The Bleiberg Project (Consortium #1), by David Khara

Three Stars

In the first of Khara’s Consortium Thrillers, his focus is on the Nazis and their secret program to create the ultimate citizen. Jeremy Novacek had all he could want: money, success, and women. When two members of the Air Force arrive at his door to offer condolences for the loss of his father, Novacek thinks could not get any better. Estranged from his father, Novacek is delighted with the news and travels to pass it along to his mother, who is institutionalised. It is only then that things spiral out of control, as she hands him a key emblazoned with a swastika. Jeremy learns that his father’s departure in his youth was for safety reasons, as he was seconded by the CIA to engage in a covert mission, one of which his mother was fully aware. Jeremy, who returns to using his father’s ‘Corbin’ surname, heads to Zurich with a CIA agent to discover what lies within the safe deposit box to which the aforementioned key belongs. He is being trailed along the way by a Mossad agent who is also curious, but must offer an additional line of protection for those seeking to eliminate him and stop the discovery of any secrets. As Corbin uncovers the secrets in the Zurich bank, a coded document, he realises that his life is in danger. His mother is murdered, he is being targeted, and there is a broader mystery taking place that could have monumental importance. Layered with flashback chapters about the most secretive and important medical and genetic experiments the Nazis undertook during the War, Khara adds to the thrills throughout this novel, culminating in the ultimate surprise. An interesting beginning to the series, hopefully with more of this calibre to come to keep all readers interested.

With the third in the series on my NetGalley list to read, I felt it important to get a context before diving in with a review for the publisher. Khara offers an interesting introductory novel to the series, postulating the creation and development of the Übermensch, the super-man, perfectly Aryan in every way. As the story progresses, Jeremy Corbin realises that his father is embroiled in uncovering this mystery while the narrative leads the reader through numerous angles in the Nazi development. Nothing earth-shattering or fabulous, the novel plods along and seeks to offer some insight for the reader to ponder, with action and thrills to offset the historical recounting of this scientific tale. Khara does a decent job (as does the translator) in building up a few characters and developing them in a superficial manner. Well-crafted to allow the plot to flow smoothly and keep the reader entertained throughout. 

Kudos, M. Khara for your work on the first Consortium Thriller. I hope the others are as exciting and historically enticing.

Alert (Michael Bennett #8), by James Patterson and Michael Ledwidge

Four stars

Patterson and Ledwidge ramp up the action in the latest Michael Bennett thriller! With Mary Catherine stuck in Ireland handling a real estate matter, Michael Bennett is trying to cope with the strain on his heart. This emotional meandering has little time to set in, as a main line of the New York Subway system is hampered by two massive explosions. Bennett is assigned to investigate, which propels him into a fast-paced search for those involved. When future explosions occur, including an explosion at the Federal Building, Bennett and his colleague, Emily Parker, begin to wonder if this is a new massive act of terror, akin to September 11th. The mayor is murdered and a communiqué explains that there is more to come brings panic in the city, so much so that Bennett must look to outside sources for assistance. As he races across the country and to the far side of the world, a small cell of individuals seeks to bring the city to its knees, for reasons known only to them. With the use of nano- and robotic technologies, New York could be the first of many cities left in rubble, unless demands are met. Meanwhile, the Bennett crew are tasked with falling into line for a new and temporary nanny that leaves them pining for Mary Catherine’s return. Patterson and Ledwidge succeed in keeping the reader curious and on the edge of their seat for the duration of this thriller, wondering if Bennett has finally met his match.

While James Patterson is normally hit and miss with his novels, he remains astute when it comes to this series. With the help of Michael Ledwidge, the Bennett series continues to flow effectively. While centred in New York, the series continues to flow effectively, perhaps because of the constantly evolving Bennett storylines and never-ending issues that can befall the city. While there is little background growth of the main characters, the plot keeps the novel flowing, with fast-paced action and non-stop twists. I have said it before and will do so again: could the three Patterson major series (Cross, Boxer, and Bennett) use a shot in the arm with crossover novels, forcing Patterson to sing for his proverbial supper and not simply reap the rewards of his co-author’s hard work? I continue to wait for this possibility, as each are reaching the climax of their respective individual successes. Still, Michael Bennett has a pulse and readers should enjoy this well-crafted story.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Ledwidge for this interesting tale. Michael Bennett always seems to escape just in time, though something must surely give before too long. 

Method 15/33, by Shannon Kirk

Four stars

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

Kirk weaves an interesting story with strong psychological undertones, worthy of the praise and awards she has received to date. While walking to school one day, Lisa Yyland is grabbed and tossed into a van, kidnapped for no apparent reason. As she struggles in captivity, things become all the more apparent that it is the baby within her that is the greatest commodity to her captors. Struggling through a lengthy detention, Yyland creates a routine to keep herself from losing her mind, classifying items and exploring the uniformity of each day. Meanwhile, FBI Agent Roger Liu and his partner work through a collection of clues to determine the whereabouts of a kidnapped pregnant teen, exploring clues wherever it takes them across the American Midwest. With alternating chapters showing Yyland’s struggles and Liu’s progress, the reader gets much insight into both their mindsets and the gifts that time brings. Kirk offers a wonderful psychological thrill to this story, showing the depths of despair that Yyland enters as she presents her entire life as it flashes before her. This will surely help the reader better understand the captive’s mindset, while also seeing how the search to locate her progresses at various speeds. Kirk does a wonderful job pulling the reader into the centre of this story, through to its resolution.

When I began the novel, I was not sure where things might go or how Kirk would guide the reader through this ordeal. At times highly reflective and chock-full of the struggles in young Lisa Yyland’s life, the reader learns a great deal about the mental state of the prisoner and her captors, whose interest seems solely focussed on the baby within. Juxtaposed with this, the authorities and their struggle to make progress on the case, to the point that the reader has no context to use as a comparison, unsure of how and why Yyland was chosen, save for her being with child. Of interest, as Kirk develops her characters and their backstories, the attentive reader will notice that Yyland’s narrative will at times project to the present day, aside from the 1993 kidnapping which fills the majority of the novel’s time. This foreshadowing proved highly interesting, as though she is telling the reader ‘I do survive’ but offering few breadcrumbs to understanding the ‘overall outcome’ and thereby forcing the reader to continue reading in order to understand the end result. Wonderfully played and written, even as things do get dense and a little heavy at times.

Kudos, Madam Kirk for this well-crafted piece of writing. I am eager to see what else you have in store for readers over the next little while.

