The Angel Maker, by Alex North

Seven stars

Having read a few novels by Alex North, I was keen to tackle this one. North has written some great pieces with a strong psychological angle, always impressing the reader with the depth to which he presents his plots and characters. This book had moments of spine-tingling revelation, but also some periods of little to no momentum for me, as though I was biding my time between fantastical situations. While not my favourite North novel, I was pleased to have read it and did enjoy the book. Hoping others can shine some light on things with their own sentiments as well.

Katie Shaw had everything going for her when she was younger. She lived in a bucolic English town, with a wonderful boyfriend and a loving family. Katie made sure to protect her younger brother, Chris, with a ferocity unlike anything else she could imagine. It was only just before her graduation from school that everything changed drastically, leaving an indelible mark on her and the connection she shared with Chris.

Fast-forward many years later, Katie is still struggling with the life that Chris has been living, an addict and always falling off the radar. Now with a child of her own, Katie’s fierce protective side is again front and centre in her mind, leaving her to do everything she can to keep her daughter safe. When the call comes in that Chris is once again missing, Katie cannot push the sisterly feelings aside and rushes to help.

All the while, the brutal murder of a notable philosophy professor has Detective Laurence Page baffled. The victim was loved by many, but oddly fired his entire house staff not long before he was found slain, creating a large suspect list. The murder proves even more troubling when two old cases resurface as being eerily similar to this one. One, an attack on Chris Shaw as a teenager, the other a series of murders committed by a serial killer years before. The killer was said to be able to see into the future, foretelling much of the present situation. How might it all tie together and could there be a copycat on the loose? North does well to offer readers a pile of questions, few concrete answers, and so many possibilities that they will be up late flipping pages to decipher it all.

A good psychological thriller has the reader wondering, while a great one has them stuck in place, refusing to move until they have answers. North straddles these two options throughout the book, providing the reader with something that can enjoy. The narrative flow is such that there is a lot going on, but mostly a clear direction to be followed. This helps pace things and offers the reader a sense of feeling in control of what is taking place. The characters are well-placed throughout the story, offering colour and flavouring to the larger storyline when needed. Plot twists emerge and are sometimes solved before new ones pop up, but not always. I found myself able to follow along for the most part, but also struggled at times to feel completely connected to the book. Some of this may have been what I have had on the periphery, but also a lack of connection with parts of the book, leaving me wanting more when it was not offered. Over all, a decent read that did not bog me down too much.

Kudos, Mr. North, for an entertaining reading experience.

And Union No More, by Stan Haynes

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Reedsy Discovery and Stan Haynes for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Stan Haynes is back with another novel rich in US history, providing her reader with something enticing that is also highly educational. There is change in the air and with the push to end slavery, parts of the US are not entirely pleased. Haynes provides readers with some context for the heightened political clashes ahead of the Civil War, focussing his attention on a key piece of legislation that appeared to draw deeper lines in the sand. With wonderful characters and an easy to follow narrative, the reader can see the seeds of discontent being planted and the kernel of irreconcilable distrust on both sides. Haynes serves this novel up as a preface of what is to be ‘no more’.

When Congress passed the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, slavery remained at the heart of the matter. While many thought slavery’s expansion was stymied with the Missouri Compromise, this new piece of legislation opened the doors to further infect the still fragile country. Those in the South are gleeful to know that there could soon be additional states where slavery is permitted, while Northerners stand in awe that Congress could have been so ignorant as to leave the gate unlatched. Under the new law, the people will choose the state’s direction, a more ‘democratic’ means, forcing those on both sides to push settlers into the region ahead of any vote.

Monty Tolliver was once a member of Congress from Ohio, though he left before any of this politicking started. Rather, he is eager to help shape the country and moves to Kansas in order to drum up support for the free state option. His views are widely held, but people are very easily swayed, which could prove problematic for his cause. Two others, Billy Rudledge and Robert Gaddis arrive in Kansas for a new start as well. They find the country in turmoil and at the edge of disaster. Rudledge, a former Mississippian, can see the southern influence slipping into Kansas, though he refuses to believe that the people will fall into the trap. Geddis, hailing from Rhode Island, can only hope that Northern influence will keep Kansas free and out of the clutches of the Democrats, who seem to be on a path of locking down the slavery question with support all the way up to the White House.

In the lead-up to the vote, all three men encounter the likes of John Brown, a staunch abolitionist, who will stop at nothing to ensure his views are heard, even if they do not align with that of the federal government. Brown will soon have to face the courts, which are still locked into the old views of two classes of citizenry. His trial will prove to be a turning point in the push for freedom in the North, using Brown as a hero of sorts.

With politics taking on new and varied directions, one former congressman, Abraham Lincoln, arrives in Kansas to speak to the need for freedom. His classic debates with Democratic Senator Stephen Douglas are soon to come, but for now, the two men clash on their views surround the slave trade and what it means for America. Will these debaters help shape the vote in Kansas? It’s anyone’s guess, as both sides make their final push, using any tactic they can to ensure success. Three men from various backgrounds can only watch as the country waits to see how slavery will bear accepted. This serves as foreboding for what is to come, in a country that is fraying at the edges and rotting to its core over the issue of freedom and equality. A decent piece by Haynes, which elucidates some of the lesser known political struggles surrounding slavery ahead of the bloody Civil War.

When first I encountered the work of Stan Haynes, I was highly impressed. He is able to mesh fiction together with historical record, creating a piece that is well worth the reader’s time. A strong narrative foundation provides the reader with a roadmap for success, in hopes that they will be able to follow all the action that follows. Characters, some returning from the previous novel, and others new to the scene, emerge to offer their own perspectives and help flesh out the truths on both sides of the argument. While using history as a guide, there are some twists embedded within the larger story that help keep the reader not their toes. Haynes does really well to develop these plots and provides a precursor to the imminent destruction of the country.

Kudos, Mr. Haynes, for keeping me highly entertained and educated throughout this novel.

Private Beijing (Private #17), by James Patterson and Adam Hamdy

Seven stars

James Patterson and Adam Hamdy adds to the long-running Private series, taking Jack Morgan to Beijing. In a city full of mystery and suspicion, Morgan helps when the local team is decimated by an unknown killer. The authors work with many of the tools honed in past Private novels. Not as Sino-centric as I would have preferred, using past novels in the series as a comparison. Still worth a read by those who have enjoyed previous novels..

After an attack in Beijing sees a number of the local Private members killed, Jack Morgan knows that this is serious and rushes to get there from LA. While Morgan has no idea what’s happened, he knows that it must be serous. Some poking around to get a lay of the land does little to help, save find Morgan tossed in jail for a few hours after a disagreement with the local police. Once Morgan is out, he’s back on the trail to see what’s been going on.

Not long thereafter, two major events leave Morgan rushing to determine which way is up. First, The Private Beijing offices are bombed and completely destroyed, leaving fire and rubble. Second, an attack in New York sees one of the local Private members trying to piece together what has happened to his wife and all fingers point to a mysterious man of Chinese descent. Could the two attacks be linked?

Morgan can only surmise that Private as a whole is under attack and that the enterprise could be in danger. Working in China, Jack Morgan must rely on his local team to help him uncover the truth in a country where private investigation is not only unwanted, but somewhat illegal. Trying to get to the core of the matter could prove harder than it appears.

Back in New York, the local Private team looks into the kidnapping and potential destruction of the company. It appears as though a Chinese national has been sent on a mission to deliver a message that will not soon be forgotten, Jack Morgan will have to make a major decision that could impact Private in all corners of the globe. This is more than China, but an international affair worth Jack Morgan the central target. A decent addition to the series by Patterson and Hamdy, offering a little insight into Chinese policing, but more American perspectives than anything else.

Patterson’s development of the Private series has done well to highlight police work all over the world as well as bring new and exciting international authors into the fold. While this piece uses the Patterson-Hamdy collaborative effort, it still has a decent Chinese flavouring to it, making the book appear somewhat realistic. The narrative flow is decent, though I felt myself waving a hand in the air on occasion to get the momentum going. I sought something a little sharper and faster, but the book did not lag to the point of me tossing it in the corner. Decent and relevant characters pepper the pages of the book, giving the reader a sense of being in China, but the strong American angle also promotes some stereotypes that I cannot be sure are true to what actually happens. Decent plots emerge, though again there is more US than true Chinese focus on things, leaving me wishing that the authors had kept things in country or a local author cold have been used to really expand the China aspect. The series surely gains some traction and its roots are deepened here, though I am not sure what’s next or how Jack Morgan will expand his empire. Might this be close to the end of the road, or is Adam Hamdy working on something for Patterson to add his name to again soon? Time will surely tell.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Hamdy, for a decent addition to all things Private.

The Last Kingdom (Cotton Malone #17), by Steve Berry

Eight stars

I would consider Steve Berry to be one the great authors who can mix history with current events to create masterful stories that entertain the reader. While working through a series, Berry is able to cobble together a vast amount of not-too-well known historical fact and develop a full novel on those grounds. His writing is top-notch and his ideas take the reader on an adventure like no other. This piece is no exception, tackling the small kingdom of Bavaria and how it was subsumed into the larger united Germany. There are some interesting ‘American’ ties, something the reader will likely want to know more about when the dive into this piece. Crisp storytelling, wonderful characters, and a little wit to keep the reader on their toes. Berry at his best!

In the latter stages of the 19th century, King Ludwig II of Bavaria could tell that his time in power was waning. Before he was deposed and died a few days later, Ludwig II is said to have been on a mission to find a new kingdom, one where he could reign without the worry of German unification, which was afoot. He sought his own place of solitude, where he would not be faced with enemies and the push to have him follow rules he could not accept. Bavaria was slipping away, but he had high hopes. History does not tell us whether Ludwig II succeeded, but there are crumbs!

Flash forward to the present, where Cotton Malone has been called back into service, albeit without the approval of the new US president. Malone’s protégé, Luke Daniels, has intel on a new group trying to win Bavarian independence from Germany, which is sure to topple the country’s stability. Bavaria, the largest German state, is also one that is rumoured not to have been keen on unification and its people are still resentful to this day. Daniels has also been able to work with the current Bavarian prince, a title in name only, who is seeking some form of impactful monarchy and ensuring the Wittelsbach name returns to power. There stands before him a few obstacles, a duke, the elder brother of the prince, the German republic, and worldwide sentiment.

As Malone and Daniels explore the situation, they come upon a highly secretive and powerful deed that proves Ludwig II may have found his new Bavaria, far from the European continent. However, this document, should it be true, could cause major issues, as many powerful countries would love to lay claim to it themselves, utilising its geographic location, strategic placement, and access to various parts of the world. It is up the Malone, with Daniels’ help, to keep things calm and peel back the rumours in order to find the kernel of truth. 

As the race to find the last Bavarian kingdom heightens, both Malone and Daniels realise that they have taken on quite the task with this mission. Many would have them fail, only to take over control of the kingdom for themselves. It is up to them to act swiftly and succinctly, or have everything demolished and Bavaria returned to German control. A historically intense and baffling piece, which shows just how intense a Steve Berry thriller can be. Series fans will surely love it and be surprised by some of the content.

I never finish a Steve Berry book without shaking my head and picking my jaw up from off the floor! There is so much going on and Berry offers up dazzling history woven into his narratives, providing depth not found in many of the books I have read. There is a great flow to there story, both in modern and historical contexts, all of which is essential for the reader to remain captivated by what is going on. The characters, both modern and historical, are intriguing and I am curious to discover more about when when I have additional time. With an upcoming Luke Daniels-centred novel, I should be able to learn a little more about this operative, though I feel this may also be a new avenue Berry is entertaining, having Daniels play a more prominent role. The plot twists throughout kept me guessing, as did some of the historical pieces. Berry is known for his melding of fact and fiction, so I was curious to sit through his end piece, in which all is revealed for the patient reader. This is a powerful series and usually offers up something about which I had no previous knowledge. I cannot wait to see what is to come, as Steve Berry never disappoints.

Kudos, Mr. Berry, for another great novel. I am itching to see what’s next.

The Suicide House (Rory Moore and Lane Phillips #2), by Charlie Donlea

Eight stars

Charlie Donlea not only knows his craft, but can pen a stellar psycho thriller that is both addictive and chilling. The second novel in this series not only builds on the first, but has elements like no other and kept me devouring it in a single day. The two protagonists work well together, but also independently, keeping the reader int he middle of the action. This story differs greatly from the series debut, but is just as intense, showing me that Charlie Donlea has talent and I can only hope he will return to add to the collection soon.

Westmont Preparatory High School, a scholastic institution like no other in Indiana, runs on strict rules and deep traditions. Its students have a high success rate, but they also have secrets that they keep to themselves, not the least of which a boarding house buried deep in the woods. Used primarily for late-night hangouts and a place to drink, there is but one rule; don’t get caught by the Man in the Mirror.

A year ago, two students were brutally murdered there, which has led to a great deal of attention being turned on the school, including a highly popular podcast, The Suicide House. The focus on the podcast is to explore what happened, as well as update those who tune in, examining the arrest of a teacher for the murders and his own attempt to die by tossing himself in front of a speeding train. Soon thereafter, students who survived the brutal attack returned to the Suicide House and killed themselves, as though drawn to do so by their own guilt.

After forensic psychologist, Lane Phillips, is asked to take part in the podcast, he invites his girlfriend, Rory Moore, to join him. She reluctantly agrees and they begin trying too piece together what happened. Rory, a forensic reconstructionist, is eager to find the missing pieces and create a narrative that Lane can use when discussing matters with those who listen to the podcast. What she discovers is more mysterious than she could have imagined, including new secrets never revealed to the police and the aura that there remains sinister goings-on at Westmont Prep.

The Man in the Mirror may have been a game, but to some it is deeply rooted in a far more troubling phenomenon and Rory will stop at nothing until she has it all revealed. Working with crime scene photos, reports, and the word of those who are still around, Rory and Lane find new avenues that are essential to understanding what happened that fateful night and who might be behind it all. Could a man in a vegetative state hold all the answers, or is there more yet to be understood? Donlea masters the art of storytelling with this piece. Perfect for those who want a unique approach to crime forensics and the criminal mind!

Charlie Donlea lures the reader into his world with wonderful torytelling and masterful prose. His strong narrative offers readers a pathway into the dark and yet shines just enough to lead the way around what proves to be a truly grisly set of events. The characters are again perfectly suited to the story and add depth as well as flavouring to the overall experience. Plot twists and deception are front and centre throughout, forcing the reader to check their preconceived notions at the door as they make their way through this piece. I love the unique. approach to forensics Donlea offers his fans and how seamlessly all the pieces fit together, if you pardon the pun. I can only hope that there will be more in this series, as Charlie Donlea has me hooked!

Kudos, Mr. Donlea, for another great piece. Eerie is an understatement.

Some Choose Darkness (Rory Moore and Lane Phillips #1), by Charlie Donlea

Eight stars

After recently discovering the work of Charlie Donlea, I wanted to come back to explore more of his novels. A writer who not only knows his stuff, but can inject a significant chill to stories, Donlea captured my attention once more with a serial killer and a unique forensic approach to solving crime. Literally piecing things together one bit at a time, Rory Moore provides the reader an approach to crime solution that will have them re-examining every page of the book while the story progresses. Donlea’s storytelling is nothing short of brilliant in this piece, the first of what appears to be a duology, with perhaps more to come?

Crime is a messy business and things are easily overlooked, as Rory Moore knows all too well. A forensic reconstructionist, Rory examines crime scenes when the police are out of leads and tries to see things that others have missed. Her work is priceless to the Chicago PD, particularly when the heat is on to find a killer.

After an alarming call forces her to return to her father’s law office to settle his affairs, Rory is not thinking straight. What follows is an jarring phone call that jolts her out of her melancholia and forces Rory to confront a case the elder Moore had on his blotter years ago. One that she wants nothing to do with, given the chance to pass it along.

The summer of 1979 saw Chicago hit with a number of missing women. With no forensics at the scenes and no bodies left behind, police were baffled and could only wonder what sort of maniac they had on their hands. Dubbed, The Thief, the police could only wait and hope that no more women turned up missing. When a mysterious package arrived with clues that could help, the police leapt to speak with the sender, one Angela Mitchell. However, she, too, went missing before anyone could try to better understand her unique approach to the crimes and ideas about who The Thief might be.

Forty years later, Rory realises that she is on the hook to represent The Thief, who is being paroled for Angela’s murder. It seems a determined DA was able to at least pin that on him, but there was no body. With a judge ready to clear this case from his docket, he appoints Rory as the parolee’s trustee. When Rory meets her client, he insists that he is innocent of Angela’s murder and begs her to take the case to prove his innocence. If ever there was a crime reconstruction that would push the limits of Rory’s abilities, this could be one.

While Rory begins her reconstruction work, she turns to her lover, criminal psychologist and former consultant with the FBI, Lane Phillips. He has an algorithm that, while not entirely proven in court, has shown how to track killing sprees with a number of data points. While Rory uses it to plot The Thief’s actions, she discovers that there is another killer committing similar murders. Past and present collide as Rory continues her work, which might open things up and prove not only The Thief’s innocence, but the presence of a more deceptive killer who has yet to be identified. This chilling revelation only goes to prove what Lane Phillips has always believed, some choose darkness! Donlea dazzles in this crime thriller with so many dark nuances. Perfect for those who want a new approach to crime forensics and the criminal mind!

Charlie Donlea has a wonderful way of luring the reader in, perhaps like his central antagonist, sending them on an eerie adventure without a clear path. A sturdy narrative provides the reader some direction, but there are so many twists that one cannot rely on a linear reading adventure. Strong characters with wonderful backstories helped add something to the story I highly enjoyed. Those who read my reviews regularly will know I am always looking for unique forensic approaches to criminal investigation, something that Rory Moore offers as a reconstructionist. There are also plenty of plot twists throughout, which gives the reader a sense of surprise and prevents a quick ability to forecast what is to come. Donlea does that effectively, while adding layers of chilling revelation, flavouring the larger story. I enjoyed this one and cannot wait to read the sequel, in hopes of learning even more about story Moore and Lane Phillips.

Kudos, Mr. Donlea, for another great piece. Eerie is an understatement.

Terminal (Lomax and Biggs #5), by Marshall Karp

Eight stars

The binge of Marshall Karp’s LAPD police procedural series is back! I remain dedicated to the books, enthralled by the characters, and eager to see how Lomax and Biggs will solve their latest case. Karp has kept things edgy and allows readers little time to catch their collective breath, as there is so much to digest in this latest piece. Building on earlier story arcs and adding some new ones, the series takes off once more, keeping readers highly entertained.

During a routine medical follow-up, LAPD Detective Mike Lomax is shocked when gunfire erupts in the facility. Following the sound, Lomax comes upon a gunman who’s killed one of LA’s most prominent fertility doctors. No amount of cajoling can help the gunman, who soon turns the weapon on himself, in front of Lomax. After some preliminary investigation, Lomax is baffled, learning that there was absolutely no connection between the victim and the shooter.

When Lomax and his partner, Detective Terry Biggs, are asked to look into a routine traffic accident that led to a fatality, they are baffled once more. What looks to be a routine case of a pedestrian not paying attention and a hapless driver striking him soon turns into a murderous affair. Again, the victim and driver do not seem to have any connection. However, there is an odd connection between both crimes that Lomax attended; the killers were both terminally ill and attended them same support group.

While Lomax and Biggs begin probing into the support group, they find a common thread. These members are being recruited to serve as hitmen, targeting a select group. Not only that, there appears to be a connection to a large pharmaceutical group who has been putting out a tainted drug, one that has been killing many.

While the case races towards the finish, Detective Lomax struggles with his own health issues as he is faced with a daunting task. He can only think back to how he lost his wife a few years ago and wonders if he wants to put his family through the same. A major development on the home front has Lomax doubly worried and in a state of tension, hoping that he can stand up to protect those he loves. Marshall Karp has done a fabulous job with this piece, spinning stories and adding depth to the overall plot. One can hope there will be another case to come, though I know Karp keeps busy with many other projects.

Marshall Karp keeps finding stories to impress readers while tackling murder outside the box. The flow to the narrative makes reading the books easy and a handful of relatable characters keeps the reader wanting to come back for more. Mike Lomax has been a central figure throughout, allowing the reader to see his growth, as well as the daily struggles that burden him. While I have binge read all five books in just over a week, I have come away with something strong and feel fully a part of the series, as well as many who grace the pages of each chapter. A book filled its humour to offset some of the darker moments, this is one series that is perfect for those seeking something light and yet impactful.

Kudos, Mr. Karp, for another great novel. I hope you have more to come when time permits.

Blow Back, by James Patterson and BRenan DuBois

Eight stars

Having been on a slight James Patterson kick, I was eager to get my hands on this collaborative effort between the star-author and Brendan DuBois. Together, their spy thriller has some great twists and proves that there’s s no end to the abilities when Patterson enlists the help of great authors. A president who has let power go to his head, a CIA Director who tries to wrest control before the US enters a war it cannot win, and a number of operatives who are but pawns on the game board, all players in this piece. All this and a great deal more in this thriller that chills readers to the core, reminiscent of some of the great authors in the genre.

It is said that power corrupts, but it can also intoxicate. Such is the apparent fallout when Keegan Barrett assumes the role of President of the United States. A former CIA operative and Director, Barrett knows the Intelligency community, but he is also aware of its shortcomings. Intel must be acted upon and not left to gather dust on the shelf, which is why President Keenan has a plan. He wants to get a new CIA Director in place not long after his entering the Oval Office and begin a system of striking America’s most powerful enemies, both within and outside the borders of the US.

Barrett calls Agents Liam Grey and Noa Himel into his office to explain the plan, citing that it will be completely off the books and they answer solely to him. While the Agency serves at the president’s discretion, there is a pesky thing called the US Constitution standing the the way, something both Himel and Grey point out. However, President Barrett is clear that nothing will stand in his way of keeping the Chinese and Russians in his crosshairs, wanting them to act whenever and wherever he desires, sure that it will ensure there is no second guessing his plans fo the coming months and years.

While the plan begins to work somewhat effectively, there are those close to the president who start questing his authority. Any who dare sound the alarm turn up dead, adding fear to those who are left. A new Director of the CIA and some high-ranking congressional authorities begin to wonder what steps could be taken to wrest control away from this reckless president, but with an incapacitated vice-president and the Speaker of the House in her own hot water over a scandal, there is no clear successor, even though legislation is in place for such measures. Still, the blowback must begin, or President Barrett will keep holding power and push the US into a war with two enemies who will stop at nothing to destroy the Land of the Free, given the chance.

With a roving reporter trying to cobble together a story that will rock the country and lay the groundwork for Bennett’s potential removal, there is hope that all this covert action will come to light. However, with so many people dying, there is a chance that more will come if they speak too freely. Politics, intelligence, and global peace are all in jeopardy with a man drunk on power in the middle, unwilling to hand over the reins of power. Patterson and DuBois do a masterful job with this piece, standing alongside some of the greats in the genre with this novel.

The idea that much of this could take place is perhaps one of the most chilling aspects of the entire book, but Patterson and DuBois do not shy away from the realistic depictions found herein. The narrative, while slow at times, proves to move things along and offers up scary insights of what could be, while hinting at the train wreck that might have been under Trump (making mention of it throughout). Strong storylines are buoyed by the narrative, as is the handful of great characters who shape the story. Politicians, intelligence officers, foreign governments and their agents all play key roles as characters in the book, all of whom are depicted wonderfully. The plot is clear and its delivery is both transparent and forked, just what is needed to add depth. And political intrigue throughout. Patterson and DuBois have shown that they can work well together and this piece is another example of that. I am eager to see if they try more political and counterintelligence thrillers in the future, as this one was surely a hit!

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and DuBois, on a strong collaborative effort!

Fatal Proof (Benson and de Vere #4), by John Fairfax

Seven stars

John Fairfax is back with another novel, mixing courtroom drama with some investigative work that is sure to keep the reader busy trying to process things. With a great burden lifted from William Benson’s shoulders, he can focus much of the attention on defending those who are accused of serious crimes but profess their innocence. His newest client is the daughter of a crime boss who has been accused of murdering her father’s fixer. While Benson knows little of the underworld, though he spent time in prison, he will defend Karmen Naylor as best he can. It will take finesse and some dedication, but Benson feels there could be a few ideas he can try for the jury. Meanwhile, Tess de Vere has been chasing a case of her own, which includes venturing into the long settled Britain-IRA skirmishes to look at some admissions a former soldier made about murderous raids during the height of the clash. Might there be some legal work to undercover there as well? Fairfax uses these two cases to fuel the momentum on his current novel, which does not seem to have the same edge or sharpness of the previous three, but there is something there worth grasping.

While William Benson has always said that he would help anyone in trouble with the law, he has one caveat; they must profess innocence. Much like what happened to him, Benson hopes to be able to help those who are unable to mount their own defence in a court system that is happy to eat the accused alive. Benson’s latest client is Karmen Naylor, who is the estranged daughter of a London crime boss with deep connections and enemies all over the place. Karmen is accused of killing her father’s fixer in order to stake out some of her own claim on the business. While Karmen is certain of her innocence, the world of gangs and underworld dealings is one that Benson will have to sift through in order to prepare a meaningful defence.

While Benson uses much of his time doing this, his legal partner, Tess de Vere, has been trying to process much of the news surrounding Benson’s definite innocence for a murder he was convicted of twenty years ago. The evidence and actual murderer came to light, leaving Benson free from any guilt. Tess must now process the feelings she has had for him during that time, free from the impediment that he may be guilty. This is not as easy as it may seem, which is why Tess is tossing herself into the case of a former solider’s admission to mass killing back in the 1970s, when the IRA-British clash was at its height, colloquially called The Troubles. Still, there is something going on that does not ring true for Tess, forcing her to turn over as many stones as she can to get to the honest truth. Should she be letting sleeping dogs lie or delve deeper to allow the truth to play out?

While Benson navigates through the trial, he’s tossed a wrench and a new charge, which must be defended before the jury can render its verdict. This is one case that can have no easy solution, particularly when Benson has been threatened to steer it in a certain direction. He works his magic while keeping his pride in check, hoping that it will also ensure he does not risk his life. All the while, Tess discovers something she did not expect and is left with shattered dreams that she must collect, in hopes of coming to terms with the truth. Fairfax packs a punch with this one, though the impact is less than I have seen in previous novels.

In all my years of reading, I have come to understand that authors are human beings as well. As such, they have good days and bad, which is to be expected. John Fairfax has had three stunning novels, all full of tense legal drama and wonderful multi-pronged storytelling, but this novel came up a little short for me. It would seem that all the drama outside the courtroom (Benson’s guilt for a 1999 murder, the politician who sought to strip him of access to the Bar, and his mentor’s secret) being resolved has made for less impactful periphery storytelling, which left all eyes on the courtroom. When Fairfax presented readers with a strong legal matter, it was to be expected that the case would sizzle and the plot would thicken from there. However, there were moments of plain neutrality throughout. Fairfax does well with the narrative approach, leading the reader through the matters of a murder and a woman falsely accused. However, things did not ramp up from there, but rather took a sideways approach. Crime bosses and criminal enterprises have the potential to be stellar, but this one seems to have fallen flat. Add to that, the narrative approach fro Tess de Vere’s storyline, which was decent at the outset, but lost its thread as well. Decent characters and some understated plot lines kept readers cruising towards the end, awaiting the monumental twist that would create a legal surge. It did not come for me, though I sought it out. I can only wonder if all the spark ended too soon in the last novel, meaning there was nothing to buoy the mediocre case throughout the entire reading experience. We all have our off days and I am eager to see how John Fairfax will bounce back, as William Benson has a lot more to give and series fans can surely handle more courtroom drama!

Kudos, Mr. Fairfax, for a decent addition to the series. I look forward for your return to form soon!

Shattered (Michael Bennett #14), by James Patterson and James O. Born

Eight stars

One of James Patterson’s strongest series surely includes the Michael Bennett thrillers. Full of great action and offset by the detective’s massive family, Patterson has built a strong collection that series fans flock to whenever something happens. There is great writing here, which can be somewhat attributed to James O. Born, his collaborator, which only adds definite intrigue to the series. I was highly impressed with this newest instalment and hope it means there is more to come from NYPD’s sharpest detective.

After receiving a cryptic call while on his honeymoon in Ireland, Michael Bennett is keen to see what is was all about when he gets back home. After being barraged by his ten (!) children, Bennett makes some calls, only to discover that his friend and colleague, FBI Agent Emily Parker, has gone missing in Washington. Bennett, a dedicated detective in the NYPD, is as loyal as he is hardworking and makes an agreement with his new bride, Mary-Catherine, that he will spend a few days in the nation’s capital looking for Emily.

Using a few leads and a singlet FBI agent who agrees to help him, Bennett follows the crumbs from the last investigation on which Emily worked, which includes speaking to an anarchist group with strong ties all across the country. While they appear to be quite dopey on the surface, this group is strong, well-educated, and connected, making their repeated encounters with Bennett anything but chance. Bennett must also push back on the other police presence who my not want him there, including the Metro PD and FBI, both of whom have their own views on Bennett’s work.

It is only when Bennett learns more about Emily Parker and her personal life that the investigation opens up even more. While she had a calm exterior, Emily liked daring things and found herself involved with some powerful men, something DC breeds. What Bennett discover when looking into the lives of congressmen, business tycoons, and even a US Supreme Court Justice is that anything goes and all are potential suspects. When news comes that it may be more than a kidnapping, Bennett is shattered, but refuses to stand down, even after multiple warnings, focusing his attention on the murder. If he is going to get to the bottom of this, Bennett will do it for Emily and face any consequence put before him. A chilling addition to the Michael Bennett series, which James Patterson and James O. Born have woven together flawlessly.

There are time that James Patterson shines and is not simply slapping his name onto the cover of a book. This is one of those occasions, surely due to the hard work of James O. Born. The two work well together to keep the story strong and the action ongoing. A great narrative flow, helped along by Patterson’s trademark short chapters, provides guidance for the reader as they navigate through the countless spins the novel encounters. Decent characters, flavouring the piece in depth and humour, help offset some of the darker moments of the piece. Plots are strong and leave the reader wanting more, which opens the door to the next book in the series. There are moments when I lost myself in the action, while others were great filler moments to offer character development or series broadening before moving on. I am eager to see where things are headed, as this is one series that has much potential. I will say that I was a little displeased that Bennett’s trio to DC could not, even in passing, have had some Alex Cross.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Born, for breathing new life into Michael Bennett.

Forced Confessions (Benson and de Vere #3), by John Fairfax

Nine stars

John Fairfax returns with another stunning courtroom drama, giving William Benson time to shine as the truth about his past is also simmering. I am fully committed to all the drama woven into the narrative and am so pleased to see Fairfax keeping multiple subplots moving so effectively throughout the series. The central case is again a murder, this time a doctor who may have some secrets that could destroy a family, with the husband as the accused for reasons that will become apparent to the reader. On the periphery, Tess de Vere pushes to learn the truth about Benson, who has risen through the ranks and was called to the Bar while still in prison for murder. What happened and could his initial pleas of innocence hold some merit? Tangential to this, the Secretary of State for Justice has his own plans to stymie Benson’s meteoric rise, but some revelations may put a pause on that, with political intentions coming to their forefront in Britain. Fairfax weaves this all together into a single novel, stunning those fans who have been following along throughout the previous two books. Not for those who want something superficial, but perfect for lovers of a courtroom thriller.

William Benson is still garnering headlines for his courtroom work, after being released from prison for a crime he denies having committed. Admitting to the crime to gain parole and be able to practice law, something he studied while incarcerated thanks to a secret benefactor, Benson is trying to remove the indelible mark that has split the country in how they feel about him. The Secretary of State for Justice, Richard Merrington, has been oscillating about how to handle things, but the ongoing support has him thinking it best to focus his attention elsewhere. When Benson takes on a new case, where a husband and wife are accused with murdering a Spanish doctor, the trial takes on a new life. It is alleged that Dr. Jorge Manderez has been working in London and sought the therapeutic services of Karen Lynwood. During their time together, the two appear to have forged a bond deeper than therapist/patient, which has led to a number of heated conversations, both within the Lynwood household as well as between the husband, John, and Dr. Manderez. Benson works his magic to hash out the truth of the prosecution’s case and insert some doubt before taking on the monumental task of trying to prove his clients’ innocence.

All the while, Tess de Vere, sometimes legal support to Benson, has been probing into her colleague’s past, sure that the pleas of innocence might ave some merit. There is an oddity at the crime scene, a bracelet that can be traced back to the Merrington family, which could open up many questions for all those involved. As de Vere probes deeper, she discovers a potential alternate set of events that could have led to the murder William Benson was convicted of committing. Can she bring it all to light without Benson knowing or distracting him mid-trial?

As Merrington tries to balance his role in Cabinet, he is eyeing a larger portfolio, possibly prime minister. However, some of the revelations within his family may derail that, unless he can get things in order. There is a polical waitng period and bluffing in order to get what he wants, but William Benson could be one pebble too many in his shoe. Talk of this family bracelet could cause Merrington many headaches, so it, too, must be explained away.

As the courtroom heats up and Benson presents his case, the alternate narrative comes to light, allowing the jury to ponder what could be true. Benson will stop at nothing to ensure it is all there for the court to see, even if it means taking some major leaps. In the end, the truth comes to the surface and no one is safe, as the jury is highly unpredictable. All that, with the truth about what happened the night Benson was accused of murder, offering new ideas on a case thought long resolved. John Fairfax is brilliant and had me reading well into the night (and early morning) to get the answers.

John Fairfax is one of those authors who crossed my radar by fluke, but must have been meant to enter my reading world. When first I read the series debut, I had little idea what I could expect, but was soon enthralled. Fairfax provides so much detail to all the subplots in the book, at times taking the reader on many journeys in tandem. The narrative is crisp and thorough, tackling all legal situations in their own way. Chapters build on one another and connect in ways I could not have expected. The two strong protagonists (William Benson and Tess de Vere) work their own magic and find ways of connecting, while pushing apart at the same time. Fairfax adds ongoing depth to William Benson, through his current legal career, as well as the apparent skeletons in his closet. Tess de Vere offers that investigative backstory that Benson cannot provide himself to get to the core of the past. The central legal plot is the courtroom case involving murder, which develops well, though is sometimes shelved for larger and more long-standing issues. With what came in the final chapters, I have no idea where John Fairfax will take things next, in the most recent publication. Stay tuned, as I am reaching for it now, hoping to devour it soon.

Kudos, Mr. Fairfax, for keeping me on the edge of my seat!

Playing with Matches (Riley Drake #1), by Julie Hyzy

Eight stars

Julie Hyzy has made a name for herself with a few great series I have had the pleasure to read. While they were somewhat quaint and more a ‘cozy read’, this book is anything but that. Riley Drake is a private investigator with grit and determination. She’s ready to take on the world and leave the slime balls at the corner. Hyzy constructs her protagonist and the mean streets of Chicago well, keeping the story moving, the mystery high, and the twists plentiful. While listed as a series, there has been no follow-up since this book’s release in 2015, making me all the more curious to see what it’s all about.

Living in Chicago, you’d have to be tough and gritty, something that Riley Drake has mastered. A private eye with a penchant for getting to the root of the issue, she’s been tasked with running background checks for her friend’s dating service to keep her coffers full. Interesting characters emerge on a daily basis, but none more than John Stratton, a local billionaire who has been suspected of murdering his wife. Stratton, who denies the claim, wants nothing more than to fix his image by getting back into the dating scene. Drake is having none of it, but is somehow lured into working for him to help clear his name.

Their interaction begins jaggedly, as Drake promises only the truth and is happy to send anything she finds to the police. Stratton, sure that there is nothing to find, tosses money her way, and is happy to let his PI turn over any stone, as long as she knows there will be some blips along the way. When someone who has taken a shining to Drake approaches her with some intel that could tarnish John Stratton even more, there is a moment of clarity. Could this mud be tossed simply to add to the fodder, or might there be something to the claim that John Stratton has other proclivities?

Stratton’s dead wife, Gretchen, has quite the story of her own. A pillar of the art community, Gretchen Stratton was laying the breadcrumbs for what could have made a number of people upset widening the list of suspects, though Drake will have to work at them to ensure John is cleared. It may take a great deal of work, as John Stratton is not used to taking direction.

If this were not enough, Riley Drake has a long list of active clients, including a television celebrity who is trying to redefine herself, a powerful entrepreneur whose own personal likes might blacklist him in the business community, and a drug-addled guy who is trying to get clean, but just cannot leave the drama that using brings him. All of this ensures that Riley Drake stays busy, but also finds herself in multiple ways of getting scorched, while playing with fire. Hyzy offers up an interesting one-off from her usual cozy mysteries, sure to shock (and perhaps impress) her fans.

