Review: “Dukkha: Unloaded” By Loren W. Christensen


I received a copy of this book from YMAA Publishing Center in exchange for an honest read and review. Although it was provided to me at no cost, I am under no obligation to provide a positive review.

That said, YMAA is essentially just keeping a junkie addicted with what they’re giving me. Here I am, a martial artist, who respects the author for his real-world martial arts training advice, and they are offering me the third book in this series, having already provided me with the first two books? Yeah, please!

As noted in previous reviews of “Dukkha: The Suffering” and “Dukkha: Reverb”, I am a fan of the characters Christensen has created, especially Sam Reeves. Authors are always told “Write what you know.”, and Christensen takes this advice literally. He is a martial arts instructor, Vietnam veteran (Tip of the cap to all vets), and a retired law enforcement officer. Not surprisingly, Reeves takes on all those roles, although his LEO career is still active. This allows Christensen to breathe life and depth into his protagonist in a way that many authors can only dream of.

But it doesn’t stop there. Christensen has also created believable characters in Reeves’s and “sister” Mai as well as their father Samuel. Granted, a lot of what Samuel does can be perceived as superhuman, but hey, we all have to have goals, right?

OK, enough about all that, let’s get to the book.

As if you can’t already tell, I loved this book. It’s great to see the author still has some new ideas and circumstances to throw his protagonists into. He’s certainly not a one trick pony. While Sam was in Vietnam visiting family and making a dent in the human trafficking there, some hate crimes started cropping up around Portland. Just as Sam returns, the victims are Mark, Sam’s boss who also happens to be gay, and Mark’s partner. While Sam certainly would have wanted to stop the crimes, it suddenly became very personal.

Things are complicated enough for Sam without one minor detail: while in Vietnam he realized he never wanted to carry or fire a gun again. So now he has to track down the people responsible for these violent hate crimes, and he only has his bare hands, and whatever improvised weapon he can find, to assist him.

Of course, every well-rounded novel needs a little romance, and Christensen doesn’t disappoint. Naturally the biggest emotional tension is between Sam and Mai, the latter beginning the novel still in Vietnam. Will they continue to grow together, or will the distance make them drift?

So yeah, I really enjoyed this novel. Hearing even more books are in the works makes me nearly, yeah, I’ll admit it, giddy. It’s so refreshing to read a novel with genuine action scenes that I can picture while still maintaining the realism only a season veteran of violence can bring to the page.

If you haven’t read the first two books in the series, stop now, go get them, and read them. Then read this one. You won’t regret it.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

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Review: “Noah’s Rainy Day” By Sandra Brannan


I received a copy of this galley via NetGalley from Greenleaf Book Group. While it was provided to me at no cost, I am under no obligation to give a positive review.

When I agreed to read this, I didn’t know it was the fourth book in the series. But sometimes, it can be good to pick up a book several books into a series so you can see how polished the book is. If it’s sloppy and ugly by the fourth book, chances are you don’t want to pick up the first three.

Alright, on to the review. The main character of this series is Liv Bergen who, as of this book, is fresh out of Quantico and ready for her first assignment with faithful bloodhound Beulah by her side. And boy, does it come with a vengeance.

Little Max is flying from New York to California to spend Christmas with his mother, who is estranged from his father and certainly not on good terms with him. Max is accompanied solely by an employee of the airlines and, once the employee is distracted by an argument with his girlfriend at Denver Airport, Little Max disappears. His parents are quite the celebrities, which brings a lot of local and national media attention to the case, only adding to the pressure on the investigative team.

Agent Bergen must work along with agents Streeter Pierce and Jack Linwood, the latter her current beau. Naturally, there’s a little bit of triangle chemistry going on to provide an additional subplot.

In the midst of this storyline is my favorite character, Noah Hogarty, a twelve year-old who would love to be a spy one day. He has a terrific mind for analysis and details, enjoying when his Aunt Liv comes by to discuss cases with him. They even work small cases on their own when mysteries appear.

Noah knows what happened to Little Max and is more than willing to share that information, but he has one sizable roadblock: Noah has severe cerebral palsy. This means he is unable to communicate in an easy manner, relying on cues such as smiling for a yes answer or using the five-finger method of working through the alphabet with his sister. Consequently, Noah can only answer questions if he’s asked. But if they don’t know to ask him……..

As the story develops, the story gets too close to home for Liv, and Noah gets taken by Max’s kidnapper, placing both boys in mortal danger. Will Agent Bergen figure out the clues? Will Noah’s family pick up on the cues he’s trying to give them? Can both boys be returned safely to their respective families?