Private Sydney (Private #10), by James Patterson and Kathryn Fox

Four stars

The latest Private novel brings well-established author Kathryn Fox into the fold to offer her Australian expertise. As Craig Gisto has come to learn, heading up Private Sydney has its difficulties. While dealing with some personal issues, Gisto receives a call from the head of Private, Jack Morgan himself. Morgan explains that Eric Moss, CEO of a high-profile Australian research firm, has resigned his position without warning and fallen off the grid without rhyme or reason. The distraught daughter, Eliza Moss, is frantic and cannot reconcile her father’s behaviour. After opening up the investigation, Gisto realises that Moss seemingly has no identification footprint, as though he’s never existed, though many can attest to knowing him well. Gisto is left to wonder if there is more to Moss than meets the eye. As Eliza pushes harder to find her father, she is attacked in her home, leaving Gisto to wonder who is out there trying to silence the investigation into Moss’ disappearance. If that were not enough to keep Private Sydney occupied, Gisto is approached by a wealthy couple to complete a private background check on a potential surrogate, their last chance to have a child. Gisto hesitantly agrees to help, but the woman turns up dead.Could Private Sydney have paved the way for the killer to reach her,having been duped by a complex ruse? Fox and Patterson weave an interesting tale with multiple plots to keep the reader on their toes and fans of the series praising a successful addition, after a number of sub-par publications.
It is no surprise that Kathryn Fox’s work on this novel helped solidify its success. Fox remains an outstanding author in her own right and has the ability to craft wonderful stories that rise to greatness. Following the ‘Private formula’ the novel highlights a private detective firm whose work alongside the authorities earns them much credence, but who are also capable of working independently for their clients to bring about results. Fox and Patterson use a handful of key characters and plausible scenarios to pull this novel together without weighing the story down too much. Readers will be happy to see that Fox’s direction is one of succinct writing, with just enough thrill to keep the story from being predictable and should praise her for all she does to resurrect the series.Finally a Private novel worthy of praise and recommendation!
Kudos, Mr.Patterson and Madam Fox for this interesting addition to the Private collection. May you join forces again to ensure a higher quality novel falls into the hands of your fans.

The Patriot Attack (Covert-One #12), by Kyle Mills

Four stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Kyle Mills, and Grand Central Publishing for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

In March 2011, everything ran effectively at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant until an earthquake and subsequent tsunami severely damaged the facility. Years later, Dr. Jon Smith is in the region to meet with a former plant employee who possesses a sample he wishes to share from one of the Fukushima reactors. During the meeting, both are attacked and Smith is left severely injured and coalescing in a covert facility within Japan. Hearing of Smith’s plan and noting that he has not returned on time, CIA Agent Randi Russell takes it upon herself to rescue the head of the ultra-secret Covert-One team. While she is able to extricate Smith from his captors, she also learns that the sample may be the key in Japan’s new nuclear arsenal, with China as the country’s first target. Back in the United States, President Sam Adams Castilla cannot help but notice that military aggression between China and Japan seems to be heating up and quickly calls a summit that he will mediate. He brings the leaders together in hopes of quelling tensions that have been strong since well before WWII, when the latest set of atrocities are mentioned in history texts. As Smith and Russell are able to acquire some of the aforementioned sample, they present it to an engineer who is baffled to learn of its content. With Masao Takahashi as the military Chief of Staff, Japan is creating the next-generation of weapons, seemingly harmless but whose use could cripple any opponent. This form of nanotechnology could wipe out anything military in a short span of time, no matter its size. Will Smith and his team be able to stop Japan’s burgeoning nanotechnology warfare while Castilla attempts to keep the Asian powder-keg from exploding? Mills effectively continues the legacy that Ludlum started in this high-impact series as he seeks to answer these questions for the enthralled reader.

It is highly impressive to see how Mills has successfully picked up the torch on Ludlum’s Covert-One series. I have witnessed other authors ruin a series’ momentum or character development when taking over for an author who has passed away, taking control as though they now own the collection. Mills has tapped into the Dr. Jon Smith character and the nuances of the Covert-One team, as well as the intricacies of biological and nanotechnologies found within the entire series. Additionally, Mills is able to present strong political and social themes throughout to further explore the importance of the novel’s plot, allowing the reader to see things on a macro scale. While some readers might be interested only in the thrills and action within the pages of this novel, extrapolating to both the series level and current political situations, it is highly interesting to realise how plausible these things might be, given the geopolitical situations at hand. While he alternates writing Covert-One novels, Mills does not miss a beat and is able to build on previous Ludlum novels, as well as those of his colleague, which allows those fans of the series not to feel jilted or left to skip books to gain the proper momentum. Mills is a wonderful storyteller and has the essence of the Covert-One theme embedded in his writing style, which proves refreshing and is highly refreshing for Ludlum fans who have suffered through the destruction of another series Ludlum left incomplete.

Kudos, Mr. Mills for this wonderful addition to the series. I hope you are kept on as one of the key writers to keep making Robert Ludlum proud for years to come.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web, by David Lagercrantz

Three stars

In this long-anticipated release, Lagercrantz adds his own flavour to Lisbeth Salander and Mikhael Blomkvist. After leaving a prestigious job at a computer firm in California, Frans Balder is back in Sweden and looking to regain custody of his son. A messy divorce left him with little choice but to flee, but Balder wants to care for August and leave his California dreams in the rearview mirror. As the reader soon learns, August is an autistic savant, proficient in both drawing and the calculation of complex numbers, two traits rarely seen in combination amongst savants. While alerted to numerous security issues surrounding his past work, Balder ignores them, choosing instead to focus on his time with August. Meanwhile, Mikael Blomkvist has come to realise that his prized magazine, Millennium, is on the verge of collapse and is looking for the next big story. When approached by Balder to discuss some of the issues he’s faced and his work on Artificial Intelligence, Blomkvist takes some interest and agrees to meet. However, before Blomkvist can meet with Balder, a hitman kills Balder, but left August as a mute witness. August is sent back to his mother, who can no longer handle her son and ships him off to an institution. As Blomkvist digs a little deeper, he realises that August may be the key to solving the mystery and calls on his past acquaintance, Lisbeth Salander, to help. Salander agrees to take August to a safe house in the hopes of discovering the secret behind the murder. She is able to discern that August’s abilities go far beyond his drawings, which offer clues to the murder, but he can help her as she cracks into the NSA’s secure servers for her own interests. Salander discovers that Balder may have been targeted by a Russian gang, calling themselves the Spider Society, whose membership includes a key figure from her past. Hindered by his inability to speak, can August help reveal the person who killed his father and can Salander utilise August’s abilities to crack a highly-encripted code the NSA has on its most top secret documents? Layered with multiple other storylines, some of whom mesh with the aforementioned summary, Lagercrantz does his best to continue the narrative where Stieg Larsson left it at his untimely death.

