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Pick up a fun summer read for a day at the beach

Summer weather does not make me want to curl up with a long, heavy novel like “War and Peace,” so I read two new fiction books just for fun.

Douglas Preston’s “The Kraken Project” (Forge Books, 2014) and Janet Evanovich’s “Top Secret Twenty-One” (Bantam, 2014) are very entertaining reads by well-established authors with many books to their respective credits.

Preston and Lincoln Child are a highly successful writing team. Together, they have written more than a dozen best-selling books that feature a detective named Aloysius Pendergast, a Sherlock Holmes-type character – if Holmes were from the American South, independently wealthy and an aficionado of fine wines and excellent cuisine.

“The Kraken Project” is Preston’s third in his solo series featuring former CIA agent Wyman Ford.

The movie “E.T.” flashed through my mind as I read “The Kraken Project.” The scenes with a 13-year-old boy running through the woods with a superintelligent robot fleeing from would-be killers will explain why.

“The Kraken Project” boasts plenty of action, some killing and lots of suspense. The intelligent computer, nicknamed Dorothy, escapes from her original mission as an explorer of the Kraken Mare, the largest sea on Saturn’s moon Titan, and gallops around the Internet trying to escape her programmer and the bad guys who want to use her for their illegal money-making schemes.

The settings are quite entertaining, particularly the final scenes that take place in Half Moon Bay. In the book, one of the residents in the coastal town rebuffs threats from the bad guys from New York, claiming, “Across the hill, over there in Silicon Valley, those guys are the great white sharks of the business world. You Wall Street traders are baitfish compared to them.” Take that, would-be evildoers!

There are certainly flaws in the book. For example, the technology used to make a computer packed with artificial intelligence, capable of learning, able to rebel and anxious to understand religion seems far-fetched. And Preston’s characters are pretty one-dimensional, particularly the two protagonists – Melissa Shepherd, the genius computer programmer who created Dorothy, and her sidekick, Wyman Ford. However, the character of Jacob, the 13-year-old boy, is nicely developed.

“Top Secret Twenty-One,” the 21st novel in Evanovich’s best-selling Stephanie Plum series, is also an action-packed read. All of the books in the series are full of highly entertaining, laugh-out-loud characters.

In this installment, Plum, the world’s worst bounty hunter, is searching for Jimmy Poletti, who was caught selling more than cars from his used-car lot. Unfortunately, several of Poletti’s friends are also looking for him – but they tend to end up dead. Joseph Morelli, Plum’s on-again, off-again boyfriend, and the hot security expert known only as Ranger add to the adventure.

My favorite character by far in the series is Plum’s grandmother, Grandma Mazur. She is incredibly feisty: “‘Babe,’ Ranger shouted from the bathroom. ‘Come get your grandmother.’ Ranger was standing in the glass-enclosed shower with the door open, looking out at Grandma. He was dripping wet and seemed not especially concerned that he was naked. ‘It’s like she’s paralyzed,’ he said. ‘Amazing,’ Grandma said, eyes wide, staring in unblinking stupefaction.” And that’s only one of the things on Grandma Mazur’s bucket list that she accomplishes in the book.

Book clubs that enjoy humor or action should like “The Kraken Project” and “Top Secret Twenty-One.” Both can be enjoyed without reading other books in the series, and both are ideal for an afternoon at the beach.

Leslie Ashmore is a longtime Mountain View resident who belongs to two book clubs.

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