The Earthquake Doll: Revised Edition, by Candace Williams

Eight stars

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

Having been approached by the author with a revised version of her book, I was intrigued to see what I might find and how the reading experience might shape my views on the subject she presents. Miyoko was a young girl when the Emperor declared that Japan had surrendered in the war. What would become of her family and her blessed country? As the story moves ahead seven years, Miyoko is now a teenager and seeking work. Her best option is serving as a nanny on an America military base, where she can make some money and help develop her English. She is not the only Japanese girl to do this, though the culture shock may be a little more than she expected. Hired to work with an American family, Miyoko makes a connection to the children she minds—David and Tina—as well as some of the other nannies, all while her own personal life develops. Promised her hand in marriage, Miyoko seeks to live a less traditional life and one more akin to what the Americans have brought to Japan. Still, she wants to provide the children she watches with a little lesson in Japanese culture as well, presenting them with an earthquake doll, which might be considered a tradition version of the modern ‘bobblehead’. Its body is firmly grounded with a head that bounces, used to detect tremors in the earth. With the onset of American involvement in Korea, the region is again beset by fighting and war, which will surely force Japan to choose sides, thrusting its citizens into a position of being the ally of one group and the foe of another. As Miyoko grows, she experiences many an earthquake, both literal and figurative, pushing her to become her own earthquake doll, sounding the alarm while remaining firmly rooted. Williams presents an interesting piece that is full of symbolism and cultural themes, while still being very easy to read. Recommended to those who enjoy something rich in history and full of imagery.

I was pleasantly surprised to have the author approach me, hoping that I would test the waters with the revised version of her book. I had not read the original, so I cannot draw parallels between the two, but thoroughly enjoyed my reading experience. Miyoko was quite the protagonist, offering insight into the life of a young Japanese girl who has witnessed a significant change in her country since the send of the Second World War. She is tied down to the traditions of her family and culture, but also has come to taste the new and exciting life that American presence in Japan has brought to pass. She struggles with both, but is happy to indulge a little if only to help shape her. Williams’ use of the earthquake doll to represent this new Miyoko was brilliant and the attentive reader will find a great deal of symbolism therein. Other characters serve to complement Miyoko effectively, as well as flavour the narrative effectively. Both Japanese and American influences are strong throughout, helping to create a complexity to the novel that shows the various struggles taking place. The story was well-paced and the chapters short, which proved effectively in this instance. Williams admits to drawing on her own experiences as a child who grew up on a military base in Japan, which only enriches the narrative even more. The addition of numerous Japanese words helps education the reader as they make their way through the piece. Williams has done well with this piece and I hope she can market the story to lure in many fans and new readers, both of whom will likely not be disappointed.

Kudos, Madam Williams, for a great introduction to your work. I will try some more, if only to contrast and compare with some of your other ideas.

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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Take it Back, by Kia Abdullah

Seven stars

Kia Abdullah pens this controversial legal thriller that will have readers pulled into the role of courtroom spectator in a rape case that could go either way, depending on who is to be believed. When Jodie Wolfe enters a women’s legal clinic, she has quite the story to tell. Meeting with Zara Kaleel, Jodie shares a story of being gang raped by a number of her fellow classmates at a recent party. Jodie, physically disabled with neurofibromatosis—a significant facial deformity—asserts that she was lured to a warehouse by four Muslim boys, where they took turns degrading her, laughing the entire time. Zara, armed with this information, begins the process by reporting it to the police, hoping that she can find justice for her client. The accused boys deny that there was any rape and one asserts that it was Jodie who came on to him, only regretting the act after it had taken place. When the incident is ready for trial, there is a media feeding frenzy, pitting the word of one Caucasian girl against the four boys, which fans the flames of racial imbalance in the United Kingdom. At trial, both sides present strong cases, though the narrative differs greatly. Zara is tried in the court of public opinion for helping to prosecute fellow Muslims, which brings shame to her family, but she remains firm that the truth must come out. With Jodie’s story soon developing holes, it is anyone’s guess who is to be believed and whose story is stitched together by last-second fabrications to save face. Justice may be blind, but it certainly is swayed by human influence, as can be seen throughout this piece. Abdullah keeps the reader stunned as they await the outcome, where the truth will offer some solace. Recommended to those who love a slowly developing legal thriller that has more twists than straightforward answers.

