The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover’s Secret FBI, by Betty Medsger

Nine stars

In this high-impact book, Betty Medsger thoroughly explores a 1971 break-in of a small FBI office that turned the entire Agency and its most prominent director, J. Edgar Hoover, on their heads. When a small group decided to undertake a break-in of the Media, Pennsylvania FBI office to protest the power and corrupt nature of the Agency, no one knew what they were going to find. Thoroughly planning and casing the offices, this small group planned and prepared, hoping to make a statement by stealing some of the files and making sure they were handed over for publication. After undertaking an almost flawless break-in during a seminal sporting event, the burglary took in an interesting turn when the group stole most of the files from the office. These files included scathing memos, written by FBI Director Hoover himself, about secret missions the Agency had been undertaking for decades, including secret blackmail files on numerous people of notoriety, suppression techniques the Agency would take against various protestors, and an all-out heightened campaign of racial inequality, including coordinated acts to ensure civil liberties were not supported in America’s South. The group chose specific media outlets—including the author—and high-ranking politicians, in hopes of revealing some of the horrible missions Hoover sponsored or encouraged. It sought also to shed a strong light on the antics being undertaken by various US Administrations to suppress dissident groups, sometimes devised by Hoover and foisted upon the Attorney General and President (likely through blackmail). When media outlets began buzzing with the news (and presenting some of it to its readers), Hoover turned to rounding them up by putting all available resources into identifying the burglars. Additionally, sure the perpetrators came from a select group, he undertook a sting operation at a draft office and had many protestors arrested for crimes committed there, sure that people would leak what they knew. Unable to stand by and watch, Congress undertook its own investigation, culminating in the Church Committee, which sought not only to examine the severity of the information found in the memos, but to rewrite the covert nature of America’s various intelligence agencies. This may have been the most damning part of the entire fallout. During the latter portion of the book, Medsger explores these burglars, none of whom were ever identified during the five years the FBI sought to find them, before the statute of limitations expired. She offers up biographical and follow-up information to show that these people were more than simply vigilantes seeking to smear the Agency at a time when government resistance was at its height. With the Vietnam War in full swing, the country was almost unrecognisable and those seeking to speak out were often muted or violently suppressed. Unveiling some of the horrible, government-sanctioned means of silencing the protestors shows the lengths to which the US Government would go to push its plans forward, even when the majority felt diametrically opposed to the actions of their elected officials. A stellar piece of work that many with a keen interest in American politics and intelligence gathering will find enlightening. I know I was blown away with what I learned throughout.

It can be effectively argued that the Media, Pennsylvania burglary was a turning point in American intelligence and the iron grip that Hoover held over the FBI. Medsger does a great job in not only arguing this point throughout, but is able to substantiate it with countless examples. In an era when directors of the FBI fall as swiftly as a tweet does off the fingers of the ignorant, it is almost impossible to think of someone at the helm of American Intelligence capable not only of securing his job for decades, but to keep his superiors in line through blackmail. It is also quite unfathomable to think that the modern American would rise up and protest as vehemently as took place back in the late 1960s and early 70s, the central time period of this book. While some may say that the burglary was an act of defiance against the US Government, it was surely more than that, as Medsger elucidates throughout. It tore the veil off major Intelligence gathering and dissemination for a number of decades. The fallout of these revelations, beginning with the Church Committee, started an era whereby the citizens of the United States were no longer overtly targeted by their own government for dissent, but it also weakened the ability of such agencies as the FBI, NSA, and CIA to gather and effectively act on intel without oversight or limitations. Medsger strongly argues that this double-edged sword reared its head in the latter part of the 1970s and into the Reagan Administration, which blatantly removed the leash from most agencies. For the casual reader, such as myself, that may not have as dire an impact as those who are in the trenches (or live in the United States), but it does pose an interesting question: how much freedom should a government have to act covertly to gather intelligence? I choose not to enter that debate here, though Medsger does use September 11, 2001 as an intriguing litmus test. Whatever the reader feels, it is worth noting that the actions of a handful of amateur burglars who sought to engage in a form of protest brought the first FBI Director significant shame (albeit posthumously) and the entire Agency running for cover. While I am not one to condone smarmy intelligence gathering to silence those in positions of power, what might things be like nowadays if the FBI had some concrete intel on recent men who have been POTUS? Let that one stew for a while!

