Past Tense (Jack Reacher #23), by Lee Child

Eight stars

Lee Child returns with another Reacher adventure that takes things down some untraversed pathways, particularly interesting for series fans. When Jack Reacher sets out for California, he has high hopes about this journey. However, early during the trek, he ends up having to get out along the road in New Hampshire, where a road sign rattles in the wind. The town of Laconia triggers a memory for Reacher, which he soon recollects is Stan Reacher’s place of birth, a father who taught him the steely ways of Marine life. Armed with a great deal of curiosity and all the time in the world, Reacher ventures towards the outskirts of Laconia. Liaising with some of the locals, Reacher begins piecing together some of his family history, at least until his father fled to join the Marines at the age of seventeen. However, there are some who want nothing more than to chase him out of town, possibly because of his name, but surely also due to the fact that Reacher is never one to hold is tongue…or a punch to the face. Meanwhile, in another part of town, two Canadians arrive in their beat-up vehicle and hope to only pass through, though a group of men who run the local motel may have other ideas. As they soon learn, Laconia, New Hampshire is more than just a dot on the map, but how do they play into the larger narrative? With Reacher discovering a great deal about his ancestors and being part of a larger dust-up, he could be the only hope for those looking to forget all about this community. What Reacher secrets have been buried for over seventy years and how will this opportune visit change the dynamic for the decades to come? Child does a wonderful job in creating a strong story and keeping the reader enthralled. Recommended to series fans who want to see yet another unique angle to this ever-evolving collection.

I know some people have read and reviewed this book, feeling that it is missing an essential piece of the Reacher puzzle. I, on the other hand, constantly marvel at how Lee Child has been able to take a nomadic protagonist and always find new ways to inject life and excitement into his life. Jack Reacher has seen it all in his years, but there has always been that missing gap in his past. Born abroad and having traveled as part of a Marine family, Jack Reacher never knew his grandparents and did not hear speak of them. His father, Stan, left as soon as he could get out and never came back. Now, Jack is able to peel back the mystery and learn a little more about young Stan, as well as the people he would call grandparents. As he delves a little deeper, Reacher finds more family members, who tell an interesting tale that will surely help shape this nomadic man as he continues his treks across America. The secondary story offers some interesting characters as well, two young twenty somethings who are unknowingly trapped in town by a group of young men. They become guinea pigs to a plan that they could not have foreseen. Child offers some interesting storylines related to these two, helping to shed the ‘Canadian passivity’ as soon as things get hellish. The story was quite well supported, using the typical ‘moseying Reacher’ before adding the element of personal connection for the man and helping the series fan to learn a great deal while also noticing Reacher’s typical rough-cut personality. There may be some wonderful nuggets on which Child can build in novels to come, which I hope continue. This is one series that I have found does not lose its momentum as it continues, as Child mixes ‘past’ and ‘present’ storylines in novels to better understand Reacher. While it may seem trivial, as a long-time audiobook listener of the series, I have come to discover that Child seems overly connected to the word ‘said’ when tying off dialogue. While it seems minor, to hear ‘he said…. she said….he said’ repeatedly during a dialogue makes for some mundane verbal tennis that can grate on the listener’s nerves after a time. As I said before, this seems to be a constant in books. On the note of audiobooks, I was so pleased to see Scott Brick at the helm and hope that he might be the new voice of Reacher, who suits it as well as Dick Hill did in novels past. What’s next for Lee Child and Jack Reacher? I suppose we will have to wait, but hopefully not too long.

Kudos, Mr. Child, for more wonderful story writing. I know you have many ideas brewing and I cannot wait to see what twists you will toss into your novels and short stories.

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

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Stolen Lives (Danny Sanchez #2), by Matthew Pritchard

Seven stars

After recently completing Matthew Pritchard’s series debut, I was left underwhelmed. I vowed to give this second book a try to see if it had that missing piece, some form of momentum. Danny Sanchez is back, steno pad in hand. He’s come to the local landfill to cover the story of a body discovered in the piles of refuse. There is a missing woman who fits the loose description and in a community where flashy news is scarce, this is sure to make some waves. Sanchez begins poking around into the life of Teresa del Hoyo, who has been anything but a model citizen in this strongly-Catholic community. A wild child in her youth, Teresa joined the Reds (communists) and has been speaking out against the Church ever since. As Sanchez takes some time to connect with his own mother, he learns a little more about the Spanish Civil War, remembering stories about its divisiveness and the destruction by the Franco nationalists. When a local cemetery begins having its headstones destroyed, Sanchez draws parallels to Teresa del Hoyo’s personal campaign to reveal something that has been covered up for too long. He discovers that the graves are all of babies born in a local clinic, many who were stillborn. The mystery only thickens from there, as it would seem that Teresa’s killer may have ties to a sect of the Catholic Church established to root out those whose message is anything but laudatory. However, the more Sanchez discovers, the more he reveals in print, making him a potential target. Could he know enough that his silence is the only way to stop the questions? Pritchard does well to drum up some interesting historic themes, though I am still not entirely convinced. Readers should give at least one of the two books a try and decide for themselves. They can serve as standalone works, making either a decent test subject.

