#ThrowbackThursday ~ BLACK To Reality by Russell Blake #Hardboiled #Noir Fiction

BLACK To Reality was published in 2014. I loved listening to the series on audio and have the final one to look forward to in hardcopy as it wasn’t released as an audiobook.

Renee at It’s Book Talk began this meme as a way to share old favourites, as well as books that have been waiting on the ‘to be read’ pile for however long, and are finally getting an airing.

My Thoughts

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#ThrowbackThursday ~ Black (Black #1) by Russell Blake ~ A Hardboiled-Noir #Detective Mystery #AudiobookReview

Renee at It’s Book Talk began this meme as a way to share old favourites, as well as books that were published over a year ago. Not to mention those that are languishing on the to be read pile for whatever reason.

Russell Blake has created a unique and interesting detective that I found very refreshing. Black is the first of a series, published in 2014. 

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Friday Five Challenge ~ Buy or Pass ~ Emerald Buddha by Russell Blake

Rosie Amber’s Friday Five Challenge, involves taking only five minutes to choose a book cover which appeals instantly. So take a few minutes, grab yourself a coffee…..and have a browse.

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In today’s online shopping age, readers often base their buying decisions from small postage stamp size book covers (Thumb-nails), a quick glance at the book description and the review. How much time do they really spend making that buying decision?

AUTHORS – You often only have seconds to get a reader to buy your book, is your book cover and book bio up to it?

My Friday Five Challenge is this….. IN ONLY FIVE MINUTES….

1) Go to any online book supplier,

2) Randomly choose a category,

3) Speed through the book covers, choose one which has instantly appealed to your eye,

4) Read the book Bio/ Description for this book, and any other details.

5) If there are reviews, check out a couple,

6) Make an instant decision, would you BUY or PASS?

Feeling a little lazy this week, I looked at Amazon’s recommendations and this cover stood out for me… Continue reading

2014 ~ Top Books

There have been so many great books this year, it was a very hard choice but, in no particular order, here are my top 12 reads/listens.

  1. Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah. Alternating between the past and present and telling the story of a family drama. After the death of their father, sisters Meredith and Nina struggle to really get to know their seemingly reserved and cold Russian born mother. As the sisters finally begin to discover their mother’s tragic story the three women can reach out to each other and find the bond that ties them together. My review.
  2. The Martian by Andy Weir. Mark Watney is part of a team of astronauts sent to Mars and because of a terrible misunderstanding he is left behind. Completely alone and facing certain death, Mark struggles to survive in a totally alien environment. When the people back at NASA discover Mark is still alive the race is on to rescue him before his supplies run out. My review.
  3. Once Dead by Richard Phillips. The first of three prequels that set up the Rho Agenda trilogy. Jack Gregory is the CIA’s top assassin but when an encounter with a notorious criminal goes wrong Jack is left for dead. On his death-bed Jack is revived by a dark entity and has the choice of being a host to the demon or death. A sci-fi thriller with a supernatural twist. My review.
  4. Swan Loch by Randy Mixter. A really lovely, romantic and touching story that traverses time. Swan Loch is a peaceful New England town until a killer strikes. Police Chief Chris Hayward and FBI agent Jake Stanton try to solve a seemingly impossible case and for Chris it becomes very personal. Just when all hope is lost Chris finds the most precious thing in his life. A touch of the paranormal in this mystery thriller. My review.
  5. The Black Hours by Alison Williams. A chilling tale of life during the time of the self-styled Witchfinder General Matthew Hopkins, as he travels the country seeking out those he believes are in league with Satan. Seventeen year old Alice Pendle finds herself under suspicion in a tale of persecution and superstition. A suspenseful and gripping drama which mixes fact with fiction. My review
  6. Beyond Midnight ~ Asunder by Sarah M Cradit. Part of the paranormal Southern drama series, The House of Crimson and Clover, Asunder finds the Deschanel family reeling with the backlash of shock and horror brought on by the results of a two hundred year old curse. Hope brings them together to face whatever the future may hold. My review.
  7. Kings and Queens by Terry Tyler. A uniquely different concept and delivery with characters that parallel the life and times of Henry VIII and his wives in a modern day setting. Harry Lanchester’s dream of becoming a rock star is shattered with the death of his older brother and as Harry steps up to take the reins of the family business his life takes on an uncanny resemblance to the famous erstwhile King of England. My review.
  8. The Test by John Lansing. Although I’m loving the Jack Bertolino series, this short story is so touching and evocative, with incredibly vivid imagery and beautiful writing that it had to make this list. From the present day Jack Morgan looks back on his teenage years, being a fourteen year old growing up in the Long Island of the 1960s amid the racial tensions of the time and how it affects the rest of his life. My review.
  9. Losing It All by Marsha Cornelius. Frank Barnes, a homeless veteran, is content living on the streets and making the most of the little he has. Chloe Barnes is evicted and left destitute with two small children and finds life in shelters harsh and unforgiving. The two lives are interlinked and brought together in a compelling storyline. My review
  10. Don’t Touch (Null City #2) by Barb Taub. Lette Simoneau inherits a drastic form of the family ‘gift’ or curse as Lette thinks of it. Everything she touches each day turns into something different. Lette’s search for a cure leads her to the conclusion that boundaries are self-imposed  and as such are surmountable. An imaginative and fun story with a likeable protagonist. My review.
  11. Disappearing In Plain Sight by Francis Guenette. A very well crafted novel centred on the very tight knit community of Crater Lake on the shores of Vancouver Island. The characters are all genuine and the way they deal with their feelings and situations is very believable and show the complex layers which make up human nature. My review.
  12. Passing Through Perfect by Bette Lee Crosby. Book three of the Wyattsville series is set at the end of the Second World War as Benjamin Church returns to Alabama. A powerful and moving tale of the prejudices and intolerance of the time, showing the good and bad sides of human nature regardless of skin colour. My review.