Kudos, Madam Medsger, for a brilliant piece of work. I am happy to have been directed towards your book when recent a recent account of the Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination. So many wonderful piece of information that came from those years in American politics!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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Cod: A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, by Mark Kurlansky

Nine stars

Continuing on my histories of odd things (and non-fiction binge), I returned to another Mark Kurlansky piece that may leave some readers swimming in the other direction. Kurlansky presents the cod and its importance in world history, which was surely as entertaining and educational as it was unique. Many may think cod as nothing more than a fish that finds its way onto the plate, best served with potatoes and green peas (or whatever vegetable one has on hand), but there is a great deal more to this creature of the water. Politics and industry play such key (and intertwined) roles in its discovery and ongoing exploration (exploitation?) that the reader will surely come away with a more thorough understanding of the complexity of the fish. Kurlansky offers up a few interesting insights to pique the reader’s interest, if nothing more. Rest assured, a non-fish eater though I am, I was astounded with all that came from this piece, and the impact cod has had on the world for over two thousand years.

Cod have not only been fished extensively (and exclusively) for thousands of years, but they are some of the most sought after fish for their versatile nature. Well before refrigeration became an option, fishermen discovered the ability to salt them, which not only added a flavour, but also a distinct ruggedness. Allowing the fish to last that much longer, it could be transported, sold, and stored for longer periods, thereby making it highly profitable on the world market. Throughout his piece, Kurlansky shows just how desired salted cod became, in all corners of the world. But it is not only the salted fillets that prove to be a delicious treat, but most every part of the fish. From their livers (tasting and whose oil is highly medicinal) to their heads (a delicious chowder, without eyes) and even their skin (perfect for making bags and satchels), cod is one of the most versatile fish on the market. Kurlansky discusses at one point that there is even a use for the bones, particularly amongst the ever-thinking Icelandic population. Cod as food is likely the easiest way the reader will consider this fish, but there is so much more to the discussion.

Cod was not only a form of food on which to sup, for some it was a way of life. Kurlansky explores the life of a fisherman and how entire communities would rely on the bountiful cod catches that came from off the coast. Kurlansky returns throughout the piece to discuss the importance of cod fishing to Newfoundland (Canada), New England (America), and much of the country of Iceland. Entire livelihoods were based on enough cod coming off the boats to be sold on the open market. There are many parts of the world where cod is not plentiful, but it is sought after as a staple in the diet. Kurlansky explores how overfishing by other countries has helped to deplete the stock of cod, thereby adversely affecting the lives of huge portions of the populace. This has, at least in the Canadian example, forced multi-generational fishing families to turn to financial assistance for subsistence, their pride decimated. Politics abound when it comes to fishing and those who pull cod from the water are affected like no other. Kurlansky does provide a captivating and chilling narrative about the politics of cod fishing.

One would be remiss to simply accept that cod are a food, for anything that can be sold will surely have a price tag and a profit. Kurlansky explores how centuries ago, explorers would find their way in the open waters to take advantage of this new discovery, hoping to sell it and provide a large profit margin. The Basques were able to capitalise on this for centuries, particularly because the were situated in a plentiful area. The British Commonwealth ran likely a well-oiled machine, forcing colonial fishermen to send back their catches to be sold to others, without the full profits making back to the original source. In time, other countries were able to build large boats to join the ‘game’, entering the fray and taking what they could handle. However, cod are not as fertile as one might think, nor able to replenish as quickly as they are captured. This led to a shortage of fish and a moratorium on fishing. An international agreement to extend sovereign waters led to many a clash between countries, only added proverbial blood to the water and turned ugly when the cod population shrunk. Countries went to (fish) war over cod and sanctions ensued, particularly a battle between Iceland and the UK in the 1970s. No one was safe and entire communities, as discussed above, suffered the most. This is likely some of the most disturbing parts of the narrative, as it pulls in the seal hunt and the economic livelihood of thousands of families and is only another example of how large corporations destroyed the little man for their own greed.

I am the first to admit that I do not like fish, though I was drawn to this piece and could not find a way to step back. Kurlansky has such a way with his storytelling that the reader finds themselves in the middle of the story before realising how much time has passed. Full of anecdotes and personal asides, Kurlansky personalises the topic more than many historians can do for actual human subjects. Who would have thought that cod could be such a complex food, while also being such a binding agent for small communities? Kurlansky does offer a great deal of information that the reader must digest, but it is all poignant and ties together throughout the narrative. I found myself relating events in early chapters on cod fishing to later discussions of wars between the governments of the UK and Iceland, fitting the two topics together seamlessly. With the added bonus of numerous recipes pulled from over many centuries, Kurlansky ties the discussion together and permits the reader to explore the culinary side of the topic, a less confrontational aspect of cod fishing. While there is no doubt that cod will long be a divisive topic when it comes to mass fishing quotas between countries, it is also the lifeblood for many people, which is easily forgotten, especially by a man on the landlocked Canadian Prairies. Kurlansky breathes life into the discussion and keeps the reader thinking, which can lead to talking and eventually acting on what they have come to learn.

