Dracula The Un-Dead, by Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt

Seven stars

As All Hallow’s Eve approaches, I chose another story with eerie undertones, though this one is sure to stir up some controversy. Serving as a sequel to the classic original, Dacre Stoker works with renowned Dracula historian Ian Holt to bring this continuation of the story to life in fine form. It is now 1912, twenty-five years since Count Dracula has crumbled into dust. Can this have been long enough for those who were directly involved in the hunting to have shelved their memories and moved on? Dr. Jonathan Seward, who was instrumental in the original chase has turned into a washed-up medical professional, addicted to morphine and chasing demons all across Europe, nothing like his mentor, Abraham Van Helsing. Young Quincey Harker, born in the final pages of the original novel, has been sent to France to pursue his legal studies, but is drawn into the world of stage acting. Quincey is further impressed when Shakespearean actor, Basarab, takes him under his wing. When Quincey stumbles upon a stage-play version of Dracula, directed by Bram Stoker himself, he begins to learn some of the long-buried secrets his parents kept from him. Trying to digest it all, there seems to be a presence in and around London, as the original collective who stayed Dracula meet their ends in horrific fashion. Meanwhile, 16th century Countess Elizabeth Bathory has returned to wreak havoc on those seeking to explore the Dracula question a little more. Bathory has a long history with the Romanian prince and may hold the answers that others seek, though she is more interested in new blood to satiate her extreme hunger. What’s brought Countess Bathory back to visit those whose adventure a quarter-century ago rid the world of blood-sucking evil? With a new collection of characters and tapping into Holt’s expertise in the field of all things Dracula, Stoker does well to carry the torch for his great-granduncle and entertains curious fans throughout. Perfect for those readers who enjoyed the original Dracula and who can accept applying some of the history of this Romanian prince, alongside a continuation of a classic piece of 19th century literature.

I have heard it said that one ought never mess with the classics, which is why parody pieces get a major eyebrow raise from literary purists. However, this piece that seeks to act as a sequel to Bram Stoker’s classic, not only grounds itself in seriousness, but also has the blessing of the Stoker family (and was penned by a descendent). Stoker and Holt look to progress the entire Dracula story by adding backstories to the well-established characters who brought to piece to life, as well as adding fresh angles to Dracula in this follow-up.The eerie nature of the original piece is replaced by a history that permeates the narrative, allowing the patient reader to discover much more and delve deeper than the late 19th century novel permitted. The story itself differs greatly from the original, not only because it is told in true narrative (as opposed to journals and letters), but also serves to provide cameos for many famous individuals (Bram Stoker and John Barrymore, to name a few) as well as pulls on some of the history of the original novel’s reception and development into a stage-play. Ian Holt’s influence can also be seen, as the story pulls on numerous Dracula stories from centuries ago and where Stoker may have developed his ideas for this vampire that became the go-to reference for all blood-imbibing creatures. Some of the narrative and historical assertions do keep the reader wondering, but it is difficult not to downplay the tidbits as being wrapped in a way to fill cracks that time has not caulked. As I mentioned above, some purists will scoff at this book simply because it seeks to build on a classic that can survive on its own. Others will mock it for lacking the same flowing prose or spooky foresight. While I will not engage in trivial banter about this being ‘allowed’ or not, I will say that Dacre Stoker’s piece served as a wonderful complement to my recent reading of Bram Stoker’s classic. I will add both novels to my annual Hallowe’en reading list and hope others can enjoy this piece for what it is.

Kudos, Messrs. Stoker and Holt for entertaining and engaging me at times as I made my way through this novel. I know there are massive footsteps to fill, even to stand alongside the classic novel and I applaud you both for the effort.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Fifty Fifty (Detective Harriet Blue #2), by James Patterson and Candice Fox

Nine stars

Candice Fox has teamed up with James Patterson again for the next instalment in the Harry Blue series, picking up soon after the cliffhanger of the series’ first full-length novel. Harriet ‘Harry’ Blue has a lot on her plate as a Detective Inspector within Sydney’s Sex Crimes Unit. However, nothing could prepare Harry for the arrest of her brother, Sam, as the Georges River Killer, perhaps one of Australia’s most sinister serial murderers. Sam professes his innocence and Harry cannot help but come to his aid. One morning, outside the courthouse, Harry loses her cool and pulls a stunt that places everything in jeopardy, including her career. Sent away to rural Australia again, Harry finds herself in the middle of nowhere, Last Chance Valley, to be specific. While driving his route, a trucker found a red backpack with an interesting personal journal inside. It lists a plan to wipe Last Chance off the map, alongside its seventy-five (yes, 75) residents. Harry works with the only cop in the town and receives a rude welcome when a bomb explodes and kills the former Chief of Police. Harry seeks to take charge, but its elbowed out of the way by Counter-Terrorism Task Force member, Elliot Kash. After some chest beating, Harry and Kash are able to come to some sort of agreement, albeit a fragile one. Back in Sydney, Harry’s partner, Detective Edward Whittacker, is trying to keep an eye on Sam’s trial, where some of the evidence is not making sense. On the day of Sam’s arrest, a new victim was taken, Caitlyn McBeal. While she does not meet the victimology of the others killed by the Georges River Killer, a university student got away and saw the killer grab her. McBeal is being held and may hold the key the entire case, though there are no solid leads. Whittacker is joined by a less than noble ‘Tox’ Barnes, who will stop at nothing to prove that Sam’s been framed for the crime. As Harry gets sporadic updates, she continues to seek answers about the journal and revels in the information it provides. Her interviews lead her towards a teenager with little to lose, who seems to be typecast as a terrorist because of his ancestry. While Harry is not entire sure which was is up, she’s come to realise that Last Chance Valley is a place where dreams die and differences spark retribution. As she seeks to obtain answers, someone is targeting her and starts putting the end plan into motion. Splitting her worry for Sam and the residents of Last Chance Valley down the middle, Harry will have to focus in order to bring justice for at least one of the cases. A wonderful follow-up story that keeps the reader hooked until the very end, Fox and Patterson prove to be an explosive team as they continue developing this new and exciting series. Fans of Fox’s work will see her flavour in the writing and likely enjoy it, though anyone who finds pleasure in a police procedural will likely applaud the effort.