And my top 5 series.

  1. Sandman Slim series by Richard Kadrey. This is a supernatural urban fantasy series which really caught my imagination with a very unlikely hero – or anti-hero would probably best describe James Stark, half angel, half human. Stark’s return from 11 years in hell, bent on revenge is a sharp, hilarious and sardonic tale. MacLeod Andrews portrays Stark and a multitude of diverse characters perfectly. Audiobooks 1-3.5.  Audiobooks 4-6
  2. The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin Hearne. An Urban Fantasy series featuring Atticus O’Sullivan, the last of the Druids, who lives in Arizona and runs an occult bookstore. Atticus draws his power from the earth through the Druidic tattoos on his arms. He is able to shape shift and enjoys hunting with his Irish Wolfhound, Oberon. A fun series full of myths, legends, gods, goddess, witches and demons. Superb performance by Luke Daniels, with distinct voices for each character. My reviews 1-3, 4-6, 7
  3. The Project Eden Series by Brett Battles. This is a really compelling storyline. As Daniel Ash’s world crashes down around him he’s catapulted into a nightmare scenario. He can’t comprehend the fact that what happened is no accident. And there is worse, much worse to come as a deadly organisation plots the end of humanity as we know it. MacLeod Andrews delivers a flawless narration. My reviews.
  4. The Georgie Connolly Series by E.L. Lindley. Georgie Connolly is a transplanted English woman living and working in Los Angeles. Feisty and very often landing herself in hot water, Georgie acts on the spur of the moment, without thinking things through.  A change from the norm, Georgie is not connected to law enforcement but makes documentaries, no matter how serious the subject. A fun and easy series but with dangerous undertones. My reviews #1 #2
  5. The Black Series by Russell Blake. Artemus Black is a Hollywood P.I. Down on his luck, with money problems, anger issues and an assistant who ridicules him endlessly and a fat cat that hates him. Life couldn’t get much worse. A great characterisation of an easy to like protagonist with a cast of memorable, humorous characters and excellent and witty story lines. My reviews #1, #2, #3, #4

 

BLACK to Reality (Black #4)

AudiobookReview

  • Author: Russell Blake
  • Performed by RC Bray
  • Published: Janda Management, released by Audible September 2014
  • Category: Hardboiled, Noir Fiction
  • five-stars

BlacktoRealityBLACK To Reality is the fourth in the acclaimed BLACK series of noir detective fiction featuring Artemus Black, the world’s losingest Hollywood Private Investigator. In this installment he is saved from financial calamity when he takes a case that requires him to work undercover on a reality television show, posing as an over-the-hill rocker trying for one last shot at success.