The premise for this novel was as strong as the debut piece, with well-developed writing, but I felt the delivery was again lacking something. Danny Sanchez remains an interesting character the reader can enjoy, particularly as he shows a little more grit and journalistic determination. While he appears to be hot on the trail of the victim’s backstory and how it might tie into a mysterious killer, Sanchez proves somewhat lacking in his presence throughout the chapters of the book. Pritchard does tip his hand and offer a little Sanchez family history while discussing Spain’s move into a fascist state after the Second World War, though I would have liked more. Danny Sanchez needs more depth and while some could argue the book was too short to offer it, I ask, why not take the time? Others in the story helps push the plot lines along well, from Spain’s political history, strong Catholic connection, and the role the Church played in indoctrinating young people at a fragile time. While there were shortfalls, Pritchard’s writing did leave me wanting to know more about some of the historical aspects, which is definitely a plus. Pritchard story idea was sound and I suspect there will be many who love it completely. I am not sure if I want to take the Danny Sanchez experience one novel further, but I may return to complete the series to date in 2019. For now, I will let those who love the book offer their own forms of praise.

Kudos, Mr. Pritchard, for another decent attempt. I’ll wait and see if I am moved to read more, but I am sure others have helped create a strong fan base.

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

Scarecrow (Danny Sanchez #1), by Matthew Pritchard

Seven stars

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

When the publisher asked me to read this piece, I was taken in by the description provided on the dust jacket. Anything with a serial killer element is sure to bring chills up the spine and keep the reader connected throughout the journey. Danny Sanchez is a reporter for a small newspaper in a British retirement community in Spain. While covering an article about homes being torn down, Sanchez is shocked to discover that there is a body in the wall of one such residence. What makes it even more gruesome is that the body has been emasculated and obviously left for a period of time. After another body is found in a similar state, Sanchez notices the additional clue of face paint on the victim, which triggers something in his memory. Fifteen years before, Sanchez was working in the U.K., where a serial killer was stalking his victims and leaving them with face paint, as well as slashed genitalia. Sanchez returns to the U.K., where he knows the killer has been institutionalized. Might there have been a copycat killer, or could The Scarecrow have had an accomplice during the slayings? The closer Sanchez gets to answers, the more people distance themselves from him. Danny Sanchez refuses to stop until he gets to the bottom of this, even if it means uncovering a network of serial killers working in concert. The trouble is, without knowing how many there are, will impossible to tell just how to stop the body count from growing. Readers can expect some decent writing in this piece, though I am not entirely sure I found the chilling depictions I sought.

After reading this piece, I’ve come to discover that the premise for this novel was strong, its writing well-developed, but the delivery lacked a little something. Writing in this genre needs something edgy and sharp, though Pritchard has given readers some work with rounded edges. The gore and the mystery were well-paced, but I needed something that would keep me up well into the night and create worry about the bumps in the night. Danny Sanchez is an interesting character the reader can enjoy in their own way. His gritty journalism background is apparent throughout, as is his determination to get to the bottom of each lead he uncovers. While he appears to be hot on the trail of this mysterious killer, Sanchez cannot crack things wide open or place himself in a position that keeps the reader chilled and guessing. Others in the story offer place sittings to keep the story moving, though I am not entirely enthralled with many of those who grace the various chapters of the story. I will admit that Pritchard had a decent story idea and some great threads on which to build a darker and more ominous story, though it missed the mark. The hunt may have been on, but it was as though everything was discovered in light and sunny weather. I hoped for chills and can only hope that Pritchard’s debut novel was jitters and that he has a lot more in him for the next novel in this series. I’ll give that one a try and hope for the best, as everyone with potential deserves a second chance.

Kudos, Mr. Pritchard, for the attempt, but I really hope there’s more to come. Delivery is essential in the genre and I am eager to see if you have it in you.