From a kernel developed in the BookShots collection of short stories, Fox and Patterson come together for a wonderful early start to this series. Their writing styles have similarities, though I feel a strong thread of Fox’s writing in this story, set throughout Australia. Harry Blue is a tough character to crack, though she is revealed throughout the narrative, which offers both her empathetic side and a significant backstory offered in pieces throughout. Complemented by the likes of others, the story takes on a life of its own through the narrative, which seamlessly switches between the two locales and fleshes-out characters for the reader to love (or hate)! The story is well presented and while there may be some flights of fancy, it remains a firmly rooted piece of fiction that dedicates much of its time to the deserted areas of Australia, positing how this distance from ‘city life’ might create an odd persona for those living in Last Chance Valley. Fox and Patterson keep the intensity high as they allow the reader to see things through the eyes of the Georges River Killer, though are careful not to tip the narrative into revealing too much at once. The pace is great and the short chapters, for which Patterson is known, fuels an intense read that does not stop until the final cliffhanger. Brilliant in its execution, one can only hope that Patterson and Fox will continue their partnership, but also realise if Harry Blue is suffering from burnout, when the time comes.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Fox, for keeping me curious about what is to come. You work magic together, as well as showing you can stand alone and present great thrillers, given the time and effort.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus, by Mary Shelley

Nine stars

With only days until All Hallow’s Eve, I chose to indulge in another story of a seasonal creature while also dabbling into the world of a literary classic. Mary Shelley’s story of Frankenstein poses less the spooky and bone-chilling tale that it has received in subsequent permutations, but rather serves more as a warning in regards to scientific exploration. The novel opens with a set of letters by Captain Robert Walton to his sister back in England. Captain Walton is travelling through the Arctic to further his scientific appetite. The captain and crew notice a large creature travelling over the ice and eventually stumble upon a nearly-frozen Victor Frankenstein, who tells the story of his scientific struggles and tries to dissuade Walton from any such pursuits. From there, the narrative shifts to Frankenstein’s story, who was encouraged by his parents to explore the world of science and nature. Armed with the knowledge of the ancient natural philosophers, he takes this passion with him to university in Germany, where he is introduced to more modern ways of thinking. Grief befalls Frankenstein after his mother’s death and he turns to science to assuage him, discovering how to bring the electricity of life to that lacking its spark. Creating a being in secret, Frankenstein soon sees that it has gone horribly wrong, both the physical appearance of this eight-foot behemoth (tempered with translucent skin and pulsing veins) and the decision to play God. Frankenstein rages against his creation and flees for the city, only to return and see that the being has fled the confines of his flat. Frankenstein becomes ill and recuperates over a four-month period before returning to his native Geneva. Upon his arrival, he discovers that his younger brother has been killed. Frankenstein sees the tell-tale signs of his creation having strangled the young boy, though the crime is saddled upon a nanny and she is executed by hanging. Full of guilt, Frankenstein chases his creature and learns of the personal journey ‘he’ had over their time apart. The creature tells of how he learned the nuances of language and speech, the complexities of emotion as well as discovering of his hideous appearance. The creature vows to ruin the life of his creator unless he is gifted with a female companion. Frankenstein ponders this and promises to make one, having been threatened with more personal anguish if he fails. Frankenstein travels to the far reaches of Scotland to begin his work, eyed by the creature from afar. When Frankenstein has a final epiphany that his hands can create nothing but increased terror, he disposes with his experiment, knowing the consequences. More agony befalls Frankenstein, who seeks to destroy his creation once and for all. By the end, the story returns to Captain Walton’s ship and a dramatic set of events which solidifies the story’s underlying thread once and for all. A brilliant piece that is full of social commentary and much foreboding as it relates to science. Shelley’s original is less spooky than it is chilling for her thematic messaging. A wonderful read for those who like a good challenge.

Deemed the first ever piece of science fiction, Shelley’s story tell of the downsides of playing God with human life and creation. The themes that emanate from the story at hand are numerous and thought provoking. The reader can easily get lost in the narrative and its linguistic nuances, but it is the characters and their messages that permeate the text. Victor Frankenstein and his creature prove to be two very interesting and yet contrasting characters, developed primarily through their individual narratives. Frankenstein is the bright-eyed scientific mind who seeks to alter the path of events by imbuing something of his own making with life, only to discover that thought and reality do not mesh. On the other hand, the creature tells of a struggle to find ‘himself’ and suffers through the reality beset upon him, forced to learn to adapt under the most problematic circumstances. The plethora of other characters develop and support these two, with Captain Walton playing an interesting, yet seemingly background, role in the entire narrative. The attentive reader will see that this original piece lacks the ‘Hollywood’ flavour that has been placed upon it, where crowds with torches chase the protagonists and lightning is used to jolt the creature to life from his metal bolts in the neck. Instead, it is a piece of social commentary that prefers to scare in its foreboding and provides a much more academic approach than might be suspected by the unknowing reader. I was certainly expecting more spook to complement a recent read of a Transylvanian classic. However, I was pleased with the novel and all it had to offer. I am sure it will provide a wonderful soapbox for those who wish to open a discussion on the matter. I would welcome it.

Kudos, Madam Shelley, for this wonderful piece. That you started it at the ripe age of eighteen baffles and impresses me. I will be adding this to my annual late October reading list!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Dracula, by Bram Stoker

Nine stars

As the eerie time of All Hallow’s Eve approaches, I felt that it was high time that I finally tackle this novel, which a good friend of mine strongly supported as well. Young solicitor Johnathan Harker finds himself travelling through the Hungarian countryside and into Romania, on his way to a castle in the heart of Transylvania. There, one Count Dracula awaits Harker and proves to be an odd, yet amenable, host. Seeking to finalise a land deal in England, Harker and Dracula talk long into the night, though the former feels that there is something odd about his host. It is only when things occur that Harker realises that Count Dracula is nothing like any man he has met before and eventually escapes the confines of the castle. Back in England, Harker’s fiancée, Mina, and her close friend, Lucy, are going through their own ordeals. Lucy Westenra suffers through significant bouts of sleepwalking. The two women travel seaside to clear their heads, but Lucy encounters someone the reader knows to be Dracula during one of her sleepwalks and is eventually discovered with two minute puncture holes on her neck. Unsure of what to do, Westenra is sent to see Dr. Johnathan Seward, one of her suitors and director of the local mental hospital. When Dr. Seward cannot deduce all of these symptoms, he calls upon the renowned Dr. Abraham Van Helsing in Amsterdam to consult. When Van Helsing arrives and begins some of his early queries, he is highly interested, though cannot be completely sure that he has a diagnosis of yet. Slowly, Lucy begins to fade from his mysterious neck injury and eventually died of her injuries, though her body transforms into a vampire of sorts, paralleling some of the actions Count Dracula is known to have been committing. Van Helsing works with Seward to locate the body and it is at this time that the Dutch doctor deduces that there is something eerie at work. Studying the situation before him, Van Helsing proposes the seemingly barbaric act of driving a stake through Lucy’s heart and then decapitating her, which is the only way to ensure that her spirit will be freed, according to some of his research and ancient lore. Done with that issue, but still needing to resolve the larger concern at hand, Van Helsing gathers a group to hunt down the Count, who seems to have taken up residence in England, and drive him back to Transylvania. Lurking in the dark and gloomy areas of Eastern Europe, Van Helsing prepares for the fight of his life, armed with only the most basic medicaments, in hopes of slaying this monster once and for all. Stoker lays the groundwork for a truly bone-chilling tale that has stood the test of time. I would highly recommend this to anyone who has the wherewithal to delve deep into the heart of a sensational 19th century story of horror and mayhem.

