Skyjack (Thea Paris #2), by K.J. Howe

Nine stars

K.J. Howe brings just as much excitement in this follow-up novel as her debut brought curious readers! Without a doubt, this piece keeps the reader’s attention through to the final page flip while packing a punch throughout. This goes to show that she is not a one-hit wonder and will likely make a name for herself for years to come. After securing the adoption of two young African boys with a London family, Thea Paris is flying with Ayan and Jabari to their new home. Trying to explain what to expect in the United Kingdom, Paris realises that these two know only the life of being child soldiers, but hopes this new beginning helps let them be children again. When the plane on which they are travelling is skyjacked, Thea is forced to go into work mode, trained as a kidnap and ransom negotiator with Quantum International Security. As events unfold upon their landing in the Libyan desert, Thea discovers that the group responsible has their eye on one particular passenger, but will not elaborate. Thea negotiates the release of the passengers, but only if she will make her way to Turkey and secure a transport vehicle for the hijackers. Baffled, Thea agrees to do whatever she can to help, especially if it means she can get to London and save these boys from more devastation. Meanwhile, Austrian teen Johann Dietrich comes to learn that his father heads up an ultra-nationalist group that seeks to rid the world of Arabs the world over, blaming them for a handful of recent terror attacks. Armed with this knowledge, Johann goes through channels to reach Thea Paris, hoping she can properly synthesise what is to come and the fallout. Johann tries to make his way to Turkey, but is not alone, and the results could be disastrous. WIth the passengers still being held hostage and armed with this news, Thea pieces together what is going on and how all of Europe could be in danger, if she does not act swiftly. Howe keeps the reader on the edge of their seat through to the final chapter in this sensational second thriller with a unique spin. Recommended for those who love the fast pace of hostage rescue with a political bent.

I remember reading Howe’s debut and being very impressed, not only with the writing style, but the unique angle she took when it came to kidnap thrillers. Her personal experiences are not only helpful in pulling factual information and weaving it into the story, but there is surely some of Howe in Paris’ character. Thea Paris is a tough-as-nails woman who takes her job seriously. Her compassion comes through in an attempt to get her young charges to London, but she is also full of determination when negotiating the release of hostages. The reader will surely latch onto her early in this piece, particularly if they have the backstory of the debut novel. Thea surrounds herself with some of the world’s best at Quantum, leaving the reader to see others who are well-versed in security and human extraction, all while trying to limit the bloodshed. The handful of other characters, from passengers to those promoting terror, all play their essential role in this piece, which keeps the story moving forward. The narrative and larger plot are both highly digestible and the attentive reader will find themselves engrossed with both as the pages fly by. Easily read in a few sittings, Howe shows that her ability to convey intense information flows smoothly. Of particular interest is the sub-plot about Arab extermination, specially the parallels that Howe makes with Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’ of the Jews. The reader can see that this is a plausible plan by some ultra-nationalist groups, particularly with the massive numbers of displaced individuals around Europe, though I am sure it could just as easily happen on other continents. Full of realistic situations backed up with intricate knowledge of goings-on, Howe’s novel is not only a must read, but will keep the reader thinking long after turning that final page.

Kudos, Madam Howe, for another strong novel. I love your ideas and presentation, hoping that Thea Paris has the energy to stick it out for a long time to come.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:


