The Witches: Salem, 1692, by Stacy Schiff

Seven stars

From a period of time so fraught with scandal and religious ferocity, Stacy Schiff is able to construct a powerful and well-paced book that offers readers insight into the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. Admitting from the outset that much of the stereotypical views of witches–their pointy hats, bubbling cauldrons, warty chins, and evil cackles–was formulated much later by fiction writers, Schiff tries to get to the core of events in colonial New England and provide the reader with everything needed to place these events in proper context. Salem events took place primarily over a nine-month period, between January and September, 1692, though the idea and persecution of witches dates well-back in the colony and for centuries around the world. Witchcraft of the time related strongly to the practice of allowing the devil to use one’s body as a vessel for his own devices, as Schiff notes, contrasting greatly with the strong puritanical nature of Salem and the New England environs. As such, the hunting out of witches and their subsequent trials became a long-standing biblical war, akin to that found in the Book of Revelations, on which the Puritans based their fervour. From the outset, Schiff provides the reader with a collection of characters, both puritanical leaders and those who were agents of the Devil, to play out these events, both standing firm to their set of beliefs. In developing the persona of the witch, Schiff focusses on the blunt and honest admission by some women (as well as a handful of men) who agreed to turn towards the Devil for assistance in their daily lives, or because they felt out of place amongst others in town. The book’s focus is not to exemplify the vastly generic nature of witch hunting and persecution, but to show that those in Salem who were possessed had no problem admitting it. Schiff mentions a few traits seen in these individuals, such as the evil eye, marking across the skin, or a copy of a contractual agreement with the Devil, usually signed in blood. These traits separated the individuals from others and became the collection of foundational traits by which the religious elders judged others to be witches. Schiff notes that possession or witchcraft crossed ethnic and socio-economic lines, as well as varied in age, citing a girl of seven as being happy to admit that she is a tool of the Devil. Schiff surmises that it was the extrapolation of the aforementioned traits by judicial and religious leaders that created the frenzy of false accusations and the deaths of many who attested to their innocence. Familial and fraternal relationships with known or admitted witches tended to be seen as automatically guilty, as well as some oddities in the person (shakes, birthmarks, speaking oddly), though the puritanical fire and brimstone proved not to weed out the guilty, but to make an example for those placed before the authorities. Schiff notes various forms of torture to wean out admissions, which would sometimes come to offset the pain in which people were put. Most readers will see, like torturing prisoners, those in positions of power can usually get the answers they want if the barbarism is painful enough. Some trials were drawn out while others were brief affairs and required only a witness or two, but all guilty verdicts were handled in the same way; a death sentence for the convict. These public executions served also to scare people into reporting others who appeared possessed or professed to doing evil acts (and one can surmise that it was also to pack the pews for religious meetings). Throughout the tome, Schiff offers up wonderful detail of each point in the process , placing events it into historical context. While I might have expected more of a ‘law and order’ approach (hunt them out and bring them to trial in the latter part of the narrative), Schiff explores the different types of witches and their varied occult activities, grouping individuals in this manner and, on occasion, referring to a person in a few chapters, as their personal stories were quite complex. This was definitely a scary time in colonial America and Schiff effectively portrays it, without the bells and whistles of a Hollywood storyline. An interesting novel that seeks to open the eyes of the reader while trying to separate fact from inevitable fiction.