I am still kicking myself that I have not, until now, ever read this sensational piece of fiction. Surely one of the early stories that has fostered such a strong tie between Dracula and Hallowe’en, Bram Stoker’s work proves to provide the reader not only with thorough entertainment, but leave a shiver up their spine every time they enter a dark room. With a cast of powerful characters, Stoker weaves his tale in such a way that the story never loses its momentum. Harker, Seward, and Van Helsing are all well-crafted and provides powerful contrasts throughout the narrative, while Count Dracula is not only eerie in his presentation, but also one of the scariest villains in 19th century literature. There need not be outward descriptions of gore and slaying to get to the root of the suspense in this novel, which seems to differ from much of the writing in the genre today, where gushing blood and guts peppers the pages of every book imaginable. The narrative is also ever-evolving throughout, helped significantly by the journal-based writing that Stoker has undertaken. The reader is transported through the story using these varied perspectives (and some press clippings), rather than a straight delivery of the story from a single point of view. This surely enhances the larger package and does much to provide the reader with even more fright, at certain times. There are surely many stories taking place here, some of which deal directly with the issue at hand (read: Dracula), while others seem to solve themselves throughout the numerous journal entries. Whatever the approach, Stoker captivates the reader such that there is a strong desire to know how it all ends and if Van Helsing lives up to his more colloquial moniker of ‘Vampire Hunter’. I wish to add for those who wish to take the audiobook approach, as I have done, the Audible version, with a full cast (including Alan Cumming, Tim Curry, and John Lee), adds yet another dimension to this story and should not be discounted. I am so pleased to have had this book recommended to me and find that it is the perfect fit to a ‘equinox’ read for me to complete my book challenge.

Kudos, Mr. Stoker, for such a riveting piece. I can only hope to find the time to read some of your other work, as well as that of your descendants, who seem to want to carry the torch and provide more Dracula for the modern reader.

This book fulfills Equinox I (A Book for All Seasons) Book Challenge for Topic #6: A Book That Relates to the Current Equinox

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Crimson Lake (Crimson Lake #1), by Candice Fox

Nine stars

Candice Fox returns with this debut novel in her new series, sure to leave readers disturbed, yet wanting more. Ted Conkaffey has a decent life as a police officer ruined in eight short minutes. When witnesses place him in direct contact with young Claire Bingley around the time of her sexual assault, he is presumed guilty and tossed to the wolves. When, mid-trial, the charges are dropped, Ted is left with the pall of being labelled a paedophile and must pick up the pieces of his shattered life. Going into hiding, Ted is eventually approached by his solicitor to move to the northern part of Australia, where he might be able to help one Amanda Pharrell with her private investigations business. After relocating, Ted discovers that Amanda has a past of her own, having served ten years for killing a classmate. While Amanda does not hide from her crime, Ted remains incognito and seeks to hide from the prying eyes of those in Crimson Lake. Amanda explains that she has been hired by the wife of popular author, Jake Scully, to track him down. The story goes that he rose in the middle of the night and was never seen again. Forensics show that Scully may have ended up food for the local croc population, though it is unclear if this was a freak accident or something deliberate. As they dig deeper, Ted and Amanda must face the facts of their respective crimes and show drastically different ways of coping. When an investigative journalist from Sydney comes sniffing around, Ted’s cover is eventually blown and he faces new rounds of local blowback for his apparent crime. Professing his innocence, Ted continues to forge on with the case, which leads to the possibility that there may be a super-fan out there who is unhappy with the lack of attention Jake Scully has been offering. The small-town police force of Crimson Lake is less than happy to have their toes stepped on and with the news that a ‘kiddie-fiddler’ is in the jurisdiction, Ted and Amanda face a large uphill battle to crack the case wide open, while also learning more about one another. Fox does a masterful job in this novel and pulls the reader into the depths of her writing and the rural areas of Australia. Perfect for fans of Candice Fox and those who enjoy a slightly twisted crime thriller.

I discovered the wonders of Candice Fox when she first contributed to the popular BookShots short story series. From there, it was a rush to devour more of her dark work that sheds light on Australia and some of its more loathsome criminal element. Fox is able to touch on those taboo areas of crime without pushing the envelope too far, done primarily through strong characters and a descriptive setting. Ted Conkaffey and Amanda Pharrell play wonderfully polar opposites in this novel, allowing the reader to see two sides of the same coin. The development of these characters includes much backstory and synthesising of their personal struggles, giving the reader much to enjoy and wonder about as the story progresses. Supported by a number of others, the two protagonists propel the story along and keep these unnumbered chapters from blurring together. The primary case in the novel is not overshadowed by those from the protagonists’ past, though all three work well in some form to keep the narrative evolving. The reader is able to digest what is going on without becoming too lost in the minutiae of each subplot, though there is a keen question that permeates the story, leaving the reader to wonder what actually happened. Fox’s ability to juggle all this is masterful and should not be discounted as a key reason that she is top of her genre. Clean and crisp in its presentation, Fox lures readers in as a patient croc might do along the banks of Crimson Lake, striking at just the right moment and not letting go until all is said and done.

