Thursday, April 18, 2013

Assured Destruction - Or Has It?

It's time to trip back to high school with today's review.  This YA novel has twists, turns, and plenty of intrigue to garner your average teenager's attention.  So buckle up, grab your key, and let's go for a ride with Michael Stewart's novel Assured Destruction.  Oh, and don't forget to sign up for an Amazon gift card at the end!

Book Summary:
Sixteen-year-old Jan Rose knows that nothing is ever truly deleted. At least, not from the hard drives she scours to create the online identities she calls the Shadownet.

Hobby? Art form? Sad, pathetic plea to garner friendship, even virtually? Sure, Jan is guilty on all counts. Maybe she’s even addicted to it. It’s an exploration. Everyone has something to hide. The Shadownet’s hard drives are Jan’s secrets. They're stolen from her family’s computer recycling business Assured Destruction. If the police found out, Jan’s family would lose their livelihood.

When the real people behind Shadownet’s hard drives endure vicious cyber attacks, Jan realizes she is responsible. She doesn’t know who is targeting these people or why but as her life collapses Jan must use all her tech savvy to bring the perpetrators to justice before she becomes the next victim.

My Review:
I found this novel to be a delightful read once I got into the storyline.  Being very techno-challenged, I was quite lost within the scope of the earlier chapters, but soon found myself engrossed in the story and wanting to know for sure how Jan was going to get herself out of the predicament she waltzed right into.

Jan has no personal life.  After her dad left a few years before when her mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Jan has to rush home from school every day to help keep the family business afloat.  Being tied to her family means she doesn't have time when a cute guy asks her on a date.  Her only company consists of her "friends", hard drives she's stolen from the computers that should have been destroyed.  These she sets up around her command center console with personalities she creates.  They become her surrogate family.

Plus she's too smart for her own good.  She runs rings around her computer science instructor, who regularly flunks her assignments because she just can't bring herself to keep it simple.  Bogged down with too much responsibility (and that her free time is regularly spent around her console), she's pretty much struggling in all of her classes - and with that come threats from her ill mother to take away the only thing that keeps her sane.

One day the cyber world Jan has created comes crashing down.  All of the people related to the stolen hard drives begin having terrible things happen to them, from child pornography charges of a classmate to home robbery.  The cops soon come knocking on Jan's door.

If the police find out about what Jan's been up to with the hard drives, her mother's struggling business could be lost.  Then to Jan's dismay, her mom decides to begin a crash course in online dating.  Couple that with Jan becoming the target of one mean and nasty smear campaign - and it might include smearing out her life.  Complications ramp up as two completely different guys begin vying for her attentions.

But are all of these new people in Jan's life who they seem to be or are one of them the culprit setting her up for a dive?

There are plenty of red herrings in the story, but it was fun to see which one ultimately ends up being the bad guy.  Pretty much from the beginning, I was pretty sure I knew, but it was still intriguing how she was going to clear the air with everything going wrong.

Formatting and grammar was fairly clear - and the cover was really cool.  Overall a good read that should keep the YA audience guessing. 

Michael F. Stewart's Bio:

After crewing ships in the Antarctic and the Baltic Sea and some fun in venture capital, Michael anchored himself (happily) to a marriage and a boatload of kids. Now he injects his adventurous spirit into his writing with brief respites for research into the jungles of Sumatra and Guatemala, the ruins of Egypt and Tik’al, paddling the Zambezi and diving whatever cave or ocean reef will have him. He is a member of the International Thriller Writers and SF Canada, and the author of the Assured Destruction series, 24 Bones, The Sand Dragon, Hurakan, Ruination and several award winning graphic novels for young adults.  Visit his website at

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Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Measure of Grace from "The Grace Painter"

Today I have the pleasure of introducing you to author Mark Romang's novel, The Grace Painter.  It is a beautiful story of tragedy followed with that silver lining called grace.  I think I'll let the story speak for itself.  Onto the summary.

The Grace Painter Book Summary:
Sometimes the hardest person to forgive is the one reflecting back at you from inside a mirror. Matthew London can attest to this difficult truth. Ever since the former NYPD hostage negotiator changed his identity and fled New York City for the backwaters of Louisiana, regret has ruled his life.

