Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and the Race Against Time (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang #3), by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Eight stars

As I continue to explore the adventures of this most exciting vehicle, I have come to see why young readers the world over would be drawn to this series. Frank Cottrell Boyce offers up a cute and informative piece that will surely last the test of time. Picking up where the previous story ended, the Tootings find themselves in an epoch of which they are not familiar, with a Tyrannosaurus Rex breathing down their necks. Apparently, the ‘chronojuster’ has the capacity to toss Chitty Chitty Bang Bang through time, an added layer of excitement for the Tootings. When Mr. Tooting is able to manoeuvre the family away from the meat-eaters and into a more current period, they find themselves in the heart of the early 1920s New York City, where Chitty’s famed creator, Count Zborowski, greets them warmly and challenges them to race in his newly perfected Chitty Chitty Bang Bang II. After some finagling and fine-tuning of the original Chitty, the Tootings take along a young racing enthusiast in hopes that the chronojuster will help propel them to more adventures. Their ultimate goal, to find the Pott family, original owners of Chitty, so that they might erase any remnant of Chitty’s creation. Why get rid of such a handy vehicle, you might ask? Super villains Tiny Jack and Nanny are still on the hunt for Chitty, hoping to add her to their collection to undertake dastardly plans. The Tootings bounce around time, in search of the Potts Family and trying to dodge all that time travel can toss their way. After a makeover in the Amazon, Chitty is ready to face anything that might be placed before her, taking the Tootings along for the ride of their lives. However, Nanny’s spun a web and cannot help but hope to snag Chitty before all is said and done. A wonderful continuation of this series that enthrals young and mature readers alike.

Starting this series as a buddy read, I was so pleased with it presentation that I chose to continue reading all the newer adventures left for young readers. Cottrell Boyce continues to dazzle readers with the adventures of a newer family while keeping the memories of Ian Fleming’s original theme in the forefront of the narrative. A time-travel theme allows for a new round of delightful characters, all of whom add to the fast-paced narrative. Cottrell Boyce presents an interest story, working on a new angle to keep readers curious and free from being able to predict what is to come. While geared to the young reader, the story plays out in such a way that it is not overly cheesy and a more mature (read: adult) reader can equally enjoy the journey through time. I am eager to see what comes next in the Chitty series and will keep these books in mind for when my son is a little older.

Kudos, Mr. Cottrell Boyce for keeping the series fun as well as informative for the reader. While you have taken oven from Ian Fleming, I am confident that his estate is well-pleased with what you’ve been able to do.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang #2), by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Eight stars

Having begun this series with the Ian Fleming classic, I thought it a good idea to continue on, under the guidance of Frank Cottrell Boyce. Moving the story into the present day, the young reader is introduced to the Tooting Family, with a mom and dad, as well as Lucy, Jeremy, and baby Harry. When Mr. Tooting announces that he has major news, he shares that he’s been sacked from his job, which means the family is without a vehicle. Noting the crossroad in their lives, Mr. and Mrs. Tooting agree to take the family on the adventure of a lifetime, but will need a vehicle to match. After they secure a camper van, the Tootings are almost ready to go, but Mr. Tooting takes Jeremy with him to the local scrap yard to find a few items that might be useful to ensure the camper van is ready for all its adventures. There, the duo discover an old Zborowski engine, a famous racing vehicle from the 1920s. Mr. Tooting has grand ideas and turns the camper van into a speeding monstrosity, while Jeremy is unsure what to expect. When the family is ready to head out, they begin the journey towards Paris, where Mrs. Tooting has always fancied going. Their trip takes a turn when the camper van sprouts wings and begins to sail through the air. Panicked and unsure what is going on, the Tootings hold on for dear life until they find themselves atop the Eiffel Tower. The authorities and local media outlets scramble for an explanation, which leads to a mysterious phone call and the subsequent renaming of the camper van to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, a name the Tootings think quite odd, but who are they to protest. From there, Chitty takes the family over to the Sphinx and more adventures. However, super villain Tiny Jack has been watching the Tootings and their vehicle, with a plot of his own and a fiendish assistant named Nanny. What will come of the Tootings and is there more to these vacation destinations than meets the eye? Cottrell Boyce pulls his readers in and does Fleming great justice with this sequel, where the adventure never seems to let up.

