Crossing the Whitewash: The Rugby World Cup thriller, by Nick Rippington

Three stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Nick Rippington, and Cabrilon Books for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

In my first experience with a Rippington piece, and from what I can decipher, the author’s first foray into the realm of fiction. With a vast amount of experience on the topic, I hoped for something not only filled with accurate details, but that could flow smoothly from the author’s mind to the printed page. Gary Marshall had dreams as a child, including playing for his favourite football club. After a skirmish on his way home from school, he encounters Arnold Dolan, who becomes his best mate and protector. Little does Marshall know that Dolan has a crew of less than stellar misfits, who, after taking him under their wing, begin a life of teenage bedlam. One night, Marshall meets a fate worse than death for him, a crippling injury that leaves him unable to play football ever again. It is only now that things take a turn for the worse, as Dolan and Marshall encounter a young man and get into a skirmish that leaves one dead, one incarcerated, and a third on the lam. Meet Gareth Prince, journalist extraordinaire, and new identity of Gary Marshall. Prince is hiding from his past and those who could track him down and sully his reputation. He’s moved to Cardiff and is taken on as a rugby reporter, though knows nothing of the sport. With the help of a young intern and Welsh rugby legend, Prince begins spinning tales ahead of the Rugby World Cup. However, unable to sever all ties with home, Prince reaches out as Dolan is released from prison, with a score to settle and a secret to reveal. The rest is a jam-packed story set against a huge sporting event and peppered with significant drama. Rippington tells an interesting story, which curious readers might want to investigate.
With no knowledge of Rippington or his abilities, I entered this novel blind. I remained that way, grasping for the storyline throughout the early stages of the book, trying to get my feet under me. However, the momentum picked up as Marshall became Prince and the story’s characters became more relatable soon thereafter. With a few storylines running in parallel, Rippington tells the story of a has-been sports star and his handling of a collection of shattered dreams, as well as a man who knows nothing of the land in which he lives or the metaphoric language everyone speaks. Rippington’s journalistic capabilities shine through here and he is able to develop characters who shine in headline and fleshed-out ways. A great first effort and, looking back, even that opening section has merit and fits nicely with the overall storyline.

Kudos, Mr. Rippington for this intriguing look into Wales, its passion for rugby, and the mysteries of a hidden past.  

The Fixer, by Joseph Finder

Four stars

In another thrilling one-off novel, Finder pulls the reader into a story of a man who comes to realise that he knows little about the man he’s called ‘dad’ his entire life. Rick Hoffman suffers numerous set-backs, which forces him to return to his childhood home. With a father in a nursing home after a horrific stroke, Hoffman chooses to renovate the house, with the help of a neighbour. What they find in the walls, besides rot and despair, ends up being a sizeable amount of money. Hoffman hides this from everyone and begins using his investigative journalist skills to track down the source of the funds. With a father who cannot speak, Hoffman must look at the business dealings that took place in and around the time of the stroke, slowly getting a better image of the man who put on the front of being a reputable lawyer, but who chose to be a bagman for seedy businessmen, paying bribes where needed. The further Hoffman digs, the more the mystery unravels, moving things from the past into the present. A key piece of information piques Hoffman’s interest, though its discovery has a number of highly resourceful men on edge, who will stop at nothing to keep it hidden. As Hoffman stays one step ahead of danger, he finds himself turning down many pathways covered it pitfalls. It could take a single mistake to end his life and maintain the silence forever. Finder tantalises the reader with this stellar piece of fiction surrounding Boston in the early 90s, packed with a punch that will resonate the further the reader delves. A must-read for any and all who love a good thrill.

Finder uses his capable writing style to bring the reader into the middle of the story from the outset, pinning plausible characters against a plot that develops seamlessly. The reader sees strong shifts in the novel throughout, but the narrative is such that the flow is uninterrupted and the action intensifies. While not based on a series, Finder is able to bring the reader to better understand the likes of Rick Hoffman without needing extensive backstory, but does offer crumbs throughout, keeping the reader curious, yet informed of the character’s development. With Boston as a wonderful backdrop, Finder speculates on The Big Dig and how its creation was surely filled with bribes, lies, and backroom deals. A wonderful piece sure to lure in the new fan and leave them begging for more.

Kudos, Mr. Finder for this great piece. I cannot wait to see what you have in store for your fans in the years to come.

Internship in Murder (Capital Crimes #28), by Donald Bain

Four stars

In the twenty-eighth instalment of the Capital Crimes series Bain weaves a tale of distrust and murder, which pulls a number of people into the crosshairs and shows the true colours of a US Representative. After scoring a coveted congressional internship with family friend Congressman Hal Gannon, Laura Bennett is living her dream. Away from her family back in Tampa, Laura is soaking up the DC life, including an active nightlife. When Laura enters into an illicit affair with Gannnon, she seems convinced that it is headed for marriage and she will one day become the First Lady. After discovering Gannon’s duplicitous ways, Laura vows to bring him down, along with all his hopes and dreams for political ascension. When Laura goes missing, her family hires Private Investigator Robert Brixton to look into the matter, trying to offset the investigative work of the Washington MPD. Brixton looks deeper into Gannon’s background and finds a significant contrast between his family values stances and skirt-chasing ways. After Laura’s body turns up, all eyes shift to Gannon and his motive for getting rid of the young intern. As more bodies turn up, Gannon’s motive to silence his detractors seems even stronger, but could there be more behind the story, a piece even media outlets have not yet found? A wonderful addition to Margaret Truman’s long-running series, which continues to keep Mackensie and Annabel Smith in the forefront of the storyline.

I am a long-time fan of Truman’s series and have even come to enjoy the writing Bain has done to keep the series alive. While the premise of the novel, young woman falls for powerful man and is scorned, proves to be far from unique, Bain utilises some stellar characters and a wonderful plot progression to keep the reader interested until the very end. The illustration of power and politics has been a theme in the series from the get-go, on which Bain build since he took over the books. While no one can match Truman’s style, Bain does a decent job and keeps the Smiths involved in the story, who have always brought a new and exciting dimensions to the series.

Kudos, Mr. Bain for keeping the stories alive and the Truman memory from fading.

The Wright Brothers, by David McCullough

Four stars

McCullough offers up and wonderful, though brief, biographical piece on the Wright Brothers, whose ideas and curiosities exemplify how boundless determination can literally turn the world on its head. While McCullough has stretched the traditional definition of biography with some of his past work, another unique approach is used in creating a single narrative for both brothers. As the reader will see, McCullough is not off base in doing things from this perspective, as Wilbur and Orville Wright were alike in many ways. These similarities extend to the three themes the author presents throughout the book, depicting the brothers as Dayton inventors, Ohio innovators, and American dreamers. These distinctions, while interconnected, arise independently throughout the narrative and offers the reader a better roadmap (or should I say flight plan?) when absorbing McCullough’s work. A great piece to interest any reader curious about the dawn of flight.