Having never read Schiff before, I was not sure how to approach this. Truth be told, when the book was recommended to me, I thought it would be more of a fictional account of the trials with a great deal of substantiated proof (a piece of historical fiction). Once I realised in the early going that this was a full-on historical and biographical account, I was pulled into the narrative and sought to learn as much as I could. Schiff admits that her research was stymied by not having the actual transcripts of the trials, but simply summaries and some court documents that have lasted over three centuries. To have the compendium of actual transcripts would have made for a much more riveting depiction, though Schiff is effective in portraying all that occurred and breathes life into those who were accused. There are two things that come forth in these accounts over all others; the religious might under which the colony was held at the time and the openness of those who were actually witches. Schiff portrays the clash and the trials lose their muster as being a strong judicial battle to find the traitors in the midst, especially since these individuals stand firm in their convictions of being strong-willed agents of the Devil. Schiff paces her tome out effectively, trying to offer up varying perspectives of those who were brought to trial and their different accusations, though since much of the narrative focussed on Salem, the same characters are interspersed within, seeing as it is likely that the witches would all interact on some level. The attention to detail that Schiff offers is second to none and I found myself enthralled in the details, though I will admit there were portions I found dry and drawn out. All that being said, Schiff knows how to present an effective biographical and historical piece on one of the most misunderstood short periods in time, while also dispelling many of the myths that surround both witches and the trials in this small New England community.

Kudos, Madam Schiff for this wonderful insight into this most scandalous subject. Rest assured, I will be coming back to read more of your work soon!

Iron Goddess: A Shea Stevens Thriller, by Dharma Kelleher

Eight stars

Having newly discovered Dharma Kelleher and her genre of biker thriller (??), I was eager to see if her past life experiences could fluidly translate into an effective novel this being her debut. Shea Stevens has been running the Iron Goddess, a custom motorcycle shop, for the past number of years. In doing what she loves, Shea has been able to put her criminal past in the proverbial rearview mirror. When she arrives to discover she’s been robbed of a major custom order and one of her employees has been shot, she cannot help but see red. Curious as to who might be responsible, Shea contemplates the Confederate Thunder, a local biker gang with whom she has a sordid past; her reprobate father having been their president in her youth. With few clues, Shea makes the gamble and reached out to her estranged sister, Wendy, who is married to the current president of the Thunder, a man with little to no respect for anyone, including his family. While trying to learn if Confederate Thunder might be responsible, Shea learns that her niece has been kidnapped, potentially by a rival Mexican gang. Forced to work with her brother-in-law, Shea has flashbacks of her own youth and vows to help Wendy get out of the life before she ends up dead. When the kidnappers reach out, Shea does all she can help, which puts her in many precarious positions of her own. Further clues might tie the kidnappers to the break-in at the Iron Goddess, but there is another more sinister revelation that rocks the Arizona community, a stone’s throw from the heart of Phoenix. Kelleher tells a powerful story with ease and pulls the reader in so effortlessly. A must read for those looking to branch out in their thriller genre reading. 

I admit I know little about motorcycles or their affiliated gangs, outside of my obsession with SAMCRO for seven seasons. However, when I learned of Kelleher and her writing, I thought I would see if it parallels what I knew about the ‘life’. Everything fits nicely and I felt in the middle of a local charter that has enemies all around it and the police sniffing around. Kelleher not only builds up a number of decent bikers as characters, but is able to offset the life that Shea is seeking to shed with a bright future before her. Layering numerous plot lines together, as Kelleher has done, can be risky, as the reader must be invested in them all for it to work out well. The novel balances everything and offers just enough of each plot to keep the story moving forward and the reader from getting lost in the shuffle. There is much to be said of this, alongside the quick chapters that tease just enough information out so as to push the reader a little further. I am eager to rev things up and get into the second Shea Stevens thriller, just as soon as I can cool my engines and get this review posted.

Kudos, Madam Kelleher for a wonderful debut in the realm of novel writing. If this is anything like some of the other ideas you have, you will gather a following quickly and without issue.

