea of the faked pregnancy doesn’t really carry much legitimacy until very late in the novel, when we finally get a good understanding of why Corrine would go to such weird lengths. As a result, I found myself far more interested in the other secrets the stranger reveals to other families, which eventually leads to murder and puts serious emphasis on the crisis Adam finds himself in the middle of.

I also found the motives behind the stranger’s actions to be nicely complex, and gives his actions some weight that readers may find themselves hard to disagree with.

What price do we pay for anonymity in the age of information, and what secrets are worth keeping? Is there more damage in hiding the truth than in confronting it head-on? These are big questions, and Coben is able to spin a tight and effective thriller, with all the various twisty threads tied up neatly.

For me, The Stranger was a solid three-star read, simply because something just felt severely off in the way Adam suspected yet rebelled against thinking the worst, and the concerns surrounding the faked pregnancy jangled my suspension of disbelief for a little too long. I think if we’d been less reliant on Adam’s perspective and got to know Corrine better, and understood her motives sooner, it would have made the narrative less choppy and easier to sink into. Still, this is a perfectly serviceable thriller and compulsively readable, if not a completely perfect one.

Buy The Stranger At Amazon
Review: The Stranger by Harlan Coben

Review: Extinction Edge (Extinction Cycle Book 2) by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

ExtinctionEdgeAbout Extinction Edge

A BIOWEAPON DESIGNED TO SAVE THE WORLD…
A SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY THAT WILL ALTER HUMAN HISTORY…
AND A NEW THREAT THAT WILL BRING HUMANITY TO THE EDGE OF EXTINCTION.

The dust from Dr. Kate Lovato’s bioweapon has settled. Projections put death counts in the billions. Her weapon was supposed to be the endgame, but it turned a small percentage of those infected with the Hemorrhage Virus into something even worse.

Survivors call them Variants. Irreversible epigenetic changes have transformed them into predators unlike any the human race has ever seen. And they are evolving.

With the doomsday clock ticking, the fractured military plans Operation Liberty—a desperate mission designed to take back the cities and destroy the Variant threat. Master Sergeant Reed Beckham agrees to lead a strike team into New York City, but first he must return to Fort Bragg to search for the only family he has left.

At Plum Island, Kate discovers Central Command may have considerably underestimated the Variant population in New York. As Operation Liberty draws closer, Kate warns Beckham that Team Ghost won’t just face their deadliest adversary yet, they may be heading into a trap…


About the Author

Nicholas Sansbury Smith is the author of several post-apocalyptic books and short stories. He worked for the State of Iowa for nearly 10 years before switching careers to focus on his one true passion–writing. When he isn’t daydreaming about the apocalypse he’s likely racing in triathlons around the Midwest. He lives in Des Moines, Iowa with his family and several rescued animals.

If you’d like to hear more about Nick’s books, you can join his spam free mailing list here: http://bit.ly/NicholasSansburySmith.

Or visit Nick at: http://nicholassansbury.com.


My Thoughts

[Note: I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book from the author in exchange for review.]

Fans of Nicholas Sansbury Smith’s opening gambit in the Extinction Cycle series, Extinction Horizon, will find plenty to enjoy in this bio-tech military thriller. Extinction Edge picks up a short time after the fall-out of Book One’s finale, with the nasty, and now evolving, Variants taking center-stage as the primary threat.

Smith’s readers probably know what to expect by now, and, as per his usual, the author continues to deliver the goods with knowing nods toward technothriller, horror, sci-fi, and post-apocalypse genres. There’s also a lot of well-executed action and plenty of rousing man versus monster scenes that will leave readers ragged, as the remnants of the US military, with Reed Beckham’s Delta team on the front-lines, perform a rescue mission to Fort Bragg, before launching Operation Liberty in an effort to reclaim New York from the Variants.

For as good as it is – and it is very good – Extinction Edge suffers a teensy bit from middle-child syndrome. It has to carry on from the events of the previous book, without resolving too many story threads, while not only setting up Book 3 but acting as a gripping narrative in its own right. While the action is top-notch and Smith had my attention throughout, the medical thriller aspects that I loved in Extinction Horizon are forced to take a bit of a backseat to the military operations. Dr. Kate Lovato is stuck in a bit of a no-win scenario, and spends most of the book determined to believe that there is no way to cure the Variants and that they’re an unstoppable force. This causes her to make a big decision that will no doubt play center-stage in the next installment, but finds herself in a rut for most of this book. However, there is a burgeoning romance between her and Beckham, with their connection to one another deepening nicely, and providing a reason for both of them to keep on fighting. I just wish she had a more pro-active role here.