Kudos, Mr. Kurlansky, for another stunning food-related biography. I am completely hooked and have a few more of your books to explore in the not too distant future. While I may not be rushing out to have cod-head chowder, you did get me thinking about an industry about which I know so little.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the International Hunt for his Assassin, by Hampton Sides

Nine stars

With the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) a few days ago, I felt it appropriate to read Hampton Sides’ stellar account of the lead-up to the event and the hunt for the killer. I’d heard much about it and knew that I would be in for something that would educate me, as well as provide context for this important event in more recent American history. Sides delivers a powerful narrative of the year preceding the King assassination, from multiple perspectives. America in the late 60s was a hotbed when it came to civil rights, particularly with MLK’s marches and the push by the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to bring attention to events in the Deep South. Depicting some of the SCLC’s goals, Sides provides the reader with some excellent sentiments about the danger lurking in the shadows, particularly in Alabama, Mississippi, and even into Tennessee. Meanwhile, former Alabama Governor George Wallace was in the middle of a campaign for president, seeking to solidify the southern sentiment about the need for segregation and keeping those of colour at bay. While a smaller and less impactful narrative, it does provide the reader with some insight into southern thinking from one of its most notorious political figures. Another man with his eye on MLK and hatred towards the cause was FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover. Sides provides the reader with an insightful perspective into how little the Director felt for the SCLC’s cause and the issues that MLK kept raising. Sides repeatedly quotes sentiments Hoover made about the movement, feeling it was nothing but a collective of troublemakers. This would prove important as the story progresses. Perhaps most important of all is the narrative surrounding Eric Galt (pseudonym used by James Earl Ray), depicting his travel from Atlanta to Mexico and even out to Los Angeles, all after his 1967 prison break, explained in detail during the opening chapter. Sides weaves quite the tale as Galt sought to stay off the radar while creating his new persona. With MLK’s arrival in Memphis for another march, Galt chose a flophouse close to where the leader stayed and made final preparations to undertake a dastardly event that would rock the civil rights movement and American history. After the shots that would lead to MLK’s death, Galt fled the city, leaving a vague trail as he sought to hide from authorities of all kinds. This secondary run on the lam left Galt to flee to Toronto, the largest city in Canada. Sides explores the ongoing bait and switch techniques Galt undertook as he sought to disappear off the North American continent, especially when American officials locked in on his identity and he became the most sought-after fugitive by the FBI. The rush by the FBI to find MLK’s killer and bring him to justice contradicts its director’s earlier dismissal of the radical, though this is not lost on Sides or the attentive reader. The final race to locate and bring Galt (now identified as James Earl Ray) to justice leaves the latter portion of the book’s narrative full of twists that will captivate the reader. Even fifty years after the event, Sides injects enough drama and detail to keep any curious reader on the edge of their seats. Highly recommended to lovers of recent US history, particularly those trying late 1960s. Sides has what it takes to breathe life into an old debate that seems to have become highly relevant again.

My interest in the MLK assassination has been percolating for a long time, as I enjoy reading about the civil rights movement in the US and 1968 as a year of action. I recently read a piece of fiction related to the MLK assassination, positing some interesting theories, which piqued my interest to find some factual accounts related to these events. Sides discusses in his introduction that much of the narrative is tied together by his extensive research, which allows for a strong narrative that captivates the reader’s attention. Using the opening portion of the book to lay the groundwork for many key actors prevalent to the larger narrative, this permits the reader to have a better handle on the political and social picture in 1968 America. The detail to which Sides goes to explore both MLK’s movement and Galt’s journey across the continent provides a vivid picture that permits the reader to almost feel present at each event. What might be most interesting of all is Sides’ great focus on the path Galt (Ray) took, leading to a time in Canada and Europe before being caught inadvertently as he sought to travel further. Sides provides such a fluid writing style that the storytelling almost seems fictitious in its detail. As one fellow reader commented to me, the story progresses in such a way that each night of reading can end with an intense cliffhanger, even with the final outcome firmly branded in history texts already. It is worth noting that Sides does not appear ready to plant ideas of conspiracy or point fingers as Ray’s involvement in a larger planned movement, but rather to gather vast amounts of the readily available documentation to create a stellar narrative that any interested reader can enjoy. With chapters of various lengths, all full of factual depictions, Sides shows himself to be a sensational historian that can entertain as well as educate. I can only hope to find more of his work to see how he tackles other events that shaped American history.