It was a buddy read that had me begin this series, but I am pleased that I took the time to delve in, as the adventures are wonderful. Cottrell Boyce ties the previous novel to this one in a masterful manner, offering breadcrumbs to the attentive reader, while entertaining those who may be new to the series. A new collection of characters keeps the story going and offers a wonderful new realm of adventures. With just the right amount of evil villain to keep young readers curious and yet not petrified, Cottrell Boyce delivers a jam-packed adventure that one can only hope will continue with the next in the series. Paced perfect and with a peppering of corny storylines, this is the perfect tale for a young reader with a taste for the adventurous.

Kudos, Mr. Cottrell Boyce for working along the Fleming framework and keeping children enthused as they are educated about the ins and out of motors in all their forms.

The House Husband: A BookShot, by James Patterson and Duane Swierczynski

Eight stars

With a new author pairing, Patterson brings Duane Swierczynski into the BookShot mix to show off his abilities, and what a debut venture this has become. There is a killer about, targeting families whose strains outweigh the connection they have together. What makes it all the more mysterious is that said killer by night is a house husband, most bland, during the day. When Teaghan Beaumont returns to the Homicide Squad after having her first child, everything seems out of whack; her partner is acting off and her fellow detectives handle her with kid gloves. However, when Beaumont and her partner respond to the scene of a potential familicide, she cannot help feel chilled to the bone. While trying to juggle her job and a six-week old baby, Beaumont’s mind is always racing, yet tired as ever. Doing a little work on her own, Beaumont soon realises that there have been other such crimes while she’s been away, all chalked up to strain within a family unit. But, when another such event occurs, Beaumont is sure there is a killer on the loose, setting the scene and trying to deter the authorities. What she discovers next will not only blow the case wide open, but no one will see it coming, even the reader. A wonderful story to appeal to those BookShot fans who seek a gem and have toughed it out with less than stellar pieces in the past.

As I have mentioned many times before, BookShots are truly a gamble to the avid reader. Short enough that anything disappointing has not wasted too long of the reader’s time, but fast-paced at times that the reader can devour a few in one afternoon. Patterson’s introduction of Swierczynski into the family proves to be a wonderful addition and has offered new hope for fans of this short story grouping. With little time to waste, Patterson and Swierczynski develop strong characters and a story that is second to none. Short chapters force the reader to grab on and get hooked or drop everything as the plot moves at an alarming pace. A few key twists within the story act as major pivot points and the reader is left to wonder what’s just happened, hopefully in a good way. I do hope to see Swierczynski again soon in either BookShot or full novel format, as he surely has a mind for this sort of piece.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Swierczynski on a wonderful piece. I can only hope there are more BookShots to come from this entertaining duo.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang #1), by Ian Fleming

Eight stars

While most famous for his work on creating Agent 007, Ian Fleming wrote this classic children’s story many years ago, which entertains as much as it captures the interest of many young readers. Commander Caractacus Pott has a long history of inventing things, which provides limited success and forces the family to gather round in times of financial strain. After selling one of his ideas to a local confectionary, the Potts head out to purchase their first family car. Commander Pott brings his wife (Mimsie) and twins (Jeremy and Jemima) along to find a vehicle that might suit them. One that has been left to the side catches their attention and soon the Potts have a vehicle of their own. This vehicle appears somewhat standard in appearance but seems to have a personality all its own, down to its name, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. The Pott Family find themselves out exploring the rural English countryside one day when things take a slight detour and Chitty begins showing off her wonderful capabilities (as many will know, cars prefer to be ‘she’ and Fleming discusses this). Departing the confines of England, Chitty takes the Commander and his brood on a continental exploration, which goes from exciting to problematic in the blink of an eye. Jemima and Jeremy are soon placed in danger and no one can help them, though Chitty might have seen in all, if only she can get the Commander and Mimsie to heed her alerts. A wonderful story that will keep the young reader hooked until the very last pages.