Overkill (Hawke #10), by Ted Bell

Seven stars

There is something about Ted Bell’s work that has me returning each time a new piece has been published. He touches on electrifying aspects of espionage mixed with humour that I find highly captivating, but there remains a constant irritation on my part with some of the dialogue and character interactions throughout many of these tales. While spending time with his son in Switzerland, Lord Alex Hawke is keen to see what progress Alexei has made at ski school. Riding up to a mountain peak in a gondola could not be more peaceful, especially on Christmas Day, but tragedy strikes when the cable snaps and the machine crashes. Scrambling to get help, Hawke ensures that his son is alive and makes sure that Alexei is put on one of the medical helicopters headed for a local hospital. However, when Hawke arrives for medical updates, there is no sign of Alexei or record that he ever made it to the hospital. Hawke assumes the worst and assembles his closest friends to help him find the Hawke heir, worried that he has been kidnapped. Meanwhile, a plane carrying the Russian President goes down in rural France. Based on the wreckage, it would appear President Putin has perished, news that spreads quickly through new agencies worldwide. However, many know that news can be faked to serve the source! Putin is alive, though has decided to ‘rough it’ and stay off the radar. He reaches out to an unexpected source, Joseph ‘Uncle Joe’ Stalingrad, and seeks assistance to devise a plan. Sure that there are those in Russia who are trying to see his downfall, Putin enacts Operation: Overkill, which will see him rise to power and destroy all his enemies, including those ruthless oligarchs within the Kremlin. While Lord Hawke continues to search for his son, tidbits of news reach him that leave him to believe that his once friend, Putin, is not only alive, but may also have orchestrated Alexei’s kidnapping. Lord Hawke will stop at nothing to bring Alexei back to safety, though is unaware that Overkill may have massive consequences that cost him more than he could have predicted. Bell weaves this energetic tale in his signature fashion, peppering the story with familiar and new characters to keep the story fresh. Recommended for those who enjoy Alex Hawke’s pompous nature and ability to drum up a decent bit of espionage with international thrills.

Ted Bell has a wonderful gift with his writing and is able to bring a story home with ease, even if I find some of the ideas far-fetched and the characters irritating. As I listened to the book, I gave this much thought and concluded that some of the irritants could arise from Bell’s past work writing for a soap opera, as I find certain plots cheesy and dialogue overly stuffy. Still, there is much worthy of the reader’s time in this novel. Those familiar with the series will know that Lord Alex Hawke is a complex man who is the modern incarnation of James Bond. His allure to the opposite sex and ability to fight anyone barehanded make him an interesting character and one the reader might enjoy. There are crumbs of a more recent backstory in this piece, as well as flashbacks to Hawke’s work with Putin in previous novels. Bell keeps Hawke on a similar path, striving to find his son and stopping at nothing to bring that about, even if it means killing the likes of Putin. There are some interest returning characters who, in their own way, help add depth and accentuate the traits of Hawke throughout this novel. From a prim and proper valet to a life-long friend who worked for Scotland Yard, and even the carefree Floridian who is happy to rush out and help, Bell has crafted these characters effectively over the ten full novels and various shorter pieces, many of whom develop on par with Hawke. There are surely some newer faces that grace the pages of Bell’s latest book, villains and heroes alike. Bell takes literary freedom and injects humour when needed to keep the reader from getting too bogged down. The premise of the story is decent and Bell effectively weaves a tale that mixes love with violent determination. The reader is taken down a few rabbit holes to get to the final standoff, pitting Hawke against those whose evil cannot be easily defined. Bell works his magic to suspend reality while also keeping the story grounded and plausible. I’ll likely stick with these novels when they are published, but cannot shake some of the annoyance that comes to the surface when I read them.

Kudos, Mr. Bell, for another great novel. I enjoy what you do in your writing and hope you can tap into the current world sentiment with your novels, which always spin things and keep the reader wondering.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Courtney’s War (Courtney #17), by Wilbur Smith and David Churchill

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Wilbur Smith, David Churchill, and Bonnier Zaffre USA for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

After a few novels in the Courtney saga proved to be complete duds, I was pleased to see Wilbur Smith team up with David Churchill and returned things to the 20th century, where the series has flourished. In the Spring of 1939, young love is blossoming between Saffron Courtney and Gerhard von Meerbach. Highly educated and politically savvy, both Saffron and Gerhard can feel the tides turning in Europe and anticipate the Nazis will begin their push through Europe, triggering another massive war. After spending time in Paris, these young lovers must part, vowing to find one another as soon as possible. Fast-forward to 1942, where Saffron Courtney is deeply embedded into ‘Baker Street’, a covert group led by a handful of British spies. Her goal will be to infiltrate the National Socialist movement in Belgium and the Netherlands, with hopes of learning Nazi news that can be fed back to the Allies. Meanwhile, Gerhard has become a valuable asset to the Germans, working in the air during the Battle of Stalingrad, shooting down any Russian plane that dares get too close. During one flyover, Gerhard sees some of the atrocities being done to large portions of the Jewish community, only later learning that it is the Final Solution ramping up. Vowing to himself to bring down the Nazis, Gerhard must carefully destroy the political machine without being caught, with a brother who is fully engaged in the Nazi movement and smells a rat. As Saffron returns to the African continent to help build her backstory, she spends some time with family and renews old acquaintances, only to be pulled away and sent to Belgium. Her actions may not be as covert as she hoped, but she can hope to remain one step ahead of the Germans hunting her down. With the War reaching its climax, both Saffron and Gerhard will have to work hard to return Europe to its proper course, though Nazis are ruthless and are happy to scrub out anyone who does not respect the Reich’s power. Brilliant in its delivery and full of wonderful storylines, Smith and Churchill show that this is one saga to which dedicated readers can return with pride. Recommended for those who love the Courtneys in all their glory.