Overall, I really enjoyed the storyline, especially because of Noah, as I previously noted. As the parent of an adult with special needs, I see a lot of Noah in my older son, even though he doesn’t have CP like Noah does. Following an email exchange with the author, I now know some of the backstory which allowed her to give such detailed depth to Noah’s character, and it’s no surprise he is such a strong character.

My only beef about the book is the location of the kidnapper is just a little too convenient. Sure, it needed to be that way to move the storyline along in the direction the author wanted, but it felt a little forced. It also allowed me to figure out much of where the book was going at only 21% into the book (I read a digital edition, so I didn’t really pay attention to pages). However, none of that works as a spoiler for the story; it just weakens it somewhat.

That said, I would definitely recommend this book to others, and I have already acquired the first three books from Amazon so I can catch up on Agent Bergen’s past stories.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review: “The Purity Of Vengeance” By Jussi Adler-Olsen


I received an eGalley of this book through Penguin Books’ First To Read program. Although it was provided to me at no cost, I am under no obligation to give it a positive review.

When I first agreed to read this novel, I didn’t realize it was the fourth book in The Department Q series. So it took me a bit to catch up with the characters and what the author presumes the reader already knows from the previous three books.

Nete Hermansen has an axe to grind. As a youth in the 1950s, she was forcefully sterilized by physician Curt Wad. In the eighties she sets plans in motion to bring about revenge on Wad and others involved in her abuse.

In present day, Detective Carl Mørck gets handed a case he really didn’t want any part of because of the emotional baggage associated with it. The case involves two of his former partners, and the case is also responsible for getting Mørck involved in Department Q. As the detective digs into the disappearance of a lady named Rita, who owned a brothel at the time she vanished, he and his assistants learned that many other people disappeared at the same time.

As the story moves along, you learn more about Wad and his political ambitions, not to mention the evidence he gathers as a means of cataloging blackmail against political adversaries. Eventually the lives of Wad, Hermansen, Mørck and the missing persons, all come together into a nice bit of crime solving for Department Q.

As I noted earlier, I’ve not read anything by Adler-Olsen before, so I didn’t really know what to expect. I’ve also, as far as I know, never read any fiction that takes place in modern day Denmark.

About halfway through the book I learned through some online reading that Adler-Olsen’s books are originally written in Danish and then translated to English. That certainly helped explain some issues I had with the book, as it didn’t seem to flow as naturally as I would like following the translation. I particularly was thinking of “The Girl Who…” series by Stiegg Larsson. The translations on those didn’t feel quite so cumbersome.

That said, I liked the way Adler-Olsen built the story. It does flip back and forth between timelines a bit, but considering the way they are tied together, it’s a necessity. Either way, I will likely go back and pick up the first three books in the series to check them out too.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Review: “River Road” By Jayne Ann Krentz


I received a copy of this book via Penguin’s First To Read program, so many thanks to them for making it available. While it was provided to me at not cost to myself, I am not obligated to give a positive review.

Somehow, I have managed to not read anything by Krentz before, whether it be as Krentz or under a nom de plume such as Amanda Quick or Jayne Castle. I know she’s perceived as writing romantic suspense, but that’s not why I haven’t read anything by her before. Simply put, I just haven’t.

That said, I didn’t really know what to expect with this offering. But I always give things a fair read, otherwise, how would you discover new authors?

This story opens with our protagonist, Lucy Sheridan, being saved from a potentially bad situation at a party by Mason Fletcher, a young man who’s a few years older and who always seems to be the one to stand up for others and rescuing them. Lucy is, like many teens, not so understanding or grateful to her rescuer. Mason, after returning Lucy home, confronts Tristan, the spoiled rich brat who had hoped to take advantage of Lucy, instructing him to leave Lucy alone. Shortly after, Tristan mysteriously disappears, and his body is never found.

Fast forward to thirteen years later, when Lucy’s aunt has passed away, leaving Lucy with the inheritance. Lucy returns to Summer River to find that much has changed. What used to be a sleepy little town has now been swallowed up by the wine industry. Vineyards surround the town, and the people too have changed. And not all of them are happy to see Lucy again.