While I have come to know Julie Hyzy as a more wholesome and ‘cozy’ author, this was a great move out of the comfy writing style. She builds a decent foundation with her narrative, offering the reader context to help them better understand what’s happening, while keeping things tied together with some decent characters. The plot twists that emerge offer some surprises, though nothing outlandish. I did not mind the book, but was not entirely sold on the PI/dating service approach. It did little for me and while I enjoyed Riley Drake’s grit, there was too much going on for a single book. I would have liked perhaps two cases running in tandem, which would have allowed more focus and less peripheral action. While I have no ides of this was something Julie Hyzy tried and shelved, I would try another book to see if the series connects with me. That said, anything by the author would be a great reading treat. Those who have not sought out some of her other work out to try it, as it has a great feel to it and is usually pretty easy to digest.

Kudos, Madam Hyzy, for branching out and trying new things/ I will keep my eyes open to see what else you publish soon.

Triple Cross (Alex Cross #30), by James Patterson

Eight stars

One of James Patterson’s cornerstone series has got to be Alex Cross. I have followed the adventures of DC’s great investigator for many years and can usually rely on something great. Patterson keeps things sharp in this piece and juggles numerous plot lines effectively, without getting too muddled. Fans of the series will likely enjoy this book and feel a sense of urgency, shelving the idea that Alex Cross ought to hang up the handcuffs for good.

There is a ruthless and very slick killer on the loose in Washington, DC. His focus appear to be families of many generations, leaving everyone dead with little remorse. There is no evidence on which to rely, forcing Alex Cross to wonder if this is a new level of killer. While he is strictly a consultant, Cross has his hands full and finds multiple cases filling in plate.

Cross is approached to handle another crime spree, this one with international implications. A killer appears to be committing crimes all over, though there is nothing tying them together. When a former literary editor reached out to say that she thinks an author with whom she has worked may be the killer. His international research trips and connection to the local police allow him to commit the perfect crimes. Cross is not sold on the idea, particularly when placed in awkward situations, but there is something sitting in the back of his brain that has him wondering if there might be something to it.

All the while, Cross’ wife is working some cases of her own, including a fashion designer who may have been using the models in an elaborate sex slave ring. As Bree Stone tries to get to the bottom of it all, she cannot help but wonder if she’s in way over her head, rubbing elbows with the super rich and well-connected. As all the cases reach their crescendo, the Cross/Stone family will have to up their protection or face possible attack on humoured fronts. Patterson dazzles with this book and has me newly impressed with a series I once thought had reached its limit.

James Patterson has been someone I respect and vilify, depending on the book and my mood. I have come to expect much from him, though there are times I am sure he uses his name to sell books, rather than investing in quality writing. His Alex Cross series has been fairly good over its run, with only a few later novels failing to meet usual standards. Patterson is back, with strong narrative flow and decent character development from the entire Cross family. He has breathed new life into the stories and keeps the reader guessing whenever they take the plunge. I am eager to see what is to come with this series and still hope that there might be some crossover work, perhaps with Michael Bennett or the Women’s Murder Club. That could make for some wonderful reading, especially fans of multiple Patterson series, all of which have stellar writing.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson, for taking the effort to make things click once more.

Ali Cross: The Secret Detective (Ali Cross #3), by James Patterson

Eight stars

One of James Patterson’s cornerstone series has got to be Alex Cross. I have followed the adventures of DC’s great investigator for years, eager to see where things go. When Patterson introduced a series geared for younger readers, featuring the next generation Ali Cross, I could not help but want to read them as well. My son, Neo, has yet to reach for them, but that is a battle for another day. Patterson addresses crime issues from the perspective of a middle-schooler, doing so effectively and with pizzazz. A great piece that should smack younger readers between the eyes and cater to those who love a good crime thriller.

Ali Cross has large shoes to fill, with his father, Alex Cross, as one of the best known detectives in DC. Ali is so excited to follow in his father’s footsteps that he and some friends hack into the police dispatcher radio system so that they can attend some crime scenes. When doing so one night, they discover that a gang arrest goes sideways and one of the members is shot. This hits the news and churns up a great deal of banter.

At school, Ali faces many in his class who side with the people, that the police are never there when needed and shoot first when they arrive. There is merit to the concern, though Ali does not want every police officer whitewashed with this stereotype. As he tries to have himself heard, Ali becomes the scapegoat for the police, with many feeling he is only spouting what his father professes at home.

Refusing to stand down, Ali seeks to find a way to show that the police, and his father, are not a menace, but actually helpful in the community, What follows is a series of—albeit dangerous—trips to other crime scenes to gather needed evidence. Working on the sly, Ali Cross has to detect the truth and bring it back for the masses. Patterson shines here and hits his target audience with something great!

I will be the first to admit that my relationship with James Patterson books is hit and miss. However, with Alex Cross, I can usually get something great from the esteemed author. This branch-off into the world of young readers has worked well, with a strong narrative and short chapters to hold their attention. Poignant topics and writing that would connect with the younger crowd, Patterson does all he can to keep things ‘real’ and on point. While i do not read all of Patterson’s series, for adult or younger readers, this is one well worth my time and can be of particular interest to Alex Cross fans who need something lighter and shorter. I will keep my eyes peeled for more and nudge this series towards Neo soon!

Kudos, Mr. Patterson, for another great winner in the Cross collection.

Cut, Paste, Kill (Lomax and Biggs #4), by Marshall Karp

Eight stars

The binge of Marshall Karp’s LAPD police procedural series trudges on! I remain impressed with all it has to offer and can only hope others will take a look at these books. Karp offers up some great mystery reading and decent cases, enveloped in dry wit, realistic banter, and wonderful pacing. Perfect for a little light reading, which always helps me between deeper and more brain-twisting stories.

After socialite Eleanor Bellingham-Crump turns up murdered in a hotel bathroom, LAPD Detectives Mike Lomax and Terry Biggs must take the case. The victim, responsible for the death of a young boy, has dodged any criminal changes as she claims diplomatic immunity. Not only was Bellingham-Crump found with a pair os scissors in her side, but there is a detailed scrapbook exploring the specifics of her crime at the scene.

When other victims turns up with the same clues—scissors and scrapbooks—Lomax and Biggs realise that there is a serial killer out there with a penchant for detail and lurid crime fighting, seeking to punish those who did not face justice for the crimes they committed. Working the scrapbooking angle, Lomax and Biggs learn of a covert purchaser who might be the best lead they have.

As the case reaches its zenith, the detectives think that they have something with which they can work, only to have a twist tossed into the middle of everything. There’s something that does not add up here and neither Lomax nor Biggs are ready to admit defeat. With some great personal drama befalling Lomax as well, this case could be a distraction from another case he must solve; how to add to his family at home. Karp does well building the drama and tension in this one, another winner for this series.

Marshall Karp keeps finding new ways to impress the reader with a unique take on murder cases. There is a definite flow to the narrative and a wonderful building up of character development, with Mike Lomax in the middle of it all. There is a great deal of personal growth for the senior LAPD detective in this book, as well as some thinking back to what was and what could be for his family. Decent secondary characters keep there story lively and offer banter to cut the tension throughout. A great novel that is as light as it is humourous, Marshall Karp has found the recipe for success and kept me flipping pages until the final reveal.

Kudos, Mr. Karp, for another great novel that left me highly impressed.

Flipping Out (Lomax and Biggs #3), by Marshall Karp

Eight stars

Continuing my binge of Marshall Karp’s LAPD police procedural series, I continue to be impressed with the books and how easy they are to digest. Karp provides the reader with a solid foundation and uses key events to push the story along. With well-developed characters and wonderful banter, Karp offers the reader something well worth their time when needing something a little lighter.

There is no doubt that LAPD personnel keep busy schedules, leaving their families to wonder about them and bide their time. A number of LAPD wives decided not to wait idly by and created the LA Flippers, a group dedicated to buying houses, having them renovated, and selling the end results for massive profits. In the middle of it is Nora Bannister, a bestselling novelist who uses her abilities to create the ‘Houses to Die For” series. After each book launches, a house of similar description hits the market, leaving investors laughing all the way to the bank.

When one of the investors is found murdered, LAPD Detectives Mike Lomax and Terry Biggs are assigned the case, trying to find out who killed one of the larger police family. Digging into the victim’s life, some secrets turn up and leave more questions than answers. Could the Flippers be involved in something a little more nefarious?

As members of the LA Flippers are murdered, one by one, Lomax and Biggs up their investigative attention, trying to crack the case open, but come up short. Could it be an illegal worker with a vendetta? Someone who is not happy with the real estate market? Or perhaps someone trying to target cops through their families? When Marilyn Biggs, Terry’s wife, becomes the next logical target, the protection detail is increased and the case takes on a life of its own. Lomax and Biggs will stop at nothing to stop a killer, while the brass and mayor’s office are calling for heads while the media hot potato is tossed around. If anyone can solve the case, it’s Lomax and Biggs, but they are surely running out of time. Karp does well with this one yet again, keeping the reader in the middle of a great crime thriller.

Marshall Karp continues to impress, offering up another great novel in the series. Karp provides a grounded narrative to direct the reader through the crimes and how the protagonists seek to solve them. Mike Lomax appears to be the central protagonist once more, leaving me to believe that this will not change for the next two novels in the collection. As before there are some strong secondary characters who advance the story or flavour the narrative with needed banter. As always things are not linear, providing the reader with some necessary plot twists to keep things moving in a forward direction. While not a ‘deep’ read,these are surely great novels to pass the time and I am eager to sink my teeth into the next piece.

Kudos, Mr. Karp, for another great novel that left me highly impressed.

Blind Defence (Benson and de Vere #2), by John Fairfax

Nine stars

Having earned a number of well-deserved awards for his writing, the author John Fairfax returns with another stunning courtroom thriller. The William Benson series may only be in its infancy, but I am fully immersed in the drama and nuances that Fairfax has developed. Benson’s backstory is ever-changing and evolving, which is addressed throughout the novel, while the reader is left to wonder how Tess de Vere will handle what she knows and how she can either help or hinder Benson’s legal career. A great crime and stunning defense of a man who appears outwardly guilty as sin fill the pages of the book, but there is much to be done with Benson and his own legal issues. Powerfully written and full of legal trapdoors, as well as character development that can only be called brilliant, John Fairfax is an author for those who are serious about British legal thrillers and need something that will have them thinking as well as be entertained!

William Benson is still trying to make a name for himself, after going to prison for a crime he professes not to have committed. Later admitting to the crime solely to be granted parole and the chance to start his legal career, Benson does not deny his plan, but remains steadfast that he is innocent. While the country is divided about him, some in Parliament are prepared to do whatever they can to have him stripped of his ability to remain at the Bar. Stuck in the middle os Tess de Vere, who helped him along the way and has been sending clients in his direction. She, too, is facing pressure not to associated with Benson and has taken a step back, which has surely cost him billable hours and has creditors chasing him down. However, Benson is prepared to move forward and has a case fall into his lap that is sure to garner much attention.

With all the forensics coming together, it would appear that Brent Stainsby caught up to his one-time girlfriend in London and confronted her. What appears to have been a cordial encounter soon turned dark, when Diane Heybridge was found strangled and a blood orange wedged into her mouth. Stainsby professes that he is innocent and that Diane was suicidal, though much of the evidence baffles the police, who cannot see how this could have happened. William Benson takes the case and must try to find out how to defend a man whose guilt seem all but assured.

While he has been meeting with Tess de Vere regularly to go over the case, Benson feels things are somewhat strained. Tess has been trying to inch herself away, even though she sees it is costing Benson a great deal. She wants him to succeed but also needs to know the truth about him and what happened all those years ago. Counselling him as best she can without being sacked herself, Tess points Benson in a direction that might have some merit.

As Benson readies himself for trial, he learns more about the victim and her life in Dover. Diane may have been living a life that is more troublesome than it appears on paper. Her connections and criminal involvement could play a role in what happened to her, as could her personal history, all of which Benson will raise with the jury when he can. It will take monumental efforts to convince twelve people that Stainsby did see the victim on the fateful night, but had nothing to do with her death. That is something Benson is ready to do, with his sly means of cross-examination, honed while still behind bars.

As the pressure mounts in the courtroom, a move is planned to potentially banish William Benson from a legal career he built while living in Her Majesty’s Prisons, with Tess de Vere forced to decide how she will act. Nothing could be harder, though there is something that needs further exploration before Tess can make a decision. She wants to know the full story of that night in 1999, when Benson was accused of killing a man in a bar fight,. Probing a little on her own, Tess may have found a thread and must now follow it to the end, all while Benson dazzles in the courtroom. Another winner by John Fairfax that will have serious readers rushing to keep reading the novels in this series.

John Fairfax crossed my radar when first I read the series debut, but I had little idea what I could expect from his writing at that time. Fairfax provides a significant amount of detail to all the subplots in the book, but does not supersaturate the reader who is trying to make their way through things. There is wonderful narrative movement, tackling a number of situations and time periods to fill in the blanks throughout. Each chapter builds on the last and keeps the reader in the middle of everything that is taking place. With two strong protagonists (William Benson and Tess de Vere), the story branches out repeatedly to tackle their own struggles, as well as the central legal issue that weaves its way through the novel. Fairfax keeps adding depth to William Benson, trying to open up the can of worms that is his past, though there is just as much intrigue with his current work in the courtroom. Using Tess de Vere to tap into the Benson backstory helps the readers see how many secrets there are and what Benson will do to keep them shelved. The main plot throughout the book is the legal case involving murder, which develops well and gains momentum as both sides of the case present evidence and the witnesses offer their perspectives. I can only wonder what will come next, as I discovered that Fairfax offers breadcrumbs in his books about future storylines, of which there are many to choose based on the narrative of this book. John Fairfax is not for those who need a quick and light legal thriller, but surely impresses the reader who needs something with a little more ‘meat’ as they meander through the English legal process.

Kudos, Mr. Fairfax, for impressing me once again. I have the next novel ready to go and M keen to sink my teeth into it.

Bloodthirsty (Lomax and Biggs #2), by Marshall Karp

Eight stars

After taking the recommendation to read some of Marshall Karp’s solo work, I reached for this series. Enjoying the first novel in the collection, I was happy to continue, hoping the intensity would remain. This is a great police procedural set on the streets of LA, with gritty detective work, off-colour humour, and a great flow from one event to another. Karp dazzles once more in this piece, adding depth to areas he did did not expound upon in the debut and opening new doors to even better writing.

No one ever said that Los Angeles was not a tough city, something that LAPD Detectives Mike Lomax and Terry Biggs know all too well. As these two bask in the fame that came their way during a previous murder investigation, there is talk of a movie or even a television series bearing their names. However, it is key not to let anything get to their heads.

After one of the industry’s most hated men does not appear for a Hollywood party, people begin talking. When Barry Gerber’s body is found dumped the following morning, Lomax and Biggs are astonished as to what’s happened to him. There is little time to ponder this, as the detectives must find the killer before things cool down too much. In a city when enemies are easier to find than one’s own shoelaces, the suspect list keeps growing by the hour. When Lomax and Biggs think that they might have a lead and the potential killer, he, too, turns up slain in the same odd manner. Now it’s clear that the killer is not only on the hunt, but has a motive.

As Lomax and Biggs delve even deeper, they come across a plot that chills them to the bone and proves to be far more sinister than simply killing one’s enemies. The problem is, there is no clear understanding as to who might be next on the killer’s list. A great follow-up novel in this series that will have readers flipping pages for as long as time permits. Marshall Karp keeps readers guessing until the very end once more.

Marshall Karp continues to dazzle with this series, offering up all the elements to a successful novel and laying the groundwork for a great series. Karp’s balanced narrative guides the reader through the action from the outset, building on the characters of the two protagonists in both their professional and personal lives. Lomax remains in the limelight throughout, with his own personal struggles the highlight of non-crime discussions, but Terry Biggs is not free from some of his own analysis. Some decent secondary characters help to advance the story, offering clues related to the crime, or simply a means by which to inject some banter. Needed plot twists appear at various points and shape the larger story. I am still quite attached to the series and hope to keep the momentum going, as I reach for the next novel in the collection. Marshall Karp has done it again and I cannot get enough.

Kudos, Mr. Karp, for adding more grit and humour to what could be a dark subject matter.

The Rabbit Factory (Lomax and Biggs #1), by Marshall Karp

Eight stars

Having read a number of novels in which Marshall Karp is a collaborator, I thought I would take someone’s recommendation and try my hand at reading some of his solo work. A great police procedural series, full of strong detective work, dry wit, and wonderful pacing, Karp proves that he can easily stand on his own and entertain readers effectively. I am eager to continue my journey through the series, hoping that the rest of the books are as entertaining as this debut.

Familyland is the modern amusement park for all ages, part of Lamaar Studios. Growing from a small animation house, Lamaar Studios is now a massive entertainment collective, including movies, television, and especially a massive theme park. After one of the actors who portrayed the cornerstone character of the Studio is found murdered on park grounds, it’s time to call in the LAPD. While Detectives Mike Lomax and Terry Biggs are expecting something unique, nothing could prepare them when they found a massive Rambunctious Rabbit sprawled on the ground. While Lamaar Studios wants the case solved quickly, they are also keen to have the crime kept quiet, especially when it is discovered that the victim was a paedophile who fudged his records.

As Lomax and Biggs dig a little deeper, they learn that there is more to Lamaar Studios than meets the eye. This is solidified when a second employee is killed. It seems as though there has been a long-standing feud between some of the early members of the animation house, which could have everything come tumbling down if not handled properly. The killer gets bolder and soon kills again, with a demand that could put everyone in danger.

With a case like no other, Mike Lomax must also struggle to get his life in order. A recent widow with some unfinished business, Lomax tries to keep it together and prevent his slapstick partner from learning too much about life away from detective work. It will be a challenge, but Lomax has long been good at deflecting and keeping a work-home balance. A great series debut, showing that Marshall Karp has laid a wonderful foundation for a collection that is sure to garner many fans.

The key to a great detective story is to pull the reader in quickly and repeatedly throughout. Marshall Karp does this effectively in this debut, offering up a great set of crimes, strong characters, and a bit of dry humour to cut through some of the tension. Karp’s use of a strong narrative provides the reader with great guidance as they make their way through the novel’s many twists. Introducing the two protagonists early and often offers the reader a connection with those who are most important to the story. Mike Lomax is front and centre in this novel, which is a wonderful way to connect with the reader. I can only wonder if Terry Biggs will have added time in the limelight in subsequent books, but the personal side of the character offers a stronger connection and allows the reader to see the softer side, which may not be present in police procedurals. A handful of strong secondary characters also propel the story forward, offering the reader some lighter banter at times. Plot twists emerge throughout the book and help shape the larger story. This appears to be the longest and most intense of the series novels, perhaps Karp’s way of adding depth to his characters before offering up faster and more succinct crimes. Whatever it is, Karp proves not only that he has an handle solo writing, but that he is one author to keep on my radar, as I was fully committed from the opening pages.

Kudos, Mr. Karp, for this gritty police procedural that has me reaching for the next book.

Escape (Billy Harney #3), by James Patterson and David Ellis

Eight stars

James Patterson and David Ellis return with another in their Billy Harney series, offering up some great action in a fast-paced police procedural. Full of sarcasm and great narrative flow, Patterson and Ellis provide readers with a great deal of entertainment throughout the reading experience. While not the best of the Patterson’s attributed series, it kept me intrigued until the final page turn, with a cliffhanger of its own.

After five teenage girls are abducted in Chicago, all eyes turn to CPD Detective Billy Harney to find them. Following a few key leads, Harney and his partner travel to a rural home, where they hope to find the girls and solve the case with little issue. However, it’s a trap and the house is rigged, which leads to Harney’s partner dying and the kidnapper slipping through his fingers.

Harney vows not to stand down until the killer is caught and the victims are returned to their families. This is easier said than done, as this is one conniving individual, happy to stay one pace ahead of the rest. Harney’s sordid past and willingness to bend the rules help grease the wheels to ensure that nothing will keep CPD from catching the accused, once they are identified.

While the case ramps up, Harney cannot help but find distraction in his personal life, which could prove detrimental, but also somewhat necessary. Harney’s past collides with the present as he does battle with himself and the killer in tandem. Even when things appear to be clear-cut, there’s a twist and the story reaches a tense climax, with Harney in the middle. Patterson and Ellis offer up a decent piece of writing here, sure to find a number of readers eager to explore Billy Harney a little more.

While I have had some issues with James Patterson and his writing, he has certain collaborators who coax out some superior writing to which the popular author is attributed. David Ellis has done this repeatedly and this proves to be one of those partnerships. The narrative flow works well for this piece, which has moments of greatness and others that link two larger plot lines together. Decent characters pepper the story and provide entertainment throughout, though none standout as being stellar for me. Firm plot lines offer the reader some suspense and leave the book from being too predictable, helping to keep the book mysterious when needed. Patterson and Ellis have worked well together on this series and this is another positive outcome, proving that there is still something to be said of books that bear the former’s name.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Ellis, on a book I could enjoy with ease.

Summary Justice (Benson and De Vere #1), by John Fairfax

Nine stars

John Fairfax has an established, award-winning writing career under his given name, but has turned to a nom de plume to dazzle readers with this twist-filled legal thriller. While I read this book a few years ago, I chose to return to it, as I complete a series read of the William Benson novels. I am glad to have undertaken the refresher, as there is so much to pull from it. Fairfax weaves a chilling tale of murder, redemption, and a new courtroom case that is sure to keep the reader filling pages, as I did. There’s a great deal to handle in this book, forcing the reader to pay attention and take note, as the ride is sure to be intense!

William Benson has had an interesting life to say the least. Charged with a murder as a young man, Benson held firm that he was innocent, but agreed to plea to receive rehabilitation. A young legal student, Tess de Vere, attended the trial and took a shining to the defendant, having an epiphany to practice criminal law thereafter. After being sentenced, Benson kept his head down in prison, until he was paroled for good behaviour. While many men would have turned to a darker side, Benson chose to hone his skills and read law, earning his degree. While many felt this was hopeless, as he would not be called to the Bar, Benson proved them wrong, being taken on by a few barristers who thought he deserved a second chance.

After being supported by a secret financial backer, Benson spent a few years taking the legal scraps that were being offered. He opens his own shop, even though many still vilified him for his crimes. Knowing all the legal loopholes, Benson is is ready to help those who are pre-judged by society. When Sarah Collingstone approaches him to represent her in a murder in which she is accused of of stabbing a man to death with a broken bottle. Benson is prepared to mount the best defence he can, but will need some help with the media circus. In what can only be deemed a chance encounter, Tess de Vere re-emerges after some legal dealings in France and agrees to serve as his supervising solicitor. Together, they take the Collingstone case to trial, While Collingstone refuses to deny the evidence against her, she professed that she had done nothing wrong. Benson cannot help but wonder if there is more to the story than what his client is telling him.

As the trial continues, Benson is faced with continued adversity—both for his past crime and the evidence the prosecution had against Collingstone—but sees a great deal of himself in his client. While it would be easy to let the court system devour a hapless accused, Benson cannot turn a blind eye. Benson can only hope Lady Justice will look out for an innocent person, even when the evidence tells a cut and dry story. A fabulously crafted legal thriller that will keep the reader wondering about many of the storylines. Perfect for those who love a paced novel that does not skimp on thought-provoking moments.

Having never read John Fairfax, I was not sure what to expect with this piece, but am pleased that I took the time yet again. He has a wonderful way of laying out the scene and offering enough detail to pull the reader into the mix, without drowning them. The narrative floes well, taking on numerous time periods to cover all aspects of the novel, building up with each chapter. The important aspects of Benson’s past are not left to short snippets of backstory, but is developed throughout, in the preface and peppered in the early parts of each section of the book. The protagonists have their own stories, which propel the larger narrative forward, though it leaves the reader wanting more, particularly about Tess de Vere. Her return to London after some international legal matters in Strasbourg are only loosely addressed and will have readers begging Fairfax to offer more as the series progresses. Fairfax does a wonderful job at developing a multi-faceted William Benson, pulling on his vulnerabilities but also his strength and seeking justice for a woman who has little hope of acquittal. Fairfax is also stellar in his plot development through the legal cases, both inside the courtroom with wonderful testimony and outside as Benson tries to fend off those who would have him removed from the Bar. The revelations that come up during the trial are wonderful twists and turn the reader to wondering how innocent Sarah Collingstone just might be. I am pleased to see a series awaits me, which I can only hope will be filled with more legal matters and attempts to better understand the protagonists.

Kudos, Mr. Fairfax, for a wonderful story that kept me wanting more. I can see how you were awarded literary prizes and hope others discover your work in the near future.

Listen to Me (Rizzoli and Isles #13), by Tess Gerritsen

Eight stars

Tess Gerritsen returns with lucky book thirteen in this series, full of action and a gripping set of crimes. Rizzoli and Isles have been working together in their unique way for years, but the delay between novels has me eager to see what they have been doing. Gerritsen does a great job keeping her protagonists going and pushing through a new and curious case, with an added amateur sleuth in the form of Jane’s mother, Angela, working her own investigation. Full of all the needed elements for a great book, Gerritsen offers up a winner for series fans and general readers alike.

In Boston, you never know what you are going to get on a daily basis. Homicide Detective Jane Rizzoli and her best friend, Medical Examiner Maura Isles, can attest to this, particularly when a seemingly random murder falls in their laps. Sofia Suarez has lived a calm life, loved by many at the hospital at which she works, as well as her friends. A recent widow, she was transitioning to a new life alone, but has now been found brutally murdered in her home.

While Sofia seems straight-laced, she may be harbouring a pile of secrets, as her call logs in the days leading to her death are filled with random numbers to a variety of locations. It is only when Detective Rizzoli makes a connection to a recent hit-and-run victim that the case gets even more confounding. Whatever it is, the killer is surely trying to keep Sofia silent for what she knows.

Detective Rizzoli is not the only one investigating something suspicious. Angela Rizzoli has begun looking into new neighbours who moved onto the street. Something seems off, but Angela cannot put her finger on it. With a teenaged daughter who randomly disappears, Angela wonders of there is something going on behind closed doors, but she is shunned away by the family and Detective Rizzoli as well. Still, this is one gut instinct that will not go away. Angela’s determination appears to get her nowhere, but she refuses to stand down, hoping that someone will listen to her if she persists.

With the case ramping up, Detective Rizzoli and ME Isles appear to be trying to crack it open, but Angela’s insistence of something off causes added distractions. There is no time to waste, as Sofia’s killer is sure to fade away before long, leaving the case unsolved and more trouble. Gerritsen does a great job in this lucky novel, paving the way for more adventures soon.

I have long enjoyed this series by Tess Gerritsen, both the books and the television show that came of them. Not only are they highly entertaining, but Gerritsen writes in such a way that they are always informative. Her narrative style is clean and clear, which climbs to new levels in this book, with multiple perspectives. The reader can clearly discern the action in the book through multiple characters, adding a depth to the story. The strong core characters are back, allowing the reader to revisit the lives of Jane and Maura, as well as the ever-blossoming Angela, while also discovering a handful of new faces, used for this story alone. Plots develop in parallel and keep the reader entertained, particularly with two cases developing. Gerritsen proves that this series is back and deserves more added to it, with a thirteenth book offering up a long-awaited gem. I am eager to see where things are headed from here, as Tess Gerritsen is always full of surprises.

Kudos, Madam Gerritsen, for returning to this series and showing it still has some gas left in the tank.

Plot/Counterplot, by William Bernhardt

Nine stars

William Bernhardt returns with a stunning piece of fiction that strays from his usual legal thrillers. Using a bestselling authors as his protagonist, Bernhardt spins a tale about how those with wonderful ideas for crime thrillers can sometimes be the best weapon when they fall into the wrong hands. In a story that mixes fiction with the deadliest realities, Bernhardt provides readers with a novel unlike any I have read in a long while. Graphic depictions told in a highly realistic fashion, William Bernhardt proves why he is at the top of his game and eager to share his skills with readers!

The most creative stories of espionage and criminal masterminds come from the keyboards of top-notch authors, something Dylan Taggart knows all too well. The bestselling author has wonderful ideas fuelled by a childhood filled with anything but bliss. Taggart’s calmness is jolted one night when he and his girlfriend are taken hostage so that he can create the ultimate plan to steal a military weapon like no other. Fiction does truly turn into fact at this point.

While Taggart refuses to be a part of the charade, his mind is soon turned when he is tortured to the brink of death. Taggart’s ideas flow easily as he creates the ultimate story the captors use to help find a way to get into the military compound and get their hands on the deadliest weapon imaginable.

As the story progresses, Taggart is forced to make a decision that could have deadly fallout, all while trying to determine who is behind this event and what their ultimate goal could be. Many of those he meets along the way could be close to the top of the pyramid, but the elusive Supervisor remains in the shadows. Will Taggart be able to coax them out through his writing. More importantly, might there be a chance to take a stand before the ultimate act takes place, killing countless innocent civilians in this game of international cat and mouse? William Bernhardt does well to build up the action and has the reader desperate to find out how it all comes together.

There’s s something about William Bernhardt and his writing that leaves me wanting more each time I read one of his novels. He has such a strong ability to build a story up for the reader to enjoy, while keeping things poignant with today’s happenings. A detailed narrative that flows with ease proves essential to developing a strong novel, something that Bernhardt can do with significant ease. He uses great characters and a stunning collection of backstories to provide the reader a great roadmap as things get more intense. Plot lines emerge that take the reader in one direction, only to turn things around with another element couched in secrecy. I found myself captivated by much of what was going on throughout the piece and can only hope that there will be more stories of this calibre, be they one-offs or part of a larger series.

Kudos, Mr. Bernhardt, for proving once again just how talented you are and wha you bring to the genre.

Out of Bounds (Billy Beckett #5), by Kelly Hodge

Eight stars

Kelly Hodge is back with another explosive thriller in the Billy Beckett series. Using the unique angle of a sports and music agent as protagonist, Hodge provides the reader with an interesting approach to an investigative thriller. Hodge has done well with this series, originally a collaborative effort with another author I quite enjoyed reading. Hodge has all the tools for a great series and I can only hope that he will keep things going.

Billy Beckett has had better days. While his successful agent business keeps attracting new clients, his father’s illness has taken a turn for the worse. Beckett is scrambling to make sense of it all, while trying to keep his head in the game. He has two new potential clients, both of whom would be great additions, but they need his attention.

Harley ‘Ace’ Winters is a golfer who has lost his drive, with winning tournaments a thing of the past. Eddie Pickett is a musician who has a bright future ahead as he climbs in the charts. Both men have skeletons in their closets that threaten to drag them down, which forces Beckett to spend more time helping their images than he should.

Beckett thrives to ensure his newest clients are safe and taken care of, but there is no guarantee that it will not come crashing down. As things intensify, there is an ongoing concern that both Ace and Eddie may prove to be too much for the agency, leaving Beckett to choose between his career and their personal livelihoods. The choice is not as easy as it may seem, especially for an agent who thrives on risk. Kelly Hodge pens another winner and leaves readers gasping as they seek answers to many of the issues presented herein.

I have long admired Kelly Hodge for his work on this series, the only books of his that I have read. Hodge has a great way of pulling the reader into the middle of the story with a strong narrative and ever-advancing momentum. Wonderfully crafted characters with backstories of their own provide some lighter aspects to the novel, offsetting the darker storylines that fill much of the content. Key plot developments are, as usual, perfectly fitting within the larger story and offer the reader some chilling realisations throughout the novel’s climactic build. I can only hope Kelly Hodge has more in store for Billy Beckett, as I am sure many fans are eager to see where things are headed.

Kudos, Mr. Hodge, for another wonderful book. You have a great handle on this series and I know Scott Pratt would be proud with the work you’ve done.

The Fire Killer (DI Barton #5), by Ross Greenwood

Eight stars

Ross Greenwood returns with another great story in the DI Barton series. There is a spark to things here, keeping the reader in the middle of the action throughout this short, but impactful, piece. DI Barton is always keen to help those around him, but one wrong move and everything could go up in flames. A strong story and a great plot helps Greenwood pull readers into the middle of the action until the last chapter is left to smoulder.

After a fire takes the life of a woman, DI Barton and his team are called in to see what’s going on. While there does not appear to be much to the fire, Barton is left to wonder if this was a childhood prank gone wrong or perhaps a targeted attack with racial undertones. Either way, it should be a quick investigation. However, something does not appear entirely above board, which has Barton wanting to push the ashes around a little more to see what flares up.

True to his instincts, DI Barton realises that there have been a number of similar fires over the last number of years, made innocuous during early investigating because of their sporadic nature. As a clue crosses his desk, Barton is eager to follow it up, but finds himself chasing things down a rabbit hole for a time.

After a tip from someone on the streets who is sure she saw the arsonist first-hand, DI Barton follows the trail to see if there is a killer out there using fire as the ultimate weapon. There is no rhyme or reason to it all, but Peterborough will not rest until this killer is put behind bars. DI Barton is left to put all his resources into the case, worrying that there could be more dead before long, and his case would surely go up in smoke! A great addition to the series by Greenwood, showing his abilities front and centre.

Ross Greenwood has held my attention throughout this series which is always finding new ways to impress. The novels, which are based on strong narrative foundations, provide the reader with a great dual perspective, the DI Barton investigation and the killer. It is as though there is a game of cat and mouse taking place throughout the experience. A handful of key characters provide entertainment and offer up some continuity to the larger story, while also baffling the reader when new faces come along. Great plot twists that force everyone to take a second look at the crime, the backstory, and the events that shape the kills, provide just what the reader needs to push through the story. I have enjoyed the DI Barton series since its inception and with one book left, I hope things end well before Greenwood moves on to a new adventure.

Kudos, Mr. Greenwood, for keeping the reader in the middle of things in this hot addition to the collection.

The Search for the Green River Killer, by Carlton Smith and Tomás Guillén

Eight stars

While I have never been a prolific true crime fan, I could not keep from wanting to read this book by Carlton Smith and Tomás Guillén, the reporters who covered the original Green River killings. Told in a clear and concise manner, the authors pull the reader into the middle of one of the most prolific murder sprees and decades-long hunt for the killer. Chilling and riveting at the same time, any who read and enjoy this book will see just how complex and time consuming the chase was to find the man who left dozens of women dead over that time.

Over the 1980s and 1990s, a number of women went missing and were found murdered around Seattle. Forty-nine women who were mostly prostitutes, turned up, leaving the local police to try deciphering who the man might be and what his motive could be. The hunt led to many dead ends and numerous arrests, but the killings continued and no one was stepping up to claim responsibility. Victims were dumped along the Green River in Washington State, explaining how the killer soon got that moniker, but was always one step ahead of the police. Even when serial killer Ted Buddy was consulted for a psychological profile, he could not offer one that would lead to a quick arrest.

Twenty years of killings and brutal discoveries left the police to wonder if this could be a team of men, targeting the vulnerable parts of the population, with a brutal message to send to others. It was only after a DNA hit and a number of clues pointed at one Gary Ridgway as the Green River Killer. As the book reaches its climax, the truth comes out, alongside some graphic admissions as to why things happened the way they did and the impetus for the killings. Ridgway stands with other prolific American serial killers like Bundy, Son of Sam, and John Wayne Gacy, all of whom showed a depravity to those they killed and a desire to stay ahead of the hunt. The authors provide wonderful accounts from their journalistic backgrounds and leave the reader enthralled as the truth slowly comes to the surface. I am interested to learn more and cannot wait to get my hands on some other books about this and other prolific true crimes, if only to open my mind to a genre I do not frequently read.

There is no doubt that Carlton Smith and Tomás Guillén deserved the praise they received while covering the killings for the Seattle Times when the Green River Killer was on the loose. With this book, they provide the reader with first hand accounts of events, offering perspective and key direction onto the narrative. While I had heard of the killings, I knew nothing about the specifics, using this book as a wonderful primer to educate myself. The authors explore all aspects of the crimes, the investigation, and the race to find a killer, leaving no stone unturned as they ramp up the action, I could not have asked for a better set of guides on this rocky adventure. In this updated version, the authors provide new information after Ridgway was caught and his confessions, which adds a new layer to the larger story.

Kudos, Messrs. Smith and Guillén, for such a rollercoaster of emotions throughout.

Red Market (Jinx Ballou #5), by Dharma Kelleher

Eight stars

Dharma Kelleher is back with another stunning book in her Jinx Ballou bounty hunter series! Full of action, social commentary, and great banter, Kelleher shows that she has all the elements of a great writer who does not shy away from topics many would not explore. This proved not only to be highly educational for me, but also quite entertaining. Anyone who’s looking for something outside the box and ready to read with an open mind, Dharma Kelleher is just the author for you!