It was a difficult decision to choose this book, having been so disheartened by some of the recent novels in this saga. That said, I had to tell myself that those novels that took things onto the high seas many generations ago were part of a sub-series that never caught my attention. With some of my favourite characters and 20th century history mixed together, I knew that Wilbur Smith (alongside his writing companion, David Churchill) should get the benefit of the doubt. This is a return to the great Courtney stories and the reader should find it easy to glide into the comfort of familiar names (had they read much of the previous novels) while finding the plot riveting and eager to comprehend. Saffron Courtney remains a strong, independent woman who, even though she is madly in love, finds little issue with remaining grounded and able to make snap decisions. She has become a powerhouse character in previous novels and only grows more likeable and independent-minded here. Her tactics will likely have the reader cheering her on as she makes her way through early 1940s Europe in an age where women were still not given their due. Gerhard von Meerbach proves to be as interesting as he is cocky, though some of that is surely a ruse as he hides within the Nazis in order to bring them down. He is strong-willed, as is seen throughout and particularly in the last segment of the book, always hoping that he will be reunited with the woman he loves. While there may be an imbalance in that love between the two characters, the reader can surely feel the connection throughout the parallel plots as they develop. The story itself is strong and uses Second World War history and some of the less familiar angles to keep things from becoming too predictable. Saffron’s seeking to penetrate the Nazis is as intriguing as it is unpredictable, while Gerhard seems more passive in his attempts to weaken the military might for which he fights. The handful of worthwhile secondary characters do well to push the story forward, particularly as to go to either support or suppress our aforementioned protagonists. I can only hope that the reader will see some of the vilification that I did throughout the book, from actual Nazi officers as well as those who support National Socialism in other domains. The narrative kept a good pace, giving the reader action throughout. However, with unnumbered, lengthy chapters, some segments seemed to stretch out without that literary breath that invigorates a stellar story. Let’s be glad the Courtneys are back in fine form.

Kudos, Messrs. Smith and Churchill, for returning the Courtney saga to its rightful place with a strong novel. I can only hope this will continue, as you boasted, Mr. Smith, in your recently published memoir that you loves this series with all your heart.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

Nine stars

I may be a little late getting to the party, but when I crafted the topic for my reading challenge that handled books that have an associated movie/television programme, I knew this would be the perfect fit. I chose to binge watch the first two seasons of the show and then dive into the book. It opens that age-old dilemma of comparative medium, but permitted me to draw stronger parallels between them, as well as offer a book review as soon as I turned the final page. Margaret Atwood’s novel has been resurrected (pun intended) over the last few years, particularly because of the television programme, but also some of her cultural foreboding with the rise of an America under the auspices of a power-hungry group of men who would write and interpret the rules as they saw fit. As the reader discovers early on, the book is a perspective piece written by Offred, a handmaid, one of the new classes of women in Gilead. This country is the dystopian near-future America after a second Civil War, whose laws are strongly tied to biblical teachings. The upper echelon is a male collective, known as Commanders, who rule each household and meet as a council to make decisions for the larger community. Each commander has a wife, though these women are either barren or past the stage of fertility, thus introducing the importance of the handmaid. She is, for lack of a better word, a fertile vessel to ensure that future generations can be born within the country. Offred sheds light on the horrid act of attempted conception, which is lost in the written narrative, but the television show makes all the more graphic. Offred describes how each girl was stripped of her name before being taken in as a handmaid and given a moniker that speaks of her dependence to the commander of her household. They are denoted by their long, red dresses and ‘winged headgear’, quite puritanical, particularly when seen on-screen. As the story progresses, the reader learns of the inculcation these women receive to be the best possible handmaids and not to stray from the teachings of the Council, which suppresses women and their rights to the point of making any reading by a woman to be an ultimate sin. These teachings are primarily led by a steel-willed matron, Aunt Lydia. Many handmaids seek to flee, looking North to Canada, but those who are unsuccessful face brutal punishment at the hands of those responsible for keeping the girls in line. Life in Gilead is anything but bucolic, though Offred does offer a glimpse of hope that somehow, some way, she will escape and try to build a life safely away from the country that metamorphosed before her. A brilliant piece of social commentary by Atwood years before things began going extremely sour, it is surely a must-read for those who are curious about all the hype. I’d strongly recommend reading the book and watching the programme, which branches off into new and interesting pathways, furthering the thought processes.