I have read a number of series continuations after the death of a celebrated author (Robert Ludlum, Margaret Truman, and Vince Flynn, to name a few) and it is always the attentive reader who seeks to place this ‘new’ author under the microscope to determine their mettle. In Lagercrantz’s case, the shoes to fill are enormous and the expectations are likely insurmountable. While it has been a while since I read the previous three novels, I did sense a disconnect in this book, especially as it relates to Lisbeth Salander. While Lagercrantz attempts to weave another layer of horrific backstory into the young woman’s life, depicting her witnessing the repeated rapes her mother faced at the hands of a drunken father and her twin sister’s sadistic desire to side with their father, the impact is not the same. Salander is a complex character and one who is well-known and respected both in the Scandinavian crime writing community and around the world. While the story flowed well and Lagercrantz injected a few well-researched storylines, the flow of the series is lost on the numerous plots the reader must follow. For this reason, I found it harder to tackle this book and end on a high note. With at least two other Lagercrantz novels in the works, I am uncertain if the series will find its strength again, or if, like the doomed Jason Bourne series, it will die at the hands of an author who has bitten off more than he can chew. Stay tuned for the verdict.

Kudos, Herr Lagercrantz for your attempt. I will give you the benefit of the doubt on this occasion, though I remain leery of your taking on this project, especially when unpublished manuscripts remain in existence.

Edie Kiglatuk’s Christmas (Edie Kiglatuk Mystery #1.5), by M.J. McGrath

Four stars

In this wonderful short story, McGrath includes perennial favourite Edie Kiglatuk in an Arctic mystery to entertain readers. On the winter solstice, there is little to celebrate in Canada’s Arctic. Frigid temperatures, no sunlight, and on this occasion, the body of Tommy Qataq, a gash on the back of his head as he clings to life. When approached by the authorities to assist with the mystery, Edie has ideas of her own and goes in search of Willie Killik. Both Willie and Tommy are former pupils of Edie’s, and she uses her knowledge of their rocky friendship to determine what might have happened. As Edie searches for Willie, she discovers that he has little going for him, in a community so isolated as to offer few effective ‘outs’. When Tommy’s daughter is snatched from her crib, the hunt intensifies and Edie must now find Willie to ensure that nothing happens to the child. Her hunt leads her to a clearing and a magical Christmas discovery that turns the entire sombre event into something magical. A great (quick) read for those who love the Edie Kiglatuk series, or new followers of McGrath alike.

I am thoroughly impressed with McGrath’s series, depicting life in Canada’s High Arctic. Not only does the country get some interesting coverage, but the Inuit angle is unique and plays out well in the novels. McGrath uses her experience in the region to paint wonderfully accurate characters who also shine light on life away from the big-city lights, where locals must subsist off the land. Presenting a culture shock to many readers, McGrath does a masterful job and should be applauded for the hard work and determination her novels bring in highlighting the plight and lifestyle of Canada’s Inuit population.

Kudos, Madam McGrath for this touching addition to the series, which has so much to offer readers.

Third Watch: A Tracy Crosswhite Short Story (Tracy Crosswhite #0.5), by Robert Dugoni

Four stars

Dugoni presents another well-crafted preface to his new Tracy Crosswhite series. After suffering through the guilt of her sister’s murder, Tracy Crosswhite used her thirst for justice to apply to the police academy. Passing with flying colours, she is sent to Seattle and works as a beat cop, now six years on the job. After the SPD is roasted for its treatment of female officers, a follow-up piece is slated and Crosswhite is given a journalist for a ride-along. Crosswhite prefers the Third Watch, colloquially-known as the night shift, where they’re action and she can hone her skills. Refusing to discuss the gender discrepancies, she answers a call of a domestic disturbance. Crosswhite seeks to diffuse the situation but calls for back-up, which does not arrive. Now Crosswhite must make the ultimate decision as the domestic is turning into a hostage situation and she has a reporter eyeing her every move. Acting as she feels any officer would, Crosswhite seeks to make personal parallels with a man who has his wife and daughter on the other end of a shotgun, though she is unprepared for what happens next and must think on her feet. Trying to take the ‘do your best’ approach, Crosswhite will not get sullied with the department’s politics, even if it can secure her a fast promotion to detective. Dugoni fleshes out more about his new heroine, whose approach is success through hard work, rather than pity.

Robert Dugoni continues to impress with this new character. Tracy Crosswhite is driven by desire and passion, hoping to make a difference every day on the job. in his second brief introductory piece on Crosswhite, Dugoni continues to lay the groundwork for a complex, yet approachable, character and one who uses her skills rather than her gender to climb the ladder, pushing those who seek to hamper her abilities well out of her way. With a chance to make a difference and push past the glass ceilings apparently in place, Crosswhite will surely be a force with whom many will come into contact over the coming years.

Kudos, Mr. Dugoni for another wonderful short story. I am eager to see what readers can expect from Crosswhite in the years to come.

The Academy (Tracy Crosswhite #0.1), by Robert Dugoni

Four stars

Dugoni offers a wonderful precursor to his new Tracy Crosswhite series. After suffering the worst experience of her life when her sister was murdered, Tracy Crosswhite sought solace in the classroom, teaching chemistry to high schoolers, where she had control of it all. Choosing to step out of her comfort zone, Crosswhite applies for the police academy, seeking to find justice for Sarah’s murder. While the road is long and winding, Crosswhite is determined to make it through the nineteen-week course before being rewarded with a position on the force, allowing ascension to become a homicide detective. However, Tracy meets those along the way who will stop at nothing to ensure her academy time is fraught with obstacles and misdirection. Whether she can withstand the pressure is all on her. Dugoni’s new series begins with a bang, as the reader is introduced to young Tracy Crosswhite, a powerhouse with which to be reckoned.

I have come to appreciate Robert Dugoni and his writing style for a long time. When I heard of his new series, I was eager to see if it held up to his past successes. Tackling the first novel in the series, I came to realise that Tracy Crosswhite would be a force of nature driven by desire and passion to crack open the most important case of her life. With this brief introduction, Dugoni offers a teaser into what will surely be a complex character and one who uses her skills rather than her gender to climb the ladder, pushing those who seek to hamper her abilities well out of her way.

Kudos, Mr. Dugoni for this wonderful short story. I know this series will go places and I intend on seeing the route you have in store for your readers.