Kudos, Madam Fox, for keeping me curious as you prepare to release the second novel in the series. It has the makings for an equally powerful experience.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Munich, by Robert Harris

Nine stars

Robert Harris offers up another wonderful novel that weaves together the events of history with some background fiction that only serves to accentuate the dramatic effect. It is 1938 and Europe is on the precipice of another war. Adolf Hitler has begun acquiring areas of neighbouring countries, citing their Germanic history, in order to build a stronger homeland. All the while, the world looks on, centred in London, where U.K. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain is weighing his options. Surrounded by policy makers and some sycophants, Chamberlain has Hugh Legat as one of his private secretaries. Legat can see that the PM wants nothing more than peace, though may be blinded by the diplomatic approach many leaders take to problem solving. On the other side, Paul Hartmann is deeply embedded into the Nazi regime, though he is less than pleased with the way things are going. Hartmann knows that his Fuhrer wants nothing more than war and will connive to ensure that he gets it. These two men, Legat and Hartmann, share a pre-war history as friends in Oxford, though neither makes a great deal of that to their peers. With a last-ditch peace conference to save Czechoslovakia from the German carving board, Legat and Hartmann find themselves in Munich, ready to do whatever they can. The British have their allies France at the table, while Hitler has his devoted Italian fascist Mussolini to stroke his ego. Words are exchanged and a document is signed. However, before the ink is dry, Legat learns of Germany’s true intentions. Pulled in numerous directions, Legat must not only decipher where the truth ends and propaganda begins, but how to convince Europe’s preeminent leader what is actually going on. Harris balances the world opinion that Neville Chamberlain scored political points by bringing home the peace accord with the naiveté that both sides would adhere to it once hindsight could be applied. A strong piece that fleshes out some of the ‘what if’ and ‘if only’ aspects of this final salvo before Europe (and the world) turned back to the bloodbath that defined them. History buffs and those with a penchant for fast-paced thrillers will enjoy this story in equal measure.

I have read some of Harris’s work in the past and never been disappointed. He is clear to use a perspective and stick to it throughout, though always offers a strong foundation on which the entire story can rest. Hugh Legat is a highly likeable character as he tries to sift through all the information that has been presented to him, in an attempt to choose what needs selling up the line. The perspective is strong and the struggles to parse through the news is not lost on the attentive reader. Paul Hartmann, on the other hand, is quite mysterious and knows what he wants, though is caught up in such a deceptive political situation that there is little hope of anything clear and forthright coming from the German camp. Hindered with an anti-Nazi sentiment, Hartmann much choose how to fight against his own countrymen without being caught, sure that any deception would mean a trip to the concentration camps, or worse. As Harris adds numerous other characters, both fictitious and historical, to the mix, the plot thickens and the depths to which both sides are pushing for their own outcome becomes a little clearer. The plot of the story is one torn from the history books, but by adding dialogue and some ‘behind the curtain’ backstory enriches the reader’s experience. Told in a four-day narrative that compartmentalises the events and shows just how intense things got in short order. While the world applauded Chamberlain for his peace treaty with Hitler, it was hindsight (and perhaps some of this narrative) that helped to show just how blind the British were and what the world would accept at face value. Hitler was not a strong leader with a few odd tendencies, but rather a megalomaniacal being who had nothing but his own interests in mind. Harris provides the reader with one of the more intriguing and interesting accounts of that 1938 build-up to war, particularly with a quote at the beginning of the book, where Hitler admits that they ought to have gone to war in 1938. Brilliant in its telling and quite on point, Robert Harris is surely an author on whom many readers can rely to be educated and entertained in equal measure.

Kudos, Mr. Harris, for another novel that pulled me in from the opening pages. I will have to make a point of investing more time to follow your work and make sure I take much away from the experience.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Rogue Commander (Dan Morgan #6), by Leo J. Maloney

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Leo J. Maloney, Lyrical Underground, and Kensington Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Returning with another exciting BlackOps adventure, Leo J. Maloney impresses series fans and those new to Dan Morgan in equal measure. In the ever-evolving world of espionage and military antics, Dan Morgan is at the top of his game. Employed by the Zeta Division, this off-the-books BlackOps organisation goes where other agencies cannot. Morgan is contacted by long-time friend, General James Collins, who has been accused of stealing a cache of Tomahawk missiles. Unable to believe that this is possible, Morgan undertakes some initial intel, though is pulled off the case in short order, as Collins is being sought for the crime. Morgan has a harder time letting go and defies orders, trying to clear his friend’s name by any means necessary. Morgan is now a wanted man and Zeta is on his tail. Discontent with being left in the dark, newest Zeta member Alex Morgan seeks to work in parallel with her father, doing her own covert work in an attempt to discover the truth. Meanwhile, as they attempt to track down another player in the black-market, a member of Zeta is taken and shipped off to the North Koreans. With little time and limited resources, the hunt is on for both agents, though for different reasons. When Morgan discovers just who wants these missiles and for what purpose, he will stop at nothing to block the end result, even if it costs him everything he has. This entertaining piece pulls the reader into the height of an international crisis where the enemy reads from a completely different playbook. Maloney has outdone himself with this book and is sure to impress Dan Morgan fans.

I have long enjoyed Maloney’s work and find it not only to be poignant, but also very believable. The characters vary in each novel, but the impact of the story remains high. Pulling Alex Morgan into the middle of the stories has added a new level of excitement, as Dan Morgan is forced not only to make decisions for himself, but to protect his daughter. This struggle comes up throughout the novel and is furthered as his wife, Jenny, begins to push for more information about the overall mission. The story is strong and keeps the reader wondering until the very end, pushing the limits and using some new-age villains in the North Koreans, thankfully leaving anything Muslim far in the rearview mirror. Peppered with military jargon and emerging defence technology, this novel effectively bridges to the rest of the series as it advances storylines and backstories to the point that the reader is always sure to learn something. The only downside would be the need to wait for the next novel, though a teaser embedded into the last pages of this book should sate series fans enough until the next publication.

Kudos, Mr. Maloney, for another piece that individualises itself in the genre. I always know that I will find a well-paced novel when your name is affixed to it.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Haunted (Michael Bennett #10), by James Patterson and James O. Born

Eight stars

James O. Born is again working alongside James Patterson on the popular Michael Bennett series. While Detective Bennett has made a name for himself, both as a cop and the father of a massive brood, he is not immune to personal struggles. When his son, Brian, is arrested for possession and distribution of narcotics, Bennett does all he can to climb the ladder. However, Brian knows all too well that ‘snitches get stitches’ and keeps a low profile. While juggling the legal proceedings and his own home life, Bennett stumbles upon a case where other dealers have turned up dead. Seeing a potential connection, Bennett chases this case down and comes face-to-face with the distributor. Might this be the man that Brian served? Who helped cause all the chaos? During the encounter, Bennett discharges his weapon and seems able to justify it, but there is still a body that must be handled by the authorities. Around that same time, Brian is sentenced to hard time, leaving the family in a state of disarray. Taking up an offer to relocate the entire family to Maine for the summer, Bennett packs them up and heads to quieter environs. While vacationing, Bennett agrees to team up with one of the local cops, an old partner of his with a blurry connection, which worries Bennett’s current belle (and live-in nanny), Mary Catherine. What begins as simple parade duty turns more complicated, as a local drug thug seems to be calling in his chits and burying people alive when they fail to answer. Bennett does all he can, turning Maine into more of a working holiday than anything else. A great addition to the series, Born and Patterson have done much with the premise and build a strong novel. Series fans will surely find something to enjoy with this story, though it is hard to surmise how long the high-calibre Bennett series will last.