There is so much that could be said about the book and television interpretation, though I wish not to spoil it for anyone who remains on the outside, as I did for too long. I admit, it is difficult for me to divorce this book from the television programme that continues to build, as well as from the puritanical and punitive measures being taken in the modern America, though I readily admit that Atwood’s novel stands well on its own. It seeks to depict a world that is both forward moving and yet reaching backwards to right itself, as though the leaders of Gilead joined in a chorus of ‘Make America Great Again’, much before they could Tweet on their pocket computers. Exploring the characters of this novel, Atwood places Offred front and centre, depicting the world that she sees while offering flashbacks to a world that existed before much of the dramatic overhaul, including memories of her family. Offred, a woman of thirty-three, has much insight and backstory, as well as development while ‘caged’ in her red dress and winged headgear. She, as well as many of the other handmaids, put a new flavour of teenage rebellion into the piece, offering up a mind that is strong enough to know they do not like what is happening but not fully able to push back and forge a unique path. Atwood creates many symbols for her handmaids, tying them inextricably to their commanders, but also to one another and the household, as if the are an essential cog in the wheel. While I am not one to dig for symbolism in all that I read, I could not ignore the narrator’s moniker serving two purposes: Of-fred , denoting her tie to Commander Fred Waterford, and Off-red, speaking of her desire to push away from the role (read: red dress) she is forced to master. Other characters within the novel offer up interesting glimpses into the larger Gilead, as well as some personal struggles faced by those who live in this newly washed land. Be they serving a role or preaching new truths, Atwood places each one in a spot of prominence to give the reader something to digest with each turned page. Perhaps the most curious of character interactions can be said to be that of Offred and Commander Waterford, seen from many angles and with various emotional results. The story is hard to explore, as it is both a journey and a personal collective of thoughts and sentiments. As Offred discusses mid-way through the book, these are her depictions of events and told through a storyteller’s eyes, whereby facts and circumstances are omitted, while delivering a version of events. For those who have seen the television programme, much more detail is offered and the story’s thread is stronger with tangential happenings. However, as a baseline, Atwood gives the readers enough on which to chew so as to pass their own judgment about Gilead and its dystopic existence. The narrative tells a true story and one that each reader can interpret themselves. I found the mix of book and television programme to be the ultimate treat to better seeing the new America in all its glory. I admit, had Atwood written a series of novels about this, I would likely read them all, but I am just as happy to indulge in the on-screen interpretations of events and branch-offs to deliver the knockout punch that I so enjoy at the end of each hour. One final thought on the subject. Has Atwood offered strong foreboding about what is to come in America? Likely not, at least in its current state of affairs. While there surely has been some verbal and physical beating back of opposition, current American leadership (even donning their Russian marionette strings) could never execute a plan as thoroughly conniving as depicted in here. It takes a lot more than two typing thumbs and radical racism to bring about a revolution at the top. From the bottom… let’s see what 2020 has in store!

Kudos, Madam Atwood, for this thought-provoking piece. I hope many who, like me, have not taken the time to read and/or watch what you laid out so effectively will do so and add fuel to the discussion about all topics on offer.