The Lost Concerto, by Helaine Mario

Four stars

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

Mario takes the reader into the world of classical music, adding layers of mystery and intrigue to offer a well-rounded piece. Magdalena ‘Maggie’ O’Shea has suffered much in the past year: her best friend was murdered, her godson kidnapped during the same event, and her husband died in a freak boating accident. A classically trained pianist, O’Shea chose to leave that world behind and focus solely on running her small music shop in the heart of Boston after this trifecta of horrible occurrences. When approached by the US Justice Department, O’Shea is given a photograph that spins her life into added disarray, purporting to depict a long-dead love interest. O’Shea agrees to head to France to lure a wanted felon out of hiding and undertake her own investigation into her godson’s disappearance. O’Shea’s escort, a former military man, proves to be more than she bargained for, at times hampering her ability to effectively complete the mission at hand. While in France, truths are revealed that turn up additional mysteries, involving an ever-expanding collection of characters. At issue is not only the honour of O’Shea’s best friend and husband, but the chance to bring down a terror ring before more havoc can be enacted on US soil. Mario constructs this story as precisely as a classical composition, leaving the reader to marvel in its intricacies and powerful nuances.

This being my first experience with a Mario novel, I remained somewhat guarded as to what I might expect. Throughout the story, Mario returns to the classical music theme, weaving it not only into the plot, but adding wonderful decorative language to substantiate the Maggie O’Shea backstory. The characters prove believable and the plot crescendoes at a considerable pace, leaving the reader to pace themselves for the full effect. Set in multiple locations, Mario uses the various settings to her advantage and yet keeps the story from getting too lethargic, which is helpful as some of the content can become a little heavy. Mixing drama, thrills, and a little romance into the story, the reader is treated to a variety of character and plot developments, sure to impress as well as entertain. With only a few minor factual errors, Mario offers up a well-crafted story whose movements leave the reader guessing as to its final resolution.

Kudos, Madam Mario for such a wonderful novel. I hope to see more from you in the future.

American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House,  by Jon Meacham

Five stars

In a further exploration of the lives of those who helped shape early America, I turned back to biographer Jon Meacham and his depiction of Andrew Jackson. I thoroughly enjoying the author’s depiction of Thomas Jefferson in a similar piece and hoped to leave with as much knowledge of this lesser known figure. The seventh President of the United States, Jackson broke many early precedents and his two-terms in office opened the door to a new era in presidential politics, bringing the commoner’s views to the forefront. Throughout this biographical piece, Meacham presents Jackson as a man who differed greatly from his predecessors and certainly paved the way for future commanders-in-chief. Jackson is seen as a man from humble beginnings, with little interest in the status quo, and who sought to quell early internal insurrection. While not a typical biography that thoroughly traces the man’s life from cradle to grave, Meacham does a wonderful job working through the White House years of Andrew Jackson, peppering the narrative with flashbacks and poignant backstories to better depict those eight years as America’s political leader. Not to be missed by those who enjoy succinct biographies as well as the reader who finds learning to be an eternal gift in non-fiction.

Andrew Jackson was the first president to come from humble means, which caused quite a stir amongst those who opposed him. Not from an aristocratic background or schooled at the few prestigious schools America had to offer, Jackson grew up in Tennessee and developed a passion for his country. He became well-versed in Bible teachings and used his religious upbringing to guide him throughout his life. Jackson served in the House of Representatives briefly and the Senate for a short time as well, before becoming a judge and serving the people of Tennessee. When he sought the presidency in 1824, Jackson emerged as a man of the people who challenged the elite, locking horns with John Quincy Adams and only losing when the election went to the House of Representatives after the Electoral College could not determine a winner. Over the next four years, Jackson deflected numerous criticisms to his character and communicated his ideas so effectively that he stunned many by toppling Adams in the ’28 election. However, nothing proved more ostracizing than the death of his wife Rachel immediately following his victory. Jackson was forced to serve without this most useful rudder, but had extended family to balance things, having no natural offspring. Meacham argues that Jackson adopted the American people as his family, serving them effectively and caring for them as a father. That Jackson broke the preconceptions forged by his six predecessors is by no means the only thing that differentiated Jackson from the ‘presidents of the 13 colonies’, but it certainly paved the way for some of his other unique attributes that Meacham presents in the book.

A lack of interest in simply serving in the footsteps of those who came before him serves as the second key trait Meacham presents related to Jackson’s character. Jackson ascended to the White House and began breaking some of the societal norms that had become custom in Washington. As Meacham discusses throughout, Jackson sought not only to be president, but to transform the role and serve the people who elected him, a vow mentioned above. When Jackson reached the White House, universal male suffrage (at least for Caucasians) had been acquired, opening up an electorate with a variety of needs. Rather than catering to the rich, Jackson pushed ideas through Congress and led the country with the entire populace in mind. He was the first president to use the constitutional veto of legislation, much to the chagrin of Congress. Jackson did not apologise, but chose to defend his right as entrenched in the US Constitution, using only the tools at his disposal. Meacham cites that numerous future presidents mentioned Jackson’s use of the veto to pave the way for a more active and involved executive branch, allowing the president to play a political role as the sole representative of all the people. Additionally, Meacham discusses Jackson’s struggles with Cabinet dissent, to the point that he removed a fair number ahead of his reelection bid, most prominently Vice-President John C. Calhoun. Used effectively in 1828 to secure the South, Calhoun became too outspoken in the latter years of Jackson’s first term in office and tried to bring the president to his knees for daring to flex his muscle against South Carolina. Jackson did not stand idly by and chose not act summarily, removing those who would have turned Brutus on him and forged ahead into a reelection campaign to renew his support by the American people. In an effort to act free of outside influence, Jackson made some decisions that drew ire of Congress to the point of being censured in a controversial vote. Meacham shows throughout the text that Jackson used his simple upbringing to challenge the status quo, which tried to shackle the Commander-in-Chief into more of a ceremonial role, at least as it related to the domestic policy agenda. That Jackson would have none of it should be no surprise to the reader.

Jackson had not only a domestic and international agenda to complete during his two terms as president, but also tried to quell two major internal issues. During the years of his first term, Jackson tried to address the question of Indian habitation within American states and territories. While Washington and the early administrations had bound themselves to the treaties signed with the Indian population, Jackson did not hold that these documents were sufficient and moved to remove Indian territorial claims while wiping out their settlements west of the Mississippi. Jackson’s vehemence would not be deterred and would not permit the free-standing and autonomous rule of the Indian populations. While hindsight offers this as a blatant assimilation technique, Jackson did not stand down when challenged. While Meacham does not speculate how this decision changed modern interaction between the government and Indian population, it is interesting to see how Jackson’s actions might have quelled future land clashes. The other major issue Jackson handled was state-control over the slavery issue, with South Carolina as a litmus test. Jackson pushed to keep the state from overstepping its power, going so far as to offer a constitutional interpretation that pitted Jackson against South Carolina. As mentioned above, this became the battleground on which he and John C. Calhoun fought, which extended into the second term and would pave the way for Lincoln’s stand. Jackson’s ideas sparked the early split within the states that did lead to the Civil War. Southern ideas were not accepted in Jackson’s White House, which he made no qualms about stating publicly. In order to preserve the Union, Jackson felt he would do anything to bring the South, read: South Carolina, into line. While he did not bring about the destruction of the Union during his time in office, Jackson’s views on these two issues did perforate the bonds Washington and his subsequent five presidents had in place before 1828.