Many know that I remain leery when James Patterson affixes his name to writing over the last number of years. However, when working alongside James O. Born, I have found much success and high quality writing is usually the end product. The Michael Bennett series is one that requires that added ‘oomph’, as there is usually so much going on. The vast array of characters remain strong and the stories they encounter grow nicely throughout. Be it on the beat or the banter of home living, Bennett and his crew seem to capture the reader’s attention. The story, while focussed on drugs and the like, does not get overly bogged down in ‘rough streets’ or ‘sole lifestyle available’ themes that seem to permeate fiction these days. Born and Patterson craft a well-balanced story with the theme running through it, without exhausting anything. The Michael Bennett series remains strong and, like some of Patterson’s other long-lasting ones, still has much to prove. One can only hope that it does not weaken or become too diluted, but if it does, I can only hope the warning signs are apparent to send Bennett and his dozen away before they become stale.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Born for another great collaboration. I am happy to see Michael Bennett is in good hands and hope you’ll find more time to work together soon.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Bored of the Rings: A Parody of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, by Henry Beard and Douglas Kenney

Six stars

In selecting a literary parody for a recent book challenge, I found myself struggling a great deal. Not one to turn to the classics, I wanted to select a novel that may accentuate a book I read and did not entirely enjoy, while also not choose a parody that had been flogged to death. Turning to this piece by Henry Beard and Douglas Kenney, I felt that I might be in good hands. I will be the first to admit, Tolkien is not for me. Please, gasp now and shun me as you go to fetch all the rotten eggs and tomatoes you can carry. I read the Lord of the Rings trilogy with gritted teeth when asked to do so by someone and found myself celebrating the end. So, in choosing this parody, I hoped to open my eyes up and be able to laugh at some of the silliness of the highly-successful three box set that it seems everyone has read and enjoyed. Beard and Kenney open with the admission that they are not trying to fill the shoes that Tolkien left, but prefer to write something satirical for their own amusement. With that, I entered the world of Lower Middle-Earth. The story centres around Dildo (how poignant a name) and his nephew, Frito, who are sent on a mission by the illustrious wizard, Goodgulf. Along the way, they encounter numerous heroes and villains, all of whom possess monikers of present-day items or concepts and whose bumbling presents a true Hobbit-esque adventure. Lower Middle-Earth is in danger of being enslaved by Sorhed, though Frito has been handed a less than flashy ring to help protect him. As this (thankfully) short quest continues, fans of the original series will find parallels and new differences to make them laugh, though I suspect that a dislike of the foundational books left me rolling my eyes and injecting only the odd snicker at some one-liners. I choose not to recount much of the narrative, as the book seems to have continued on that fantasy-based adventure and did not modernise it enough for me to have a strong handle on things. Still, I am sure that many will love this book, both those who are Tolkien fans and others who enjoy a good parody. Deemed the ‘parody that laid the groundwork for this literary genre’, Beard and Kenney have done much with this and surely some collective will find it amusing.

One might ask “why would you ever read this book?”. To that person, I can strongly assert that I am not entirely sure. Perhaps I needed a quick parody, or even something that could light my spirits. Surely I would not want to touch a satire of a book I have not read, in case there are narrative parallels whose humour is lost on those who do not know the original story. Still, I struggled and praised whatever Being there is when it was all said and done. Beard and Kenney do a wonderful job with name changes and modernising things in that regard, from the various creatures that Frito encounters through to the songs that are embedded throughout. I can admit that these were well-crafted and I did chuckle, if only out of eye-rolling dismissal. The story seems to be similar, though not entirely true to the Tolkien original, though its brevity is surely a godsend in the long run. There will be those who applaud the story and others who spit in the direction of this satire, but I will step back and let that literary war commence as I check another category off on my reading challenge. Onwards to something more my style…

Kudos, Messrs. Beard and Kennedy, as you have surely stirred up the pot. I hope you have received many wonderful comments on your work and that others find the glory you can expect in reviews. It simply was not for me.

This book fulfills Equinox I (A Book for All Seasons) Book Challenge for Topic #5: A Book That is a Spoof of a Literary Classic

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Shining City, by Tom Rosenstiel

Eight stars

Tom Rosenstiel presents this poignant piece that provides readers with a balance of political intrigue and mystery, all set against the fast-pace of electrifying Washington, D.C. Peter Rena enjoys his work as an investigator in the Greater D.C. Area, partnered with politically-savvy Randi Brooks. When news hits the wire that a liberal Supreme Court Justice has died, all eyes turn to the White House to make a new nomination. Inside the Oval Office, President James Nash is mulling over his options and turns to Rena to handle not only the background work on a potential nominee, Edmund, Roland Madison, but also guide him through the entire process, should Madison be chosen to face public scrutiny. Rena and Brooks begin the process by heading to San Francisco to meet with the potential nominee, under veil of secrecy, and uncover some potentially controversial actions back when Madison was a student and Vietnam was at its height. When President Nash rolls the dice and chooses Madison as the man he wants on the High Court, Rena must prepare him for the battle of his life. However, Madison’s past judicial choices are not at issue, nor are the apparently activist moments from his youth, but the nominee’s apparent disregard for the entire Senate hearing process, which is a circus without justification. When Madison lets this be known in front of the microphones, Rena and Brooks must scramble to play damage control, while also keeping Madison on track to answer questions meant to trip him up by the most right-wing political hacks. Will President Nash end up with egg on his face, having chosen a nominee who has little regard for the political process before him? In an alternative plot line, someone has been watching Madison and exacting some form of revenge, killing those who might have some connection to the judge back in his trial days. Rena and Brooks cannot see it coming, but this, too, might create headlines that are hard to dilute at a time when smooth sailing is essential. Rosenstiel offers much fodder in this well-paced novel that exposes some of the most ‘made for TV’ aspects of the Supreme Court nomination process, educating and entertaining readers in equal measure. Equally fitting for political and mystery junkies, the story flows with ease and keeps the reader hooked until the final page.