This book fulfills Topic #4: Gateway Reading for the Equinox #4 Reading Challenge.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Every Fifteen Minutes, by Lisa Scottoline

Eight stars

Although I have never read the work of Lisa Scottoline, when a friend requested that I buddy read this book, I jumped at the opportunity. I came into this piece free from influence or expectations, but have come to feel strongly about the author’s work. Dr. Eric Parrish is the Head of Psychiatry at a rural Pennsylvania hospital, juggling a busy patient load on the ward, as well as in a private practice. When he is called down to the Emergency Department, he meets Max Jakubowski, a teenager who has been carrying much guilt on his shoulders while caring for his terminally ill grandmother. Eric sees something in Max that could benefit from some psychiatric intervention and encourages the young man to see him to chat, if not for private therapy. When Max calls to set-up the appointment, Eric jumps at the opportunity, though it seems as though the young man wants a quick fix with meds. Eric is also trying to juggle a recent separation from his wife and the strains this is putting on his relationship with Hannah, his young daughter. After a series of events put both Eric and Max in the crosshairs of the police and media outlets, things take a serious turn for the worse. Trying to keep himself level-headed, Eric reaches out to help Max as best he can, though it would seem something new pops up every fifteen minutes to derail the stability both need so badly. Interspersed with chapters told in a first-person narrative about someone’s self-diagnosis with sociopathic tendencies, the story gains momentum with each page. Scottoline has penned a winner here, as it keeps the reader fully engaged until the very end, with an ending that comes out of left field. Recommended for those who love a good thriller that mixes legal, medical, and police matters into one culminating story the reader will likely not be able to put down.

As I mentioned above, I came into this buddy read blind and hoped for the best. Scottoline delivered a strong story that kept me going as I trudged deeper into the story, full of twists and unexpected developments. Dr. Eric Parrish proves to be a wonderful protagonist, whose backstory is constantly being shaped by commentary and flashbacks. This serves to provide the reader with the needed insight to better understand his actions moving forward, as he deals with the many issues on his personal radar. Max remains an elusive character, whose emotions appear genuine and whose self-discovery is stunted by a veil of obsessive compulsive actions. As Eric and Max work together, the reader can see a strong bond that is created, though there remain mysterious cracks between them that cannot be repaired with ease. The remaining characters serve to accentuate the personality traits of the two central characters, some offering stronger support than others. Scottoline knows how to develop characters without crowding the story with a number of names to confuse the reader. The strong remains strong and serves to inform as well as entertain the reader, never losing its way as the chapters flow towards the culmination of the final reveal. With plots that grip the reader and force them to ask for more, Scottoline controls the narrative effectively, particularly that sociopath narrative, which leaves the reader wondering.

Kudos, Madam Scottoline, for this sensational read. I am sure to return and poke around to see what else you have written, perhaps even a full-on series that I can enjoy in the coming months.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Operation Wormwood, by Helen C. Escott

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Helen C. Escott and Flanker Press Limited for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

After being approached by the author to read this novel, I was curious. It was only when I read that it was set in Canada that I knew I had to give this—and a Canadian author—a try, in hopes that it would prove to be a successful undertaking. Escott offers up a gripping story, set in the capital city of Canada easternmost province, Newfoundland and Labrador. When the Roman Catholic Archbishop of the province is admitted to the hospital with a handful of symptoms, Dr. Luke Gillespie is baffled as to what it might be. A bleeding nose that comes from nowhere and cannot be stopped, extreme pain, and a sensation that the taste of water is extremely bitter, to mention only a few of these random symptoms. After running a number of tests, Dr. Gillespie discounts all of the expected diagnoses that seem to fit, which only causes him to become more befuddled. When Sergeant Nicholas Myra of the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary arrives to interview the Archbishop, Gillespie is brought in on a theory the police have been floating, that this illness is isolated to those who have committed a form of pedophilia. More patients soon arrive with similar symptoms, leading Gillespie to wonder if there is an epidemic around St. John’s and if Myra’s theory might have merit. Soon, it becomes clear that this epidemic stretches outside of St. John’s and may have cases all across Canada, something an eager priest wants to share through media sources. It would seem that some of those who are afflicted know one another and call this ‘disease’ Wormwood, from a passage in the Book of Revelations. Digging deeper along the medical and legal angles, Gillespie and Myra work to ascertain how only certain individuals are being targeted and who might be behind this Wormwood, human or otherwise. Time is running out, though some may be just as happy to let nature take its course in a cruel form of survival of the worthiest. Escott pens this wonderful thriller with all the needed ingredients to hook the reader from the opening pages. Highly recommended for those who love a mix of legal and medical thrillers with a religious flavouring to keep the suspense at its most intense.