Wilbur and Orville Wright could easily be called the great Dayton inventors. They came from modest means and had a mid-sized family in Dayton, Ohio. Their sister, Katharine, was always close at hand and supported them through their exploratory phase, where the Wrights sought to better understand the world around them. Wilbur and Orville both had a penchant for inventing things, having left small projects scattered around the house from a young age. Although four years separated them, the brothers were inseparable and soon became partners in their printing business and opened and bicycle shop together, when that mode of transportation was all the rage. While raised in a religious household, Wilbur and Orville saw something else when they turned to the skies, the possibility of flight. They constructed numerous contraptions, formulating wings akin to those of birds and not flat bands of cloth over wood or metal skeletons. As McCullough argues, while European gliders were already taking to the skies, the Wrights wanted sustained flight, not entirely tied to wind velocity and clement weather. With no formal engineering education (nothing post-secondary at all), they worked on ideas to invent something that would allow them to soar in the air, at least for a time. The issue of flight did not originate with them, for as far back as da Vinci, scientists speculated about flight in a concrete manner. McCullough shows throughout the text that neither brother would accept the common argument that man was not meant to conquer the air, choosing instead to find a way, through their inventive minds, to bridge the gap.

Once they’d developed a prototype idea, the Wrights set their sights to become Ohio innovators, honing their craft outside Dayton. With the supplies needed and the intuition on how to turn an idea into reality, Orville and Wilbur devised a flying machine. After an exhaustive search they spent a few summers in the hamlet of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina fine tuning the machine and its core components. McCullough discusses how early prototypes sought to secure the wings in one spot, but the brothers soon learned that movement of the wings, outside of a sedentary position, was key to aeronautical success. By December 17, 1903, they took to the air and opened a new and exciting chapter in their lives. These innovations were not without stumbling blocks. Not only were the Wrights forced to wage war against the weather and physics, but a severe outbreak of mosquitos. Acting as their own personal Waterloo, these winged fiends drove Wilbur and Orville to shorten their experimental periods during at least one summer and proved an essential hurdle in the larger battle to see the inventive spirit blossom into innovative output that would change the world forever.  

The Wright Brothers took their invention and chose to become American dreamers, as they marketed the ideas for the world to see. While Wilbur headed over to France to firm up financial backing for the machines, Orville remained in America to show off the new machine. Both used this time to demonstrate the lengths to which their machines could function, performing death-defying feats of bravery, figure-8 loops, and sustained aeronautical abilities. Both caught the attention of the general public and royalty alike, offering primitive air shows and answers questions to the best of their abilities. McCullough posits that this was how Wilbur and Orville lived the American Dream on opposite sides of the ocean, both seeking a life of adventure while demonstration the lengths to which the machines could travel. They continued working on their flying machines, but had passed on the knowledge and tutored various military officers from a handful of countries about the art of flying. Making an indelible mark on history, Wilbur and Orville will forever be remembered for taking flight from a scientific question to a concrete reality, and all by chasing a dream.

McCullough uses the brief space he has to tell a wonderful story and keep the reader highly interested. As I have read a number of his past pieces, I was certain this tome would prove just as intriguing. Flight in general is too large a topic to handle in a biography, though the Wright Brothers as individuals is also too difficult, mainly because they were so interconnected. As McCullough discusses in the early chapters, they sounded alike, wrote alike, and even thought alike on occasion. Differentiating these men proves highly daunting, though their accomplishments can be equally attributed and therefore fits nicely in this joint piece. McCullough opens the door for the reader to learn more, should that be their desire. As with all McCullough pieces, the reader can pick or choose how much they want to take away, with so much from which to choose. 

Kudos, Mr. McCullough for your wonderful insight into early 20th century innovation. You have touched the historical and biographical world with so much of interest and yet you never cease to amaze me.

Finders Keepers (Bill Hodges #2), by Stephen King

Four stars

King returns with the second in the Bill Hodges series to tell a tale sure to impress fans and newcomers alike. John Rothstein, a sensational author in his time, chose to hang up his pen after writing a successful Jimmy Gold adventure series. Morris Bellamy, an avid reader of the series developed great angst at the sellout that Rothstein became, leaving the famed character to wither in a life behind a desk. In an altercation, Rothstein is killed and Bellamy works with two other henchmen to steal money from his safe and a collection of notebooks, filled with never published story ideas and further novels in the Gold series. Bellamy hides these treasures before he’s arrested for another crime and sent away. During his thirty-five year incarceration, much changes on the outside, including the emergence of high-schooler Pete Saubers, who discovers Bellamy’s cache. Saubers makes his way through the money and considers what to do with the notebooks, realising there may be others who want these books for their own collection. Bill Hodges is eventually brought into the mix, asked to poke around to determine how Pete may have come into such a large amount of money and the significance of the notebooks. As Hodges begins poking around, Bellamy is released from prison and goes in search of his cache, only to discover it has gone missing. Working with one of his former cohorts, Bellamy targets Saubers and seeks to collect the notebooks at any cost. The more Hodges learns, the more he discovers that Saubers may be in the crosshairs of a man who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. With an ending right out of King’s other classics, the reader sits on the edge, wondering what Hodges can be to avoid an inevitable bloodbath. With a wonderful dangling thread from the opening novel, King sets up a powerful showdown for the final instalment, sure to bring Hodges to the precipice yet again. A good effort at a second in the series, though not as powerful as the first, King fans are in for a literary treat.

King is known for his tangential writing, forcing readers to read (or listen) carefully to pull out the relevant information in order to move forward in these sorts of novels. King’s style is such that there is a strong story, with numerous characters adding small bits of flavour to the larger narrative. At times silly, especially with the addition of the Holly Gibney character, King leaves it all out there for the reader to either love or hate what is on offer. The story did lag, for me, and was not as mystery-centred as I would have liked, spending much more time on the Bellamy post-incarceration and Saubers discovery of the notebooks than I might have liked. In a move away from King’s horror or paranormal thriller genres, the Hodges novels have a strong mystery aspect to them, while still keeping a gore factor sure to impress traditional fans.

Kudos, Mr. King for this addition to your collection. 