Kudos, Mr. Sides, for your powerful piece that touched on all those aspects about which I wondered. I hope many will take the time to explore this and other pieces surrounding those most important 20th century events in America’s long history.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Soul Survivor: Reflections on One Man’s Journey Beyond Cancer, by Timothy Pechey

Nine stars

I will admit that I am quite the structured person, both in my reading and everyday life. When I chose to read this book, a collection of reflections in truth, I forced myself out of a comfort zone I have been fostering for a lengthy period. Additionally, when I chose to interpret this piece as a ‘Spring Equinox’, I knew I would really have to explain myself, though it is to no one else that I report. Tim Pechey was given the worst possible news the day before his 44th birthday, a diagnosis of metastatic melanoma. The news not only crushed him, but devastated his spirit and connection with the Higher Power he chooses to call God. This is a collection of seventy-nine reflections that Tim made over a time, some related to the cancer experience, others to the revelations he had while making his way through treatment or recovery. Each reflection focuses on something that Tim discovered or felt, helping him to discover a light within himself and around this most horrific roadblock in his life. Trying to wrestle with the pain of radiation and chemotherapy, having a sense that he had been abandoned by the world, and coming to see that this was the—albeit awkward—stop sign that life needed to put out there to give him a chance to smell the roses, Tim came to terms with his illness and turned it from a prison sentence into a chance to grow. Tim pushes through the collection and shows just how powerful his strength became as he fought diligently to better understand himself as a man, a husband, a father, a friend, and a spiritual being. While highly personal in nature, Tim’s goal to present this for those who have been through the struggle and want to see that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, or simply to provide solace for those seeing a loved one with cancer and knowing that there is something bright on the other side, Tim Pechey refuses to give up and provides enough hope to show that sometimes life does give you a bad hand, but knowing that you are not alone is one form of medicine. It’s hard to recommend this book to anyone, seeing as it is so personal in nature, but anyone with a curiosity should surely take the time to see one man’s journey, however personal, from the horrid winter of cancer diagnosis to the sunny spring over coming out as a survivor.

This was surely one of the hardest reads I have ever undertaken in my life. Not only does it touch on pain and confusion, but it stirs up many of the memories I had of that time of my life, an awkward teenager unable to come to terms with the cancer diagnosis and how my family seemed to be torn apart. It was, however, refreshing to see how my own father came to terms with this and turned it from a life sentence into something that he could use to springboard him into a better understanding of himself, while seeking new ways to help others. A selfless man to the core of his being, he has written these reflections, not necessarily to be read in order, but for the reader to digest at their own pace. Some are dated at different points in the journey, but they are not placed chronologically, for the purpose of this book is not to see the A to B trip from cancer diagnosis to remission, but to allow the reader to see the meandering nature that life takes when a proverbial glass is dropped at their feet. Shards emerge and small piece of light catch certain things, allowing for slow and fermentable digestion over time. While I cannot pick up the phone (my father was not as tech savvy as he would like us to believe) and call to talk, I do feel much closer to him by reading these wonderful thoughts and recollections. My guilt at putting up such a backlash is not lost on me, but there is nothing that I can do now and this is not MY book, so I will keep those reflections to myself for the time being. Short, insightful reflections help move the book along and yet the progress made is astounding, as the reader finds themselves in the middle of a man whose faith and health crises were not enough to have him toss in the towel. There is surely a great deal of talk about God, the Christian religions, and a connection to Jesus, for which I am usually so critical of writers. However, as Tim writes in the introduction, this book is all about that connection and ‘soulness’, so I can not criticise him too strongly for sticking to what he warned readers would follow. I will forever be proud of the man I call dad and I can only hope that Neo will find someone in me who is as compassionate, supportive, and as strong a role model as my own father was for me.

Sadly, after preparing this book, but before its publication, my father passed away from a recurrence of cancer. He will be forever missed and loved by many. I can only hope that he is somewhere regaling others with stories and reflections, educating and helping people, which was truly his gift.

October 13, 1951-April 9, 2000

Kudos, Dad, for giving me the passion to read, to love, and to never give up. You will always be the one I credit for helping guide me into becoming the man I want to be.

This book fulfills Topic #6 for the Equinox #3 Book Challenge, A Book About the Current Equinox.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Milk!: A 10, 000-Year Food Fracas

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Mark Kurlansky, and Bloomsbury (USA) Publishing for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

I remember an advertising campaign from my youth that extolled the virtues and health benefits of drinking milk. It stuck with me and I have tried to present the same positive outlook to my son. When I saw the latest Mark Kurlansky book, all about the history of milk, I could not help but wonder if it would be an entertaining read, as I knew he had tackled some other interesting food topics. One may presume the topic is quite mundane or simplistic, but the attentive reader will discover that milk and its byproducts are anything but boring, though it is one area where history has only added to the controversies, rather than neutralise them. In a book that is as eye opening as it is refreshing, Kurlansky offers the reader much insight into this product that has been a central part of history as long as female mammals have roamed the earth.