Jinx Ballou has made a name for herself in the Phoenix area as a top-notch bounty hunter. While there is never an end to the workload, some cases prove to be a lot more troubling than others. Jinx is hired to apprehend a man wanted for selling cadavers and who got into an altercation with a family what did not appreciate his line of work. While this seems a little odd, what’s more troubling is the discovery of the man’s body when Jinx arrives to collect him. Immediately, Jinx is in the crosshairs for the murder and she has little means of explaining her way out of this one.

While she tries to stay one step ahead of the authorities, Jinx is pulled into the world of organ smuggling and illegal trading, something she had no idea was taking place, let alone in Phoenix. She’s forced to take steps on the other side of the line and put herself out there, if only to learn who might want to kill for the secrets they have. More doctors are involved and they, too, end up dead. Someone is trying to silence everyone and plug the leaks.

While trying to make sense of it all, Jinx is also working to protect a young trans girl whose father is anything but eager for the news. Tied to that, the Arizona State government has just past a law that gender-affirming care is a form of child abuse, which raises the ire of Jinx and her fellow members of the LGBTQ+ community. This is a life lesson that Jinx was not ready to handle, as trans rights are being trampled as quickly as they can, with no help from the courts. Jinx will have to fight to straighten things out or toss a young girl into a cesspool of hate for what she knows she is meant to be. Kelleher does a sensational job with this piece, keeping me wondering and turning pages right through to the end.

I have long enjoyed the work of Dharma Kelleher, who tackles tough issues without becoming preachy. She is the only author I have read who puts trans issues at the forefront and seeks to explain, rather than browbeat her readers, some of whom may not be entirely familiar with the topic. Using a strong narrative core, Kelleher is able to transmit her story to readers with ease. Utilising great characters on both sides—understanding and ignorant—she provides a great means of educating. As Kelleher mentions in her author’s note, she sought a trans protagonist who was not fixated solely on transitioning issues, but worked in a field of law enforcement and was happy to help others with questions. The plots that emerge here are both well-established and socially relevant. Kelleher does not shy away from the controversy, pointing fingers directly at the ignorant and making sure readers know how abuse of political power is making America more phobic and less in line with its constitutional values. While some may disagree that there is a need for alternative acceptance, I will let them pull out a soapbox and preach to me, to see what merits they can offer.

Kudos, Madam Kelleher, for another great read. Always eager to see what you have to say.

First in Line: Presidents, Vice-Presidents, and the Pursuit of Power, by Kate Andersen Brower

Nine stars

Many colourful things have been said about the vice-presidency of the United States; none of them good. Kate Andersen Brower takes the plunge to explore the role and how history has treated the men (this book came out before Kamala Harris assumed the role) who held the position, as well as what they did during their ‘waiting in the wings’. Brower does a masterful job at showing how the role, largely ceremonial and usually the whipping boy of the president, allowed some to rise to the occasion and others to wither into the abyss of American politics. With great references and a powerful collection of anecdotes, Brower keeps the reader enthused until the final page turn.

While the role of US vice-president has some of the most important aspects to it, there is no doubt that it is the ultimate waiting game. As Kate Andersen Brower explores in this book, the person chosen to stand with the presidential nominee is usually there to fill a gap and help propel the ticket into the White House. However, once the goal has been achieved, it is largely a waiting game or one where the individual is sent off to attend funerals, cut ribbons, and kiss the odd baby. Still, there is a certain aura, knowing that you are but one step away from being the most powerful person in the world.

Brower explores the history of the vice-presidency, at least the modern ones, and gives the reader a better understanding of the lead-up to selection, the late campaign, and time in the White House. There were some, like LBJ, who wanted nothing to do with it, feeling that it was the ultimate kick in the teeth. Others, such as George H.W. Bush, used it to make connections with leaders around the world to help him before he became president in 1989. Still others, like Gerald Ford, had it thrust upon them in a time of panic, unsure where they were and what was going on. The stories in this book help provide the reader with some context into the role, the stress, and the complete lack of a job description.

The book is truly a collection of backstories that shed light on some of the goings-on that few who have not dug around know very well. I knew a few of these stories, mainly because I have done a great deal of reading and biography scanning over the years, but many would not know just how painful some of the connections between the pair of men turned out to be. How Nixon hated Spiro Agnew almost as soon as he won the landslide in 1968, how LBJ could not stand JFK or RFK, calling them both the most colourful names I have heard when reading about politicians interacting, and even the strain Clinton and Gore had in the latter portion of the second term. It’s truly a thankless role and some, like Mike Pence, are left with egg on their face when the president is a complete abuser of power and no one can understand why anyone would stand by him. Brower tries to make sense of it all, doing fairly well, and leaves it to the reader to decide what they want to take from this book.

As I just finished Mike Pence’s memoirs, I was eager to grab this book and get a larger picture of life as the second-in-command. I have read a great deal about LBJ and George H.W. Bush, but many of the others who sat in the Naval Observatory (and before) remained elusive to me. I quite enjoyed how Kate Andersen Brower laid the groundwork in her book and provided the reader with wonderful anecdotes to put things into context. History has largely forgotten these men and this is a way of pushing them into the limelight, even if the notoriety is not entirely positive. The strains behind the scenes become apparent in the narrative, as presidents use their vice-presidents to run errands or get dumped on, then rage when things are not going so smoothly as they should. Still, the ceremonial role aside, these men (and now woman) have that precarious role of being one breath, one heartbeat, away from ultimate power, but sit there, like the understudy, waiting for someone to die or be incapacitated. What a job to have, eh?!

Kudos, Madam Brower, for this excellent look into the life of vice-presidents. I was enthralled from the get-go and am so pleased I took the time to read this book.

So Help Me God, by Mike Pence

Eight stars

In preparation for what is sure to be a busy 2024 presidential election season in the United States, I turned to this memoir by Mike Pence, former Vice-President under POTUS 45, The Donald. While I was always baffled how Pence could stay quiet during those four years and not want to tear out his hair, I was also keen to understand the man, his choices, and the life he lived before he came onto my radar in the summer of 2016. This book does a wonderful job at that, offering insights and views I had not considered, doing some in a mostly rational and calm manner. While I cannot agree with everything within these pages, I can respect the view that is told with fact and calm justification.

Michael Pence grew up in a religious family in a small Indiana town. His Catholic upbringing brought with it a connection to politics and an affinity for the likes of JFK. Pence speaks of how he admired the man and followed him however he could, through his mother’s passions for the president, even though Pence also saw some of the benefits of the GOP. Pence used that strong connection to God to guide him through a number of scenarios, including class choices and how he would do in a post-secondary world. While he was not entirely sold on the idea, Pence sat for his law school entrance exams and did, after a few stumbles, get access, where his mind would open to many other things.

It was his life on campus that really opened Pence’s eyes to a world in which God and Jesus could guide him. Pence explores his personal faith and how this connection, fostered through Bible study and prayer, helped lead him in a certain direction he still follows today. He studied hard, fell for a woman who held his same beliefs, and began making plans for a future he hoped would include a family and a further connection with his Higher Power.

Pence had his political epiphany with the election of Ronald Regan in 1980 and turned to the GOP for good. He felt the spark of political service and sought to run for office, after a few years of getting his feet wet within Indiana’s state process. While Pence was not successful, he did not let this deter him and eventually won a seat in Congress in 2000. With a family now, Pence had new priorities and tried his best to balance parenthood with serving his state and the country, which proved to be a struggle at times. Pence offers some great insight into life as a congressman, as well as how he stood his own against the likes of George W. Bush, never bowing when he felt he was right, but always keeping the respect of those around him. This would prove to be a key stepping stone in his political future and make him a name to be remembered on the national stage.

Pence also recounts the important decision to leave Washington when Indiana needed him most, chosen to hold onto the Republican governorship in the state. This would be a new challenge, with its own struggles, but Pence sought to serve his state as best he could, adding new and sometimes troubling responsibilities to his list of future qualifications. I found it interesting to see how Pence handled some of the issues, justifying his perspective and only mildly trying to vilify the left media, tossing out ‘woke’ when he did not fit with his agenda. However, he does this in a mostly respectful manner and leaves the reader to see that his perspective, while different, had some merit and should not be swiftly dismissed. This means of explaining things would prove helpful in the years to come, even if he appeared outwardly statuesque in the face of chaos.

Pence explores his preparing to run for re-election as governor and how that led to some interesting times in 2016, with a presidential race taking place. While Pence was not supporting Trump from the outset, his honesty makes the foible seem less problematic. Pence discusses meeting its Candidate Trump and how this led to him being considered for the ticket after the GOP nomination had been secured. Ever-humble and praying on matters, Pence agreed to be the vice-presidential candidate when asked and the campaign moved forward. Pence glosses over a great deal, it does make it seem as though he was no sycophant, simply able to let God handle the rough waters in which Trump tossed the ticket through to Election Night.

After winning election, Pence began a new journey, which he explains in the next portion of the book. From leading the Transition to taking the vice-presidential role, Pence offers tidbits of information, always showing that he and Trump were in agreement on issues and stances. Pence makes his role as second-in-command appear genuinely interesting and does not paint himself to be a lapdog, even though I surmise there is more to the story, which he chooses not to put to paper. His ‘here to serve’ comes off as slightly more ‘granola’, given the circumstances, but I only have Pence’s own words to use as reference.

As the book progresses, Pence begins discussing key policy issues, peppering in some of the larger issues around a shutdown and interactions with foreign leaders. Pence does a great job of showing how he served well to represent America’s needs, at least through the lens of what POTUS felt needed accomplishing. While this is admirable, there remains an almost naïveté when discussing things that arose in which POTUS could be flying off the handle or abusing his power. ‘He would never do that’ or ‘the left-wing media is fabricating’, became regular deflections in the book. Perhaps this is an ostrich sentiment, but the reader must also take into account that Pence, who may want to enter the 2024 race, cannot be too truthful so as to alienate himself from the base he hopes to appease For the nomination, This does contrast with his time in Congress, when Pence said he would serve not for what the party wanted, but what he felt was correct.

No book would be complete without some discussion of the COVID-19 response. While much of the narrative does follow the clear story that came out of the White House, Pence is keen to point fingers and pat backs to ensure that the Trump Administration receives the glory. While this is to be expected, Pence makes sure the reader sees the superhero tactics that Trump undertook and the foibles garnered by the Democrats as everyone was trying to figure out this pandemic. Pence uses an odd form of forecasting to dump on the Biden Administration’s handling of things (yes, the president AFTER Trump and who inherited the mess), as though that should distract the reader from what happened in 2020. It is unfortunate that Pence could not distance himself from his own president, whose actions were documented on televisions around the world and added additional panic to an already chaotic situation.

This blame game continued in the 2020 presidential campaign, which was mixed with new race riots across the United States. Rather than admit that things were getting out of hand and that police acted horribly, Pence chose to point the finger at the left to say that they were fanning the flames and making things worse. It is obvious that there were issues on both sides of the aisle, with protesting and law enforcement, but Pence refuses to offer clear-cut blames other than commenting that the George Floyd video was disturbing. As Pence peddles to law enforcement, in an attempt to have the support for his being tough on crime, he loses the larger view that America was in a struggling situation and was being led by a man who accepted White supremacists into his tent. Pence had the chance to stand up and say ‘NO’, but chose to criticise the as-yet victorious Biden Administration for not keeping control after January 20, 2021. Baffling but surely, again, in an attempt to keep a favourable view by potential supporters.

Campaign rhetoric itself was as per usual, both sides slinging mud and making accusations, with vote counting and outlandish stories emerging as they tried to explain how Russia did not do enough to corrupt another election for Trump’s victory. While Pence appeared to take the loss on Election Day in stride, he had to deal with the mayhem and chaos that is Trump. The accusations, the childish tantrums, and even the talk of refusing to accept the results. While Pence surely felt the defeat, he was, for the most part, happy to accept what the democratic process brought about. However, in his own words, he did violate the democratic process in one of his ceremonial roles, which is worth mention.

Perhaps the part of the book I was most interesting in read was how Pence handled the post-election fallout and his role as President of the Senate to preside over the review of the Electoral College votes. Pence had the role, as mentioned above, and was prepared to serve it. He did not let Trump or others try to push him into believing that he had more power than he did, for which he is to be commended. However, what did trouble me was Pence’s admission in those early days that he kept speaking at rallies and to candidates not to give up and to challenge everything until the last moment. Pence should not have been wearing his Republican candidate hat, knowing that he was to preside over the results. He should not have been involved in any discussion of vote counting, irregularities, or anything related to the election because of his role, albeit ceremonial, in the Senate on January 6, 2021. While it appears clear that he was not drinking the Trump Kool-Aid and seeking to overthrow the democratic process, he should have known better. That Trump did it in such a deplorable manner surely casts a great distraction over Pence’s actions, but they cannot be ignored.

This was a great and refreshing book, even though it was full of cringe-worthy moments of sycophancy and turning to prayer in order to solve all issues. Pence has experienced much and has a wonderful way of conveying it to the reader. While I do not agree with a great deal of his politics, I can see his perspective and sense of hands-off when it comes to governing. How he was able to stand with lips glued shut as the presidency became a joke, I will never know, but I applaud him for his attempts to make the most of it. Do I hope he runs in 2024? Most definitely, as he has a lot to offer the Republican base and appears to have himself grounded in a clear political way of thinking. Should he, given the option, agree to run on a Trump ticket? Absolutely not, as he has been sullied by his connection with the man and could do so much better for himself. A great book that forced me to step back and look at things from another perspective, though I worry Pence tried a little too hard not to upset the Trump applecart and curried favour with the GOP base who might be upset that someone within the party would criticise a leader.

Kudos, Mr. Pence, for an intriguing look inside the chaos that was the Trump Administration. I wish you the best of luck and will see how the future treats you.

The Pentagon’s Brain: An Uncensored History of DARPA, America’s Top-Secret Military Research Agency, Annie Jacobsen

Eight stars

Far away from anything the general public understands, DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) lurks. These are the technological inventions the US Department of Defence use to further their abilities on the world scene. As author Annie Jacobsen posits, some of the technology is used by the US military two decades before it becomes public knowledge, leaving me to wonder what’s being worked on now. Jacobsen uses her exceptional research and writing abilities to provide the reader with a sensational look well behind the curtain and into the secrets the US Government has been using to further its stronghold around the world. Readers who enjoy this type of analysis will surely want to take detailed notes as they make their way through this book.

The need to be technologically advanced became essential for the US Government with the onset of the Cold War. As Jacobsen explains in the opening chapter of the book, secret tests for a new hydrogen bomb took place soon after the Second World War and the results were astronomical. From there, exploration into what other types of military and defence advancements could be done became the task of the day. As Jacobsen explores further, the bomb testing had some fallout no one could have expected, when cancers and other radiation-based diseases emerged in many of the scientists involved in the testing.

With the onset of wars in Asia, US Defence began looking at new strategies to defend against the enemy and scare Soviet-backed countries into submission before things got out of hand. While this might look good on the surface, as soon as technology is released, it can (and is) copied by others, meaning that US strategies to use bombs or chemicals would soon be met with an equally potent weapon by the opposition, making technological advancement essential. Jacobsen cites the emergence of napalm and other chemical weapons key to US success, though there was a need to be careful not to come across as violating war treaties and killing tons of innocent civilians.

This was also the era of new weaponry, which could be utilised and leave no outward scarring. Psychological warfare was becoming a key to successfully learning about the enemy and how to break them down. Jacobsen explores this and how the US military tried to find ways of extracting intel without leaving any permanent damage, though it would not be met without resistance and a form of retaliation by the North Vietnamese. Torture of the physical variety was effective and the North Vietnamese were happy to work with it, as it yielded the same results while offering a more permanent reminder to victims.

Moving through some of the new tech put in place to create stronger battlefield readiness, Jacobsen moves into the 21st century with discussions about the new enemy the Americans had to battle, the stateless terrorists. Using the over-flogged September 11, 2001 narrative, Jacobsen discusses DARPA’s reaction and how it needed to tighten the monitoring abilities to be hyper-aware of what was going on around the country (and the globe) to ensure that no one would be plotting anything of this magnitude again. While it remains somewhat murky in the book’s disc cushion as to whether DARPA or other agencies were fully aware of September11, the significant amount of egg left on America’s face was one that no one wanted to see again. Overriding the rights of the individual for the protection of the masses became a major issue and is still prevalent today,. Jacobsen does a masterful job at addressing it and keeps the reader’s plate full with all sorts of information.

In the latter portion of the book, as Jacobsen continues to reveal some of the stunning technologies, she touches on robotic advancements, used not only to spy on enemies, but also potentially to neutralise them when something is being done. Constructed to look like hummingbirds, dragonflies, or even beetles, DARPA is able to control these miniature drones to gather intel or serve as tiny bombs to kill those who are causing harm. It is so inventive and yet eerie to learn about this, leaving me to wonder what sort of detailed analysis I will undertake when next out on a picnic or talking a walk in the community.

While intelligence and military history is not of particular interest to me, I am always keen to see what going on ‘behind the curtain’. Knowing that the Americans are always on guard to be five steps ahead, I was keen to see what Annie Jacobsen could reveal from the many interviews she undertook for the book. The flow the the narrative and topics discussed proved to be the perfect fit for this book, keeping me well informed and always hungering for a little more. Chapters flowed well, one topic into another, and I could see how military intelligence and battlefield readiness would be important to Americans and likely some of their allies. With the world scene changing on a daily basis, it is interesting to see what’s available, even if what the public sees is usually two decades old. I have enjoyed other tomes by Annie Jacobsen and will likely return to see what else she has penned before too long. This was an eye opening experience and I am eager to see what others think of it as well!

Kudos, Madam Jacobsen, for another great book that taught me so much.

Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire, by Alex von Tunzelmann

Nine stars

I have often wondered about the history surrounding the creation of the independent country of India and how it split with the British Empire. When I saw that Alex von Tunzelmann had penned a thorough history of this, I was quick to find a copy so that I could educate myself a little more. There is no doubt that von Tunzelmann does a spectacular job with this book, educating the reader throughout and keeping the story moving. With so many actors and moving parts, it can be somewhat daunted to try deciphering everything, but the book sets itself up to be both thorough and clear in its delivery, making the experience all the more enticing for me. I cannot say enough about Alex von Tunzelmann and how pleased I am to have found this book.

India’s complexity is nothing if not daunting. British historian Alex von Tunzelmann makes this clear in the opening chapters of the book, as she tries to offer readers some context as to how the jewel in the British Empire became one of its most troubling children, with a number of players who sought independence as soon as it was possible. The reader discovers Mohandas Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Louis ‘Dickie’ Mountbatten. all of whom played central roles in the development of the mature Indian state and its push for independence. But events did not emerge one sunny day, without context, which is why von Tunzelmann spends the first few chapters providing content about these men and their upbringing, as well as how this fit into the larger Indian narrative. The reader can see how each had their upbringing that would shape their political and social opinions for decades to come, all coming together in the independence of India in 1947.

As the history progresses, it becomes clear that Gandhi and Nehru sought independence for Indian from different perspectives but pushing for the same reasoning; India deserved to rule itself and its people sought control of their own politics. Nehru used parliamentary means, with his stunning prose and ability to negotiate effectively, as the narrative reflects at numerous points. Gandhi, on the other hand, chose acts of defiance and publicly drew attention to himself for the cause. He would have fasting periods in order to seek Indian independence, trying to blackmail the British into doing something that would ensure India received what it deserved. When Mountbatten came into the scene, as India’s viceroy, he served to represent the Crown, but could see that his role was being watered down by local sentiment, no matter how hard he tried. The jewel in the British crown was loosening and it was only a matter of time before there would be nothing left for the British to hold onto, no sense of connection or population wanting Britain’s protection.

While the inevitable was happening, India was not in pristine shape. It had countless issues within its borders, with vast swaths of different social and religious groups, each wanting their own voice and potential independence from a central government. The Muslim heavy area of the country sought their own state (what would be Pakistan) and the Sikh population also wanted something of their own. The British could see that the new Indian state would not rush off without issue, but stepped back as a swift August 15, 1947 date approached for handing things over. As von Tunzelmann explores, the Indian preparatory stage was wrought with bumps and bruises, trying to see what would be ‘India’, what would go to Pakistan, and which parts would declare for themselves. The narrative clips along by this point, providing some interesting asides as plans for the Royal wedding of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Phillip fast approached, casting some shadow in Britain on the dismantling of the Empire.

In the final section of the book, von Tunzelmann explores the infancy of India and how it sought to keep together. Britain was not prepared to keep the training wheels on, nor did some within India want them. However, there were struggles to get a unified message of independence out to the world, as the USSR—living almost in the geographic backyard—looked for allies in the brewing Cold War. This could prove to be a key challenge, but India appeared keen to keep its support focussed on the US and UK, rather than turn to the Soviets. This would be one country that could be a real powerhouse, depending on which way it chose to offer its support. The key actors died for their causes, though each was able to see India move into a successful country,. The next generation moved in and filled the void, pushing the world’s largest democracy towards the 21st century.

The greatest thing about reading a book for me is what I will discover within its pages. Alex von Tunzelmann makes sure that I come away with something, in this case, a great deal, to contemplate and synthesis for myself. I do enjoy learning and there was a great deal of that in this tome, as the history moved along at breakneck speed. The narrative flow worked well, usually pushing forward in a chronological fashion, while the reader is forced to pluck bits of knowledge along the way. Chapters within the book are well themed, but also keep the reader in suspense, at least for those who are not familiar with the history of the region or India itself. To say that a great deal happened in a short period of time would be an understatement, but von Tunzelmann provides thorough accounting of everything and left the reader with so much to digest. I got so much out of this book and can only hope that others who take the time to read it will do the same.

Kudos, Madam von Tunzelmann, for educating me in a way that proved entertaining as well!

Haunting Pasts (Mabel Davison #3), by Trevor Wiltzen

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Trevor Wiltzen for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

After I discovered local author Trevor Wiltzen and his writing not too long ago, I was hooked. When WIltzen offered me an ARC of the latest in the Mabel Davison series, I could not agree fast enough. The series takes Mabel, a diner waitress and motel owner, out of her comfort zone and turns her into an amateur sleuth and private investigator. Her sole focus has been to discover the whereabouts of a number of missing girls around her part of Washington State. Add to it the fact that it’s 1987, away from a great deal of the tech seen in more modern thrillers I read, and the story takes on new dimensions that I cannot help but love. Wiltzen has a great following and I am pleased to be one of them, as this novel adds more tension, excitement, and mystery to a really great series.

Mabel Davison has a great deal on her plate, both literally and figuratively. Running a motel and diner in her small Washington State community, Mabel has been pulled into the middle of an investigation to find a number of missing girls. The case has gone cold but Mabel is not letting the local authorities deter her from getting to the root of the mystery. Juggling three kids at home and a husband who’s recently returned to her life, Mabel has little time to stop and think.

She’s keen to keep looking for the two remaining missing girls who have yet to be accounted for. This leads Mabel to the local jail, where one of the gang members she helped put away on another crime is willing to share a little intel. While there is a great deal of bravado and likely some lies, there’s a truth buried in there that Mabel cannot discount, leading her to open new pathways in hopes of locating these girls.

Scouring over the details, Mabel discovers that the man who could be behind this is not only a potential serial killer, but could also be someone she knew from her past. As Mabel tries to keep her family safe, she refuses to stand down, no matter the threat, in hopes of putting the final pieces together and solving a case many thought too inconsequential. These girls are out there, in some form, as is the man said to have been involved. Mabel will have to tread carefully, as she points the finger at someone and gathers evidence to convince the police to act.

Trevor Wiltzen is one of those authors who has a good thing going, but modesty keeps him from wanting to shout from the rooftops. I am not afraid to do that for him, as this series is a great collection and keeps readers on their toes throughout. Mabel Davison, like Wiltzen, just wants to get the job done, but deserves some praise for her dedication. She fits in nicely with the strong narrative and reveals much about herself as the story advances. A few plot twists emerge and keep the reader guessing where things are headed. Perhaps the best part of the story for me is the pre-tech boom sleuthing that takes place, where rotary telephones and microfiche are the dazzling items of the day. Wiltzen has a winner here and I hope others will take the time to read this series, if only to learn more about Mabel and those around her.

Kudos, Mr. Wiltzen, for keeping the series strong and providing readers with something amazing.

The Revolutionary: Samuel Adams, by Stacy Schiff

Nine stars

Stacy Schiff has always done a masterful job at writing about people whose lives shaped world history, but about whom little is concretely known by me. She returns with another great piece, this time about Samuel Adams, who is not just a name slapped on a beer label. Schiff explores the man and his importance to colonial America, outside of simply being one of those men bandied around when mention of Washington, Jefferson, and Revere enter the conversation. Great storytelling and a keenness to provide little known facts help Stacy Schiff stand out from others who seek to pen great biographies.

Samuel Adams lived his early years in Massachusetts, under the tutelage of parents who taught him right from wrong. His passion always appeared to lay with educating himself, though the mid-19th century did not permit too many options for a poor family. Still, Adams was able to secure a spot at Harvard College and excelled in his studies, ruminating over what his thesis ought to be, while others pondered more mundane topics. This passion to learn and express himself showed the early signs of the man he would become in the American colonies.

After marrying Elizabeth Checkley, Adams knew that he would have to make a name for himself, or at least find a way to provide for his family. Adams became a collector of debts, making sure those who were behind faced swift retribution. As Schiff mentions, the irony that Adams could get monies from others and yet fell deeply behind in his own debt repayment is not lost on historians. Adams did as well as he could, especially as his family continued to grow. However, tragedy did not pass him over, as Elizabeth died not long after one of her numerous stillbirths, an event that shook Adams to his core.

While Samuel Adams was once again a bachelor, he caught the eye of a second woman, someone who appeared to be the perfect match for the young Adams. Schiff pulls on some commentary by Samuel’s cousin, the famed John Adams, who cited that Elizabeth Wells was just the type of woman Samuel deserved and it appears that later letters between the two would show just how in love they were with one another. It was around this time that things in the Massachusetts colony began to get more intense, as Britain passed the Stamp Act and would soon expect not only stamped insignias of the Crown on all published documents, but a tax to be paid to the Crown. Calls of ‘no taxation without representation’ began to echo through the streets across the colonies, though Massachusetts appeared more willing to appease the Crown than others. Adams noticed the sentiment against the British growing and could feel that something was on the horizon, though it had yet to foment into full rebellion.

While Adams wanted to keep the calm, he knew that the British were upping the pressure and trying to press the colonies to become even more subservient. Schiff mentions around this time that Britain had not taxed the colonies before because of their ‘infancy’ but that the time was right to do so. One can only surmise that this lit a fuse under many, both within and outside Massachusetts, which starting creating added animosity and tension. British soldiers, the embodiment of the London Government, became the target of attacks, at which time they retaliated. There are numerous mentions in the text at this time about skirmishes and how Adams was there, even if he was not firing or tossing stones. Animosity was building and it was only so long before it would boil over completely.

Adams’ ability to write and communicate made him a precious commodity when the colonial leaders wanted to express themselves. As Schiff explores, Virginia was the centre of the colonial attempts at rallying to unite, but Massachusetts had strong-willed individuals who would be perfect for the cause, Samuel Adams being one of them. He was spoken of fondly by his cousin, but could also be said to possess his own character worthy of being remembered. Samuel Adams came to realise that the colonies were no longer being respected by Mother England or the Crown, but rather treated as a toddler and kept under thumb. There was talk of considering pushing away, especially when not given a chance to speak or participate in debate over issues that would regularly affect those in the colonies, as well as trying to etch out a set of rules by which colonial residents would live with their own governing body, albeit local and loosely enforced. When Britain scoffed at any independence or voice for the colonies, Adams and his compatriots knew something was in the air. Add to that, England was still pushing taxation and high fees on colonial residents while refusing to let them have a say at the bargaining table.

In an intense progression through the latter portion of the book, Schiff shows how the animosity between the British and colonies, with Adams in the middle of the fray. While colonial leaders knew they could not back down, they would have to play it safe or risk being crushed. Adams and some of the other leaders were able to create a tension amongst locals against the British, such that there was no question of relenting. As the narrative builds, Schiff shows how Adams grew into his “revolutionary” moniker honestly, as he rallied everyone to the need for British remove and the yoke of oppression to be cast off. While it would not be swift, it was necessary and proved to be one of Adams’ greatest moments, using great oratory and written documents to light a fire under those who had the ability to bring about change. From pushing the British to surround Boston for a massacre in 1770 through to the Tea Party in 1773, Adams is said to have been instrumental in building up animosity through is writings. While I could go into great detail, I prefer to let the reader delve into the detail Schiff provides here, which only adds to the moment. When the dust settled, a new republic, albeit still trying to find itself, could be said to have emerged; a united group of colonies who would call themselves states!

While the book proved to be an attempt to cram a significant amount of history into a single document, Stacy Schiff did so effectively and with great passion. Samuel Adams came to life and emerged as a hero, both for the colonies and for Massachusetts specifically. Throughout his life, Adams used his passion for expression and some key political connections to make his mark, staring down the oppression of the British and stopping only when the final result worked in his favour. Schiff builds each chapter on the last and provides a strong narrative to push the reader along. Great anecdotes pepper the tome, giving those with a basic understanding of American history better context, while educating those, such as myself, who are clueless to all but the most basic aspects. Easy to comprehend but still detailed enough to provide needed context for those who want something with depth, Schiff has done it again. She takes a great approach to the Boston Tea Party, something that I knew only about in passing, and puts it into a great context to better understand how this could be seen as one of the pivotal moments in the revolutionary movement. She builds on the clash between the Massachusetts colonists and the English, which was surely a microcosm to the larger colonial struggle. Adams found himself in the middle of it, at least as a spokesman for the colonial position on the matter. When protests turned violent, Adams may not have drawn up the specific plans, but he surely did not distance himself from the acts, feeling that there was a sense of justification in the destruction as a symbol of tossing off the yoke of English control. This proved to be one of the final acts of aggression that fuelled the move for independence by the colonies.

Kudos, Madam Schiff, for dazzling in this account and proving once more you are a historian who cares about educating the common reader.

The Road to Runnymede (Medieval Saga Series #6), by David Field

Seven stars

David Field infuses drama in his 12th century series, hoping the various sides of England’s growth. The era is rife with controversy and the attentyove reader. Will enjoy everything that is on offer. As things appear to be moving to a finale, this novel offers some real action and historical significance. England stands at a crossroads in its political and monarchical development. Field does everything he can to keep the series exciting for series fans, proving he is just the author for the job.

England again finds itself in a precarious situation when its king dies. The English throne falls to John, Richard the Lionheart’s brother, who is staunchly supported by his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. John has no love loss for his brother, keen to return to some of his tyrannical ways to ensure that England is run effectively and free from those who would dare speak out against him. One rival cannot be silenced, which has John somewhat concerned. Arthur, now a duke, is raising support for his own rightful place on the English throne, especially when Richard named him as his rightful heir.

It would seem that Arthur is not alone in his claim, especially when it comes to the law. Many novels and those familiar with the law feel that Arthur should ascend and will do whatever it takes to make sure this happens. King Phillip II of France is also a staunch supporter, which could push things to the brink, if negotiations cannot bring a peaceable solution.

John’s iron grip on the country continues to create more enemies than loyalists and he does not appear to care much. Still, he will stop at nothing to exert his own power, others be damned. In a conciliatory moment, John agrees to sign the Magna Carta at Runnymede, in hopes of finding a lasting peace between the Crown and the protesting barons. For a time, it appears to work.

However, John cannot keep to his word and begins his tyrannical ways once more. When Prince Louis of France comes to invade, the country is once again in shambles, without a leader who can unite the people of England and defend the land. With John on the throne, England is in peril, though there does not appear to be any solution from within. Field builds to this climactic moment in order to keep the reader in suspense as they await another novel in the series.

David Field has not stopped with the action since the start of the first novel and keeps building upon themes and historical events. There is a great deal to discover in this book, from political upheaval to new bonds made and even some plotting to keep the treachery at its height. A great narrative helps push the story along, mixed with characters who serve their purpose and know how to highlight the various faces of England’s transformation. Plots with a balance of fact and fiction are peppered throughout, allowing the reader to feel as though they are in the middle of the action, ready to face whatever Field has to offer. I am eager to see how things will go from here, wondering if this might be the penultimate novel in the series. Whatever Field has next will surely be even more stunning, as readers await a new dawn for England in a century that has been anything but dull!

Kudos, Mr. Field, for keeping the action high throughout.

How Democracies Die: What History Reveals About Our Future, by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt

Nine stars

Democracies are living and require air to breathe, according to authors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt. This book seeks to explore how democracies can die if not given the proper elements for success. The authors present this in a cogent and thorough manner, looking not only to the United States in 2016, but also to a number of worldwide issues that have arisen over the years. The authors posit some interesting arguments that will leave the reader to think a little more about democracy and how easily (or subtlety) in can be snuffed out until there is nothing left. A must-read for those who enjoy history, politics, and exploring the world that has emerged of late.

While it would be easy to say that democracy is the lifeblood to all healthy countries, this is not the case. Some countries work well without democracy, though through the lens of those who love this form of government, it is utter failure. That being said, while democracy may be the best form of government—besides all others, as Churchill commented—it is precarious in its footing and can be easily toppled. Authors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt explore this in a tome that is sure to open eyes to many of the issues that have befallen democratic forms of government over the last number of years.

The coup, or forceful takeover, would be the most common form of ‘death to democracy’ that could occur. Many would look to military take-over, where generals wrest control of the government away with guns, murder, and mayhem. While Levitsky and Ziblatt argue that this is true, it is not the only form of democratic death that takes place. Sure, violently taking control and suspending all forms of voting, elections, and consensus building is a means by which democracy dies, but it is also one that can end just as swiftly with another clash of swords or penetration of bullets. The authors seek to explore the more subtle means of taking over and letting democracy wither on the vine.

Levitsky and Ziblatt offer up a list of four main areas in which the death of democracies can occur without being blatantly violent or appear to be overthrowing the rule of law through military takeover:

1. Rejection of (or weak commitment to) democratic rules of the game,

2. Denial of the legitimacy of political opponents,

3. Toleration or encouragement of violence,

4. Readiness to curtail civil liberties of opponents, including media.

From there, the discussion goes through some of the more popular democratic takeovers of the 20th century, using the rubric. Analysis is both comprehensive and tied to strong examples to prove the cases, spanning different parts of the world, from Italy to the Philippines, to Chile, and even into the US in both the Reconstructionist and New Deal eras. Levitsky and Ziblatt do an amazing job to educate readers throughout, allowing them to see how the rubric fits in each case.

The authors would be remiss if they did not touch on the impetus for their book, the 2016 US presidential election and its aftermath. While I have never hidden my contempt for the less than democratic way in which Donald Trump served in the White House, the authors’ rubric helps to substantiate the claims. I will leave it to readers to explore the arguments, though few will likely be able to dodge the truth without pulling wool over their eyes. To counter this, I point to the aforementioned analysis of other (read: Democrat) examples of flagrant abuse of the democratic system. If only both sides could readily admit their own foibles, rather than play ostrich.

Democracy is surely a delicate system that must be nurtured in order to ensure its success. Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt work tirelessly in this piece to push those arguments effectively. Their chapters are clear and flow well, keeping the reader involved in the discussion without drowning them in minutiae. There are clear examples from all over the world and even multiple examples of US events on both sides of the aisle. While there will always be those who decry a lack of democracy, the rubric used to truly assess political shifts proves helpful and should not be dismissed as biased or solely there to poke holes at a single elected individual. With the 2024 US presidential election machine warming up, it is a great time to review these arguments before standing behind anyone who may not have the country’s best interests in mind, even if they veil it as a faux return to greatness.

Kudos, Messrs. Levitsky and Ziblatt, for this stellar book that compacts the arguments effectively. I will have to look for more of your writing soon to see what else I can enjoy.

The Absentee King (Medieval Saga Series #5), by David Field

Six stars

David Field builds more drama in his 12th century England series. His strong narrative takes the reader through an era with which they may not be familiar and provides direction, while offering up a handful of key characters whose importance becomes apparent. Field is winning me over, slowly, as I try to get into the time period and become connected to those who appear across the pages. England has never been more intensely divided and I am pleased to be in the middle of the action.

England has a new king in 1189, but some people are not pleased. Richard the Lionheart had ascended to the throne, but his obsession with the crusades in far off lands keeps him from tending to his people back home. This is not lost on many, and grumbling has commenced to have him ousted, by any means necessary.

As England teeters, it is left in the hands of Richard’s trusted few, some of whom have only their own change purses in mind. But, there is someone who has a plan; someone who could pull England back out of the quagmire and set things right. Richard’s brother, John, is ready to step up and take control where Richard has let things wither.