I will admit that I had heard of this book (and movie) a long time ago, but it is only now, when asked to do a quick buddy read, that I decided to go all in. Fleming takes this outrageous idea and puts a nice spin on it, perfect for young readers. While there is much that can be said of Commander Pott, the story is rightly all about this unique vehicle, though the other characters found herein keep things light and adventurous. Fleming teases readers with what might be around the corner, beginning with talk of a magical sweet, but soon pushes the story well away from inventions and into the fast-paced world of travels and trouble. In a fashion that I have only seen in English children’s books, the narrator keeps the reader fully involved and helps push speculation to its limits, while also making sure that no one is left behind. The twists and turns of this tale are wonderfully paced and the reader is sure to want more. As do I, admittedly. So, I’ll rush out to read the next three in the series, though it is too bad that Fleming never got around to writing those, too busy keeping the rest of the world safe with James Bond.

Kudos, Mr. Fleming for your wonderful beginning to a series of children’s novels sure to bamboozle as much as they excite the young reader. I feel like a kid again as I devoured this wonderful story.

Bad Little Girl, by Frances Vick

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Frances Vick, and Bookouture for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

In her follow-up novel, Frances Vick tackles some of the most troublesome areas of a well-organized society, the protection of the child. In her years as a teacher, Claire Penny has seen many children pass through the halls of her school. Some good experiences mix alongside those that are less than enlightening, but when it comes to young Lorna Bell, something deep inside begins to call out to Claire, even if it is hard to pinpoint the precise concern. After seeing young Lorna on the playground, isolated from the other children, Claire develops a particular curiosity that develops into a caring interest. Soon thereafter, Lorna finds herself in small bouts of trouble, be it teasing or stealing or roughhousing on the playground, which brings in a young mother, Nikki, to handle her daughter’s troubles. What follows are signs of continued alarm to Claire, but no one else will heed her requests to follow-up with the authorities. Claire learns of a home life that is less than ideal for Lorna and marks all over the little one’s body, but nothing can be done, at least by those with the power to remove Lorna from her family. By the time she turns ten, Lorna begins to forge a bond with Claire and a plot is hatched to solve everything. Just after Christmas, they flee the town for the Cornish seaside, where Claire hopes to keep Lorna from the family that does not care for her. Tragic news comes over the wire, but Claire still wants to keep Lorna protected and away from the bright lights, but is confused why no one has reported Lorna missing. While out in the seaside town, Claire and Lorna encounter Marianne, a writer-cum-dancer-cum-Jill of all trades. Lorna and Marianne soon begin spending time together while Claire is left ignored and constantly worried she will be discovered as having kidnapped Lorna. However, something begins to eat away at Claire, both related to the news back home and the connection that Marianne has made with Lorna. Before long, Claire is left to wonder if she, too, will be abandoned and Marianne will pick up as the saviour figure to Lorna. A gripping tale that takes some time to get going, but pulls the reader in soon thereafter.

Without a strong connection to Vick and her writing, it is somewhat difficult to judge the calibre of that which I have read. However, I find that first impressions usually go a long way for me and I can say that I came out of this reading experience with mixed feelings. I was interested in the premise of the novel from the outset and Vick is able to present it in such a way as to capture its essence, a struggle between one’s gut reaction and the rules of the system. The array of characters Vick uses conveys a decent cross-section of those who might be involved, from abusive parents to detached school officials and an overbearing (caring?) educator who wants it all to work out for the best. While the plot is strong in its intentions, I felt it took a long time to really get moving, longer than I would have liked even to lay the groundwork for the departure from the primary residence itself. However, once things got moving, there was a wonderful undertone to the story and hints throughout as to what might be going on. Vick portrays Claire, Lorna, and Marianne in a wonderful fashion and leaves the reader to wonder if the gut reaction they are getting as the story progresses could actually be true. Vick layers on more drama and a few twists to keep the reader from guessing too much before letting everything fall into place at the perfect moment. Working in the Child Protection field myself, I enjoyed the perspective offered and can empathise with Claire on many accounts. An interesting novel that I think could work well and drawn many people to it, given the proper approach.