The Bone Field (The Bone Field Series #1), by Simon Kernick

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Simon Kernick, and Random House UK for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Bringing his Ray Mason character back for a new round of police adventures, Simon Kernick has a recipe for success with the plot of this novel. During a holiday in 1990, a young woman’s body goes missing in Thailand, never to be found. With nothing on which to go, life continues for everyone, including the seemingly distraught Henry Forbes, boyfriend to the victim. Twenty-six years later, Forbes has information about his missing girlfriend and reaches out to DI Ray Mason, citing that the body is in England and the killer is part of a large group that have many sinister plans. While Mason and Forbes are meeting on the sly, a group attacks the house and leaves Forbes dead, with Mason only just able to escape. His superiors are furious but also baffled when they discover the body, as well as that from another cold-case from around the same time. DI Mason is put in touch with a private investigator, Tina Boyd, who was also contacted by Forbes, and they begin piecing together what might have happened and who could be behind the murder decades ago, as well as the recent attack and murder of Forbes. Mason remembers an occult symbol on Forbes’ arm and seeks to determine if it is a solid clue. Just as the authorities are honing in on a viable suspect, Mason makes an error that has fatal consequences, which has him suspended. Refusing to give up, Mason works with PI Boyd to trace the events of Thailand and before to determine who might be trying to exact revenge all these years later. What they discover shakes them to the core and leaves the door open for scores of other potential victims. Kernick offers readers a powerful and well-paced story that could flourish into an intriguing series, should the author desire.

This is my first time reading anything by Simon Kernick and I found it highly entertaining. While I might usually read a series in order (meaning I might have secured and read the first Ray Mason novel to get sufficient context), I did not feel lost or out of place by entering at this stage. Kernick develops a few key characters in an effective manner, particularly his protagonist. Mason is a complex police officer, whose past on the Force has been anything but smooth sailing. Added to that, his traumatic childhood, which helps coax out certain dramatic portion of the narrative, as well as allowing the reader to forge an instant connection. The premise of the story is interesting as well, though it was not as ‘captivating’ as some of the dust jacket narratives might have led me to hope. Murders, especially cold cases, can have a wonderfully complex nature, leaving the detective to pull at any strings and chase many paths, some of which lead nowhere. While I was not up late into the night, wondering what could be waiting in the next chapter, Kernick has developed a strong foundation, should Mason and PI Boyd return for another instalment. I will keep an eye out for it, in hopes that the impact is as effective. 

Kudos, Mr. Kernick for this entertaining piece of writing. I see you have a lot of other books in your collection, which might be something for me to explore later on this year.

James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl

Eight stars

I have always been taught to start at the beginning, which seemed like sage advice when I wanted to explore some of the children’s stories that Roald Dahl crafted over his long and illustrious career. Choosing this work, apparently his first stab at children’s literature, proved highly entertaining and a wonderful way to spend a few hours. After an accident claims the life of his parents, young James Henry Trotter is sent to live with his wicked aunts, facing a period of miserable adjustment. While out one day, he encounters a man who offers him a sack of magical beans that will, so the tale goes, react marvellously with the first living thing they encounter. James brings them home and while outside, the beans escape at the base of an old peach tree that has not shown any signs of life for many years. James witnesses a peach growing larger than anything he has ever seen in all his years and soon approaches it. He discovers a number of other creatures that have reacted with the beans, including a grasshopper, an earthworm, and a ladybug. Crawling inside a hole within this peach, James escapes the confines of his yard and sets about on an adventure with his new-found friends. Rolling through town, they eventually make their way to the open waters and find themselves marooned in the middle of the Atlantic. James and his ‘pesty’ friends use their wherewithal and conquer numerous enemies as they tackle a number adventures before them. James, in turn, learns the importance of new and exciting friendships, leaving some of the sorrow of his past behind him. Dahl at his best, proves how he became a household name amongst children’s authors.

As part of my 2017 reading goals, I thought I would pave the way and return to reading some of the classic books from my youth, in hopes of introducing them to my son in the coming years. Dahl has a way of telling a great story that will appease the young reader while also instilling great values and ideals into their little minds, sure to please parents and other adults. The stories have a degree of silliness, but also adventure and excitement, allowing the reader’s interest to be piqued to forge onwards a little more. While some books out there seek to create a spark amongst children by addressing modern characters and technologies, Dahl’s ideas and presentation are timeless, which I would venture to say might spurn children whose attention span has been whittled down by games and electronics to turn to these stories and take a moment to absorb all that is going on from chapter to chapter. Timeless classics are hard to discover in this fast-paced world, but Dahl has left these stories as breadcrumbs to discovering the wonders of early reading.