John has a great deal of bitterness towards his brother, not least of which comes to the surface when he is not chosen to be Richard’s successor, but rather Prince Arthur, a young nephew. John’s temporary control of the country while Richard is away is tainted with brutal rules under an iron fist. John will rest only when he is legitimately in control of England and Richard is put aside.

While judicial masters are exploring John’s attempts to usurp the throne, news comes that the Germans have captured Richard and will hold him for ransom. England is in a perilous state and its future hands in the balance. No one can be quite sure who will come out on top and how England will face its next dozen years! Field ramps up the action in this piece, sure to keep the reader flipping pages to finish in a single sitting.

David Field has helped bridge the gap for what I do not know about this time period. he sheds light on much that is going on and keeps me on my toes with a strong narrative that pushes through, even when I cannot fathom how things will progress. Strong characters help connect with what is surely a busy story and make me feel as though I am in the middle of the action. England is surely going through a great deal of transformation, but I am not left behind, as Field propels things forward, while tossing in some great plots. Mixing fact and fiction, the reader is left to decipher which is which, while remaining highly entertained throughout. I am eager to see how things progress and with the sixth book calling my name, I will have to try that soon. Surely the most action-filled novel of the series to date, I am glad that David Field is leading the way!

Kudos, Mr. Field, for showing me England’s resilience during these trying times!

The Daughters of Yalta: The Churchills. Roosevelts, and Harrimans: A Story of Love and War, by Catherine Grace Katz

Eight stars

Catherine Grace Katz takes an interesting approach with this book, turning a key meeting of the three major Allies from the Second World War into a highly unique exploration of the history and goings-on. Three women proved to be key players, albeit behind the scenes, at the Yalta Conference in February 1945, but their presence cannot be discounted. Katz explores these women, both their personal lives and time along the Black Sea, as well as how they noticed certain things in Yalta that have not been widely reported in history books up to this point. A great story that not only highlights the three, but also puts a new spin on Yalta, sure to impress the reader.

Preparations for the Yalta Conference in February 1945 had to be perfect, as the ‘Big Three’ would arrive to discuss the end of the Second World War. While Josep Stalin, Franklin Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill get a great deal of mention in the history books, one would be remiss if some attention were not made of three key women who accompanied their fathers. Catherine Grace Katz explores each of these women in depth before setting out how the conference proceeded and what they saw, which might differ from the ‘mainstream’ tale of events.

American Ambassador to the USSR, Averell Harriman, had his daughter, Kathleen, with him to prep the Black Sea resort town for the meeting. Kathleen Harriman was a champion skier, war correspondent, and well-versed in all things political, having been with her father for the last few years. Her attention to detail made her the ‘leader’ of the three, when they came together for the conference, though she was not without her own opinions on matters, sometimes shared in private.

Anna Boettiger (nee Roosevelt) accompanied her father to the conference,. As Katz explains, this created quite a stir back home. While Anna was FDR’s only daughter, her selection ahead of her own mother, Eleanor, would not go over well within the family. Anna had a family all her own, but it was perhaps not her political prowess that brought her to Russia, but that she could (and did) keep her father’s darkest secret, namely that he was dying of heart failure and surely did not have long left to live.

Sarah Churchill, accompanied the British PM, serving as an astute political mind for her father, as well as having been a popular actress back home and having served in the RAF during the early part of the War. She had ideas and made her her father knew them, but was keenly aware that things were fluid and required analysis, rather than a knee-jerk reaction.

As the book progresses, Katz takes readers through some of the highlights of the Conference, including the agreements and clashes between the Big Three, as they sought to divide and retake Europe from the Nazis. She intersperses the events of the conference against views that these three women had, or their own personal struggles with the lives they have come to live. A detailed exploration of Katherine, Sarah, and Anna may not be possible, but Katz introduces the reader to them sufficiently that there is always room for more reading, should it be something of interest.

A piece like this is always hard to encapsulate easily, but it is a brilliant idea for a book. Catherine Grace Katz provides the reader with a great event in history and layers upon it new flavourings through the eyes of these three strong women. The narrative moves along, divided by chapters that tell of each day of the conference. The struggles found within are real and the backstories may not be well-known to readers, as they were not to mr. I thoroughly enjoyed the drams, humour, and little vignettes that emerged throughout, allowing me to learn and stay entertained as I made my way through the piece. I am eager to see what else Katz has penned and how I might learn more from her, in this unique way of discovering history.

Kudos, Madam Katz, for berthing life into history and keeping me attentive throughout.

The Lion of Anjou (Medieval Saga Series #4), by David Field

Seven stars

David Field keeps developing his series exploring the English 12th century of royal drama. He provides the sense of first-hand accounts through his strong storylines and vibrant characters, sure to educate and entertain the reader In equal measure. While I have followed Field through many of his past series, this is a collection far different than I have seen from him before, mixing historical references with a dialogue that keeps the reader enthralled.

It’s 1154 and King Henry II’s ascension to the throne has quelled the Civil War that threatens to tear England apart. But the fear of bloodshed is not yet muted, as Henry’s new lands across the Channel have begun to stir up discontentment. Louis VII of France has his eye on them and will draw a sword to take them back.

Henry must also look to his new marriage as another strain for him. Having married Eleanor of Aquitaine, Henry must try to keep her happy without giving up the reins of power that have put him on the throne. A threat towards the Church in England could see Henry lose a key ally and push his power base a little too far.

All the while, the common Englishman looks to the two things that keep him balanced: the Church and the State. Where will he look to for solace and how will one become more important than the other? It is a struggle that no one wants and is sure to cause new upheavals at a time when any weakness is sure to tear things open for Louis in France.

As Louis plans his strike, he knows that he must time it just right to ensure victory. Henry must not push too far or risk losing everything and push England into another war. As David Field builds this story to its climax, the question of whether England is ever going to find peace must be front and centre, though the action of instability makes readers want more discontent.

I know little about this time period, but David Field has made sure to educate me with every passing page. He shines a light both on English history and the inner workings of the century’s royal drama, keeping the reader in the middle of everything. Field tackles massive topics and is able to boil them down to something much more palatable, while keeping his series fans from feeling as though things are overly repetitive. The narrative flow is decent and the recurring characters allow the reader to have some connection between books, but the emergence of new faces keep things exciting for those who like fresh storylines. Plots emerge and reappear throughout the story, keeping the readers on their toes as they explore the depths of the 12th century with ease. Those who have enjoyed the series to date are in for another winner here, as many readers tend to be when David Field is directing things with his pen.

Kudos, Mr. Field, for keeping things at such a high calibre.

Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom, by David W. Blight

Nine stars

At a time when race relations are strained, the name of Frederick Douglass is tossed around with great regularity. It also being Black History Month, I thought to educate myself a little more about the man and the impact he made on US history. Turning to this biography by David W. Blight, I tried my best to understand how the man, his writings and outward sentiments shaped America, with views that still resonate today.

Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was born in a small shed on a plantation in Maryland, around 1817, the mulatto son of a slave and slaveholder. While he was a curious child, Frederick was also subjected to deplorable abuse towards those around him. His being born in the middle of America’s love affair with the slave trade is not lost on the reader who pays attention to the early portion of Blight’s book. Still, young Frederick tried always to see the best in people and sought to better understand what was going on and his place in the larger picture. While he was not permitted to attend school, Frederick paid some of the white children to teach him, usually presenting fresh baked goods to earn his keep. Frederick learned the basics of reading and writing, which would be cornerstones to his future livelihood.

When Frederick grew into adulthood, he discovered more complicated set of writings that would help shape his moral being. Pulling on passages of the Bible and other tomes of the great thinkers, Frederick began to see that there was hope, albeit bleak, out of the slavery that surrounded him, using numerous verses to explain kindness and equality, even though neither seemed possible at this time. This education would be met with some downsides, as Frederick began seeing the harsher side of some people, receiving the lash for speaking out for simply being Black. He tried his hand at odd jobs less out of desire than necessity, but was also prone to getting beaten for the colour of his skin and the apparent lack of speed when working.

When he grew old enough, Frederick took two major chances to shape his future: he changed his name and fled the plantation on which he had been working. Neither would be easy, but both necessary to ensure his future prosperity. Frederick assumed the name FREDERICK DOUGLASS (the repeated final letter to make him stand out) and sought to forget the middle names that had been used as yokes of remembrance from his slaving days. His escape, as Blight explains, was one of need and DIVINE intervention, as he needed to get to the free lands so that he could protect himself and spread the word. Douglass made it to New York after escaping on a train, having been encouraged by Anna Murray, a free black woman. This being the early 1840s, the abolitionist movement was still in its infancy, but Douglass’ oratory skills made him the perfect speaker to decry the horrors of slavery and the need to protect the Back population.

As the years passed, Douglass took Anna as his wife and began a family all while he continued to speak around the North about abolition and the topics of equality. Douglass would become a great orator and a key voice in the equality movements of Blacks, women, and the poor. As Blight explains, Douglass began many speaking engagements across the North and was key to drumming up support to ending slavery. He also made a trip across the Atlantic, when’re Douglass spoke in Ireland and Scotland, though he met some resistance as ‘slavery’ was seen with a much larger definition, hinting at the English control over these peoples.

While Douglass had been doing all he could to pass abolitionist sentiments across the North, there was still little impetus to legislatate an end to slavery. Douglass was well aware that the politicians in Washington (and the state capitals) needed to tackle the issue. It was not until the presidential election of 1860 that the option might have been a reality, with the battle between Democrat Stephen Douglas and Republican Abraham Lincoln. The Republican was staunchly against slavery and stumped on that sentiment, which grew the ire of the South and began a push for secession from the country. When Lincoln was successful at the polls, Douglass hoped that this would usher in change, but the strong-willed politician did not turn that passion into legislation. Instead, the country split and the Civil War began, which would be fought—at least partially—along the slavery/abolition lines. Douglass is said to have been very happy to see the war, as it would ensure that the country answered the question once and for all.

Politics and the Civil War came together for Douglass even more impactfully when Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. The Proclamation would not only free the slaves, but allow them to serve alongside their brethren for the Union Army. Douglass could not have been prouder, but also cautions, as this meant his son and one son-in-law would soon be serving and could die or face blowback from fellow soldiers not as enlightened as their Commander in Chief. While Lincoln led from the White House, Douglass continued to feel that that passion the Illinoian once felt about slavery waned as the pressure of the national stage befell him.

When an assassin’s bullet killed Lincoln there was little time to mourn, as the country was still in the midst of its Civil War. However, Douglass watched as the Union soldiers tied things off and freedom was soon victorious. This would mean a country in which slavery was done, but fractured as to how it out to move forward. Reconstruction was the next stage, though Washington politicians were sloe to push for its true progress, as Douglass continued to rally from his various pulpits. He would see a country that accepted the tossing off of shackles, but not the complete integration of Blacks. As Blight explores, the Reconstructionist period was slow and hard going for Douglass, who turned to other things, not least of which penning successive volumes of his autobiography to pass the time, The era of slavery was done and its greatest opponent was still hoping for more.

In the latter portion of the tome, Douglass looks to revisit old haunts to see how the years had changed sentiments towards slavery and plantation-style ownership. Douglass took these times to try to understand how his life had come full circle and how that would make for a greater country for his grandchildren and their offspring. Blight explores this in some sentimental passages, as Douglass returned to the place his blood family were torn away from him and how he had to accept his lot in life, at least for a time. With a few more symbolic jobs and a great deal of time to sum up his life, Frederick Douglass basked in the knowledge that he had made a difference, though he would not live to see the equality about which he spoke when he died in 1895.

There is something about a biography that always gets my blood flowing. It could be the moments to learn something new about a person who has done so much, or it might be the entertainment of seeing how the author will portray the many people who grace the pages of the tome. David W. Blight did both numerous times, as I was in awe over all I discovered about one of the great abolitionists. Frederick Douglass was much more than simply a man who sought to toss the shackles of slavery aside. His views resonated decades before the movement to end slavery came into fashion. He used his eloquent ability to speak and write, rallying people all over the world, to see equality as the only way to live, even if it meant a great deal of adversity. Blight highlighted so many parts of Douglass’ life, while speeding over others, all in an attempt tp show readers just how much the man accomplished in his lifetime. Great chapters exhibit the countless themes of freedom, equality, and justice that Douglass sought to make cornerstones of his life, as well as how the America of the time resisted or limped along towards the horizon. While the book is definitely dense and information heavy, the dedicated reader will surely pull something from it that they can take with them, as I did at numerous points. I can only hope that Doug;ass’s views are not lost in the annals of history, either due to the vilification of equal rights or the right’s attempt to accentuate racial inequality. With an election for president coming up in 2024, and a candidate whose views on racial inequality are clear trying to return to his former position of autocratic authority, those who cannot cast a ballot can only hope that America’s return to greatness will have Douglass’ passion for equality in mind, not the suppression of rights through laws and at the hand of police batons.

Kudos, Mr. Blight, on this stunning piece of writing, I did take so much away from it.

An Uncivil War (Medieval Saga Series #3), by David Field

Seven stars

David Field progresses through his series exploring an English century of kings and deception, which is sure to be an exciting endeavour. Field provides the reader with the feeling of being in the middle of the action, with strong storytelling and well-developed characters. While this is not an era with which I have much experience, I am learning a great deal and hope other readers will take the time to be dazzled by all Field has to offer.

After King Henry dies without a presumed heir, chaos envelops England in 1120. There are camps of supporters for two apparent successors: Henry’s daughter, Matilda, and his nephew, Stephen of Blois. While only one can be victorious, both are set on assuming the throne and ensuring the other is obliterated in the process.

As these two vie for power, the commoner is left to wonder what will become of their beloved England. With the possibility of being tossed back into a wasteland, England must hope for the best, as the politics and bloodletting reach their climax, with plotting around every corner.

The young soldier, Richard Walsingham, finds himself in the middle of the fray. As he tries to make sense of things, he must remain loyal to Stephen. The family is at odds, as Richard’s sister, Elinor, remains a companion to Matilda, who is determined to keep the throne her father left for her.

New contenders for the throne emerge in a story full of deception, politicking, and battles that will see a country fraying at the edges while being torn down the middle. Not an official civil conflict, but surely one that will see England weaker and ready for an enemy to come in at any time. David Field weaves a tale like no other and keeps readers guessing until the final page turn.

I may not know much about the era, but I am learning a great deal the further into the series I find myself. Field is one of a few authors who has been able to shine a light on this time period for me, which is usually so convoluted and lacks any real draw. His writing style is quick, but full of detail and keeps the reader pushing through a strong narrative foundation. Characters emerge and are fleshed out on the page, creating connections with the reader as the story progresses. Mixing fact and fiction, Field develops plot twists that are sure to keep the reader wondering what’s to happen next, as well as be highly entertained. With just enough ‘commoner’ flavouring, the story is not only about royals and their battles, but also the regular townsfolk who try to keep their minds off what is going on and feed their families. Refreshing and yet intensely worrisome, this series has much to reveal, but readers are used to Field’s great abilities.

Kudos, Mr. Field, for adding entertainment to history to keep the reader ready for more.

Traitor’s Arrow (Medieval Saga Series #2, by David Field

Seven stars

David Field continues his series exploring England’s 12th century, which is sure to be a challenge. Dazzling with its detail and narrative flow, Field has the reader feel as though they are right there amongst the common folk and members of the royal entourages. I have given Field much of my attention, in hopes that he will be able to convince me that this is a time period I ought to explore even more. So far, I am surely warming to it and his wonderful storytelling.

As England continue to settle under a new king, there is much taking place in the towns. Children are growing up and finding ways to get into trouble, allegiances are being sought and sometimes crumble, while new threats emerge, leaving the locals to wonder on which side they ought to align themselves. Still, there are chores to be done and the day to day living that must be accomplished.

While out on a hunt, King William Rufus of England is killed mysteriously when he takes an arrow to the chest. His younger brother, Henry, can see that this is the time to act and loses no time in proclaiming himself new new king. He seeks to secure the Crown and the coffers of the country before the void can be filled by another. Could he be part of the plot to rid the country of William?

Not everyone is happy with Henry’s ascension to the throne, namely Robert, Duke of Normandy. Not only is Robert the oldest surviving brother of the family, but he also feels that he has claim to the throne and is prepared to travel from France to take it for himself, thereby tossing England into another war for control.

Henry beings to panic and turns to Sir Wilfrid Walsingham to convince everyone that he is innocent of his brother’s murder. While Wilfrid has mixed feelings about the family, he knows that he must do what is right, or find himself in the middle of a bloodbath. Wilfrid will have to act swiftly and decisively to keep Henry as monarch. However, Richard does not seem ready to stand down without a crown on his head. It all comes down to this! Field dazzles once again in this masterful tale.

I have never been fond of the era of early English monarchies, though I am not sure I can speak definitively as to why. I have found a few authors who have been able to breathe some life into that time period, using their stories to cast light on what, for some, is surely a darker period. David Field does well by building up a strong narrative and propels it forward with action and a handful of great characters. Add to that, some great plot twists, using both historical fact and some literary freedoms, all while keeping the reader in the thick of things. There is much to discover in this series and Field leaves little time to breathe, as the action never stops, peppering some great development for the local townsfolk characters, admits the political and monarchical goings-on. I am eager to see where things are headed and how they will progress, as I am getting into the swing of things and eager to learn a little more.

Kudos, Mr. Field, for keeping me entertained as I keep working through the series.

Supreme Inequality: The Supreme Court’s Fifty-Year Battle for More Unjust America, by Adam Cohen

Nine stars

My preparation for the 2024 US General election (particularly that for president) has taken me on some interesting turns to date. While exploring candidates who have served and seek to return to the office, I have come across some great memoirs and analyses that give things some perspective. But there is more at stake than the presidency here, including the ability to shape the third branch of the federal system, the Courts. Adam Cohen explores how rightist choices have certainly turned the Court in the last five decades, away from being people-centric and towards a stronger hands-off approach. He posits that there have been a number of reasons for this, not least of which being the choice of Justices that a sitting president can make. Cohen uses strong arguments, actual decisions from the US Supreme Court, and historical records to provide readers with an interesting look into how the Court has shaped American policy and left many out on the cold, all because a certain president had the reins when an opening became available. A brilliant analysis by Cohen and a wonderful read for those who enjoy these subjects.

Adam Cohen breaks his analysis down succinctly in the opening pages of his book; the Court’s direction is directly proportional to the presidents who fill its seats. That makes a great deal of sense, but does beg a little more explanation. Readers who understand the Court and how it is populated will know that sitting US presidents make their picks for US Supreme Court Justices, have them vetted by the Senate, and then place them on the bench. The politics that takes place to do this is baffling, but it is there. Choosing someone to sit on the Court can be tough, but once they are there, their removal is so difficult that it is almost sure to impact the country for many years. It is the timing of these appointments that can be really important, as well as the age of the nominee. Filling a vacancy is essential to ensuring a certain direction for the Court, though the Senate must also have their say, which can be a slightly tougher hurdle. As Cohen argues, with Republicans having had more time in the presidency over the last fifty years, they have had a longer time to fill vacancies that suit their needs and appease the base. However, it is not only that which shapes the Court, but when the coveted position of Chief Justice comes up for grabs, Republicans have been in a position to choose that person repeatedly in those same five decades. The Chief shapes not only the direction of the Court, but leads the momentum in a specific direction. Being able to choose the Chief Justice not only secures a vote (in theory) for the cause, but creates a movement in a specific direction, something that the Democrats have not been able to do at all and have suffered for it.

Cohen explores how these ‘right of centre’ Courts have shaped US policies and the direction of progress in the country. He turns to a number of themes in the tome, including support for the poor, education funding, voting rights, election funding, and employment rights. While it would be too general a statement to say the right does not care about these, he has made it clear through case analysis and decisions released (as well as dissents) that the Court has taken much more of a hands-off approach to ruling on these cases, or at least not looked to protecting groups from the larger institutions that have proven to be hurdles for them. While part of this could be a lack of concrete arguments presented to the Court, a great deal is also turning a blind eye to those loopholes that could and likely should be used to help others. While Chief Justice John Roberts has said, his only job is to call balls and strikes, choosing whether to play the game is also within the Court’s purview, which is not as often discussed in legal analysis. Cohen presses that the Court has little impetus to look at these issues, as the conservative voting bloc has the majority and can push their views by sticking together. This makes the choice of Justices all the more important.

Throughout the tome, Cohen repeatedly makes mention of how things might have differed had one or two elections gone in another direction. Of particular interest is discussion of Bush v. Gore, the seminal 2000 Supreme Court decision that handed the election to Bush. In a flagrantly successful attempt to tamper with the rights of the voter, the Court chose to impose their conservative majority to place a thumb on the scales and send George W. Bush to the White House. This, in turn, led to the selection of John Roberts as Chief Justice and began a domino effect that cemented further conservatism on the Court for decades to come. One cannot hold onto sour grapes and bemoan what ended up happing, but it is quite telling to look at alternate history possibilities and how they could have made a significant change.

Adam Cohen has proven to be a great writer on the topic of Supreme Court evolution thoughout the last number of years. He provides the reader with great arguments and strong supports as they relate to rulings and public opinions on a number of key topics, more even than I listed above. Cohen argues effectively that the Court has moved firmly to the right in the last five decades, with no likelihood of shifting for the foreseeable future, as rules utilized by the US Senate’s Republican members appears to change based on the sentiment of the day. From Court decisions that disenfranchised groups who were once protected by the esteemed body to the erasing of precedent that kept liberal views from flourishing, through to the gameplay of nominations whereby two sets of rules existed to appease the right, the story of the Supreme Court is riddled with concern. That being said, the past cannot be changed, but the future is rife with possibilities. Strong writing and powerful chapters keep the arguments moving along succinctly and ensures the reader will leave the book feeling even more educated than ever. Adam Cohen does a brilliant job and readers can eagerly particulate in this ever-evolving discussion.

Kudos, Mr. Cohen, for yet another stellar analysis of the US Supreme Court. I m eager to see what else you publish that will whet my appetite for SCOTUS examination.

Conquest (Medieval Saga Series #1), by David Field

Seven stars

David Field is back with a new series to pique the interest of his fans, set in yet another era of English history. Looking at the Norman Conquest, Field provides the reader with a great account of events, while introducing a number of flavourful characters who add depth to the story. While not my favourite time period, I am eager to give this series a try, as Field has always proven to be a masterful storyteller with great ideas.

It’s 1065 in England and there is change in the making. The Kingdom of the Saxons is being threatened by Harold Hardrada from the north with his Norwegian army, while William of Normandy pushes in from across the Chanel to claim the throne he feels belongs to him. In the middle are the people, who have been through so much up to now. They can only hope not to be caught in the crossfire.

Villagers seek answers while trying to defend their lands, protected weakly by armies of their respective earls who can only offer weak support towards King Harald Godwineson, yet another actor in the larger monarchical drama. All the same, there is a connection to their lives that keep these villagers wanting to defend themselves, as effective as that might be.

As armies march across the country to lay claim, locals like Will Riveracre and Selwyn Astenmde must rally the locals to keep the faith and know that they will not be taken over—or killed—without a strong attempt at defending what they have done to this point. Still, the worry is that whomever ascends to the throne is likely to erase local history and customs. A new monarch will no doubt seek to annihilate anything English that has been woven into the country’s cultural fabric.

With other storylines emerging in this series debut, David Field takes his reader through the changing of the times in England and how these common folk will fare as blood and honour seep into the ground at every turn. A good start to what is sure to be an impactful series, in the hands of an author who knows his way around historical fiction. Another strong novel by David Field that should not be missed.

While the era has never been one in which I have a great deal of interest David Field has definitely left me wanting to know more. He uses his strong writing skills to keep the story moving and the characters evolving. His narrative flow is great, using historical references throughout and tells the personal stories of locals, rather than simply a sweeping tale about the larger historical goings-on. Readers will see this as they connect to some of the characters who will likely proceed throughout the story, or perhaps create the foundation for a multi-generational piece. Field creates a few plot twists that keep me wondering and works through some events in likely fact-based storytelling, while blurring others to keep the reader’s interest in the characters. While I was not blown away by the piece, I am eager to move forward to see what else Field has to offer, hoping to connect better as the larger story progresses.

Kudos, Mr. Field, for laying the groundwork for what could be a great series. I am eager to see if it will capture my complete attention soon.

Monsters in the Room: The Boys’ Adventure (Mabel Davison #2.5), by Trevor Wiltzen

Eight stars

Having discovered the writing of Trevor Wiltzen not too long ago, I was happy to read and support this local author. Wiltzen has been working hard on his Mabel Davison series, which takes a diner waitress and thrusts her into the role of an amateur sleuth. While Mabel has been trying to locate a number of missing girls, this story is a slight change of pace, turning to her two sons and an adventure they have one March afternoon. All the same, Wiltzen pulls the reader in with this short story, chilling everyone by the end, when much is revealed.

Fred and Hector enjoy Saturday mornings, with cereal and being able to laze around in their pjs. With their mother, Mabel, busy working at the diner, the responsibility falls to their cousin, Kerry, to watch over them. However, the night before, Kerry made secret plans to go see a boy at the local grocer’s, forcing Fred and Hector to put themselves to bed. With Kerry still gone, the boys decide to go look for her, sure that she’s close by and wanting to ensure their mom does not know anything’s amiss. When the boys head out, they are confronted with some trouble of their own as they begin the search. Things take an interesting turn and by the time there make it home, a new concern is on the horizon and Mabel Davison is smack in the middle of trying to solve it. Trevor Wiltzen does well to tease the reader in this piece, which is sure to connect well with the other books in the series.

While Trevor Wiltzen has not published a great deal yet, what he has produced is well worth a read. He’s got a great style and builds things up well with impactful writing that builds with each passing page, A strong narrative and decent characters keep the reader wanting to learn a little more. As with his full-length novels, this short story grips the reader and keeps them guessing throughout. With another novel on the horizon, one can hope that there will be some resolution, as this piece ended with quite the cliffhanger.

Kudos, Mr. Wiltzen, for another great piece that makes me want to read more!

Trouble (We Could Be Heroes Series #2), by Janelle Brown

Eight stars

Janelle Brown dazzles is this short story, perfect for fans who need a little getaway from reality. Adding her own short piece to the We Can Be Heroes collection, Brown takes the angle of the loving mother, Polly, who is keen to have her daughter, Hannah, enjoy her time in school. However, Polly soon realises that while she wants to protect Hannah, she cannot always choose her friends, something that ends up being a major struggle throughout. However,there is more to the story than a troubled young girl, as Brown leads up to a stunning revelation in this piece.

Polly likes being that ideal mother who is always helping out at her daughter’s school, serving on the fundraising committee, and making sure that everyone gets along. Polly notices that Hannah has a girl in class who does not appear to fit in alongside the others. Sylvie’s uniqueness extends to her mother, who refuses to engage with the other mothers. When Hannah and Sylvia begin having play dates, Polly notices that Sylvie is much different than anyone else her age. Her shirts are a little more forward in their messaging, her latest iPhone seems out of place, and she’s always bragging about her family’s wealth. When Polly tries to inquire, she’s stonewalled by Sylvie, who clams up when personal questions emerge. It is only after Polly sees Sylvie at school that she notices something is out of place and could speak to a larger issue. What is Polly to do? Can she fix this and make things perfect once more, or has Sylvie’s troubled life got to be one mission not worth taken on? Janelle Brown offers up an interesting take that is sure to get the reader thinking.

The story has a mix of everything in it, sure to appease many readers. Janelle Brown dives right in, with her narrative that keeps a clipped pace. She addresses some major issues and begins creating her core characters from the start, developing them so that the reader can feel connection before too long. As the story progresses, the reader learns more about the young Sylvie and her home life, which is nothing like what Polly has experienced, either as a child or a mother now. It’s some of the twists towards the end that really takes the reader and drives the story to its final reveal, leaving everyone to wonder how Polly will handle it. Told in a single chapter, there is little time to rest as the story speeds along and the reader is right there in the thick of things.

Kudos, Madam Brown, for an intriguing piece, easily devoured in a single sitting. I will have to look to see what else you’ve written that might interest me.

Fallen Idols: Twelve Statues That Made History, by Alex von Tunzelmann

Nine stars

What’s in a statue? British historian Alex von Tunzelmann seeks to answer this as she pens this book that explores twelve statues that have been erected and taken down over the years. Drawing on much of the global reaction to stone and metal monuments to glorify political or historical figures that have been yanked down, von Tunzelmann seeks to better understand why this global movement is gaining momentum and what these statues mean, as well as how they are depicted today. Her exploration is both amazing and detailed, as she tries to parse through rhetoric and get to the core understanding so that the reader has some educated background should they wish to engage in some conversation about the topic.

While I could go through the list of statues that von Tunzelmann lists in her book, I would rather leave that to the reader. Rather, it would make sense to look at some of the reasons statues were built. From the pages of the book, I can ascertain three specific reasons that von Tunzelmann feels statues appeared, which correlates with some of what I know about statues in general:

• To serve as a form of hero-worship for leaders who hold a firm grip on a country’s people

• To commemorate a leader whose service was remarkable to the country’s success

• To remind future generations of the impact a person had on society during their lifetime

As von Tunzelmann mentions, these sentiments are in the eye of the beholder, which can cause triggers.

Another theme throughout the book that von Tunzelmann explores is the reaction of those who saw the statue on a daily basis. The first half of the book depicts colonial or suppressed peoples and their having to view these statues on a regular basis. Once there was a change in political or imperial tides, the statues fell, usually desecrated in a variety of ways. That statues represented a past that was never really accepted or supported, simply lived through as oppressed peoples.

While this may be true, the more modern push for statue removal is symbolic by a people who did not live through events and simply ride a wave of historical selective retelling. I know that this will likely land me in some hot water, but it bears discussing. Those who decry removal of statues based on historic figures simply because today’s lens is placed upon them miss the point of the statue’s original placement. Was a George Washington statue placed to highlight and cheer on slave holding? Would one of Canada’s first prime minister, John A. Macdonald be erected to celebrate his overseeing residential schools across Canada to indoctrinate indigenous populations? Could Winston Churchill’s statue have been meant to honour racist sentiments? Likely not, but this is what the movement is (naively?) missing. They cannot see these statues as anything but through modern perspectives. I understand triggers and symbolism as much as the next person, but to erase any mention or depiction of our past is only to forget it and not learn from it. To deny that the reason these statues may have been created, grounded, and viewed is not to show an iron fist, but rather celebrate achievements for the populace to enjoy (and which they did when the statue emerged). It is ignorant not to take a step back and see this as a possibility. While Alex von Tunzelmann may not bluntly be saying this, it bears mention in a book that explores statues and was penned in reaction to 2020 mass global hysteria over the need to remove such statues.

By the conclusion, Alex von Tunzelmann looks back at the twelve men who are explored in this book and tried to decipher how their mark on history was bettered (or worsened) by the statues that were erected. While none were free from controversy, some were more in line with what I mention above as heroes for their efforts at the time. Discussion arises about how removing statues will help the cause, other than serving as a symbolic destruction of the past, as history is not changed and society does not have their minds erased to what took place. The topic is surely controversial, which I hope von Tunzelmann wanted, but it also bears beginning a conversation about history, statues, and how we depict people from the past. School names, public edifices, and even towns remain other pathways that may be scrubbed, which open up additional conversations and I am ready to have them all!

Looking at the book from an analytical perspective, not for content but how the reader can enjoy the journey, I cannot say that I was disappointed. Alex von Tunzelmann offers great analysis of twelve men whose statues have been removed at various points in time. She offers detailed analysis of each, providing readers some context to better understand who they were and potentially why there might have been issues with the statues depicting them. She is level-headed, not grabbing for Kool-Aid to guzzle down, though she is also not dismissive of the arguments made by those who sought to remove the statues. This well-rounded book offers education and entertainment in equal measure while forcing the reader to open their mind up to what could be happening. There are surely those who feel protest means destroying things, but the conversation might be more effective by stepping back and trying to see the lens through which things were crested, rather than using today as the sole perspective for determining usefulness. I am eager to see what others think and am sure there will be those who do not espouse the views I take on this. That being said, freedom to disagree is at the core of this discussion and I applaud its foundational presence.

Kudos, Madam von Tunzelmann, for a book I put off for much too long. I am glad that I took the time to read it and hope others will too!

Kill Night: A Short Story (We Could Be Heroes Series, #1), by Victor Methos

Eight stars

Victor Methos pens this short story that mixes great legal work with a struggle to do the right thing, even as some want to mute cries for justice. Methos touches on this, which appears to be his addition to a number of short stories by a number of well-established authors in the We Could be Heroes series. I’d love to see what others say, through their own genre, but Methos did not disappoint with this piece. Short and to the point, but highly impactful.

Nick Collins has been sent to a small Utah community to help with a murder trial. The accused is said to have murdered a woman along the road and left her mutilated body. However, his story differs, in that he is said to have picked up a hitchhiker who admitted to the crime, but fled when the police were alerted during a rest stop. Now, Nick and his colleague find themselves tied in knots after trying to supply their big-city Vegas legal knowledge to this small community, and failing miserably. Nick is certain that the real killer is still out there and that his client is telling the truth, but it seems everyone has made up their minds and the trial is simply a means to go through the motions. Methos tackles this topic masterfully and has me wanting to read more!

While the story is short, Victor Methos gets his point across effectively. He pushes the views of justice over an easy legal fix and makes his arguments in a somewhat subtle fashion. The narrative works well and kept me intrigued throughout, though there is little time to ‘warm up’, as things occur in such a short timeline. Methos uses some great characters, but has little time to develop them, especially since there is a murder trial to tie up much of the writing. A few plot twists help keep things going and allow the reader to see that nothing is quite as it seems, but this is surely a piece that will keep the reader wanting to forge ahead and finish in a single sitting. Makes me want to read more in this series, as well as other Methos stories, all of which I have tried have been amazing!

Kudos, Mr. Methos, on another wonderful piece!

Her Deadly Game, by Robert Dugoni

Eight stars

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

Robert Dugoni, master storyteller and legal thriller writer extraordinaire, is back with a standalone novel that will have readers on the edge of their seats. Set in his usual Seattle, Dugoni explores a case in which a wheelchair-bound woman is found shot in her home and the husband is the prime suspect. Keera Duggan is ready to work the case, but it will take all her efforts, both to defend the husband and show her family that she can play in the big leagues. A great story that could easily be the opening salvo in a new series. Dugoni at his best and just what fans need to tide them over.

Keera Duggan has a great future as a prosecutor in Seattle, but some personal choices made that path all but impossible. She’s back working in the family law firm, serving as a defense attorney, and trying to keep her alcholic father away from the bottle. Her past as a competitive chess player keeps her memories somewhat positive, though Keera is ready for a new challenge and wants to leave the shadow of her siblings’ disappointing views.

When Keera takes the call of Vince LaRussa, she thinks that she may have found a way to rebuild her career and help the firm rebound to its successful past. LaRussa is an investment advisor who has been accused of murdering his wife, whose wealth is the only positive she has left. Wheelchair-bound after a freak accident, Mrs. LaRussa has been biding her time, but made mention to her closest friend that she may be ready to divorce Vince. This motive, tied with the fact that she was shot in the back of the head, is enough for Seattle PD to begin pulling out all the stops to determine how Vince may have committed the crime. With her former lover serving as the lead prosecutor, Keera is fired up and hopes to make her mark.

While prepping for trial, Vince shows honest sadness for his wife’s murder and hopes that the killer can be found. Keera uses this and a series of cryptic emails to better understand her client and his past. Soon, Keera and her team uncover a complex situation that could better explain the crime scene and those who came to visit the victim in the hours before her death. While Keera follows the path, she learns that there is more to her client and the day of the murder than she first presumed. While it could be a slam dunk to help her win this tense case, it could also open a Pandora’s Box to larger and more troubling things. Dugoni weaves a story of legal loopholes, deception, and a lawyer’s attempt to claim the prize she feels will help her build the family back up once more.

Robert Dugoni is a master at writing stories that will pull the reader into the middle of things and keep them entertained. His stories are always multi-faceted and provide quick development, as the plot thickens and the narrative gains momentum. Dugoni knows what he’s doing and provides a roadmap for the reader to follow. Pulling on past experiences and surely significant research, Dugoni dazzles with each new book he publishes, be it a standalone or one of his highly-acclaimed series novels featuring Tracy Crosswhite. I cannot wait to see where things will go from here and whether Keera Duggan will be back again soon.

Dugoni’s narrative style is one in which the reader is subsumed with ease as things progress around them. A strong foundation helps guide the reader along and adds depth to an already great piece. Strong characters emerge throughout, hinting that Dugoni might want to bring them back for future Seattle adventures, while allowing the reader to decide if they are curious to discover even more. Plot lines develop throughout and build on one another, offering the reader a better insight into the case, Keera’s past, and what could be the real story behind Vince LaRussa. I can only hope that other readers will be as excited as I was when they plunge into this one, sure to keep them flipping pages well into the night.