I had seen much about this book on Goodreads and wanted to indulge in what looked to be quite the legal thriller. While there is so much on which the attentive reader can feast, there are times when the pace drowned the momentum, rather than increasing it. Jodie Wolfe comes from unenviable means, which is seen throughout this piece. Her physical deformity is one that cannot be hidden, as is the lack of popularity she suffers because of it. She claims to have been a victim, but no one can believe that her appearance would make anyone sexually aroused in the least. Abdullah addresses this throughout in a variety of ways, as the attentive reader will see. While she holds firm to her narrative, the revelation of new and troubling evidence could put the entire case in jeopardy, forcing Jodie to come face to face with holding back the entire truth. Other characters, particularly Zara Kaleel, offer their own flavour to the story. Kaleel must face the issue of law over religious unity, something that not only creates a pariah out of her, but serves as an interesting subplot to the entire piece. Abdullah fills the pages of the book with this struggle, judged in the harshest way, to show that there are time when the truth must come out, no matter what the personal consequences that accompany it. The story was strong and offered some interesting nuances for the reader to discover. There are societal issues that are deeply rooted, as well as cultural norms that fuel the underlying momentum of the press coverage, neither of which is all that helpful. That Abdullah wishes to covey this is worth noting, at a time when quick generalisations fuel opinions, and cultural beliefs come into conflict with firmly held judicial and societal norms. While the story worked well, it was encased in massive chapters that helped dilute the impact. Abdullah might have kept the reader’s attention better with shorter and choppier segments, as she does break up the perspective throughout within each of the chapters. The premise is strong and I was eager to see how things could play out, with many subplots to keep the reader engaged and intrigued.

Kudos, Madam Abdullah, for this thrilling piece. A few tweaks and I would have been thoroughly captivated.

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

Court of Killers (Daniel Pike #2), by William Bernhardt

Eight stars

The latest novel from William Bernhardt is sure to intrigue many, as he mixes a strong legal thriller with some underlying societal issues. Daniel Pike is happy to still be working with his ensemble of legal minds. When a new case comes to the firm, Pike’s faceless superior presents it as campaign finance issue that has plagued the mayor of St. Petersburg. Armed with his legal toolbox, Pike and his associate make their way to the office of Camilla Pérez, who feels that she is being targeted by the alt-right for her views. What begins as a financial matter soon goes south when the police show up to arrest her for murder. It would appear that four men with loose connections to Pérez were found in an industrial oven of a bakery she owns. The evidence is piling up, but Pike is not afraid of this, sure that there is an explanation. While preparing the case for trial, Pike is the target of a few close encounters by someone behind the wheel, with threats uttered and warnings offered. He’s also set to face off against the one member of the D.A.’s office not afraid to cross swords with him, making this a case that few will want to miss. With a judge set in his ways about a woman’s place, the case moves forward, a powerful man hiding in the background and pulling the strings. Pike will have to use all his efforts to show that Mayor Pérez is not only innocent, but the victim of a smear campaign, both political and sexual in nature. In a courtroom setting that keeps the reader guessing until the jury comes forth with a verdict, the reader is set to see how Bernhardt can develop a case with ease. Recommended to those who love William Bernhardt’s writing, as well as the reader who finds solace in courtroom/legal thrillers.