Like/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at:

https://pecheyponderings.wordpress.com/

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

Fear: Trump in the White House, by Bob Woodward

Nine stars

While the talk of the 45th President of the United States (POTUS) seems to be an endless cycle of conversation, insults, and downright headaches, I approached reading this book with an open and curious mind. I chose to let Bob Woodward —a highly esteemed journalist in his own right—guide me through some of his findings during the early period of the Trump presidency. Woodward explores Trump’s candidacy and first year or so in the Oval Office, tackling some of the more controversial events and topics that came to light. Woodward offers the reader some insights into this time, where Trump was fuelled by a passionate hatred of President Obama and how he would do anything to derail or dismantle programs put in place, making promises at rallies and seeking to enact them as soon as he had a presidential seat. There was also much talk of his attempts to make his own mark in the military, trade, sanctions, and even diplomacy, all guided by his Trump-centric mentality. Woodward clearly points that Trump was not alone, as he had a number of well-meaning—as well as completely useless—advisors around him, many of whom tried to guide him in a certain direction. While I may not agree with their politics, Woodward presents these advisors as those who sought to educate and guide Trump towards what could be done for America and how the Jenga blocks needed to be inched in a certain direction in order not to make things come cascading down, thereby heralding catastrophe. The few sycophants who emerge from the text are those who are useless to the larger process, but entirely what Trump felt he needed on a daily basis. Armed with his narrow view on the world and with his Twitter account as a billy club, Trump tried to fix all things in a few characters, which usually failed to bring about presidential diplomacy. If Woodward offers a single theme in this book that echoes throughout the pages of well-documented chapters, it is that Trump wanted to do things his way and will rarely follow the narrow and calculated path asked of him. A renegade to some and completely rogue to others, there is reason to fear. America’s enemies are ready and willing to strike, which evokes added concern, when the man with his finger on the button treats it like his own personal toy, rather than listening to the reason of those who seek to advise. Woodward should be applauded for this book, as he seeks to offer insights through the eyes of others, rather than rallying his own personal attacks with little substantive proof. Recommend for those who want a glimpse inside the West Wing without the baseless attacks of a jilted few who feed only negative information to sell books.

I have heard much about this book before I even began the opening sentence. Some loved the book for its openness and exploration of a number of topics, while others hated it for not revealing new smoking guns or additional finger pointing. Still others criticized it for poking fun at the POTUS in any way, as we should bow to him and allow him to create America in a new image. I found the book to be intriguing in many ways and took much away from it. While I have read a few books on the Trump presidency—is it not indicative of something that so many pieces have come out so soon after he made it to the Oval Office?—there are themes that come out in all of them. These include: obsession with television portrayals, refusal to read background materials for essential decisions, preconceived notions of effective governance, and a hatred for all who oppose him. What this book helped me see was that all of these and other perspectives were further solidified through the interviews Woodward undertook with those closest to Trump. This was not Woodward standing atop a soap box and issuing criticism dreamed up in his own mind, he used the words and sentiments of many who were ‘in the trenches’ to garner a better understanding for the reader. Call me naive, but I cannot see Bob Woodward as one who is all that interested in using weak information to build his arguments. Woodward has shown time and again that he asks the tough questions, but seeks to be fair in his delivery. First hand accounts serve as the foundation of this book’s narrative momentum, which I applaud. There are moments of praise for Trump and others of complete mockery, but when they come from within, can be really call it a smear campaign by liberal media sources? I have never hidden my sentiments on this topic and while I try to get some of my foundation through reading and trying to better understand the situation, I am also an outsider. I admit to being happy that I have the right to expand my horizons and to better comprehend that which I argue against from my side of the (unwalled) border. Freedoms to express my sentiments cannot be taken, nor should they, so long as I am not fanning unfounded hatred for the sake of personally harming others. Worry not, Woodward handles this discussion in the book when he speaks of the supremacist rallies in the summer of 2017.

This was the first book I read on the subject where I was attacked by both pro- and anti-Trump folks. The former group sought to criticize me for reading about the negativity of the POTUS and how it all lies, while the latter bemoaned that I would waste my time reading about him at all. It is this ignorance that has pushed for me to seek a better understanding of the situation. I find many readers seek to ‘trump’ the ongoing discussions, in hopes that people will stop talking and trying to better understand things as they evolve. Should we, as citizens of the world, live in fear until 2020? Might the type of behaviour exemplified in this book lead to horrible things? There is that possibility, but it could also be a rallying cry for American voters to turn out to cast their ballots, while Intelligence agencies work to plug some of the gaping holes that permitted outsider influences in elections past. I encourage Bob Woodward to return to this topic after the Trump presidency has ended (however that will come about), as I would read that book, which can explore the entire experience in a single arc. Until then, I encourage all readers with an interest to give this book a try, ignoring the trolls on both sides who hurl insults at your choice.

Kudos, Mr. Woodward, for giving me something about which to think. I feel enriched about what you have presented and look forward to where things will lead from here.