Kudos, Mr. Dugoni, for proving yet again that you have that magic touch.

Rigged: How the Media, Big Tech, and the Democrats Seized Our Elections, by Mollie Ziegler Hemingway

Six stars for entertainment, zero for content

After a few well-grounded books by those who espoused the merits of the Trump presidency, it is time for something that is light on narrative and heavy on soap box preachiness. Mollie Hemingway has a lot to say about the 2020 election and how it was stolen from her beloved Donald Trump, which I felt was quite entertaining, so I added it to my 2024 election prep reading list. Hemingway bemoans how Democrats stole the election from Trump through a long list of voting irregularities and COVID-19 era voting methods that skewed things towards the left, hence the title of her book. Hemingway makes it an entertaining read, though I cannot see how I am supposed to extract much of anything but a sore forehead from palm bashing.

Mollie Hemingway opens with the same accusations that the right has been pushing since Election Night 2020; that Trump’s promised election was stolen out from under him. He had it locked up, but mail-in ballots and early voting turned the tides towards the Democrats, nullifying any hope that Trump had to stay in the White House for four additional years. While she rightly points out what some academics and pundits have been saying all along—that early returns came from in-person GOP voters were later diluted by the mail-in ballots that began being counted after the polls closed—Hemingway chose to plug her ears with fingers used to follow each line of academic and media analysis. She ostriches the truths laid out before her and screams foul, forgetting what she’s just said about votes. Yet, she denounces the truths she presented and tries to convince the reader that it was a scandal like no other.

Taking a step back, Hemingway tries to put the entire mail-in ballot idea into context but exploring the rise and lingering of Covid-19. However, even this topic is rife with her attempts at wedging politics into the mix and vilifying anyone who does not praise Trump and his handling of events. She makes sure to paint all those who remained unclear with a tainted brush, while espousing the greatness of Donald Trump and everything that came from his mouth. Nothing new or substantial here, other than trying to make the left look bad and no attempts to step back to explore the truths that may need some magnification, specifically the mishandling of the pandemic by POTUS and people reacting through the ballot to turn him away. Hemingway refuses to acknowledge this option, choosing instead to say that Trump was right all along and the left spun his actions out of context.

Hemingway moves into discussions about Black Lives Matter and the presidential debates, using her poison-tipped pen to offer slanted and highly jaded opinions about how these played into the anti-Trump rhetoric. The perspectives presented, that the left sought to create more violence in order to create an anti-police sentiment, is truly abhorrent, and yet she tries to get it shoved into the reader’s gullet. When it came time to address these things on a national stage, Hemingway posits that the media used the debates to attack Trump and Pence, leaving Biden and Harris free from any pointed questions is also false. That being said, when one side is covered in mud, why are not to going to ask about how they sullied themselves? Is that not the journalistic thing to do? Just because the tough questions did not go Trump’s way does not mean it was cruel or biased. Once more, people reacted to what they saw and likely went to the ballot box with those sentiments in mind.

No book of this nature would be complete without a section seeking to smear and whine about corruption and how voters would have changed their minds had they known what Mollie Hemingway uncovered. While she is great at building up some jaded commentary, with Rudy Giuliani at the centre, Hemingway’s antics are as transparent as can be and her sources remain flimsy at best. It is always fun to watch those who want to take their ball away when they don’t win and then turn to espouse falsehoods because they did not get their own way. These whining antics may work for some, but those are the people thirsty for Kool-Aid.

While I do not agree with most of what Mollie Hemingway has to say, I will admit she can write. She great at laying it her arguments in a coherent manner, something that I do not see regularly with those who toss out such calamitous comments. Hemingway offers detailed analyses of a number of topics, even if it is an attempt to shy away from the book’s apparent crux, to show that the 2020 presidential election results were false, fake, and shamefully fraudulent. This is not the first of Hemingway’s books that I have read, but I can happily say that she is consistent in her writing style and perspective. She keeps the left in her crosshairs and feeds on anything Trump as though it were manna from heaven. It is refreshing to see something so jaded and one-sided, even after reading a few strong books that explore Trump Administration action in a favourable manner. All I can say, being up in Canada, is that streamlining electoral processes would save so many headaches. However, I know no one wants to give up the reins of power to do so, which is the underlying crux of this book.

Kudos, Madam Hemingway, for some comedic relief while also remaining me that there will be more pieces like this coming out when Trump falls flat once more!

One Damn Thing After Another: Memoirs of an Attorney General, by William P. Barr

Nine stars

Continuing to prep for November 2024, I wanted to explore more people who surrounded themselves with key players in the Trump Administration, offering their own views about the man and how effective it could be to put him back in the West Wing. William Barr, Trump’s final Attorney General, proved to be a man with a great deal of experience, but who I always saw as being somewhat sycophantic for reasons I could not understand. Yet, Barr had a vision and did not always fall into line when asked (or told) to do something. Therefore, I wanted to get his perspectives. Barr, who held the AG position under the first Bush president, offers a great deal of insight into government, legal matters, and the politics that Washington churns up in anyone within a stone’s throw of the White House. A great book that did open my eyes up to a great deal.

William Barr spent his early years in New York, with parents who were strong academics and sought to ensure their children strove for success. Barr was a strong-willed child and focused, going so far as to want to work for the CIA from a young age. This baffled many, but the single-track mind he had helped him succeed throughout school and into his university years. Barr made a name for himself with his peer group, but some of his academic pathways were not what his mother might have liked. While CIA work was still his passion—with a desire to work at the China Desk—he needed a fallback option, which led to his taking up legal studies in the evenings. His law degree would prove invaluable in the years to come and helped hone his skills for the numerous hurdles he would have to overcome.

While Barr may not have found a path to the CIA, his connection to its director, George Bush, in the 1970s, helped pave a pathway to success within the Attorney General’s Office. Barr found a niche and worked for the Office of Legal Counsel, advising the president on matters that could effect the law and America as a whole. Barr recounts how he was able to make a great deal of headway there, advising both the Reagan and Bush Administrations on matters of great importance. This also allowed him to rise within the ranks and become a Deputy Attorney General under Bush. He was a sought-after voice during some of the legal conundrums that took place in those years, challenging International Law and how the US Constitution fit into it. When an opening for Attorney General occurred, Bush chose Barr to take the role, s post that would last for the final year of the Administration. Barr handled some tricky issues, none more-so that a massive prison hostage situation Alabama, while keeping his cool and preventing the president from being drawn into the fray. A close confidante of President Bush, Barr remained with him through to the electoral loss in 1992, before both had to explore new opportunities for themselves.

Barr addresses his post-AG years as a way to expand his knowledge base. While he had three children and a wife whom he loved a great deal, Barr wanted a challenge and found work as General Counsel for a telecommunications firm that was trying to open things up in America, as the Bell conglomerate was being dismantled. He honed his skills and found himself arguing cases all over, even in Europe, as his name became more international and his reputation of a strong legal mind grew. He did not, however, want a judgeship, feeling that it might shackle him to something and keep him from being able to evolve exponentially.

Barr makes it clear that he was not cheering for Trump in 2016, having chosen to back Jeb Bush in the primaries. While this was the case, Barr admits that when it came down to it, he chose Trump when the GOP crowned him, refusing to consider Clinton at any time. Barr explores in depth his concerns about the Obama Administration and how Trump sought to reinvigorate the country with hope and possibility, even if things got far-fetched at times. Barr, sitting in private practice at this time, saw possibilities and could fathom America’s wanting Trump to turn the tides on the Obama degradation that had taken place. It is this launching point that makes the foray into Trump’s Administration all the more understandable.

Barr tackles his hesitant agreement to serve as Attorney General under President Trump in a key chapter. Exploring the contrast from his original nomination in 1991 with this effort, Barr expressed how Herculean things were with trying to get Senate approval for his confirmation. He also expressed how divisive the country had become and how Trump’s governing style might not be the most inviting or encompassing, but it has its own flair. With Democrats and Republicans staking out their own perspectives, Barr was nominated and ready to take Justice into his own hands, with a slew of issues on his plate, including the Mueller Investigation into collusion from the 2016 election.

The latter portion of the book delves deeply and thoroughly into Barr’s time as Attorney General. While it was only two years, the amount of information relayed is astounding and provides a great deal upon which the reader can feast. Barr touches on a few files that fell into his lap when he took over as Attorney General and offers his through and filterless perspectives on them. His discussion of the Mueller Investigation—as far as he can comments on it—proves interesting, including how he approached the report and the discussions with Robert Mueller III about it. The first Trump Impeachment arguments were also of great interest, as Barr posits some of his legal perspectives, which do not entirely read as sycophantic deference to POTUS. Death penalty use is another topic of great interest, in which Barr lays out not only his own views, but how the constitution and precedent support its use in certain circumstances.

For readers who enjoy seeing behind the curtain, Barer offers some detailed analysis on legal situations that involved the United States, Away from the bluster that was Trump. His detailed description of events; context for the importance in the political, legal, and historical sphere; and analysis all provide the reader with something educational and thoroughly intriguing. This ‘teachable moment’ helps put everything in into context and leaves the reader feeling as though they are involved in better understanding what’s taking place and how they, too, could see things through a lens of the US legal system. Barr pulls no punches about her views and is able to offer strongly worded sentiments, at times thorough a conservative lens, but his ideas seem grounded and not simply flights of fancy. While I may not agree with all of them, I can see his perspective and respect the views that he can substantiate.

Barr handles the 2020 presidential election and its fallout brilliantly, offering his analysis from a legal standpoint and not one as a Trump supporter. Barr repeatedly tried to explain that the Department of Justice is a non-partisan entity in place to ensure laws are upheld and followed, not the hammer of POTUS or the GOP to scrub out those views of state legislatures or politicians who did not fall into line. The election fallout proved to be Barr’s last straw and he gracefully explained how he got his exit before the wheels fell off the Trump-mobile once and for all. It was handled very smoothly and with aplomb, but I am sure Barr had some thoughts that he chose not tp put top paper about the mess that was unfolding before him. He highlights those who planted into the rhetoric and praised the people who, like him, could stand above the fray and watch, like a bad car wreck, how one man tried to pull America into the miasma, proving that there would need to be a saviour to return the country to its greatness that he had sullied so completely.

Books of this nature offer more than simply a place for the author to espouse their views and vilification of the other side. William Barr does present some strongly partisan sentiments, but he is able to support his claims and does not appear blindly sycophantic to either president under which he served. Barr offers a wonderful detail analysis of events, both political and legal, and offers some views with a basis in law and constitutionality that the reader ought to take into account. There will be issues for some and strongly worded sentiments by others, but Barr does not rest on his laurels at any time. He provides readers with sentiments that are more fact than gut feeling and for that he mist be commended. Do not think that I blindly accept all his views, but I can respect them, as I would an academic who supports their views with substantiation. The book is well paced and offers a linear and usually chronological view of events throughout Barr’s professional career. It can get deeper or more opaque at times, but that is Barr pulling on some legal and philosophical perspectives to support his claims. still,the attentive reader and one who enjoys this type of banter will find something in here they can feast up throughout the tome’s journey. I respect the analysis and it has given me a better view of how things were done from the Attorney General’s perspective, as well as some of the glaring choices that Trump chose not to make, even when counselled to do so. William Barr has earned respect for all he explored, though I won’t fall upon my own sword and say that he has won me over entirely. Still, refreshing as we enter new battlegrounds and have some things ton consider when the rhetoric begins sooner than later.

Kudos, Mr. Barr, for a great look into the law and all its complexities, especially with a blowhard trying to make your job harder.

The Institution (Dr. Connie Woolwine #2), by Helen Sarah Fields

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Helen Sarah Fields, and Avon Books UK for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Always one to enjoy a novel by Helen Sarah Fields, I gladly accepted this ARC. While Fields puts this book forward as a standalone, it is actually the second novel featuring Dr. Connie Woolwine and former Det. Brodie Baarda. Woolwine and Baarda are on a mission to discover how a pregnant nurse in an extremely secure institution was murdered and her foetus violently removed. The storylines in the book provide as much eerieness as entertainment for the reader, while proving that Helen Sarah Fields is at the top of her game in a genre full of authors. This is yet another reading experience about which I will be talking for months to come.

After the murder of a nurse and the kidnapping of her foetus within one of the world’s most secure prisons for the criminally insane, there is panic both to solve the case and keep it hushed. Enter Dr. Connie Woolwine, whose profiling abilities brought her from the United States over the Pond. Working undercover, Woolwine will try to determine what’s been going on and provide the police with much needed information. She’s brought her colleague, former Detective Brodie Baarda along, to serve as a new patient with a mysterious past.

While Dr. Woolwine is known for being able to peel back the layers of the most sadistic murderers, she will have to work her magic slowly, while still on a clock. The foetus, now named Aurora is in the hands of someone unknown, with a massive ransom that must be paid in short order. Dr. Woolwine meticulously interviews the other prisoners and staff within The Institution, a castle-like structure that has many pods and is isolated form much of the outside world. Without revealing her true reason for being there, Woolwine works to explore who might have wanted the victim dead and how it could be accomplished without anyone else knowing. All the while, the hunt for the baby is a secondary worry, as Woolwine does all she can.

With Baarda trying to play a serial killer and yet keep his dignity, Woolwine will have to make efforts to find answers and use her colleague’s insights to see if they can crack the case open in the allotted time. With a murderer in their midst and someone trying to stifle obvious progress, it could cost Woolwine and Baarda everything. A chilling story that is as entertaining as it is addictive, Fields proves just how great a writer she is with this novel!

I always enjoy seeing a new book out by Helen Sarah Fields. Her writing is stellar and the storylines prove tp pull the reader in with little effort. There is an obvious dedication to research, as Fields gets to the root of psychiatric disorders, with just the right amount of tension to make it realistic. While she wants to keep this as a standalone, Fields has the makings for another strong series here, with a collection of protagonists whose personalities mesh effectively. I’ll keep hoping that we see more from Dr. Connie Woolwine in the near future, as I am sure she has much more to offer.

The narrative approach to this book was a mix of straightforward crime thriller and eerie psychological tale. Fields mixes them well and presents a story that is sure to keep the reader flipping pages as they try to get to the core of the matter. A handful of well-established characters and two great protagonists keep the story moving and developing in many directions. It was the non-linear plots that made the book what it is, with a constant evolution of who could have done it and how their psychosis will come to the surface. Fast paced and full of unexpected twists, Fields leads her readers along and presents many possible solutions, in hopes that nothing is too predictable. As i mentioned above, I cannot wait to see when we will see more of Connie Woolwine, hoping that she can dazzle fans and some other characters alike.

Kudos, Madam Fields, for another stunning read!

Breaking History: A White House Memoir, by Jared Kushner

Nine stars

Looking to whet my appetite once more ahead of the 2024 US Presidential Election, I turned to this book, which has been gathering some digital dust on my to-be-read shelf. Jared Kushner, son-in-law to former President Donald Trump, offers some of his own insights into life during the Administration’s single term in the White House. While not a life-long political operative, Kushner offers some interesting perspectives, while still exuding sycophantic sentiments, perhaps to keep the peace with his wife at home. Full of well-paced discussion of events that took place, Kushner’s book is worth exploring, of only to offer another perspective of how the train wreck reached its climax.

Jared Kushner was not politically savvy in his early years. He was quite astute, with a father who taught him the ropes of real estate acquisitions, which may have been one of the reasons Donald J. Trump caught his attention. Soon dating and marrying Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, Kushner found himself sucked into the vortex that was Trump’s political ambitions. As Kushner explores, he agreed to help his father-in-law during the 2016 campaign, but was sure that it would only be for a short time. Still Kushner did all he could to help pave the way for a Trump victory, denying that there were any Russian interferences in the final result.

After Trump’s surprise victory, Kushner and Ivanka were offered spots in the Administration, though they had no political experience. Kushner expresses the hesitancy he had to taking a job in Washington, though he wanted to help his family advance their goals as best he could. Juggling all sorts of portfolios, Kushner found himself working in a variety of capacities, stepping on toes throughout the process. There is talk in the book about how Kushner and Steve Brannon clashed extensively, forcing Trump to make some big choices as to what he would do with each of them. It would appear that Kushner wanted to look at the long game and play within the rules of politics, rather than cut corners or stab people in the back. One can surmise that this ‘big picture thinker’ might have offset many of the outlandish ideas that Trump espoused on a regular basis.

Using his Jewish faith as an advantage, Kushner found himself highly involved in Middle East matters, guiding Trump through some of the thorny issues and using his family’s connections with Israeli power brokers to ensure America kept its pro-Israel stance in all meetings, which also trying to keep an open mind as Trump renegotiated with Islamic and Arab countries in the region. Kushner circles back throughout the tome to discuss peace deals and how integral they were to keeping the region working effectively. There were surely some clashes with the State Department, but as Kushner discusses things, he had the ear of POTUS and so much of his work appeared to receive the green light to move ahead.

Trade proved another key building blocks in the Trump Administration, one which Kushner was given a leading role. The NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) received much discussion under the Trump Administration, such that POTUS sought to re-write how things were done, ensuring that America got the best deal possible. While Mexico appeared to be on board with changes and allowed its northern neighbour to dictate terms, the Canadians stood their ground (go CANADA!) and made the process all the more difficult, Kushner speaks in detail about how he had to go back and forth with the Canadians to get a final deal, so far that Prime Minister Trudeau remained a ‘last second’ decider to ensure that the deal, renamed USMCA (United States Mexico Canada Agreement) came to the desk of Congress for review only minutes before the deadline.

No discussion of the Trump Administration would be complete without an analysis of the COVID-19 pandemic. Kushner explores how this was a complete surprise to the Administration and that Trump sought to act swiftly to create a plan to keep the spread from continuing, locking down the needed supplies for transmission stoppage, and getting a vaccine ready for Americans. While Kushner does slap on a cape and tights for both himself and Trump, he illustrates the need for panic and strong arming to get supplies that were needed, which included harsh conversations with the Chinese to get supplies from their factories to Americans. It is hard to separate sycophancy and truth here, and Kushner has little but praise for his father-in-law, but the discussion about behind the scenes work by many offers credence that at least some of it could be true.

Kushner could not escape discussion surrounding the 2020 presidential election in his memoir, though he does not focus too much of his attention there. Mixing talk of COVID with the imminent election on the horizon (and some impeachment chatter for good measure), Kushner made his sentiments known that Trump was ina good place for reelection, but that it was liberal media outlets who gave ‘senile Joe Biden’ the benefit of the doubt that helped derail a destined second term. While Kushner had a great deal of governmental and political things going on, he made sure to plant the seeds so that everyone knew he was sure his father-in-law was robbed of victory, down to the outlandish complaints of voter fraud and ballot tampering in states like Arizona and Pennsylvania. While it is old and the arguments keep being repeated, I was eager to see how he would handle it in this book. Nothing new and relatively no talk of the January 6, 2021 riots, save to say that there were bad people amongst the good, as well as pointing out that liberals were known to stir up trouble.

A book of this nature is one the reader must enter knowing what to expect. There will be sycophantic sentiments throughout, which Kushner did not disappoint in adding, but there is a chance to really see the inside workings of government, which prove that Trump was not the only one making the machines churn. Kushner shoes just how influential he was an involved in the hard issues, which is refreshing to see. His work netted a great deal of positive things for the country and perhaps the world as well. The memoir was written well, using a strong narrative to guide the reader through some tough topics and those that could have been weighed down with minutiae. Kushner offered wonderful pacing and introduced a number of key payers throughout, keeping the story evolving and in the moment. He added his personal touches to the piece, with family and his own religious beliefs, which gave the book a flavouring that I have not seen in past tomes on the topic. For that, I would gladly recommend this read to anyone who wants a detailed look into the Administration, especially one that is not all Trump-smarmy and makes the reader want to vomit with Trumpian cheerleaders. It has me eager to look at more actions in the troupe who played a role in the Administration.

Kudos, Mr. Kushner, for a captivating view on politics, policy, and personal growth. I have a respect for you I did not have when beginning this journey.

Spare, by Prince Harry

Nine stars

While the British Royal Family have always been a topic of great interest to many, the recent release of a tell-all memoir by HRH Prince Harry added some refreshing honesty and bluntness to the scandalous pieces that have littered bookstores or tabloid pages. Told from the heart and through his own eyes, Prince Harry provides the reader with his perspective, as the ‘Royal spare’, in contrast with his brother’s the heir to the throne. It’s poignant release months after the death of Queen Elizabeth II makes the honest commentary all the more sobering as the monarchy is again being put under the spotlight. Nothing short of eye opening for those who have the regime to read it!

HRH Prince Harry Wales had a purpose from the moment he was born; to be the Royal spare, should older brother, William, not live to ascend to the throne. Harry has lived with this moniker ever since and while it was not bluntly presented in every discussion of his early life, it was there. The world knew of Harry from a young age, but it was only after the death of his mother, Princess Diana, that people started to take notice. This memoir picks up there, just before the fatal car accident in 1997. Harry spends the first portion of the book discussing his ‘spare’ title and how he made his way through school and life in a post-Diana world. He drank, he took drugs, but he was not entirely a reprobate. While he was forced to live in his brother’s shadow at Eton, he made a namer for himself and strove to earn his keep, albeit on his own terns.

Harry turned to a life of charity after school, wanting to visit places in Africa and other parts of the world, as well as a stint in Australia. He sought to get dirt under his nails and make a difference. He found himself wanting to do more than sit at a desk, which is what drew him to military service. While there were many controversies about it, Harry pushed through and found himself ready for combat, with a number of arenas in which he could serve. He challenged the ‘protect all royals’ sentiment and advocated to be sent to Iraq or Afghanistan, even if he would have to arrive there converted, so as not to paint a target on his back. Harry recounts of his many adventures in training as well as in Afghanistan, putting his passion to use and making a difference, all before his identity was discovered and he was forced to return to the United Kingdom. Again, he could not shake the ‘royal’ label, wishing to serve as anyone else beside him, but this was not to be.

By the book’s third section, Harry delves into tryin to put his personal life in order, being a hot-blooded man and having seen William wed Kate Middleton. This section focuses on the way in which Harry and Meghan Markle met, dated, courted, and eventually decided to marry. Harry is blunt and completely honest about his feelings and the giddiness he felt with anything Meghan. The couple slowly and determinedly kept seeing one another, as best they could under the radar of the press, connecting on many levels, even when many within Harry’s family thought it a bad idea to date. There were early attacks towards Meghan about her past, her race, and even her life choices, all of which Harry raged that nothing was done to defend her. Still, he would not be dissuaded from marrying the woman he loved, even as the likes of Prince (now King) Charles tried to downplay her for fear that it would shine the limelight on someone other than him. The couple’s nuptials are described in detail here and show a truly fairytale nature to them, forced into pomp and circumstance when they wanted something simple in Africa.

The rest of the third part of the book explores the ongoing struggles that Harry and Meghan had with the British media, public, and the royals themselves. Meghan tried to live her life as best she knew it, but was not ‘Princess Perfection’ as Harry explains. While many within the Royal family usually circle to protect their own, Harry recounts how many left Meghan to be feasted upon, to the point that she contemplated suicide. While some may say that this was melodramatic, the way Harry presents it and from the recollections I have from media accounts, the pain was real and pushed a wedge between Harry and the rest of his family, as well as his country.

The thing about tell-all pieces is that they reveal the warts as well as the great things that happen. This can sour many people who read the book, making them feel this is just about whining or causing a scene. However, one must step back and wonder if this is the author’s way of getting things off their chest, unpinning the media portrayal and offering their heartfelt perspective. While I cannot know how much of the book was complete fact, I must say that Prince Harry offered up powerful and personal opinions, sacrificing himself to try to right the record for all. His flowing narrative was in line with what I would like, rather than a stuffed shirt approach to storytelling. His short chapters, while confounding me in the early stages, began working well for me and left an indelible mark. They pushed me to read on, as there was so much told and great deal more teased with each chapter’s progression. This is the perfect way to lure the reader in. Lots to tell and Harry did that, offering up blunt and honest perspectives, as well as opinions about those around him. While some might pan it as being too full of complaint, I applaud the honesty that Prince Harry offered and the actions he took to protect his immediate family from the harshness that was and is British society.

Kudos, Prince Harry, for setting the record straight, even as you were left out in the cold by your family at the time you needed them most.

The Basement: Dark Past, by M. Marie Walker

Did not finish

First and foremost, a large thank you to Reedsy Discovery and M. Marie Walker for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Always eager to try something by a new author, I gladly accepted this ARC by M. Marie Walker. I went into the reading experience with some trepidation, as I do with many authors with whom I know nothing, but tried to keep an open mind as well. I tried to grasp onto the characters and the story, but could not find myself connecting on any level. Multiple attempts left me in the same situation, allowing me to see that this would not be the book for me.

I do not think that it was the content or the writing, both of which seemed to work for what Walker was trying to convey. I simply could not find myself caring enough to want to keep reading. I have no issue with violence in fiction (and find it quite silly to add ‘content warnings’, as though readers are children and cannot handle big people topics for themselves), which Walker handled well in her writing, nor does language bother me in any regard. I suppose it was just one of those experiences that I did not find myself tied to the story enough to keep picking the book up, no matter how I tried to prepare myself mentally. Surely others will find that connection and perhaps laud M. Marie Walker for her efforts. I am just not one of those readers.

Kudos, Madam Walker, for a valiant effort. I hope others find some connection to the piece and offer you praise for the experience.

The Big Bang Theory: The Definitive, Inside Story of the Epic Hit Series, by Jessica Radloff

Nine stars

Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the past decade and a half, you’ve likely heard of or seen that hit television program The Big Bang Theory. Jessica Radloff counts on this as she pulls back the curtain and offers readers an in-depth look into the series, its characters, and many of the key plots that arose during the twelve years it ran on CBS. Radloff seeks to use her hours of interviews with many who were buzzing around the sets to give the reader something personal and perhaps show just how things looked on the other side of the script. Full of wonderful anecdotes and powerful explanations, Radloff scores top marks for this personal plunge into the truths of the show and its success.

In the opening chapters of the book, Jessica Radloff explains that this show was never expected to have the meteoric rise that it did. Pitching a program about an experimental and theoretical physicist was not sexy and the likelihood that it would work for network television seemed low. Show creator Chuck Lorre was not sure what he ought to expect when he went to executives to get a green light, but somehow he was able to cobble together enough interest to get a pilot booked. While there were issues with that pilot, it was casting that would prove to be highly difficult and time-consuming, with some well-known actors seeking roles, as well as relative nobodies. When all was said and done, there was a core cast who, after a failed pilot and re-organisation, turned out to be the nucleus of what would make The Big Bang Theory the powerful juggernaut it became.

Radloff explores how each of the ‘core five’ handle the stardom that would eventually be theirs, from little known Jim Parsons to established television actress Kaley Cuoco. Each took the slow but steady success in their own stride, balancing life on stage with evolving personal successes and failures away from the camera. The cast morphed from being a strong troupe to a family that could not live without one another. This is highly interesting for the reader to discover, as one can only wonder if spending all that time together on set would mean two would seek to run away when not taping or rehearsing. This group became so close that they vacationed together, dated in some cases, and even negotiated their contracts alongside one another. And the success only pushed them closer together.

With the ongoing success of the show, buzz around the acting world heightened and guest appearances became easier to score. Radloff explores the many big name celebrities who agreed to play a role on the show, from single appearances to story arcs. One of my favourite guest spots, which receives significant discussion in the book, was how the show captured the attention of Bob Newhart, a brilliant comedy actor in his own right. His delivery on the show (as many who have seen it will know) is perfect and the delayed one-liners proved the gift that kept on giving. The cast gathered around their guests and made them feel at home, forcing some great friendships along the way.

There were many social and personal issues explores in the show, many of which Radloff touches upon. Sheldon neuro-uniqueness, Raj’s social anxiety, the push for the Sheldon-Amy ‘coitus connection’ and even motherhood as experienced by Bernadette. All these helped connect the viewers to the show by showing that while many of the issues were highly scientific, there were everyday issues that crossed their paths as well, many of which were struggles that everyone faced. Radloff explains this wonderfully and ekes out some great views from the cast about how they and the writers sought to handle them.

While the hit show was riding high, everyone knew that it would have to end at some point, leaving a gaping hole in their lives. Radloff examines the announcement and final season with great class. While part of the discussion surrounds Jim Parsons decision not to return after the twelfth season, Radloff shows how things blossomed and the entire cast came to see that it was the right decision to end things on a high note. There was much to do in that final season, leading up to the ultimate final few blocks falling into place for all seven of the characters. A brilliant, yet tearful, end to a magnificent run in which science got its time in the limelight and how many who watched saw themselves looking towards the study of the earth’s functions as their chosen field.

While it is hard to top the greatness of the show, Jessica Radloff does a formidable job in approaching how to summarize 12 seasons and the impact they had on viewers so succinctly, while keeping the comedy high and the personal reveals second to none. Wonderful themes emerge throughout the book, which appear through Radloff’s impeccable writing. She massaged so much information and chose to present it, less in a full narrative format, but to splice in interview answers and character memories. The overall theme emerged so well thought the book and left me with a lump in my throat at others. I was transported back to the first season all the way through to the final curtain call, when the story had its intended ending. JEssica Radloff did the show so well with this book and chose wonderful topics to address. While I hope others don’t try to copy her with this show, I would be eager to see if there are other pieces that reminisce about other popular shows, giving her reader a peek behind the curtain.

Kudos, Madam Radloff, for doing the show and its fans so well with this powerful look back. There’s only one thing that can be said to thank you. BAZINGA!

The Jerusalem Scrolls (Michael Dominic #8), by Gary McAvoy

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Reedsy Discovery and Gary McAvoy for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

After a number of successful thrillers centred around religious history and antiquities, Gary McAvoy is back with his latest novel. Having been handed an ARC, I was pleased to get an early look at what McAvoy has been planning, as he helps his protagonist, Father Michael Dominic, in yet another adventure that hints at revealing more about the roots of Christianity, with a modern twist. McAvoy is stellar in his delivery and peppers fact and fiction throughout, forcing the reader to pay close attention as they attempt to splice truth from fanciful dream. Surely one of his best novels to date, which will keep series fans rushing back for more!

When two young boys discover a red clay jar in a hidden cave near the city of Qumran, they could not dream of what might be inside. Several scrolls are soon identified as being written by the Essenes two millennia before, depicting events before the Great Jewish Revolt, which includes talk of the Lost Treasures of Solomon, scattered across Jerusalem. All of these discoveries parallel some of the information from the Copper Scroll, found in the Dead Sea region back in 1947. Amongst this new collection is a scroll with writings from St. Paul himself, which could rewrite much of the core beliefs of early Christianity..

After Father Michael Dominic and some of his friends are called to Jerusalem to investigate these scrolls, it becomes clear just how serious things could be. While not on a mission for the Vatican, there is a sense of decorum and Dominic brings all the passion from his past adventures into this one. While Dominic and a long-time friend from his seminary days want to examine the scrolls and learn how the findings could influence Christianity and the Church, there are others in play who have a mission all their own.

A small sect known as the Mithraists—the chief rival to Christianity in the region until the fourth century—wants nothing to do with the scrolls or their findings and takes it upon itself to ensure it is lost forever. A televangelist with personal ambitions arrives in the region to ensure that he alone will bring the news of a new angle to Christianity and house the scrolls in his personal museum. Even the Isaraeli and Egyptian governments weigh in, wanting their piece of the pie. All this while Father Dominic tries to stay one step ahead of those with nefarious intentions.

With action and adventure, peppered with moments of dire trouble and dangerous clashes with those who will stop at nothing for their own outcome, Father Michael Dominic must discover what St. Paul had to say and how it could redefine Jesus and the heart of Christianity into the 21st century. Gary McAvoy does a sensational job in yet another thriller that is sure to leave the reader excited to see where things are going and exhausted from the journey found herein.

When I first discovered the work of Gary McAvoy, I was eager to see how an author would depict something with clear Christian undertones without making it preachy. Not only has McAvoy nailed the thriller genre, but his use of religious and regional history is highly educational without getting ‘soap box sermon-like’. McAvoy wants to educate and show the reader how much we don’t know, which he does through the guise of using Father Michael Dominic’s curiosities for all things historically Christian. There is nothing like a McAvoy story to leave the reader with many questions, as they flip to the back to see just how much is fact and where McAvoy uses creative freedoms.

The narrative flow of this book is not only strong because it points the way, but also because of its rich depiction of all things historical. There is so much to learn about the three Abrahamic religions, as well as the region where it all began. McAvoy imbues his stories with this and helps the reader grasp the intensity of the scrolls’ discovery, as well as the overall impact on many things. Strong characters, each of which flavour the piece in their own way, offer some great contrasts between the differing cultures and mindsets, be it about antiquities in general or regional politics and the possession of sacred knowledge. Plot twists occur throughout and find themselves wrapped in historical events, as well as moments when the thrills are at their highest. McAvoy has a wonderful handle on it all, yet is able to compact things into a quick read that many readers will devour in short order. For those who have yet to discover Gary McAvoy, this is your chance to do so. Start from the beginning to get the proper context and let your imagination soar as you deserve just how little Christianity in 2023 relates to things at the time of its inception.

Kudos, Mr. McAvoy, for another stellar ride through history and proof that there is so much we have yet to truly know about those early days in the Holy Lands.

Sparring Partners, by John Grisham

Eight stars

John Grisham is back with three stellar novellas sure to impress those who have enjoyed his stories for years! Using his knowledge of the law and superior writing skills, Grisham offers up these stories to entertain and educate the curious reader. Told from three completely different perspectives and involving a varied cast, Grisham can appeal to all readers with this collection. In one, a series is advanced, while the other two are standalone stories. Wonderful writing and a dry southern sense of humour shine through in this collection, sure to impress most Grisham fans.

Homecoming transports the reader to Ford County, where Grisham has set some of his best novels to date. Jake Brigance, once a young and naive lawyer, has settled and made quite a name for himself. While Brigance has a great courtroom personality, in this piece he is in his law office when he receives a cryptic letter from a friend and fellow lawyer. Mack Stafford was once the talk of Clanton, Mississippi when he stole large sums of his clients’ money and disappeared. Having divorced his wife and disappeared, he’s now ready to come back, just as Lisa is about to die from cancer. While Brigance does not want to get in the middle of things, he is happy to facilitate Mack’s return to town. What was supposed to be a heartfelt reunion with his family and the ability to settle some disputes goes awry and Mack Stafford’s return is anything but joyous!

Strawberry Moon is a great story about a young death row inmate, Cody Wallace, living the final hours before his execution. The law has let him down and the politicians have all but given up on him. He can see the end and wants to put his 29 year life in order. When he makes one final request, it is a little out of the ordinary, but he is adamant that it is the last thing he wants before he can no longer feel or see anything of an earthly nature.

Sparring Partners introduces the reader to the Malloy brothers, Kirk and Rusty. They are sharp lawyers in the St. Louis community and have been managing the family firm since their father was sent to prison. While the Malloy brothers despise one another, they must come together to stop the complete disintegration of their firm. Unable to fully trust one another, they turn to Diantha Bradshaw, who knows all the skeletons in the firm’s closets. While she is willing to help, Diantha may not be enough to keep the Malloys afloat.

This is a great collection of novellas by John Grisham that not only show his writing ability, but also the varied perspectives the law has to offer. Anyone familiar with Grisham’s work will know it is legally vast and usually pulls characters out from their comfort zones at every turn. Grisham’s strong narrative flow and keen attention to detail provide the reader with a fabulous experience as they flip pages. Great to read as a collection or individual pieces when time permits, these are novellas perfect for any occasion. I can only hope that it will pique the interest of readers who may not be familiar with the work of John Grisham and keep them coming back for more!

Kudos, Mr. Grisham, for a wonderful and vastly different collection of stories in this book.

A Burning Obsession (Abby Mullen #3), by Mike Omer

Eight stars

Mike Omer brings out a final novel in the Abby Mullen series, which has been impactful throughout its short run. There is much to solve and reveal, which Omer does in short order while keeping his protagonist on her toes. Adding some time with Zoe Bentley, Omer shows how he can mix his series protagonists together, while battling demons that Abby Mullen thought that she put to rest. A fiery end to the series will force Mullen to face her fears and Bentley to realise that she does not know it all. Mike Omer at his best, sure to impress series fans,.

A number of suspicious fires burn houses down and produce heated graves for victims, which is something that triggers NYPD hostage negotiator Abby Mullen. Having grown up in a cult where fire was the predominant means of asserting authority, Mullen knows the power the flame, and leader Moses Wilcox. Having long been thought dead, Wilcox has re-emerged and is leading his flock across the country, burning houses down in a form of ‘second baptism’ to show willingness to adopt the cause.