I have long been a fan of William Bernhardt and his work. I remember binge reading much of his Ben Kincaid series one summer and cannot get enough of his work, when he is not busy teaching the next generation of fiction writers with his various seminars. Daniel Pike is again in the middle of a trying case, but he is ready for whatever is tossed before him. His life seems to be better grounded than in the debut novel, though it is his prowess in the courtroom that keeps the reader intrigued throughout. There are certainly strong personal development moments throughout, but Pike is a man on a mission and nothing will stand in his way of success. Other characters on both sides of the legal argument make a great impact throughout this novel, including those who would see Camilla Pérez suffer for being a strong woman. Bernhardt is able to convey many themes through the characters he’s chosen, which the reader will discover when when take the time to read the book attentively. The story is decent and the development of the plot keeps the reader wanting to know a little more. The true version of events is there for all to see, but it takes a highly attentive reader to piece things together before the sound of the final gavel. I am eager to see what is to come with the third novel, something Bernhardt promises is set for release in November 2019.

Kudos, Mr. Bernhardt, for a great piece. I am eager to see what else you have in store for your fans, a group that is surely growing with each strong book you release.

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

A Better Man (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache #15), by Louise Penny

Nine stars

After getting my hands on the latest Louise Penny novel, I could not wait to get started. This explosive series, set in rural Quebec, gives not only the feel of a wonderful mystery but also hones in on all things Canadian. After serving his suspension, Armand Gamache is back in his position as Chief Inspector within the Sûreté du Québec, though there is a whispered power struggle within Homicide. While many are worried about how it will resolve itself, Gamache wants only to work and agrees to investigate a query of a pregnant woman whose gone missing. When Gamache arrives, he meets the woman’s husband, a known abuser, who explains that he has no idea where his wife might be, but could not care less. Gamache gets a bad feeling about it all, but is equally distracted when Quebec’s spring thaw begins to cause issues. His community of Three Pines is set to flood, which could be devastating if the floodwaters don’t drop soon. With no signs of the pregnant Vivienne Godin, Gamache tries to determine if there may have been foul play, which is exacerbated when a body is discovered amongst some cracked ice close to a bridge. The receding waters reveal much, including a potential murder scene, with the perfect suspect who denies having anything to do with his wife’s death. Trying to connect the dots, Gamache turns to some of his fellow villagers, who use social media to coax out a slew of information. Will it be enough to convict a man who holds his wife in such low regard that she is only good as a punching bag? Additionally, the higher-ups within the Sûreté are keeping a close eye on Gamache, especially as old troubles have an uncanny way of resurfacing. Could the Chief Inspector’s return have been a set-up to bury him once and for all? A wonderful addition to this stellar series, sure to keep fans wanting more. Recommended to those who have loved Armand Gamache from the early Three Pines days, as well as readers who enjoy police procedurals with a Canadian flavour.

After a major binge of the series last summer, I was forced to wait like the rest of the Penny fans for this newest piece in the Gamache series. It was well worth the wait, though I know Penny has had some personal issues, which makes the publication of this piece even more exciting. Gamache remains on point, working through the blips that had him sidelined and trying to keep from letting the politics of the job get to him. Still eager to help, both within the Sûreté and towards his friends in the Eastern Townships, Gamache makes his mark in a variety of ways. Keen to solve crimes, he has little time for those who seek to circumvent justice or cut corners to get the answers they want. Other characters continue to evolve in the series, though the locals are more background than at the forefront of the case. There are a few new faces whose presence could become more regular, depending on how Penny chooses to advance the series. I am eager to see how this will all play out in the coming years. The story remains exciting and fresh, though there are some significant mentions of past events, which thicken the plot and the series development effectively. Penny has a wonderful handle on the series, even fifteen books in. She represents Canada and the genre so well, choosing interesting plot twists that keep the reader wondering. Established chapters and current events weave together a story that many readers will surely devour, as I did, leaving them begging for more. The need for patience is high by the time the book ends, but there is still so much to learn. Alas, it will likely be another year or so.

Kudos, Madam Penny, for dazzling your fans with another strong novel. Gamache is in good hands under your guidance.

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

The Grave Digger’s Boy, by R.R. Newman

Eight stars

Finding R. R. Newman’s debut novel cross my path was surely a sign. A mix of mystery and police procedural, I was pulled into the story from the beginning and held transfixed until the final page. At the age of eleven, Ben Hodge witnesses Esther Garrett being harassed on a transit bus. When Esther flees into the country woods, the harasser, one Aaron Greenslade, follows her. This is the last anyone saw of Esther, who is soon reported missing. While the police seek to find the teenage girl, Ben takes an inexplicable fascination in the news reports, amassing a scrapbook of articles. The authorities eventually change Greenslade with murder, though Esther’s body has yet to be found. Fast-forward twenty years and Ben is trying to make ends meet, reminded of the Esther Garrett case as news reports of a corrupt police detective make headlines. Many of the cases he led are now being re-examined, with the possibility of convictions built on false evidence being overturned. Ben’s obsession resurfaces and he soon encounters Esther’s sister, who remains vigilant that the truth is out there. As scraps of the case cross Ben’s path, he investigates for himself, even when counselled to leave well enough alone. Esther Garrett must be out there somewhere, even after all these years. Whether she is alive or dead is not quite clear, but Ben Hodge is sure he’s onto something, as vague as that might be. Newman builds a powerful story that culminates in a reveal many readers will likely enjoy. Recommended to those who love a good mystery, as well as readers who enjoy discovering new authors to add to their collection.

The power of Goodreads strikes again, as I found this piece while scanning the site a few weeks ago. The title alone pulled me in, but it was the story that sold me, even in the early chapters. Newman creates an interesting premise with young Ben Hodge as protagonist. A child of divorce, Ben is trying to process all of that as he stumbles upon the mystery of Esther Garrett’s disappearance. His obsession with the case forces him to mature quickly and he soon becomes captivated with what might have happened. The move to step ahead into Ben’s adult life is brilliant, as the case remained stuck in his craw over two decades. With little backstory outside what the reader learned and a slow character development moving ahead, the reader can connect to Ben at their own pace. Others offer great insight into the case and provide a few leads for the reader to consider. One can only wonder how Ben might have developed differently had some of the characters not crossed his path. The story was well developed, with a mix of narrative, press clippings, and evidence that Ben locates in his investigation. The reader can feel the momentum grow as the story gains speed and depth, with new leads developing as the chapters build on one another. A mix of short and long chapters keep the reader balanced and forces a commitment to learn what’s happening. With an ending that pulls everything together in a timely fashion, this is a debut well worth a look.

Kudos, Mr. Newman, for a fabulous venture into the genre. I cannot wait to see what else you have in store for fans.

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

Date Night: A Flash Fiction Thriller, by Dharma Kelleher

Eight stars

On a small Dharma Kelleher short story binge, I thought I would complete the three pieces I had on hand with one that made me gasp. Jake Peterson is an easy going guy, trolling the dating apps for the perfect match. When Mandy crosses his radar, he’s more than happy to meet her for dessert one of the local eating establishments. Noticing her enter, he hopes he can pull off a wonderful first date, without revealing the one secret that can never get out. Kelleher pulls the reader along and then delivers a scintillating ending as tart as it is sweet!

Many are surprised that I read Dharma Kelleher, who does not write the type of books I might usually enjoy. However, her work in the thriller field is unique and that draws me in, as I am always up for something outside of the box. This piece was just that, long enough that I could likely finish a single scoop of ice cream or scrape the icing off a wonderful piece of cake. Her ability to get to the point as the reader is distracted by something else proves effective and the end result is always worth the wait.

Kudos, Madam Kelleher, for another wonderful piece. I can only hope to get my hands on some of your novels soon, as these short pieces have me happy to have rediscovered your writing.

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

The Beast of Bayou Beauregard: A Short Story, by Dharma Kelleher

Eight stars

Armed with a few short stories by Dharma Kelleher, I thought I would speed through them before tackling my next reading project. This, the longest of the three, is still relatively short and packs a real punch. Sophie DeChaude is a journalist for a small publication, but seems to always get the worst assignments. When her editor asks that she follow-up on a call from a local about the Beast of Bayou Beauregard, Sophie’s sure it will be another drunk with a sighting of the regional Bigfoot. Armed with a photographer, Sophie makes her way into the bayou, where she meets with a local as Cajun as they come. He recounts his story and Sophie is sure it’s only some errant gator that has stolen the man’s dog. However, she has a job to do and sets up camp in hopes of seeing the Beast and dispelling the myth. What follows is something Sophie could not have predicted and likely wished she’d never encountered. A cute piece that is easily read over a quick cup of something to pass a handful of well-earned minutes of relaxation.

Dharma Kelleher is not an author I would usually find myself reading, but her writing seems to enthral me each time I find one of her pieces. Her crime thrillers with strong female bikers or bail bondsmen seem to tap into the wonderfully unique aspects of the genre in today’s supersaturated collection of published pieces. While this story was short, Kelleher did well within the limitations and pulls the reader in, captivating them in short order. There’s no real time for character development, but the story moves along well at a clipped pace. Perfect for those who need a little pick-me-up before locating their next major read.

Kudos, Madam Kelleher, for a great short piece. It reminds me that I need to get back to your novels, which are always highly entertaining and educational.

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

Down in the Hole: A Flash Fiction Thriller, by Dharma Kelleher

Eight stars

Jonesing for some Dharma Kelleher, having not read her novels in a while, I stumbled upon this extremely short piece. After a rape trial, the mother of the victim is not feeling entirely redeemed. While her daughter’s rapist was found guilty, the fact that he is a burgeoning track star caught the eye of the judge, who refuses to send him to jail. Now, free to roam on the outside, justice will have to be meted out. How much is just the right amount? Read and see, as Kelleher has quite the ending for you!

While Dharma Kelleher is not the typical author I would find myself reading, her writing pulls me in every time. Be it crime thrillers with bikers or something a little edgier, there’s nothing like reading a story outside your comfort zone. With a great ability to convey things in a few words, Kelleher is an author worth a second look.

Kudos, Madam Kelleher, for a great short piece. While my review may almost be longer than this short story, I cannot criticize the quality of your work.

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

Denial: Holocaust History on Trial, by Deborah E. Lipstadt

Eight stars

Seeking something a little controversial thought-provoking, I turned to Deborah Lipstadt’s book, which depicts the trial she faced for libel against prolific UK author, David Irving. While this may seem a tad mind-numbing, the topic of discussion—Holocaust denials—turns the piece on its head and pulls the reader into the mix. Lipstadt sets the scene for the reader by explaining how things got to this point. In the mid-90s, she penned a book about the Holocaust, in which many of David Irving’s sentiments about the fallacy of the Nazi action came to light. Irving, a well-known writer in some circles—loosely called a ‘historian’ by others—appeared to take offence to this and sued Lipstadt for libel in the British courts, the country from which he hails. Unlike the American courts, British justice requires the accused to prove the libellous comments, putting Lipstadt on the hot seat. As she works with her legal team and Penguin Publishing, Lipstadt is unsure how anything can really come from his trial, which is sure to be a farce and end before things get too heated. Little does she know, but Irving is ready to clash and prepares his own prosecutorial attack to ensure he wins. As the trial opens, the reader is able to see many of the sentiments that Irving made in his books and speeches denying the Holocaust, including the attempts to deny that the atrocities ever took place. Lipstadt depicts the slow and sometimes painful progress of the trial, in which Irving tries not only to defend his views, but turn witness testimony around, while seeking to sever inferences that history and proof has shown. What might have been summarily dismissed turns into a massive trial in which Holocaust denial becomes the central theme. While her legal team refuses to let Lipstadt testify, her words in this book that summarise events are more explosive than anything I might have seen sitting in the gallery. Equally deplorable and captivating, Lipstadt shows how far some people will go while using freedom of speech to ignore what has been thoroughly documented over the past seventy years. Highly recommended to those who can stomach the vast amount of information and spin taken by a ‘historian’ of some ill-repute.

