adventure

2015 ITW Thriller Awards Finalists & Winners

 

Thrillerfestbanner

Are thrillers your favorite genre reading? Then feast your eyes on the winners of the 2015 ITW Awards (International Thriller Writers) handed out in July in New York City. The level of quality was terrific and the competition fierce. See the links to my reviews for two of them (Best First Novel and Best Paperback Original categories).

 

2015 ITW Thriller Awards Nominees – winners noted with asterisk.
 

BEST HARDCOVER NOVEL
*Megan Abbott – THE FEVER (Little, Brown and Company)
Lauren Beukes – BROKEN MONSTERS (Mulholland Books)
Joseph Finder – SUSPICION (Dutton)
Greg Iles – NATCHEZ BURNING (William Morrow)
Chevy Stevens – THAT NIGHT (St. Martin’s Press)

 

BEST FIRST NOVEL
Ray Celestin – THE AXEMAN’S JAZZ (Mantle)
Julia Dahl – INVISIBLE CITY (Minotaur Books)
Allen Eskens – THE LIFE WE BURY (Seventh Street Books)
*Laura McHugh – THE WEIGHT OF BLOOD (Spiegel & Grau)
Andy Weir – THE MARTIAN (Crown)  (Read review here)

 

BEST PAPERBACK ORIGINAL NOVEL
Shelley Coriell – THE BURIED (Forever)
Robert Dugoni – MY SISTER’S GRAVE (Thomas & Mercer)  (Read review here)
James R. Hannibal – SHADOW MAKER (Berkley)
Rick Mofina – WHIRLWIND (Harlequin MIRA)
*Vincent Zandri – MOONLIGHT WEEPS (Down & Out Books)

 

Congratulations to all the finalists and winners!
Please visit http://thrillerwriters.org/programs/2015-thriller-awards/ for the YA, ebook original, and short story nominee and winner lists.

 

 

 

“Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon

 

Book Cover - Outlander

 

The “Outlander” series, by Diana Gabaldon, has been a sensation in the historical fiction arena, blending time-travel, romance, and adventure into one terrific story. Why do we love “Outlander?” It’s well-written, crosses genres beautifully, and the broad sweep of the storyline is just plain fun.

 

Claire Randall is a former combat nurse, home from WW2 in 1945. She has been reunited with her husband, Frank, and they are enjoying a second honeymoon in the Scottish Highlands after a long, war-caused separation. On the lookout for interesting flowers and herbs, she wanders into a circle of ancient stones said to be the legendary Merlin stones, touches one of the stones and disappears. That is, disappears from 1945 and pops up in 1743 – right into the middle of the Jacobite rebellion, with Bonnie Prince Charlie attempting to take over the throne of England.

 

With her English and slightly alien accent, she is soon called Sassenach (an outlander) by the MacKenzie clan that rescues her from an assault by a British soldier (her husband’s ancestor) and is suspected by everyone of being a spy. But, for whom? Her rescuers, in part to use her as a bargaining chip, keep her hostage.

 

Her skill as a healer is discovered when she meets injured Jamie Fraser and that ensures her safety until her fate can be decided. “Outlander” reveals Gabaldon’s tremendous amount of research into the uses of botanicals for healing both in 1945 and two hundred years earlier. We are treated to descriptions of herbs, the drugs available in both centuries, the limits of medicine in the 1700s, the choices available, and even the handling of prisoners. The wisdom of the modern medical era is applied to herbal remedies of the 1700s, but often, Claire just has to make do.

 

Gabaldon has written the developing relationship between Claire and Jamie realistically within the constraints of the time travel strand. Claire can’t reveal when she is really from – nobody would understand it – and Jamie does not quite trust her since her circumstances don’t really ring true. Claire has a modern sense of humor and Jamie is puzzled by her references to John Wayne and her cursing. And, yet, they each feel an attraction as they are thrown together repeatedly during the action. The complexity of Scottish clan rivalry is explored, alliances for and against the British are created, and Claire occasionally uses her knowledge of history to protect the people in her immediate circle.

 

“Outlander” succeeds in part because of its intimate portrait of a marriage, with its moments of personal truths, physical intimacy, enduring love, and sometimes hilarious banter. Two strong-willed people are forced into a union of convenience in order to save their lives and the relationship is raw and wonderful. There are sometimes tender and sometimes rough, bedroom scenes between Jamie and Claire. There are graphic descriptions of an attempted rape as well as an actual rape with another character. Gabaldon does not mince words, so be forewarned that this is well-done adult reading.

 

The Jacobite rebellion and the surrounding political turmoil drive the tale, but it’s the characters that keep us spellbound until the last page. There are good guys and bad, some of whom are both in order to survive in a dangerous political climate, and one who is undeniably evil. We don’t always know whom to trust. The supporting characters are colorful, complex, as well as entertaining, and add depth and realism to the multi-layered plot.