Kudos, Mr. Dahl for introducing me to reading and the love of books. I hope to bring another generation of readers up to see the wonders of your storytelling abilities.

Bird Box, by Josh Malerman

Eight stars

After having this book so highly recommended to me by one of my friends on Goodreads, I decided to delve in to see what Josh Malerman might have to say in this twisted novel. Early into the story, Malerman introduces readers to his protagonist, Malorie, a young and somewhat fearful woman. Scrubbing the walls and carpets of blood stains, Malorie appears highly agitated and yet focussed on her task at hand, which serves only to up the ante of what is yet to come. The reader soon learns that something sinister is going on in the world; something that cannot be easily explained by anyone. It appears that out there, lurking in the open air, is something or some THINGS that will turn people mad simply by making eye contact. People are shut into their homes, covering windows and isolating themselves from the sights and sounds of the world beyond their doors. When venturing outside, blindfolds are used and aural stimulation becomes key. Malorie is set to challenge this world and after the death of her sister, answering the call in a newspaper, to find a group of people who are putting up a united front against whatever might be lurking. Arriving, Malorie makes the untimely admission that she is pregnant, wondering how she will raise a baby in these conditions and almost has herself ostracised before she enters the ‘safe house’. As the group prepares to reach out with others in the world, everything around them is crumbling. Running water becomes more scarce, food is strictly found within one’s pantries, and telephone lines begin to fizzle out. As the child inside her grows, Malorie encounters another woman who arrives at the safe house, also with child, and they work together to allay fears of the others that their offspring will not be detrimental to the greater whole, but a blessing. Trapped in their house as a bird might be in a cardboard box, Malorie and the others must find a way to subsist and not come into contact with the forces that could be anywhere at any given time. The narrative is interspersed with a ‘flash-forward’ of Malorie travelling in a boat with two small children who call her ‘mommy’, heading on an unknown adventure, though visual precautions are still high. What lies out there, in a world where a single twig cracking might mean imminent danger? Malerman offers readers little time to relax and ponder this, as things get more and more disturbing with each page-flip. A stellar piece that will keep readers up well into the night, for a multitude of reasons.

I’d not heard of this book before the other day, so when it received such hype, I had to see what Malerman might have done. The book reads very easily, though it is not ‘simple’, layering ideas and eerie thoughts between two time periods. Malorie is a well-developed character with complexities build into her backstory, as do some of the other characters that emerge as the story progresses. It is their individuality and the zig-zig pace of the narrative that gives this story some of its odd development, though one would be remiss not to think about the larger ‘happenings’ outside the four walls of the house. While there are some threads that remind me of Stephen King, more because of the odd way the characters act in the face of this unknown terror, Malerman stands firmly on his own two feet in his writing. Fair warning to the reader, once you start this book, you will find yourself enveloped in its progress and may find it hard to put it aside. It is that creepy that one must forge onwards, as Malorie and her children did in the boat, if only to see when and where terror might strike next. Beware and keep your eyes down, on the page (or the audiobook player, in my case) and do not interact with anyone until the final sentence. You’ll be glad you followed this simple rule! 

Kudos, Mr. Malerman for a stellar thriller. I will surely be putting this book out there for anyone who has an interest in the slightly (or extremely) eerie and psychologically stirring novel.