Killing Maine (Pono Hawkins #2), by Mike Bond

Three stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Mike Bond, and Mandevilla Press for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

In my first experience with a Bond novel, the premise seemed highly entertaining and I hoped the politics would juxtapose themselves nicely with a fast-paced story. Pono Hawkins is called away from his idyllic life in Hawaii to help a Special Forces comrade whose found himself in a load of trouble in the frigid backcountry of Maine. Bucky Franklin is accused of the murdering local politician Ronnie Dalt as Hawkins finds himself fighting two major battles for which he is ill-equipped: helping the man who sent him to a military prison and tackling the high-impact world of wind power politics. Pono reconnects with Bucky‚Äôs wife, Lexie, whom Hawkins stole during the aforementioned incarceration period, as they attempt to find Bucky an alibi. Pono crosses paths with an old flame who is now a fierce attorney and Dalt’s widow, Abigail, both of whom help the cause in their own way while sharing his bed and body. Pono becomes the new target of a set of mysterious killers who are dead-set against poking around into the Dalt murder. With his sordid past, Pono becomes the local authority’s new target for acts of vandalism and kidnapping, leaving yet another battle in his path as time is running out. With corruption rife and the authorities turning a deaf ear, Pono must use his love quadrangle to his advantage, as the truth comes to light. An interesting read, pitting politics and honesty against one another in a way the reader may not have seen before. Bond uses his soapbox throughout, which may help give the reader a better idea of corporate America’s domestic warring, with politicians as their soldiers.

The political aspects of the novel lured me in, at least when I read the summary. However, once I delved deeper and tried to match it up with the story, things fell flat. I cannot put my finger on it, but Bond did not utilise Pono in a way to pull me in and his flitting characteristics seemed more off-putting than alluring to me. Wind Power and its corrupt nature did little to keep me sated, as Pono pieced together the mystery behind a local murder and uncovered a deeper tale of corrupt politicians and greased palms. The premise could have made for an explosive novel, forcing page-turning well into the night. Instead, I am left thankful that I can close this book and hope to get the literary wind back in my sails, pun intended.

Interesting idea, Mr. Bond, though far from stellar in its presentation.

Kissinger, by Walter Isaacson

Five stars

Returning to the wonderful world of political biographies, I chose to tackle another of Walter Isaacson’s collection, looking at Henry Kissinger. Isaacson traces Kissinger’s humble beginnings in Germany through to his meteoric rise through the American political stratosphere, concentrated in the Nixon and Ford White Houses. Throughout the book, numerous storylines present three distinct themes in Kissinger’s life: the stellar academic, the megalomaniacal fiend, and the astute statesman. Isaacson offers a plethora of information and detailed accounts of Kissinger’s life to date, which allows the reader a sensational look into some of America’s formative years in the mid- to late-20th century. While his prominence has waned of late, Kissinger’s impact on foreign policy and the historical footprint he’s left will forever be seen in historical tomes. One of the most detailed biographies I have ever read, Isaacson goes above and beyond to bring Kissinger to life.

One key aspect to Kissinger’s success in life traces back to his academic prowess. From an early age, Kissinger’s aptitude for his studies were second to none. After fleeing Germany and the Nazi regime in 1938, a fifteen year old Kissinger and his family settled in New York with many of the others of Jewish descent. He scored the highest grades in his classes, even with the language barrier, and never sought to use these hurdles as a means of pity. While he had an early penchant for mathematics, an eventual passion for history turned Kissinger’s academic focus to the liberal arts. Kissinger elevated his studies and headed to Harvard on scholarship, with a strong focus on international history. He could impress his professors with a passion for better understanding the nuances of the world through past historical events. He leapfrogged into graduate studies and eventually earned a doctoral degree with a dissertation examining the post-Napoleonic organisation of Europe through the role that Klemens von Metternich (the Austrian Empire’s foreign minister) played in sewing up diplomatic relations, which would prove highly useful in understanding the world’s development during the Cold War years. Turning to teaching at Harvard, Kissinger could formulate strong opinions that caught the eye of many in the upper echelons of government, especially his views on nuclear weapons armament, which ruffled the feathers of many liberals within the Harvard family. These sorts of studies not only earned him recognition in Washington, but exemplified his academic foundation, which would prove essential when he worked with Nixon and Ford in the White House, formulating foreign policy and negotiating with Cold War enemies.Isaacson shows Kissinger’s passion for research and delving to the depths of the issue in order to extract core elements essential for a better understanding of the process, pulling in Metternichian ideas during numerous occasions.

Kissinger’s brilliant academic foundation led to megalomaniacal tendencies, fostered by his superiority sentiment. As an academic, Kissinger utilised his position of authority to direct research of his graduate and doctoral students, going so far as to steamroll over their proposals, only to take the ideas for himself. In one instance, Isaacson illustrates how Kissinger quashed a publication option by one of his students, citing an earlier inclination to publish on the topic. Forcing the student to alter their research, Kissinger never got around to writing or publishing the contentious piece, though he never thought to apologise for the oversight. This only laid the groundwork for many other instances of power-hungry Kissinger pushing for control and domination over all around him. Isaacson portrays Kissinger as one who must always be within the inner circle of power, or at least around the discussion table. He would drone on to the likes of Kennedy, circumnavigating protocol and those within the inner sanctum, only to be rebuffed behind his back. Once Nixon brought him into the White House inner sanctum, Kissinger’s megalomaniacal nature only flared, leaving him to step on the toes of his subordinates, equals, and superiors alike. In a highly-detailed narrative of Nixon’s first term in office, Isaacson shows how Kissinger overstepped his position as the National Security Advisor to run large portion of the State portfolio while keeping the Secretary, Will Rogers, completely in the dark. One concrete example of this come in the secret mission to open up ties with China in 1971. Kissinger went to China to pave the way, after convincing Nixon that he was the obvious and only choice for the job. He dodged the bureaucrats and organised the mission without State’s input, releasing the details only afterwords in a tightly-spun lie. These clashes only heightened the more time Kissinger remained in his position, fuelled by a somewhat passive (or enabling) Richard Nixon. Kissinger could not have climbed the ladder of control without the permission or support of Nixon, which Isaacson shows throughout the text. These two men, destined for complete power, rarely butted heads, but used one another to climb over all opponents in their way, as though they were a pair of hedonistic political juggernauts, happy only when the world turned to them in awe.

