The Burger Court and the Rise of the Judicial Right, by Michael J. Graetz and Linda Greenhouse

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Michael J. Graetz, Linda Greenhouse, and Simon & Schuster for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

In a poignant analysis to dispel some misnomers, Graetz and Greenhouse offer strong arguments that the Burger Court was not as timid as some would believe. Sandwiched between the strongly liberal Warren Court and ideologically dichotomous Rehnquist Court, Burger’s time as head of the US Supreme Court sought to rein in some of the Court’s decisions, seen as interpreting constitutional rights too freely, and beginning the counter-revolution that many felt he failed to provide. With the US Constitution and Supreme Court decisions as their primary judicial documents, the Burger Court waded through many cases, applying legal arguments to shape America into the latter portion of the 20th century. The authors focus on key areas from the Warren Court and exemplify how the Burger Court reinterpreted similar cases, setting aside precedent, where applicable. However, the authors do not sell their argument without offering exceptions to the rule, for it was under Burger that Roe v. Wade came to pass, as well as some case that exemplify more substantial freedoms under gay rights. These, and cases related to executive power (Nixon’s Watergate tapes and the Pentagon Papers leaks, specifically) show that the Court was still straddling both sides of the ideological fence. Perhaps this helps to show where doubters of the Burger Court develop their fodder. 

The book reads fairly fluidly, at least as much as it can when handling judicial decisions and their analyses. Using substantial case summaries of some significant cases, the authors offer the reader a better insight into the facts of key cases to allow a better understanding of where things stood upon reception of appeals from the lower courts. From there, the book includes the thoughts of the justices before oral arguments or in private conference soon after hearing them, as well as their published decisions that make their way in the public record. The tug-of-war found at the centre of the majority, dissent, and concurrent decisions shapes the struggle the justices faced, as well as the shift away from the ‘left’ and towards a more ensconced ‘right’. This is an essential aspect of the book, as it adds a dimension to the narrative that fleshes out some of the more curious aspects of judicial decisions, including banter between justices on matters as serious as abortion, gay rights, racial equality, and campaign finance.

The book is less a primer for understanding the justices of the Burger Court, though the narrative does lend some insight in that regard, and more along the lines of how key decisions made in the Warren Court reemerged in the Burger era for reinterpretation and an ideological reset. While not a piece of fiction, the characterization of the justices cannot be lost, be it Marshall, Stewart, or even O’Connor. However, as though he lurked in the shadows, waiting to pounce, Justice Rehnquist played that ominous role, choosing to push a conservative agenda as he waited and was eventually positioned and the new Chief Justice, completing the ideological transition to a rightist Court. The attentive reader will understand that this revolutionary move may have seemed slow, as some justices from the Warren Court remained, holding onto their opinions from past decisions. That said, there is no doubt that the Burger Court effectively showed a right-leaning tendency, shaking off the shackles of the place Earl Warren and his justices sought to take America. A must-read by anyone with a general curiosity about the US Supreme Court and the analysis it made in cases spanning many subjects.

Kudos, Mr. Graetz and Madam Greenhouse for this wonderful book that examines many important areas of legal analysis in a time when America was coming to terms with a changing society and level of acceptance. 

The Vanished (Konrad Simonsen #3), by Søren and Lotte Hammer

Seven stars

In the third novel in their Konrad Simonsen series, Søren and Lotte Hammer offer the reader a deeper look at the protagonist while he delves into a crime that spans decades. Having recently returned from a heart attack, Simonsen is no longer in charge of the Criminal Division or the team he guided for years. Instead, he is directed to look into a potential crime scene involving a postal worker, who was found at the bottom of the outside stairs on the second floor of his home. What was originally deemed and accidental fall has Simonsen questioning the determination of the police and forensic authorities. As he looks into the man’s past, Simonsen discovers clues to a missing girl from the late 1960s, who left Liverpool and made her way into Denmark. With little on which to go, Simonsen and his team begin exploring the possibilities, which reveals a Group of Six students attending school together, calling themselves the Lonely Hearts. Could these six have played some role in the disappearance (and potential murder) of the English girl? Subsequently, could someone have broken a pact and killed the one member whose guilt became too much? As the case progresses, living more in the age of Flower Power than current criminal activity, Simonsen has flashbacks to the life he lived in the same era, and a love interest whose dealings with the law plagued him for a long time. As he tries to wrestle with that series of feelings and events, Simonsen must look the present to determine if a handful of fifty-somethings came recollect meeting a girl one summer and what might have happened that pushed them over the edge, turning Lonely Hearts into cold-blooded killers. An interesting crime thriller allows the Hammer siblings to spin a tale that has criminal elements and much backstory for the protagonist through to the final page.

While I am no expert on Scandinavian crime thrillers or literature in general, I have a handful of authors from the region with which I am familiar and can compare their works to that of Søren and Lotte Hammer. I find the Hammers’ work to be much more dense and harder to digest, though there could be something about the translation from the Danish that impedes the flow of the story. That said, with much longer chapters and a tendency to push into the more minute details and expand on them, the novel can, from time to time, move into the realm of overdone and somewhat too much for the intended purpose. I know I have mentioned in past reviews of the authors that it seems they take longer to get back to the point and tie up loose ends, the the premises of their novels is strong and the characters are well-developed. Simonsen does have some parallels to those detectives from the aforementioned other Scandinavian thrillers, though this novel ties him up on so many personal levels that it is harder for the reader to leave feeling a sense of a strong connection to the man, but rather a sense that the past and present are overloaded and leave everyone feeling a tad raw. The Hammer siblings are wonderful storytellers, though their delivery could, for some readers, cause a less than celebratory mood as one wades through the text in search for a powerful mystery.