Black is back, broke and down on his luck. The rent’s overdue on his apartment, Roxie’s had no wages and there are no clients beating down his door. Add to that the move to a swanky new office, which unnecessary luxury, according to Black, is taking what little money he has left. Roxie is forced to look for another job until things improve. Then Black gets a call about a new client.

Reality shows are in the firing line in this story as Black is assigned to investigate possible shady dealings in a reality TV competition, Rock of Ages. He gets a chance to relive his long-lost fame by joining, as lead guitarist, one the groups who were knocked out last year. Brushing up on his guitar skills and getting a rock star make over, Black is again in the thick of the action. Could he actually have another shot at a career in the music business again? 

I just love Black’s character, his decency, generosity and sense of humour, not to mention his relationships with Stan, Roxie and Mugsy, who takes centre stage in this episode and eventually provides something of a life line for Black. Black is an authentic individual with normal, everyday issues in his personal as well as professional life, which most people can relate in one way or another.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about it.”

“Oh, well, then sure. I’ll drop the triple homicide ticket I picked up this morning and get right on the dope fiend. What’s his name?”

“Rick Pearson. Lived in Hollywood.”

Stan paused. “Wait a minute. You’re not saying a guitar player in Hollywood was taking drugs! No wonder you’re suspicious…”

“Ha ha. Just consider it a favour to me.”

“Like you aren’t running a bigger deficit than the government.”

“I can pay it off in beer.”

“You make a compelling case…”

Underneath all the humour there’s some serious subject matter, including Black realising he’s reached the age of 43 with not a lot to show for it except ‘an eccentric wardrobe and an old Cadillac’, complex emotional issues and dealing with abandoned and ignored dreams. His character development has advanced and he’s less angry and bitter about the way his life has turned out.

Again, a realistic plot line with any number of suspects and an appreciable amount of Russell Blake’s entertaining and witty dialogue. I really enjoy listening to this series, it’s one of my favourites and RC Bray delivers a first-rate performance, balancing the humorous and the serious and handling the characters in an easygoing and distinct way.
I hope we see a lot more of Black in the future.

Black is the New Black (Black #3)

AudiobookReview

  • BlackistheNewBlackAuthor: Russell Blake
  • Performed by RC Bray
  • Published: Janda Management, released on Audible July 2014
  • Category: Hardboiled, Noir Fiction
  • five-stars

When Artemus Black is hired to investigate a series of suspicious accidents at LA’s most prestigious modeling agency, he quickly discovers that brooding pouts and mascara can be as dangerous as guns or bombs. From LA to Mexico to Tahoe to NY, the story pokes fun at the world of high fashion.

Models from a top class agency are dying at an unprecedented rate and Black is called in to investigate, requiring him to attend photo shoots in exotic locations. The first of which is in Cabo San Lucas. It doesn’t go well and Black manages to get into his girlfriend, Sylvia’s bad books. It seems the modelling world is rife with corruption and deceitful competitors. As events escalate Black has his work cut out to get to the bottom of the accidents…or are they murders?

All the old favourites are back, including Mugsy, the fat and flatulent feline. Black’s exchanges with Roxie, who is planning a move to Germany with her boyfriend (Black will have to see about that!) and Stan, his police buddy, are as funny and entertaining as ever.

“Stan. It’s Black. You called?”

“Yeah. It was a lousy connection.”

“What’s up?”

“My blood pressure and cholesterol. Thanks for asking.”

“Appreciate the update. But I was thinking more about why you called.”