 With strong beliefs and an indestructible sense, Kissinger’s role as statesman was second to none. As mentioned above, he took the reins of lead statesman in Nixon’s government long before the role was given to him. Nixon turned to Kissinger to diffuse many of the world events in which America had a vested interest. The China mission and secret talks with the Viet Cong remain two of the great events in which Kissinger was involved, though both commenced when he was not yet in the role of Secretary of State. Kissinger was seen to be long-winded and somewhat of a diplomatic bouncer for world leaders who hoped to bend Nixon’s ear on issue. Indira Ghandi mentioned during her State Visit in 1971 that Nixon would demur to Kissinger’s opinions and allowed him to lead the discussions surrounding the India-Pakistan War, which troubled her, but led to a quick end to the conflict. Kissinger was more than an academic, spouting the textbook approach to resolution in his realist perspective, which Isaacson cites throughout. Kissinger got results and helped move diplomacy in areas of the world stuck in stalemates for long periods of time, through duplicitous means, in Isaacson’s view. The statesman would play both sides against one another by appearing to side with them in individual discussions and promising not stop at nothing to advocate for fairness. While handling statesman roles during Nixon’s first administration, Kissinger could work in any sphere, save for those of a Middle East capacity (at least until crowned as Secretary of State in 1973). Isaacson indicates throughout the tome that Nixon felt Kissinger’s Jewish background might prove to be too much of an impediment to successful negotiating. However, once Kissinger became Secretary of State, he utilised the Yom Kippur War to open a dialogue between Israel and Egypt, paving the way to successful advancements in the Middle East. For this, Kissinger must be lauded as he opened up key discussions that led to the famous Camp David Accords, under Carter’s Administration. To call Kissinger a powerful statesman would undercut his abilities. The latter chapters, including those in the Ford Administration, show Kissinger forging new and never-ending attempts to settle the Cold War geo-political divisions within and between states, though his relationship with the Soveits would taint his ability to work with subsequent Republican administrations, including Reagan and both Bushes. Kissinger’s statesman abilities surpass many of those who served as Secretary in America’s history.

After taking a thorough examination of the book, including Isaacson’s sentiments in the forewards offered, it is hard to determine Isaacson’s tilt on the man. Much of the biography is supportive of his ability to change the world and America’s place therein with a strong reliance on a political butterfly effect (an issue in one part of the world could have strong implications on those in another sphere).There are also segments that paint a highly negative or confrontational light of Kissinger, peppered throughout Isaacson’s narrative. I did not leave this biography hating Kissinger, nor did I leave feeling that he was pure as the driven snow. Perhaps that is the hard part for Isaacson; finding that happy medium in a political period mired in conflicts around the world with Cabinet members and White House staffers so energised to make a difference. I did, however, take away a great deal of knowledge and insight from the book, which does not shirk on its details. Isaacson paints vivid pictures of the battles that developed and ensued, portraying Nixon (and Ford) as lapdogs to Kissinger’s wiles, some of which were blatant violations of his role in the Cabinet. Any reader looking for a powerful insight into the shaping of politics in the 1960s and 70s need look no further than this biography to extract scores of concrete examples about America’s role in shaping the Cold War world and steering it away from the communistic clutches of the Soviets.

Kudos, Mr. Isaacson for this wonderful piece of work. I was drawn in to this sensational biography and will recommend it to anyone with a political curiosity.

Before It’s Too Late, by Jane Isaac

Four stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Jane Isaac, and Legend Press for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

In my first experience with an Isaac novel, I found myself captivated from the outset of this stellar psychological thriller. After Chinese student Min Li goes missing in Stratford-upon-Avon while walking alone, DI Will Jackman is asked to open a missing person’s investigation. Jackman is recently back on the job after a horrible accident left his wife in a coma, with little hope of waking, which weighs heavily on his mind, though he is determined to return to the workforce. While Jackman and his team begin piecing together leads, a ransom demand arrives, is paid, but Min is still nowhere to be found. As Jackman finds parallels between a number of other missing women in the region, all matching Min’s generic description, he turns to CCTV footage, which proves useless. When a second college student goes missing, with a similar ransom message, Jackman heads into the Chinese Quarter to investigate another angle, which opens up new possibilities, but also additional quagmires to befuddle the authorities. With alternating chapters from Min Li’s perspective, Isaac tells a wonderful story that has layers of suspense and mystery and keeps the reader trying to piece the mystery together before the final pages, in hopes that no one else falls prey to this kidnapper. An exciting new author for my collection and one readers should not pass up.

While not her first novel, its presentation offers both a fresh and well-founded addition to the genre. Isaac grips the reader with the premise and does not let go. The fast-paced action is augmented with short chapters that keep the pace flowing. Jackman is a wonderful character, who bring much baggage to his job, but uses his personal issues to fuel a passion to forge onwards. Isaac uses wonderful characters and powerful narration to keep the story flowing effectively and captures the reader’s attention throughout. If I could offer but one query, the linguistic capabilities of young Min Li, especially in her centric chapters seems more advanced than I would have expected. However, this is menial in the overall novel.

Kudos, Madam Isaac for such a powerful piece that kept me enthralled. I hope to find more of your work and devour it in the coming months.

Independence Day (Dewey Andreas #5), by Ben Coes

Four stars

Coes returns with another high-impact thriller sure to grab the reader by the collar. When a Soviet-era nuclear weapon is moved out of Ukraine, American Intelligence agencies are on high alert, as this is one of the ‘blackmarket’ weapons never officially accounted for after the Cold War. Intercepted chatter leads some of believe that an attack within America is set for July 4th, dubbed “9-12”, but few other details can be ascertained. As the CIA looks to intercept the bomb before it reaches US soil, Dewey Andreas is the choice to fulfil the mission. However, Andreas continues to struggle with the murder of his girlfriend and is sent to an Agency facility to handle his PTSD. While he has demons to wrestle, Andreas chooses to remain busy and heads to Russia to track down the suspected terrorist behind the weapon attack. As a Russian computer hacker, codenamed Cloud, continues to put his attack plan in motion, Andreas must determine how the weapon will make its way into the country and ensure it is disabled before the Fourth of July goes down in infamy around the United States. Pulling on heart strings, Andreas does all he can, while a ship steams towards the Coast. With action on multiple continents, Coes successfully weaves a wonderful thriller, complete with political drama and action to entice the reader to forge ahead.

Coes has carved a wonderful niche for himself in a busy genre, separating himself from the rest with his suspense-filled stories and chapters jammed with action. Not only can Coes tell a story with his wonderful writing style, he uses great characters to move the story along and plot-lines pulled from the headlines. Readers new to the series will be able to use this novel to pull them into wanting to devour the entire series and wait (im)patiently for the next book’s release. Coes is a master at his craft and brings Dewey Andreas to life, while putting him in countless harrowing situations. 

Kudos, Mr. Coes for another wonderful novel. I cannot wait for your next instalment in the Andreas saga, sure to impress readers yet again.