Smith introduces us to some new faces, such as a trio of survivors in New York, as well as some new military operators that join Beckham’s team. The best of these is Fritz, a war vet who lost both of his legs to an IED and has blade prosthetics. I found this character to be solidly worth rooting for, particularly in the book’s finale where he gets a standout bit of imagery as he emerges from the fog of war. It’s great stuff, and I look forward to reading more about him!

I’m really liking Smith’s take on the apocalypse in the Extinction Cycle, blending together viral outbreaks, sort-of zombies, and military thriller. The story is well-crafted, the characters are believable, and the action makes for an exciting read. If you haven’t yet read the previous installment, Extinction Horizon, then get on that pronto. This is definitely a series worth reading.

Buy Extinction Edge At Amazon
Review: Extinction Edge (Extinction Cycle Book 2) by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

No Way Home Is Out Now!

No Way Home Kindle Purchase at:

Amazon

ISBN-13: 978-1508613299

ISBN-10: 150861329X

No Way Home is now available, and the advance reviews have been coming in at a steady clip. This is a collection that we are all quite proud of, and I’m very pleased to say that our readers have been enjoying what we’ve done here. Check out the praise!

Stephanie Lehenbauer says:

This anthology has a great premise. The unifying theme of being stranded grabbed my attention immediately, and the myriad ways that the authors explored the theme kept me interested all the way through. Every story was interesting, well-written, and utilized the theme in a different way. I really appreciated that diversity…

While all of these stories fit firmly into the realm of science fiction, there is enough urban fantasy to interest fans of that genre as well. Also a bit of romance, some horror, and some exploration of literary fiction. If you aren’t a huge sci-fi person, I would still recommend you give this antho a try. It’s got something for everyone.

AK Hinchey writes:

The high calibre of the writing is maintained throughout the book with each author presenting a unique view on an almost dystopian sci fi future….this is a book worth getting. … It’s an ooey gooey slice of literary creative goodness which you need to get as soon as it’s out.

Kath Middleton:

Although any reader is bound to have favourites there wasn’t a duff story in this collection and I found the length of the stories particularly successful. It allowed the reader to engage with the plot and characters in greater depth than is usual in short stories.

On a bit of a more self-centered note, here’s what Dustin Bilyk wrote about my contribution, Revolver:

Revolver had me fired up from start to finish. It was an emotional rollercoaster. I read the bloody thing in the blink of an eye then slumped into my chair, dazed and bug-eyed. It was the most un-sci-fi work in the entire anthology, but Hicks made it work. Moreover, it was a gratifying read, a feel-good story despite the aggressive, powerful writing. You’ll understand what I mean when you give it a go yourself…because you damn well should. Easily my favorite story in the antho.

Damn, Dustin…thank you!

Speaking on the central issue of depression at the root of the story, Time Heist author Anthony Vicino writes:

It’s beautifully painful and horribly consistent with real life. … it’s so refreshing to see Depression dealt with in a factually consistent manner in fiction. It’s an insidious malady precisely because other people can’t see it, can’t understand the reasons behind it, can’t empathize with it. This only compounds the problem for those suffering from the disorder because the question “What do you have to be so sad about?” is unanswerable, and all the more painful because of that fact.

The time we spend inside the main characters mind is beautiful and sad and well worth the price of admission.

Meanwhile, author David Wailing writes:

Revolver by Michael Patrick Hicks, however, takes the ‘shocking’ gold medal. A classic example of social science fiction, this portrays a nightmarish future America with clear roots in the present day. Ironically this story is the furthest away from the ‘stranded’ theme and yet I found it the most gripping.

Many, many thanks to our advance readers and reviewers for their contributions. I expect lots more voices will soon be joining them in the review threads.

No Way Home is now available for purchase at Amazon. For a limited time, to celebrate this new release, the Kindle edition is on sale for only 99 cents!

Please enjoy, and if you have time, please leave a review and be sure to check out the works of my co-authors as well. Cheers!

No Way Home Is Out Now!

Reblog: A review and discussion of ‘Convergence’ by Michael Patrick Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks:

This has to be one of the most thoughtful reviews and critiques that my debut novel, Convergence, has enjoyed thus far.

Tommy – thank you for taking the time to write this, and I’m glad the overall reading experience was positive for you. This means a lot!