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

Heads You Win, by Jeffrey Archer

Nine stars

Lord Jeffrey Archer remains one of the eminent writers of my time, able to craft brilliant novels that can be enjoyed years after the ink dries on their publication. Archer develops his books with pages of captivating text and believable dialogue. On the docks of Leningrad in 1968, Alexander Karpenko lives under the iron fist of the Soviet regime. No choice or decision goes unwatched by the KGB and punishment is usually brutal. When Alexander’s father is involved in a workplace ‘accident’, young Alexander and his mother, Elena, know that it is time to make a break for it. At the docks, they must rush to choose a means of getting out of Russia, with two shipping crates before them; one bound for England, the other for America. They make a hasty choice and hide away, before the crate can be loaded for departure to another land. It is here that Archer takes the story and turns it on its head. Following two threads, the narrative takes the reader along with Alex and Elena to America or with Sasha and Elena to England. Alex experiences many stumbling blocks when he makes it to the shores of New York, trying to find a place for both he and Elena to situate themselves and rise from the ashes of Soviet oppression. While he scrabbles to get enough money to feed them, Alex discovers that his hard work can pay off, beginning by selling produce at a local stand and amassing wealth through grit and determination. On the other hand, Sasha and Elena land in England and use his sharp wit to earn a place in a prestigious school before attending Cambridge, where the political bug bites him and he is able to explore a work of power and intrigue. Both men discover love, family, and a rise to the top, but neither can help but wonder what might have happened if they’d chosen ‘the other crate’. Lord Archer is here to tell the reader exactly what might have happened, offering sensational parallels in the lives of these two, as well as contrasting their great differences. An ingenious approach to storytelling that Archer perfected, with a sensational twist at the end. Highly recommended to those who love Archer’s work, as well as the reader who enjoys historical fiction with a few twists along the way!

Those familiar with Jeffrey Archer’s work will know that his work is both highly entertaining and filled with layers of rich narrative. The stories are neither superficial, nor are they weighed down with minutiae. However, there is something intensely captivating about them that makes them as unique as anything I have ever read. The Alex/Sasha character is one that fans of the author will have seen many times before, but is more of an amalgamation of many, rather than a copy of one in particular. Rising from the depths of poverty and communist oppression, Alex/Sasha finds himself grasping onto the chance of a new life and makes the most of it. What makes this character even more interesting, is the contrast that comes from his alter ego—for lack of a better word—and how the contrasting decisions lead both men in completely different directions, though their paths seem destined to lead to the same ultimate goal. The story is full of character development and weaves a powerful backstory for both Alex/Sasha, though the reader must pay close attention to notice the parallels and divergences throughout the narratives. There are obviously a number of supporting characters throughout the piece, most especially Elena Karpenko, who is able to see her son rise to greatness as she does so herself. Elena bides her time but does not sit idly by, as she creates an empire all her own and proves to be almost a second protagonist in the larger story. The others offer the needed narrative mortar to keep the story moving and standing strong, though Archer has rarely had trouble making someone who graced the pages of his books appear full of life and active in pushing the story towards its needed conclusion. The concept for this piece is brilliant, pulling on many of Archer’s past successful novels. Be it Kane and Abel, The Clifton Chronicles, or many of the other pieces he has penned over the decades, Archer’s flavourful storytelling comes alive yet again, in what may be his best single novel work in years. Telling a political, social, and emotional story of one boy’s ultimate choice to flee oppression, Archer offers two distinct paths that could have been taken. The greatest trouble for the reader as they progress through this epic piece is to decide which one is the better life. I am not sure I could choose quite yet, but that might be the ultimate Archer gift, as it keeps the story lingering well after it’s been completed.

Kudos, Lord Archer, for a spellbinding novel. I could not expect anything less from such a master storyteller!

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

A Killer’s Alibi (Philadelphia Legal #3), by William L. Myers Jr.

Nine stars

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

The reader can be assured of a well-developed legal thriller when William L. Myers Jr. is at the helm. His attention to detail and captivating stories keep the story enthralling until the final pages, and this book is no exception. When James ‘Jimmy’ Nunzio is found in a warehouse, holding a bloody knife with a body on the floor, there appears to be little doubt that he is to blame. A high-ranking official in a Philadelphia organized crime family, Nunzio has a long list of beefs, including a rival New York family, to whom the victim belongs. When Mick McFarland is called upon to serve as defence counsel, he is hesitant, though intrigued all the same. McFarland interviews his client, but is left feeling as though there is something missing from the story and Nunzio remains coy about certain aspects of that night, promising to reveal all in good time. Meanwhile, Mick’s wife and other law partner are involved in some Innocence Project Work. Darlene Dowd was convicted of murdering her abusive father years ago, but a deathbed letter from her own mother reveals that a neighbour may have some important evidence and the murder weapon. Piper McFarland and Susan Klein begin to explore this new evidence, in hopes of being able to free Darlene once and for all. With the help of the firm’s investigator, Piper and Susan learn that there is more to the story than an abused teenaged girl who resented her father’s actions and took justice into her own hands. While Mick is trying to plan for his own trial, he discovers that he may have taken on more than he can handle, placing himself and all those around him in a mafia squabble that can only end in bloodshed. Learning of an intended payback, Mick must do all he can to get to the bottom of this case—including this mystery evidence the defendant is holding—before more innocent people suffer the consequences. A powerful story, with great courtroom action, that does not relent until the final paragraph, Myers shows why he belongs at the top of his genre. Highly recommended for those who love substantive legal thrillers that seek not only to tell a story, but offer realistic characters to add depth.