Milk has long been a controversial staple through the centuries, from the debate between breastfeeding and delivering the essential nutrients to babies, to the best ‘type’ of milk for humans to consume, and even whether to treat milk to make it safer for consumption. Kurlansky details these and other debates throughout the pages of his book, presenting arguments and views as they were documented throughout history. There remains a strong debate over pasteurisation versus raw milk, which has led to various parts of the world to adopt varying rules and regulations. While many Western countries turn to cow’s milk, there are numerous other animals whose milk is widely used, utilising the higher concentration of such mammals on differing terrains.

Liquid milk is only scratching the (fatty) surface of the discussion, as Kurlansky talked extensively about the various byproducts. Often discovered by accident, byproducts include cheeses, butters, and creams, though their variety can easily be forked into hundreds of different outcomes. The history of cheese is both long and full of political intervention, as Kurlansky discusses at length. Creation of cheese can be a laborious process and is tightly regulated, creating different colours, flavours, and consistencies. Kurlansky explores not only how different milk determines key cheese creations, but also the food intake of the cow that can vastly alter the end result. Turning to creams, history has seen the evolution of different products, based not only on filtering techniques but also the ability to refrigerate or cool for lengthy periods of time. Different people claim fame for various inventions that many take for granted now, though there was surely a fierce debate at the time to launch the best clotted creams, ice creams, and desserts that stemmed from there. Kurlansky also explores how different parts of the world tapped into shaping these byproducts with the local ingredients, creating even more differentiation across the globe.

The political and social aspects of milk are firmly rooted, particularly when government health and legislative bodies learned that they could levy fees and fierce regulations. Milk can be a highly profitable industry, though strict adherence can also lead to marginalizing those who have spent their life trying to make a living off dairy production. Kurlansky turns the focus away from North America and delves deeply into the European and Asian markets, which may shock some readers in the West. There is surely a hierarchy when it comes to milk consumption, as well as a fierce debate about how to treat the animals and the food they consumed. There is no correct answer, nor does Kurlansky try to steer the reader in any single direction, but offers a wonderful cross-section of information for a better understanding. Readers and milk enthusiasts alike can enter the debate better armed for the battle.

Kurlansky’s delivery of the topic at hand is so seamless as to create a story that flows with ease from beginning to end. While there is so much to cover, Kurlansky offers detailed discussions throughout without bogging the reader down with minutiae. Not only does he provide a rich history of milk and its evolution, but Kurlansky offers hundreds of recipes embedded in the narrative, permitting the reader to explore the more amusing side of milk’s maturation. Offering education and entertainment in equal doses, Kurlansky provides the reader with a fulfilling historical tome that will fuel interesting discussions for all. Any reader with a love of history and curiosity about food will surely find something they can enjoy in this book. “Milk. It does a body good!”… and so much more!

Kudos, Mr. Kurlansky, for such a wonderfully diverse piece. I have learned so much and dazzled others with random facts that will stick with me for years to come. Now I am convinced that I will have to find some of your other food histories and see how they compare.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Man who Could be King, by John Ripin Miller

Eight stars

The Revolutionary War comes alive in new ways under the pen of John Ripin Miller in this interesting piece that shows a new and interesting side of George Washington. Told from the perspective of Josiah Penn Stockbridge, the intensity of the Continental Army’s clash with the British hit home for many, none more than Commanding General Washington. Charged with being his closest aide, Stockbridge tells the reader not only about the numerous moments that led to the informal surrender of the British, but the goings-on soon thereafter. Newburgh, New York is the setting and the army is about ready to give-up. An anonymous letter arrives, addressed to General Washington. In it, there is discussion of revolt against the Continental Congress, who have not paid the troops. Over the week during which the book takes place, Stockbridge explores how Washington will react to this—and further anonymous letters—leading up to Washington’s formal address to his men. Might he try to convince them to deny their ire and let Congress lead this new country, freed from the shackles of British control, or will he stand alongside them and rise as the leader of the revolt, serving alone and with all power concentrated in his mighty word? Washington has a great deal riding on this decision and a country waiting to be shaped. Miller does an exceptional job here, pushing the limits of fact and fiction, to create this wonderfully detailed story that will leave the reader with a new respect for General George Washington. Perfect for US History fans who want a thought-provoking piece to keep them debating for the foreseeable future.

I admit that when I saw the title of the book, I was sure that it would be a strongly argued piece about the regal possibilities of the first US president. While I was soon to discover it was a piece of fiction, I was blessed to know that the narrative was seeped in historical fact. Miller pushes the envelope here, entertaining and educating in equal measure. Josiah Penn Stockbridge is an interesting character, particularly as he holds the entire narrative in his able hands. A pacifist by religious conviction, Stockbridge shows the reader the inside view of working alongside Washington, as well as some of his weaknesses, both familial and collegial. Stockbridge weaves quite the tale and allows the reader an insight into the struggles felt by the man who would run these newly joined thirteen colonies, but never does he turn Washington into an outright deity. Washington’s presence is felt throughout the piece, though through the lens of Stockbridge, forcing the reader to parse through the laudatory sentiments to see a man—a mortal—who had the world looking on him an a massive army on the brink of disaster. Even after the British laid down their arms, the battle raged on, within the American camp. Seeping in actual fact, much of the story surrounds these letter that become the cornerstone of the plot. How will Washington react and synthesise this news and whose side is more grounded in what the man feels? Suspend what is known in the history books and look deeply into the choice that Washington had to make, then let the reader ponder, “what would I do?”. I enjoy alternate history and this one left me thinking, as it should any intrigued reader.

