Sunday, July 6, 2014

Summer Reading Stampede: In Full Swing

Brutal Youth – Anthony Breznican – (Thomas Dunne Books)

There is something inherently not right about high school; it’s as if a group of masochists gathered to come up with a new and interesting way to torture children. Think about it; right around the time Mother Nature starts to bombard you with an abundance of hormones and urges, someone thought it was a good time to plunk you firmly down on the educational path towards your future. Good times.

With his debut novel, Brutal Youth, Anthony Breznican drops you squarely into the heart of evil; freshman year at St. Michael the Archangel High School, on the fringe of Pittsburgh, in Western Pennsylvania. To say St. Michael’s has issues is an understatement; which makes the oddball collected in the incoming freshman class a perfect fit, as the band together in survival mode.

Breznican will have you nodding your head, remembering the less than good old days as he dashes off so many familiar characters and relatable scenarios that we all endured. He brings together a colorful mix of The Outsiders and the band of brothers from Stand By Me, in this aptly titled debut.

Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Ascendancy – Eric Van Lustbader (Grand Central Publishing)

Eric Van Lustbader’s latest installment in the Jason Bourne series that he helms on behalf of the estate of Robert Ludlum, The Bourne Ascendancy is a new twist on the classic rock and a hard place scenario. Bourne, always on the outside with those most responsible for his creation at the CIA is scrabbling along as a freelance “blacksmith” impersonating high level business and government leaders in less than stellar situations, where their life could be on the line.

It is while in one of those “acting” jobs that Bourne comes up against an infamous terror mastermind El Ghadan and Bourne is given the ultimatum; kill the President of the United States or risk losing Soraya Moore, his close friend and her two year old daughter, that the terrorist holds captive.

Naturally the U. S. law enforcement types already mistrustful of Bourne get wind that something is afoot and that ratchets up the pressure and heightens the thrills. That makes The Bourne Ascendancy one of those great suspend reality and enjoy, summer reads.

Cold Shot – Mark Henshaw (Touchstone Books)

Thriller readers are a different breed; they crave not only the excitement that these books can create, but also they bring a focused attention to detail. They know when they are being sold a load of B.S. That is what truly separates the great thriller writers; the likes of Brad Thor, and sadly the late Vince Flynn and Tom Clancy from the rest of the pack. Either from real life experience or carefully cultivated contacts they bring a ripped from the real world authenticity to their books that put them a cut above.

Mark Henshaw is part of a new group of thriller writers who draw on real world experience to salt their stories with a gritty realism. Henshaw, a decorated CIA analyst and former member of the Red Cell think tank that was charged with getting into the minds of terrorists and developing potential scenarios and targets in an effort to beat terrorists to the punch; brings a rarely seen level of authenticity to his second novel Cold Shot.

Henshaw’s lead character, Jonathan Burke, a CIA analyst has that unlikely hero quality the Tom Clancy made famous in the form of Jack Ryan. Henshaw can certainly stake a claim to the Clancy territory, as he weaves mountains of facts into frighteningly realistic tale of the pursuit of the ultimate nuclear Cold Shot.

Sniper’s Honor – A Bob Lee Swagger Novel – Stephen Hunter (Simon & Schuster)

Bob Lee Swagger. The mere mention of his name can set the hearts of thriller fans aflutter. Point of Impact, the book that brought good ole Bob Lee to the big screen in the movie Shooter, is easily one of my all time favorite reads. Author Stephen Hunter has served up a steady diet of Swagger over the years and fortunately or unfortunately, depending upon your perspective, Point of Impact will be the yardstick fans use to measure the success of the latest installment in the Bob Lee saga.

Sniper’s Honor, Hunter’s latest helping of Swagger, offers up a familiar take for long time fans, as the author takes us back in time; he’s gone down this road before as Bob Lee revisited his own past and that of his father, but this time out it’s the tale torn from the sniper brotherhood or in this case sisterhood.

Swagger gets drawn into the search for “the White Witch” a World War II, Eastern Front, grim reaper, who rained death on her enemies. Hunter weaves history, current events and the sniper’s bond throughout the story. The ping pong approach can at times be disconcerting and it’s as if Hunter is trying mightily to meld the two distinct plot lines together to create one coherent story.

While it may not meet the measure of Point of Impact, and to be honest very little does, Hunter’s master grasp of guns and history still make this a tale worth reading.

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