Kudos, Madam Vick for a great story and interesting portrayal. While I cannot put my finger on precisely what kept me from loving this book outrightly, I know there is much potential and I will keep my eyes peeled for your next work.

The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance, by Ron Chernow

Nine stars

In his first massive biographical tome, Ron Chernow definitely takes up an undertaking that proves daunting and yet highly interesting. Chernow sought to explore not only financial ties in America through the ages, but to explore a powerful financial, business, and political force that has lasted for more than a few decades. The Morgan name has been deeply ensconced in the American fabric (the international one as well) for well over a century, helping to steer world events and political ideals one way or another. In his exploration of the House of Morgan–more than a familial biography in the true sense–Chernow examines the entity during three distinct epochs: the Baronial Age, the Diplomatic Era, and the Casino Period. Readers can marvel not only at the power held by these multi-millionaires, but how the House survived many a plight (both political and economic) and remains as strong as ever. While I am not one who is well-versed in finances or who can attest to being the greatest handler of money, I feel any reader with patience and a passion to learn will devour this and see just how powerful and corrupt money can be, no matter the holder.

Chernow first examines the House of Morgan by exploring the lives and ventures of Junius and Pierpont Morgan in what he coins as the Baronial Age. This father and son duo sought to forge greatness in an era when the American aristocracy was finding its feet. As Chernow lays the groundwork for his entire piece, the House set up its own foundations, whereby the elite nature became the basis for future Morgan enterprising. The Morgans sought not to be a bank in the traditional sense, with tellers and small accounts, but to offer services to the uppermost crust of society, requiring inflated minimal deposits and refusing to publicise their services. Chernow touches on this in the preface, but does explore how Junius wanted to use the mid-nineteenth century to develop a core group by which he could make sizeable investments and see his own profits soar. By the time Pierpont took over daily running of the House, banking became but one of the ventures undertaken to produce great wealth. Railroads were coming into vogue and their development as more than regional entities could be seen by amalgamating companies into monopolising monstrosities. The House of Morgan had capital for those who wished to expand holdings, but also elbowed their way onto the board of many companies. The rise in rail importance created a strong upswing in the Morgan profits and thereby helped earn Pierpont Morgan the title of Robber Barron in the late nineteenth century. At the dawn of the early twentieth century, the House of Morgan found itself firmly rooted in America’s upper class and became the go-to lenders of the top tier. When Wall Street felt tremors of a crash in the first decade of that century, it was the House that held firm and weathered the storm. Pierpont did all he could to keep things running effectively, leaving a powerful and influential House of Morgan for his son, Jack, after his death in 1913. Creating a financial aristocracy in America and laying the groundwork for international importance, the baronial age ushered in some of the most trying and successful years of the House of Morgan. 

In the lead-up to major political changes on the world scene, the House of Morgan undertook using their strong voice in what Chernow titles the Diplomatic Era. Divesting its monetary policy outside of America, the Morgans had enterprises in London and Paris, two key areas in Europe with long reaches across the continent and around the world. The House used its significant influence to help foster stability within the European countries, providing key loans and, at times, propping up their national currencies to the point of steering away from significant devaluation. With strong diplomatic intentions, the House was not overly picky about their clients for a time and would help wherever they could. Even after the Great War commenced, the House of Morgan invested heavily in munitions and metals that became essential to the war effort. Chernow goes so far as to discuss how the Morgans were seemingly war profiteers by investing in both sides without outwardly supporting the Axis. This was precarious territory and could flirt with treasonous activity. But, the House of Morgan sought to invest in what would bring profit and did so effectively. In those inter-war years, the House began seeing itself managed more by US administrations, through legislation. President Wilson passed income tax laws and tried to limit control of the Morgans with the creation of a Federal Reserve. Wilson received much pushback and watched the House do all they could to react. With the arrival of the Depression, Jack Morgan, now at the helm, sought to push through as panic enveloped the world, steadying the financial markets and remaining above the fray. The European situation brought dual concern to the Morgans, who watched the reparations of the Great War cripple Germany and the rise of the Nazis, fuelled by that resentment. As Chernow explains, the House could strike to aid with reparation stability and prop-up the German economy, which might prevent the need for war. There was much to be done with these sorts of monetary policies, but the House was kept from offering complete assistance, with pressure from both FDR and Churchill on both sides of the Atlantic. Trying to keep from sullying their reputation and steering away from treasonous activities, the Morgans would not allow themselves to make concrete ties with the Nazis or the extermination policies enacted throughout the concentration camps. The House remained firmly rooted in the American camp, though financial potentials surely crossed political ideologies in the 1930s and 40s. The diplomatic era saw the House of Morgan hold onto much power around the world, though they were not able to prevent some of the major political skirmishes. The profits they reaped allowed them to divest from national government concerns and focus solely on the personal investor.

Chernow’s third era of the House of Morgan, which he calls the Casino Period, proved to be one in which gambles in finances were precipitated by a loss of control by the House at a time when multinational corporations were the new Goliaths. With the onset of the Cold War, the world proved divided along ideological lines, but this did not force the House of Morgan to shy away from their business ventures. Using corporations as clients, the House sought to bridge financial wealth with the acquisition of key businesses all over the world, though they were more a servant to aid in the diversification of business interests. The American presidents tried to turn away from some of the ventures being undertaken, but those heading up various investment branches of Morgan were able to turn politics on its head with bold and daring moves. Be it subsidizing means to acquire and monopolize Japanese high tech firms or foster third-party fiscal exchanges so as not to violate embargoes in the Middle East, the House of Morgan was there through it all. Chernow offers numerous concrete examples of how the House tried to keep itself one step ahead of the precarious markets while also pushing the limits with offering seed money for hostile takeovers. Whatever it was, it brought things into the late 20th century at a time when financial security was rare, even with relative peace on the political front. Hedging bets for their clients proved to be the effective means of creating a relatively effective House of Morgan in the latter part of the century and into the twenty-first, after Chernow’s narrative comes to a close. 

As the political and economic world remains balanced on the head of a needle, Chernow exemplifies how the diverse and risky approaches of the House of Morgan keep their financial prowess effective. I am no money man, nor do I feel I learned enough in these pages to expound much on the subject. However, Chernow’s strong ability to lay out a thought-provoking and timely narrative pushes the reader through the various situations with ease. Political, economic and personal grief pepper the story throughout and Chernow is able to draw them all together. His focus has to be varied as he handles a number of people and their personal stories, but he does so effectively and to the point that the reader is sure to want to know more. This is the sign of a good historian and biographer, something that I know Chernow has fostered after reading a number of his works. There is more to the House of Morgan than money, but it is their passion for it that shaped them as men and a family (both blood and business) for so long. While Chernow sought to find a family whose influence on worldwide banking lasted long enough to write about its development, he has done so in spades with this exploration of the Morgans.

Kudos, Mr. Chernow for shedding so much light on these men and their empire, which showed numerous changes over its development. Your books always leave me wanting more and curious as to what else you have in store. What a wonderful way to begin your life-long journey of writing. 

New World Order: A Strategy for Imperialism, by Sean Stone

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Sean Stone, and TrineDay for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

In his work that is as thought-provoking as it is full of rhetoric, Stone follows in the footsteps of his father and presents a set of ideas that might lead some to doubt his authenticity. However, with careful arguments and thorough sourcing, the patient and attentive reader might see how he could make his point with ease. The crux of Stone’s argument is that there has been talk of a New World Order (NWO) for decades and that America (or at least some of its most powerful political figures) have been falling into line, unbeknownst to the general public. This is not the NWO espoused by Bush the Lesser (43), who wanted America to lead the world in an ‘us versus them’ mentality that aligns with the faux-wrestling that “NWO” brings to mind. Instead, Stone argues that there has long been talk of a World Government with teeth that follows the structure of the British Commonwealth, where the centrality of the governing body is paramount, while a degree of autonomy and sovereignty exists for member-states. Stone argues that there have been Round Tables made up of scholars and political figures for decades, discussing issues like that and that there has been an ‘indoctrination camp’ where American scholars have been able to go to ‘learn and accept these tenets’, in the form of Rhodes scholarships to Oxford. While it might seem somewhat far-fetched, Stone presents arguments that FDR, Kissinger, and even Zbigniew Brzezinski (National Security Advisor to President Carter) fell into line with this mentality and long promoted it in speeches and published documents. While the League of Nations and the United Nations fell flat (for reasons best not addressed at length here), this NWO could work and has already made inroads into the America political system. Trade and shared markets have long been a part of the system (the US and Canada, the largest part of the Commonwealth, being integral trade partners while the US and UK have been closely aligned on political and market matters for decades) and the strong ties during WWII and the Cold War period helped solidify the Western Europe/America connection as well. Stone does not profess that the world will be under a single umbrella, or that the encroaching system will force the United States to stand alongside North Korea or Russia as brothers, but that there has long been a neo-imperialism taking place and that America is falling deeper in line. Well argued and thoughtfully presented, Stone is able to deliver his point with some degree of ease. While he says that the book serves the novice who is curious alongside the well-versed academic on the subject, I would venture to say the former might be out of their element with some of the nuanced arguments presented herein.

While this is a piece that provokes thinking from the outset, Stone is clear to lay the groundwork for those who seek to use his work and ideas as fodder to show how off the beaten path he might be. While some authors might relish being called ‘conspiracy theorists’, Stone seems to want his arguments not to fall on deaf ears. In that, he criticises those whose main goal is to toss academic epithets on this work or to call out those who practice psittacism and refuse to open their eyes to what is before them. The text reads fluidly for the most part and is substantiated with numerous citations and examples. While any piece of non-fiction, especially academia, can be spun to suit the writer, I can see some of the points that Stone is making without feeling that I am reaching to comprehend or swallow them. Where I do find myself wondering is in the inherent ‘betterness’ that comes from American politicians, leaders rather than followers. Alongside that, the newly minted 45th President of the United States has vowed to make it an ‘America First’ period before the country wakes from its horrible nightmare, leaving the reader to wonder how anything could ‘trump’ this mindset and see the country or its political elite turn towards something that does not allow the reins of power to rest firmly on Pennsylvania Avenue. All that being said, should Stone have as much credibility in what he says, I cannot help but hope that there is a chance that America will find itself tied to something larger and not entirely in its control, be it a World Commonwealth or some such political monster. It cannot be any worse than the current demon’s head atop the political Hydra guarding the palace until at least January 20th, 2021.

Kudos, Mr. Stone for providing me with some strong political and historical thinking. I love a good alternate theory and while you might be trying to warn the country of its demise, I applaud the possible future inculcation of a new and world-centric point of view. Just watch the country march in the streets when they find all this out, eh?! 

Finale: A Novel of the Reagan Years, by Thomas Mallon

Nine stars

Mallon has created a second superbly crafted that paints the presidency of a strong American surrounded by turmoil. Using his strength within in the historical fiction genre, Mallon parachutes the reader into the life of Ronald Reagan at a time when the world was watching, and holding their collective breath. After a preface that lays the groundwork for the bitterness of the ’76 campaign and dear Nancy’s obsession with the insights of her astrologer, the reader finds themselves lodged into a narrative between August and December of 1986. Within that period, President Reagan was juggling a few items of greatest importance to him: retaining a Senate majority during the mid-term elections, continuing the discussion of a thawing of relations with the Soviets, and a pesky item around backing the Contras in Central America while selling arms to Iran. As the narrative progresses, the reader learns much of the role played by Nancy Reagan, the apparent marionette behind the president’s decision-making abilities. When not bemoaning the lack of support she felt she got from Congress on her ‘Just Say No!’ initiative, Nancy was either trying to oust the Chief of Staff, Don Regan, or trying to negotiate an early abdication from the White House after learning of the placement of Uranus in relation to Saturn. As Reagan and Gorbachev agreed to meet in Reykjavik to discuss nuclear disarmament, the world watched. These tense and critical negotiations ensued over a weekend as the two world leaders tried to hammer-out what might be the end to the Cold War, yet failed abysmally to come to a concrete agreement. Throughout that period of cut-throat politics, dead ‘Mommy’ could help but complain from back in Washington that her ‘Ronnie’ was being handled and given poor information. It is a minute spark in a Lebanese magazine that turns heads away from the disjointed and fruitless summit and towards an apparent plan within the president’s National Security team to sell weapons to Iran and funnel that money to the Contras in Nicaragua and El Salvador. This event, which the president feigned no knowledge about, turned the tables in the late autumn and paralysed the GOP in their quest for Senate supremacy. Thereafter, the Reagans were left to limp towards 1987 and the final quarter of their time in the White House, a blemish that could be removed with a Hollywood smile and a final rally to support the Gipper. With wonderful side and backstories flowing throughout, Mallon develops a wonderfully argued novel that places the reins of power outside of Ronald W. Reagan and firmly in the hands of his manipulative and driven wife. A must-read for any who love political fiction with a sense of reality permeating throughout. 

Mallon has a wonderful way of capturing reality in a well-paced narrative. The reader is left feeling that they are in the midst of the action, rather than an omnipotent observer. While there is no way to substantiate many of the conversations had within the pages of this book, it is likely that (the dialogue) which keeps it from being pure fact. Historical fiction is at its best when left to the devices of Thomas Mallon, as he has shown on at least a few occasions. The reader is also treated to many characters that enrich the story and offer their own historical marker, leaving the tale with a much more complex and lasting impression on those who take the time to digest all that is on offer. While I would have preferred a focus on Iran Contra and how Reagan bumbled his way through it, use of Reykjavik and Nancy’s puppeteering was equally interesting, especially as it is left to the reader to determine if a woman is reading the stars out her window in the California night and sending messages through the First Lady to make major political decisions. Mallon’s sarcastic style is not lost, nor is his desire to argue that there were many heavy hitters seeking to influence decisions in the West Wing. Brilliant and one can hope there are more presidential novels to come.

Kudos, Mr. Mallon for showing me how fun and exciting political writing can be. I can only hope your quiver is full of more stories like this to keep your fans sated. 

Snitch (Shea Stevens Thiller #2), by Dharma Kelleher

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Dharma Kelleher, and Alibi for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