As Escott admits in her dedication, this work was a decade in the making, leaving me to believe that she spent much time honing her skills in an attempt to provide the reader with the best possible product. She surpasses many of my expectations for this novel and has me very excited to share this piece with other eager readers. Readers are able to learn much about both protagonists, Luke Gillespie and Nicholas Myra throughout this novel, as their backstories are developed effectively throughout the narrative. Coming from completely different backgrounds, both men bring different skills to the table that help propel the story forward and provide the reader with much insight as their character development thickens with each passing page. The handful of other characters offer pieces necessary to move the story forward, particularly some of the darker aspects of the story that the reader will discover upon taking the time to enjoy this novel. Escott builds these characters effectively and pulls no punches with their flaws, which only helps enhance an already strong narrative. The story itself is powerful, mixing the law and religion’s hold over the masses, as well as how to handle those who have committed grievous sin, such as pedophilia. There is much made not only of the abuse of children, but also the decades-old taint the Church has had in relation to this. Additionally, Escott brings in a discussion of Indigenous populations and the abuse they suffered, only to have their pleas ignored as not being credible. The reader need not worry about Catholic inculcation, though the biblical references are important to better understand some of the key arguments and stereotypical sentiments lobbied at the Church. Escott knows how to push without shoving and discuss without preaching, leaving a larger cross-section of readers willing to give this novel a try. I’m sure to pass this title along to anyone who is looking for a strong piece of Canadian fiction that can be digested in short order.

Kudos, Madam Escott, for a wonderful piece. I hope you have more novel ideas in the works, for I am ready to queue up to read whatever else you have on offer.

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

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Private #1 Suspect (Private #2), by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

Six stars

There are times that a reader will find themselves trying to get into a novel or even a short story, but cannot seem to get a handle. It could be poorly developed characters, a weak plot, or even an audiobook narrator that sucks the life from a wonderful opportunity. While many will shelve the book or write a horrid review, I thought it a good time to test the theory that sometimes coming back to something could save it from an eternity on a DNF shelf. Here is my effort of a James Patterson book that started my jaded view of his writing and mass-publication for the sake of making money. Jack Morgan returns from a trip to Europe, tired and ready to sleep. After a quick shower, he makes his way to bed, only to find a body. It is that of his former flame, bloodied and garrotted. While he knows he could not have killed her, the police keep an eye on Morgan, who seems to be acting slightly off. Meanwhile, Private HQ is being flooded by calls for cases, including from a hotel owner who has discovered numerous bodies in her chain of hotels across California. Additionally someone carjacked a shipment of narcotics from Las Vegas, a case on which Private would not normally work, but Morgan’s had a chit called in. Struggling to put the pieces together with these cases might be the distraction Jack Morgan needs, but it will not replace that ache in his heart, as the killer remains free and in the shadows. A decent output by Patterson and Paetro, though it remains one that has not captivated me, which begs the question why I kept devouring the books in this series.

I have mentioned before, I am not a fan of some of these new series that Patterson has glued together with co-authors, for I find them to lack a really strong foundation. This was, again, one of those books. I admit, I read because of the Patterson name, though I rarely go into a book assuming that it is going to be stellar (I let his Alex Cross, Women’s Murder Club, and Michael Bennett woo me that way). This was a mediocre book, but somewhat worth the time I spent. Having read all the books in the series, I must take a giants step back and forget much of what I know about the characters found herein. Jack Morgan has become a super boss in later books, but here, he was still that vulnerable fairly new head of Private. He is not the gritty man I have come to enjoy, nor does he receive much of the accolades from others around him. The rest of the team seemed to fit nicely into this story, though I felt that there were too many of them active and more cases than should have been combined in a single book to keep proper track of them all. As I did the first time around, I simply felt the whole book was less than interesting, but will elevate my star rating to three (of five). It could be that I set the bar too high (see above series preferences), but it is now the label of JAMES PATTERSON that has this on the bestseller’s list, I fear, not its content. As many of you know, I coined the phrase James Patterson Syndrome, and this may have been an early novel that helped me form the diagnosis.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Paetro, for this early novel in the series. I am still not sure I liked it, but there have been some interesting follow-up novels that span far reaches of the world.