Meacham tackles the presidency of Andrew Jackson with such vigour that the reader cannot help but be enthralled with what there is to learn. A man who, as the title suggests, came roaring into office and tried to change the acceptable norms. Jackson challenged Congress and presidential precedent, using the Constitution as his guidebook. Meacham is thorough in his research and weaves a wonderful narrative that follows a wonderful chronology, with poignant flashbacks to fill in gaps the story does not thoroughly discuss. While not a David McCullough biography, from cradle to grave, Meacham uses an eight-year period packed with dramatic occurrences and political fervour that there is no need to spend chapters and sections inculcating the general themes that so clearly emerge from the narrative. Jackson secured victory by being the (first) people’s president and would not hand over the reins to anyone who tried to neuter what the people wanted. He utilised his cabinet and surrounded himself with strong men (and even a few women) who shaped the country in the mid-nineteenth century. His legacy, while someone with which I was not aware before discovering this book, is one of forging new ground within the rules laid out by the Founding Fathers. Meacham illustrates that Jackson never shied away from defending his beliefs to the core, but always opened his mind to alternatives, should they be persuasive and well-grounded.

Kudos Mr. Meacham for this wonderful biographical piece, which taught as much as it entertained me. I thoroughly enjoyed everything you had to offer and look forward to exploring more of your work, when time permits.

Make Me (Jack Reacher #20), by Lee Child

Four stars

Child brings Jack Reacher to the single traffic-light town of Mother’s Rest. It’s small and seemingly peaceful, perfect for a one-night respite while passing through the agricultural belt of America. However, Reacher encounters Michelle Chang, who mistakes him for her partner, a fellow private investigator. As they stop in town to get their bearings, Reacher realises the townsfolk are all very curious, though none will provide answers, including the question that burns inside him: “Why is this town called Mother’s Rest?” Eventually, Reacher teams up with Chang and they search for her missing partner, which begins a Reacher-esque relationships in which his assistance pushes them into temporary amorous synchronicity. This search turns a single night into an investigation that sees Reacher travel out to the West Coast and back to the American Midwest, chasing leads and following the trail of breadcrumbs left at every turn, alongside a gang of thugs seeking to remove Reacher and Chang from the mix. When the internet proves central to the investigation, both Reacher and Chang turn to the experts, who direct them back to Mother’s Rest, where something shocking is taking place under everyone’s noses. As only Child can do, Reacher is targeted from all sides after simply showing up in a town he’d never planned to visit. A wonderful addition to the series and as high-impact as Child as ever written.

I became a fan of Jack Reacher last summer when I binge read the entire series in consecutive order. By doing so, I developed a close affinity for the man and his nuances, as well as Child’s writing style, which has evolved and placed Reacher in many unique situations. Working with few repeat characters, the Reacher novels develop as effective stand-alone novels and permit the reader to pick up the Reacher thread at any point. New characters and settings for each novel allows the reader to focus not only on Reacher minute progress, but also forces them to learn much about those cast alongside the former military hero, sure they will not reappear in future stories. Child does all this in a highly effective manner, offering the reader a wonderful insight into the larger Jack Reacher persona. 

Kudos, Mr. Child for another wonderful addition to the collection. As always, you pique curiosity just enough to make the reader wonder what else you have in store.

Speaking in Bones (Temperence Brennan #18) by Kathy Reichs

Four stars

In her latest Temperance Brennan novel, Reichs pulls on new angles to keep the reader curious and involved. When Dr. Temperence (Tempe) Brennan received a visit from an amateur web-sleuth, she’s convinced that Hazel “Lucky” Strike is nothing more than a woman trying to busy herself playing internet crime fighter. However, Strike possesses an interesting recording, purported to be of Cora Teague, whose description matches some unidentified remains in the possession of the Medical Examiner. As Brennan becomes more interested, she opens her mind to the world of web-sleuthing and how there are many people who dedicate hours to searching for answers based on the ever-growing list of missing persons across America and around the world.Brennan returns to the scene of where the original remains were found, discovering more bones and learning of the significance of the area. A local religious cult professes belief in transformative happenings related to a flashing light phenomena. The case turns from a missing person to a cultish murder and Brennan in involved up to her neck. While working through the clues, she is plagued by her ailing mother who enjoys playing the role of amateur sleuth, as well as her on-again/off-again flame up in Montreal. Brennan’s investigation leads her down many a rabbit hole, which is derailed when Hazel Strike turns up dead as well. What happened to Cora Teague, Hazel Strike and the people tied to these other bones? And can Brennan work with the authorities before more bodies turn up? Reichs offers an excellent addition to the series that will keep the reader wondering until the very end.

Reichs is a master of her art, finding new and exciting ways to present what might seem like a repetitive genre. Reichs takes Tempe Brennan through cases that both push the limits and branch off into a variety of forensic and social issues, which keeps them fresh and exciting for all those involved. The reader is treated to a number of wonderful characters, many of whom have evolved over time, with new and interesting ones who make their single-novel presence known. With a decently paced narrative and enough backstory and personal character development, Reichs weaves a long-standing series that offers fresh approaches in the domain of forensic anthropology. Perhaps a focus back in in Montreal is in order, though, as the Carolinas have been receiving much attention in the latter part of the series.

Kudos, Dr. Reichs for this wonderfully crafted story and on-going development of the Tempe Brennan character.

The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution, by Walter Isaacson

Four stars

In his latest book, Isaacson offers the reader an insightful look into the world of technology and the numerous people whose insights and innovative ideas have changed the world in which we live. While not the biography of any one person, Isaacson personifies technology and offers stories related to its branches, from the early speculative ideas of Ada Loveless around a mechanical calculating device through to the dawn of Wikipedia and mass-user self-editing. Isaacson travels through time, specifically since the pre-WWII era to the present, to offer tales of innovative ideas that built on one another. Things the reader would take for granted become major events and received excellent backstories. One thing Isaacson does throughout his tome is to dispel the myths that urban legends have spun into faux-realities, including Al Gore inventing the internet. He further lays the premise that the entire book should be taken as a set of technological building blocks, one device or idea connecting to the next, such that there are not true ‘inventors’ but strict innovators who seek to add a niche to a larger conversation that takes place in an evolutionary reality. Those who seek to claim inventor status are quashed in Isaacson’s narrative and by the scores of men and women who have added to the technological quilt. Any reader with a curiosity surrounding technology should invest time in this book, though be somewhat leery of some technical jargon that can weigh down the narrative for the layperson.