Originally posted on Tommy Muncie, Writer:

http://www.amazon.com/Convergence-Michael-Patrick-Hicks/dp/149489436X

http://michaelpatrickhicks.com/

To fully discuss why I’ve spent the last two days pouring over this book would mean spoilers for both the novel itself and my own. Although I can’t do this, I can offer up an appreciation of why I felt so engaged by Convergence that my Nook is now stuffed with notes and I’ve spent a fair amount of time thinking about the implications of being able to record and play back the human memory.

To cut a long story short for my regular readers and my fanbase: if you like what I’ve written about mind powers, their abuse, the addicts, the social rejection/acceptance of them and how they create both amazing advantages and deep-seated fears, please get a copy of Convergence. I’m pretty damn sure you will love this book. Not only are the themes similar, but you get treated like a grown-up: R-rated content, politics…

View original 1,607 more words

Reblog: A review and discussion of ‘Convergence’ by Michael Patrick Hicks

Review: Orphans of Wonderland by Greg F. Gifune

orphans-of-wonderlandAbout Orphans of Wonderland

March 3, 2015

Pray it’s only paranoia.

Twenty years ago, journalist Joel Walker wrote a book about a ritual killing. It exploded into a bestseller and became part of the mass Satanic hysteria of the 1980s. However, his story and the evil he investigated were real and left him the victim of a nervous breakdown.

For the last two decades, his has been a quiet existence far from his former home in Massachusetts. But when one of his childhood friends is brutally murdered and rumored to have been involved in bizarre medical experiments, Joel is lured back to find out what really happened.

Joel must delve deep into the darkness once more, investigating all the way back to his own childhood, and the secrets he and his old friends buried there years ago. But where do paranoia and madness end and real evil begin? With the Orphans of Wonderland.


About the Author

Called “One of the best writers of his generation” by both the Roswell Literary Review and author Brian Keene, GREG F. GIFUNE is the author of numerous short stories, several novels, screenplays and two short story collections (HERETICS and DOWN TO SLEEP). His work has been published all over the world, consistently praised by readers and critics alike, received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and The Midwest Book Review (among others) and has recently garnered interest from Hollywood. His novels include CHILDREN OF CHAOS, DOMINION, THE BLEEDING SEASON, DEEP NIGHT, BLOOD IN ELECTRIC BLUE, SAYING UNCLE, A VIEW FROM THE LAKE, NIGHT WORK, DRAGO DESCENDING, CATCHING HELL, JUDAS GOAT and LONG AFTER DARK. Greg resides in Massachusetts with his wife Carol and a bevy of cats. He can be reached online at: gfgauthor@verzion.net or through his official web site at: http://www.gregfgifune.com


My Thoughts

[Note: I received an advanced reader’s copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley for review.]

Although I’ve not read nearly enough of Greg F. Gifune’s work, the few titles of his that I have are quickly making me a fan. He’s a terrific writer and able to create believable characters in a short amount of time.

I’ve only read Lords of Twilight and Oasis of the Damned previously, with this book, Orphans of Wonderland, being the first full-length novel, and what impresses me the most is his breadth as an author. So, while I only have three titles to base a judgement on his oeuvre, his work thus far has never struck me as derivative, and it’s impossible to fancy him as a one-note author, hammering away at the same themes and concepts from book to book. There’s a few writer’s out there who have made a career out of writing basically the same novel for decades on end, but Gifune is quite clearly not one of them. Orphans is completely different from Oasis, which was a stark contrast to Lords of Twilight. And I freakin’ love that!

Orphans of Wonderland plays like traditional mystery, but with dashes of the weird. The main protag here is Joel, a small-town reporter who once made a big-time splash with his investigation of a young girl’s murder at the hands of a Satanic cult. He’s disappeared into obscurity, living with his wife and covering local events where he writes about school cafeteria lunch programs and reports little league scores. After a childhood friend, Lonnie, is killed, he’s pulled back into investigating the dark events surrounding the murder, as well as his own past.

Frankly, there’s a lot going on here. It’s a dense story, but Gifune juggles it well. The plot is infused with the occult, demons, mysterious radio broadcasts, and far-reaching conspiracies. Think The X-Files in its heyday, but with a stronger Kolchak influence, thanks to Joel’s journalism pedigree. What I loved most about it was the layered sense of history, as Joel reflects on his childhood and the friends he’s lost – and forced to suddenly reunite with – as he gets closer to uncovering the truth behind Lonnie’s demise. And as Joel discovers those truths? Man, it’s a powerhouse, and I could feel little parts of myself cracking in sympathy for him.