Going Solo (Roald Dahl Autobiography #2), by Roald Dahl

Eight stars

“A life is made up of a great number of small incidents and a small number of great ones.” So opens the second and ‘adult-based’ portion of Roald Dahl’s autobiography. He makes perfectly clear that this is not such a book, for autobiographies are full of useless and boring information. Dahl seeks to offer the reader some of the key memories he had during his early adult life, particularly serving in the Second World War. Accepting a job with the Shell Company, Dahl is soon shipped to the African continent, working particularly in Dar es Salaam, part of what is currently Tanzania. During his travel aboard a ship to reach the far shores, Dahl learns why the upper class held use of hands when eating in such low regard and the ‘daytime entertainment’ they found acceptable on deck. Arriving in Africa, Dahl uses all his patience and understanding as he undertook a complete culture shock, a world where wildlife ran the show and humans knew their place. While the scenery was spectacular and the people highly entertaining, the rumblings of war could be heard on the horizon. Dahl finds himself evacuated from the region, only to join the RAF to help Britain in the forthcoming Second World War. Lanky, yet determined, Dahl is an unlikely pilot-in-training before he became a key member of the effort in North Africa. While serving, Dahl is involved in a significant aerial accident, captured in a story he penned, eventually bastardised and published in the Saturday Evening Post. Dahl seeks to correct the narrative for the reader in this piece of writing, as if one might worry he was seeking to make himself seem overly heroic. The crash leaves Dahl with significant injury, his nose caved into his fractured skull (interesting for those who remember his childhood injury to the same nose), and he is required to remain in hospital for upwards of two months. While he convalesces, Dahl continues penning his weekly letters to his mother, though remains careful to censor his news, so as not to have the letters destroyed. Once healthy enough to fly again, Dahl heads out to serve in Greece, where he comes face to face with the Nazis, trying to hold the onslaught back and keep the Allies in control of the area. As the fighting intensified, Dahl dodges many a proverbial bullet and heads to the Middle East, where he sobers up to much of what was going on in the region and the European Theatre, learning of the extreme anti-Semitism or ignored undertone of the Nazi atrocities. As the reader is pulled deeper into the life of this wonderful author, Dahl uses his wonderful prose to breathe life into his life story. A must read for anyone who loves a story of humour and utter despair, all in short order.

Having recently completed the first volume in this first-person narrative, I wanted to take some time to explore the adult life of this man whose stories tantalised me throughout my childhood. As Dahl continues the story, boarding schools are replaced with African-style boardrooms (open air villages) and a collection of characters that only Dahl could dream up. Those Dahl mentions turned from being men recollected into individuals with complex backstories or who shaped Dahl in his intense battles in Africa and the war zones he discovered. Using a collection of his letters penned to his mother, Dahl is able to recall some of the minutiae, which helps substantiate his many adventures. Dahl outwardly admits the need to use this letters, both because of his age when writing the tale and the number of events that can mesh together in wartime. Crisp and humorous, Dahl is able to tell his story while keeping the reader spellbound, injecting passion for his situations on every page while not getting too wordy in his descriptions. A contrast to stories about chocolate-makers, giants, and fresh produce, this story (and its first volume) is not one to be passed over. It is yet another gem in the Roald Dahl collection.

Kudos, Mr. Dahl for this two-volume collection about your life prior to becoming the popular writer for which you are best remembered. I cannot wait to tackle some of your other works, adult- and child-centric alike.