Black’s parents, Spring and Chakra, also feature and Black and Sylvia brave a visit with them en route to a photo shoot in Las Vegas. If Black isn’t being ragged on by Roxie, his mother is shooting her little barbs.

I’m enjoying this series so much, I love Black more with each book. Really great characterisation in the writing and narration. Black continues to develop into a genuinely good guy with a tough side and I think Roxie might even be slightly less abrasive. A surprising twist at the end, I didn’t see that one coming at all. The murder/mystery story lines are authentic and well thought out with a profusion of suspects to choose from.

Russell Blake’s characters are colourful, well drawn and very memorable, the writing clever and witty. Coupled with RC Bray’s masterful narration these audiobooks are a must have.

“Gunther will be out in a moment to show you back. Pellegrino?”

Black was stumped. “I don’t know who designed my suit.”

She didn’t blink. “Would you like some water? Juice?”

“Oh. No. I’m good.”

I couldn’t help it. I laughed out loud. Several times. The snappy dialogue is such fun, especially when delivered so well. 

Disclaimer: I was gifted a copy of the audiobook which does not affect the content of my review in any way.

The Jet Series

AudiobookReview

  • JetAuthor: Russell Blake
  • Performed by Braden Wright
  • Published: Janda Management and released June 2013 on Audible
  • Category: Crime/Thriller, Espionage
  • four-stars

Twenty-eight-year-old Jet was once the Mossad’s most lethal operative before faking her own death and burying that identity forever. But the past doesn’t give up on its secrets easily. 

When her new life on a tranquil island is shattered by a brutal attack, Jet must return to a clandestine existence of savagery and deception to save herself and those she loves. A gritty, unflinching roller-coaster of high-stakes twists and shocking turns, JET features a new breed of protagonist that breaks the mold.

Jet is a protagonist with a difference, a deadly but complex personality who has suffered one of the worst experiences. She has intellect and depth of character and, as a trained operative is adept with all manner of weaponry, not to mention hand to hand combat. In her past as a covert special agent for Mossad she fought terrorism and corruption and, after faking her own death, hoped that part of her life could be laid to rest. But someone knows she is still alive. Someone who has very close and personal links to a past assassination and wants revenge at any cost.

As she shouldered through the hanging beads that separated the back from the storefront, a garrote looped over her head and she barely got her left hand up in time to keep it from closing around her throat…….Ignoring the pain from the garrote she stabbed behind her head with the jagged edge of the broken bottle, again and again, then heard a muted exclamation as a warm gush sprayed against her upper back.

The story opens with an assassination attempt that draws Jet back into her old life and there is really only one person who can help her. Her former lover, David. Travelling to various exotic, and not so exotic, locales in several countries, they try to work out who wants Jet dead, and why, whilst trying to stay ahead of the villains. Plenty of action, clear and colourful depictions of weapons and fighting scenes which paint a vivid picture of operatives in combat, living on the edge and never quite knowing where, or when, the next attack will occur.

Jet’s backstory is filled in with flashback chapters which add to the overall picture and the connection to the character. Russell Blake’s excellent and very descriptive writing is fascinating, solid and flows seemingly effortlessly, dropping the reader (or listener) right in the middle of the story, which is completely over the top and sheer escapism but that’s what makes it such a fun and enjoyable experience. A surprise twist at the end means I have to get Jet #2!

  • Jet ~ Betrayal (Jet #2)
  • four-stars

Jet2Twenty-eight year old Jet, the former Mossad operative from the eponymous novel JET, must battle insurmountable odds to protect those she loves in a deadly race that stretches from the heartland of Nebraska to the corridors of power in Washington, D.C., from the lurid streets of Bangkok to the deadly jungles of Laos and Myanmar. 

Possible spoilers

Jet is coerced by a prominent CIA operative into agreeing to assassinate former member, Matt Hawker, who absconded with a fortune in diamonds. The previous attempts failed and if Jet wants to see her daughter again she must succeed.