Pokergeist, by Michael Phillip Cash

Four stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Michael Phillip Cash, Chelshire Inc., and AuthorBuzz for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

Cash provides readers with another entertaining novella, full of humour and paranormal activity at the same time. Clutch Henderson is a great poker player, so great that he’s made it to the final table at the International Series of Poker. After falling just short, his heart literally cannot take the pressure, leading to his death. A year later and Las Vegas is gearing up for another tournament, with young Telly Martin itching to get in on the action. Telly, a decent poker player amongst his friends, simply cannot make ends meet at the Vegas tables and has all but given up his dream. Walking down The Strip one night, he makes a wish, one that Clutch Henderson, now in spirit form, wishes to help him meet; winning the International Series. Skeptical at first, Telly tries to dodge Clutch’s grasp, but after a series of events, it’s all in for the young player. Clutch and Telly work together, weaving their way through the twelve-thousand entrants in hopes of making it to the final table, where one man stands in their way. Cash puts all his chips down in this wonderfully crafted story, mixing he nuances of competitive poker with the banter between the living and the dead. A must-read for those eager to be swept up in the river of high-stakes cards.

Cash shows that he can return to his paranormal theme, yet make the premise new and exciting. While Telly Martin is not haunted by the likes of Clutch, their banter is one that tickles the funny bone of the reader. At times I thought how interesting a screenplay this might make as well, with the give-and-take between the two characters. Cash does, however, flesh out the story with a number of other characters and storylines, all of which add to the excitement of the larger plot. With quick narrative and intuitive dialogue, peppered with poker lingo, the reader can feel in the middle of the tournament and the world of high-stakes cards without leaving their couch. Easily read in an afternoon, Cash pulls the reader in and will not let go until the story’s been told; the test of a real author’s abilities.

Kudos, Mr. Cash for another great book. I have added you to my radar to check out in the future.

Pokergeist, by Michael Phillip Cash

Four stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Michael Phillip Cash, Chelshire Inc., and AuthorBuzz for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

Cash provides readers with another entertaining novella, full of humour and paranormal activity at the same time. Clutch Henderson is a great poker player, so great that he’s made it to the final table at the International Series of Poker. After falling just short, his heart literally cannot take the pressure, leading to his death. A year later and Las Vegas is gearing up for another tournament, with young Telly Martin itching to get in on the action. Telly, a decent poker player amongst his friends, simply cannot make ends meet at the Vegas tables and has all but given up his dream. Walking down The Strip one night, he makes a wish, one that Clutch Henderson, now in spirit form, wishes to help him meet; winning the International Series. Skeptical at first, Telly tries to dodge Clutch’s grasp, but after a series of events, it’s all in for the young player. Clutch and Telly work together, weaving their way through the twelve-thousand entrants in hopes of making it to the final table, where one man stands in their way. Cash puts all his chips down in this wonderfully crafted story, mixing he nuances of competitive poker with the banter between the living and the dead. A must-read for those eager to be swept up in the river of high-stakes cards.

Cash shows that he can return to his paranormal theme, yet make the premise new and exciting. While Telly Martin is not haunted by the likes of Clutch, their banter is one that tickles the funny bone of the reader. At times I thought how interesting a screenplay this might make as well, with the give-and-take between the two characters. Cash does, however, flesh out the story with a number of other characters and storylines, all of which add to the excitement of the larger plot. With quick narrative and intuitive dialogue, peppered with poker lingo, the reader can feel in the middle of the tournament and the world of high-stakes cards without leaving their couch. Easily read in an afternoon, Cash pulls the reader in and will not let go until the story’s been told; the test of a real author’s abilities.

Kudos, Mr. Cash for another great book. I have added you to my radar to check out in the future.

Stillwell: A Haunting on Long Island, by Michael Phillip Cash

Four stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Michael Phillip Cash, Chelshire Inc., and the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

Cash provides readers with a wonderful novella, full of chills and action, while keeping the spirit phenomena from becoming too corny. Paul Russo is forced to pick up the pieces from his shattered life after his wife’s death. With three children and piles of debt, Paul can no longer hide from the world and must find a way towards normalcy. When his youngest begins talking about seeing her mother’s ghost, Paul downplays this as a grieving mechanism. Once an esteemed real estate agent, Paul is forced back into the competitive world, searching for a sale to boost his confidence and economic prospects. An estate he frequented in his youth enters the market and Paul is asked to represent the buyers. With a horrific story tied to the recent owners, Paul must try to get it sold without letting this haunt any potential buyers. As Paul learns more about the house’s history, he also discovers that there are eerie stories within its walls and a spirit lurking, one with ties to his wife’s family. As Paul is haunted by his wife’s spirit in his dreams and sees her struggle with a demon, he must forge ahead and save her, along with the house’s original spirit, or face a lifetime of struggles. All this, while trying to put on a brave face for his children and ensure them that their mother is in a better place. Cash hits the mark with this novella, captivating the reader from the opening pages and not letting go.

When I read the premise of this novella, I was not sure if it would have an eerie nature to it, or be something as corny as floating ghosts and rattling chains. Cash invests much time into fleshing out his characters and provides a strong narrative, as well as a plot that pushes the story forward without making it seem silly. His historical sub-plot is woven nicely into the tale and keeps the momentum as the reader tries to learn a little more about Paul, his wife, and the Revolutionary War spirits haunting this estate. Use of the spirit in Paul’s dreams juxtaposes nicely with his need to let her memory rest in peace. Barring a few typographical errors, the novella presents almost flawlessly and keeps the reader attuned to all that his going on, without delving into anything too outlandish or silly. It has piqued my interest to find more of Cash’s work to compare this.

Kudos, Mr. Cash for a great piece and I hope you keep writing with this high-calibre style for years to come.

A Cry From the Dust (Gwen Marcey #1), by Carrie Stuart Parks

Four stars

In her debut novel, Parks presents a powerful story whose action does not stop until the final page. Desperate for work after a recent battle with cancer and divorce, Gwen Marcey finds herself at the Mountain Meadows Information Center in Utah, home of the infamous massacre which, in 1857, marked a dark day in the Mormon Church. Using her background as a forensic artist, Marcey is working on reconstructing skulls found in the area. After a group of protesters cause trouble at the Center, two people are found murdered by the following morning and Marcey cannot help but want to solve the mystery. Returning home to handle a rebellious teen daughter, Marcey discovers that there is a religious undertone to these murders and that the Mormon Church is at the centre of the controversy. Using a patchwork of Church history and a skull that may hold significance, Marcey begins working with the FBI to lure out a set of Mormons who call themselves the Avenging Angels, tasked with handling issues within the Church. When Marcey pushes too hard for answers, she finds herself caught in the middle of the Angels and uncovers the master plan, set to play out on the anniversary of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Unsure who she can trust while being framed for murder, Marcey must reach the authorities and save her daughter before devastation strikes again. Parks grips the reader from the opening pages and weaves a masterful novel that mixes historical fact with mysterious fiction. A novel not to be missed by those who love forensic-based mysteries.