Having never read any Rosenstiel, I was not sure what might come of this novel. Its title is deceptively brilliant, as it pokes fun at that Shining City with a (Capitol) Hill, where justice is served and the people are heard. Using some wonderfully founded characters, the reader is able not only to learn about the political process of choosing one of the Nine, but also the struggles that come from deception and hidden lives, both key aspects of the Washington world. Rena and Brooks are two well-established characters throughout the story, though their narratives differ greatly. The political heavyweights that grace the pages are not able to trump these two investigators, though Rosenstiel does not pretend the temperature of the political climate is not influential in how things are run. Characters come to life throughout, from the dedicated investigators, the hard-nose political advisors in the Oval Office, through to the entitled senators who seemingly hold all the power. Rosenstiel makes great use of them all. The story is strong and the premise is one that hooked me early on. How the reader could not find themselves fully enthralled, I cannot say, though with numerous plots to follow, there is something for everyone. Rosenstiel does not try to make a blatant soapbox commentary on the entire nomination process, though he does poke holes at times and offers some witty asides. Things take on a life of their own and the reader can decide for themselves by the end, which seems to have an anti-climactic moment that was perhaps the book’s biggest issue.

Kudos, Mr. Rosenstiel, for this book. I am interested to see what else you have written and if I might find myself drawn to them as well. I will surely recommend this to anyone who enjoys a little politics and mystery interspersed in their lighter reading.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Rule of Law, by Randy Singer

Nine stars

Randy Singer is back with another legal thriller that speaks to the heart of some matters currently taking place in America, though seeks to rise above the current political rhetoric. Paige Chambers is a young lawyer with her entire life ahead of her. After meeting Patrick Quillen, she is positive that she has met the man that she wants in her life for the long-term. Quillen is a SEAL and deploys on a mission, leaving her surrounded by other SEAL spouses. Paige waits patiently for Quillen’s return, but the raid to save two kidnap victims goes terribly wrong. Sitting in the Situation Room and watching this live, US President Amanda Hamilton takes decisive action not to have the bodies retrieved, but curses her reliance on the CIA Director’s intel, which fuelled the rescue operation. When news reaches Paige, she is devastated and cannot cope with the size of the loss. She receives cloak and dagger information that President Hamilton may have known the mission was set to fail but chose to send in the SEALs all the same. Reluctantly working with renegade lawyer, Wyatt Jackson, Paige begins to probe into these allegations, but must protect not only her source, but the information that she received. As soon as the legal action commences, high-ranking White House and Administration officials begin creating roadblocks and accusations of their own. In a case that makes its way to the hallowed halls of the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS), Paige and Wyatt will have to remain one step ahead of the legal behemoth that is the United States Government. Where has the truth been hiding and will it see the light of day? No one is quite sure, though all eyes are firmly focussed on what may be the most controversial SCOTUS of a generation. Singer pulls the reader into this story with such ease that there is no escaping this military/legal/political thriller. Fans of all three genres will enjoy this piece immensely.

I have long enjoyed Randy Singer and his writing style, which meshes a fairly significant legal matter with a high-octane storyline, teasing out the most notable and headline-worthy aspects of a piece of American law. His use of characters is always poignant and adds depth to the story without distracting from some of the strong legal points that may intrigue the reader. In this piece, Singer admits that his release of this book is quite timely, but has purposely created a dichotomous Administration from that which is sitting in the Cabinet Room with the current Tweeter of the Free World. The military issues are also quite current and well-presented, which shows that Singer has his finger on the pulse, both in what is going on with the drone program and how Americans (as well as the world) might feel about it. Layering the law with politics is tough, particularly when trying not to have them tightly bound, but Singer is effective in his presentation of both the legal aspects that come to the forefront and the political flavour that permeates the three branches of government. Any reader who enjoys seeing the executive and judicial branches juxtaposed will find much joy in this book, as nothing is guaranteed, event when facing the nine Justices of the SCOTUS. While Singer does not hide his ‘other hat’, that being a pastor, his novels are not filled with the need to inculcate the reader to ‘see the light’ or ‘find Christ and be saved’, though there is passing reference to Christian holidays, prayer, and a lack of ‘saucy’ language. This may appeal to a larger group of readers, particularly those who bemoan unnecessary cursing. Overall, a wonderfully written novel that builds on many legal and newsworthy matters that will surely stir up much debate.

Kudos, Mr. Singer for another wonderful piece of legal writing. As always, you hit the nail on the head and have left me wanting more. Alas, I will have to wait a time, though you can be sure I will queue up for whatever you publish next.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

A Column of Fire (Kingsbridge Series #3), by Ken Follett

Eight stars

Ken Follett again took a lengthy hiatus before penning this third novel in the series, which is reflected in the writing and shall be discussed below. Kingsbridge, with its cathedral and mighty bridge, again proves to be the initial backdrop of this thoroughly researched tome, set in the 16th century. The great community emerges in the opening pages of the novel, where the reader encounters Ned Willard, returning after a period away. As the snow falls, causing the great Cathedral to disappear, the symbolism of quick changes becomes apparent. However, there is more brewing in Kingsbridge and England as a whole, which pushes the narrative into a fiery discussion soon enough. Queen Mary Tudor is on the throne and has turned the country back to its Catholic foundation, which is causing some concerns amongst her subjects. Forced to flee Catholicism under Henry VIII, people took up with the new Church of England and sought to pave the way for Protestantism in the country. Kingsbridge monastery, so important in the first two novels, lost its firmament under the King and the monks were dispersed. However, as Queen Mary appears to be terminally ill, there is talk of the succession. Two camps emerge: those wanting continued Catholicism turn to Mary, Queen of Scots (and France); and those who seek to lessen the constraints of religious conformity turn to Princess Elizabeth Tudor, half-sister to the current queen. The battle lines are drawn and the choice turns the country against itself. Ned finds himself in an odd position as he witnesses this and takes up a post with the Elizabethan camp, only to become one of her most trusted advisors. Plots to kill Elizabeth emerge alongside attempts to get Scottish Mary to return to the land of her birth to claim what some feel will rightfully be hers. When the Queen dies, it is left to Parliament to make the choice, which Follett illustrates as being highly controversial and problematic, but Elizabeth soon ascends reigns as the first of her name. The new Queen riles up everyone by seeking tolerance and acceptance of any form of Christianity in England, choosing not to side with either Protestants or Catholics wholeheartedly. What follows is a collection of stories that emerge throughout Europe, using a handful of characters who illustrate the religious persecution of both Protestants and Catholics, using the Pope and various monarchs to play Christian chess with their subjects as they shed blood to see their branch of the religion succeed. Ned is placed in a position to not only try to win back the love of his life, but to accept fate and try to reinvent himself, while England is being torn apart. Follett illustrates this battle over decades, while the characters evolve but still have time to prove as scandalous as ever (what would a Kingsbridge novel be without some drama?!). By the end, Follett has shown that religious intolerance is by no means a new thing in the world, but that it can be traced back centuries, where ‘soldiers’ were blinded to acceptance and sought to outmanoeuvre their labelled enemies. A sensational addition to the Kingsbridge series, though it does not entirely fit with the other two novels. Fans of historical fiction will surely love this tome, alongside the most open-minded and ‘tolerant’ Kingsbridge series fans. Patience is a must before tackling this novel, so be wary if you seek a quick story and easy to decipher characters.