As Isaacson presents in his introduction, some of these ideas came during his research on the Steve Jobs biography, the first of his that I devoured. Isaacson’s desire to downplay any one person wearing the crown of inventor, he passes out the praise to all those who played a role in their own way, and does so in an effective manner. The narrative flows nicely, even if it is weighed down with jargon in spots. This jargon is highly useful, however, as it depicts the degree to which many of the actors were ensconced in their fields. The reader can read (or listen) in awe to all that Isaacson has unearthed, proving how interconnected something as routine as internet access and application usage. Perhaps one of the best, and most varied of the biographical pieces I’ve read of his, Isaacson does a stellar job in presentation, content, and detail.

Kudos Mr. Isaacson for this great piece. I cannot wait what, or who, you tackle next for the reader to absorb.

One Shot, a DI Patrick Lennon Short Story (DI Patrick Lennon, #2.5), by Louise Voss and Mark Edwards

Five stars

Voss and Edwards shift the focus away from Lennon and place the lead with DS Masiello in this well-crafted short story. Sweltering in the heat of a Lonfon summer, DS Carmella Masiello appears in court to offer her testimony in a GBH case involving a contractor. At issue is whether a nail gun could have reached far enough onto the estate. When the forensic lab results are delayed, Masiello is approached by CPS Mariel Jenkins to witness a test of her own, which could definitively show the power of the aforementioned weapon. During this amateur testing, the results prove to be more than substantive evidence in the case, but have drastic results for Jenkins’ elderly neighbour. During her time in the witness box, Masiello learns something that sends her right to her boss, DI Patrick Lennon, as she examines the events of that summer afternoon when she and Jenkins undertook to test the nail gun. Could this have been a neighbourly feud gone wrong or simply a horrible accident? Voss and Edwards create a wonderful story to add personality to an already interesting series, giving the limelight to a minor player in the series.

I cannot express how impressed I am with the development of the DS Carmella Masiello character in this story. Voss and Edwards have built a wonderfully cryptic mystery in which she can engage and left the reader to follow along, as they have done previously with Lennon and the rest of the MIT9 team. Leaving doubt strewn throughout, the reader must construct their own views and work alongside Masiello, who was hoodwinked from the beginning. I look forward to any tie-ins that may be found in subsequent DI Lennon novels, as I did not see anything that tossed back referenced to the previous published works. Well presented, thoroughly enjoyable, and perfect for that lazy hour in the sun, or while sipping a mug of coffee.

Kudos, Madam Voss and Mr. Edwards for such a delightful piece. I cannot wait to see what else you have in mind for Lennon and Masiello.

House Rivals (Joe DeMarco #10), by Mike Lawson

Four stars

Lawson returns with a tenth “House” series novel, in which he treats readers to a politically charged thriller with a fresh approach. Joe DeMarco has played the role of political fixer for many years. while under the employ of former House Speaker John Mahoney,. After being summoned to see Mahoney, DeMarco is sent to Montana to meet with the congressman’s long-time friend. From there, DeMarco finds himself in North Dakota to protect a blogger with a chip on her shoulder and billionaire Leonard Curtis in her sights. Sarah Johnson has been documenting all the underhanded dealings Curtis has had, making money off the natural gas reserves in the state, while greasing the wheels of political and judicial actors to ensure his success. She has no proof, which does not sit well with DeMarco, but the tides soon turn, the more Johnson is able to share. DeMarco knows all about the role of middlemen in political schemes and is certain Curtis has a local crew dealing with the minitiae to ensure success. Working closely together, DeMarco and Johnson engage the FBI to help with the bribery allegations, which only paints a larger target on both their backs. These middlemen will stop at nothing to protect their boss and ensure they, too, are left alone, going so far as to orchestrate an elimination protocol. Once DeMarco sees the results of their blowback, he finds himself more invested than ever in the case and vows to uphold Johnson’s memory while bringing Curtis down. Using his quick wit and sleuthing abilities, DeMarco tries to bring Curtis’ antics to light and quashing these brokers once and for all. As the drama escalates, Lawson keeps the reader on the edge of their seats in this high-impact thriller.

Lawson effectively combines politics with a thriller novel to keep a large audience happy as they make their way from the corners of Washington’s elite to the back alleys of America. His core set of characters allow the stories to branch off in many directions with few impediments, or character expectations to weigh down the narrative. DeMarco’s easy going attitude allows him to work effectively, even in the barren wastelands of the Dakotas (I grew up North of there, so no need to toss evil glares). Lawson handles the story well, the characters effectively, and opens a fresh approach to the plot, which sets him apart from many of the other authors who have a firm grasp of the genre.

Kudos Mr. Lawson for a wonderful addition to the series and the genre. I look forward to the next instalment and other new ideas you bring to the table.

Final Assignment (Promise Falls #1.5), by Linwood Barclay

Five stars

In a wonderful short story that expands on his new series, Barclay brings the reader back to Promise Falls, examining events within the town from a new perspective, using new and interesting characters. Cal Weaver was once a member of the Promise Falls Police Force, but left for a time, only recently returning. Now, acting as PI, he is forced to handle those cases that are not yet at the level of legal transgressions. Case in point, the suspension of young Chandler Carson, who wrote a highly descriptive short story about killing a friend. While Weaver tries to extricate himself from the banality of this, he is summoned to help another family whose son has gone missing. Investigating this case, something in which he sees merit, Weaver discovers that sometimes literature has a way of playing out in reality. What started as a story about free expression turns into something far deeper and more troubling. Is Chandler guilty of murdering his friend over a girl, or is there more to the story that Weaver has yet to uncover? Barclay allows the story to unravel so effectively that he needs few pages to bring it to life and offers the reader a treat in under an hour.

Having been a long-time fan of Linwood Barclay, I thought I would take some time to fly through one of his short stories. Having been enthralled with BROKEN PROMISES, I was sure that this shorter tale would captivate me just as much. I was not disappointed, as the town fleshes itself out, with new and interesting characters ready to offer their own angle to life in a smaller city. The story was succinct and the development flowed nicely. I could see Barclay building up to a grand finale, only to have everything come crashing down in the end. Stellar work all around.

Kudos Mr. Barclay for this lovely addition to the series. i cannot wait to see what else befalls Promise Falls in the coming months.