When I discovered Parks recently, I could not believe how strong her writing could be. I parachuted into the second book in the series when offered an advance copy and wondered how much backstory would emerge in this, the first novel. While the reader is given some more context into Gwen, Aynslee, and even Gwen’s friend, Beth, there is much that is only insinuated and could be fleshed out into more flashback pieces. Parks tells a very strong story and uses what she knows best, forensic art, to carve a niche into this well-established genre. The amount of research that must have gone into the novel is astounding and it surely caused its share of controversy, though the reality in which it is rooted makes it all the more plausible. Parks uses these strong factors to sculpt a great story, with strong characters and believable dialogue, all while ensuring the reader is kept on edge with no chance to lull themselves into a spot of comfort. The jump to fiction writing was a profitable gamble for Parks and her fan base should grow exponentially with further novels of this calibre.  

Kudos, Madam Parks for this sensational piece. I am pleased that I stumbled onto your novel and cannot wait to read more of your work, in the years to come.

Einstein: His Life and Universe, by Walter Isaacson

Four stars

Taking a brief sojourn from the world of political biographies, I chose to tackle another of Walter Isaacson’s collection, this time focussing on prized scientist Albert Einstein. While the general public is well-versed in some of the better known aspects of Einstein’s life, there is much that helped shape him, even outside his scientific endeavours, that is of great interest to the reader. Isaacson pens another wonderful biography, in which he portrays Einstein in three distinct lights: the quirky individual, the scientific juggernaut, and the social commentator. Using these three themes, the reader can better understand Einstein, while seeing many of his wonderful scientific achievements come to life on the written page. Isaacson puts together a wonderful piece, both entertaining and educational, to depict a well-rounded approach to Einstein’s life.

It would likely surprise few readers to learn that Einstein was a quirky fellow, though not in a ‘mad scientist’ way. From an early age, Einstein had a thirst for knowledge and chose to do things in a unique fashion. Isaacson illustrates some of his nature in Einstein’s post-secondary studies, where he met Mileva Maric, the woman he would eventually marry. Their correspondence was anything but traditionally romantic, choosing instead to fuel their passion by discussing scientific papers. This morphed into an Einstein who, when Maric was pregnant with their first (and illegitimate) child, chose to remain apart from her and waited for her father to announce the news of the baby’s birth before he replied with a number of curious questions about his daughter’s appearance. He did not rush to her or lay eyes on the little one, preferring to continue his scientific discoveries and tutoring jobs. Einstein eventually married Maric, who bore him two sons, though their relationship strained over the years and led to Einstein seeking a divorce, promising to offer up the prize money from any subsequent Nobel Prize. This appeared to work and opened the option for Einstein to pursue his first cousin, Elsa. They would eventually marry, though not for romantic or intellectual reasons. Isaacson does not provide much social commentary on Einstein’s choice for a second marriage, though he does not deny its odd development. Einstein seemed to have a number of female friends with whom lines blurred. He did not react in any way that would lead the reader to believe anything was wrong or that he felt remorse. As the narrative continues, Isaacson depicts Einstein as a man free of social norms, befriending royals and heads of state alike, all without pretence or concern for status. While he could likely understand hierarchy, Einstein placed everyone on an equal playing field, thirsty for knowledge and keen on sharing their insights. This mindset permeated throughout Einstein’s life and did spurn a slight uniqueness in his viewpoint.

To consider Einstein a scientific heavyweight of his time may be underplaying his influence. Throughout the text, Isaacson not only illustrates the lengths to which Einstein sought to push the boundaries of physics, but also explores some of the many quandaries that other physicists left dangling. From an early age, Einstein absorbed all mathematical and scientific concepts, teaching himself with the help of a textbook. Einstein sped through his studies and always wondered about the mechanics of the world, particularly those things he could not see. As the Father of Theoretical Physics, Einstein relied not on concrete experimentation to handle his queries, but a collection of thought experiments. These experiments also permitted him to better explain his ideas to the layperson. Likely influenced by the mode of transportation used to carry him to his job in the Swiss Patent Office, Einstein used trains and elevators as central characters in many thought experiments, especially related to gravity and light. It was through these experiments that Einstein developed the concepts of relativity and began publishing papers on the topic. What may be of great surprise to the reader is that Einstein’s work was not praised uniformly. Einstein could not secure an academic post for many years, nor were many of his ideas enough to score him a supported doctoral thesis topic. It is only later that others piggybacked on his thought processes, which led to an overall acceptance of his work. That Einstein carved a niche in the scientific world is an understatement, though he sought to open new realms that took many by surprise and therefore left them unable to understand. Einstein never stopped wondering or pushing limits, as illustrated by Isaacson. There were many who opened new pathways of thought down which Einstein travelled, promoting an ever-evolving thought process. Isaacson introduces the reader not only to the various scientific fields in which Einstein dabbled, but also the players who kept challenging the ways of thinking. It is for this reason that Einstein can be said to have a strong foundation in the scientific world decades after his passing.

Einstein’s attachment with the world, outside of science, is not lost within Isaacson’s piece. From an early age, Einstein criticised the German state, feeling its overly militaristic nature served no one and promoted an automaton mentality. Einstein shed his citizenship as soon as I could, living for a time as a man without a state. He did, however, do all he could to secure Swiss citizenship and worked in their Patent Office for a time, which fuelled his scientific mind. Choosing the ideal state for a pacifist, Einstein lived a life free of concern for a time, but was lured back to Germany in the mid 1910s, ahead of the military build-up and outbreak of the Great War. Einstein spoke out against societal criticism in a pre-tabloid age. In one such instance, Isaacson discusses the plight of Marie Curie seen in public with another man soon after her marital dissolution. Einstein counselled her not let society dictate how to live her life, while castigating those who felt it appropriate to cast stones and appear faultless. Later, during the inter-war years, Einstein took a strong stand against the League of Nations, which promoted ideas of rules for armament rather than a complete disarmament protocol. Isaacson speculates that part of this sentiment was not only because Einstein saw himself as an eternal pacifist, but also due to the ongoing rumbles behind German borders. Einstein took a strong stand against the Weimar Republic and build-up of the Nazis, concentrated in its fearless leader, Hitler. Einstein’s strong views saw Nazi attacks on his German home, though the scientist had moved to America to work. He chose, once again, to renounce his German citizenship, partially upon learning that he was a persona non grata in his Fatherland. By the time he settled at Princeton, Einstein chose to apply for US Citizenship and proudly became one in the final fifteen years of his life. These strong sentiments saw Einstein push for a no-holds barred approach against the Nazis, irrespective of his Jewish background, in order to curtail the megalomaniacal antics Hitler undertook in Europe and his plans on an international scale. Einstein also helped foster a place for academics and students alike could go where their religious background would not see them shunned. Isaacson argues that the creation of Hebrew University in Jerusalem would not have come to fruition without Einstein’s support, nor would the influx of key scientific minds from Europe’s Jewish community to American universities. Einstein fostered a strong commitment to political and social activism throughout his life, opening new channels for success that rivalled the scientific advancements he made on a regular basis.