Kudos, Mr. Miller, for a piece that kept me wondering and hoping throughout. I am pleased to see you chose this topic and I hope you have more such books in you to keep the reader guessing.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, by Jordan B. Peterson

Seven stars

When asked if I would take a leap of faith (pun evident later in review) and read Jordan B. Peterson’s book, I was slightly hesitant. Surely, I could take something away from this and learn how to incorporate it all into my daily life. If not, I would be able to drum up some interesting discussions with people about the content. Peterson argues effectively that life has become chaotic for most people, as he has witnessed in his profession as a clinical psychologist. His analysis of this chaos can, and should, be rectified by better understanding twelve rules that can assist the wayward person to find their way and live a more productive and less erratic life. While I choose not to delve into all twelve, some interesting insights did emerge as I made my way through this piece, including that humans are not alone in their struggles, nor are their reactions unique. Early in the tome, Peterson makes strong parallels between human inter-personal relationships and those of lobsters. Making some fundamental ties to the two, Peterson seeks to convince the reader that there are strong correlations that cannot be dismissed, simply because the two groups seem so vastly different. From there, the narrative takes an interesting tangent, exploring the lack of self-care that people have, whereby they are more concerned with the health of pets than with themselves, at times. His argument seems to be that it is essential to look inward and fix that which is reflected in the mirror before trying to ‘save the world’. The burden of the world’s issues is chaotic and can be too much to handle, but making that one change—the self change—can bring stability. Core tenets such as listening to what others have to say and trying not to compare one’s self to everyone else seem to fill much of the narrative, as Peterson seeks to push the idea of the inner view to betterment, rather than one of comparison. No one is entirely perfect, so it is a waste to try modelling a life based on the outward appearance of others, be it their physical display or attributes. Rather, taking the time to stop and reflect will lead the reader to acquire the needed tools to betterment. These twelve rules do seem well-grounded and based on a number of years of experience that Peterson has garnered, through study and interactions with patients, and so the reader need not think this is a twelve-rule modern stone tablet set of commands. Those who enjoy learning and analysis of behaviour may enjoy this one. I found some tidbits highly thought-provoking, but I am not yet sure if I will return to take more detailed notes for personal betterment.

I will be the first to admit that I am not one for self-help books or those that seek to point out flaws with a recipe for success. I suppose that is the primary reason I chose this book for the Equinox Book Challenge, to push myself out of a comfort zone and face some of the raw aspects of my being. While I was interested in most of what Peterson had to say, I found some of it troubling, especially if the message was meant to go out to the general public. While I will admit that the West is strongly a Judeo-Christian society, particularly the general rules and moral pathways laid out, it is an ever-evolving society that cannot be boxed in. While done effectively, Peterson used numerous biblical passages and stories to assert his points, both the flaws that have been around for centuries and the solutions that have been followed when listening to God. At no point did I feel that Peterson sought the reader to ‘find Christ and be saved’, but such ongoing reference to these stories boxes the reader into knowing them before being able to make the correlations. Peterson does explain the stories and then explores how God was trying to communicate something to the mortal individuals, but there can be a sense of inculcation, even if not intended. To reach out to the largest cross-section, removing the faith-based narrative may help. Secondly, I would venture to say that this piece straddles the fence between academic and useful for thought-provoking argument, rather than helpful to the masses who might need it. While the core tenets are laid out in the rules and a brief description of them, the discussion is quite detailed and thorough, perhaps too much to truly get the meat out of the piece. Peterson knows his stuff and has much to say on the topics, but perhaps too much to effectively leave the reader with something to take away. Biblical reference, personal experience, historical context. They all occur within each discussion of the different rules, but it is traversing the entire narrative to find the thread of discussion that can leave the reader wondering what they just read and where this all began. I admit that I enjoyed the meandering discussion and numerous insightful viewpoints, but if the premise of the book is to find twelve keys to successfully slaying the chaos dragon, it may be best not to meander along the countryside and forget the task at hand. Soldiers in the battle need clear rules of engagement. That being said, perhaps people enjoy the discussion and as I admit to not being keen on this genre, I am speaking for myself alone. Whether I enjoyed the content, the method of delivery, or even the message, Peterson does craft an effective book and keeps the reader engaged throughout. Canadian content is always nice to see and he personalises the journey, rather than speaking from an ivory tower down to the lowly masses. I can applaud him for that and am pleased to see that type narrative flowed so well and seemed to present a clear understanding of the topic at hand.

Kudos, Mr. Peterson, for your helpful insights into the world of removing chaos. I’ll keep the book for future reference and be sure to speak to others about it.

This book fulfils Topic #5: First and Last? in the Equinox #3 Reading Challenge.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Retreat, by Mark Edwards

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Mark Edwards, Amazon Publishing, and Thomas & Mercer for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

In his latest thriller, Mark Edwards adds a degree of the paranormal while also creating a mystery that will keep the reader guessing. Lucas Radcliffe is still riding the wave of his latest bestseller, exploring a number of missing children who were taking by a mysterious beast. Seeking to gather himself as he begins his next piece, Radcliffe makes his way to a writers’ retreat in North Wales. On his way up to the secluded spot, Radcliffe learns more about the local lore and the proprietress’ own personal tragedy; a daughter, Lily, who went missing two years ago and a husband who drowned the same day, looking for her. Radcliffe is curious, though understandably reticent to speak about it when it is introduced to Julia Marsh. Could this story of the Red Widow have any basis in truth or simply be a way the locals keep themselves in check? Radcliffe divulges what he knows to Julia, who is still traumatised by the happenings two years before. Wishing to help, Radcliffe hires his own P.I., hoping to make sense of what he knows. When odd things begin happening inside the retreat, Radcliffe wonders more about the lore, but cannot admit to himself or anyone else that he might be ready to accept it. Julia is convinced that her daughter will be back and must be ready for the inevitable. When people tied to the community begin turned up dead, Radcliffe is convinced that there’s a coverup, both tied to the recent disappearance, but also to the lore that posits the Red Widow will arrive every thirty-five years to take a child as a sacrifice. As panic mounts and a collection of writings reveals many secrets Lucas Radcliffe may have stumbled upon something more captivating than any novel he could wish to create. Edwards is brilliant yet again and delivers a stunning thriller sure to keep the reader hooked through to the final pages.

I have always loved a good Mark Edwards novel, especially as they do not follow too strict a writing path. Edwards is able to breathe chills into his writing while keeping the story plausible and unique from past publications. His creation of Lucas Radcliffe is surely a loose mirroring of himself, an author with a collection of darker ideas. Radcliffe does come across as a little passive in his appearance throughout the piece, but does have a sense of determination, especially when a mystery emerges. He seems eager to help, though it is readily apparent that his literary net is always out, seeking tidbits for another novel that may help him further explore his dark thriller side (like Edwards?). Julia Mars proves to be another strong and alluring character, whose focus on trying to find her daughter trumps everything else. Seeking to protect herself from the outside world, Julia is less a waif than seeking to foster what little strength she has left. The cast of secondary characters are well developed and help to create a curious mystery throughout. Spanning over thirty-five years, the characters have honed their personalities and proved as secretive as they are forthcoming, creating an interesting duality that only the reader is able to see. The story may seem a little silly, paranormal in its delivery, but Edwards does a wonderful job to provide the reader with a mystery and chilling narrative that weaves into many unexpected twists and keeps the story from becoming too predictable. Layering the present narrative with both flashbacks of Lily’s final year before her disappearance and some journal entries back in 1980, Edwards keeps the story fresh and the reader engaged, which allows them to become lost and pleasantly surprised.

Kudos, Mr. Edwards, for delivering yet another powerful piece that thrills and shows just how versatile a writer you have become.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Unusual Suspects (Grimm Sisters #2), by Michael Buckley

Eight stars

Needing a short filler novel and wanting something lighter, I turned back to Michael Buckley and his Sisters Grimm collection. The stories pull on some of the characters that have emerged in the Grimm fairytales and place two modern sisters in the middle of the narrative, tasked with uncovering various criminal acts. Sabrina and Daphne Grimm have been living with their grandmother for the better part of three weeks. While they have already uncovered a significant crime in Ferryport Landing, they have not been enrolled in school. With a threat to send them back to foster care in New York, the girls are marched to the local elementary school and placed in classes. While Daphne is sent to be taught by Ms. (Snow) White, Sabrina ends up with a crotchety old man who wants nothing more than to rid himself of the students in class. Sabrina has a rough first day of class and ends up staying after school, only to discover her teacher murdered and the classroom filled with odd webs. Working alongside their grandmother, the Sisters Grimm begin poking around and bring their friend/foe Puck along to offer his own insight. Drawing blanks, the sisters turn to the age-old clash of humans versus Everafters—the latter group being those who gained fame in a Grimm fairytale, but are not able to escape Ferryport Landing under any circumstances—which could account for this dastardly attack at the school. Sabrina forges ahead and sticks her neck out, not caring who she offends, to get to the bottom of it. What she discovers leaves everyone clueless and powerless to stop the plan that could wipe Ferryport Landing off the map once and for all. Full of wonderful fairytale characters and interesting banter, Buckley has fashioned this YA novel into something that readers of all ages can enjoy.

I read the series debut not long ago and enjoyed the premise that Buckley presents. While not my normal reading, the series has an entertaining aspect to it, particularly when I need something short to bridge me through. The premise of the Grimm sisters is interesting and while it is not explored completely here, there is a little character development to whet the appetite of the ever-curious reader. Sabrina is the sarcastic pre-teen who is not happy with the pat on the head, needing to know things and refusing to listen to authority. Her younger sister, Daphne, is still pie-eyed and wants to love everything, but the jaded views spewing from her sister leaves her beginning to question everyone. Peppering the narrative with fairytale characters, some of whom do not match their depiction in the stories we all know well, the reader is able to enjoy a flavourful story that keeps things interesting and provides twists at just the right spots. The story, a YA mystery, is decent and the plot paces itself effectively. There are moments I found myself more connected to the story than I might be with many adult thrillers that I regularly enjoy. Buckley has a way of mixing sarcasm with plot development to keep the narrative intriguing and allowing the reader the chance to chuckle between scenes. Lengthier chapters keeps the reader pushing forward, if only to reach the next benchmark before turning in for a while. Buckley has an entire collection of novels in this series that I will have to discover before too long. A nice cliffhanger left me wanting to know a little more.

Kudos, Mr. Buckley, for another great addition to the series. I hope teens and adults alike discover this series and enjoy it as much as I have already.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Full Disclosure, by Beverley McLachlin

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Beverley McLachlin, and Simon & Schuster Canada for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

In her first piece of published fiction, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada Beverley McLachlin storms onto the scene with this courtroom thriller that will keep the reader guessing until the final chapters. Jilly Truitt is trying to establish herself as a competent defence attorney in Vancouver. Having been brought up in the foster care system, Jilly has seen just how dark things can get and found a way to move towards the light. Having been mentored by the best when she was fresh from law school, Jilly now finds herself face to face with the same man who taught her how to shape the law to her favour. When millionaire Vincent Trussardi hires her to defend him on a murder charge, things do not look good, but Jilly is up for a challenge. Having been accused of killing his wife, Laura, Trussardi proclaims his innocence and will not accept anything less than being fully exonerated. As soon as she begins preparing for trial, Jilly is warned by many to drop this legal hot potato as fast as she can, as there are secrets and mysteries that could easily trip up her defence. Still, Jilly sees potential and will use this to springboard her to greater success within the Vancouver legal community. However, with the case progressing, Jilly hits a few snags but cannot be deterred; she is in for the long-run. At trial, Crown Prosecutor Cy Kenge will do whatever it takes to bury his former protégé, forcing her to see that some people do not deserve their day in court. With the city watching and everything on the line, Jilly must decide if Trussardi’s defence is worth all she has to offer. McLachlin does well with this, her debut novel, and will have those who love the genre raving about this for years to come!

Having followed former Chief Justice McLachlin throughout her time on the High Court, I was ecstatic at the opportunity to read her first novel, a wonderful career change since her recent retirement. McLachlin uses all her legal skills and injects the perfect amount of realistic plot and dialogue to help the reader relate to the story, be they from Canada or not. Jilly Truitt is a wonderfully crafted character, whose backstory is somewhat murky, but is revealed throughout the narrative. Jilly seeks not only to better understand herself, but the world around her, as well as how her clients could get into the messes in which they find themselves. The reader will notice some character development throughout the piece, both inside the courtroom and with her personal life. McLachlin surely knows how to breathe life into her characters, which is equally exemplified in the others who populate the intense narrative. Working together, there are enough crumbs left that the attentive reader could see a series emerging, giving just enough to pique curiosity. The plot is strong and the crimes believable to the point that they are realistic. The story moves through case preparation and into the courtroom, where McLachlin utilises her legal expertise to deliver banter where needed and testimony summary at other times. While the chapters are not extremely lengthy, there are some who bulk up the narrative, though they pass with ease as the reader forges ahead and makes the most of the experience. The reader is ready for all McLachlin has to offer and finds themselves treated to a wonderful legal thriller. There is enough Canadian content to give it a wonderful flavour, though the Canadiana does not inculcate the reader at every page flip. Highly recommended and one can hope that there is more Jilly Truitt to come in the near future.

Kudos, Madam Former Chief Justice McLachlin (is this the correct title, anyone?), for such a stellar debut. I will be encouraging anyone who enjoys the genre to read this and judge for themselves.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons