The Nazi Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill, by Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch

Eight stars

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

A longtime fan of Brad Meltzer’s writing, I have come to also admire his collaborative work with Josh Mensch. Together, these two pen stellar pieces of ‘little known’ history that allow the reader to feel refreshed when reading about topics that have sometimes been overdone. Meltzer and Mensch explore a unique angle of the Second World War, as well as a plot that would have changed the world significantly. Eager to wrap my head around this piece, I devoured the book and was left to wonder ‘what if…’ on numerous occasions.

After a tumultuous few years in the Second World War, US President Franklin Roosevelt is looking forward to meeting with this two greatest allies, Winston Churchill (Prime Minister of the United Kingdom) and Joseph Stalin (leader of the USSR). While these three men have been juggling the war on two major fronts, they have yet to sit down as a group of three to plot out how to exterminate Hitler and the Nazis. Secret discussions determine that Tehran, Iran would be the ideal place for these three to meet and hash out a plan to neutralise Germany before any other Axis powers can come to their aid.

While planning remained covert, the Nazis had a stellar spy network that leaked the information back to the highest level within the Party. Hitler and his closest associates thought it best to plot something so nefarious that it would not only show his might, but also resonate deeply, while crippling the war effort. Hitler thought it best to use German soldiers to infiltrate the Tehran meeting and assassinate all three men, thereby turning the tables on a growing Allied effort in 1943. Hitler would expect nothing less than success. While the end result was anything but spectacular for the Nazis, Meltzer and Mensch posit that the entire plan could have been a Russian piece of war folklore.

The authors take the reader through the build-up to this remarkable summit, as well as the Nazi planning to kill all three leaders. Paced with wonderful anecdotes, asides, and a great narrative, Meltzer and Mensch offer the reader a new look into a very documented period in world history. While I vowed not to read anything set during the Second World War—mostly because I was tired of hearing about Nazi death camps and Hitler marching across Europe—I was happy to read this piece and learn a great deal as I devoured the text.

Meltzer and Mensch have worked together before and impressed me with their efforts. Taking a little known event and turning it into a great piece of writing proved helpful yet agin. From the inside look at all four sides (US, UK, USSR, and German), as well as some of the cultural aspects to a summit in Iran, the authors provided an impactful piece that is sure to garner a great deal of attention. I am pleased I took the gamble and am happy to see Brad Meltzer keeping his avenues open with a variety of writing projects geared towards different audiences. Well worth the effort, particularly with Scott Brick as narrator for those who listen to the audiobook.

Kudos, Messrs. Meltzer and Mensch, for a stunning look at history through a unique lens. I am eager to see what other projects you two have in the works.

How Mrs. Clause Saved Christmas (Christmas Chronicles #2), by Jeff Guinn and Layla Nicholas

Nine stars

Part of my annual re-reads!

This holiday season, I discovered a gem in Jeff Guinn’s Autobiography of Santa Claus, which provided me with some wonderful context of all things related to St. Nicholas and Christmas. In this follow-up piece, Guinn tuns his sights on Layla, also known as Mrs. Claus, who played a central role in the aforementioned book, but also has her own story.

In the opening section of this book, Guinn backs up much of what was outlined in the autobiography, as well as laying the backstory for Layla. After being left a great deal of money when her parents died in the late 4th century, Layla decided to take up offering gifts to the less fortunate children, where she encountered Nicholas and Felix—his sidekick—in a most interesting manner. After agreeing to work together, she and Nicholas grew closer before falling in love. Their efforts, soon supported by an ever-growing group of helpers, continued for many years, as Nicholas and Layla honed their skills and focused attention on certain nights around the world.

While much of Europe had come to accept Christmas, there was a move away from its acceptance at the end of the Tudor dynasty in Britain, tied specifically to the squabbles between the Catholics and Protestants. As ships sailed to the New World, Puritans began setting up colonies in American, leaving Nicholas to decide there was a need for his presence there, ensuring the Christmas spirit made its mark.

Layla stayed back in Britain, where Parliament and Charles I were at odds over governing, putting Christmas in jeopardy. Puritans in Parliament were led by Oliver Cromwell, who interacted regularly with Layla. While Layla sought to keep Christmas special in Britain, Cromwell sited that it was only a means of justifying drunkenness and debauchery, two things the Puritans could not abide.

Meanwhile, some of the others in the group began creating a new-fangled sweet, a peppermint confection that left a buzz on the tongue. When news arrived that Layla was atop the list of Puritan traitors, she was ushered off to Canterbury for safe keeping. Still, the English Civil War raged on and Christmas was soon banned by legislation. Layla sought to promote Christmas from within, remaining off the radar while building up a small contingent of supporters in an effort to protest the ban. Creating a secret symbol to denote those who wanted to see Christmas protected for the masses—using those peppermint sweets shaped in a shepherd’s crook—Layla tried organising an effort to bring holiday magic back to Britain.

When Puritans caught Layla and her group, they were punished for their actions and sent to face the consequences. However, Layla refused to believe that Christmas would be muted and pushed to have others see the benefits of celebration, even among the most straight laced of Christians. With Nicholas so far away at the time, it was up to Layla to defeat Cromwell and his soldiers, bringing joy back to Britain at a time when politics left things balancing precariously. A great complement to Guinn’s first book in the series, sure to be appreciated by those who have read it. Recommended to those who love Christmas, as well as the reader who enjoys obscure historical facts.

I have always been in awe by Jeff Guinn’s writing, as it tells such an interesting story and adds little known facts to enrich the reading experience. After devouring the first book in this series, I had to get my hands on this book to see how they would mesh together. Guinn does well to construct Layla her own backstory and melds it with the story from the aforementioned autobiography before tackling the central issue of the book, Christmas suppression in Britain. Those who have read the first book will see that this tome differs greatly in that there is an elongated focus—almost a fictional tale—on this issue, turning Layla into the obvious protagonist.

Guinn develops some interesting Christmas tradition as he weaves together the puritanical suppression of Christmas during the English Civil War. Peppering the piece with some interesting characters and many aspects of English history, the reader ends up well-versed in all things Puritan and Oliver Cromwell. The twists and turns throughout leave the reader wanting to know more and wondering where the blurs between fact and fiction may lie. With a mix of chapter lengths, Guinn and Layla take the reader on countless adventures as they seek to shed light on the dark days of Christmas in 17th century England. Not to be missed by those who love Christmas, or those who seek a spark during this holiday season.

Kudos, Layla Nicholas and Mr. Guinn for helping to bring a smile to my face as I tackle this stunning Christmas read.

The Great Santa Search (Santa Chronicles #3), by Jeff Guinn

Eight stars

While others have filled their reading time this holiday season with some of the classics (I have as well), I stumbled upon this wonderful collection of Christmas pieces by non-fiction author Jeff Guinn and I cannot say enough about them. Working around the premise of telling the true story of Christmas from the perspective of Santa, Guinn has worked with the Big Man himself—and his wife, Layla—to shed light on how things came to be, as well as explaining some of the historical things that take place around this time of year. In this final piece, the story moves back to Nicholas and his perspective, filling in some of the final holes in the historical record, while also telling what some might call a slightly hokey piece of fiction as well. It was in the early 1840s that a storekeeper came up with the idea of bringing Santa to the children, allowing them to interact with him directly and tell some of what they might like. Nicholas was dead set against it, particularly when he saw the low caliber of ‘fake Santa’ the storekeeper intended to use. He vowed never to partake or condone it, though he understood some of the reasoning behind it all. When the emergence of malls appeared, ‘Mall Santas’ were all the rage, as the story shares some of their history. By the early 21st century, the story tells of a man who really wanted to capitalise on the Santa part of Christmas, creating a reality show to come up with the best one, who might act as spokesman for a high-end brand of toys. Nicholas, tired of seeing the subpar people chosen, is convinced to try out and show the world what Santa is really like. Trouble is, during auditions, he flubs it by trying to tell too much to a screening panel that only wants the basics, as known to every boy and girl. Santa will have to go another route, which includes qualifying through a Mall Santa candidacy, and thus begins the rigours of sitting and listening to what children would like. With the reality competition coming, Santa will have to train his mind and body, in hopes of not being eliminated before the final vote. Thankfully, he has a trusted group eager to assist. When the spotlight shines in New York on Christmas Eve, or dear Santa wants to be on stage, if only to show that the real thing wins the crown of BEST SANTA EVER! A slightly more comical take on all things Christmas, but a nice way to round things out in this series. Recommended to those who have enjoyed the other two books in the series, as well as the reading who likes some lighter fare at Christmas.

Jeff Guinn’s writing tells such a captivating tale, adding little-known facts to educate the reader throughout the experience. After devouring the first two books, I had to complete the series to see how everything comes together. Having penned a great deal about both Nicholas and Layla, it was time to fill in any gaps and provide more of a fictional account of how things could happen in this day and age. The references to many of the characters the series reader will already know enriches the experience, while complementing those who are newly added to the narrative. Guinn finds a way to mesh the mountain of information he has in an easy to digest read that will have readers flying through the pages with ease. With a mix of chapter lengths, Guinn and Nicholas take the reader through some of the more ‘reality-based’ aspects of current society, perhaps added their own social commentary. I felt that the piece had a slight ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ vibe to it on occasion, though it could be because I grew up on that film and love the nuances offered therein. While things did get a little hokey, I enjoyed the lighter reading and hope many will not become Scrooges to the entire series—as I noticed some did—if the caliber of this piece is not as high as the previous two, Not to be missed by those who love Christmas, or those who seek a spark during this holiday season.

Kudos, ‘Nicholas Holiday’ and Mr. Guinn for helping to remind me what Christmas is all about!

Missing (Bombay Crime Bureau #3), by Krishnaraj HK

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to Krishnaraj HK for providing me with a copy of this novella, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

I was pleased to be handed yet another ARC for this series, a well-paced novella this time. Always ready to enjoy a great police procedural, I was eager to return to the Bombay Crime Bureau, where SSP Dev Shinde has a daunting case on his blotter. Using an Indian flavouring to advance the story, Krishnaraj succeeds once more with this series, keeping the reader guessing until the very end. Well-paced and with a few twists at the right spots, I found myself devouring the latest in the series.

After a young woman leaves a note to say that she’s gone off with her lover, the family is unsure how to proceed. Noor’s husband cannot face the rejection and won’t go looking for her, while their son is only ten and cannot wrap his head around what’s happened. Local police treat this with disdain and choose to let a number of days go by without putting any effort into the search. What’s even more baffling is that many of the city’s CCTV cameras show no sign of Noor whatsoever. Something seems off, but local police remain disinterested.

SSP Dev Shinde and the Bombay Crime Bureau are soon brought in to lead the case, with too many loose ends left dangling. Shinde has his team begin the investigation from scratch, in case previous members of the squad missed something. Questioning anyone and everyone, SSP Shinde and the Crime Bureau soon make a little headway in the form of another missing person, this time a young girl. Might the two be connected? If anyone can figure that out, it’s SSP Dev Shinde. Still, it will take all his efforts and a keen sense of the criminal mind to bring things to a reasonable close. A great story that takes the reader on quite the journey.

It was a gamble when first I tried one of these ARCs, but found myself completely absorbed and intrigued with how Krishnaraj writes and presents his stories. I readily accepted this latest police procedural novella, still waiting in for the full-length novel the author promised is on its way. I hoped that it would prove to be as strong as the previous publications, soon proven correct. The story is clear and creates twists throughout to keep the reader on their toes. Introducing the reader to some great characters and policing techniques, Krishnaraj has done it again with this story.

Police procedurals often require strong narrative direction, particularly for those unfamiliar with the local customs or laws. The reader can easily follow Krishnaraj’s writing, which keeps things moving briskly. Characters offer some depth throughout, which provides strong development. Plot twists keep the reader wondering, as well as providing an unpredictable realisation when things come together. I gladly read these shorter piece, but am also waiting for the full novel that appears to be ‘just around the corner’.

Kudos, Mr. Krishnaraj, for reaching out and providing a wonderful way to pass a few hours. Keep the stories coming, whenever you can.

The Autobiography of Santa Claus, as told by Jeff Guinn

Nine stars

Another sensational holiday re-read!

During the holiday season, I turned to the gifted biography writer, Jeff Guinn, to open my mind to what must have been one of his most entertaining projects. Christmas tends to be a time of giving and there are many who find Santa Claus, Father Christmas, or St. Nicholas to be a key player in promoting this amongst the youngest part of the population.

As Guinn reveals in the introduction, he was tasked with writing the autobiography of the man in red and provides a stunning piece for fans of all ages to enjoy. Born in what is now a region of Turkey in 280, Nicholas was always a very loving child. His parents doted on him before their death, when Nicholas was sent to live with the monks. While there, Nicholas discovered the art of secretly gifting to others who were less fortunate, a theme in his life for centuries to come. While things did not always go his way, Nicholas soon grew to become a priest and bishop, never forgetting those in need.

It was at this time, when Nicholas attained the age of 60 or so, that he discovered his power to never age. He did, however, disappear from public sight and those within the community eventually were said to have found him dead in his bed, thereafter burying him and paying homage. Still, Nicholas lived and provided wonderful gifts to those who least expected it. Nicholas soon met a few important members of his team that would help him deliver gifts: Felix (a man who was a slave, but shared Nicholas’ passion for giving) and Layla (another secret gifter, who became a romantic interest). They would soon gain the same magical ability to live forever and work with Nicholas as he travelled around and provided gifts for children in need.

Nicholas was eventually sainted, though he never let this get to his head, worrying more about how his power to help was stymied whenever they entered a war-torn area. Coming across many people to help as the world evolved and population growth continued, Nicholas soon honed his gift giving to a time between his name day (December 6th) and the Feast of Epiphany (January 6th).

As time progressed, St. Nicholas became better known in Europe and served to bring joy to the lives of little ones, but with the discovery of the New World came Puritans who sought to rid the region of any celebratory connection to Christmas and Nicholas himself. It was at this time that Britain faced their own internal struggles and Christmas was all but wiped off the map. Diligently, St. Nicholas worked with his team to inject a new love of the holiday season.

In what seems like a rush through the ages, the newly nicknamed Santa Claus tells how he acquired the name and what new people he met along the way that helped to shape the modern idea that many have about him, from his use of chimneys to flying reindeer and even tie-ins to many songs depicting his jolly nature.

The latter portion of the book finds Santa settling in the North Pole to work and live permanently, an interesting tale all its own. How a man could have left an impact on children for close to 1800 years astounds me, but it is all here in this sensational autobiography that Jeff Guinn helped pen. Masterful in its detail and ties to historical events, this is sure to become a book readers return to regularly to spark a new light in their holiday traditions. Recommended for the lover of history, as well as those who enjoy learning a little more about the Christmas that one cannot find on the store shelves.

I have always been in awe when reading anything Jeff Guinn writes and this piece was no exception. While I have been aware of some facts about Nicholas throughout his life, I had no idea about the majority of the information depicted here, nor how it all tied together. Guinn’s extensive research and, perhaps (?), some writing freedoms allows the reader to get lost in the story of how this man went from orphan at nine to being a central part of the Christmas tradition, accepted by those who may not be heavy into the religious symbols of the season. The nuances and side stories are so plentiful and fit like a jigsaw puzzle, connecting seamlessly into the larger narrative and make for a sensational piece of biographic work.

Like belief in St. Nicholas requires one to suspend reality at times, this book has moments where rational thought must be set aside and the magic of the season put front and centre. The attentive reader will be dazzled by what Guinn has done and will want to know more, which is thankfully available in two more volumes in the collection. With a mix of chapter lengths, Guinn and St. Nicholas take the reader on detailed or superficial journeys throughout the centuries, never skipping key aspects.

There are countless moments for the reader to learn the history of the time and how Christmas was once so controversial, as well as how Church and secular decisions created many precedents still used today (but whose origins many did not know). This has secured a spot on my annual Christmas reading list for sure and I will recommend this easy to comprehend piece to anyone who wishes a warm holiday read that brings out the child in us all.

Kudos, St. Nicholas and Mr. Guinn for reminding us what the holiday season is all about and ensuring no one ever forgets.

A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens

Eight stars

What a way to continue my annual Christmas reading…

If there is one story that is synonymous with Christmas, it would be Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. How I have gone so long in my life never having read this story, I do not know. I quite liked the movie from the early 1950s and always used that as my benchmark for what the story is all about, but chose to take the plunge and read Dickens’ actual words, yet another tradition that comes from the Victorian era.

As miserly Ebenezer Scrooge heads home late one Christmas Eve night, he is visited by the apparition of his former business partner, Jacob Marley, dead seven years. Marley’s apparition tells that Scrooge will be visited by three ghosts who will show him essential things that he needs to know.

While Scrooge scoffs at the entire process, he is startled when the first ghost appears to take him into the past. This experience shows Scrooge some of the events from his past and how he became the man he is today. A second ghost explores current decisions Scrooge has been making, including some of the most miserly choices he could have made. Quite startled by this point, Scrooge does not want the third visit, but must see life as it would be after his passing and how others will speak of him. This is enough to help bring about an epiphany for the elderly Ebenezer, who sees the world for what it could be. A Christmas classic that I will definitely add to my annual read list, this one is recommended for anyone eager to explore Christmas and its true meaning.

Many of my friends on Goodreads have read this book and are as astounded as me that I had never done so myself. I found myself enthralled from the opening sentences and remained captivated throughout. I will admit that I chose to let the stellar voice of Tim Curry guide me through the Audible version of this tale, which brought the experience to life for me and will be used each December, of that I can be sure. Dickens is a master storyteller and many renditions of this story have emerged over the years, all of which have their own spin on the story. The themes that come up as Scrooge explores his life are sensational and there is little about which any reader could complain. Divided into five distinct staves, Dickens pulls the reader in and keeps their attention until the final sentence, never letting things lose momentum. I can only hope to find more exciting tales in the years to come, to add to my December collection.

Kudos, Mr. Dickens, for a stunning story that touches the heart of each reader in its own way.

Against the Wind: Edward Kennedy and the Rise of Conservatism, 1976-2009, by Neal Gabler

Nine stars

After being enthralled with the first volume of Neal Gabler’s biography of Ted Kennedy, I knew that I would have to come back for the second portion in short order. Gabler dazzles like few biographers I have ever read, providing context and insight into the life Kennedy lived while espousing the liberal dream in the first volume. With the winds beginning to blow towards conservatism, this second volume tackles that, as well as Kennedy’s greatest obstacle, the presidency. Trying to move out from his brothers’ shadows, Ted Kennedy had to decide whether he would run and how using his own merits might help him. Gabler does a phenomenal job at portraying Kennedy as a hard worker and passionate about the every day citizen, even in the face of significant conversation that sought to drown out his liberal flame. Poignant with some even more passionate entries than the first volume, Gabler does it again.

In the latter portion of volume one, Gabler presented the reader with the crossroads that Ted Kennedy faced in the mid-70s, with the political winds changing dramatically, The country had seen the rise of Nixon and the beginnings of a conservative change in their sentiments, followed by Watergate and the end of Vietnam, under President Ford. With the 1976 campaign for the White House heating up, Kennedy had a chance to toss his hat into the ring, but he chose to wait for another time, feeling that this was not his place. As he watched from the sidelines, an unlikely Democrat claimed the nomination and headed into the general election. Jimmy Carter appeared to be the antithesis of Kennedy’s liberal values and potential a Democrat in name only, something which worried Kennedy a great deal, and yet he remained outwardly quiet.

After Carter’s victory in ‘76, Kennedy had to work with the Administration, which proved painful. Carter did not share Kennedy’s values, trying to shut down the senator’s legislation, discussions, and any momentum that Kennedy might have. As Gabler puts it, Carter was always waiting for Kennedy to announce his campaign for 1980, which did not come until late in the lead-up to the primaries in January 1980. Kennedy waffled and weighed all his options, as America drifted further away from his liberal left towards the right and kept those the senator held dearest on the outside of the tent. When Kennedy did announce an intent to run against the incumbent Carter, it was a series of gaffes and a lack of connection to the people he long called his own that left the campaign drooping from the outset. As Gabler magically recounts in long chapters, the battle was on, though it took a long time to get going and Kennedy was always playing catch-up. Kennedy did appear to catch Carter, though it may have been a little too late. With Carter poised to capture the nomination and the Republicans locking up their candidate, Ronald Reagan, the fight was on for one final liberal push. Kennedy entered the 1980 Democratic National Convention hoping to challenge Carter on the floor and bring the party back to its liberal roots. It failed and Kennedy, seeing the writing on the wall, had to admit defeat, while promising never to let the winds of change extinguish his liberal flame.

Shaking off the pain of a defeat for the nomination, Kennedy watched Carter get pummelled in the election, with Reagan storming onto the scene. This was a battle that many media outlets thought Kennedy might have won had he been the Democratic nominee. Still, it was time for Kennedy to lick his wounds and hope that he could use his role in the Senate to rein in the Reagan Administration. As much as this might have been his plan, Kennedy appears to have dialled things back, according to Gabler. Feeling the conservative wind and how Reagan vilified the liberal perspective, Kennedy turned his attention to his own personal causes. It was only when a controversial Supreme Court nominee came before the Senate that Kennedy’s old ire returned and left Robert Bork embarrassed for all to see. Gabler shows how this was Kennedy’s time to shine and he did so, stymying the nominee and infuriating Reagan at the same time.

This ‘lay low’ technique continued after Kennedy chose not to run for president in 1988, clearing the way for VP George H.W. Bush to assume the role. Kennedy tried to push his liberal agenda and protect minorities from his perch, earning a few small victories with legislation to help those with disabilities and another push for additional civil rights. While Kennedy did make a small push on blocking Bush’s Supreme Court nominee, Clarence Thomas, the spark came too late and was mired by Kennedy’s own personal issues with drink and tabloid scandal. This left Thomas to turn the tables on the Senate Judiciary committee and create a race issue out of something that had been sexual harassment claims by one of the nominee’s former colleagues. The family aura was quickly tarnishing and Ted Kennedy could not stand aside, as he was being painted with the same brush as some of his adult nephews, who found themselves in trouble with the law or in treatment centres. Even Kennedy’s own constituents wondered if it was time to step away from politics, as he was not proving to be an advocate for their needs, but rather dodging his own scandals.

This was a true wake-up call for Kennedy, who sought to realign himself to ensure that he had a purpose. His passion lay with legislating and representing the people of Massachusetts, which was strengthened when he ran in 1994 against his toughest Republican opponent yet, Mitt Romney, whose family had deep ties to national politics as well. Kennedy used this re-election campaign to find himself and reconnect with voters, showing that he still had the passion needed to serve and could put scandalous behaviour in the rear view mirror. Kennedy also used this time to work with President Bill Clinton on trying to forge new ground open some of his pet projects. While Clinton was passionate about healthcare he demurred when faced with the cost and the Herculean effort needed to pass it through a Congress led by ideological Republicans. Kennedy would return to Congress rejuvenated and help Clinton as best he could, with both legislative and social issues. Still, Kennedy had to wonder, as Gabler posits, whether this might be the path to his final swan song as an American politician and leader.

In a whirlwind of American political change, Kennedy saw the Democratic Party ebb and flow once more, particularly as the judicial branch weighed in on the 2000 presidential election. George W. Bush became the eventual leader but showed a willingness to look across the aisle and use Kennedy’s passions to help America, particularly with education reform. Gabler explores this odd relationship and how Ted Kennedy put partisan views aside to help children and enshrine their eduction into the American psyche. This collegiality was short-lived, though, particularly after President Bush began his War on Terror campaign, sending troops into Iraq and Afghanistan. Kennedy was adamantly opposed to the troop deployment, one of the only senators to voice those concerns, but received no support from his colleagues and proved to be a thorn in the side of the White House. Attempts to push through some important legislation proved insurmountable when many saw Ted as being unpatriotic for opposite gender US intervention. Could this have been the writing on the wall Ted Kennedy needed to see that his political career was done and that he ought to hang up his advocacy boots once and for all?

By the end of the Bush Administration, much had changed. A new tiredness with conservative ideals, packaged a number of ways by countless Republicans, left the electorate hungry for change. Kennedy could see that a new era of liberalism, or at least sustainable Democratic hope, had come to the party, particularly when a young Senator Obama began making waves. It was at this time that Ted Kennedy’s fallibility also showed its true colours, when he was diagnosed with an inoperable Brian tumour. Kennedy loud see the end was near and yet he wanted to ensure his country, his ideals, and his values were left to those who. old protect them. As Gabler presents a strong narrative in the final chapter, the country came to Ted Kennedy to offer their thanks, even politicians who used his name to rally support for the opposition . The Lion of the Senate and master of all things congressional would not be forgotten. The final Kennedy brother would soon be gone, but his mark would never fade. An outstanding two volume biography that is sure to touch any reader with the patience and open-mindedness to read it.

I have read many political biographies in my time, but Neal Gabler’s work stands apart from many. Gabler lays extensive groundwork about all aspects of Ted Kennedy’s life, which was full of struggles at each turn. Kennedy’s greatness is balanced with stumbles along the way, illustrated in a clear narrative style. There is so much material in this tome (let alone the opening volume) that many readers might find themselves overwhelmed, but Gabler synthesises and discusses things with ease. The themes emerge and come full circle throughout the narrative, allowing the attentive reader to bask in all the glory that Gabler has to offer. With long and detailed chapters, Gabler develops the message of Kennedy’s impact on American politics, while also dividing each segment into small sub-chapters, perhaps to aid with digestion. I could not have asked for more, though there is no doubt a great deal that was skimmed over, in order to get to the best parts of the Kennedy story. Those who have time and interest will surely not be disappointed whatsoever.

Kudos, Mr. Gabler, for this stunning portrayal of Edward Kennedy and America that. Saw a great deal of change over the years. I can only hope that some of your other work is just as intriguing.

A Tudor Christmas, by Alison Weir and Siobhan Clarke

Eight stars

A great holiday re-read!

At this time of year, it is always nice to learn a little something about the holiday season and the traditions that we—specifically in North America and perhaps some of the other Commonwealth countries—undertake on an annual basis. Alison Weir and Siobhan Clarke join forces to explain how many of the traditions we undertake are not Victorian, but rather from the era of the Tudors.

Choosing to address the origins of this winter festival, Weir and Clarke help inform the reader that Christmas-like festivals preceded the celebration known to many Christians these days. Thereafter, the authors divide the learning amongst twelve chapters—one for each day of Christmas—and provide poignant information that pertains to the specific day, as well as key events that readers might recognise in their current celebrations. Use of the fir tree dates back to Tudor times, though decorating it was not common, save for the odd candle. However, holly and ivy boughs could be found on a regular basis and were used to create a festive home.

Fowl was not roasted and served, but rather boar’s head served to feed guests and help spurn excitement at court. There was much dancing and frivolity, though fasting on certain days helped keep people mindful of events and saint days that fell between December 25th and January 6th each year.

Besides feasting, such lesser known facts as the delay of present giving until New Year’s Day was popular in Tudor times, something Henry VIII took much pleasure in doing, as is explored in the narrative. One extremely interesting fact was the puritanical negation of Christmas in England for so long after the Tudor era, something that bled into America until after the Civil War.

How mindsets can significantly alter such a glorious celebration, I will never know. A wonderful book, brief but thorough, for those who want to know a little more about Christmas from another era. Recommended to those who love all things Tudor, as well as the reader who finds a passion in the history of Christmas celebrations.

What a great little book that I stumbled upon and which I hope to make part of my annual reading. Weir and Clarke do so well to educate the reader while keeping things highly entertaining throughout. Weir’s vast knowledge of the Tudors and Henry VIII specifically, helps to flavour the stories and she pulls him into the narrative throughout. Not only will the reader learn of the traditions started or continued in Tudor times, but also songs from the era and how their wording helped to describe the atmosphere, some of which are still used today.

Clarke can seemingly complement this with some of her own knowledge and historical research. The season comes alive with this book and I am better educated about many of the little celebrations and traditions, both those still actively done as well as things that seem to have been lost in a bygone era. With short chapters and wonderful sketches, Weir and Clarke do a masterful job here of bringing the Christmas season to life.

Kudos, Madams Weir and Clarke, for this wonderful book. I loved it and I cannot wait to share it with others who also have such a love of Christmas traditions.

A Conspiracy of Ravens (Avery Byrne #1), by Dharma Kelleher

Eight stars

Having discovered the work of Dharma Kelleher a few years ago, I have not been able to keep from devouring anything she publishes. In this, a series debut, Kelleher introduces a new protagonist who is still faced with criminal goings-on while trying to stay one step ahead of those who mean her harm. Kelleher addresses many social issues from the acceptance of being transgender to non-traditional stereotypes in 21st century society, perfect for the open-minded reader. Another successful publication by an author whose modesty matches her ability.

Avery Byrne has made a name for herself in Phoenix as one of the city’s great goth tattoo artists. When her girlfriend, Sam, is brutally murdered by a local mobster for stealing a large sum of money, Avery must go on the run. Struggling to stay one step ahead of those who are hurting her, Avery also addresses the reaction that many have to her being transgender.

While trying to keep her family safe and steer Sam’s killers towards the authorities, Avery finds herself trying to see who she can trust. This mobster has fingers in many pies with a long payroll. Turning to an acquaintance, Avery is able to cobble a path back to the city, though even that is fraught with issues.

Trying to avenge Sam’s death, Avery puts her neck out to lure the killers into the open, only the wonder if she made the right decision. Avery will have to work alongside Jinx Ballou, a former Phoenix cop turned bounty hunter, to make it right, with members of a Mexican cartel joining in on the action. Dharma Kelleher does well with this new series, holding true to her foundations while keeping things unique enough for readers to enjoy the journey.

I have enjoyed the work of Dharma Kelleher for the last number of years, enjoying the large learning curves she presents and moments to education myself about lifestyles with which I know little. Kelleher can write and spin a story without getting caught up in soapbox preaching or flogging an issue to death. With great characters and strong narrative direction, these novels read with ease and keep the reader engaged until the final chapters.

Kelleher has always presented strong direction with her work, aided by clear narrative focus and quick delivery. Short chapters push the story along, teasing the reader to enjoy even a little more as things progress. A handful of strong and unique characters differentiate Kelleher’s other series from this one, but there are moments of connection that keep the reader referring back to other books published by the author. Plot twits throughout and a non-linear direction to get to the solution provide entertainment and action for the reader who seeks something unpredictable. I am eager to see that there is more to come with this series, as it caught my attention and has me wanting to discover Avery Byrne‘s interesting backstory.

Kudos, Madam Kelleher, for a great launching point for a new series. There is lots to learn and you have my attention when you choose to educate.

Look Both Ways, by Linwood Barclay

Eight stars

Always eager to read Linwood Barlcay’s novels, I made some time in my schedule for this one. Combining his well-established talent with a life-long obsession of cars, Barclay entertains the reader while forcing them to think on just how technology could turn against us. With his stellar writing style leading the way, Barclay shows us a different side to his craft, which is equally as enthralling as his usual publications.

It’s a big day for Garrett Island, a small community that is about to help launch a new innovation in transportation. With all gas-consuming automobiles banned from the island, locals have been using Arrivals, the latest in self-driving technology. Operated by voice commands, Arrivals transport people all over the island, obeying all laws and virtually taking any worry out of being on the road. Just sit back and enjoy the scenery.

While many have been panning the experiment of self- driving vehicles, Sandra Montrose is counting on it to boost her image as a press relations exec with Arrival. She needs something good in her life, after the loss of her husband and straying of her teenage children. Sandra cannot see anything that could go wrong, as the cars appear perfectly in tune with what they need to do, which is garnering a great deal of positive feedback all over the United States.

However, disaster strikes and things go horribly wrong. With no other form of transportation on the island, the glitch has left people running for cover as the Arrivals appear to take on a life of their own. Panic ensues and people are soon targets for these dream cars. It’s only a matter of time before things turn deadly and there are many around the island who are fighting their own battles with these machines.

Part Christine and part Terminator, the story takes on a life of its own from a variety of perspectives. As each sub-plot inches closer to the centre, things come together and the truth behind the Garrett Island disaster becomes clear. However, could anyone have predicted what the end result would be or who might end up on the losing end? Linwood Barclay at his best in this one, which stirs up as many questions as it does answers.

There’s something about the work of Linwood Barclay that always has me coming back for more. His acerbic wit combined with a great ability to tell a story keeps the reader inthe middle of the action. Always eager to see how his plots will develop, I devour his books and find myself captivated with whatever is going on around me. I can only hope others see the same thing and end up just as taken aback.

Linwood Barclay provides a strong opening to lure the reader in, while keeping them guessing what is to coming. The narrative gains momentum and provides the perfect guide to what is sure to be a soapbox moment on technology and the sacredness of automobiles. However, with a cast of characters ready to explore all angles of vehicular technology, the story keeps developing while plots emerge. It is only when the reader is neck-deep into the tale that they find themselves unable to put the book down, waiting as new issues arise and any sort of resolution seems futile. As the multiple narrative perspectives collide, Barclay brings things home effectively and with purpose, leaving the reader fully embedded in the story at this point. A chilling tale that has hints of past car-based horror stories worth a few twists to keep things uniquely Linwood Barclay.

Kudos, Mr. Barclay, for keeping me hooked until the very end. I cannot wait to see what else you have in store for fans soon.