As a reader with a strong liberal arts background, I found tackling this biography daunting in places, not because Isaacson seeks to write over my head, but due to all Einstein had in his own mind. Isaacson tries his best to explore the scientific concepts Einstein tackled, using as simplistic an explanation thread a possible. However, these are complex areas of discussion and theoretical concepts at best, leaving me to drift at times, eyes glazed over as I seek to absorb the narrative. Isaacson cannot be faulted for this (nor can Einstein) and the former did all he could to not shy away from presenting the lengths to which the latter went in his scientific discoveries. 

Another brief note from the text worthy of mention before ending the review. Einstein’s family, both those with whom he lived and those he created as an adult, played a central and ongoing role in his life. Isaacson depicts the sometimes complex and controversial way in which this delicate puzzle comes together, highlighting some of the more awkward or depressing aspects, all of which weighed heavily on Einstein. For all his theoretical analysis and experimentation outside the realm of hands-on learning, Einstein had a good grasp of those around him and the familial obligations that followed. This contrasted nicely with the significant academic threads found in the biography’s content. 

Kudos, Mr. Isaacson for this wonderful piece of work. I have a much better idea of the man and the scientific legend who influenced many in ways I cannot begin to comprehend.

Small Wars (Jack Reacher #19.5), by Lee Child

Four stars

In another throwback Reacher story, Child reminds his fans just how versatile his writing can be. When a female lieutenant colonel is killed off base, Jack Reacher is sent in to investigate on behalf of the US Military. Learning a little of Caroline Crawford’s backstory, Reacher discovers that she is working on a highly classified project within the Pentagon. Piecing together some clues, Reacher realises that she was murdered in an apparent carjacking of sorts, but many of the findings at the scene leave more questions than answers. Liaising with his brother, Joe, Reacher begins to get a better idea of what is going on, while county and state officials juggle responsibility for the homicide. Further investigation permits Reacher to weave together the final pieces of the puzzle, which explains the entire event, though the reader had an inkling all along. A great bridge novella for those waiting for the annual Reacher full-length submission.

Some criticise Child for making these stories, shorter and less interesting than the full-length novels. It is quite obvious that character and story development are stilted when 35 pages replaces a full 300+ page submission, though it is how Child can tell the story and keep the flow that makes these pieces wonderful. Their succinct nature, along with the usual inquisitive and sarcastic sides to Reacher that fans expect is harder to do, while also pushing a full mystery into such a short space. Child is masterful in this and those who bemoan it need only realise what they signed on for in the beginning. I love spending a rainy afternoon getting my Jack Reacher fix, which Child provided me, and I encourage anyone with an hour free to pick this up and delve into the wonderful world of Jack Reacher before he went off the grid.

Kudos, Mr. Child for this great short piece. Nothing replaces a full novel, but this will tide me over.

Out of Orange: A Memoir, by Cleary Wolters

Four stars

Having devoured the Piper Kerman memoir which began the Orange Movement, I took it upon myself to devour the Netflix show it spawned. Along the way, I took the time to read the brief piece that Larry Smith coined in response to Kerman’s book and the show’s portrayal. With the release of Cleary Wolters’ (aka Alex Vauss) book, another perspective is released and more truth can be added to further fictionalise the Hollywood approach, as well as alternative viewpoints on Kerman’s recollections. As Wolters mentions early in the piece, she was completely unaware of Orange is the New Black as a television program, receiving no foresight into his release or chance to offer insight into the Prepon character who bore her identity. Wolters admits the show painted her in a light that differed significantly from reality, which spawned the impetus to add her voice to the discussion. Wolters uses a great deal of the book to explore her life as a drug smuggler, caught up in the net of an African kingpin and how she utilised her knowledge to move from mule to organiser. In her travels to Europe and Asia, Wolters fostered a few strong relationships while always worrying that ‘this trip’ could be the one that could prove her last. Through a series of recruiting tactics, a young and fresh woman, Piper Kerman, crosses Wolters’ path and becomes a key player in the smuggling ring, as well as her lover. When the weak links in the ring begin crumbling, Wolters finds herself vulnerable and does all she can to ensure her safety. She turns on her co-defendants, including Kerman, which leads to the bitter presentation in the latter’s published work. The memoir uses its last few chapters to offer a glimpse into the federal prison system, but steers away from a soap box analysis of the penal system. Wolters had her own vignettes behind bars, including a lover of her own and struggles with familial interactions. However, her book looks more to how she lived prior to incarceration, which is useful only in a tangential way to the television program, though highly entertaining for readers who like backstory. A wonderful contrast to Kerman’s memoir, offering a unique spin on the larger story made popular by the binge television show watching movement.

This is a great piece of work, particularly for those who were drawn in by the Kerman piece and have since morphed into addicts of the Orange Movement. It does not seek to compete or dispel the previous narratives, but offers a raw insight into another prisoner’s life that led her to incarceration. I found a great deal of time was spent spinning the story of life as a drug smuggler, which branches away from a number of prison-based stories and characters. It will not appeal to some, who want more ‘behind the bars’ action, though it weaves a story that needs telling, how Wolters (and Kerman) found themselves in prison, which proves to be the cornerstone to the Orange Movement. The story flows well and Wolters has a firm grip on what she is doing, without playing a vindictive role or trying to dispel myths woven by others. She has a story and leaves it to the reader to enjoy it or not, plain and simple.

Kudos, Madam Wolters for your interesting perspective into life and how you found yourself in the custody of the federal penal system.