The only jarring note in the story is the way Jet spirits her daughter away from the adoptive parents. At two years old Hannah would be aware that Jet is a stranger and would, I imagine, want the people she thinks of as her parents. But that aside, it’s another wild and entertaining ride with Jet, the super heroine, taking on all comers with an assortment of weapons and despatching them in good style in her mission for justice and revenge.

Her assignment takes Jet to Thailand, into the worst the country has to offer, where anything and everything available for a price. The descriptions of the sex industry and more especially, child prostitution, is horrifying and hopefully greatly exaggerated. Jet’s search leads her from Thailand to Bangkok and into the dangerous jungles of Myanmar and Laos where she locates her target but finds all is not as she believed. Conspiracies, drug lords and the despicable aspects of humanity all adding to the surprises in the fast-moving plot.

We get to see another side of Jet in this story, softer and more compassionate, especially when dealing with children, and showing more emotion generally. But just when she thinks there’s a second chance at love the unthinkable happens again.

Braden Wright has a nice narrative style and good characterisation and I like Russell Blake’s succinct and descriptive writing very much.

Russell Blake’s books may be purchased through Amazon US and Amazon UK

Black is Back (Black Series #2)

AudiobookReview

  • Black2Author: Russell Blake
  • Performed by RC Bray
  • Published; Janda Management and released on Audible May 2014
  • Category: Hardboiled/Noir Fiction
  • five-stars

In this second installment in the acclaimed BLACK series, Artemus Black, Hollywood PI to the stars, dives into the rap music scene to stop a killer – with often disastrous and humorous results. Fans of hard-boiled detective fiction from Elmore Leonard, Michael Connelly and Lawrence Block will enjoy Black’s trials and tribulations, all delivered with a tongue-in-cheek cynicism that’s uniquely Russell Blake.

Not a lot has changed in Black’s world. He’s still being needled mercilessly by Roxie, his assistant from hell, with her all black wardrobe and full sleeve tattoos. On the upside Black has managed to hang on to his girlfriend of several weeks, Sylvia. She is a good influence and Black’s anger issues have decreased.

Black, a little depressed about his upcoming 43rd birthday, is not helped by Dr Kelso making him feel crappy about not giving up smoking and drinking too much. Then, to make matters worse, his parents invite Black’s ex wife, Nina, to the surprise birthday dinner they and Sylvia have organised for him. The evening rapidly turns into a hilarious fiasco.

Things are looking up on the financial front though, with Black’s latest case involving a seemingly up and coming rapper and his entourage. Black is soon involved with the nefarious behind the scenes machinations of the promoters and managers in the music business. The plot is definitely conceivable and the miscreants are credible. I like that the violence is not gratuitous but fitting for the storyline.

Black’s head started to hurt just trying to keep all the rivalries straight, not to mention the monikers. Why the hell didn’t they have normal names, like REO Speedwagon or AC/DC? How could anyone differentiate between a Blunt, a 2Bad and a B-Side? Especially, as an ex-musician, the entire phenomenon escaped him, where the singers didn’t sing and nobody played an instrument…and that was the most popular form of music in the nation?

Black’s developing character and personality show a basically generous and good nature but one that can be ruthless when necessary. He’s complex and flawed enough to be realistic but not so much as to be anything but loveable. Black is rapidly becoming one of my favourite protagonists.

A great plot, poking a little bit of fun at the music industry, I think. A surprising ending which almost costs Black very dearly indeed. The writing, again, is excellent and full of humour with laugh out loud moments. I love Black’s descriptions of Mugsy…’the odds of Mugsy being able to fit into most alleys is a stretch’…’he’s got an eating-too-much-and-moving-around problem’….’he looks like a bowling ball with legs’

I’m loving this series and, judging by the book covers, Black doesn’t need to worry about getting older or his ‘body breaking down’. Quite the opposite in fact, looking good and darkly handsome, I’d say ;-p

Another stellar performance from RC Bray with great characterisations, especially the rapper street talk, gangsta style.