Kudos, Hammer siblings for the strong foundation. While one might call it something lost in translation, I cannot help but feel it is more a case of too much in a single book. I cannot wait to get my hands on the three novels that have yet to make it into English.

The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, by Stephen King

Eight stars

In this thorough collection of short stories, King presents the reader with a cornucopia of his writing abilities (though fans will know he has much more bouncing around inside his head). The gathered works span an eclectic set of themes, from death through to apocalyptic degradation with a smattering of premonition and technological independence tossed in for good luck. A new reader will take from the collection a story or two to intrigue them, while long-time fans can revel in the vastness of King’s abilities when not harnessed to a full-length tale. The stories are too numerous to list here, or even individualise them with their own reviews, but it will do the reader well to brace themselves and take the plunge into all corners of possibilities, to see where King can go. As King writes brief intros to each story, the reader is able to obtain a brief snapshot of where he saw the story germinating and towards what end it might have been led. However, as with anything by Stephen King, the reader is in for an adventure outside of their comfort zone and with little chance to honestly predict all the curves in the road. Some old, some new, but all worth a glance to the curious reader who has an interest in being spellbound.

I was once told that King’s writing was too devilish for my own good and that I ought not waste my time with it. When I did take the time to peel back the rhetoric and explore his writing, I found myself entranced with all he had to say. As King mentions in the introduction to one of his stories, people brand him in a certain way and are unable to see past it, though this collection speaks volumes about his varied abilities. With a wonderful collection of characters, each with their own backstories and lives, King brings everything to life, at times in a handful of typed pages, while others receive scores of literary banter. That is the wonder of the King collection, that he can shift gears so effectively and drastically in such a short time. Some authors have their own telltale mode or signature style, while King utilises his life experiences and personal influences to vary what he has to say and how he goes about bringing an idea to life. As I dabbled in the audiobook version, I was also able to see how different narrators brought the collection to life in their own ways. Not only is King’s writing differentiated, but also the approach used to breathe life into it. For that I cannot speak enough about this collection and the nuances of the literary process found herein. I can usually devour a King book and this collection was no exception.

Kudos, Mr. King for offering me such a wonderful overview of your ideas and abilities. I shall recommend this to all King-doubters to show you are more than crazed clowns and alien probing monsters.

Ordeal (William Wisting #10), by Jørn Lier Horst

Eight stars

In the latest William Wisting novel, Horst takes the reader on another wonderful adventure, where the law and justice meet, if only for a moment. After months of no leads on the case of a missing taxi driver and his vehicle, Wisting is forced to push it to the side. Juggling work and the potential of the early stages of a new relationship, Wisting must also focus on his daughter, Line, who is eight months pregnant and has just returned to raise her child alone. When Line meets an old school friend, Sofie Lund, they rekindle the acquaintance, which leads to a pact of mutual assistance in all areas related to single motherhood. When Sofie reveals that she is living in her grandfather’s old home, Line is more than happy to help her sort things out, which includes getting into an old safe in the basement, the contents of which prove highly suspect. Along with the discovery, Sofie must also admit that her grandfather, Frank Mandt, is a notorious criminal and smuggler from decades past, a mark she wishes to scrub from her life. Along with a stack of money and a pile of cassettes in the safe, Line and Sofie discover an old revolver. Choosing the high road, Line takes it to her father to discard, though police procedure is to run ballistics tests before disposing of anything. These tests tie the gun to a shooting on New Year’s Eve and an airtight trial set to begin the following week. Following some independent leads, Wisting and his team stumble upon an old barn and locate the missing taxi therein. When he receives the ballistic information on the gun and a property search reveals that Frank Mandt is tied to both, clues begin to fall into place, though a motive remains elusive or the proper timeline to have committed the crimes. As the investigation progresses, a body is discovered, though it is still a mystery as to who might be the murderer, with Mandt having no known reason to kill either victim. The more Wisting learns of the gun’s place at the scene of the New Year’s murder, the deeper he digs, even as he is cautioned from messing with the case before the courts. Wisting cannot ignore the call for justice, even if it contradicts all that fills boxes of evidence and witness statements. With the case pushing him in many directions and Line set to have her baby, William Wisting has little time for questions, but will not rest until the real killer is caught. Another wonderful addition to the William Wisting series that is sure to garner Horst more fans.

While there is no shortage of good crime fiction available today, Horst not only competes with other authors, but excels at his craft. His place amongst other Scandinavian writers is strengthened by the clear and precise prose he offers, alongside a story that keeps the reader wondering from one page to the next. Character development is continuous, though it does not take away from the story as a whole. Wisting is a complex character and one who will remain ever-evolving throughout the series, which has reached its tenth instalment. Without trying to draw parallels between Wisting and Harry Hole or Joona Linna, there is surely a strong characteristic that binds these three men, all of whom seek justice and find their own way to deliver it to the public, in their respective authors’ ways. Horst should be applauded for his hard work and, truth be told, stellar delivery, even with the novel being written in Norwegian. That a novel can hold such strength while going through the translation process speaks volumes about its calibre.

Kudos, Mr.Horst for another stellar piece of work. I found myself wondering where things were going from the get-go. Now then, if only we could find a way to get the earlier novels translated into English for me to enjoy.

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms (The Tales of Dunk and Egg #1-3), by George RR Martin

Seven stars

A century before the epic battle for the throne, there were two young men who met by chance in Westeros. In The Hedge Knight, Martin introduces readers to Dunk, who has buried his knight and master and wishes to attend a jousting competition in his honour. While travelling to Ashford, Dunk meets young Egg, who has a keen interest in tagging along and wishes to be once Dunk’s squire. While at the competition, Dunk engages in a fight with Aerion Targaryen, maiming the prince. After his arrest, Dunk chooses a trial by combat, but Targaryen seeks to turn the tables on him and insists it be a Trial of Seven, where both sides will choose six others and let the gods decide innocence on a battlefield. Egg release some interesting information and Dunk finds men to fight alongside him, in hopes of showing that he is innocent of any wrongdoing. The story not only explores the Targaryen background, but forges an alliance between Dunk and Egg, which serves the second story well. In The Sworn Sword, Dunk and Egg find themselves in the service of Ser Eustace. While surveying the lands that are being plagued by drought, Egg notices that a stream has dried up in a few short hours. Dunk and one of the other knights go to investigate and stumble upon a dam erected by Lady Rohanne Webber. Returning to Ser Eustace, plans for an attack begin to take form, though Dunk and Egg convince the liege lord to allow them to go as emissaries. They encounter Lady Webber and learn much about Ser Eustace, including many of the lies he’s been telling. After a brief battle between Eustace and Lady Webber’s men, Dunk and Egg leave the company of their liege lord and make peace with Webber, before choosing to continue their own adventures northward, headed to the Wall. Dunk and Egg begin to forge a stronger friendship and sense of unity, while also struggling to better understand those around them, whose interests are self-serving. In The Mystery Knight, Dunk and Egg begin a journey northward as they seek to join Lord Beron Stark, who seeks men to help with a battle. Along the way, they encounter some knights who speak of an upcoming wedding and jousting celebration, which interests both Dunk and Egg. As they make their way to the wedding, Dunk learns that there are spies all over the place, looking to find those who may speak ill of the local lords. Full of confidence, Dunk enters the jousting competition under a mysterious name, not wanting his name to shape his personality to his fellow knights. While he has high expectations, Dunk is removed in the first match and almost killed. Egg learns that there may have been a plot to see Dunk killed and passes this information along to the hedge knight. Dunk investigates and discovers that the act was fuelled by a strong sense of jealousy and is able to extricate himself from the area, alongside Egg, before too much more can happen to either of them. However, both Dunk and Egg know they have more enemies after this experience, forcing them to be more careful in the months to come. While each short story plays nicely on its own, the collection shows an ongoing connection between Dunk and Egg, even if they do not always see eye to eye.

Since commencing Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series just before it made its way to television, I have been hooked and curious about the show’s progress. Admittedly, this falls outside the genre I tend to read, making me more of a periphery reader and thereby unable to offer as strong a comparison with those books of a similar nature. However, with such a strong like for the aforementioned series, I felt capable of offering some sentiments about this small collection of novellas. While the name of familiar families make their way onto the page, characters are new (or old) and therefore must stand on their own. Martin is able not only to capture the fantasy flavour common to the main series, but also the sense of playing right in the larger setting and some loose plots that may have been referenced in the novels. Martin’s development of both Dunk and Egg characters is effective, as is the set of adventures they undertake. The dialogue and narrative parallels that from the main series, but can also be easily comprehended by a reader new to the series or genre. Martin keeps the reader enthralled throughout, hinting and many happenings that may leave the attentive reader to flip through the five main novels to check for references. One cannot forget the key illustrations in the published collection, which bring to life some of the key happenings in the stories and help support the strong story. A wonderful collection that keeps itself open for more novellas, in the not too distant future.

Kudos, Mr. Martin for this lovely collection of novellas. While I am highly impressed, I am sure not to be alone in being more impressed if you could focus on the novels and complete the series so HBO does not derail all your literary efforts.

NYPD Red 4, by James Patterson and Marshall Karp

Seven stars

Patterson and Karp return to tantalise readers with another high-impact NYPD Red thriller, sure to get the heart pumping. A movie actress is murdered on her way to a premiere and a one-of-a-kind necklace is stolen, which brings the NYPD’s elite squad out to solve the case. Red caters to the needs of the upper crust of New York society, though Detectives Zach Jordan and Kyle MacDonald seek justice before glamour. As they pick through the few clues on scene, the mayor summons Jordan and MacDonald to Gracie Mansion for a personal favour. A string of medical equipment robberies from facilities around town have gone unreported, but the sting is being felt citywide. Pulled in both directions, Jordan and MacDonald pull double duty, all while they squad commander reads them the Riot Act at every opportunity. Were that not enough, both must handle issues in their personal lives; MacDonald and her husband’s return to the life of a drug addict, Jordan and his girlfriend who cannot compartmentalise all the time he spends with his partner and ex-girlfriend. Juggling everything makes things as difficult as ever, though Red employs only the best of the best. With a lead on the jewel heist that turns the crime on its head and surveillance of a hospital that shows a reconnaissance mission, Jordan and MacDonald may have solid leads to wrap up these crimes. However, even with the culprits in their sights, there is always more to the story. In a well-developed story, Patterson and Karp deliver much for the reader to enjoy, a wonderful turnaround from past tepid publications.

Should this novel be part of the ongoing indication that James Patterson has turned over a new leaf (or finally returned to his old ways), his fans might be able to rejoice. After years of subpar publications that garner readers as a fatal car accident draws gawkers, there seems to be a stronger sense of writing and plot development. Karp assists in this writing endeavour with strong back stories offered of both Jordan and MacDonald, which helps support their ongoing forward movement through the series. The crimes may not be unique, but the approaches taken keep the reader enthused and turning pages into the night, which is offset with short chapters and a plot that twists at just the right moment. Patterson and Karp know where they want to go and how to get there without too much drivel or redundancy, which any series reader will surely appreciate. NYPD Red has potential and could flourish into something effective, though one must speculate if Patterson will bring his co-authors together to pen a crossover series, with New York and Washington, DC so close to one another.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Karp for this interesting addition to the series. Here’s hoping you have found your niche and run with it.

Stalker (Joona Linna #5), by Lars Kepler

Eight stars

In this much anticipated fifth novel in the Joona Linna series, Kepler delivers more thrill and drama to appease fans. With Linna presumed dead after an apparent suicidal drowning, control of the National Criminal Investigation Division falls to DS Margot Silverman. When the Division receives a clip from YouTube that outlines a voyeur film of an unidentified woman, the authorities are curious, but have seen no crime. It is only when the woman is found murdered that things begin to take on a shape of their own. Clues are plentiful, though turn up no leads, leaving the Silverman to direct her team to scour the crime scenes. When another clip appears, the race is on to identify the woman before the murder, but again their hands are tied and Silverman’s patience is coming to an end. After the man who sought to kill Linna and his family turns up dead and his identity is confirmed, Linna’s true whereabouts, in rural Sweden becomes known, where his is alive and living off the grid. However, he is no longer part of the inner circle created by law enforcement, but has been coaxed back to offer some of his own insight on this baffling crime. Meanwhile, Erik Maria Bark is working as a psychiatrist, seeking to pull memories from the victims’ family members, to determine if there might be a connection between this stalking crimes. He holds a secret as well as a revelation; he’s helped to put away a man for murder who positioned his victim in a manner similar to those turning up now. Bark did not alert the authorities to a key piece of evidence that came out under hypnosis, but is now harbouring a moral dilemma. Could these recent killings be part of the larger narrative, or is a copycat on the loose? Bark revisits his former patient to make amends and to see if he can help discover new clues to this larger mystery. With more clips making their way to the Division, the women begin to be recognised, friends and family of those on the case, leaving the race to find the killer at the highest priority. Only the jagged memories of a former drug addict and the description of a ‘Dirty Preacher’ fuels the investigation, and there is little time to lose. That has never stopped Joona Linna from taking matters into his own hands, which he does without a second thought, no matter the consequences. Kepler’s hiatus can easily be forgiven after this masterful piece of work, which fans will devour.

Kepler remains at the top of the Scandinavian crime fiction list the world over, and for good reason. The stories are complex, with characters that pull the reader in and a plot that progresses nicely through the short chapters. The mystery is never one of clear A to B, but meanders as it develops, offering backstories that will, eventually, become highly important to the larger narrative. The patient and attentive reader will find themselves pulled in, even with Linna as a less than central character, and rushing to discover the killer and motive. Such a masterful tale is not lost in translation, but far surpasses some of the crime fiction originally penned in English. It is only disappointing that these readers must wait patiently for rights to be granted and translation accomplished before enjoying another novel, with a cliffhanger ending that begs for resolution.

Kudos, Lars Kepler for this great novel. You do not disappoint in the least, even with the delay in the novel’s release.

Sellevision, by Augusten Burroughs

Seven stars

Welcome to Sellevision! In an era when all your shopping can be done from your couch comes the premiere retail shopping network, complete with its collection of on-air personalities. Each host has their own personal story and collection of foibles, some of which Burroughs develops into vignettes, amusing the reader as he spins tribulations out of the most vapid situations. From the host whose live crotch cameo cost him his job to the woman who thought she could secure a position at Sellevision by sleeping with the boss, there is nothing that Burroughs considers out of bounds, allowing these hosts to stumble along and find their own ways. With any celebrity comes a collection of fans who become obsessed, some to the point of writing and pointing out minute flaws that might best be addressed before the next on-air appearance, which can only push some to the brink of insanity, as is depicted by another host, though she can barely see the forest for the trees. Burroughs seeks to personify those who make their living in front of the camera, even if the depths of their celebrity comes from speaking about the latest earrings or bangles. In this poignant poke at the faux-drama and importance of on-air shopping, Burroughs delivers something to cut the tension out of any busy day.

Having recently discovered Augusten Burroughs, I was drawn first to his memoir trilogy, which opened my eyes to the pains and struggles the author faced. However, in the third volume, there is much mention of this book, his first experiment into the world of published writing. The attentive reader who has also tackled the memoirs will see parallels from Burroughs’ life in this story, with some of the same humour he offered in that personal writing. There is no doubt that Burroughs thumbs his nose and mocks on-air shopping, but it is equally apparent that he wants to tell a story of a collection of people who must face their own issues and process things in their own manner. With wonderful characters and zany humour, Burroughs offers the reader a break from the heavier reading out there or the NYT acclaimed novels while adding his own flavour to the lighter side of life.

Kudos, Mr. Burroughs for this look into the life of those whose greatest worry is pancake foundation and missed director cues.

The Guilty (Will Robie #4)

Seven stars

In the latest novel in the Will Robie series, Baldacci takes an interesting approach with the cold-hearted assassin. After a mission goes awry, Robie begins to realise that he may have lost his edge. News that his father has been arrested and is awaiting trial for murder gives Robie the out he needs, sending him back to Cantrell, Mississippi. Robie has been away from his hometown for more than two decades, where some things have changed, but much remains just as stagnant as when he left. When Dan Robie refuses to see his son, Robie begins poking around to piece the accusations together. The elder Robie, a respected judge in the area, is suspected of killing a man who recently was exonerated of the murder of a local girl. Retribution fuels the motive, though Robie is sure there is more to the story. The deeper he digs, the more Robie wonders about people from his past, some of whom are still in the area, while others have left only vapours of their presence. Just as Robie peels back layers of the earlier murder, he discovers that there is an undertow that is pulling the entire community in a specific direction, but that crimes in the area have been covered-up and the whispers remain faint. When his partner, Jessica Reel, arrives to assist, Robie leads them into many dark corners to reveal truths that no one wishes aired, but which could be the only way to save Dan Robie from life in prison. With an explosive storyline and wonderfully gripping banter, Baldacci delivers a wonderful novel whose action builds as the chapters progress.

As with most of his work, Baldacci delivers another wonderful story. He pieces the plot together effectively and uses a number of interesting characters to flesh it out. Using dialogue peppered with local idiosyncrasies allows the reader to feel as though they are there in rural Mississippi alongside Will Robie, which adds to the realistic feel. With a handful of twists and curves central to the story, Baldacci keeps the reader wondering while also expecting something exciting with every chapter. Using Robie in a more investigative manner also plays out well, which gives him dimension and opens doors for future novels, should Baldacci wish to explore them. There is also much backstory delivered in this novel, as the reader is able to better understand how Robie got involved in a life as far away from Mississippi as possible, as well as the parallels his life followed when compared to his father. As is always the wonder with an author who has multiple series on the go, will Robie and some of the others join together, or create a successful crossover opportunity? Only time will tell, though nothing is out of the realm of possibility when David Baldacci is at the helm.

Kudos, Mr. Baldacci for another successful novel. I am eager to continue my appreciation of your work as I wade through my pile of books.

Elizabeth of York: A Tudor Queen and Her World, by Alison Weir

Nine stars

In another of her stellar biographies, Weir presents the reader with a detailed account of an essential actor in the Tudor Dynasty, Elizabeth of York. The tome explores the origins of this significant woman, mother to Henry VIII and grandmother to Elizabeth I, but also posits that she was essential to the English line of succession in her own right. While Elizabeth was a supporter of her Tudor family, when the reader explores Weir’s research and what is known in history, the one-time Queen of England emerged as a much more complex and interesting player in history. Presumptive heir to the throne at a time when women were not seen as likely rulers, her role became a chess piece on the larger English monarchical board to create a set of interesting events that pulled the Tudor name into the line of succession. Weir presents three significant perspectives of Elizabeth’s life, which help the reader to better understand her importance among English monarchs in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Elizabeth was an important and sought after princess, a distinct monarch as Queen of England, and a passionate woman in her own right. Weir uses a plethora of sources to support this well-crafted biography that allows the reader much information on which to form their own decisions about this woman’s place in English history.

 Elizabeth of York’s place in the English monarchy might not be well-known to the reader, aside from marrying Henry Tudor (King Henry VII). She was born to Edward IV in 1466 and did have the illustrious title of heir to the English Throne before her brother blossomed on the family tree. While chaos and drama befell the family, Elizabeth grew up in a household full of love and her upbringing prepared her to serve a key role in monarchical matches, making her much sought-after in her marriageable years. At one time promised to the French Dauphin, she was seen as been a means to bind the political alliance between France and England, an event that was by no means unique to her. The same attempts were made in an alliance with Portugal, though nothing came from either suggestion. With the death of Edward IV, Elizabeth’s importance grew domestically and her role at Court was solidified. Elizabeth’s brothers, too young to reign, were left to hand over their power to a consort, their uncle Richard of Gloucester. When the boys went missing, the consort rose to the Throne and sought to reign in his own fashion, even as rumours swirled that he had murdered his nephews to ascend to the throne. Weir addresses this at length within the middle chapters of the biography, while also seeking to better understand why Elizabeth never ascended to the throne herself, being the eldest child (and there being no male heir remaining). As mentioned earlier, women were not seen as presumptive heirs, able to rule over men, which might explain some of the accepted decision to crown Richard III. Young Elizabeth briefly contemplated life as a potential bride for her uncle, which would have been one means by which she could become queen. However, in an act that some might have called ludicrous, Elizabeth also entertained marrying Henry Tudor, a distant relation and central figure in the House of Lancaster, enemies of the Plantagenets, of whom Elizabeth’s family was descended. This larger clash, referred to as the War of the Roses, might have nullified any Tudor ascendency or possibility of Elizabeth marrying Henry, had Richard III not been a key figure in the murder of the young princes. With the chance to serve as Queen of England, it mattered only which man Elizabeth would be sent to marry, thereby solidifying which branch would receive support and could flourish. That Weir places much importance in Elizabeth of York’s time and role as princess cannot be discounted in the larger narrative.

While her role as a princess was important, Elizabeth’s marriage to Henry Tudor and time on the English Throne proved very fruitful as well. As mentioned above, the War of the Roses saw two factions in a long and drawn-out battle, pitting the White Rose Plantagenets against the Red Rose House of Lancaster. Henry’s marriage to Elizabeth created the formidable Tudor Rose, a symbol that would become synonymous with the Tudor name. While Henry took a period of time to marry Elizabeth, their union did bring about much peace within the realm and allowed Elizabeth to move into a world of piety and peace, but also permitted her to play a quasi-political role in securing Henry’s validity to the realm. Elizabeth was forced to learn additional patience in the early years of her marriage as Margaret Beaufort, her mother-in-law, played a prominent role at court and sought to instil maternal influence over Henry VII. While Henry VII took control of the political and social wellbeing of the realm, Elizabeth used her strong written skills to assist in negotiating marriages for her children. Weir documents numerous letters in which Elizabeth wrote to key figures to solidify unions for her children, which would strengthen England’s protection throughout Europe. The marriage of Arthur was most important and, as the knowledgeable reader will know, Katherine of Aragon’s hand was secured after much negotiating with Spain. Elizabeth strongly supported her eldest son in his union and sought to ensure not only that England were safe, but also that those of high-rank within the ecclesiastical hierarchy knew of the union and cleared any obstacles. As Weir notes throughout the early years of Henry VII’s reign, there were at least two examples of “pretenders to the throne”, those claiming to be Elizabeth’s brother, said to have been murdered in the Tower of London. While taxing on Elizabeth, as she was forced to come to terms with the loss of her brother’s again, it was also a temporary impediment to the smooth rule of Henry VII, leading the monarch to deal swiftly and harshly with both men. Elizabeth remained focussed on supporting her husband and keeping peace within the realm, though she was not the powerful monarch that her granddaughter would be, even if she did have a righteous claim to rule over England for a time. Weir’s depiction of Elizabeth of York as a prominent monarch serves as a second key perspective in the larger life of this woman.

The role most wives of a reigning monarch would undertake is the final perspective Weir presents in this tome. After her marriage to Henry Tudor, Elizabeth wasted no time in her queenly duties, a yoke left to all wives; giving birth to a son, which is all the more important when the realm requires an heir to the throne. Elizabeth brought forth Arthur, who would be the professed next in the line of succession. However, her wifely duties did not end there, as she bore seven additional children. Her three eldest have received the most discussion in history, predominantly because they reached the age of maturity and could play key roles in Elizabeth’s duties of marriage negotiator, as mentioned above. Elizabeth suffered much pain as a mother throughout her time as queen, losing numerous children in infancy. This did not deter her to continue having children, though there is no doubt that the strain took its toll. Weir speculates that Elizabeth did mourn in a way appropriate for the time, though her fertile womb was not without child for any significant period of time. It was the death of Prince Arthur that Weir uses to show the depths of Elizabeth’s sorrow, where she not only lost her first-born, but also the heir to the throne. Additionally, Weir draws effective parallels between Elizabeth’s loss and that her mother suffered when the princes were presumably murdered in the Tower of London. Although she did conceive another child soon after his death, this would be her last, as she succumbed to complications after the birth and perished on her 36th birthday. The mourning undertaken within the court upon her death was significant and Weir chronicles the pomp invested in her funeral services. Weir also denotes that both Henry VII and Henry VIII memorialised her in their own ways, erecting monuments and speaking fondly of her throughout their reigns. While locked into the life of a monarch, Elizabeth of York never lost touch with her materialistic or sentimental side, even if her second son lacked the compassion she presented during their years together. 

Taking the entire biography into account, Weir does an effective job at not only recounting a thorough story of Elizabeth of York, but utilises a number of documents to augment the story and arguments she presents. Weir is known for her strong narrative and revealing new truths not yet part of the general historical discussion. Her tedious work researching a number of documents and piecing parallels together offer the reader new insight into events previously seen as moving in another direction. Research related to the murders ordered by Richard III and the sentiments Elizabeth felt were vague, though Weir sought to pull them into the forefront of their respective parts of the tome. With a clear presentation and chapters that pull together poignant pieces of the story, Weir offers the reader a full biography of a woman who lived only a short time, though perhaps on par with her contemporaries, who were known to die in childbirth. The book captivates the curious reader while offering much insight and new dialogue into a time that preceded some of the important years of the English monarchy, those being Henry VIII’s long and dramatic rule over the realm.

Kudos, Madam Weir for this wonderful biography. I found myself able to answer some of the earlier questions I had about the Tudors, as well as curious about a number of other characters, whose lives intersect with your other biographical subjects.

A Million Little Pieces, by James Frey

Eight stars

In his much-debated book, Frey offers the reader a significant glimpse into his life as an addict and the time he spent in a treatment centre addressing these demons. Opening in dramatic fashion, the reader is immediately treated to Frey circling the drain as he lands in Chicago and is shipped off to an unnamed facility in Minnesota. His arrival garners much confusion and pushback, as Frey expresses feeling that he did not belong or fit in amongst others who are at various stages of addiction. The reader discovers, through Frey’s own narrative, how withdrawn he feels about the process and how, while being frank about the depths to which his addiction overtook his life, he does not feel that a counselling and Twelve Step approach will reunite the million pieces into which his life has shattered over the thirteen years since addiction formally reared its ugly head. Bridging acquaintances with numerous others at the facility, Frey is able to compare his life against those of others who have also had to battle addiction. With first-hand accounts of withdrawal symptoms, despair, and refusing to engage in therapeutic intervention, Frey seems well on his way to burning the money spent on his time in treatment. It is only when his parents arrive for Family Counselling, an intense program whereby the addict and those closest to him tear off all the scabs related to the addiction, that Frey begins to synthesise the pain and devastation that his life has become. The reader is able to see the insights that Frey offers, as well as the reactions of his parents, coupled with a better understanding of the addiction’s nexus. These insightful sections begin the first steps in the long road to recovery and Frey’s ability to find some semblance of order in his shattered life. However, a fellow addict, Lilly, plays a key role in his life at this point in time and their connection proves an addiction in and of itself, as well as contravening the Cardinal Rule of the facility. A wonderful story that pulls no punches about the horrendous nature of addiction, the struggles an addict faces in coming to the realisation of their powerlessness, and the crux of the recovery process. Told in as raw a format as many readers will have encountered, Frey presents the reader with much food for thought as they explore this poignant narrative.

While much has been made of the validity of the text, those who choose to sit on their pedestals and lob blame or scorn do nothing for the message found within its pages. Frey tells an extremely naked story about the addict and the struggle to climb out of the hole in which they dig themselves. Be it drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, or other vices, Frey’s narrative can touch the heart of the attentive and non-judgmental reader. As Frey says in his own words, “There is no excitement, no glamour, no fun. There are no good times, there is no joy, there is no happiness. There is no future and no escape. There is only an obsession. An all-encompassing, fully enveloping, completely overwhelming obsession.” As soon as the reader can come to terms with this and sees the message at the root of the story, that of the horrors of addiction, there is a chance to synthesise all that is told in this story. Passing judgment or trying to vilify the author because of factual irregularities serves only to demonstrate how said critic misses the point of this book and lacks of ability to comprehend the deeper message. Addiction is horrid, it is a struggle each and every day. We can sit in our ivory towers and bemoan those who drink or smoke crack, but that will not solve the problem, it only seeks to push it under the rug. While the early chapters were hard for me to digest, not only for their content but also the jagged nature of the writing style, I grew to accept that Frey sought to present the reader with the perspective of the addict, as though it were a written at the time of the events. Choppy, repetitive, and even nonsensical at times, Frey portrays the struggles that the addict must face while also presenting a lifestyle that, for some readers, is entirely foreign. Add to that, the text is free from any quotation marks, allowing him to recollect things as he did, rather than shackling himself into anything binding. Frey tries to shine light on it and offer a degree of compassion for those who struggle by personalising the suffering. For that, he is owed a debt of gratitude.

Thank you, Rae Eddy, for opening my eyes to this book and to the inner struggles with which I could relate on many levels. You have touched my life in ways that I cannot clearly elucidate, but I think you know precisely what I mean, even without the written word.

Kudos, Mr. Frey for putting forth this frank account of the struggles an addict faces. Some may be too wrapped up in their own soap box speeches as they dole out praise and the public rushes to guzzle their ‘Kool-Aid’. You steer clear of this and the drama of talk-show blather.

Cross Justice (Alex Cross #23), by James Patterson

Seven stars

In this most recent Alex Cross novel, Patterson opens up about the protagonist who has been through many peaks and valleys over the past two decades. After an absence of over three decades, Alex Cross is headed home, back to his roots in North Carolina. While it would be nice to call this a family vacation in its truest form, Cross has a mission. Stefan Tate, a cousin, is on trial for rape and murder, with a pile of evidence making his guilt all but certain. However, Cross remains open-minded and begins poking around into the narrative offered by Stefan, as well as that which the district attorney is using at trial. This uncovers more than Cross can imagine, including a deep-rooted suspected drug ring headed by one of the town’s most active businessmen. As he struggles to find innocence in a town where guilt has already been determined, Cross also must address the deaths of his parents and the pains it caused him in his childhood. Digging deeper, Cross learns that the additions his parents had may not have cost them their lives, but these revelations are wrapped in other barbed truths. Cross heads to Florida to get answers, where he stumbles into a set of murder investigations in which socialites appear to be committing drastic forms of suicide. When Cross uncovers a key piece of evidence, he is able to help solve one case and blow another wide open, which necessitates a quick return to the rest of the family before others are hurt. Back in North Carolina, Cross may hold the key to the trial as well as answers to put his family at rest. A stunning turn-around for the usually lacklustre Patterson, which might draw long-time Alex Cross fans back into the fold.

Can this be the same James Patterson who churns out tepid novels as fast as a reader can digest them? It seems as though the old dog might have a new trick or two. Perhaps it is that he holds the story as his own or that he is tired of sub-par publications (which still earn him millions). In any case, Patterson delivers a wonderful story that offers a very strong Alex Cross backstory, one that is long-past due. Patterson also builds on a few developments to bring other Cross family members some drama of their own. While every Cross story seems to need a serial killer and their own machinations, it seems as though Patterson only added this branch out of necessity, for it plays a seemingly minor role in the larger narrative. Still, I remain in awe that such a powerful story could come so easily from James Patterson. What a turn around!

Kudos, Mr. Patterson for returning to your days of glory. I can only hope you will not abandon this writing style, preferring stellar pieces of writing to which your name is affixed.

Foreign Éclairs (A White House Chef Mystery #9), by Julie Hyzy

Eight stars

In the latest White House Chef novel, Hyzy offers an interesting spin to a common theme. Olivia Paras is enjoying life as the Executive Chef in the White House, even though things are a little busier than she might like. Down one chef and on the search for a replacement, Paras is committed to ensuring that the First Family never goes hungry or dreads mealtimes. On her way home one night, Paras is mugged, but is able to make it to safety and can offer some assistance in identifying her attackers. With this information, it is soon determined that these were henchmen working for a factions within Armustan, a small republic whose touted leader remains in a US prison after a foiled attack at the White House in a previous novel. Paras was central in overturning that plot and sending said leader to a life behind bars, leaving the mugging as a likely attempt at revenge. After learning of her ordeal and completing a mission outside of DC, Secret Service Agent Leonard ‘Gav’ Gavin returns to his wife to offer support and protection. Paras and Gav soon realise that that attack was only the beginning of the Armustanian attempts to target her. When one member of the White House Team is murdered, all eyes look to Paras to determine if she might be next. This means keeping her safe and in hiding until the threat can be neutralized. Of course, this is easier said than done, with the outspoken Chef Paras always wanting to play the Jessica Fletcher of the 21st century and be in on all the action to bring down a criminal. Hyzy takes the reader through the usual twists and turns before landing things in a high-octane sprint to the finish, at which time a major cliffhanger leaves everyone wondering how everything plans out. A great read for all those well-versed in the series.

If I had to call Hyzy anything, it would surely be my guilty pleasure author. The novels are not complex pieces of fiction, but their premise and the means by which she tackles the issues is insightful and highly entertaining. I cannot say enough about her work and how well she integrates one book to the other. While the cast of characters changes, sometimes removing favourites for new faces, the stories never get old and the drama is never too much that I want to toss a book to the side. Add to that, the insinuation of delectable treats, all of which are outlined at the end of the novel, and you have a successful series, great author, and easy to digest content. I look forward to seeing where all of this goes and how Hyzy will spin things to keep her readers happy. I am still holding out for a crossover between her two series, but that’s just my own curiosity to see how it would play out.

Kudos, Madam Hyzy on another successful novel. You have all the ingredients to create wonderful stories, which you can seemingly whip up with ease.

Luther: The Calling (Luther #1), by Neil Cross

Eight stars

As a precursor to the television adaptation, Neil Cross penned this fast-paced novel to introduce the world to John Luther. London is a city full of life, vigour, and energy, but also has a dark underbelly where murders and other violent crimes surface on a regular basis. Thankfully, DCI John Luther is ready to stare down those looking to wreak havoc in his unique approach to crime fighting. When he is called to the scene of a grisly murder, he is left aghast at the depravity before him. A couple is dead, the woman’s stomach slashed open and the child she carried was torn from inside her. Unsure if the baby could survive, Luther is forced to begin a manhunt, hoping he is not too late. When a man calls in to a talk radio program, professing to be behind the kidnapping, all eyes turn to Luther, in hopes that he can save Baby Emma, the moniker given to this bundle. The more the case develops, the more involved Luther becomes, ignoring his life outside of work. When another couple is slain and their young daughter taken, Luther must race against the clock to save her and pinpoint who is behind this, before more children go missing and the body count rises. However, the more time he dedicates to work, the less he spends at home, where Luther’s wife, Zoe, has reached her limit. Will Luther help bring a killer to justice and let his personal relationship die alongside it? Cross pulls the reader into this wonderful crime thriller, which helps create a firm foundation for the television series and its strong protagonist. 

While I am a fan of the television series, I am only now getting around to this novel. Nothing herein ruins the series, though Cross offers a wonderful insight into the power of the Luther character and the early strains between John and Zoe. Cross develops a wonderful collection of characters whose unique nature helps form a powerful narrative and fast-paced thriller, while keeping an element of surprise throughout. His writing style makes it easy to read and leaves the reader always wanting a little more, while not rushing anything. Cross may have turned his sights to the television screenplay writing, though one can hope that there are more books to come in this series, which will feed into the reading fan base and could drum up additional support for the television series in its own right.

Kudos, Mr. Cross for this great thriller and dedication to creating a new and exciting crime thriller series that will leave people gathered around the water cooler for weeks and months to come.

In the Clearing (Tracy Crosswhite #3), by Robert Dugoni

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Robert Dugoni, and Thomas & Mercer for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

Dugoni returns with the third novel in the Crosswhite series, taking a different spin from the previous series writing. While the team lands a homicide with a strong self-defence component, Detective Tracy Crosswhite finds herself lured to assist a friend who has been given a cold case by her late father. In the autumn of 1976, young Kimi Kanasket was walking home from her shift at the town diner, but never made it. The following morning her body turned up floating in the water, injuries consistent with a leap from a bridge. While the case seemed fairly airtight, Kimi’s family was never convinced. Pulling out the file and using all the technology at her disposal, Crosswhite is able to cobble together a narrative that offers a different story than that told forty years before. However, with a stranger poking around town, locals are less than interested in bearing their souls. With the town set to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the high school football team’s state championship, Crosswhite tries dredging up something far less palatable. The deeper Crosswhite investigates, the more disturbing the information. In this stunning thriller, Dugoni forces the reader to explore how decades-old secrets can be the worst to let fester. A wonderful piece for fans, new and old alike.

Having been a fan of Robert Dugoni and his work for a long while, I was pleased to see this novel that seeks to push outside the box. Juggling not only two narratives, 1976 and 2016, but also two cases progressing simultaneously, the reader must grasp all that is taking place, as well as the changes that forty years has on evidence, witness recollections, and vendettas. With a wonderful narrative and thorough collection of characters, Dugoni is able to offer this new approach to his Tracy Crosswhite series, advancing the core backstories and offering new directions to those with whom the reader is well-versed. While things did come to a head by the end, it took until the last handful of chapters to realise that both cases (Kanasket and Collins) do resolve themselves and the latter did not act as a decorative backdrop to keep the other characters busy while Crosswhite delves out on her own.

Kudos, Mr. Dugoni for this wonderful story that had been intrigued throughout. I can only hope that there is more Tracy Crosswhite to come.