Naturally, when Lucy returns to Summer River, she reconnects with Mason again. He’s pretty much the same, wanting to do things for her, and not surprisingly, Lucy’s the same way, not wanting to be helped. Some things never change. At least at first. As the story develops, so does their romance. But of course, we pretty well knew that from the opening scene. It just seemed natural they’d find their way back around to each other, right? 🙂

As Lucy begins preparing her aunt’s house for sale, the renovations uncover something interesting that pulls folks related to her aunt and Tristan into their lives. And as I noted earlier, they aren’t too happy to see she and Mason poking around.

So the story develops and moves along, Lucy getting into hot water, Mason having to save her, or Lucy saving herself. Reluctantly, she begins to see his worth, and hey, his good looks don’t hurt his cause any.

So what really happened to Tristan? Was the car accident that killed Lucy’s aunt and friend really an accident? Who’s got the secrets to hide and why?

I really liked the way that Krentz developed this story. I’m not opposed to a little romance in my suspense, although perhaps a bit less in this case. But it’s not overbearing at all. It’s not like it’s a romance novel with suspense as a subplot. Certainly, Krentz has published enough books, and successfully so I might add, in different genres that she knows how to craft a good story.

As noted earlier, I haven’t read any of Krentz’s other novels to know if they are formulaic, but I will certainly let this story stand on its own for the time being. It was, at its core, a well-crafted romantic suspense novel with enough twists and turns to keep the reader wanting to turn the page. What more could you ask for in a book?

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Review: “Rasputin’s Shadow” By Raymond Khoury


I was provided a copy of this eGalley by Penguin Books as part of their First To Read program. Although it was provided to me at no cost, I am under no obligation to give a positive review.

First, let me say that since I have not read Khoury’s Templar series, I didn’t know the main character in this book, FBI agent Sean Reilly, was also featured in those books. So it would have helped to have read them first. Plus, I know things now that will be spoilers for the Templar series, but that’s fine. I’ll read them anyway.

This book is a thriller, flipping back and forth from present day New York City to early twentieth century Russia. In the present FBI agent Sean Reilly begins by tracking down the story behind a Russian diplomat who decides to go swan diving from an apartment window, ending up a crumpled mess on the sidewalk below. As Reilly and his partner work on locating Leo Sokolov and his wife Daphne, from whose window the diplomat went flying, the storyline gets more and more complex and more and more bodies begin piling up. The CIA and FBI want to track him down. As Sokolov is a defected Russian scientist, his motherland wants to locate him too. Add in a freelancing Russian assassin who has his own agenda, and things get complicated quickly.

In the past, the story is told of the infamous Grigory Rasputin and his rise to power under the tsar and tsarina. Helped along the way is Sokolov’s grandfather, Misha, who has devised a device which can affect people in different ways, depending on the purpose, aiding Rasputin in his cause. The story follows Rasputin’s rise and fall from favor and Misha’s trip with him along the way.

As the book progresses the stories intertwine. There is also a subplot that is apparently a continuation of happenings in the Templar series, whereby Reilly is on a personal quest that will definitely break some rules.

Add in some Korean mafia members, a possible double-agent, a threat on the life of the President of the United States, overworked coroners, more black SUVs than you can shake a stick at, and this book has more twists and turns than a Slinky.

As noted at the outset of this review, I’ve not read anything by Khoury before. Not for any reason in particular, I just haven’t. But I definitely became a fan of him with this book. I like his writing style, which is well-paced and supported by solid dialogue. There were some things that were predictable, but overall it wasn’t a complete tell of the ending, not by any means.

I will definitely be hunting down Khoury’s other books to give them a read.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Review: “Dukkha: Reverb” By Loren W. Christensen


Through NetGalley, YMAA Publishing Center was nice enough to provide me with a copy of this eGalley for the purposes of reading and reviewing it. Although it was provided to me at no cost, I am under no obligation to give a positive review.

If you are unfamiliar with the Sam Reeves series, as this is the second book, please check out my review of “Dukkha: The Suffering” here.

Sam Reeves is a police officer who also happens to be a martial arts instructor. In the first book, he found his long lost father Samuel, who he thought had died during the Vietnam War. He also was introduced to Mai, who he was strongly attracted to, eventually and thankfully finding out she is indeed not his sister. Both are well-versed in martial arts like Sam, which comes in handy throughout the book.

Much mayhem and violence ensues, much of it instigated by Lai Van Tan, a Vietnamese crime lord who heavy-hands all those around him, including Samuel’s jewelry shops in Saigon. Lai Van Tan’s son dies during a conflict with Samuel, and this sets the obviously unstable criminal off even more. The book ends following some horrific events at Portland State University, with Samuel and Mai returning to Vietnam.