Sending one of its best to the crime scene, FBI criminal profiler Zoe Bentley is on hand to catch the killer through a series of psychological analyses. Bentley is sure she has a lock on the killer, but Mullen has the inside scoop and tries to insist that she knows Wilcox better than anyone. While the two women clash, they see their parallel desire to bring Wilcox to his knees and forge a truce, albeit a tentative one.

As Mullen confronts the past she kept long-buried and Bentley uses her textbook knowledge of all things criminal, both will have to complement one another if they want to catch Moses Wilcox once and for all. It will be an explosive end to things, but one could expect no less with Mike Omer in the writer’s seat. Series fans will surely rush to get their hands on this one, if only to see how Abby Mullen finds a sense of closure.

I discovered the work of Mike Omer by fluke, but have been excited to push through two of his stellar series. The writing is gripping and the themes prove addictive, as I tried to make sense of how two strong women, Bentley and Mullen, function in tandem while adding their own perspectives. He keeps the reader front and centre throughout the process, but never gives too much, hoping to shock and surprise the reader at every turn. There’s so much to take in with this book and fans of both Mullen and Bentley will be rushing to find solace in discovering how it all ends.

The Abby Mullen series requires a quick pace to get through all that there is a great deal to tackle. Mike Omer knows his audience and what makes them tick, presenting a piece that not only ties up loose ends but also adds new questions to the mix. Abby Mullen has to face some of her deeply buried childhood memories, which allows for some great development, but also helps contrast with the significantly professional Zoe Bentley who is out for her own pound of analytical flesh. These two women work well together, but also want to teach one another something, which adds a competitive edge to the piece. Strong plot twists and a race to the finish help the story and series achieve the greatness that Omer surely sought. I am not sure where things are headed for Omer or his two protagonists, but I am keenly aware that I will be there, impatiently waiting, to see what the coming years have to offer.

Kudos, Mr. Omer, for another success. You have me so curious and yet so ready to wait for your next stellar project.

Long Shadows (Amos Decker #7), by David Baldacci

Eight stars

David Baldacci returns with another novel in his highly successful Memory Man series, sure to attract many. Amos Decker has evolved and helped readers know him a little better, but there is a great deal of change for the behemoth in this piece, which takes the story down to the humid climate of Florida. Baldacci offers some great storytelling and builds a new protagonist, sure to fill a needed spot in the series. While he has many series on the go, David Baldacci has not waned in the least with Amos Decker and the gang!

After the death of a close friend and a piece of personal news that could real turn south for him, Amos Decker agrees to take on a new case far from Washington. Working with a new partner, Frederick White, Decker heads to Florida, where a federal judge and her bodyguard have been brutally murdered.

While Judge Julia Cummins seems clean, with no one she’s riled up and no known skirmishes around town, someone surely had it out for her. Decker and White scour the area and look into the judge’s background. Happily divorced and without many waves in her life, Cummins’ death baffles everyone around the area. However, Decker is not quite convinced that things are as bucolic as they seem.

Working a side case while down in Florida, Decker learns a little more about Cummins and the community, which will prove helpful when he needs to return his findings to the higher-ups within the FBI. Still, there is something not quite kosher and Decker cannot put his finger on it. All the while, White is struggling with her new partner and seeking to juggle single parenthood with children who are growing up fast. This case is something else and the Decker-White pairing could be both a dream and nightmare rolled into one. With a killer out there, Decker and White will have to put the pieces together before it’s too late, as their plates are full with personal matters that require their attention. Baldacci proves his worth yet again with a stunning novel that advances the series effectively.

Having been a fan of David Baldacci for many years, I am always excited when he publishes something new. The stories are always top-notch, with characters and plots that never fail to impress. Baldacci has the ability to write in so many styles that the reader need only show up and let the magic consume them. I can only hope that there is more to this series, as Baldacci left some loose ends that will soon need solving if things are to move forward.

Baldacci has long proven that he is a storyteller, able to concoct ideas and massage them into stellar pieces of wonder. His narrative approach eases the reader into the piece and then gains momentum effectively. With great characters and some plots to pique the interest of the curious, Baldacci has the reader hooked before they can back out. The introduction of Frederica White will surely add something needed to the series, though it is hard to tell how Amos Decker will react. Not that he doesn’t have some stuff of his own that needs addressing. I have longed for some more crossover work amongst Baldacci’s series and hope to see it again soon, as there is something about mixing his protagonists together that has me giddy.

Kudos, Mr. Baldacci, for a sensational piece that had me gripped until the very end.

The Loyal Friend, by A. A. Chaudhuri

Did not finish

While I have been a fan of numerous pieces by A.A. Chaudhuri, I cannot say that I find myself in this position. I tried to read and listen to the book on a few occasions, though I could not find myself connecting with either the story or the characters. While I would normally just stop reading and erase any mention that I had started the book, I felt that owed it to the author to pen something and acknowledge the effort.

Chaudhuri spins a tale that has a great deal of potential, mixing numerous timelines with some apparently strong characters. Add some murder and you have all the ingredients for success. I tried to latch onto the various perspectives, or at least find something enjoyable with the characters, but I failed at every turn. Perhaps I sought something harder in a crime thriller genre, but in not finding that, my attention waned and could not be found anew.

For those who did like the book, I would highly recommend some of the others Chaudhuri has written, as they are strong and full of wonderful development. She has a way of spinning a story that keeps the reader in the middle of the action, offering hints and what’s to come. I do hope some of those novels are in the pipeline, as I always enjoy a good story and Chaudhuri has shown that she can write well.

Kudos, Madam Chaudhuri, for what may be a strong thriller for some. Alas, I cannot count myself in the group that has great things to say.

A World of Curiosities (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #18), by Louise Penny

Eight stars

Louise Penny returns with another sensational story once again highlighting the characters of Three Pines, Quebec. While the town may be quaint, the people are feisty as ever, kept together at times by Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. When a case from his past rocks him and resonates into the present day, Gamache cannot help but remember and try to bring new closure before those around him and affected once more. Penny spins her storytelling web and reminds me why I love this series so much with each new novel.

While the community of Three Pines, Quebec is known for its bucolic nature, there are deeply troubling moments that emerge at the least opportune times. Armand Gamache and his son-in-law, reputable members of the Sûreté du Québec, have done well to keep the peace, but when two young people return to the area, it sends them into a tailspin of panic and memories.

These two were children when their mother was brutally murdered, which was only the tip of the iceberg. Revelations soon emerged about countless amounts of abuse, which crippled those working the case. Some wonder just how innocent they were at the time of their mother’s death.

When Gamache discovers an old letter that speaks of a major secret in Three Pines. Soon thereafter, a secret room in one of the community’s buildings is discovered and the whole town wants to be part of the action. Some speculate about what awaits them, while others simply want a glimpse to whet their appetite. All the while, an old foe of Gamache’s makes his return, resonating deeply and forcing the senior Sûreté detective to take notice. Nothing could prepare Gamache for what he learns, or the blowback that awaits him. There is so much to handle and little time too wonder in this chilling mystery that will turn Three Pines into a place of panic once again. Penny does a masterful job in yet another addiction to this highly addictive series.

There are few authors I have discovered over the years who can write so fluidly and enticingly about Canada than Louie Penny. She knows her stuff and keeps the reader in the middle of each story. Strong writing and powerful plots are complemented by characters who evolve and devolve simultaneously, but never to the point of disappearing completely. While Three Pines may be a lovely destination, it is anything but boring with Louise Penny’s pen.

The narrative flow of the book is matched only by the other novels in the series. Penny sweeps in and hooks the reader with the opening phrase, refusing to lessen her grip until the final sentence resonates. Characters with depth and sassy intrigue fill the pages as well as a setting that is second to none. Great plots and complex journeys to follow them is the key to Penny’s writing, which forces the reader to enjoy or be left behind. The Canadiana in the book is like no other, giving me that warm feeling without becoming stereotypical. There is so much to enjoy here and I cannot help but find myself excited to see what’s next for a writer who never seems to run out of ideas!

Kudos, Madam Penny, for proving that Canada does deserve its placate on the map of strong settings for stellar mysteries!

Deep Fake, by Ward Larsen

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Ward Larsen, and Macmillan Audio for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

New to the world of Ward Larsen, I was eager to see how this political thriller would sit with me. Larsen has a wonderful style of writing and ability to inject political flavouring into the text that left me able to see what was going on, while also witnessing some of the ‘new Cold War’ themes he wishes to put forward. The curious reader will surely enjoy the approach and the ease with which the plot develops. Ward Larsen is yet another author I need to add to my radar, as this was a wonderful first impression.

The Ridgeway household has been through a great deal of change over the last number of years. Bryce was a long-serving soldier in the Army, making his mark on superiors and earning a number of commendations before he was injured and sent back home. Thereafter, he agreed to run for Congress, easily winning a set in the House. His wife, Sarah, has always been the dutiful spouse, but secretly has wanted something a lot simpler. This is stymied when Bryce foils a terrorist plot at a Republican fundraiser and becomes a household name in an instant. Bryce Ridgeway is not only a hero, but may be the GOP’s answer for the upcoming presidential election. Bryce is not certain, neither is Sarah, yet both agree to let fate take them where it will.

With a weak incumbent, the race is on and Bryce seems to be the easy choice to secure the nomination and a spot in the White House. However, Sarah begins to feel something is off about her husband and the campaign in general. His memory loss is worse than it ever was when he returned home after his injury and Bryce appears to be acting even more strangely than usual. Sarah seeks some advice from a friend with connections to research and surveillance, opening up a private investigation into Bryce Ridgeway, candidate for US President.

Soon, Sarah comes to realise that her fears may not have been that far off, as Bryce’s actions are completely unlike the man she married. Sarah will stop at nothing to get to the truth, even as those around her try to dismiss her claims. But there is more to the story than this, as a group of Russians hiding in the shadows are watching their plan unfold and the future of the United States crumble, one day at a time. They must ensure solidarity to the cause, which means silencing anyone who could spoil things. Sarah Ridgeway might be their greatest hurdle, but with her bombastic comments, she’s sure to be laughed out of any situation she faces. Still… one can never be too careful. A chilling story by Ward Larsen that had me wondering if this could happen with ease, even more subtlety than the Trump ‘puppet of Russia’ scenario.

I enjoy a well-crafted political thriller as much as the next person, but there has to be an element of reality to hold my attention. While Ward Larsen’s story does appear to have a fanciful element on its surface, reading the book proves just how subtly the actions could be to have ultimate success. Larsen builds his story with ease and keeps the reader guessing until the final piece falls into place. I was hooked and could not stop myself from binge reading, just to see how things would play out. Truly a sign of a great writer who knows his stuff.

With a strong narrative flow, the story builds in all the right places and keeps the reader wanting more. Momentum develops throughout and keeps the reader riding the wave, with strong characters who offer side-stories and flavouring the main themes. Plot twists are key to this piece and Larsen knows just when the develop them and how to tease the reader. While I did not enjoy the original story about which this book is surely based, I can see how Ward Larsen has adapted it to make it work and proves the new Cold War could be even more troubling.

Kudos, Mr. Larsen, for such a great novel. I can only hope that other novels you have penned are just as intriguing.

Lest We Forgive (Detective Liz Moorland #1), by Phillipa Nefri Clark

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Reedsy Discovery and Phillipa Nefri Clark for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Having read and enjoyed a previous novel by Phillipa Nefri Clark, I eagerly grabbed for this ARC. Clark spins a great crime thriller with this novel, combining a police manhunt with a family struggling to put the pieces back together. Set in Australia, there is an added flavouring to the story, though the setting is enough of a backdrop that the novel would work in any locale. Impactful until the final pages, Clark proves that she is one to watch in what appears to be the debut of a new series.

After a horrible car accident claims the lives of her parents, eight-year-old Melanie is left in limbo. Having been in the vehicle at the time, she suffers a number of physical and psychological injuries, but will also need a guardian to take care of her. Melanie’s grandfather, Vince, is a former detective and has disappeared into the bottle since his wife’s death, alienating his own daughter in the process. With Melanie needing someone, Vince steps up to help, thinking that family is Melanie’s best option.

While Vince begins to wonder about the crash and whether it might have been a targeted hit, he has an inkling that his son-in-law’s business partner could be up to no good. When Vince reaches out to Homicide Detective Liz Moorland, she is anything but pleased. With the recent escape of a murderer from the local jail, Moorland has her hands full and does not need any half-baked ideas clouding her focus. Vince refuses to stand down and does his own exploration into things, including the night of the fatal crash.

While Vince is trying to help Melanie acclimate to a life with him, he’s able to make some headway on the case. Detective Moorland is willing to take another look, though her attention remains focused elsewhere, as new bodies pile up the more the manhunt intensifies. The pieces begin to come together, as Melanie begins to come out of her shell. She remembers things about the night of the crash, things that could implicate people to a larger crime. Vince will not rest until he gets to the bottom of what is going on, whether Detective Moorland wants to help or leave him to his own devices. The truth is out there, though someone is lurking in the shadows, wanting to tie off any loose ends that appear, even if that means wiping Melanie off the map. Clark offers up a chilling story that mixes the hunt for justice with the slow and methodical healing of a little girl.

There’s something about an author that can juggle multiple themes effectively in their writing that has me very impressed. Phillipa Nefri Clark does that with ease as she tackles a debut novel in this series, sure to be crime thriller based. Clark uses all the tools she has to paint a great picture of what is going on in a small community, as well as the struggles for truth and healing that are inherent when an accident harms a handful of people. A great balance of police procedural, mystery, and emotional connection, Clark weaves them all together to keep readers impressed throughout the journey.

With a strong narrative base, the story is sure to impress many who are looking for something that will capture their attention. Clark does well to keep things moving and never lets the momentum wane as the story and its plots become more involved. A handful of key characters keep things exciting for the attentive reader, offering multiple perspectives to enrich the story. I can only hope that Clark keeps the same recipe for the next book in the series, as I am eager to see what is to come of Detective Liz Moorland and the rest of the Melbourne Homicide Squad.

Kudos, Madam Clark, for a great start to the series. I cannot wait to see what’s to come.

In the Blood (Terminal List #5), by Jack Carr

Eight stars

Jack Carr returns with an explosive thriller that is sure to keep the reader biting their nails as they flip pages well into the night. Writing from his own unique perspective, Carr pulls the reader into the middle of a thriller than spans the globe and offers chilling realities of the goings-on well under the radar. Carr depicts the world of espionage as one that races along, taking guilty and innocent lives alike in a battle for stability. Carr has a superior ability to depict these struggles through his writing while offering the reader a bird’s eye view throughout the journey.

In the African country of Burkina Faso, a plane is blown out of the sky, killing everyone. Among the passengers is a woman who was contracted by the State of Israel to complete a hit on a known target. The media coverage of the crash hits the airwaves soon thereafter, stunning many, including former Navy SEAL James Reece.

Reece cannot shake that he knows one of the names of the dead. He remembers her from an old Mossad mission and cannot help but want to learn a little more. Reece owed her so much and sets about cobbling together a team of contacts around the world to help track down her killer. This is sure to ruffle a number of feathers and revive some old animosity, but Reece is determined to act.

While this may be a noble mission, Reece has made a name for himself the world over as an operative who takes no prisoners and is ruthless in his handling of the enemy. This bravado may well serve to endanger him even more than he knows. With a potential trap awaiting him, Reece will wade into the depth of international espionage and counter surveillance to find a killer whose primary mission has been to remove stability. What follows is surely the most dangerous game of cat and mouse imageable, especially when a cliffhanger at the end changes everything for Reece. A brilliant addition to the series by Jack Carr that has me wanting even more.

I was hooked from the opening pages of the first book in this series and Jack Carr has made it an amazing journey up to this point. Using some of his own experiences, Carr illustrates just how little the common person knows about what happens around the world. Full of grit, drama, and a dose of reality, Carr takes readers on an adventure like no other as he traipses across the globe in search of a ruthless killer. This alone should be enough to lure readers to rush to get their hands on this book.

While he purports to be nothing more than a retired soldier, Jack Carr has some great writing abilities. His narrative not only takes readers along a journey that is fast-paced and full of detail, but the direction is one that always leads to something more waiting around the corner. Strong characters and a number of humours personalities pepper the book and keep the reader from getting too serious about what is happening around them. Plot lines emerge, as they likely would on any mission, and keep the reader guessing until all comes together, sometimes in a bloody shootout. Carr does not dial back the action for one second and this leaves the reader trying to catch their breath as they meander through countless twists to get to the final reveal. I cannot say enough about this book, this series, and this author!

Kudos, Mr. Carr, for another great piece, I will have to check out the PRIME television show to see if it matches the intensity you create on the written page.

No Place to Run, by Mark Edwards

Seven stars

As it has been a while since I picked up a book by Mark Edwards, I thought that I would take a leap with this one. Edwards has been known to impress me with his thrillers, many of which explore the darker side of humanity. This piece, while offering moments of tense storytelling, did not hit the mark for me, leaving me wanting more and wishing that things could have been like some of the past novels Edwards has written. Still, I gave it my best and can only hope others find something alluring with the story.

During a trip to Seattle two years ago, Scarlett disappeared while visiting her brother. Aidan spent the follow years trying to track her down, running into countless dead ends and a handful of shrugs from those around him. When Aidan receives a tip that a young woman matching Scarlett’s description was running for her life in Northern California, he latches onto this and the search resumes. But, could it really be Scarlett after all this time?

Aidan makes his way to the location, only to be greeted by a fire-ravaged community filled with missing person posters. The locals are mum about anything going on, but Aidan is sure there is more to the story. He is about to give up once more, but locates a woman willing to talk. Lana helps Aidan as best she can, but they find themselves in deeper trouble when they try to learn too much. Deep in the forest, a number of teenagers thought missing have been living and working, but they are by no means free. Aidan tries to find Scarlett, which only creates more issues and helps endanger him, with Lana by his side.

With everything to lose and little time, Aidan and Lana make their move, in hopes of freeing many who have been held captive, but at some great risk. These are eco-terrorists who have indoctrinated many to follow their belief system and push back against many who might try to steer them in other directions. Scarlett means the world to Aidan, but will he be able to wrest control of her away from this group with little regard for the outside world? Edwards posits this in a thriller than has moments of brilliance.

I have always enjoyed the work of Mark Edwards, as it is chilling to the core and usually leaves me with more questions than answers. However, this book left me with the wrong type of questions as I tapped my toe for wanting to get to the point. Edwards weaves the story along, only to leave the reader wanting more and wishing that the journey could have been different. I am eager to see if he can rebound from this and return to his glory.

Edwards uses his quick narrative style to draw an image of the goings-on for the reader, which helped give me an initial interest in the piece. However things appeared to wane soon thereafter, not saved by some good character development or strong descriptive skill. Edwards offered some drama at just the right moments to keep things on pace for a decent novel, but I was missing the spine-tingling thrills to which I am accustomed in his novels. Lots of bluster and little impact for me, though I am sure many others found something with which they could relate.

Kudos, Mr. Edwards, for a decent read, but not at the calibre I have become accustomed. Better luck winning me over next time.

Damages Intentions (Abby Mullen #2), by Mike Omer

Eight stars

Mike Omer returns with another Abby Mullen thriller, sure to keep the reader thinking as they speed through this tense novel. Dealing with a number of important issues in this newer series, Omer takes the reader on a ride like no other and keeps them in the driver’s seat throughout. Abby has a lot to discover about herself in this novel with situations that would test the mettle of any typical individual. How the reader handles this will surely be a part of the excitement of the novel, as this is by no means a passive read.

Abby Mullen spent her early childhood within the Wilcox cult, still scarred by how it all went down in flames. She’s back in North Carolina to get answers, though this does not go as well as he would have liked. She’s got a full life in front of her now, so lurking in the shadows does not make much sense. Still, she needs answers in order to put that part of her life in the past.

As a mother and one of the best hostage negotiators the NYPD has on their payroll, Mullen cannot let distractions cloud her judgment, This becomes even more important when a local conspiracy theorist group calling themselves, The Watchers, decides to strike once Abby returns home. Looking to the local high school, where they are sure sex trafficking is rampant, The Watchers take a number of hostages, including Abby’s own daughter, Sam.

Trying to keep her wits about her as she deciphers the expectations of this group, Abby remains laser focussed and intent on getting everyone out without bloodshed. However, The Watchers have their own narrative and ideas, none of which can be derailed with a simple negotiation tactic. Abby will have to talk her way through this one, while also unravelling the truth behind a myriad of secrets. How does this all tie into her past with Wilcox? Abby will have to use all the resources at her disposal to get answers before Sam or the others face a grisly end to this tense stand-off. Mike Omer dazzles as he ups the ante with this novel, sure to keep the reader gasping with every page turn.

It was a few years ago that I discovered the work of Mike Omer, which is full of great narrative style as well as superior storytelling. Pushing a strong theme throughout his novels, Omer weaves a story that is sure to keep the reader guessing until the final page and even then, he offers cliffhangers or questions that cannot be easily put to rest. Great characters who all live their intense lives along differing paths, Omer produces stellar novels that are sure to be the talk of those who read them for months. A great find and an even greater reading experience.

The Abby Mullen series demands fast narrative development to stand on point and Mike Omer delivers. There is little time for lollygagging, especially with all that Omer wishes to cover, forcing the reader to strap in as the adventure begins. Adding to this, many characters find their way into the tale, including Abby Mullen herself. There’s so much to discover about this woman and how she can be cool under pressure with all that she has lurking in her personal closet. The plot twists that emerge throughout prove to help the already strong story, allowing the reader to be an active bystander to everything that is taking place throughout this piece. Omer has crafted a tale that is sure to garner a great deal of praise, while also pointing out just how angering conspiracies can be when fuelled by misinformation and a delusional leader who dictates the line between truth and fantasy. Sobering in its delivery and depiction, making this one of the best Mike Omer novels that I have read!

Kudos, Mr. Omer, for keeping me intensely involved in this read and all others you have published.

The Maze (John Corey #8), by Nelson DeMille

Nine stars

Nelson’s DeMille brings his politically incorrect protagonist, John Corey, back for another adventure that is sure to get the heart pumping. Having seen it all during his time with the NYPD and Feds, Corey is happy to relax in rural New York, but that is sidelined when he is pulled into an undercover operation like no other. Corey brings his specific skill set and ‘fear nothing’ attitude to the case, while trying to keep his zipper up and eyes off the ladies. DeMille masters the storytelling once more and proves that he’s still got the spark needed to impress readers.

While still the target of many Russian and Islamic terrorists, John Corey tries to use time at his uncle’s rural New York cabin for some much needed R&R. However, others did not get the memo, so when Corey’s former colleague and lover, Beth Penrose, shows up, there is sure to be something work-related to this. Penrose talks about wanting Corey to take a job with a local security firm, Security Solutions, hoping that it will help him transition to his next set of life skills. Corey, who is still trying to make his way through the minefield that has been work with the NYPD, FBI, and CIA, is not so sure. Still, a pretty face and a willingness to rekindle a past flame has him listening.

What begins as an apparent new job soon turns into something much more complex. It would seem that this security firm could be involved in something much more disturbing. One of the past private investigators who asked too many questions appeared to commit suicide, though speculation lingers that she could have been murdered for what she knew. A case of nine unsolved murders on Fire Island appears to be at the core of the matter, where sex workers’ bodies have been found and no one has yet been fingered as the serial killer. Could Security Solutions be the key to discovering who has been doing it, or at least leave a trail of corrupt breadcrumbs in the cover-up?

While Corey digs deeper at his own pace, he meanders through the plethora of women, corrupt acts, and scintillating discoveries to see if Security Solutions has been protecting a killer or at least killing those who get too close to the truth. With Corey working alongside Beth Penrose once more, both can only hope that this will be something that helps crack a case wide open, if not bring them closer together. Still, John Corey is not the most chivalrous man, always willing to bend the rules to his favour and to pave the way to sexual conquering. How will it all work out? Nelson DeMille shows just how stellar his writing can be with this piece and an addition to this must-read series, all eats for those with an open mind to Corey’s salty delivery.

I cannot remember when I first began reading Nelson DeMille’s novels, but I know John Corey has been a favourite series of mine since first I discovered his filterless delivery. DeMille has all the needed ingredients to make his thrillers both enticing and full of dry wit, things I appreciate when reading (or listening) to books. The stories are always on point and full of detail that proves DeMille uses a great deal of research to create these gems. He is also well-versed in the lingo to leave the reader feeling as though they are part of the action throughout the process. While some may cringe at the rawness of Corey’s comments, the realism that emanates from the text makes them all the more enjoyable today. I cannot wait to see if John Corey will be back soon, in another adventure where his zipper leads the way!

A strong narrative succeeds when a book is able to capture my attention, something with which Nelson DeMille has never struggled. The pace of the book, while it would seem slow because the true ‘crime’ element did not enter into almost halfway through, is perfect and the detail discussed proved essential to better understanding all the working elements. DeMille brings John Corey back, alongside some familiar faces, as well as a great deal of new characters, to keep the story lively. These characters all add their own perspectives to the larger story and enrich the experience for the reader. Plots develop as quickly as John Corey’s libidinous thought processes, keeping the reader entertained and chuckling throughout. While the book is aptly titled for many reasons, the reader will see the plots can be a maze until the final reveal puts it all together. I cannot say enough about Nelson DeMille or this book, hoping that others share my positive sentiments and this keeps John Corey alive for at least a few more novels.

Kudos, Mr. DeMille, for another great novel that had me laughing throughout. What’s next for your adoring fans?

Trace Evidence (Michael Flint #2), by Diane Capri

Eight stars

Having spent years reading Diane Capri’s Hunt for Reacher novels, I discovered this series, almost by accident. Michael Flint appeared in the latest Hunt for Reacher novel, impressing readers, but has his own story, which is just as exciting and even more riveting. Capri has sculpted this protagonist to be one that readers can enjoy with ease, while also being able to devour the novels in short order. This second book in the series delves deeper into the the Flint backstory and touches on some emotional and very personal sides to the man, all while battling a case or two in the present day. Capri shines in this series and has me eager to get my hands on another Michael Flint novel in short order.

When a woman of some means reaches out to Michael Flint for help, he cannot turn her down. Desperate to save her young son, Veronica Beaumont implores Flint to do what other investigators have been unable to do. Jamie Beaumont suffers from an illness and has been able to find no matches, but his biological father, Josh Hellman, might hold the key. Trouble is, Hallman has been missing for the last six years since his small plane went down on a fishing trip.

While Flint learns more about the plane crash and how the body of two men were found at the bottom of an icy lake, he wonders why there is no trace of Hallman. Did he walk away from the crash? Autopsies on the bodies showed non-crash related injuries that led to their deaths, leaving some to wonder if Hallman killed his friends and has since gone off the radar. Whatever’s happening, Flint wants answers. However, when he revisits the scene, some of the men he encounters, who were there at the time of the crash, are vague and appear to be hiding a secret of their own, including a former client of Flint’s.

The exploration for a lost parent sparks an interest in Flint to finally find out who his parents were and what happened to them. While files were spotty at the time, Flint learns that his potential mother may have been murdered by a man on death row, whose execution is imminent. With little time to waste, Flint works this as a side-job, hoping to get some of his own answers before it’s too late.

With a parallel narrative depicting what happened at the time of the crash, readers can see things from Josh Hallman’s perspective as well, including some of the secrets that Michael Flint is slowly unearthing. The mystery behind Hallman’s disappearance remains complicated, but there are some leads begging to be revealed that could help Flint find the key to saving the life of a young boy. Capri does so well with this piece that she will have readers praising her for the foreseeable future.

I discovered Diane Capri as the author of a great Jack Reacher spin-off, which I have long enjoyed. I knew she had some other series being published, but I never took the time to explore them. After Michael Flint’s appearance in the latest Reacher tale, I decided that I ought to expand my Capri reading knowledge. How pleased I was to do that, as Michael Flint turned out to be even better than any Hunt for Reacher novel I read. It’s nice to discover new aspects to an author you and long read and enjoyed.

Capri has a sensationally strong and detailed narrative base in this novel, which juggles numerous timelines and perspectives at the same time. The story gains further flavouring by a handful of one-off characters, who both enhance the larger story, as well as the Flint personal saga that proves to be a great undertone throughout. The Michael Flint backstory is captivating and keeps the reader engaged as a partial distraction from the Josh Hallman plot. The varied plot lines are entertaining throughout and keep the reader on the edge of their seat, as they seek to explore how Flint will be able to help others while doing the same for himself. This is surely the best Capri novel I have read to date and I am eager to see how the third novel in this series proves to be when it is released later this year.

Kudos, Madam Capri, for providing ongoing entertainment for your loyal fans.

No Plan B (Jack Reacher #27), by Lee Child and Andrew Child (Grant)

Eight stars

Jack Reacher, everyone’s favourite nomad, is back for another adventure, allowing Lee and Andrew Child to use their brilliant writing abilities one more. Reacher finds himself involved in an incident that spans across the US and gets him into trouble with a new collection of corrupt officials. The authors keep the action high and dry humour flowing in this novel, which has much more zip than some of their past collaborative efforts. Nice to see Reacher is back in fine form, with no signs of waning.

After arriving in a small Colorado town, Jack Reacher witnesses a young woman tossed in front of a bus, before the purported killer left with her purse. While others think they saw the woman leap, Reacher is sure about what he saw and tells the authorities as much. After a brief confrontation with a few men who might have been part of the killer’s group, he gets a glance inside the victim’s purse, where he learns a little more about her, including that she is far from her Mississippi home, where she works in a prison.

Painted as a target who might know too much, Reacher could find himself in a great deal of danger, but he refuses to stand down from trying to get to the root of the murder. Little does he know, but the killing is part of a larger conspiracy by a group who have even more nefarious plans that span across the country.

While Reacher and another Colorado local try to peel things back, which include a trip to Mississippi, a young boy has begun a trek across the country to flee a troubled home life. He finds himself involved in his own set of troubled circumstances and could use some help. When Reacher crosses paths with him, they find a common interest and appear to connect on some level. Still, both are on their respective missions, which could be intertwined, even if neither is quite aware of it yet. As Reacher is ready to put it all on the line, he must watch out for those who have him on their target list, prepped to leave another body if it keeps the silence. The Child brothers know how to keep Reacher at the top of his game and series fans can revel in another wonderful thriller.

I have followed the Jack Reacher series since its inception, which is why I was a tad leery when Lee Child invited his brother to collaborate. Things began a little shakily, but they appear to have righted themselves with this explosive thriller once more. Reacher is a nomad, but connects well with characters and the reader, given the chance. There is a lot to enjoy in this novel, offering series fans a glimpse at past greatness that just might be on the horizon once more. I’m eager. to see how the Child (Grant) brothers will handle Reacher in the future, as well as whether they foresee an end of his nomadic ways.

Much like its protagonist, the narrative style of this series has meandered all over the place, but captivates the reader on a repeated basis. The story keeps gaining momentum through the well-paced narrative that the authors develop so well. As always, there are many one-off characters, some of whom are able to connect with the reader in a short order and make for a more enjoyable experience. Wonderful plots help keep things sharp and on point throughout, something that Reacher appears to enjoy as he makes his way across the country. The authors have kept the series moving along, though anyone could easily pick up a book at any point in the series and be perfectly content. I am eager to see where things are headed and what location Reacher will discover next.

Kudos, Messrs. Child, on another enjoyable reading experience.

Blood Trails (Michael Flint #1), by Diane Capri

Eight stars

After spending years reading Diane Capri’s Hunt for Reacher novels, I was introduced to another of her series that packs just as much punch. Michael Flint, who appeared in the latest Hunt for Reacher novel, has a story all his own and one that many readers will surely find quite alluring. As Flint finds himself looking for a woman who is set to inherit a large sum of money, he’s faced with just how hard some people want to keep from being found, and the ghosts that lurk in their past. Capri shows her versatility with this piece, which capture’s the reader’s attention.

Michael Flint has spent the last number of years tracking down those who are set to inherent something or other. However, heir hunting is not as easy as it seems. While Flint brags that he can find most anyone, he may have met his match.

After he is called to a Houston skyscraper, Flint is tasked with finding Laura Oakwood, who has inherited her family ranch, which sits atop a massive (and as yet, untapped) oil field. Laura knows nothing of these riches, but two oils tycoons want her found or the land signed over for exploration. Laura has been missing for 28 years, not long after she was fingered for being part of a robbery gone bad that left people dead and her wanted in connection with the crime.

While Flint is ready for the challenge, he could not have known it would be this difficult, forcing him to battle henchmen on both sides trying to one-up each other, as well as the multiple dead-ends that the search garners. Flint will have to brave the cold of rural Saskatchewan, in Canada, to locate Laura Oakwood and potentially her offspring, who disappeared with her. Will Flint have enough time before the clock runs out and the land goes to someone else? Flint will do all in his power to bring another heir into the fortune they deserve. Capri keeps the reader enthralled until the very end and shows just how varied her writing can be.

As I said before, I have always known Diane Capri to be the author of a Jack Reacher spin-off, but I knew she had some other series in her quiver. When Michael Flint made an appearance in the latest Reacher tale, I thought that I would give his series a try, if only to compare it to what I had read for so long. Capri shows she has what it takes and kept me guessing until the very end of this crime thriller.

With a strong narrative base, Capri adds depth to her story through a string of strong characters, none of whom appear to get along completely with their neighbours. While there is some great development, it is the backstory of Michael Flint that provides the most interesting aspects for the reader to enjoy. With more to the series, one can only hope there will be moments to add to this character, who has my attention already. Great plot twists, in a story where locating a missing person is high on the agenda, proves highly successful and keeps the reader wondering how things will progress. I’ll set aside some of the foibles in the narrative as they relate to Canada and allow readers to focus on the larger story. I found myself quite enthralled with how Capri presented things, as I tried not to compare things to their other series. There is a lot to enjoy herein and I hope to enjoy the rest of the series in short order.

Kudos, Madam Capri, for keeping me entertained, no matter what you’re writing.

The Final Equinox (Theo Cray and Jessica Blackwood #2), by Andrew Mayne

Nine stars

Andrew Mayne brings two of his most complicated protagonists together once more for an adventure that is, literally, out of this world. Dr. Theo Cray and FBI Agent Jessica Blackwood explore the world of space and a few murders on Earth, trying to see how they might be interconnected. Cray uses his highly scientific mind to posit answers while gent Blackwood sticks to the facts to convey her thoughts. Mayne does a wonderful job, though the reader will have to remain attentive to catch all the banter found herein. A great addition to the series.

When Dr. Theo Cray is contacted to be a part of a highly secretive project, he is leery. The computational biologist has seen his share of fraudulent activities and is not entirely sold, but proves interested when presented with proof that a signal has been noted at the edge of the solar system. Other scientists have been brought in to consult, though it appears only Cray is completely grounded in analytical and provable thoughts to date. This leads to a trip down to Guatemala, where proof might be further presented and Cray is eager to see what awaits him.

Billionaire Thomas T. Theismann is at the heart of the project, having invested large sums to explore other intelligent life on other planets or in various galaxies. Cray follows along as well as he can, but enlists the assistance of his partner, FBI Agent Jessica Blackwood, to investigate the presumed murder of a previous scientist at the lab. Agent Blackwood soon discovers some mysterious goings-on at a recent conference and wonders if someone has been trying to cover something up from the authorities.

As Cray and Blackwood try to combine their investigations, they discover that Theismann’s life appears to mirror a poorly penned 1970s sci-fi horror novel. Could this be his plan, to use money and as-yet understood technology to bring his dreams to fruition? There are some troubling things that both discover, leading them to wonder if there is a more sinister aspect. With a cult-like group at the heart of things in Arizona, both will have to work their respective magical abilities to find the truth before they are the next victims. Mayne dazzles and invests a great deal into this latest novel, which is of the highest calibre.

I enjoyed my discovery of Andrew Mayne a few years ago, learning much about both these protagonists in their respective series. He has a way with any topic he chooses, pulling the reader into the middle and keeping them captivated throughout. Truth be told, the Cray series (and this one) are heavy on science, though Mayne tries to present it in such a way that the reader can digest. A strong story, full of great asides, kept me captivated until the final pages, as I tried to decipher just what Cray and Blackwood discovered and how the pieces fell into place.

While narrative flow is alway essential to a great book, I feel Mayne must also juggle trying to utilise the vast amount of science he wishes to include while staying ‘layperson’ enough for the reader. There is so much going on and so many angles that need addressing, keeping it straight and not losing the reader are much more difficult tasks. Mayne does so relatively well, using Jessica Blackwood to ensure that Theo Cray does not fly into too many feats of fancy (though he still does). Putting the Blackwood and Cray protagonists together has proven to be a great addition, creating a series that permits many more characters of differing backgrounds to pepper the pages of each novel. Mayne’s use of many and complex plot twists will surely work for some readers, though things do flirt with the line of being ‘overly technical’ at times too. I have thoroughly enjoyed all books that I’ve read by Andrew Mayne, though I do need to be at the top of my game to process them. Eager to see what’s next and where it will take things!