For eight years London has lived like a hermit in a declining plantation house. Only his talent for painting Renaissance-style murals and paintings keeps the inner-demons from totally destroying him. Each day the disgraced hostage negotiator longs for a chance at redemption, never expecting it to actually happen. But then a down-on-her-luck FBI agent shows up on his doorstep one evening. It turns out Jean-Paul and Sebastian Boudreaux, two local brothers famous for lawlessness have inadvertently kidnapped a little girl.

London is quickly thrust into the starring role of a daring rescue attempt. But before he can rescue the child from the dangerous Boudreaux brothers, he first must find a way to forgive himself for a past misstep, a blunder that forever altered his once promising life. But in the Atchafalaya Basin swampland, nothing is promised. Grace cannot be purchased or earned. It can only be given.

My Review:
After witnessing the gruesome murder/suicide of his former partner and family, New York police negotiator, Matthew London, has nothing left.  Taking on the name of Jon Rafter, London escapes New York and lives off the grid as a Louisiana crawfisherman in a dilapidated southern plantation house.  All hours of the day and night he paints murals on the walls and ceilings by candlelight like a modern day Michelangelo in his own Sistine Chapel.  His world may be full of darkness, but his painting reflects the growing light of his tortured soul.

Annie Crawford is one tough, kick-butt FBI agent - but she also has a past that is rapidly catching up to her.  A little girl has been kidnapped by the notorious Boudreaux brothers, and everyone in the Atchafalaya Basin knows the Boudreaux clan is one dastardly family with whom they don't want to cross paths.  Annie's worst nightmares are rekindled as she sets off to rescue the girl from a fate she barely survived herself. 

And all as Hurricane Vera sets its eye upon the Louisiana coast.

When Annie's badly beaten body is left practically on Jon's doorstep, their paths are set together to do what they can to infiltrate the Basin and find the cabin where the Boudreaux's have taken their hostage.  That is IF they survive the triple-digit windforce, storm surge, and spawned tornadoes from Hurricane Vera.

The opening scene of this novel was heartbreaking to read.  You could immediately appreciate why Matthew/Jon goes underground to escape his pain.  As we jump ahead eight years to Louisiana, we see how people each have a right and wrong choice to make and how those with whom they surround themselves can easily lead them toward and over the cliff.  The action ratchets up and doesn't stop, with layer after layer of problems and bad choices presenting themselves in the midst of dangerous circumstances.

I'm really trying not to tell you too much!

The story moves very quickly all through the approaching hurricane and leading into its impact.  The hurricane's presence really upp'ed the tension and the stakes for all of the players in the game.

Speaking of players, the main complaint I had with The Grace Painter was the presence of too many cast members.  At times it got rather jumbled with so many varying characters who didn't seem to have a whole lot to do with the main storyline.  And this leads me to my only other complaint.

After the hurricane and aftermath of tying up all of the circumstances, it really got bogged down in the minutia.  The main character of Matthew/Jon was absent for about the last third of the book until the very end.  What happened to him was really pretty unbelievable, but miracles do happen.  Then it all felt at times very dragged out and then too rushed, like important scenes were merely skipped over then referenced later on in the push to just finish the book.  It made what had been a very enjoyable read up to that point a little disappointing.

That said, I would still recommend The Grace Painter.  It read pretty quickly and kept my pulse going through the majority of it.  As far as I remember too, it didn't contain offensive language, which is sometimes hard to come by in a good thriller/suspense.  I feel comfortable recommending for teens and adults.

Mark Romang's Bio:
I was born in 1967. Avid reader, suspense novelist, faithful husband, baffled father, factory worker, reformed head-banger, failed musician, contact sports lover, MMA enthusiast, distressed KC sports fan, Lord of the Rings geek, workout fiend, dog owner, nature lover, proud American, disgruntled voter, pistachio addict, caffeine-riddled, screw-up saved by grace, sojourner. This is me in a nutshell.

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Price/Format: $0.99 ebook
Pages: 303
Publisher: self-published
Release: November 26, 2012

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