When I read the preface to Pillars of the Earth, I learned that Follett was not entirely comfortable with the subject matter when he first wrote that book. He knew little of the religious nuances of the Church, but has shown that age and dedication to research have changed his abilities. While I have some issues with this book, I cannot deny that the research and thoroughly intricate cast of characters make this one a must read for dedicated readers and fans of history. Follett is again forced to use scores of characters to flesh out the story, some pulled from the history books and others completely of his own imagination. As with the previous two books, occupations are varied, as are the social standings of those who grace the pages of this book. However, the characters from history dominate and thereby lead the story, forcing the ‘nobody’ characters to fall into line. There is still a thread of love, romance, rape, and deception, but it proves to be a garnish in a larger story that speaks of intolerance at a time when religion in Europe was (d)evolving. The dedicated reader will surely find a few characters onto whom they can latch and find some solace, though there are an equal number who can be hated for their actions. The story of this novel is well developed and presented in a methodical way, such that the reader can see not only the issue at the core of the story, but its fermentation over the decades. This leads me to my primary issue with the book, which is that it does not fit nicely into how Pillars and World Without End places Kingsbridge at the centre. There is action in Kingsbridge and the Cathedral does bear mention on occasion, but a great deal of the story takes place elsewhere, which lessens the impact of the community that readers have come to love. For Follett fans, the influence of his recently completed Century series is blunt in this narrative and plot development. Follett develops mini-stories throughout Europe, presenting characters who exemplify the religious issues in Spain and France, as well as in England, the attentive reader will remember such ‘branch-offs’ over the aforementioned trilogy. The reader learns of these struggles and waits to see how the numerous spheres will come together and eventually meld into a single storyline. While I am not a professional author, I might suggest that Kingsbridge have remained the central focus of the story and Follett show how this continental war and numerous assassination attempts on the country’s monarch affected the locals. Alas, that was lost and Ned Willard, a Kingsbridgean, is the major glue that binds the story to being a part of this other trilogy. With numerous monarchs who flex their muscle throughout to show how Catholicism is the only way, I can easily find justification to have this work for my reading challenge and I can only hope that others will find the thread of my argument and agree. While I found this to be the weakest of the three novels in the series, I still enjoyed it a great deal. I would recommend it to those who have made their way through the others two, in hopes that they will find as much enjoyment in the historical references as I did.

Kudos, Mr. Follett, for such a stellar piece of historical fiction. Some of those threads you left blowing in the wind might make for an interesting fourth novel, though I am not pushing for another round, unless you’re eager to return to Kingsbridge proper.

This book fulfills Equinox I (A Book for All Seasons) Book Challenge for Topic #3: A Book About Royalty

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Parting Shot (Promise Falls #4), by Linwood Barclay

Nine stars

Linwood Barclay adds to his already popular Promise Falls series with this latest novel, a mystery that takes readers on an interesting ride into the world of revenge. When Cal Weaver is hired to protect Jeremy Pilford, who was accused of backing over his girlfriend when extremely intoxicated, he cannot predict the degree of difficulty this assignment brings. Seen as having been coddled by his over-protective family, Jeremy earned the nickname ‘Big Baby’ and has been the victim of significant online mockery. The barbs that have sailed around through social media are beginning to take shape in real life, with rocks tossed through windows and death threats showing up in various forms. Weaver decides to help shield Jeremy by taking him into protective custody, at least until things settle down. Meanwhile, Detective Barry Duckworth is sent to investigate an assault that has everyone very confused. Brian Gaffney has been found wandering around Promise Falls, unable to remember what’s happened to him for the past few days. What’s even more concerning is the vulgar phrase that has been tattooed to his back; something apparently related to a dog he killed years ago. As Duckworth begins poking around, he discovers that Gaffney was last seen in a dive bar, though video surveillance sheds some interesting new light on the entire investigation. Nothing seem to make sense, but Duckworth will not give up, even as he seems to be stepping on some familial toes by pressing hard to solve this latest case. When a body is discovered in an abandoned car, things take a significant turn and Duckworth notices an anomaly that might explain the Gaffney assault. While Cal Weaver hides away with Jeremy, they revisit some of the key aspects to the case and something does not seem right. When Duckworth and Weaver are eventually able to compare notes, everything gets a little clearer, only to go opaque once again. Is there something going on in Promise Falls that will halt both Duckworth and Weaver from solving their respective cases? In a style all his own, Barclay pulls the reader into the middle of this wonderful story and will not let go until the very end, where a cliffhanger awaits. Promise Falls series fans will surely enjoy this one, which stands outside the professed ‘trilogy’, but still has close tie-ins throughout the narrative.

I have long been a Linwood Barclay fan, especially his Promise Falls work. The psychological aspects keep me wondering and the slow development is done in such a methodical manner than I cannot help but want more, even when the final chapter is complete. The varied cast in the novels is effectively used, with a strong focus on the Duckworth and Weaver characters. Both men have made their marks in the aforementioned series trilogy, but this novel allows them some additional growth. Barclay surrounds them with a number of repeat minor characters, as well as some new faces to keep the story fresh. Backstories and present-day development is thorough and highly useful to the attentive reader. The story itself, two mysteries that soon find common ground, is quite intriguing, especially with the other branch-off plots that thicken the overall delivery. Barclay is able to keep the different narratives running in parallel without confusing the reader too much. Add to that, things flow so effortlessly that the reader cannot help but want to forge onwards just to see how it will all play out. Wonderfully presented and filled with a number of poignant references to past Promise Falls events, Barclay has surely kept his fans appeased with this novel and is sure to find many new readers rushing to find his books in their various forms.