The Fireman, by Joe Hill

Eight stars

Joe Hill made quite the ‘spark’ with this novel, which garnered a significant following in 2016, culminating in winning one of the Goodreads awards for its genre. With curiosity piqued and a gap in my reading requirements, I chose to dive in while trying to steer clear of the ripples and spoilers that others have left around me. Harper Grayson is a school nurse with little of interest going on in her life, though the world is coming apart at the proverbial seams. People from every corner of the earth are developing what the medical profession has labelled draco incendia trychophyton, known in the vernacular as ‘dragonscale’. It appears on the skin as a grey scaly rash and can progressively envelop more of the carrier’s body, changing colour at times as well. Dragonscale is highly contagious, though no one seems sure how it passes from one human to another. What everyone has come to see is that carriers can show signs of billowing smoke from their hands and feet, like a small collection of dry kindling. As the carrier’s illness develops, spontaneous combustion is also possible, though the general public has been given little knowledge of the events and this leaves them to turn against the infected. Carriers are pariahs and try to hide their plight, fearful of ‘cremation crews’, tasked to seeking to kill those who carry the condition before it can spread further. One such crew is headed by the Marlboro Man, who encapsulates the rugged cowboy and keeper of the peace while slaying the sick as quickly as he can locate them. Harper soon realises that she has been infected, which places an irreparable wedge between her and husband, Jakob. Even after he finds out Harper is expecting their first child, Jakob tries to banish her and does all he can to push added levels of isolation. Harper rages back and soon encounters a fireman-cum-pyromancer, John Rookwood, who has a small following of infected individuals. They lead her to an abandoned and secluded camp where other carriers are living. This camp, a collective of sorts, struggles with the daily worries around being hunted by ‘cremation crews’ and the inner struggle of any group seeking self-sustenance. Fractures within the group develop and soon Harper witnesses a mutiny, all while she tries to learn more about draco incendia trychophyton. Rookwood remains distanced from the group, though he and Harper share a strong connection and his insights are supported by a previous collective member who was murdered for his attempts to push back against the societal ostracism. While she learns how to tame the progress of dragonscale in a melodious manner, Harper has major hurdles ahead if she wants to survive, while the world is bent on killing those who differ too greatly. Hill does a fascinating job of developing this story on many levels and lures the reader in, be they interested in the story, the metaphors, or the microcosm found within the narrative. Well worth the hype it has received and should be high on the list of readers who need a little horror and entertainment any time of year.

Hill has writing pulsing through his veins, with both parents highly acclaimed authors in their own rights. He does not try to grab hold of their coattails to be effective, carving out a niche all his own and remains highly successful in this venture. His writing does have some parallels to that of his father, perhaps in the oddities in which he places his characters, but there is a definite uniqueness in the flow and the tangents presented to the captivated reader. The invested reader will see this novel as being something other than a collection of sick individuals who are in hiding, finding parallels with the proverbial leper colony in which people are thrown when the general public is not aware or given sufficient information on which to base an educated decision. The struggles are not unique or off the wall, though Hill effectively creates a character base to lure the reader into significant sympathy. Additionally, Hill touches on the in-fighting of any isolated community as group and personal politics cloud the larger struggle, that of survival. Hill’s ever-advancing narrative and swath of different characters provides the greatest Petri dish for effective political meltdown. Again, one might see this as a great microcosm of the larger human struggle for success, where those who are too alike tend to clash and forget the thread that ties them all together. I know I used to bemoan English teachers who asked students to look below the story to find these themes, but they seem so apparent and Hill develops these struggles so effortlessly that the reader cannot help but peer through the smoke and blazing to notice them. Hill does not shy away from generalities, perhaps painting the English as a potty-mouth group who curse so uniquely that North Americans could tear out a page from their verbal playbook. However, it has moments of humour, alongside a protagonist whose unusual obsession with Julie Andrews and her depiction of Mary Poppins keeps readers constantly shaking their heads. If this novel is anything like the other work that Hill has produced, I will be sure to rush forward to dive headlong into those, though my reading list is growing daily.

Kudos, Mr. Hill for a wonderful way to start my 2017 reading journey. You offered a light at the end of the tunnel, though tossed in enough smoke and mirrors to keep me guessing.

The Testament of Mary, by Colm Tóibín

Eight stars

In this short piece, Tóibín offers readers an insightful look into the life of Jesus Christ, from the perspective of his mother. The story becomes a monologue, delivered by Mary, that weaves throughout the life of her son, though she will never use his name. Mary offers memories from the evolving life of Jesus, adding editorial commentary when it suits her best. Choosing to see the disciples as a collection of vagrants and vagabonds, Mary cannot always understand why Jesus would associate with these fellows, which is further exacerbated by her ‘handling’ after the crucifixion. Perhaps of greatest interest in the piece, Mary explores the period of Jesus’ ministry, depicting him as ‘high on himself’ and trying to flaunt his connection to God, as well as a miracle worker who, like a carnival barker, wants the attention brought towards him. Tóibín’s presentation of Mary during the latter part of the ministry is, perhaps, the most stunning of all. An interesting piece that explores Jesus Christ from the one human being who knew him best. Tóibín’s writing is not one that should be dismissed as blasphemy, though surely many will try.