The Blissfully Dead (DI Patrick Lennon #2), by Louise Voss and Mard Edwards

Four stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Louise Voss, Mark Edwards, Amazon Publishing, and Thomas & Mercer for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

With much experience reading both Voss and Edwards, I feel that I can offer a well-rounded review of this, their latest piece of work, the new DI Patrick Lennon mystery. After being lured to a hotel room, a young girl is found murdered, with cuts all over her body, reeking of a signature perfume. After DI Patrick Lennon and the rest of the MIT9 team begin to investigate, strong connections are made to an online forum related to the latest boy band, OnTarget. The forum is rife with young girls who will stop at nothing to be deemed super-fans, as they concoct strings of commentaries and find themselves wishing they could be the love interest to one or all. After another girl is lured and murdered, Lennon begins to poke around the OnTarget connection and has a member of the team scour the forums. The investigation uncovers some less than favourable news about one of the band members and the murders seem closely related to a case Lennon’s nemesis, and fellow MIT9 team member is working. When two more girls go missing, Lennon must put all his efforts into finding them before this sadistic killer can enact revenge for some unknown sleight. All this as Lennon juggles a family life he thought was all but lost and fights to remain professional in the workplace, surrounded by admirers. Voss and Edwards have tapped into a raging aspect of the social media world, 21st century groupies, and mastered it into this thrilling story that will keep the reader guessing until the final chapters.

Although a trademark perfected by both Voss and Edwards in their more recently novels, the use of social media in this story becomes central, if not quintessential. Some may struggle with it, as its focus is strongly geared to the tween/teen mentality, which can prove irritating in lingo and shallowness, while others may find themselves transported into the minds of young people today. I find that the irritant of the theme shows how ensconced Voss and Edwards are with it, which only goes to show how masterful the approach has become. Lennon’s character develops somewhat in this novel, though he is stunted in comparison with his debut, while the MIT9 team is fleshed out a little more, both in the workplace and privately. The degree of teen-centric writing and story development cannot be ignored, though both Voss and Edwards utilise it to prove a point and contrast it with the strong views of the adult community running the investigation and promoting OnTarget. I am eager to see if we will see another Lennon novel and how well received this one ends up being, especially for those who have much experience with the authors’ writing. Masterfully crafted and suspense-filled to the final pages.

Kudos, Madam Voss and Mr. Edwards for this wonderful novel, which makes me so happy to have discovered you earlier this year.

Code of Conduct (Scot Harvath #14), by Brad Thor

Four stars

Thor returns with his fourteenth Scot Harvath novel, tackling an angle readers have yet to see in the rough and tumble former Navy Seal. After an anonymous video makes its way to America, what is depicted is nothing short of devastating. An entire African village destroyed by fire, purposely torched for reasons unknown. Harvath is dispatched as a favour, finding himself in the jungles of Congo as he tries to decipher what’s been going on. What begins as a suspected rebel slaughter of a village turns into something far more deadly, which could encapsulate the world, if not properly handled. Simultaneously, an Undersecretary at the United Nations, one Pierre Damien, is leading a plan to deal with the world’s burgeoning population issue, with complete immunity and full backing of his superiors. As Harvath links Damien to the Congo situation, he realises that there is a group on American soil working to ensure this pandemic reaches all corners of the planet, while infecting Washington’s political elite as well. Thor keeps the action high and uses his cast of regular characters to show a different side to Harvath, a softer and more compassionate one, while still holding firm to his promise to rid the world of evil.

As I read this novel, I could not help but see strong plot parallels with a series by another favourite author of mine, under the Covert-One heading. While some readers may complain that Thor has steered Scot Harvath away from his traditional international tough-guy persona, I felt this turn showed the versatility of the character, while also appealing to my interest in the aforementioned other series. The ideas were sound, the premise a tad far-fetched, but delivered in a realistic fashion, and the cast of regular characters made this book a highly interesting read. While not on my top five all-time in theBrad Thor collection, it did serve to offer the reader a break from the Bond-esque battles and exemplify that Harvath has a softer and more compassionate side to him.

Kudos, Mr. Thor for your wonderful addition to the series. Detractors are simply too ensconced in their rough and tumble Scot Harvath, but I applaud the versatile nature of the character and plot line.

From the Cradle, (DI Patrick Lennon #1), by Louise Voss and Mark Edwards

Four stars

Another great novel by British duo, Mark Edwards and Louise Voss, who pull on the heartstrings of any parents or those close to young children. After returning from dinner out, Helen and Sean Phillips find their toddler missing from her bed and Sean’s elder daughter passed out on the couch. Fearing the worst, they alert the authorities, who are already handling two other kidnapped toddler cases in the region. DI Patrick Lennon heads up the investigation and adds the Frankie Phillips case to the list, seeking similarities that might help the investigation. When one of the children’s bodies turns up, Lennon must determine if this is the work of a serial kidnapper and what fate might belie the other children. Struggling with issues in his personal life related to his daughter and estranged wife, Lennon juggles moving forward with the investigation as the leads prove fruitless. Might there be someone with an inside interest in the Phillipses, seeking to enact revenge for something they’ve done? Lennon and the MIT9 Squad must strike before Frankie becomes a victim of more than kidnapping. A great mix of drama and psychological thriller, Edwards and Voss pen an excellent novel, complete with plot twists, that will pain any parent but force them to read on in hopes of redemption.

Well-versed in the Edwards-Voss team writing, I could not wait to get my hands on this novel. It has the necessary story development to keep the reader intrigued and characters with an ever-evolving backstory to ensure that minute facts play strong roles in the forward movement of the narrative. With a sprinkling of social media mention, common for both their series, Edwards and Voss bring the novel into the 21st century to a time when false empathy and highly critical statements have their own virtual soapbox. Well written and captivating to the point that I am looking for the sequel to see how Lennon will handle all that he has on his plate.

Kudos, Mr. Edwards and Madam Voss for this wonderful introduction to the MIT9 Squad. You have Patrick Lennon painted in an interesting light and I am eager to decipher more about him, given time.

Reagan: The Life

Five stars

In another thrilling political biography, I turn my head to a man who is said to have shaped 20th century America for both his politics and ideological stances through the waning years of the Cold War. Ronald Wilson Reagan was a man of many experiences, from a poor childhood through to the honeymoon years after leaving office, as effectively illustrated by H.W. Brands. Reagan wore his ideological tilt on his sleeve, next to his heart, which moved from one end of the spectrum to the other. Brands depiction of Reagan in three distinct periods, from daunting Democrat to rigid Republican through to charismatic conservative, exemplifies the progression the man made throughout his life. With no firmly rooted politics in his familial background, it is a wonder that Reagan became synonymous with the neo-conservative movement of the late 20th century and could be called one of America’s great political figures. Brands does a masterful job in detailing the life and times of Reagan, leaving little to wonder for the reader keen on learning about this political giant.