I can remember stumbling upon Myers’ first novel and being fully engrossed. This was a story that had both substantial legal arguments and characters who were more than simply vessels to pull the narrative along. Myers has taken the time to flesh-out his characters and injects personal attributes to which the reader can surely relate. Mick McFarland is a wonderful father and husband, as well as an accomplished lawyer who does not shy away from controversy. While his mind does seek loopholes, he is not afraid to work or to spend time trying to help his clients, no matter their circumstances. His passion for the law and those around him can be seen throughout and he proves to be a wonderful protagonist sure to anchor this series for years to come. Other returning characters offer their own distinct flavours and propel the story forward at break-neck speed. The attentive reader will see some of the smaller characteristics that Myers injects to keep the story light, but not superficial. This helps keep things from getting stale or overly burdensome. Dealing with both sexual abuse and family blood feuds cannot be easy, though Myers tackles both and presents wonderful spins. There is a delicate balance that Myers has found, one the attentive reader will see as they progress through this novel. The story is strong and reads well, mixing light banter with serious legal arguments, as well as some personal subplots some of the characters must face. Myers has a way of writing in which chapters seem to melt away, though he does not shortchange with detail or plot development. Anyone new to Myers should probably start at the beginning of the series—more to learn of the character and plot developments from their infancy—though I suppose this book could act as a standalone. Speaking of that, this book does stand apart from others in its genre and William L. Myers Jr. should be an author with whom readers familiarize themselves. It is worth the time and effort!

Kudos, Mr. Myers, for another winner. I am pleased to have been able to experience an advance copy of this book, as it allows me to drum up additional support ahead of publication.

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

Platinum Blues, by William Deverell

Eight stars

In another of William Deverell’s legal thrillers, the reader learns a little more about life in the bucolic town of Foolsgold, California, and an attorney who discovers the ins and outs of copyright law. Oliver Gulliver is one of two attorneys in Foolsgold, making a living as best he can. While also serving as the town’s mayor, Gulliver is a widower and raising two daughters. The elder returns from a time away in San Francisco, where she has partnered with her musical idol, a washed-up rocker who is living out of a bottle of booze. While trying to find himself again, C.C. Gilley begins composing new songs dedicated to his newest love, much to Gulliver’s chagrin. After Gulliver helps Gilley out of his contract, he works to secure the artist’s recordings at the copyright office. However, someone seems to have had other ideas, as a rival musical group soon as an identical song climbing the charts. With little to lose, Gulliver flexes his legal muscle to assert the copyright, which has him making his way to the offices of Oriole Records, where he is met with distain. A small-town lawyer finds himself in the big courts to fight a million-dollar lawsuit, against a gaggle of lawyers who are happy to bury him in documents. Will Oliver Gulliver be able to keep his head above board, while also juggling some of the concerns back in Foolsgold? Deverell offers another unique approach to the law, using his own writing style to keep the reader engaged throughout this shorter piece. Recommended to those who enjoy William Deverell’s work, as well as the reader who likes the law presented in a unique and tangential fashion.

My enjoyment of William Deverell’s work began when binge reading his Canadian legal series last spring/summer. This led me on a subsequent one-off binge, as I have been taking time to read some of his other work. There have been pieces I thoroughly enjoyed while others remain baffling to me. This piece was surely one of the greater single novel experiences I have had with Deverell. Not only does it take the reader into the quaint parts of America, but there is also some unique legal angles that are explored. Oliver Gulliver comes across as a no nonsense father who enjoys his small town life. That he has been pulled into the middle of this legal drama comes across as being more a thorn than a challenge for him, but he soon discovers how passionate he becomes defending the rights of ‘the little man’. Not one to back down from the hurdles placed before him, Gulliver grows, both as a lawyer and personally, throughout the piece, which the reader will readily discover throughout. Others that populate the pages of the book have their own entertaining characteristics, which both help and hinder the protagonist along the journey. With some of Deverell’s trademark courtroom drama, legal-minded individuals make an appearance and offer some interesting interpretations of the law. The story was sound and worked well with the quaint theme throughout. It has moments of grit and others of trying to see ‘The Man’ slain for their cockiness, which works as a decent theme throughout. If someone were looking for a great starting point, I would surely direct them to this novel, before requesting a plunge into some of the spectacular Canadian legal work that William Deverell has authored.