This book fulfills Topic #2: Still Tepid? for the Equinox #4 Reading Challenge.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Don’t Drink the Water: The Year of Short Stories, by Jeffrey Archer

Nine stars

Master storyteller Lord Jeffrey Archer has chosen to please his fans with a new venture; a short story released each month. Those familiar with Archer’s work will know that he can not only spin long and involved pieces, but also the short story that compacts adventure into a handful of pages. I recently received my August story and could not wait to get started. Richard Barnsley is an astute businessman with strong ties in Russia. When the chance to solidify a major deal crosses his path, Richard is not about to let it slip through his fingers, with a senior member of the Cabinet and the Russian President prepared to attend the signing ceremony. Back in England, Barnsley discovers that his wife of many years has apparently decided to file for divorce, thought she has not come out to tell him. Worried about the entire situation, Barnsley agrees to take his wife on his business trip to Russia. He purposely fails to let her know that the local water is not potable and that she need only consume the bottled variety on offer. Barnsley also concocts an elaborate scheme to ensure her bottled water is always replaced with that which flows from the tap, thereby ensuring her demise. While sightseeing, Richard’s wife comes down with something, leaving her achy and feverish. Might this be the ultimate act to ensure no division of assets at divorce? Only time will tell, as long as no one drinks the water! Archer pens yet another wonderful story, keeping the reader thinking and the story flowing through to its final zinger. Recommended for those who love a good Archer short story or any reader who needs something to fill a little time in their day!

Lord Jeffrey Archer’s work is always full of unique perspectives, be they complete novels or shorter story such as this one. I am so pleased to have come across this collection and have reviewed each story based on its own merits. Now I await each instalment on a monthly basis, I can hope to find gems amidst all the reading I undertake each year. This was definitely one of the more exciting pieces I have read of late, pitting a man who refuses to lose anything against an unsuspecting wife who wants nothing more than to enjoy herself on holiday. Told in an interesting way that prefaces the piece with a version of events that makes Archer the story’s actual narrator, the reader is treated to something quite intriguing through to the very end of this story. The characters proves interesting and the story flowed well, as Archer is prone to ensure it does in his shorter pieces. Archer is able to impress and entertain in equal measure, something that is rare in the pieces I have come across over the last number of years. I have enjoyed all these stories and am eager for the next turn of the calendar, when I can be assured yet another gen.

Kudos, Lord Archer, for a masterful new story collection. How you find so many effective ideas that produce high quality publications I will never know.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Summer Before the War, by Helen Simonson

Seven stars

I admit that when I helped craft this topic in my ongoing book challenge, it was the most difficult for me to complete, as few books I know actively take place during a single season and highlight that fact. Once I flipped through my library’s offerings and came upon this piece by Helen Simonson, I knew I had a winner. Mix the quaintness of an English village with the impending thunder of the Great War and Simonson has a recipe for an interesting and highly tangential novel. The bucolic town of Rye, England is precisely what it appears to be. Nestled away from the big city, it is home to a community that is tightly woven together, yet keep away from the big city stresses. However, when the school requires a new Latin teacher, the scholastic gap might as well be an endless abyss. It may be the summer of 1914, but no child should be without a chance to expand their knowledge, or so the sentiment appears to be. When Agatha Kent locates the perfect candidate, she seeks to knock down many of the walls Rye has built around itself, while permitting her also to push forth her women’s rights agenda. Beatrice Nash arrives to take the post, having just lost her father and life-long mentor. While Nash is young, she has all the credentials and Agatha is sure that the school’s board will not be able to turn her down. As Nash settles into her new home, she is surrounded by townsfolk, all of whom have their own perspectives of what life is like and how the greater world should react to the potential war about to burst onto the European scene. Plunging into her work, Nash soon learns that she may have bitten off more than she can chew, as Rye is anything but the peaceful town she might have expected, and things are just getting started. Simonson does a masterful job of mixing humour, politics, and early twentieth century English ways of life in this novel that captivates as it entertains. Recommended to those who enjoy something a little lighter, but still full of heavy political and social issues, all peppered with humorous undertones.