While not a ‘guilty pleasure’, stories that surround biblical events hold interest for me, though not when I am left with a sense of religious and spiritual inculcation. Tóibín does not do that in this piece, though the reader should be well-versed in some of the key events of the life of Jesus. Offering a sobering look into the man’s life, Mary is able to balance the highly laudatory nature of the four Gospels. Jesus was a boy, a teenager, and a man like any other, which is sometimes lost on those who have such a reverence for him and the plight he suffered at the hands of the Romans. I would venture to say that he was arrogant, an ass at times, and perhaps, so focussed on laying the groundwork for his ministry that those closest to him were left in the dust, both figuratively and in a literal sense. Tóibín does not stray from the first-person narrative of Mary, but is able to introduce a number of key characters into this story, as seen through the eyes of the woman and not the Gospel writers. The pace of the narrative was ideal, keeping things moving, but was not dismissive of events to save time. Honest sentiment flowed freely from the piece, which kept the entire story grounded and does not leave it as carte blanche acceptance of everything Sunday School and sermons have instilled. Perhaps the greatest thing of all about this piece would be that Meryl Streep narrated the audiobook version, using her stellar acting background to shade portions of the story in such a way that one could almost see Mary actually uttering these words. Brilliant and has left me wondering why I have never read Tóibín before now.

Kudos, Mr. Tóibín on this short story that pushes the boundaries at every turn. This is surely a piece that has created much hoopla, in pews and around water coolers alike.

Without Warning (J.B. Collins #3), by Joel C. Rosenberg

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Joel C. Rosenberg, and Tyndall House Publishers for providing me with a copy of this book, which allows me to provide you with this review.

Rosenberg returns with another powerful political thriller, the final instalment of this trilogy, that takes an interesting spin on ISIS and Western reactionism. J.B. Collins, War Correspondent for the New York Times, remains skeptical of the US Administration’s plan to combat ISIS, as Abu Khalif, its purported leader, remains at large. Khalif and ISIS have perpetrated major and catastrophic attacks against infidel states and US-backers, culminating in the kidnapping of the American president and a massacre during a major Middle East peace summit (both of which occur in past novels, familiar to the series fan). With the State of the Union Address hours away, US President Harrison Taylor dismisses concerns Collins raises about Khalif and ISIS as a whole. Taylor wonders if he ought not to rescind his offer of a Presidential Medal of Freedom to the acclaimed journalist. When the Capitol is attacked during the Address, all hell breaks loose and Collins soon learns that ISIS has struck again, but on a much larger scale. Seeking to get away from the violence and drama, alongside an inability to stomach the lies Taylor seems to be spinning to the American public, Collins eyes a return to Maine with his brother, Matt. As they travel, a personal tragedy befalls them and Collins learns just how inept the Administration has become when it comes to ending the reign of terror that ISIS and Abu Khalif have over the world. Could the answers be in the Middle East, where American allies can fight a war against this radical and apocalyptic Islam? Collins seeks to reinvent himself and must decide if he can take up the torch, using his own set of allies to help topple ISIS at its heart before the world must fall on blended knee and admit defeat to the terrorists. With a sensational culmination to a stunningly realistic series, Rosenberg shocks readers to the core. This story and the complete trilogy offer a poignant and blunt narrative, weaving through fact and plausible fiction. A must read for those who love political thrillers and can stomach mild Christian inculcation. 