That Reagan first identified himself as a Democrat should be no surprise to the reader. Raised in a lower income family in Illinois, Reagan was forced to help bring bread to the table and handle the plight of an alcoholic father on whom few could rely. Brands does not belabour this point, but moves Reagan through his formative years by discussing the hardships that Reagan met, but which did not impede his personal successes. While he had high ambitions, Reagan settled into a smaller religious college and tried to carve out a niche on the football field, as horrid as he came to be. It was during these years that Reagan became a strong believer in Roosevelt’s New Deal and praised its ability to help Americans. Pushing for a hands-on approach, Reagan stumped for Roosevelt’s plan and saw benefit in ensuring the state could assist those who could not stay afloat on their own. After college and ready to contribute to the world, Reagan was soon pulled into the world of radio, taking jobs reporting sporting events and relying on his dramatic abilities to spin tales to those who tuned in. He was a man of the people and remained so, even after making his mark in Hollywood, where he became a household name. Though he seemed successful, as Brands shows through detailed narration, he was no Jimmy Stewart or John Wayne, though was able to use his abilities to pad his pockets effectively. With the move towards better representation and the creation of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), Reagan rose and soon became its president, making that his busiest role while living in Hollywood. Even when Congress opened its examination of Hollywood as a bastion for Communists, Reagan stood his ground during the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) and did not let the SAG entity be dragged through the mud. However, with this intense analysis of Hollywood as a home for Communist sentiment, Reagan began to look for work outside of the big screen, becoming a key spokesman for General Electric. He spoke about the merits of the company to its employees at all the plants, perfecting a message that kept management happy and the employees in touch with the bosses. It is here that Brands shows the turning of Reagan’s views, if slightly, away from the hands-on Democrat approach towards a more socially conscious and conservative set of values, perfect for the softer wing of the Republican Party, which he joined in 1962, and became a political icon in 1964. With many years as a well-known and daunting Democrat, this turn opened eyes and minds to the persuasive nature of Reagan’s message.

The rigidity of his Republican ways took a great deal of time, but Brands plants the seed in Reagan’s life around 1964 and lets it germinate. While on his General Electric speaking circuit, Reagan spoke out in favour of Republican candidate Barry Goldwater on the Arizona senator’s fated 1964 presidential campaign. This sparked notice of Reagan by the political right, even if he cozied to its softer wing. Reagan gained political momentum and chose to run for Governor of California in 1966, unseating Pat Brown on a platform of reform and fiscal tightening. Reagan headed into office and sought to balance that which was crooked in California, with Vietnam heating up and the ‘flower child’ movement in full-swing. Brands highlights Reagan’s push to quash protests and subvert university students, representing the parental era and speaking out for a generation. His firm beliefs in Roosevelt’s New Deal were curtailed for tighter sentiments on spending and the need to close the pursestrings to those seeking handouts. When Nixon won the presidency, a fellow Californian, Reagan sought to push his control of the most populist state to his favour, seeking a firm stance on both coasts. Alas, Nixon spoke like a conservative, but acted weakly, leaving Reagan to harden his own views. It was after Reagan served two gubernatorial terms that he sought to inject himself into the national stage again, not from Sacramento, but as a candidate for president. He felt Nixon bumbled his way through Republican control of the White House and insisted that Ford proved inept to handle the pressures of the job. Brands illustrates a wonderful battle during the 1976 primary season, which saw a sitting president seriously challenged for the Party’s nomination. Had Reagan played his cards right, he might have toppled Ford. Even in his loss, Reagan illustrated that he was no longer the SAG President who held soft views on the arts and promoted the Welfare State. America was seeing a transformation of this man, preparing for another run at the top job. While never timid, Reagan’s rigidity within the Republican Party might serve him well as he looked towards 1980, with a micromanager running the show at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Reagan’s neo-conservative leanings did not arise upon his receiving the keys to the White House, as Brands exemplifies throughout the book. While the man who entered the presidency differed greatly from his 1964 self, Reagan used his time as Governor of California and the years he sought to win the Republican nomination to harden his shell. His views seemed unerring, though, as he waded through the liberal and somewhat opaque fiscal quagmire left for him, with deficits exponentially higher than anything he’d seen in Sacramento. Reagan attacked this, as he had on the campaign trail, by pushing through cuts in taxes and promised slashes to program funding in the early years of his first mandate, though Brands correctly points out that these reductions were not implemented simply because he sought them, some requiring committee and sub-committee votes. However, he sought to take the burden off the hands of Americans and let them spend their money in a more free-spirited manner. These struggles with a Democratic Congress did not prove daunting for Reagan, who held firm and pushed as far as possible, negotiating only to ensure his key tenets were met. Reagan’s other strong-willed agenda item, which could be placed in a conservative column was the eradication of worldwide communism and a means of containing the Soviet influence on the world. Brands illustrates numerous attempts by Reagan to contain the Soviet approach, both through direct communication with Moscow and funding or directing support for groups to counter socialist movements in the Americas and Africa. This unwavering stance permeates the narrative from 1981 onwards, as Reagan worked through numerous Soviet leaders and a score of countries with socialist movements brewing or running sovereign governments. That Reagan would not back down cannot be downplayed or even ignored, for it did place America in hot water and Reagan on the verge of being impeached in the latter part of his second mandate. Reagan would not, however, bow to communism as his predecessors had, or adopt a strong sense of detente. It was a ‘wage the ideological war or bust’ mentality that summed up his two terms in office. Reagan did just that, culminating with numerous meetings with Mikhail Gorbachev, where he softened the General Secretary up enough to bring about meaningful and lasting change to the Cold War and ideological stand-off between the two spheres. Looking liberals in the eye and refusing to budge, Reagan sought to bring America out of the doldrums of spending and tighten the purse strings as a charismatic conservative, asking Americans if they wanted prosperity or pork. Most chose to forego a trip to the trough.

Brands’ fluid narrative and short chapters make the biography flow more effectively than some other political or presidential pieces I have read beforehand. By chopping events up into smaller pieces, rather than massive themes, the story is less daunting and allows the reader to digest things in a manner that better suits them. These were formative years in America and there is no need to slam it all into massive chapters, which keeps the reader drowning without the chance for a substantive break. Brands also utilises an effective use of multiple sources to illustrate a point or an event, offering opinions that may differ from Reagan’s own, rather than spoon-feeding the reader the views by the Gipper alone. This fleshes out events and permits an internal debate within the reader’s mind, permitting an evolution of ideas and opinions, while still leaving the final choice in the hands of the reader. Effective use of sources, views, and opinions only further substantiates the strength of the piece.

Brands also highlights some of the key events in Reagan’s life, while providing important backstories to help flesh-out the full picture. From the testimony at the HUAC to the assassination attempt and the Iran-Contra Affair, Reagan’s role therein is undeniable, though the build-up is also essential in determining the true thread of the story. Brands does that and keeps the reader feeling informed during the progression. Actors come to life and their roles are interwoven into Reagan’s life seamlessly as Brands progresses through even the densest of times.

Kudos Mr. Brands for this stellar piece of work. I have new-found respect for the man, his politics, and the life he shaped without ever selling out to those around him.