Having never read Helen Simonson before, I was unsure what I ought to expect or if this would be the ideal book for my current reading challenge. I came to see that it strays far from what I might be used to reading, but definitely hit the spot and opened my eyes to a new and promising author. Beatrice Nash is surely more than the next Latin teacher, something she exhibits through her forward personality and stern scholastic manner. She must, however, try to fit into this small-town mentality without letting herself go mad. Nash exhibits some interesting characteristics, all of which come to the surface as she interacts with many of the townsfolk in Rye. The numerous secondary characters prove to be highly entertaining and offer a wonderful flavour of what the reader can expect throughout, engaging one another on many topics from local charitable ventures to the suffrage movement and even into politics of the Great War through Belgian Refugee Relief. Simonson delves deep to provide a wonderful cross-section of society and forces them all to subsist in a goldfish bowl, while the reader watches. The story is a mix of social commentary, dry wit, and even some political sentiment, which propels the reader to see World War I through the eyes of a small English community, something that might be foreign to many who pick-up this book. It is by opening one’s mind—as the townspeople must do for Nash—that the truth can seep in and shape the future for all.

Kudos, Madam Simonson, for this delightful book. I was so pleased to have taken a risk on it and hope many others will read it for themselves.

This book fulfills Topic #6: The Current Season/Equiniox for the Equinox #4 Reading Challenge.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Snow: A Prequel Short Story (Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov #0.5), by Stuart M. Kaminsky

Seven stars

Needing a quick short story to tide me over, I chose Stuart M. Kaminsky’s prequel short story from the Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov series. Knowing nothing of these novels, I entered this piece without any preconceived notions. During a heavy Moscow snowfall, newly minted Officer Porfiry Petrovich Rostnikov and his superior are in search of a baby. Having visited a crime scene in a Moscow apartment, Rostnikov and Inspector Luminiov noticed a still-warm crib close to a recently murdered woman, leading them to believe that someone has a little one. With the snow close to blinding, Rostnikov and Luminiov locate a man atop another building, carrying what appears to be a bundle. Rostnikov uses his wit and gift of calm speech to bring the man’s defences down, if only to save the baby before something dire can take place. With Luminiov and a gathering crowd waiting, one can only hope that this new recruit has it in him to help the situation, not add to the body count of this winter night. An interesting story that, should I continue on with the series, will likely prove poignant in helping me build a larger understand of the character who will rise through the ranks of the Moscow Police Department. For now, a neutral recommendation, as the story was too short to really point me towards any particular group of readers.

I admit that I have not read any Kaminsky before this piece, which can sometimes be a good thing, keeping me from being influenced one way or the other. Interestingly enough, I could find no mention of this book on any sites (such as Goodreads), so I am at a loss to really understand if this was a lost story or one embedded into a larger collection of short pieces by many authors. All the same, Kaminsky does have a good grasp on how to lure the reader in and lays the groundwork for what looks to be an interesting series. Rostnikov may be a young officer, but he has a history, as yet not fully understood. His leg injury at the hands of a Nazi tank is likely one that has more play in another piece, but it does show his roughened exterior and ability to survive, making the most of what he has. The brevity of the story leaves little time for any other characters to shine during this snowfall, but the minute portions of character development on offer suits the story well. Meagre folks who remain nosy but not willing to help pepper the short piece and help shape part of the setting’s despair and lack of caring. The story itself is decent, though it almost seems as though Kaminsky needed somewhere for his long-standing protagonist to begin and chose this piece to flesh it all out. I am not sure if I’d rush out to binge this series, but I will surely keep it in mind when I am looking for something new and perhaps a little different from my usual reading fare.

Kudos, Mr. Kaminsky, for this interesting piece. It served the purpose I had (needing a short story) and has me slightly intrigued, but I am not dazzled just yet!

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

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: