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 The reader discovers, through Frey’s own narrative, how withdrawn he feels about the process and how, while being frank about the depths to which his addiction overtook his life, he does not feel that a counselling and Twelve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.

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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.