I recently discovered Dharma Kelleher and her biker thriller genre, which is as realistic sounding as it is entertaining to read. After some major dust-ups with the law and the local outlaw motorcycle club, Confederate Thunder, Shea Stevens has been trying to remain below the radar. Her focus has turned to running the Iron Goddess, a custom motorcycle shop, while juggling being a new parent to her niece. When a few people turn up dead after a night of partying, a new party drug cut with strychnine appears to be the culprit. Whispers point to a new female motorcycle club, the Athena Sisterhood, as being responsible for its distribution. Shea is forced into infiltrating the club to learn more, all part of a confidential informant agreement she signed to keep her out of prison. Faced with a significant dilemma, Shea must stomach that the Sisterhood is run by her ex, Deb Raymond. Hesitant, but knowing it is her only chance not to lose it all, Shea agrees to work with the police and worms her way into the Sisterhood. With their strong anti-misogynist views, the Sisterhood clashes with the Confederate Thunder over territory and the right to exist, leading to numerous violent encounters and significant bloodshed. As the number of drug-related deaths rise, Shea pushes harder to get into the middle of the Sisterhood, which leads to a blurring of lines with Deb and places Shea’s committed relationship on the ropes. Shea is aware that the Thunder are holding onto a significant amount of product and surmises that it might have been sold to the person responsible for adding the strychnine. The club clashes turn deadly and Shea must take a stand, which places her in a precarious position, trying to protect those she loves while revealing someone by the name of Bonefish, who is at the heart of the distribution. Shea’s work as a CI takes over and she begins to lose focus of what matter. What will it take for Shea to reach the tipping point and which ‘family’ will she choose? With powerful themes and significant undertones, Kelleher offers readers a powerful second instalment of the series.
My knowledge of outlaw motorcycle gangs does not extend past SAMCRO, though I felt as though I was in the middle of a realistic clash on the rough streets of Ironwood, Arizona. Kelleher surely uses some of her personal experiences to help shape the novel and its significant plot lines, much as she did when introducing the reader to the concept in the debut novel. A vast array of characters from various walks of life helps develop the numerous plot lines and creates the needed clash and banter that fuels this clash of wills. Shea Stevens has a convoluted past, as well as a present life that borders on the insane, both of which become clearer through the narrative and the situations into which the protagonist is put. While dealing with some fairly common themes in the mystery genre (drugs, violence, murder), Kelleher is able to spin things to keep them unique and fresh, which is highly appealing to the reader. Keeping the story fast-paced and developing twists throughout, Kelleher keeps the reader guessing until the very end and leaves the series with a few loose ends that can, one would hope, find some resolution in yet another novel. I look forward to seeing more work by Kelleher in the near future, as she has a strong handle on how to keep the reader fixated on the life of motorcycle outlaws.
Kudos, Madam Kelleher for a wonderful follow-up novel. I will be promoting your work to anyone who wants to give this new and evolving genre a try. Know you have a significant fan in me. 

The Witches, by Roald Dahl

Nine stars

What is a witch? After my last book, all about the Salem Witch Trials, I have a pretty good idea about what the Puritans thought. However, it would serve me well to allow Roald Dahl to present an answer to that for his childhood readers. According to Dahl, a witch has claw-like fingers (always gloved), remains bald (but wears a wig), and has squared feet (no toes and a horror when shopping for shoes!). But, the most important piece of knowledge about witches is that they DESPISE children more than anything. From there, in a sort of faux memoir about his youth, Dahl recounts losing his parents in an automobile crash and living with a Norwegian grandmother. She, of course, knows much more about witches and counsels him about them, since Norway has had witches for centuries. While on holiday, young Dahl and his grandmother are in a hotel and stumble across a gathering of all English witches, who are meeting under the guise of a fairly popular and heart-warming organisation. What happens next will test young Dahl’s ability to remember all the traits and actions witches undertake, as well as a conspiracy that the Grand High Witch of the World has for all the children. A delightful book to pique the curiosity of the young reader without any trials, tortures, or tribulations. Salem or the quaint English seaside, witches are all over and Dahl finally helps us identify them. Do YOU know a witch in your daily life?

Dahl’s magical way of presenting things to children is highly entertaining and allows me, a full-fledged adult reader, to tackle an enjoyable and short piece. Intentionally bordering on the silly, Dahl offers his readers some background before setting sail on a reading voyage that will both educate and entertain. His personalising the story pulls the reader in a little more and, even faced with adversity, Dahl does not push things to the edge of despair. I have always liked Dahl stories in my youth and see now just how uplifting I feel. I hope that in a few years, when my son is ready for something a little more dense, we might explore the world of witches and all they have to offer.

Kudos, Mr. Dahl for another winner. Children have a goldmine of reading when they discover all that you had in your mind and put to paper.