I have long been a fan of Rosenberg and his political fiction. This is the third series I have devoured as quickly as the novels come off the presses, all using a strong biblical undertone paired against current events in one of the most unstable political powder kegs. Rosenberg gathers a wonderful cross-section of characters, pulled from key states that propel the story forward and seem plausible in the fight against ISIS. Additionally, injecting realistic political and religious impairments brings a whole new level to the character interactions and places reality that much closer to the reader’s grasp. While ISIS remains the buzz word in the news today and seems to permeate thriller novels to no end, I never tired of hearing Rosenberg’s spin. I have mentioned how the same drivel bores and irritates me, Rosenberg’s angle is not only refreshing, but more realistic than some secret operative mowing down anyone who utters ‘Allah’ before ‘Hello’. Those familiar with Rosenberg’s novels will know that he has been found to offer eerie foreboding buried within his novels, perhaps tying all the pieces together as his protagonist is known for doing in this book. To treat Rosenberg’s work as pure fiction is to ignore the nuances and attention to detail the author places as he pens his plots. The writing style is some of the best in the genre and the short chapters offer readers a wonderful ability to get hooked and beg themselves to read ‘just a little more’ as cliffhangers grow exponentially. While I am not a fan of ‘in your face’ Christianity, I have become immune to some of it in Rosenberg’s stories and dodge the born-again land mines that emerge throughout. Rosenberg knows what he is doing and readers should flock in his direction, if only to learn about the Middle East and its political importance on the world scene.

Kudos, Mr. Rosenberg. You have done it again with a powerful political thriller series that has me so captivated. I have promoted you and your work to as many people as will listen. This novel proves yet again that my recommendations are well founded. 

Boy: Tales from Childhood (Autobiography #1), by Roald Dahl

Eight stars

One of the great authors of children’s stories, Roald Dahl entertains readers with this piece that encompasses his life to age twenty. While Dahl clearly states that this piece is not an autobiography (for those sorts of books are filled with stale and dusty tales), this is a fabulous compendium of memories from his early years. The eldest son of two Norwegians, Dahl’s early years were a mixture of pain (he lost his sister and father within a single week) and childhood frivolity (he loved to play with his school chums whenever time permitted). In one vivid memory, Dahl recounts his love of sweets and a shopkeeper who had a hate-on for him, which led young Roald to concoct a plan to exact revenge, which backfired horribly. A child from his father’s second marriage, Dahl remembers riding with his elder half-sister, who got into a serious motor vehicle accident that almost cost him part of his face, Dahl recounts this with as much humour as the event permits. Dahl works hard to recollect those annual summer vacations outside Oslo, where grandparents doted on him and he could not wait for school to let out each summer. However, those glorious thoughts are countered with memories of the strap and horrid matrons patrolling the dorms when he left for boarding school. By the end, Dahl bridges his memories of entering the workforce and the hope that he might pen another short volume to entice readers to continue on with this journey. Like many of his books, the reader is lured into a blissful experience with Dahl’s easy writing and fascinating ideas.

One cannot read Roald Dahl and not feel some connection to the characters that fill the narrative. Although this is a move away from fiction and forces the author to recollect his own life, Dahl is happy to admit he does not remember large portions of life before eight, though his memories flood forward thereafter. While some would think that a man of seventy would have so much to tell, Dahl does not wish to fill pages with dreary recollections, choosing to succinctly tell his early life. I could see some interesting themes in the vignettes Dahl chose to present, which ended up being major children’s stories that I read in my younger years. Dahl’s use of these memories to craft timeless classics, such as The BFG and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, only adds to the greatness of this short book. Told in a highly animated fashion, the reader cannot help but picture the young Roald heading to see that horrid matron or visiting with his beloved Norwegian grandparents while dreaming of sweets on his way home from school in second form. A piece that was so interesting, I am scrambling to get my hands on the second volume, to hear of his wartime memories. A must-read for anyone who has a little while to relax and loves the style Dahl has made famous.

Kudos, Mr. Dahl for all you did in your life. You will always hold a special place in my heart, which is only strengthened after reading this piece.