Strength of Conviction, by Thomas Mulcair

Four stars

In this timely, autobiographical piece, Mulcair offers the reader an insightful glimpse into his life and lays the groundwork for political change. Mulcair spins the story of his life, from his famous ancestors involved in early post-Confenderation Quebec politics to his salt of the earth parents who raised ten children. Mulcair uses his large family beginnings to argue that he knows all too well the role of sacrifice in Canadian households, but also the passion that a family unit can have, if held together cohesively. As the piece continues, Mulcair highlights his student days, including his push to study at McGill, where he earned a law degree, and into his young adult days using the law to help Quebeckers through various government programs and in the private world as an advocate for numerous unions and collective groups. While always a hard worker, Mulcair did not shy away from his family, marrying and having two sons he adored. The juxtaposition of family and work is not lost in this book, as Mulcair juggles both but utilises them as his anchor and vetting group on all major decisions in his life. Being able to balance home and work life helped foster his transition into the politic realm and crowned with a plum Cabinet position in Jean Charest’s Liberal Government, heading up the Environment portfolio in the province of Quebec, where he learned the importance of advocacy for not only his constituents, but the province as a whole. Mulcair shows his passion on every page as he lays out the story, including his hard decision to leave Cabinet over a strong disagreement with Charest. His arrival on the federal scene is equally exciting, as Mulcair shows that he not only has the passion for all Canadians, extrapolating the passion for his home province, but also holds a great deal of insight into what could be, using the tools the the disposal of all Canadians and their elected government. The latter portion of the book, with Mulcair at the helm of the Official Opposition, shows embedded arguments to exemplify how the New Democratic Party could make a difference in Canada and serve the people without driving the country into bankruptcy. Mulcair’s passion for family and country alike flow forth in every part of the book, making his argument as a viable alternative to the Harper Conservatives one rooted in fact, rather than fantasy. A must-read for all Canadians who are not yet sure about the man behind the New Democratic Party, especially ahead of the October 19, 2015 General Election.

Mulcair presents his story in a succinct and highly readable fashion, which caters to all readers and allows his story to flow with ease. He encapsulates his life in an easy to digest way, while also making key arguments throughout, peppered with some of his experiences and those who have crossed his path. I will admit, I knew nothing of the man before he became the Quebec lieutenant of the New Democrats, but soaked up much of his narrative and enjoyed seeing how he made his way from a household of twelve into the formative role as Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. Mulcair has a knack with his storytelling, luring the reader in just enough to get an insight. The autobiography serves multiple purposes, as informative piece, introduction to Canadians, and quasi-political platform, which permits it to cater to a large swath of individuals. A quick but highly informative read that should not be passed up, given the chance to indulge.

Mulcair’s summer release of this autobiography and parts of its content, specifically in the latter chapters, plays right into the hands of the General Election in Canada on October 19, 2015. Mulcair presents himself as a man, a leader, and a prime minister-in-waiting with his poignant piece. With the Orange Wave having crashed on the shores of Alberta last spring (*Gasp* as only Canadians will understand the significance of this), Mulcair seeks to build on the earlier Quebec Wave and bring the New Democratic Party into the mainstream with its ideas and hands-on approach. I felt as though the book scratched only the surface of Mulcair’s life and experiences and hope, should time allow, that he flesh-out some of these experiences into a full memoir once he has retired from public life. While I am no oracle, there may be some very interesting chapters yet to be borne or penned, many of which I would love to read about, especially if October holds the change that appears on the horizon. 

Kudos, Mr. Mulcair for this great snapshot into your life. You make your point without inculcating ideology or insinuating insults, which shows how classy you are as you push forward in the dirty area of federal politics.

Suffer the Children, by Robert Earle

Two stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Robert Earle, and Vook Publishing for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

In a novel whose content is ripped from the headlines, Earle seeks to address the issue of school shootings and how they could be alleviated. Budge Kleeforth and Pru Malveaux are deeply moved when news of another shooting at a small-town America school. They begin working together on a concept that could alleviate said shootings by arming teachers and administrators with a non-lethal concept weapon meant to disable any would-be shooters. With this weapon comes a complete school training package, which would show children how to react in the event that a shooter appeared on the premises. The sell is hard and has blowback all the way into the White House, but they move forward in a small pilot project. However, the fallout from the school shooting is far-reaching and Earle examines a host of characters and how they feel about events, as well as this newly hatched plan to ‘arm the classrooms of America’. Working through a sordid past together, Kleeforth and Malveaux begin their project and the idea gains momentum, as well as the panicked attention of the gun lobby. Earle utilises a multi-layered technique to tell the single story from a variety of angles, as well as bringing things home in an ending that puts the entire project to the test. An interesting concept by Earle, seeking to address an issue with which many readers will be aware.

The novel’s title is perhaps a little misrepresentative. As I trudged through this piece, I felt it was better named “Suffer the Reader”, as the story dragged and the characters remained distant and free of depth. The concept for the novel is wonderful, though the angle of approach leaves readers unsure where to look. To say that it is the political aspect of shoot shootings and guns in America is also misleading, as the book does not have a single and direct focus. Earle presents his soapbox issue clearly, that school shootings need to end in a way that does not beget more, but he skims over things and pushes the reader into situations that fog the issue and keeps his characters from grounding themselves or reaching out to the reader. I had hoped for a high-impact novel about the politics and the emotional reaction to a shooting, but received more of a technical analysis of the problem and two characters trying to change the system, while remaining behind the proverbial curtain and peeking out only when necessary. Earle has much potential with which he can work, but failed to shape this into the explosive novel it should have been.

Interesting concept, Mr. Earle, but it failed to pull me in or keep my rapt attention. 

Truth or Die, by James Patterson and Howard Roughan

Two stars

Patterson is back with one of his co-authors, Howard Roughan this time around, to present a one-off book with much potential. Trevor Mann has suffered through some setbacks in life, but chooses to look ahead to a better future, grounded with his girlfriend Claire Parker. Claire leaves suddenly one evening to meet a source for a story she’s investigating and ends up murdered by a masked assailant. Trevor cannot rest until he finds answers, beginning with whom Claire tried to meet. Trevor follows the few leads Claire left and discovers both the man he thinks murdered her and the source, a young man whose genius is off the charts. Owen Lewis held the key to an explosive secret that could be a deadly weapon in the wrong hands. Trevor and Owen soon realise that they are targets and must stay one step ahead of the killers. As the depth of the weapon’s abilities becomes known, the group seeking to silence this unlikely duo becomes clearer, with a key member at the top who will stop at nothing to guarantee silence. An interesting story that Patterson and Roughan present, with potential and a fair amount of drama, though at times its delivery may leave the reader with a tepid feeling of the final product.

As with many Patterson novels, there is a great idea embedded in the storyline, which, given the proper direction, can germinate into a wonderful novel. However, many of his recent projects, the idea falls short and the reader is forced to suffer through some subpar work. It seems, as I have bemoaned many times before, that the one-off novels tend to fall significantly flat, as the characters are not as well-rooted and the backstories less developed. It could just be me, or even the way the audiobook was presented, but I felt little attachment to both the characters and the story. It did not pull me in and I felt as though I only ever skimmed the surface on what could have been an explosive novel that kept me up well into the night. Alas, it came close to lulling me to sleep at times. That said, Patterson can put out a gem here and there, forcing long-time fans like myself to keep reading and hoping for the best. 

Decent work, Messrs. Patterson and Roughan, though I did not feel the electricity that this novel should have brought. Perhaps it is the victim of too much on the topic that failed to lure me in.