This book takes off with Sam heading to Vietnam to meet his family several months after the events of the first book. On the flight he encounters Bobby, a sixteen year-old Vietnamese-American travelling alone, presumably under the auspices of meeting his family in Vietnam. Bobby happens to be a black belt in taekwon-do and looks up to Sam for his martial arts experience, once he realizes who Sam is.

Once in Vietnam, things really pick up for Sam. He meets Mai’s mother Kim, who is ill with tuberculosis, Mai’s sisters, and a whole bevy of Vietnam vets who fought for either North or South Vietnam. Samuel has taken them under his wing and even provided a home for them, for reasons that are revealed throughout the book.

The most engaging and comical vet is Tex Nyugen, a legless student of Samuel’s, as well as part of his security staff. Tex is a fan of American western movies, thus his nickname. He also provides much of the comic relief, often in a deadpan manner. Once while talking to Bobby, he comments that he saw Bobby practicing his kicks, and he was much better at it than Tex. 🙂

We are also introduced to Samuel’s sifu, an elderly man with almost mystical abilities, including the ability to feel disruptions in someone’s chi and tweak it to help them rest or feel better. Of course, his speed is incredible, as you would expect, putting even Samuel and Sam to shame.

Our heroes eventually learn Lai Van Tan is involved in a sex-trafficking business with young girls, and our heroes set out to put an end to it. Along the way, they are hampered by Vietnamese police and politics as well as Lai Van Tan’s power and influence among those in power. It’s also revealed that Bobby is in fact a runaway from his parents in California, contrary to what he told Sam on the airplane.

Will Sam, Samuel, Mai and friends be able to stop or even slow down Lai Van Tan? Can they help out some of the girls being held in preparation for their introduction into the sex trade? Will Bobby sort out the conflicts with his parents? Will Sam and Mai ever get a chance to further their budding romance?

Much like the first book in the series, this one keeps up a pace that makes the Energizer Bunny want to take a siesta. There’s always something going on, and it keeps the book moving along, making it a fast read for the size of the book.

Christensen kept true to his characters in the book, showing Sam continuing to fight his demons while also growing as a character. It’s also nice to see Samuel and Mai as fallible characters, even with all their upsides.

My favorite part of the book had to be the fight in a collapsing tunnel near the climax of the book. Christensen noted on his Facebook page that he had to keep stepping outside for fresh air while writing it, and I can see why. I could feel my heart rate quickening while reading it, and I was just the reader. It was very well done by the author, bringing forth the tension of the moment and the emotions of the characters outstandingly.

I am hoping Christensen continues with this series for some time. I can see lots of potential with it, as much of it so far has been about the past, and there are lots of possibilities in the future, with Samuel and his relationship with Sam, Sam’s relationship with Mai, and even possibly Bobby as a future student of Sam’s.

This book is perfect for anyone who loves fact-paced action thrillers, even moreso if you have an interest in LEOs, veterans or martial arts. The author is all of the above, which leads to a level of depth and authenticity that can’t be brought by someone just doing research.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

Review: “Dukkha: The Suffering” By Loren W. Christensen


YMAA Publication Center was kind enough to provide me with a copy of this book for the purposes of reading and reviewing it. Although it was provided to me at no cost, I am under no obligation to give a positive review.

It’s always interesting when you take an author who is well-known in his specific industry for his non-fiction output, as well as his knowledge of his particular bailiwick, and have him put out a novel. Just because the author knows his business, so to speak, doesn’t mean he can write fiction.

That said, I really enjoyed this book by Loren Christensen. He has created a character, Sam Reeves, that you care about, you sympathize with, want to do well, all the levels you want. Reeves is strong and yet not superhuman. He’s very human and fallible, and yet manages to somehow do what needs to be done. Of course, as you would expect from someone with Christensen’s real-world credentials, the police and martial arts details are spot-on and very believable, with just a hint of mysticism to keep it interesting.

I also like Samuel and Mai, and can’t wait to see where Christensen takes them all in future novels. At least I hope there will be future novels, as I will certainly be reading them.

My only quibble, even though the title itself should reflect the bad week that Reeves was having, is that it almost seemed like there was too much going on at times. It also reflects the downside of the first person narrative, as some loose ends get tied up without the protagonist’s first-hand knowledge, so those have to be explained by other characters.

That said, this is highly recommended for fans of martial arts, law enforcement or thrillers in general. You won’t be disappointed.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)