 

The time travel is brilliantly handled. Claire tries on multiple occasions to return to the stones in order to get back to her own time, but as she falls more deeply in love with Jamie, she is torn between leaving him and her responsibility to the husband she left behind. Along the way, she discovers that she may not be the only person who has traveled through the stones.

 

I laughed during the engaging dialogue, cringed at the choices that needed to be made and cried during some desperate moments for more than one character. When the book ended, I was very happy that there were more titles in the series to be read.

 

The novel won the Romance Writers of America's RITA Award for Best Romance of 1991. The first seven books in the series sold over twenty million copies and landed on the NYT bestseller lists six times. The eighth book in the series was published in June, 2014. A TV series based on the first book, “Outlander,” debuted in the USA in August, 2014.

 

For more information about Diana Gabaldon and her work, please visit www.dianagabaldon.com

 

 

 

 

“Ghost Country” by Patrick Lee

 

Book Cover - Ghost Country

Patrick Lee’s “Ghost Country” is the second in a three-book series. I read solid comments about the first book, “The Breach,” and wanted to see if “Ghost Country” lived up to the reported high standards set by the debut sci-fi/adventure/thriller. Wow! That would be a resounding, “YES!”

 

ENTITY: Technologically advanced gadgets (entities) come through the super secret BREACH.

BREACH: A type of wormhole in Wyoming, created when an ion collider exploded.

 

As “Ghost Country” opens, Paige Campbell, a high-level employee of a government agency called TANGENT, has just left a briefing with the President about an entity so powerful that it can change our view of both the present and the future. This entity (in the shape of a rolling pin sized cylinder) has the ability to transport the holder through time – but only 73 years into the future and back again.

 

Paige’s convoy is attacked while the White House is still in view. In a minute by pulse-pounding minute description of the perfectly executed attack, including details of a PDA-holding guy checking for photos of the ‘keepers’ as a shooter follows behind to dispatch the rest, Lee sets the pace and feel of the book.

 

Paige is able to send a message to her tech-savvy contact, Bethany Stewart, right before she is abducted. Bethany enlists the help of Travis Chase, a man who has been in hiding for two years, working at a low level job, avoiding contact with anyone and everyone associated with TANGENT.

 

Bethany and Travis obtain an entity, but have a limited amount of time to figure out what it does, while trying to save both the world and Paige. Along the way, they discover evil schemes, get a look at a hideous bone-filled, ruined future, and take advantage of Bethany's considerable hacking skills. Oh, and nearly get killed several times.

 

Lee treats us to imaginative uses of the time travel device to help Travis and Bethany stay ahead of the bad guys, gives a nod to the inevitable time travel paradox and delivers one of the most chilling methods to change civilization that I’ve ever read – worthy of the intelligent-but-twisted villains that want to counter the world’s present path.

 

The clever storyline in “Ghost Country” is diabolical, and even shocking, but there are no loose ends. The tech part of “Ghost Country” is blended with great dialogue, interesting characters and relationships, and action that works in any time period. Make sure your ereader is fully charged before starting this novel, because you'll want to read it uninterrupted.

 

“Ghost Country” raises an intriguing question: if you had the opportunity to move to another time (whether past or future) would you? Would you at least be curious enough to take a peek without stepping all the way across the threshold of the time/space continuum? Lee’s novel made me want to.

 

There are references to events in “Breach,” but “Ghost Country” can be read as a stand alone using the brief definitions supplied at the book’s beginning. “Deep Sky” is the third in this series and I’m looking forward to reading about what’s next for these engaging characters in the midst of complex circumstances.

 

“The Runner,” the first in a new series, has just been released.

Please visit www.patrickleefiction.com for more information about this talented author and his other books.

 

Full disclosure: Patrick Lee’s thrilling “Ghost Country” came through my techport as a result of an online endorsement by his agent, Janet Reid. I’m a subscriber to Ms. Reid’s marvelously informative and occasionally sharky snarky column.

 

 

 

 

 

“Divergent” by Veronica Roth

 

Book Cover - Divergent

Dystopia: “an imaginary place where people lead dehumanized and often fearful lives” (Merriam-Webster) OR “a community or society that is in some important way undesirable or frightening.” (Wikipedia)

 

It used to be that everywhere I turned in the YA section of the bookstore, vampires were front and center. Now that the Hunger Games Trilogy has proven to be wildly successful, vampires seem to have been edged out – at least in product placement – by books with a Dystopian theme. Veronica Roth’s Divergent series is the latest of the genre to be a hit with teens and have a movie tie-in.

 

Beatrice Prior and her brother are 16 and they will soon take a test to see which faction in their society is a suitable match for their particular strengths. Each of them is in some way unhappy about the idea of staying with the family’s faction, Abnegation (a selfless group) and they seek out other factions (Dauntless=brave, Erudite=intelligent, Candor=honest, Amity=peaceful) after their test results come in.