Kudos, Mr. Deverell, for another winner. I am enjoying this journey through your writing and will continue exploring, as best I can.

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

Needles, by William Deverell

Seven stars

William Deverell has a knack for dazzling fans with his unique writing style, tackling the Canadian legal system as only he appears able to do. Drawing on decades of experience, Deverell’s fiction has a great flavour of truth that cannot be discounted by the attentive reader. Here is his debut novel, which first appeared in 1979 and won some significant awards. Drug addicts in Vancouver have long been trying to find the ‘next new hit’ to awaken them to the glories of that lasting high. When a cartel based in Hong Kong sends a senior member to Canada’s West Coast, they hope to open a shipping line to bring White Lady heroin to the streets and find a large and hungry clientele. Leading the cartel’s Canadian network is one Au P’eng Wei, nicknamed ‘Dr. Au’, who brings a ruthless nature to the drug trade as he seeks to make copious amounts of money. Those who cross Dr. Au are sure the face the consequences of his medical training, as one Jim Fat learned the hard way. When Fat’s body is discovered, Au is fingered as the likely suspect, though it is hard to get anyone to speak out against him. Scrambling to prosecute, Vancouver’s senior Crown attorney turns to Foster Cobb, whose legal abilities seem somewhat questionable. Cobb is not only an attorney whose shingle is rusting, but he has a heroin addiction all his own, chasing it down dark hallways just to stay level. As Cobb begins to cobble together a prosecution, he discovers that Dr. Au is not one who will be easily convicted. With a wife who has all but checked out of the marriage and a second-chair who wants into his legal briefs—we’re not talking about arguments to the judge, here—Cobb must risk it all to find justice while trying to slay his own closet full of dragons as well. Deverell delivers a powerful story embedded in his complex writing style. Those who are fans of the author will likely find something worthwhile here, though I caution the reader new to Deverell’s work to begin with something a bit more grounded before making a decision.

Many will know that I discovered William Deverell when binge reading his Canadian legal series last spring/summer, where I was able to meet the sensational Arthur Beauchamp. From there, I agreed to branch out and see just how great Deverell could be with his one-off novels. Some I found to be well grounded in legal arguments and societal norms of the day, while others appeared to miss their mark. This novel finds itself somewhere in the middle, as I could see a great deal of legal potential, though some of the periphery writing was not as crisp as I would have liked. I attribute at least some of this to Deverell’s early writing, which I have come to discover is a lot harder to digest with ease (though it all seems to have won many literary awards). Foster Cobb proves to be an interesting character, much like the early Beauchamp, who struggles with addiction and a marriage that is hanging by a thread. However, Cobb seems quite lacklustre in his legal workings and therefore his character does not compensate for the addiction that looms over him. I had hoped for a sensational courtroom display—a la Arthur Beauchamp—to balance the novel out, but it failed to materialize and the story dragged for me. While I love a good courtroom drama, Deverell served up something more tepid. Surely I am biased from all my reading of his past work, so I suppose I must take that into account. The other characters proved less than persuasive for me as well, offering up placeholders for the narrative in a legal thriller that lacked the thrill. Crooked cops, scared cartel members, a wife who is unplugged and close to useless… all names that crossed the page and proved to be stumbling blocks as I sought to finish the read in a timely manner. The story could have been sensational, though it lacked many of the elements that I hoped to find. This was Deverell’s debut novel and, admittedly, penned before many of the books to which I am comparing this work. I have seen Deverell hone his skills and so I will give this one its due and not harp on it any longer.

Kudos, Mr. Deverell, for another interesting piece. It is sometimes hard for a reader to go back and not judge more recent (read: refined) works against it. The premise was there and yet the delivery needed something else.

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

Unhinged: An Insider’s Account of the Trump White House, by Omarosa Manigault Newman