The only complaint I have is that the ending wasn’t quite as powerful as the events preceding it. It lacked some of the oomph I was expecting, and it didn’t really dazzle or surprise, with the last-minute reveal acting as more of a confirmation of my suspicions rather than unexpected twist.

But, that minor bit aside, I totally dug this book and find it an easy one to recommend. The story has so much going for it, and Gifune gets so many things right, that it’s easily worth the time to read. Check it out!

Buy Orphans of Wonderland AT Amazon
Review: Orphans of Wonderland by Greg F. Gifune

No Way Home Paperback Cover and Launch Party!

We’re only a few days out from launching the science fiction anthology, No Way Home. You should see it go live on Amazon this Monday! In the meantime, here’s a look at the cover art for the paperback edition, designed by Jason Gurley. Give it a click for the full-size version to best soak it all in.

No Way Home CS IMGTo celebrate the release, we’ll be hosting a Facebook Launch Party throughout the day on Monday where we’ll be giving away signed copies of our novels and talking about the No Way Home anthology and all-things sci-fi.

And, be sure to keep an eye on the No Way Home Goodreads page for our giveaway contest. The contest should go live tomorrow and will run until March 12. Five lucky winners will get a free paperback copy! Feel free to click Want to Read in the meantime, though.

No Way Home Paperback Cover and Launch Party!

Review: Apocalypse Weird: The Serenity Strain (Serenity Book 1) by Chris Pourteau

serenitystrainAbout The Serenity Strain

The End of the World starts on the Gulf Coast

Multiple hurricanes wreak unprecedented devastation on Houston, Texas. The Serenity Six—genetically altered test subjects for a viral strain known as Serenity—escape the state prison in Huntsville to gorge their appetite for murder on society’s survivors. They soon become the acolytes of Id, a being of immense power and wanton appetites, who steps into our reality to prosecute mankind and destroy morality. And one family steps up to the fight—a family experiencing its own turmoil caused by a contentious divorce. The Stand meets 28 Days Later in this epic tale of genetic manipulation gone awry. There’s no such thing as an ordinary hero.

About the Author

Currently residing in College Station, Texas, Chris Pourteau has made a living at one time or another as a teacher, a lab technician helping to recover one of Christopher Columbus’s ships, and a technical writer and editor.

If you’d like to say howdy, feel free to email him at c.pourteau.author@gmail.com or visit him at chrispourteau.thirdscribe.com.


My Thoughts

[Note: I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book from the author for review.]

Although we’ve been to Texas before, in Michael Bunker and Nick Cole’s Texocalypse Now, that story was focused on five-year hence in the Apocalypse Weird bookverse. This gives Chris Pourteau a chance to establish how, exactly, the Lone Star State got so wonderfully f’ed up and what some of the survivors went through.

Pourteau’s entry is a wonderful hodge-podge of maniacs, genetic manipulation, and a struggle to survive. Our main protagonists are a separated couple and their daughter, this family forced to reunite under the looming threat of a series of hurricanes. All of this combines to create a cli-fi thriller with some dashes of horror that works tremendously well, and at the time of this writing, might even be my personal favorite in the Apocalypse Weird series thus far.

To top it off, Pourteau introduces the demon Id, a specter birthed in the eye of a hurricane and who has a penchant for frying hapless victims with bolts of lightning. I’m looking forward to her taking on an expanded role in future volumes, but she’s established nicely here and I really dug the formation of a Charles Manson-esque cult devoted to her.

At its core, The Serenity Strain is all about family drama. Whether it’s the anxiety generated from a feuding couple forced into confined spaces and relearning how to cope as a family unit in the wake of separation and distrust, or the burgeoning creation of a twisted hierarchy between the escaped prisoners as they seek Id. It’s really compelling stuff and the twin tales work as counterpoint to the other, helping to elevate what could have simply been a tried-and-true good-versus-evil story into something that’s far more emotionally resonant. Getting to know both of these “families” makes the powerful finale especially meaningful.

I also have to give props to Ben Adams, who created a couple of illustrations for the book, one of Id and one of the book’s primary antagonist’s, Maestro. They’re really beautiful work! (I’m not sure if his art appeared any of the other AW titles, but finding them in this particular ARC was a wonderful surprise). Adams is also responsible for the stunning cover to Michael Bunker’s forthcoming Brother, Frankenstein, so be sure to check out his work. He’s got lots of talent!

Buy The Serenity Strain At Amazon
Review: Apocalypse Weird: The Serenity Strain (Serenity Book 1) by Chris Pourteau