The Black Series may be purchased from Amazon US and Amazon UK

Black (Black Series #1)

AudiobookReview

  • Black1Author: Russell Blake
  • Performed by RC Bray
  • Published by Janda Management and released on Audible April 2014
  • Category: Hardboiled/Noir Fiction
  • four-half-stars

Artemus Black. Perennially down-on-his-luck Hollywood PI whose Bogie fixation is as dated as his wardrobe. With an assistant who mocks him relentlessly, an obese cat that loathes him, a romantic life that’s deader than Elvis, money problems, booze, nicotine, and anger management issues, how much worse can it get? When he takes a case that’s supposed to be easy money working for a celebrity whose colleagues and surrounding paparazzi are dropping faster than interest in the star’s big comeback, the cakewalk turns ugly and Black finds himself in a web of deceit, betrayal, and murder – and bad hair days.

Black is a real vintage feel PI, with slicked back black hair, dressing in 40’s style suits and fedora hats, as though he’s been whisked away from his own time zone and dropped into the present day. I was picturing a James Garner look-a-like all the way through. He’s down on his luck and harbouring bitter feelings about his immensely rich parents who not only gave him the name he hates and refuse to call him anything else, but also became wealthy with the minimum of effort, while he struggles to make ends meet.

Artemus ‘Jim’ Black is an intriguing character and regardless of his faults he’s a really good guy with a soft side and a good dose of morality. This is a fun read with lots of humour, although the murders give the story a darker side which balances things out. The descriptive writing and solid plot are executed superbly and the dialogue is sharp and witty. 

Black’s snarky secretary, Roxie, is an unconventional character with an individual appearance and an attitude issue. She is the antithesis of Black. She gives him a hard time verbally, mostly about his dress sense and because he’s less than affectionate to the stray fat cat who has taken up residence in Black’s office. The one liners and banter between the two of them is seriously comical. Well portrayed and defined, colourful and amusing characters abound and give the story an authentic feel.

Black had been working with Roxie on improving her attitude, but some days it seems like a losing battle. It was a pity she was so good at what she did – running the office, juggling administrative duties and research that made the FBI look like neophytes.

“It means I think we can improve our brand, Roxie.”

”Our….brand. I see. Have you been drinking?”

”Branding is very important.”

”Maybe if you’re a cowboy or a steer. Wait – did you mix up your meds again?” Roxie asked.

This my first Russell Blake book but I’ll definitely read/listen to more of his work. I have the rest of the Black series and Jet lined up. If you’re a fan of the genre it’s well worth a read or a listen if audio books are your thing. RC Bray does a great job giving Black a ‘voice’, also with his interpretations of the rest of the characters. The humour, pacing and delivery of the comedic lines are all spot on.

The Black books may be purchased from Amazon US and Amazon UK

About the author

RBlakeFeatured in The Wall Street Journal, The Times, and The Chicago Tribune, Russell Blake is the USA Today bestselling author of thirty books, including Fatal Exchange, The Geronimo Breach, Zero Sum, King of Swords, Night of the Assassin, Revenge of the Assassin, Return of the Assassin, Blood of the Assassin, Requiem for the Assassin, The Delphi Chronicle trilogy, The Voynich Cypher, Silver Justice, JET, JET – Ops Files, JET II – Betrayal, JET III – Vengeance, JET IV – Reckoning, JET V – Legacy, JET VI – Justice, JET VII – Sanctuary, Upon A Pale Horse, BLACK, BLACK Is Back, BLACK Is The New Black, and BLACK To Reality.

Non-fiction includes the international bestseller An Angel With Fur (animal biography) and How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time (even if drunk, high or incarcerated), a parody of all things writing-related.

Blake is co-author of The Eye of Heaven, with legendary author Clive Cussler, to be released by Penguin in September, 2014. Blake’s novel King of Swords has been translated into German by Amazon Crossing, The Voynich Cypher into Bulgarian, and his JET novel into Spanish and German.

Blake writes under the moniker RE Blake in the NA/YA/Contemporary Romance genres.

Having resided in Mexico for a dozen years, Blake enjoys his dogs, fishing, boating, tequila and writing, while battling world domination by clowns. His thoughts, such as they are, can be found at his blog: RussellBlake.com