 

The choice Beatrice makes in Divergent changes her in ways she doesn’t always understand or embrace, and may destroy her as she uncovers the truths behind the exciting hype of the Dauntless. And, when secrets are revealed about her test, she faces danger from the very faction she chose.

 

Beatrice renames herself Tris and is like many real-life teens – she doesn’t appreciate the support system that surrounds her until she needs it, she takes her parents for granted, she’s insecure in her physical appearance, she searches for something beyond the life she has in hand, she feels unworthy when in fact she’s better than her peers – in other words, she’s growing up painfully as most teens do.

 

Roth writes Tris as having a conflicted moral compass, and angst about doing the wrong thing. During training, her hands shake when faced with something new, but when protecting a friend, she performs unflinchingly. She is small for her age, so outdoes her competition by using her brain. She has an excellent trainer, a mysterious ‘Four’ who seems intimidating in his coldness and yet perfect in so many ways. Roth reveals the layers of the young man’s background as the relationship develops.

 

Divergent features an interesting mix of sixteen year olds with varied flaws and positive attributes, and their range of personalities and skills keep the plot moving and the action believable within the Dystopian world. There are loyal friends and nasty instructors, psycho initiates, desperate people who live outside the faction compounds, evil adults who plot and scheme for control, and, of course, a way for the teens to outsmart the evil adults. A few of the action scenes that involve incredibly difficult physical tasks, would lend themselves to great FX in the movie version if there is a big enough budget.

 

Young Adult fiction is a playground for vampires, martial arts experts, archers, unexpected heroes, magicians, and werewolves in the sci-fi/paranormal/fantasy realm. Partly because parents are curious about what their offspring are reading and partly because of all the media hype, full-fledged adults are now big fans of YA as well. I read the Twilight series, the Hunger Games trilogy, and now the Divergent series, and am happy to be numbered among the followers.

 

Please visit www.veronicarothbooks.blogspot.com to find out the latest about Roth and her projects.

 

 

“At Risk” by Stella Rimington

 

Book Cover - At Risk3

Liz Carlyle is the head of the counter terrorism unit for MI5 in “At Risk” and she is having a bad day. It’s possible that an ‘invisible’ is on his way to England by way of Pakistan. An invisible is a terrorist that is an ethnic native of the target country, so is able to move around without suspicious eyes hindering the objective. Add to that, Liz has a boyfriend who wants to leave his wife for her and is pressuring Liz for a commitment. Bad idea, since any court proceedings and resulting publicity would expose Liz’ real identity. Her career would be over. At the very least she’d be viewed at MI5 as a female home wrecker, rather than the highly qualified agent that she is. Pass the aspirin.

 

Carlyle receives intelligence from a questionable source and tries to hand it off to a police unit more suitable for investigating the information, without success. When a fisherman is killed under suspicious circumstances near where the ‘invisible’ may be arriving, and it somehow ties into the dubious intel, Carlyle must look into it herself. She travels to the coast of England to verify the facts and what she uncovers is alarming. The murder may have accidentally exposed both a smuggling ring and Islamic terrorism on the English coast.

 

Written shortly after September 11th, the “At Risk” plot thread involving the terrorists is disturbing, not because it is especially violent, but instead because it is so matter-of-fact. A man calmly announces that he killed someone the night before and the woman who is cutting his hair quietly accepts this. ‘If he had to do it, it must have been necessary,’ she thinks. They could just as easily have been chatting about getting the car repaired. The men and women in “At Risk” who have been thoroughly trained to kill without a second thought are so outwardly normal. They could be the neighbors down the street. Invisible.

 

MI5 recognizes that there must be a threat to national security, but cannot uncover what it is. A race against time, details of tradecraft, close calls, defections, shaky intelligence analyses, bombs, double-crosses, flat-out lying to fellow agencies – all combine to create the perfect mix of deception and patriotism that maintains the suspense from beginning to end.

 

The damp chill of the gray English countryside served as a foreboding backdrop to the various subplots in the book. Carlyle complains about the cold, deals with raw afternoons in unheated, coffee-free spots, waiting for suspects to arrive or interviews to begin. Having been to Great Britain several times in the Fall, I’ve often wondered how the Brits ever warm up and “At Risk” renews that question.

 

This debut novel written by the former head of MI5, is riveting. Rimington was the first female Director General of MI5 and the first person to be announced publicly as its head. Carlyle does a juggling act with her work and personal lives, as Rimington must have done in her real life. She brings that complex background to this authentic depiction of the changing world of espionage in an excellent post 9-11 novel.

 

Please visit www.stellarimington.com to read about Rimington’s fascinating career and the books she has written since her dramatic debut into the world of fiction.