It was a good friend of mine who recommended this book a while back. While I immediately downloaded it, I was not sure I wanted to tackle the subject too quickly, as anything Nazi related must be consumed in the right mindset. I am now kicking myself for having waited so long and can only hope that I do justice in promoting this book to others. Lipstadt appears to argue effectively throughout, using the trial as her narrative, rather than rehashing much of what she wrote in her original tome. She adds flavour to the piece by exploring the sentiments and off-hand comments made by the likes of Irving, without allowing herself to get too tied up in knots. While David Irving is surely not the only person to write about the fallacy of the Nazi atrocities, Lipstadt’s focus on him is understandable in his piece. She is quick to point out expression and speech freedoms that all are due, though there is surely a limit, be it defined in a court of law, legislature, or even common sense. What might have been thought to be a show trial—much like those the Nazis surely used on their concentration camp prisoners—turned into something very disturbing for all involved. With thorough chapters that convey the central tenets of the trial, as well as the opinions of both sides, the tome takes on a life of its own and forces the reader to weigh the evidence. It is only when the reader reaches the end of the piece that they can get the full impact being expressed within this book. I might need to read Lipstadt’s offending book to better understand the context of this trial, but will wait, as I am sickened by some of what was revealed within this narrative.

Kudos, Madam Lipstadt, for a compelling book that pulls no punches. In an era when #fakenews seems to be the knee-jerk reaction to that we do not like, this book resonates deeply and presents that ignorance was not borne out of the 2016 US presidential election alone.

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

Rubicon (Bobby Hart #1), by Lawrence Alexander

Eight stars

I recently discovered the wonders of D.W. Buffa’s political/legal thrillers and have been devouring them whenever possible. I came across a series debut in which Buffa uses his pseudonym, Lawrence Alexander, which packs quite a punch. Bobby Hart is a US senator from California, preparing for re-election while also serving his constituents as best he can. When Hart is approached to discuss a sensitive matter, he finds himself sitting at a café in Germany, unsure of what to expect. Hart soon learns that there is a plot to assassinate someone during the US elections, codenamed RUBICON, but before he can learn anything else, his contact is shot in front of him. Returning to the US, Hart tries to learn a little more, confiding in a friend within the intelligence community. When an explosion rocks a political event where one of the presidential candidates is rallying support, a bloodbath ensues and Hart is left to wonder if this is RUBICON in action. As he tries to dig a little deeper, Hart discovers that there is more to the story than meets the eye, with the US Administration at the centre. Tensions run high as Hart must stay one step ahead of whomever it is pulling strings. RUBICON may seem like a terror plot, but it resonates up through the electoral campaign and into the constitutional fibre of the country. How can it be stopped and what is the final act that will signal no retreat? Alexander does well to lay some exciting groundwork in this thriller, which mixes politics with the hunt to neutralise a terror cell. Recommended to those who need a quick and easy read that includes some American political action as well.

While I have many authors I try to follow, few have made as much of an impact on me as D.W Buffa, even when he pens something under another name. He knows his politics and how to convey a story that will both intrigue and lure a reader to seek more by reading further. Bobby Hart is both a keen senator and a wonderful protagonist in this piece. He has a backstory and a wife that can sometimes surface, but is also somewhat vague. As he has this major political revelation tossed into his lap, Hart must decide how best to represent his constituents while saving the entire US republic from annihilation. True, it may seem a little far-fetched, but the author does well to add great intrigue to the story without getting too dramatic. As Hart is pulled deeper into the mystery, he becomes an unwitting target and must extricate himself while revealing the truth before it is buried for good. Others add depth and volume to this story, in a debut that is sure to see some returning faces. Alexander sets the groundwork for more Bobby Hart, be it in the political arena or as a private citizen. Alexander offers the reader quite the tale here, mixing political intrigue with thrilling terror plots in a single novel. Political thrillers are hard to keep sharp, but Alexander seems able to do so with little issue. I just hope I can find the subsequent novels with ease, as I remain highly curious.

Kudos, Mr. Alexander (Buffa), for a great debut. I am eager to see what else you have in store for Bobby Hart, noticing that there are three novels in this series to date.

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