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, for keeping my non-scientific brain sharp as I try to decipher what’s going on whenever Theo Cray has something to say.

Desert Star (Renée Ballard #5, Bosch World #36), by Michael Connelly

Eight stars

Michael Connelly returns with the latest in the Bosch/Ballard series, which has been getting better with each book. Both protagonists know their place and have been able to effectively make their marks on the series, as well as this story in particular. Working different angles in a ragtag group examining cold cases, Bosch and Ballard captivate the reader and keep them guessing until the final truth comes to light. Connelly shows that he has a wonderful direction for this series, with some monumental news in the latter portion of this book. A must-read for series fans (and if you were going to skip it)!

After a scandalous departure from the LAPD, Renée Ballard is back. The Chief of Police offers her a new start, to which she agrees, but leaves her colleagues behind to resurrect the Cold Case squad within the LAPD Robbery-Homicide Division. Tasked with a handful of volunteers, Ballard is able to bring Harry Bosch back as an investigator. Bosch has an agenda all his own, as he battles with a case that has nagged him for years, where a psychopath killed an entire family.

The killer appears to be free in the wind, though Bosch is sure it’s only because he did not have the resources to work it when full-time within the LAPD. Now under Ballard’s approval, Bosch does his best to tackle it with fresh eyes, allowing a few others to offer their insights. Ballard is happy to have Bosch there, knowing that she could learn a great deal from him. All the same, Ballard remains leery that this will be a case that could suck the life out of her former mentor.

As Bosch makes some headway, he relies on Ballard to clear the way for him to make his move, in hopes of adding a positive stat to the LAPD column. However, anything can (and does) happen on the rough streets of LA, something both Bosch and Ballard know all too well. It’s the final chapters that impact the story most, sure to pique the interest of Bosch fans. Connelly proves to be a master with this chilling story that accentuates two of his well-developed protagonists.

I remember discovering the Harry Bosch series and not being able to get enough. This passion helped me devour many of the books, as well as the television spin-offs that came from them, keeping me highly entertained over the years. Bosch’s grit and Ballard’s no-nonsense advocacy keep the series strong, particularly while they are still working together. Time will tell what will come of it.

Those who have read novels in the Bosch series will know that Michael Connelly knows how to spin a story. They see it from the outset in a narrative that both sets the scene and carries the reader throughout the journey. This is no exception, as both Bosch and Ballard are at their respective crossroads and need something new. Those who surround themselves with these two enrich the story and offer some light humour to a dark and troubling story. Plot twists in the cold case keep things from getting too mundane and Bosch has a way of turning over many rocks to unleash adventurous moments. I have seen Harry Bosch transform over the years and even Renée Ballard has made some significant changes in her short time in the series. I wonder what’s to come and how these two will keep readers on the edge of their seats, particularly with the cliffhanger Connelly offers.

Kudos, Mr. Connelly, for another stellar piece. Keep them coming, as I know many who love this series in all its forms.

Graveyard of Empires (Ben Hope #26), by Scott Mariani

Eight stars

Scott Mariani returns with another high-octane thriller with his gritty protagonist, Ben Hope. In this twenty-sixth installment, Hope returns to work with some SAS members in the ruthless Afghan countryside. Searching for an old acquaintance, Hope will soon find himself grasping to find stability in a country where it’s never been a high priority. Mariani proves his superiority once more in this addictive series.

Ben Hope has made a name for himself over the last number of years, proving to be a dedicated hero to those who need him, while also a keen teacher so that others can defend themselves. When Hope receives a call that a long-ago acquaintance, Madison Cahill, has gone missing in Afghanistan, he wants to help. He is too keen on living to voluntarily return to that part of the world, citing his apologies for not being able to assist.

When Hope is visited by a former SAS superior soon thereafter, he discovers that he is being put back into action, though without the commanding rank. Hope is being sent to Afghanistan to instil some stability with the Taliban back in power. It’s not a mission he relishes, but when called to duty, Hope won’t look the other way.

While trying to acclimate in-country, Hope and his comrades begin their mission, soon locating Madison and learning of her own mission in the country, which includes trying to save a number of items from Alexander the Great. Sure the Taliban will destroy anything they find themselves, Hope and his comrades begin helping Madison retrieve anything they can To get it out of Afghanistan. All while trying to protect a many with royal connections, another enemy of the Taliban. With no rules and few friends, Hope will have to tap into all his skills while staying as quiet as possible if he hopes to leave the country alive,. Mariani impresses once more and keeps the reader flipping pages well into the night.

Since discovering the work of Scott Mariani, I have been highly impressed with the series as a whole, as well and many of the individual books. Mariani uses his strong writing ability to entertain the reader while providing a significant amount of history to prop up the fictional side of the story. There is so much for the reader to enjoy and pique an interest so that they might explore more information on their own. These are stunning thrillers that never lose their impact.

Strong narrative foundations keep the reader on track for a successful experience. Mariani weaves truth and fiction together, forcing the reader to guess which is which. Great characters, mostly new and likely one-off, keep the story intriguing and add a humorous and gritty aspect that is needed to offset some of the more painful realities the subject matter begs exploring. Plot twists and historical moments keep the reader entertained and have them wondering what is to come, without feeling as though things are too predictable throughout the experience. I have loved these novels for many years and Mariani keeps them sharp, even this deep into this stellar series, which shows no signs of fading!

Kudos, Mr. Mariani, for another sensational thriller that left me gasping for breath.

Lone Star Jack (Hunt for Reacher #15), by Diane Capri

Eight stars

Diane Capri is back with the next Hunt for Reacher novel, trying to stay fewer than ten steps behind the elusive nomad. Turning to Texas, Capri tackles some curious situations and adds a few new characters who have caught my attention. FBI Special. Agent Kim Otto has remained front and centre in a series that appears to evolve with each new novel. I am eager to see where things are headed and whether, one day, Otto and Reacher will come face to face.

While Jack Reacher remains on the lam, Special Agent Kim Otto has not stopped looking. However, even she needs a reset and finds herself back in Detroit with family. When she learns that her sister, Sunny, has a new man and that he’s stationed in Texas, Otto wants to know more, However, her impatient boss, Cooper, has tired of the Reacher delays and collects her for the next phase of their mission. Interestingly enough, they are headed to Texas, where Reacher has left a message and directed Otto to meet a lawyer from his past.

Cooper has his own agenda and hopes Reacher will fall for a trap. Still, Otto wants to play it safe and see what the nomad has in store for her. Otto meets members of the Double Death Task Force, who have been investigating murders whereby the killer dies as soon as the act is committed. This could be part of a larger issue, particularly when a riot breaks out at a politician’s funeral.

All the while, an unwitting Pilar Inez Mendoza finds herself in Texas. An illegal migrant who was promised a job in Texas, she finds herself in the middle of a plot that could never have come to her, even if she had been told about it beforehand. How will her desire to get to Pecos, Texas intersect with Reacher and Otto, all while remaining under the radar? Otto teams up with Michal Flint, an unlikely partner, to get to the core of what’s happening as she continues her hunt for Jack Reacher.

I have long enjoyed these novels by Diane Capri, partly because she mirrors some of the work by the great Lee Child in the original Reacher series. Using Child’s Echo Burning as a basis, Capri weaves a story that has some wonderful elements and exciting twists. Capri has long ago proven her abilities and this is enough example of her great skills, sure to impress Reacher fans and those who enjoy her work, simultaneously.

The narrative style of these books reminds me a great deal of the early Lee Child novels, which makes reading them all the more enjoyable. Capri uses her narrative to guide the reader through many a scenario, all of which keep developing until the final reveal, which is in itself only a prelude for the next adventure. Great characters, some returning and others new or one-offs, keep offer the reader something different to enjoy as they make their way through the race towards Jack Reacher. The themes and plots that emerge from both this book and Child’s previous novel help keep things exciting and enticing through to the final page turn, when the reader will learn so much about immigration an the struggle that is real on the American border. Plus, after meeting Michal Flint in this novel, my curiosity is piqued about learning more about him, through the two novels to date that Capri has penned with him as protagonist. I suppose that will be my next adventure. Bring it on!

Kudos, Madam Capri, for another stellar piece of writing.

NYPD Red 7: The Murder Sorority (NYPD Red #7), by Marshall Karp

Eight stars

Marshall Karp takes over sole writing responsibility on the NYPD Red series, after collaborating on the previous novels with James Patterson. With intensity being a key element of the series to date, Karp has large shoes to fill, but does so with ease, keeping things on par with past publications. A gripping set of crimes, great character development, and some humour where it matters most, Karp is sure to impress series fans and has me wanting to explore some of his other solo work.

After a highly-publicised trial rocks Manhattan, what follows creates utter havoc. The defendant is killed by a sniper’s bullet while on the courthouse steps and his brother is murdered across town a short time later. Enter NYPD Red, the team assigned to the highest-calibre cases in the city, where the most prominent have their worries handled by the likes of Detectives Zach Jordan and Kylie MacDonald. While these two are well-versed in homicide and how to handle people with kid gloves, nothing will prepare them for what they discover on this case.

It would appear that there is a group of trained assassins on the loose around New York, killing those who are on a secret list. The Kappa Omega Delta (Killers on Demand) troll the city and fulfil needed hits, while secreting themselves away from the eyes of the authorities. While Jordan and Macdonald begin looking into things, they are sidelined when a more personal shooting takes place. Detective MacDonald’s boyfriend is shot and left to bleed out, for no apparent reason. It’s may be a distraction but Red have honed their skills to not allow anything to derail them while on a case.

Chasing down the Killers on Demand will require astute abilities and a sense of commitment, though both detectives go through some significant personal roadblocks that they cannot ignore. Still, once the clues begin falling into place, it will be a race to the finish, to neutralise these killers before NYC becomes a city with blood flowing through the streets, at least more than usual. Karp does a masterful job steering this novel on his own, keeping series fans excited for what is to come.

Collaborations with James Patterson tend to be a mixed bag, which I have long said when reading a book with his name on the cover. Marshall Karp has done really well to elevate this series since its inception, gripping me and keeping the series at the top of my list. Karp has been great at using poignant topics to entertain his readers and has yet to run out of ideas for cases. If his own writing is as exciting as these collaborative efforts, I am in for a treat when I tackle one of Karp’s own series later this year. Stay tuned for that in the coming months.

The narrative flow of this series has long been one of its strongest attributes. I find the momentum of the writing is dictated by the clipped pace on offer. Karp builds on this throughout, keeping the reader attentive as they make their way through the novel. Strong characters with some decent development help add something for series fans to enjoy, as there are some key aspects discussed in this seventh novel. The plot twists and story arcs presented keep the reader engaged and ready to learn more, stopped only by the limitations of Karp’s ability to publish future pieces. I can only hope there is more to come soon, as this is one series well worth my time!

Kudos, Mr. Karp, for keeping this series going with another great novel!

Sea Castle (Underwater Investigation Unit #4), by Andrew Mayne

Eight stars

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

Andrew Mayne returns with his somewhat unique series, set in the heart of Florida. Using a forensic diver as his protagonist, Mayne is able to tackle a different angle to most crime thrillers I have read, while keeping the reader intrigued until the final page turn. Adding some serial murder and cult-like behaviour, Mayne shows that he has all the ingredients for a great novel, sure to keep the reader enthused.

Sloan McPherson has made quite a name for herself in Fort Lauderdale as a member of the Underwater Investigation Unit’s forensic diver. When the body of a young woman’s body is found along the shoreline, Sloan immediately presumes it’s murder, while others ponder the possibility that she might have committed suicide. The clues do not make sense and Sloan is baffled as to what she is seeing in front of her.

Sloan begins poking around, but she is stonewalled by the authorities, as they are sure this was a simple miscalculation by a novice swimmer. Enter Gwen Wylder, who is quite rough around the edges and an outcast with the Miami Police. Wylder is happy to help Sloan, but for a price. Sloan must help by offering her own insight into some cold-cases that Wylder has been amassing, all part of what could be a serial killer who has been conniving while they traipse across Florida without detection.

As Sloan soon sees, her victim fits perfectly into the larger case study and there is proof that a killer could be travelling across the state, killing young women. Another woman goes missing, leaving Sloan and Wylder to race out so they can stop a killer from striking again. As things get more intense, both women find themselves involved in something they could not have expected, where they are not able to extricate themselves with ease. Mayne creates an intense story and keeps the reader hooked with some of his unique perspectives throughout.

It was the first book in this series that alerted me to the work of Andrew Mayne. Since then, I have not been able to get enough, having devoured a few of his series, while always remaining in awe. Mayne knows what he’s doing and keeps things fresh, unique, and on point. Whenever I see a new publication of his, I cannot help but rush to get it, knowing that it will be a stellar piece of writing.

Mayne develops his narrative in such a way that the reader wants to learn more. He knows how to present a tale that balances the criminal element with some strong backstory, all of which is essential to the final product. Great characters, some of whom build their development throughout the novel, provide the reader with some entertainment as they continue with the journey. The forensic perspective, mixed with the plot development, offer something unique, though this book steered away from underwater exploration and more to the chase for a killer. While this is not as enticing as some of the earlier novels, Mayne is still able to keep the reader in the know and dazzle with his writing style!

Kudos, Mr. Mayne, for another great piece of writing!

Livid (Kay Scarpetta #26), by Patricia Cornwell

Eight stars

Patricia Cornwell returns with another chilling novel in her long-running Kay Scarpetta series. Full of all the action and sharp wit that the series possessed in its heyday, Cornwell keeps readers highly entertained and thoroughly captivated. Scarpetta finds herself in the middle of one of the most challenging cases of her career, which only adds to the intrigue. A crime thriller with so many twists and turns, I could not always tell which way was up in Cornwell’s best novel over the last number of years. A must-read for those who have endured throughout the series.

Kay Scarpetta has been a forensics pathologist for many years, though she’s finally met her match. Having inherited a case that is now making headlines and drawing a large television audience, Scarpetta must separate truth from fiction as all eyes are on her. Both sides are equally divided and prepared to act violently if the correct verdict is not rendered.

Two years ago, the victim’s body washed up on the shores of Virginia. She had been out with her fiancé, who claims he has no idea what happened to her. When the authorities questioned him, through immediately tossed him in jail, where he sits today. Scarpetta holds the key to the forensic evidence and her word, should it be taken serial by the jury, could free a man or condemn him forever.

While the case sits with the jury, the judge’s sister is found dead in her home. Possibly a sign by one of the side that they mean business, Scarpetta is not ready to sit back and wait, even though she has been banned from investigating. Working with her long-time friend and colleague, Pete Marino, Scarpetta tries to get to the core of the matter, while keeping some of her past involvement with the judge out of her way. Scarpetta and Marino discover some odd burn patters that could mean something even more problematic, as everything points to a new age weapon.

As tensions mount for the case to be decided, Scarpetta must determine who is out there, lurking in the shadows. When POTUS arrives in town and an attempt is made on his life, Scarpetta knows that this is not your run of the mill killer, but rather some terror cell out for something larger. Someone is surely trying to send Scarpetta a message, while making an impact on the television news cycle as well. It will take everything in her being to keep Kay Scarpetta from letting justice be perverted, though everything comes together to unveil the truth about another crime that has haunted her for the past few years. Cornwell does a masterful job in this piece to resurrect some of her past greatness in the Scarpetta series.

I remember discovering Patricia Cornwell and this riveting series, which started with a binge read of the first number of novels. The attention to detail and means by which she could weave a tale left me in awe of Cornwel’s abilities and kept me coming back for more. While there was a rough patch when Scarpetta appeared to be on the verge of disaster, Cornwell returned to her greatness and has kept the protagonist from going stale or leaving series fans to beg for her retirement.

Working with a solid foundation, Patricia Cornwell keeps readers intrigued with a solid narrative that moves as quickly as any book I have read. Keeping the reader in the heart of the story, Cornwell adds characters who enhance things in their own ways, while never letting their presence overtake the momentum of good writing. Plot twists emerge throughout that help accentuate the thriller angle, leaving the reader gasping at times. With strong themes building throughout the short chapters, the reader feels propelled towards a climactic ending that has all the ingredients for a stellar novel. I am so pleased that Patricia Cornwell is back and can only hope there are more Kay Scarpetta novels to come of this calibre.

Kudos, Madam Cornwell, for keeping Scarpetta as gritty as she has been for years.

Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America, by Maggie Haberman

Nine stars

Readying myself for what is sure to be another intense presidential election period ahead of the 2024 vote, I have begun looking into things political once more. This biography of sorts by award-winning journalist Maggie Haberman proves not only insightful, but also offers context to how Donald J. Trump rose through the ranks of business and entertainment to achieve fame, whereby he squandered it all during a troubling term in office. With his attempts to regain power in 2024, it seemed apt to revisit some of his story, as well as analyses of his time in office, through the eyes of a journalist who was one of those allowed into his inner sanctum the most.

Haberman offers a look into the early days of the Trump family, where young Donald was groomed by his father, Fred, to become a man of business. Fred was anything but ethical in many of his dealings, but this is perhaps where Donald acquired his ‘cutting corners’ and ‘Trump means business’ mentalities, even if they only served to create resentment. Trump began tossing his name and borrowed money around, only to discover that he could get what he wanted through acts of bullying and name calling. Haberman clearly explains that while he got things he wanted, Trump was scoffed at behind his back, creating airs of resentment that would follow him like a bad odour.

While Trump sought to grow his empire, his eye was never far from looking for his next conquest. This is by no means shocking to anyone who has read recent pieces about the man, though it is enlightening and disconcerting at the same time to see a man who saw women as possessions, much like the real estate Trump bandied around whenever he felt like it. Misogyny drips from many of the anecdotes Haberman offers, which have been substantiated by many of those she interviewed for the book.

Dabbling into the political arena, Trump always sought to support others who wanted to get into the mud, rather than dive in himself. Trump sought to back those he felt could do him favours or owe him for financial backing. This served to be a mixed bag, as Trump never really was able to find a surefire way of picking a winner. Still, he made himself known and offered many critical moments for those who held the reins of power.

When Donald Trump decided to toss his hat into the ring, it was a hot mess that only got worse. Haberman explores the 2016 presidential campaign that gripped the country, with many of the famous Trump asides that had filled columns and books over the past member of years. Trump sought to make his mark and, at times, use bombastic actions over substantive policies to win over an electorate seeking something different. Haberman explores a number of theories leading to Trump’s victory, but keeps things as evidence-based as she can.

With Haberman front and centre covering the Trump Administration, she is able to explore some of the day to day moments that shaped his presidency, including how he would use Cabinet Secretaries as puppets to push some of his outlandish views. Some did so willingly while others held their noses (and tongues) as best they could until it was too much. Piling up gaffes and a refusing to follow diplomatic or policy views cemented in the American political way of life, Trump sought to carve out his own niche, always saying that it is what the people wanted.

Haberman offers a succinct but impactful exploration of the 2020 presidential campaign, where Trump lost and yet refused to believe it. The conspiracies mounted and Trump did all he could not to let the defeat sink in, choosing instead to scream ‘foul’ and surround himself with sycophants who would do the same. Haberman illustrates the desperation that followed, including how Trump grasped at straws to have his own vice-president try to defy constitutional and congressional rules to supplant a defeated president into office for another term. Readers can baffle at the gumption of the man.

Maggie Haberman chose not to make this about another smear campaign against the 45th president of the United States, but rather offer some context that all readers ought to heed. Trump was not born out of the swamp and became this aggressive man in 2015 when he chose to run for office. Rather, it was instilled in him for years and he grew into expecting the entitlement to follow him, so far that he wanted everyone to bow down and kiss the ring. Through well-document chapters, Haberman spins wonderful tale of success and failure, substantiated with many interviews from others who have their own opinions. While the book is longer, its detail helps to push it to the top, so that readers can feel a sense of education throughout the experience. Some will love it, others will not. Either way, its educational and entertainment value cannot be dismissed. Maggie Haberman shows why she is award-winning, and one can hope she has more to write soon.

Kudos, Madam Haberman, for pulling no punches and keeping the reader informed throughout the journey. I could not have asked for more.

Cat and Mouse (Helen Grace # 11), by M.J. Arlidge

Eight stars

Another chilling story in this great series by M.J. Arldige is sure to keep the reader flipping pages well into the night. A crazed killer whose acts do not appear to have any sense of explanation, a beleaguered murder squad headed by Detective Inspector Helen Grace, and families who demand answers for this losses; all these parts of a great piece of writing. Arlidge weaves the story to keep the reader on their toes and adds intensity to the narrative momentum. While the series has certainly grown over the last few years, Arlidge has not yet run out of ideas to keep the reader enthralled.

A brutal murder by an axe-wielding killer sendsDetective Inspector Helen Grace to lead the investigation. While her team is on point, they are going through some readjustments, forcing Grace to juggle things a little more than she might like. Still, there are clues to uncover and truths to reveal before things get even more out of hand.

After a young man is struck in his home, Grace and her team rush to piece things together while another family grieves. One solid lead takes Grace to a shipping port, only to be left on a wild-goose chase. There’s something about these seemingly independent killing that does not sit right with Grace and she is bound to discover it, even if it puts her in the path of danger.

When a clue falls into place, DI Grace and her team cannot believe where it leads and how it will connect to some of their own personal struggles. Could this be the motive they have been searching for, with everything pointing to a form of revenge. DI Helen Grace will stop at nothing until she gets answers. and brings a killer to justice. M.J. Arlidge does a fabulous job in his later thriller.

My discovery of M.J. Arlidge was both fortuitous and exciting over the last number of years. His Helen Grace novels have taken me on a whirlwind tour of crime in the UK, as well as inside the lives of those who try to keep the criminal element at bay. With strong storylines and well-developed characters, the stories gain a life of their own on the page and keep things moving throughout. I can only wonder what series fans have to look forward to in the months to come, as more Helen Grace is surely on the agenda.

Arlidge has a wonderful narrative style that pulls the reader into the core of the story from the opening sentences. The crimes described are gruesome, but handled in a respectful way, allowing the reader to dig a little deeper to understand what they are taking in. Strong characters who have their own backstories pepper the pages of the book, offering some updates in their lives and mannerisms. Arlidge uses short chapters to tease the reader throughout, as the plot thickens and veers off onto some differing perspectives. I found myself quite surprised as the story progressed into something gritty and suspenseful, without losing any of its momentum. I can only hope there will be more before long, as the wait proves troubling for those who are fully invested.

Kudos, Mr. Arlidge, as you continue to dazzle in your series work.

Alligator Alley (Joe DeMarco #16), by Mike Lawson

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Mike Lawson, and Grove Atlantic for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Mike Lawson returns with another stellar Joe DeMarco novel, allowing the ‘Bagman of Congress’ to expand his investigative wings down in the Florida Everglades. Lawson provides his protagonist with a difficultly case, trying partner, and intense moments of action throughout, sure to impress the reader. Lawson provides an entertaining backdrop in this sixteenth novel in the series, proving that the DeMarco momentum has not waned one iota.

After a young employee of the Department of Justice’s Inspector General’s Office is found murdered in the Florida Everglades, suspicion surrounding her murderer is high. Young Andie Moore had been following two FBI agents who were tasked with investigating Medicare fraud, but the case had gone sideways for no apparent reason. When Joe Demarco, a bagman for the Speaker of the House of Representatives, is sent to Florida to look into it, things take an interesting turn. DeMarco is not alone and his partner is surely not someone who enjoys taking second chair.

Working alongside the gritty Emma, DeMarco helps to explore the FBI agent angle, though these two are as tight lipped as they come. Still, Demarco and Emma think that there’s more to the story than simply two buffoons wanting their payday for screwing up the case. Emma has contacts all her own and calls on them to help with some of the digital and forensic know-how, which opens new perspectives. Trolling the crime scene in the Everglades, known to locals as Alligator Alley, Emma and DeMarco find some key evidence that shows that the kickback plot is a little more complex than first presumed.

With the apparent leader of the group proves elusive, DeMarco and Emma will have to work quickly and diligently to nail down the killer and ensure that Andie Moore did not die in vain. DeMarco will discover a few new things about himself and how to work alongside the rigid Emma, who has little time for any of his shenanigans. Mike Lawson keeps things strong and uses his abilities to impress the reader once more.

Since discovering the work of Mike Lawson, I have never failed to be impressed by all he adds to his stories to keep them on point. While the political aspect is secondary, it offers some interesting backstory to the larger narrative. Lawson has a great writing style and keeps his pieces moving at a quick pace, entertaining the reader from the opening pages.

With a strong narrative that does not rest for a moment, Mike Lawson lures the reader in from the opening pages. Strong criminal storylines provide something intriguing for the reader, while adding some humour at just the right moments. Great characters who add their own flavouring help Lawson move the story along with ease. A few plot lines fuel the story’s underlying greatness without impacting the momentum the narrative offers. While DeMarco is never doing the same thing, the continuity is there and series fans can be assured of a stellar piece of writing. Lawson is to be applauded and I am eager to see where things are headed next.

Kudos, Mr. Lawson, for a wonderful addition to the series, You never fail to impress.

Oath of Loyalty (Mitch Rapp #21), by Kyle Mills

Eight stars

Kyle Mills returns to extend the series first developed by Vince Flynn, doing so in masterful style. Mitch Rapp is a gritty operative with the scars to prove it. Now, things have taken a new turn as Mills creates exciting plot lines for one of the genre’s best-known protagonists. A gem with all the ingredients for a stunning novel, proving you can trust no one!

Mitch Rapp has faced many enemies throughout his career, but none more shocking than the man who currently wants him dead. Newly-elected US President Anthony Cook is sure that Rapp is a significant threat to both the CIA and country as a whole. CIA Direction Irene Kennedy is forced to try building a bridge between them, in hopes that no blood is shed in this intensifying clash. Rapp is told he must leave the country but remain within sight at all times during the Administration’s time in the White House. In return, there will be no hit placed on Rapp’s head.

While President Cook seems interested on keeping his side of the deal, others with his ear convince the president that Rapp cannot be trusted. After leaking the true identity of Rapp’s current partner, Claudia Gould, they watch as many security operatives seek her out and thereby place Rapp in mortal danger. As Rapp tries to keep Claudia protected, a new team of assassins makes itself known, headed by the elusive Legion. They will stop at nothing to capture and kill Gould, happy to neutralise Rapp in the meantime.

With Legion hired by someone unknown to him, there is no way to stop the wheels once they are in motion. As Rapp seeks to keep Gould safe at any cost, even though he knows she her existence is a thorny issue for many, he will have to fend off attacks from all sides. All the while, the US President sits idly by, wondering if he will be able to get rid of Rapp once and for all. A political thriller with ramifications throughout the world and surely one that will shape the future of this series. Kyle Mills shows why he was the ideal successor for Vince Flynn’s wonderful series

There is nothing like discovering an author who can spin a tale. When they retire or pass along, those who were significantly invested inthe series, as I was with Mitch Rapp, are left to mourn not only the author but the protagonist who is sure to walk into the sunset. When Kyle Mills was chosen (handpicked, I believe) to continue to series, I was a little leery, but soon came to see that he fit into the writing style of Flynn’s Rapp novels with ease. Mills’ stories work so well and the impact is just as strong as it was the from opening pages of the first Rapp novel. I could not ask for more from Kyle Mills, who presents just how Mitch Rapp would think in his latter days. I can only wonder what’s next or if the series has finally come to a close.

Kyle Mills uses the momentum that this series has. Developed over twenty-one novels to keep the reader on a world ride. There is so much going on, but the series fan will have come to expect this. Character development occurs throughout, with new and returning faces to balance the stellar writing. Mills keeps the plot twists coming and provides the reader with something exciting that is sure to keep things from getting stale, even so many novels into the series. There’s so much worth exploring for any reader who has yet to sample the series. I would (as always) encourage those who want to try out, to start from the beginning.

Kudos, Mr. Mills, on another success. I am eager to see what’s to come!

Shameless (Splitsville Legal Thriller #3), by William Bernhardt

Eight stars

William Bernhardt is back with another novel in his <i>Splitsville</i> series. While divorce law has never been one I get excited reading about, the twists that Bernhardt puts on the series make it well worth my time. With some strong legal matters and a quick pace, the novel has all the right ingredients for a stellar piece of work.

Kenzi Rivera has done a lot at the family law firm and made a name for herself, but also remains in her brother’s shadow. That said, she is a sharp divorce attorney, who has also been dabbling in criminal and civil law, as well as broadcasting her meteoric rise through social media. When her father’s decision to divorce proves headline-worthy, Kenzi agrees to help, if only reluctantly.

Soon thereafter, things get even messier, as her step-mother is charged with murder. The victim, Mr. Rivera’s mistress. This is one case from which Kenzi cannot run, but the fact that her father wants her as lead defence attorney is both baffling and awkward. While Kenzi preps for what will be a trial unlike any other she has presented, she’s left to wonder just what happened.

Working through the endless facts and forensics, Kenzi can only wonder if she’s agreed to help a hapless client, especially as the truth about the relationship and a sordid past come to light. Kenzi is one to defend her clients to the bitter end and this is not something she is willing to sidestep. Rather, she will give it her all, with her father watching from the courtroom. A powerful piece with all the elements of a great legal thriller.

William Bernhardt has long been a stellar writing of the top legal thrillers that have crossed my path. He is thorough and clever in his writing, as well as how he crafts the legal arguments, all while keeping the reader front and centre throughout. This is the third series of his that I have found highly addictive and I am never at a loss for words when Bernhardt is in the writing chair.

William Bernhardt has a style that many other authors could gladly replicate for stellar novels. His narrative is strong and begins with a bang. He’s always looking to build the drama and momentum throughout, keeping the reader along for the ride. His characters are complete, but already able to build on themselves throughout the series. Readers will beg to know more about them, which they are privy to as the series progresses. Plot twists and legal manoeuvrings appear throughout, keeping things from being too predictable, but never to the point that the reader is lost in the shuffle. I can only hope there are more books along these lines to come, be they in this series or elsewhere. William Bernhardt is surely one author to watch!

Kudos, Mr. Bernhardt, for another great legal story that had me glued to my seat!

The Drift, by C.J. Tudor

Seven stars

Having read a number of novels by C.J. Tudor, I gladly accepted this ARC. The dust jacket blurb intrigued me, pulling three stories together into a single novel, forcing the reader to tug at threads to put together an impactful story that is full of chills and thrills. Tudor focuses on the darker side in her narrative, but is able to entertain the reader with ease, keeping them flipping pages as the plot thickens.

Waking up to significant chaos, Hannah finds herself surrounded by blood and glass. The bus on which she was travelling crashed during a snowstorm while leaving her secluded boarding school. She’s trapped inside with a few survivors, an unknown virus, and no way to reach out for help. Deciphering that they will have to work together or face the reality of perishing with the others, Hannah rallies the troops, while trying to keep the secret The Retreat has from the outside world.

In the same snowstorm, Meg awakens, dangling in a cable car. As a former detective, her instincts are strong and Meg is sure something is off. With a number of strangers around her and one dead body in the cable car, Meg is unsure what’s going on. All she can remember is that she was on her way to The Retreat. Noticing a familiar face amongst the strangers, Meg begins piecing it all together, and it’s anything but good news.

Carter is safe from the blizzard in an abandoned chalet, spending time with his friends. They are working on a life-changing vaccine and trying to stay alive long enough to ship it out. With the power going out intermittently and the generator on the fritz, nothing seems certain. A shadowy appearance in the depths of the chalet could mean something nefarious awaits anyone who strays too far from the group. When all sources of power fizzle out, only the strongest will survive, but is Carter one of them?

All three of these storylines come together in unexpected ways to create the larger narrative that is this novel, where working together becomes essential and may be the only way for the truth to come out. A chilling piece by a master of the genre, C.J. Tudor shakes the reader to their core with this novel, sure to be the talk of the winter season!

I have come to expect a great deal from C.J. Tudor, though I am never sure what awaits me when I start one of her books. The ideas are unique and the approaches even more so. Tudor offers readers some crumbs and then leads them on quite the adventure, where the end result is anything but clear.

C.J. Tudor has a wonderful way of building up the narrative with plenty of detail and intense description. The story comes to life, though the reader remains slightly confused as the story opens on three independent fronts. As things progress, there are small bits that connect each storyline, with key characters in each setting making themselves known. By then the plot as been developing and keeping the reader guessing, which serves to bind all three narratives together. The momentum is unstoppable by this point, as is the falling snow, which adds an eerie sense to it as well, keeping the reader completely at Tudor’s whim. While I struggled with parts of the development, I can see what Tudor was hoping to offer readers as the story’s perspective became clear.

Kudos, Madam Tudor, for another unique success. Keep them coming!

Be sure to check for my review, first posted on Mystery and Suspense, as well as a number of other insightful comments by other reviewers.

The Night Man (William Wisting #5), by Jørn Lier Horst

Eight stars

Finally, one of the early books is published in English!

Back for another chilling thriller from the world of Jørn Lier Horst, I found myself standing alongside William Wisting as he followed a case that has social and international implications. Horst is able to bridge the language divide and provide a stellar piece of writing that kept me reading well into the evening or around the house when I could spare a moment. This series, which is as addictive as it is well-paced, is sure to keep readers talking the world round, no matter what language of the text they read.

The severed head of a girl is found on a stake, ruffling the feathers of everyone in the small Norwegian community. Inspector William Wisting is sent to investigate, though there is little in the way of clues to determine much of anything, save for the fact that she is not Norwegian, but rather from somewhere in Asia. Surely there is a message here and Wisting is baffled as to what it might be. Thankfully, his daughter, Line, is a sharp reporter with skills of her own, hoping to kick over a few stones to get some answers.

While Line cannot hope to get all the answers at once, she is determined to do it without using her father’s intel or appear to be his lapdog. When Line does find something, she’s surprised that this is not just the killing of a foreign national, but part of a larger criminal enterprise, headed by the Night Man. He’s a dangerous ring leader with powerful reach, both Line and Wisting himself will have to play their cards carefully.

Stirring up leads from a few loose lips, Wisting soon realised that the Night Man has plans to fuel his drug empire by using hapless foreigners to peddle his wares, or bring them into the country. However, Wisting hopes to neutralise this before things get even more out of control. More bodies emerge and this only pushes Wisting to make his move. That said, the Night Man is no wallflower and is ready to strike back at any time, making William Wisting an easy target for a new message; don’t mess with the Night Man! Horst dazzles as he spins this tale and takes readers on an adventure like no other.

Whenever I discover a new novel by Jørn Lier Horst, I find myself slightly more excited. I have come to realise that his books are always jam packed with action, great stories, and there is no sluggishness, even though the text is originally in Norwegian. Horst has been able to really make me care for both William and Line Wisting, especially as they evolve throughout the series. I can only hope that there’s s more to come, as I cannot help but wonder what William Wisting has waiting around the corner.

Scandinavian crime thrillers are usually successes for me. It would seem that whatever the authors drink, it helps them formulate strong plots and great storytelling abilities. Jørn Lier Horst shows repeatedly that he has the magic to come up with some stellar pieces, always pushing himself to outdo his previous publications. The narrative flow is there, keeping the reader fully informed, as they venture deeper into the piece. A handful of key characters, who develop and evolve throughout the series, leave the reader something familiar onto which they can latch as they progress. The plots, while never completely unique, are poignant with the times and always keep the reader guessing as to where things are headed. With a translation as seamless as anything i have read, I am often left to wonder if Horst actually write this in English, as it is so smooth. I can only wish that publishers would finally grab the first few novels in this series and translate them, as I am eager to get an early snapshot of how William Wisting developed before the loss of his wife and estrangement by his son. I keep asking and hoping, but nothing quite yet! That said, this is the fifth and previously untranslated piece, so perhaps more are on the way!!

Kudos, Mr. Horst, for a dazzling thriller that is sure to keep series fans talking for a while.

Yuletide Splitsville (Splitsville #2.5), by William Bernhardt

Eight stars

A holiday short story that fits nicely in the middle of his most recent series, William Bernhardt offers some joy during a busy time of year. Providing the reader with some great storytelling through the eyes of his strong characters, Bernhardt helps pass the time. Grab a glass of eggnog (homemade, if you can) and a biscuit, before you enjoy this piece, sure to bring a little of the holiday spirit back to your life.

Kenzi Rivera is eager to spend some quality time this holiday season with her work colleagues. However, when her assistant, Sharon, receives a call from her parents, Kenzi agrees to accompany her over there. It would seem that a family heirloom has gone missing and without finding it, Sharon’s parents could be headed to an end of matrimonial bliss. As Kenzi enters what soon becomes a war zone for her, she sees just how tense things are between all members of the family. With Kenzi’s intuitive nature, the holiday season could be saved, but it will take a great deal of work. William Bernhardt offers up a nice story to warm the heart without too much time invested.

I have long enjoyed the writing of William Bernhardt. He knows what he’s doing and keeps the story on track to be worth the reader’s time. With strong characters and an easy to understand narrative, things flow with ease. While this was not my favourite series, I enjoyed some of the development that took place within. I’m eager to read the last novel in the series to catch up, but this is surely one that helped me pass a little time with the Christmas rush in my rearview mirror.

Kudos, Mr. Bernhardt, for a great piece that reminded me of the importance of family. Hoping others fins this to be the dame type of gift.

Operation Masonic, by Helen C. Escott

Eight stars

Helen C. Escott dazzles readers with her strong police procedurals, adding a Newfoundland flavouring, which makes the Canadian setting all the more intriguing. This latest piece pushes the limits of both policing, as well as the mysterious world of the Masons in the heart of St. John’s. Escott tackles some great social issues as well, while layering them with a strong procedural that centres on the murder of a man with a complicated past. As Escott makes her mark again, I am left to wonder where she plans on going next and how she’ll be able to top what she has published to date.

When Royal Newfoundland Constabulary officers are called to the scene of the Masonic temple in the middle of a snowstorm, they find more than a pile of snow inside. The body of the Most Worshipful Grand Master, Mortimer Williams, turns up, likely a murder suspect. Inspector Nick Myra and his team begin polling around, unsure if this was a Masonic ritual gone awry or someone out for blood.

Bringing a new hire, Constable Donna Whiffen, along with him, Myra begins digging into the Masons, as well as those who belong to the local chapter. There is more to the story than simply a man and his interactions with others, Rather, a secret past away from anything Masonic, lurks in the shadows, as well as the death of the victim’s parents decades before. Myra and Whiffen begin to wonder if someone is trying to divert attention from the true motive, or if everyone might be spinning their own web of lies to ensure they are not caught.

When Myra and Whiffen seek the assistance of a local historian, they discover that the Mason are deeply embedded in architectural events throughout St. John’s, particularly some of the most important churches in the city’s core. Myra also learns of secret passageways and rumours of a buried treasure, all of which might hold strong reasons for wanting to kill someone at the head of the organisation. Still, there are a few nagging feelings about who could be behind it all and how the murder took place. Myra and Whiffen may have busy lives at home, but they are not about to let this derail them from getting to the core of the most important search of their careers, as a murderer sits idly by. Escott keeps the reader hooked until the very end with this stellar piece. I am so pleased to have reconnected with the series.

There is something about how Helen C. Escott writes that pulls me in. Surely, the Canadian angle appeals to me, with some nuances that only those who know the country will understand, but it is also a strong ability to spin a tale and keep the reader engaged throughout. Escott uses her intuitive researching abilities to help support a strong story and keep plots from getting too too predictable. I can only hope there is more to come, as the series and its characters have grown on me.

Escott crafts a wonderful story and develops a strong narrative to guide the reader. Full of historical details about both the Masons and the city of St. John’s, Escott shows the reader that she is interested in reality with a dash of fictional creativity. While keeping the momentum going, Escott pulls on some characters from past novels and adds a new one for the reader to enjoy, as well as weaving in the struggles of home life and the hurdles found therein. The investigation takes on many angles and keeps the reader guessing, as the plot lines diverge at times, keeping the predictable nature of some novels at the door. Escott addresses many social and personal issues, as is usually the case, providing her reader a platform to better understand things and perhaps spark an interest in doing some of their own research. I am eager to see what is in the pipeline for Escott and this series, as each book works so well to develop strong themes and builds on where the previous story ended.

Kudos, Madam Escott, for a look into the mysteries of Freemasonry and more about your beloved St. John’s. I feel the pull to visit, if only to learn more about the historical side of the city that serves as an ideal setting for your novels.

The Ninth Month, by James Patterson and Richard DiLallo

Seven stars

First read of 2023!

Needing something a little lighter, I turned to this collaborative effort that James Patterson and Richard DiLallo published. While I have made my sentiments known about the former, I find there are some gems when he chooses the right collaborator. In a story that surely defies “write what you know”, Patterson and DiLallo offer readers something with a little thrill, some introspection, and just enough NYC to keep things gritty. A decent novel, though it did not grip me by the lapels and shake me into heightened excitement.

Emily Atkinson has been taking New York City by storm. Her powerful job and oodles of money to do with as she pleases make for quite a life. However, every electric high must be countered with a death-defying crash. Emily’s comes in the form of a hospital visit, when her rampant alcoholism and unexpected pregnancy stop her in her tracks. Faced with what to do next, Emily must sober up quickly and decide how to handle the news, while she’s lost her job and is left with shards of her life littered across the floor.

Trying to get her mind readjusted, Emily turns to her nurse and new friend, Betsey. Together, they seek to make the most of the situation and help Emily on her way towards motherhood. All that seems minor, when Emily discovers that others in her social circle begin disappearing. This raises the hairs on the back of her neck, as Emily must wonder if something is going to happen to her. Could that man at the park be staring a little too long? Did the lady at the grocery store glare mischievously?

As the story progresses through the entire pregnancy, there are flashforward chapters about an apparent murder in the present day, with Emily at the centre of it. Could someone have caught up to Emily, making her fears realized? With NYPD involved, the story gains a darker side and the mystery heightens. Emily Atkinson may have been a hot mess in her pre-pregnancy life, but did she deserve to be a crime statistic? Patterson and DiLallo present a decent story, easily digested for a quick read experience.

I turn to Patterson’s work when I need a lighter and easier read, which seems to help offset the more involved novels on my list. The quick chapters and easy to see plot path gives the reader something they can enjoy. Richard DiLallo is here to add his own collaborative flavouring, though I am baffled how two middle-aged men could want to create a pregnant protagonist. All that being said, fiction is about thinking outside the box. With a decent story and some great wit embedded into the narrative, the authors surely succeed in what they are trying to accomplish. Not the most stunning Patterson novel I have read, but I’ll take it as a decent piece to pass the time.

Patterson novels are not known for their complex narratives or plot lines that leave the reader gasping. Still, both are present here and the reader can follow the direction throughout. Some great character development provides the reader an entertaining experience, to the point that I might have been able to picture them throughout. There is a lot going on, through a number of timelines, which makes it a little more difficult to juggle at times. I admit I was not enthralled with the story, but it’s not a total loss. Made for a great filler before my next great read!

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and DiLallo, for a decent collaborative effort. Eager to see what you two have for us next!

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century, by Timothy Snyder

Eight stars

A refreshing re-read to end the year, as I gear up for another two years of rhetoric from a tyrannical American trying to locate a path to steal power back!

“History does not repeat, but it does instruct,” is the opening line of Timothy Snyder’s short work on tyranny. How apt this is and the examples throughout the piece of writing goes on to further explain what the author wishes to convey. Pulling from examples throughout the 20th century, Snyder effectively argues that the situation in America has some loose—perhaps still germinating foreboding—concerns from the rise of authoritarian regimes in history that sat on both sides of the political spectrum in decades past. Snyder warns the reader not to ignore these, as there are times when waiting makes change too late. He also effectively draws parallels between the lulling into complacency that leaders mastered—using false rhetoric and duplicitous nationalism to appear patriotic—and the goings-on at apparent ego rallies when not on Twitter. Snyder has strong examples that fit, things that the layperson will like have heard about in their general knowledge of world history. Can it be stopped? Snyder feels there is the potential, but only by heeding the warning signs now. While the 2020 presidential election is around the corner, the electorate cannot be duped into thinking that this is a nightmare the US Constitution or the other branches of government will rein in. Alas, that only works when the actors in the system agree to the rules and do not supersede them to fit their needs. Thought provoking and a wonderful fill between books, Timothy Snyder’s piece did just what it sought to do; leave me wondering about how the past should be a yardstick for success, not just a bunch of words in a tome that could never happen again. Recommended for those with strong political interests who wish to explore some of the pressing issues of 21st century, as well as the reader with a keen interest in history’s repetitive nature.

This book was slyly passed along to me by a good friend, wanting to see how my politically minded brain might process it. It’s short (even by academic publication standards) and yet packs a major punch. Snyder uses concrete examples, specifically from the national socialism (fascism) found in Nazi Germany and the communist countries of Soviet Russia and Eastern Europe. At first, the parallels with the US Administration were simply presumed, but Snyder blunts his comments when he eventually uses POTUS and America by name, perhaps his way of ensuring the point is not missed. The chapters (points) can be as quick as a few lines, or as length as a couple of pages, but all twenty resonate to the attentive reader who will likely see things as soon as they are pointed out. I know there will be trolls and those who disagree, which is their right, though I would really enjoy someone trying to talk their way out of the case Snyder makes. Then again, what do I know, a mere Canadian?

Kudos, Mr. Snyder, for a sobering look at tyrannical reign in the American republic. Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln (all men POTUS thinks he is like) would roll over in their graves if they saw the republic today!

The Chimes: A Novella, by Charles Dickens

Seven stars

Most people equate Charles Dickens and Christmas with his popular story, A Christmas Carol. However, in the years that followed its publication, Dickens penned another story about the holiday season and ghostly apparitions. This is that story, which I thought would be a good thing to try during the holiday season. Dickens pulls on the ghoul factor in this piece, which seeks to portray a deeper message for his readers, and which resonates, if you pardon the pun, quite well.

Toby “Trotty” Veck, is a working-class man who has become dispirited with his lowly caste in life. He feels that his family is poor, not only because they cannot gather enough money, but also his unworthiness of having anything special. This extends to a disbelief in the common person and Trotty finds himself ending another year in woe.

On New Year’s Eve, Trotty is visited by a number of spirits, speaking through the local church bell, who try to put things in perspective. Trotty is sure that all has befallen him because of a higher plan. The spirits wish to show him that it is the choices people make that push them in one direction or the other, something that Trotty will have to come to terms with if he is to enter the following year with any sense of hope. Buried throughout the story is a set of life lessons for the reader to enjoy, which Dickens makes clear will help formulate a happier person during the holiday season.

While I would not be telling the truth if I said that I enjoyed this novella as much as the classic holiday piece that Dickens made famous. That being said, I can see the themes woven into the narrative, which builds through four strong chapters. The narrative flows and takes the reason on many interesting journeys before presenting an epiphany for the reader to enjoy. Using the spirts once again Dickens shows how sometimes people need being from other realms to see what is before their own faces. Some wonderful writing and remarkable themes that many will likely want to synthesise at their own pace to see if they mean anything.

Kudos, Mr. Dickens, for a great piece to add to my holiday reading collection.

Exiles (Aaron Falk #3), by Jane Harper

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Jane Harper, and Macmillan Audio for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Jane Harper is back with another thrilling police procedural featuring Aaron Falk. In story full of emotion and tense revelations, Harper strikes a chord for many readers and offers a sensational piece that is sure to entertain. Harper has kept me enthralled with all three novels in the Aaron Falk series and this is likely her best. Eager to see what Harper has on the agenda next, I hope this novel impresses other series fans and those who enjoy something with a great Australian flavouring.

A young baby is found on the grounds of a local festival in rural Australia. Her mother, Kim Gillespie, is nowhere to be found. While the baby is safe, it is the complete vanishing act has everyone baffled. People speculate, but this does not help in the search for Kim or strengthen the foundation that is a motive to abandon a little one.

A year later, plans for the baby’s christening coincide with an updated plea for news about Kim, who remains at large. Federal Investigator, Aaron Falk, is part of the group that has gathered, hoping that he can find a clue as to where Kim might have gone. While Falk hopes to work with the family, he notices things are not as bucolic as they first appeared in this small Australian community.

While things are slow to prove fruitful, Falk refuses to dismiss the gut reaction he has about Kim Gillespie and her disappearance. He discovers more about her past and how she was treated as a teen, particularly around the festival that is playing out around them. What demons lurk in the shadows and might they explain Kim’s disappearance? Falk will stop at nothing in his own policing style to get answers and bring news to those who need it most. With flashbacks that cover a variety of time periods essential to the story’s foundation, this is perhaps Harper’s best Falk Nobel to date. I am eager to see what other series fans think and how Harper will build things from here.

While there are many authors who have been successful in the police procedural genre, those who differentiate themselves have earned by additional praise. I have enjoyed Jane Harper’s Aaron Falk series from the start and can only hope others echo this sentiment. The writing is strong and has a great “Aussie flavour” that never gets tiring. While I appreciate Harper’s stand-alones as well, it is this series that always impressed me most.

Kudos, Madam Harper, for a great read with moments of quaintness amongst the heightened drama.

Operation Trafficked, by Helen C. Escott

Nine stars

While there are many authors who can write police procedurals, Helen C. Escott takes it to a new level, and does so from a Canadian (read: Newfoundland) perspective. Her novels are both well-crafted and very detailed, while keeping the reader hooked with sensational crimes. Escott pulls on her past experience and adds a writing ability like few I have come across, keeping the Canadiana subtle enough that anyone the word over could easily enjoy this book without feeling clueless. I cannot say enough about Helen C. Escott and hope other readers will discover her work, sure to add her to their ‘must read’ list.

When a teenage girl turns up murdered in a downtown St. John’s hotel, all clues point to a victim of human trafficking. Sergeant Nicholas Myra of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary and Corporal Gail McNaughton of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have been working different angles on trafficking across the province and find themselves on a Joint Forces investigation to solve this case and hopefully help neutralise trafficking pathways. Myra and McNaughton are not sure they will be able to stymie this multi-billion dollar business, but they have a victim before them and hopes of bringing closure to her short life.

After having a third officer seconded to them—Constable Colleen Royal— Myra and McNaughton begin trying to piece together where this teen came from and who might have visited her on the evening of her death. While there are some seedy businesses in town, none have women who admit to being trafficked or held against their will. This only makes the investigation all the more difficult, but no one is ready to toss in the towel just yet.

The Joint Task Force uncover a complex system of getting girls from all corners of the globe and bringing them to Canada, where they are brainwashed into thinking that this is a luxurious life, while there are undertones of threats should anyone try to escape or speak out against their captors. Myra and Royal work some angles, as McNaughton seeks to nail the local owners of a massage parlour, who may be a puppet front for bikers and even the Russian mob. All the while, McNaughton has some personal stresses piled onto her already overflowing plate.

At one point, the team is informed that a seven-year-old local girl is being offered up for sale in the United States, with a mother eager to get cash for her offspring. Child pornography, sexual slaves, and horrible abuse, all taking place under the noses of everyday citizens, sicken all three officers, though they cannot relent, for fear that another vulnerable person will fall prey to these horrible men who have recreated a slave industry in the modern world. A chilling story that is sure to leave the reading in awe and yet fixated to learning how things will progress. Escott proves her mettle yet again!

As I mentioned before, there is something about Helen C. Escott’s writing that really pulls me in. It may be her superior ability when it comes to police procedurals, or the Canadian flavouring that I have rarely found when I read this genre, or even the depth to which the topics on hand are discussed. Whatever it is, Escott has a sensational ability to keep the reader on the edge of their seat through the storytelling process. I can only hope others find her work and enjoy the Newfoundland perspective as refreshing as I have.

Escott pulls the reader in from the opening pages with a strong narrative flow. The direction points the reader towards a story that is darker than many, but needs to be to get its point across. Pulling on some strong characters from past novels that many of Escott’s fans will have come to know, the development within the story leaves the reader feeling as though they know McNaughton, Myra, and even Royal a little better. The development of the plot throughout leaves the reader uncomfortable, but in a way that is needed to be impactful. Escott’s past in law enforcement has likely put her in contact with the world of human trafficking, which is why things are so detailed and intense. While the topic is surely one many might shy from, it is this awkwardness that makes reading about it all the more necessary. I love each of Helen C. Escott’s novels for their own merits and al eager to get my hands on her next novel, sure to be just as impactful.

Kudos, Madam Escott, for a look into the dark world of human trafficking and sexual exploitation of children. I could not put the book down, while also being disgusted by some of the antics portrayed within its pages.

The Santa Killer (DI John Barton #6), by Ross Greenwood

Eight stars

Always eager to get my hands on the writing of Ross Greenwood (and wanting a thriller to fit into my holiday season reading), I turned to this novel. Full of great police work and with some stellar criminal events, Greenwood takes the reader on an adventure like no other during the holiday season. As sharp as the other DI Barton novels, the reader can enjoy this piece and feel as though they are in the middle of it all, chasing a killer who resembles Father Christmas and appears to have multiple, skewed motives. Ross Greenwood impresses once more, providing a holiday gift like no other!

With Christmas only a few weeks away, the town is bursting with lights, busy shoppers, and holiday cheer. However, after a single mother is brutally attacked, things take a distinctive turn. DI John Barton and his team work to piece things together with the crime, but are baffled to discover that the victim has no sordid past and no enemies whatsoever. Could such a personal attack have simply been a random act? The only clue they have is the blurry witness statement by the victim’s special needs daughter, who is sure she saw Father Christmas (Santa) attacking her mom.

When others are attacked in the middle of the investigation, DI Barton can only wonder if there is a specific ‘Naughty and Nice List’ being enacted or if these are all random acts of violence. After someone confesses and is taken into custody, the case is presumed solved, but more people are attacked, with a new and completely different style. Could there be two killers on the loose, working independently or even in tandem? DI Barton will have to crack things side open, as Christmas inches closer.

All hands are on deck for this one, which has the police as baffled as ever. Random notes sent to locals purport to show that they, too, are in danger and could be next. Might this Santa Killer be more than a figment of the imagination, but actually a sharp and ruthless killer? DI Barton had better figure it all out before the magic of the season is lost for good! Ross Greenwood captivates readers with this thriller that pulls on all the strengths he has as as writer.

I found the work of Ross Greenwood years ago and have never looked back. His police procedurals are strong and full of detail, while balancing some humour and insightful sleuthing as well. Great themes and unique plot twists keep the reader unsure what they can expect around the corner, while they are also keen to flip pages well in the night. I can only hope that Greenwood’s next writing project is as addictive and that I can get my hands on an early copy.

Greenwood uses a strong narrative tho guide the reader throughout this well-paced novel. Police work is at the core of it and keeps the reader pushing on, in hopes of cracking the case. Great characters, many of whom receive decent development throughout the series, offer the reader something a little lighthearted throughout the heavy subject matter. A few key plot twits make this novel worth the time to read it, without being too predictive. One can only hope that Ross Greenwood will keep writing strong police procedurals, as he has developed a stellar series with DI Barton at the core.

Kudos, Mr. Greenwood, for another stunning thriller. I hope to see more soon and more killers pushing the limits as to what can be expected.

The Best School Year Ever (Herman’s #2), by Barbara Robinson

Eight stars

The sequel to one of my favourite childhood books, when the Herdmans take over the Christmas Pageant at church and retell this most famous story.

In this book, the Herdmans remain the worst behaved family in town. What’s worse is that they all attend Woodrow Wilson School. Robinson tells of the antics of this horrid family throughout a school year, from hazing to smoking cigars and even forcing children to undertake back-alley orthodontics. When the teacher sets out a year-long project of choosing a classmate and finding ways to compliment them, everyone is confused. Is there anything complimentary that can be said about any of the Herdmans? Read and find out…

A lovely story that leaves me smiling, as there is nothing the Herdmans won’t do.

The First Christmas: A Story of New Beginnings, by Stephen Mitchell

Eight stars

A Holiday re-read!

Always one to enjoy some unique reading during the festive season, I turned to this short piece by Stephen Mitchell. It pulls upon the Nativity story, told in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, and offers a more thorough and first-hand account of some events surrounding that period. While Mitchell explains that these are some of his own thoughts put into dialogue and a well-paced narrative, something resonates in them and it makes sense.

Mitchell captures many angles of the Nativity narrative, from those major players many will know (Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the wise men), as well as some who were surely essential but receive only a mere mention in biblical passages (the ox and donkey). These perspectives weave together not only a well-developed narrative, but provides the reader with some insight as to how each felt about the event, a well as some of the lead up to things that occurred that cold night. It leaves the reader to ponder a little more what they know and surmise about that story that, for many, is so well known.

Between each chapter (and on occasions, within them) Mitchell offers some of his own analysis of events and how they fit into the larger story. This is almost an annotation or extensive footnoting for the reader to better understand why he wrote things a certain way. I was please to have this, feeling it added to the overall experience and left me feeling a bit better if there were parts I did not understand.

While I am no scholar or expert on the subject matter, I count myself as someone who knows the story fairly well. I was eager to see this approach to better understand the story without being made to feel that this was an academic piece or even one that required heard thinking. I do enjoy challenging myself from time to time and will not stop with this piece. I’d love to see if Mitchell (or others) have other pieces like this, where I can explore new perspectives on long-told and remembered stories from my past.

Kudos, Mr. Mitchell, for a great piece that I devoured in a single day. I’ll keep my eyes open for more of your work and see if I cannot latch onto it as well.

The Homecoming, by Earl Hamner Jr.

Nine stars

An annual reading tradition for me that I am happy to share again with readers.

No holiday season is complete in my household without remembering the story of The Homecoming. When, on Christmas Eve, Clay Spencer has not returned home from his forty mile trek for the holidays, the entire Spencer household is on edge. Olivia pines for her husband’s safe return, but cannot put life on hold as she waits. With a brood of eight, she turns to Clay-Boy, her eldest, to take up the role of ‘man of the house’ at the tender age of fifteen.

As the story progresses, Clay-Boy is not only playing the role of man, but also must engage in a trek to locate his father and bring him home for the holidays. As Christmas Eve turns to night, the Spencers engage in their own family traditions, meagre as they may be in the midst of the Depression. It is not Santa for whom they wait this Christmas of 1933, but Clay and his safe homecoming to spend time with those he cherishes most. Sure to become an annual tradition for holiday reading lists, Hamner Jr. entertains and depicts the era so effectively.

I grew up watching The Homecoming as part of the annual Christmas preparation. The book was on hand, but I never took the time to read it until a few years ago. Doing so, I came to realise how special this story is and the tradition is one I will continue. I wish not to stand on a soapbox, but the holidays are about love and support, not the material things. Hamner Jr. makes that known throughout this novel, as well as in Spencer’s Mountain. Do take some time to read them and enjoy all they have to offer.

Kudos, Mr. Hamner Jr., for instilling in me the annual reminder that love trumps all. Merriest of Christmases to all!

Boundary Issues, by Thomas Boxleiter

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Reedsy Discovery and Thomas Boxleiter for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

After I was approached with an ARC of Thomas Boxleiter’s novel, I could not help but be intrigued. The dust jacket blurb presented a novel full of action and with just the right amount of legal flavouring to be something that I would enjoy. Boxleiter did not disappoint at any point, providing a story that garnered not only my attention, but admiration for being so thorough. Mixing a number of areas together with just enough detail to leave the reader wanting more, Boxleiter has shown himself to be an author worth watching for in the years to come.

Dr. Hank Pressman has been running his psychiatric practice for years, with a number of patients who have achieved various forms of personal success. Beneath the surface, Pressman has a life that is a little more involved, from the death of his long-time wife, to bouts of infidelity, and even a blossoming addiction to alcohol. Still, he’s been able to keep things running smoothly.

When Marian Ash visits Dr. Pressman and demands that he take her on as a client, things begin to get a little more intense. Refusing to offer more than the bare minimum when it comes to information—as she fears her husband will find out—Marian speaks of an abusive relationship at home. She comes to the office with physical bruises, which only worries Dr. Pressman more. He does his best to help her, but Marian Ash has other ideas.

While Dr. Pressman is trying to get his life back on track with a new relationship, things take a turn one night when Marian shows up at his home. Soon thereafter, she’s taken into custody when her husband is found murdered. While Dr. Pressman has some of his own views on the matter, a series of events leave him wondering if he can serve as an expert witness to either help or hinder the defence. Faced with a mountain of personal and professional issues, Dr. Hank Pressman while have to decide what matters most to him and how he will look himself in the mirror once legal proceedings begin. A thrilling piece that is sure to make a name for Thomas Boxleiter!

I always enjoy new authors who make their way onto my radar. Thomas Boxleiter did so effectively and showed just how much skill he has with both storytelling and writing. The story, which may seem cookie cutter from the outset, actually delves into some wonderful themes and topics, all while educating the reader throughout the process. Boxleiter pulls no punches and keeps the reader in the middle, feeling as though they are right there with Dr. Pressman and the others. I look forward to reading more by Boxleiter, when the chance arises, and would encourage anyone looking for something refreshing and highly entertaining to try this novel for themselves.

Thomas Boxleiter offers up a strong narrative to guide the reader through the journey. Things begin well and build from there, providing a roadmap for a successful story. The characters Boxleiter uses throughout flavour things effectively and keep the reader intrigued about what is going on, without proving to be too over the top. I must applaud Boxleiter for developing Dr. Hank Pressman so well throughout the novel. There is significant progress for the character, who grows and expands in a variety of ways, such that the reader really feels as though they know his struggles. Use of plot twists keeps the story on point and allows the reader to feel a sense of not knowing where things are headed. While I cannot tell if there will be more for Dr. Pressman, or other novels in the same vein, I can only hope Thomas Boxleiter keeps writing and that I have the chance to read them. I was thoroughly impressed with this effort, which appears to be a debut novel!

Kudos, Mr. Boxleiter, for a great piece that kept me turning pages well into the night.

The Dead of Winter: Three Giordano Bruno Novellas, by S.J. Parris

Eight stars

With this release of three novellas in the Giordano Bruno series, fans can enjoy two previously published pieces and a new story, just in time for Christmas. While I binged the entire series earlier this year, I was eager to return for a little more Bruno and his cunning ways. The reader learns a little more about the early days of Bruno’s time as a monk, including the struggles that face him. There is the curious Bruno who finds the confines of priory rules slightly troublesome, causing him to write his own. The final story has Bruno being called to Rome to answer for some of the antics he’s undertaken, though the young monk does not feel that he has offended anyone, at least those with an open mind. S. J. Parris does a masterful job, particularly for series fans, as she explores those early days, when Bruno was still captivated with serving God above all others!

The Secret Dead

It is Naples in 1566 and the city is in the middle of a stifling heat wave. Giordano Bruno is all of eighteen and has recently entered the monastery to devote himself to God. He is known not to be completely on the straight and narrow, having issues listening to those in authority. However, when Bruno is called away one night to help Fra Gennaro, he goes with all the curiosity that he can muster. Gennaro admits that he wishes to share something with Bruno that must be kept highly secret, taking him to the site of a body. This is a young whore who appears to have been strangled, though the reasons are as yet unknown.

During the anatomising of the body (one might call it early autopsy work), Bruno and Gennaro discover that she was pregnant, which only adds to the drama. While Bruno vows to keep this to himself, he cannot help but try to piece it all together, trying to determine who would have done this to a young woman, even if she held an unwanted offspring. This is surely the spark that led to the great crime solving work of Giordano Bruno in the years to come, all while holding up his end of a monastic life.

The Academy of Secrets

It is Naples in 1568 and a young Giordano Bruno is the rising star at the priory, though his penchant for seeking knowledge outside of the strict role of a monk has become apparent to many. Fra Gennaro, another monk and the local medical professional, takes him under his wing and introduces Bruno to a group of philosophically-minded men, headed by Don Giambattista. These men call themselves the Academy of Secrets, meeting to discuss mental and physical experiments that they have been undertaking, as well as recommending reading—a great deal of which lies outside that permitted by the Church. Bruno takes an especially great interest and Giambattista agrees to grant the young monk access to his libraries.

Juggling his time at the priory, and with the help of Fra Gennaro to cover for his absence, Bruno makes his way there to expand his knowledge. His arrival is met with another surprise, the young and attractive niece to Don Giambattista. Bruno’s work is shelved as he and Fiammetta engage in something a tad more carnal. Bruno slips away and heads back to the priory, keeping his secret to himself, but another of the young monks seems to have discovered that there is something amiss. While Bruno continues to make daily trips to the library and to see Fiammetta, the Academy of Secrets is in jeopardy. When Bruno is kept from his daily journey on one occasion, things turn deadly and questions arise. With his weakened connection of the priory already clear, some must wonder if Bruno took matters into his own hands.

A Christmas Requiem

It is Naples in the late autumn of 1569. A young monk of 21, Giordano Bruno, is continuing his studies and showing just how sharp his mind can be. Honing a parlour trick of sorts, Bruno can recite any of the psalms, forwards or backwards, in a number of different languages. This has caught the eye of some of the senior officials, but it is another missive from Rome that really causes a stir. Bruno’s presence is requested at the Vatican to see His Holiness, Pope Pius V. This must be a joke, right?

When Bruno makes it to Rome, just in time for the Christmas season, he is unsure what awaits him. However, being a young and still somewhat lustful man, Bruno finds himself caught in the web of desire with a woman. This woman, while also highly beautiful, has ecclesiastical connections that could ruin Bruno if he’s not careful. Still, lust is one temptation not easily dissipated by prayer.

When the Holy Father meets with Bruno, the topic at hand is heresy. It is not only the goings on in England under Queen Elizabeth that is causing ire, but Bruno’s repeated conflicts over banned publications by Protestants that has the Pope up in arms. When it’s discovered that Bruno can recite the psalms, much consternation is levelled against the young monk and he’s lucky to escape with his life. Might the pious life not be the best thing for Giordano Bruno after all, if he cannot express himself and expand his mind?

I have come to love the books in this series, not only for the mysteries they present, but also because there is so much history for the reader to enjoy. Parris does well developing her stories effectively and peppers them with fact and massaged fiction to tell a great tale. As with her novels, these novellas proved highly entertaining and are written so as to make the reader feel they have gone back in time. The novellas can, if one chooses, be read as standalone, though I am not sure why anyone would want to deprive themselves of such a wonderful series in its entirety. S. J,. Parris has much to offer and one can only hope that there are more books to come to keep series fans excited.

Kudos, Madam Parris, for an exciting collection of stories that remind me how much I enjoy Giordano Bruno. I cannot wait to see what else you have to offer soon.

Point Blank (Jack Lisbon #6), by Blair Denholm

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Blair Denholm for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Always eager when Blair Denholm hands me an ARC of his newest book, I took it upon myself to devour this novel in short order. Denholm provides the readier with a decent piece of writing that is full of criminal goings-on, plot twists, and a bit of character development for DS Jack Lisbon. Much takes place in the book, as well as a chilling revelation that Lisbon will have to digest in his personal life. A quick read that complements the other books in this series.

Golf is a sport for patient men, as Detective Sergeant Jack Lisbon has come to believe. While he is not very good at it, he enjoys the challenge of trying to get a ball into the hole, no matter how many swings it takes. When DS Lisbon and his companion on the links hear a gunshot, they immediately revert into police mode. Rushing over, DS Lisbon discovers that Paul Keenan has been shot and his golfing partner is clinging to life.

Once the golf course is secured, DS Lisbon and the team work tirelessly to find out what’s happened and secure any suspects before they are able to flee. Based on the account of witnesses, a drone flew in close at hand and shot both men in the head. Who would have the skills not only to fly the drone, but to aim with much accuracy as to leave bodies on the putting green?

As DS Lisbon tries to piece it all together he receives a disturbing call from his daughter in the UK. Forced the juggle personal and professional, DS Lisbon begins exploring all the options and how Paul Keenan may not have been as nice as he would like many to believe. This only expanded the susp[ect list and makes catching a killer all the more difficult. However, DS Jack Lisbon is up for a challenge. A great addition to the series that shows Blair Denholm has much to say on the topic of Jack Lisbon.

I have been a fan of the DS Jack Lisbon series since Blair Denholm reached out to me, asking that I read the first novel. Since then, whenever a new addition to the collection comes out, I am eager to get my hands on it to see what Denholm has done with his protagonist. Always advancing the personal plot, Denholm keeps the reader on their toes throughout each crime thriller, adding just enough humour to cut the tension down.

Denholm uses a strong narrative flow to keep the reader feeling as though there is constant momentum throughout the book. Key characters arrive to help add depth, but it is surely not Denholm’s key tool for success. Rather, it is the investigative prowess of DS Jack Lisbon, who always seems keen to get to the root of the issue even if it means taking a detour on occasion. With some personal strife peppered in throughout the story, series fans know that something is about to change drastically, which could shape how things progress from here.

Kudos, Mr. Denholm, for a great addition to the series. You have a great way with words and I am intrigued to see what direction things might go.

Letters from Father Christmas, by J.R.R. Tolkien

Nine stars

Another wonderful annual re-read!! This year, Neo joined me!

A masterful piece of writing by J.R.R. Tolkien, which is a collection of the letters he penned as ‘Father Christmas’ over the years of his children’s upbringing. The letters are in response to those sent by the Tolkien children over the years, in which Father Christmas explores some of the drama he had up at the North Pole. With a handful of splendid characters who add even more excitement in a way only Tolkien can do, this is the perfect collection to read each and every year. I highly recommend the audio version, as it increases the excitement even more!

Kudos, Mr. Tolkien, for another great piece. I may not be a fantasy nut, but this book was right up my alley!

The Man who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol Rescued his Career and Revived Our Holiday Spirits, by Les Standiford

Eight stars

A holiday re-read!

Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas tale is surely synonymous with the holiday season, from its spooky mention of ghosts to its endearing message of love and understanding. However, the story behind this shorter novel is almost as intriguing as the prose itself. After reading a fictitious version of events, I looked to Les Standiford, whose non-fiction account, The Man Who Invented Christmas, offers curious readers something on which they can chew to better understand the background. Highly educational and enlightening, this is a great piece to accompany the Dickens classic. Recommended to those with a love of the holiday season, as well as the reader who may want to chase the Scrooge out of their heart after a horrid 2020 (and 2021).

Charles Dickens may have been a popular author throughout his life, but that does not mean that he enjoyed a positive upbringing. Having come from a childhood of poverty, Charles Dickens was forced to pull himself up by his bootstraps. These early years of scrounging and being forced to rub two pennies together proved helpful when he penned some of his earliest novels, including Oliver Twist. As Standiford mentions throughout, it was his astuteness to his surroundings that gave Dickens ideas for his plots and characters.

Of interest to some readers, Standiford explores how Dickens used to write his novels piecemeal, submitting them for serial publication. While they could appear long as a final product, the short pieces that found their way into weekly or monthly collections made the stories seem a little more palatable. Standiford uses this contrast when discussing the creation of A Christmas Carol, which would not be as long as these other pieces, but had to be completed over a shorter time period.

Dickens had come off a less than stellar publication of a novel that was not getting the excitement his publishers had hoped. With the holiday season creeping up, Dickens was tasked with writing a Christmas story in a short period of time. Pulling on examples from all aspects of his life, Dickens wrote about a man—Ebenezer Scrooge—who hated the joyousness that Christmas brought, but who underwent a significant epiphany after being visited by four beings. The end result proved to be eye-opening for all involved and created a new buzz around the Christmas season.

Strandiford explores the Christmas celebration throughout the book, from its traditions to how it was only minimally celebrated through the centuries. It was the Victorian Era that pushed England to shed its neutrality to the celebrations and breathe new life into this most powerful of feast times. From the Germanic influence of trees at Christmas to the buzz of gift giving and the appearance of Father Christmas, England grew more accepting of the holiday, something that appears in Dickens’ story. While I think it would be a tad hyperbolic to say that Dickens alone breathed life into the holiday season, his story certainly explored some of the less commercial aspects of the season.

I only read A Christmas Carol for the first time in the 2019 Christmas season. While you try to catch your breathe and step back in shock, I will let you know that I have seen the movie and know the premise, but the story itself takes on new meaning when using the author’s actual prose. Pairing the actual story with Standiford’s book (as well as a piece by Samantha Silva, do check it out), offers a great understand of Victorian times and how the holiday evolved. There is a great deal for the reader to understand that will permit a thorough and comprehensive exploration of the themes and ideas. Standiford does a masterful job at shining some light on this for those readers who wish the context.

While there are portions of the book that are quasi-textbook, the information garnered from the pages of Standiford’s book is second to none. Understanding how Christmas was once passed off as just another day and what the Church did to counter the rise of pagan rituals is quite ingenious. Using that backstory and some of the Victorian traditions, the reader can see how it all comes together as Scrooge makes his way through his one sobering night. These nuggets proved useful and provided some additional takeaway, something I always enjoy when it comes to reading. With short chapters, full of great information, the reader is surely to find something that interests them, as it relates to the story. If only this were not such an isolating holiday season. I would love to regale people with ‘did you know?’ moments. Oh well, it just means I have another year to practice and study!

Kudos, Mr. Standiford, for a wonderful piece that entertained and educated in equal measure.