Seven stars

At a time when political division and mud-slinging is at its height in America, I knew that pulling this book off the shelf may be an issue. Not only for me as a reader—forced to sit through more slanderous accounts of a man who lives for chaos—but also the blowback of some who will discover my current reading choice and eventual review. I left this book to steep for a while, though had a gap in my reading experience and chose to stick a toe out to test the waters of Omarosa Manigault Newman’s personal life with the current POTUS. The author opens her book with a narrative of the day she was fired—read ‘asked to resign’—from the West Wing, for reasons she could not fathom. I’ll leave it to the reader to parse through both accounts to decide for themselves, though something surely does not add up when trying to mesh the Omarosa and General Kelly version of events. From there, the reader is subjected to a snapshot biographical narrative that explores young Omarosa as she made her way from poverty to a number of important decisions that saw her step away from food stamps and into a life of champagne and five-course meals. She worked very hard and had wonderful opportunities throughout, including the chance to meet a few of the ‘loves of her life’ and find solace in God by being ordained. Brief work in the Clinton White House helped shape her political insights, which would be so useful in the years to come. The reader is then sent on a whirlwind tour of Omarosa the reality television star, when she made it as a contestant on Season 1 of The Apprentice, where Donald J. Trump saw her and they created an odd bond. Omarosa explains that she never sold out, sticking true to the woman she always was, which appeared to appeal to Trump. Omarosa defends the man and his arrogance as a sort of business acumen, though hindsight is always more interesting. Trump had always been a political beast, according to Omarosa, until the arrival of Barrack Obama. It was then that Trump exuded hatred for the man who would lead the country for two terms. The narrative offers questions about Trump’s racist nature, particularly towards Obama, but I will leave that to the reader to explore. When politics came knocking, Omarosa was there for Trump, working to build African-American relations for the candidate and campaign as a whole. Omarosa did all she could and, as far as she will admit, admired Trump and his rhetoric. The narrative moves through the campaign, the election, and the transition, all one massive dream, with hints of the nightmare that was to come. When she made it to the White House, Omarosa had high hopes for herself and the country, though was surrounded by so many sycophants that it is hard to see what was real and what was jockeying to stay one person ahead of the knives. Exploring her time in the Trump White House, Omarosa offers not only poignant insider information about events that may not have been released by media outlets, but also her own spin on the actors involved and the fallout used to favourably flavour it. The interested reader will find these chapters of most interest, including her insights into the mental acuity of the Leader of the Free World. I do understand that there will be the eternal defenders who cite it all as sour grapes, but I leave it to the reader to decide for themselves. As the terror continued, it was only a matter of time until Omarosa had to get out, as she could not stand what was playing out. Her departure, as discussed in the book’s introduction, appeared not to jive with what POTUS was told. Then again, when has a story ever been clear and concise with Trump involved? Well written for what it is, the reader can take this book with a grain of salt. It is worth noting, though, that there is a balance found within these pages, which seems to substantiate the narrative more than a smearing tell-all, right?

I’ll be the first to admit, the first I had heard of Omarosa was when she appeared on Celebrity Big Brother in the United States. I never had time for The Apprentice or Trump, whatever he was branding, though his jester-like attitude only added to the turn-off. So, when I chose to read this book, I entered with somewhat of a clean slate, as least when it came to the author. Omarosa offers some interesting insight into her life and how she climbed the ladder to become who she was. Her dedication to a man that offered her praise is interesting, though I will be the first to sit here and ask, ‘When you saw the issues, why did you stay quiet?’. The simple answer to that would be to ensure she remained in the ‘inner circle’, as well as her constant theme of ‘Trump loyalty’. That does leave me wondering how long one must sell one’s beliefs and let others trample on them before it is too much. Omarosa counters that life in the Trump Circle is cult-like, with many still under his influence, while those on the outside are gagged and mocked. The theme throughout this piece is surely ‘I should have done better’ and ‘look at the mess from my perspective’. Both valid points, but it does not serve anyone well to sit here and look back, shaking one’s head and seeking pity. Omarosa made decisions and chose to chum with certain individuals. She readily admits that she sold out and chose to turn away from red flags because power was too intoxicating and she felt a need to protect the man. She sits here, penning this book, and slings mud at many people—who deserve the mess—but there is no way that she comes across as clean in the entire disaster. If the reader is to find nuggets of insider information, they must also see that Omarosa willingly sanctioned their use by not standing up. Is this a book filled with sour grapes, as the West Wingers would have us believe? Perhaps there is a degree of that, but there is also something interesting embedded in these pages. The narrative speaks and substantiates things that were rumoured beforehand about Trump and those closest to him. I asked myself throughout, could these comments be simple lies, spun to make Trump look bad, or is there some truth to all of this? Using the buzzword of the Trump presidency, could a number of people who have since left the ‘tent’ be colluding, or is there some merit to what is being said? Is Trump the ass that he is seen to be and does he have misogynistic and racists tendencies? I suppose I will leave that to the reader, though it would seem a little too far-fetched for me to believe that so many people created a fake narrative and kept building on it for their own pleasure. Is this a stunning tell-all piece that readers will devour and find gobs of wonderful gossip? No, not at all. Is it entertaining and thought-provoking? Not really, but it does offer some interesting water cooler conversation about just how troublesome it is to see sexism, racism, and the intended decline of American greatness embodied in one man and those who chose to turn away and justify it as ‘ok, since I can have a place at the table’. As we await the results of the next four to six years in the American political drama, the reader can ask themselves where they stand and what they can expect. I have been berated by those who say I have no right to say anything, as I am not American. To those people, I remind repeatedly that while they are fine having freedoms removed or be bullied for speaking out, I am pleased to have the right to speak my own mind and formulate my own opinions. Ignorance and arrogant behaviour have their place, but I will never sanction them or feel it is acceptable to berate people for speaking for equality, justice, and basic human rights.

Kudos, Madam Manigault Newman, for the interesting piece. While not a stunner, you did sell the point that power makes good people do stupid things and then seek pity for them. I have to ask… who gave you the idea to offer such an ‘interesting’ accent for POTUS in the audio version of this book?

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

Kingdom of the Blind (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #14), by Louise Penny

Eight stars

After a lengthy binge-read of Louise Penny’s spectacular series, I was forced to wait a few weeks for this latest release. The wait was worth it, as Penny continues to impress while building on established story angles. Fans will surely find something with which they can relate in this highly detailed novel. On a cold day in the dead of winter, Chief Superintendent Armand Gamache finds himself searching for a nondescript home. He received a letter from a notary, asking that he attend this location, though cannot make sense of what might be taking place. Gamache soon notices that his longtime friend and fellow Three Pines resident, Myrna Landers, has also been summoned. When a third individual, the eccentric Benedict Pouliot, arrives, things begin to make sense, in a way. All three have been named liquidators—read: executors—of the will of a woman they do not know. While trying to piece together this mystery, the hierarchy of the Sûreté du Québec are working through the major gaffe Gamache facilitated, which is just now reverberating through the streets of Montreal. In order to neutralise a major drug cartel, Gamache permitted a huge supply of opioids onto the streets, including the new carfentanil, which is exponentially more potent than fentanyl. Gamache remains suspended and his eventual permanent demise is a certainty, given time. While Quebec’s Justice Ministry is now involved, it is close to impossible to stay ahead of this, as drugs tend to move at light speed. The Sûreté Academy is rocked when one of its cadets is found with a significant amount of drugs in her room, forcing her immediate expulsion. Gamache knows this woman all too well and wonders if her past experience with street drugs might help him track down the new shipments as they hit the streets. Gamache is staying busy as he tries to peel back the layers on this drug shipment, as well as the details of the will, which poses numerous financial hurdles that span over a century. Soon, all three liquidators can understand their connection to the deceased, though when an immediate relative is found dead inside a collapsed house, questions arise as to who whether there may have been a murder to grease the financial wheels within this family. With all this taking place, needy addicts are turning up marked with ‘DAVID’, though no one seems to know who this could be. Gamache and his second-in-command, Jean Guy Beauvoir, work to piece it all together before more people die at the hands of these new drugs, which may also be the only way for Gamache to save his job. A thrilling addition to the series that will keep Penny fans wanting more. I would highly recommend this book to series fans who have a great handle on the characters and writing style. Readers new to Penny’s series ought to begin where the stories began and progress accordingly.

Those who follow my reviews closely will remember that I recently completed a major Louise Penny binge, reading her entire collection of Gamache novels. I saw a great deal of development in the series, both in the settings—particularly Three Pines—and the characters, especially Armand Gamache, the constant protagonist. Some readers were critical of such a major undertaking, but I found it highly refreshing. Penny places her protagonist in an interesting spot as the novel opens—the head of the entire Sûreté du Québec and yet on active suspension—which enriches the entire reading experience. He seems sure that his past choices related to drugs and the cartels will be vindicated when the bureaucrats see the bigger picture. As usual, Gamache seems unfazed by the trouble that awaits him, content to find a mystery that needs his attention. Gamache is pulled in by this ‘liquidator’ mystery, which takes over much of his time, though the opening with former Cadet Amelia Choquet returning to her life as a drug addict is an interesting subplot that permits the Chief Superintendent a glimpse into the drugs he has permitted to hit the streets. This character struggle is a brilliant angle that Penny adds to the mix of this piece, which enriches his already-strong character. While Jean Guy Beauvoir and Isabelle Lacoste are active throughout the book, their police presence blends in with Gamache’s work, rather than standing out alone. There are references and entire scenes related to the Three Pines residents, though the story takes place out of the community, making these unique and highly entertaining characters more decorative than essential. There are a handful of other characters whose presence help propel the story forward, in true Penny fashion, and offering the reader some wonderful development opportunities. The story is well done and it pulls on both threads left hanging from past novels and new ideas, which serve as a mystery that keeps the narrative moving forward. Penny finds new ideas to entertain and educated the curious reader, as well as showing her great abilities at painting a scene that pulls the reader in and does not let go. While some may have panned the latter part of the series, I cannot offer enough praise for this novel or the entire collection. Penny has a grip on things and there is no sense that it is in trouble, even with more than a dozen novels completed. I cannot wait for more and hope Penny has more ideas over the coming years to keep the characters exciting for all. Her acknowledgement section is worth a read for those who have followed the series, as Penny reveals an interesting tidbit.

Kudos, Madam Penny, for allowing me to be fully committed throughout. This is a series I will not soon forget or regret!

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