Kudos, Mr. Barclay, for keeping me hooked from the get-go. I hope you have not ended this trip to upstate New York, as I have become quite fond of Promise Falls.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

World Without End (Pillars of the Earth #2), by Ken Follett

Nine stars

After a lengthy hiatus Ken Follett returns to the series with a second epic tome, (if you pardon the pun) building on the Kingsbridge Cathedral theme laid out in Pillars of the Earth. It is now the mid-1300s, two centuries after Tom Builder, Jack, Aliena, and Prior Phillip helped shape this community. Their presence is felt through ancestral breadcrumbs and mentioned throughout the complex narrative that seeks to breathe new life into Kingsbridge. The narrative develops early with the emergence of four children in the forest: Gwenda, Merthin, Philemon, and Caris. These four come from their distinct social, economic, and ancestral ties to Kingsbridgeons of old, but whose appearance will prove important throughout the book. While hiding, the children witness the torture of a knight, Thomas Langley, who is able to escape, but not before burying a secret document, which might be the reason he has been chased and tortured. Langley seeks to enter the priory and become a monk, where he will be protected from the outside world and able to devote himself to a new life. With the Cathedral casting a daunting shadow on the town, the economic stability of Kingsbridge seems less stable, as the Fleece Fair may suffer without a new bridge to transport much needed items from outside. The town of Shiring might profit, though locals are not yet ready to admit defeat and put off any construction for the time being. That gamble is foreboding, as there is chaos when the bridge does collapse and hundreds are caught on it, killing them in various forms. The Priory must take action, but the need for a new Prior takes precedence. Politics meets religion in this election as barters and bribes see young Godwyn assume the role, whose iron-fist is supported by his controlling mother. The new bridge commences, but not only after thorough examination and potential architectural analysis is done. Saving a few coins over stability becomes a strong issue, though the symbolic nature of the bridge, connecting economic stability to the town that seeks to link itself to new life, becomes apparent throughout the narrative. As time passes, those aforementioned children grow as well, finding themselves looking to take on trades or turn to the Church for solace. It is here that the drama of the novel builds and social interactions turn to lust and sexual dominance. Forbidden love is tested and sexual control is exerted, sometimes against the will of one participant. Much is asked about that document that Thomas Langley hid away, but there is more on the horizon to keep the locals concerned. After a time away, Merthin returns with an ominous gift from abroad, leaving Kingsbridge under the cloud of plague. No one is entirely safe and, like the bridge, many perish. Families are decimated and yet Prior Godwyn espouses that this is an Act of God, forcing some to swallow the hard pill of religious retribution. Follett illustrates this well throughout, as the sobering clash of complete devotion to God is weighted against the early understanding of disease transmission. Will prayer save you, or might precautions prevent infection? Even as Kingsbridge suffers, the Cathedral stands firm, though there is a need to revisit its foundations, at least in part. The symbolism of a renewed strengthening of part of its body parallels nicely with the constant rejuvenation of the populace and those who can trace their ancestral lines from the early founders of the town. Plague and general injury fuels a discussion about building a new hospital to treat the injured in one location and isolate those who are contagious in another, though this becomes a new religious and political discussion. What awaits Kingsbridge on the horizon is anyone’s guess, but there is surely no stagnancy when it comes to dramatic development, as scores of plots emerge throughout. Follett has emerged to develop another stunning piece that adds to the drama of his opening novel, yet leaves much room for further development, answered with the most recent (and final?) instalment in the Kingsbridge saga. Fans of Pillars will likely enjoy this piece, though there is still a need for patience and determination to sift through a much more character-developing based piece, which sees a generational development, rather than that of a stone structure. Highly recommended for those who have time and interest in a slowly evolving narrative.

After admitting that he was out of his comfort zone with the opening novel, Follett continues tilling the soil with this an amazing series. Equally as epic in its development and final delivery, Follett is forced to use scores of characters to flesh out the story he wishes to present. Moving the story ahead two centuries, the characters will all differ from those found in Pillars, though the lineage that is mentioned and some of the mere characteristics of those featured herein allows the reader to feel a strong connection to all involved. Certainly, there will be some names who grace the story throughout and others who play their smaller roles to support, though the thread is not lost in the narrative. The four children who emerge from the beginning all branch out and develop their own lives, but it is impossible for the reader not to trace their growth (physical, emotional, and social) through the time period of this story. Love, death, rape, and domination all feature significantly and no character is kept completely protected from these themes. While Kingsbridge Cathedral stands strong in the background, readers are able to draw parallels between its development and the new architectural piece, the Bridge, that keeps all aspects of the town occupied. Politics seeps in as council and the Priory weigh in on the issue, forcing the higher-ups to also issue their own decrees. The symbolism of the experience is not lost on the attentive reader, though the political and economic arguments differ slightly. Kingsbridge is no longer a speck on the map, though it is still a developing community, receiving scant attention at times. As plague swept across the continent, Kingsbridge must suffer alone and find its own footing, but exemplifies resilience in the face of disaster. Follett is clear to instil these themes throughout, no matter the narrative twists presented. Again, some have criticised the book for being too long or too detailed, going so far as to inject the words “thick” and “monotonous” into their comments. I acknowledge these issues, but counter that this is not the type of novel that can be both rich and brief. Follett has surely taken a massive chunk and must process it, leaving only the most dedicated to synthesise it. There is no shame in admitting that the book is not for everyone, but those who are able to patiently remain enthralled, many gifts shall be granted. Follett has a purpose for taking the reader on this journey, particularly since he did such a wonderful job with the opening novel. I applaud that this is not a novel meant to appeal to the masses, for there seems to be an inherent dedication required before committing to the journey back to Kingsbridge. There is still much to be seen and more generations to come, their lives shaped by the firmly rooted cathedral, priory, bridge, and so much more. Follett has so much to offer and the journey is one that has me extremely excited.

Kudos, Mr. Follett, for returning to this piece and building on its greatness. I am pleased to have been able to come back and read this again, fulfilling a reading challenge requirement, but also reminding myself why I love this type of story.

This book fulfills Equinox I (A Book for All Seasons) Book Challenge for Topic #1: A Book set 500+ Years Ago

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

The Caller (Robert Hunter #8), by Chris Carter

Nine stars

Returning for yet another stunning psychological thriller, Chris Carter proves why he is the master of the genre. Detective Robert Hunter is again ready to find the most depraved killers in Los Angeles. As part of the LAPD’s Ultra Violent Crimes Unit, Hunter and his partner, Carlos Garcia, place it all on the line to find those with psychopathic tendencies. When a young woman receives a video call from her friend, it looks to be a simple ‘face to face’ catch-up. However, things take a terrible turn when a killer is involved and requires answers to two basic questions. Failure to reply in a set time frame and the caller (the victim whose phone placed the call) will face the consequences. After failing to answer the second, seemingly benign, question, the killer smashes the caller’s face into a container of glass shards, forcing the other to watch through the cellphone screen, helpless. When Hunter and Garcia arrive to begin looking for clues or leads, they discover the most basic description of the killer will take them nowhere, as a sadistic mask was used and voice-altering technology negates any digital breadcrumbs. With his mind that works exponentially faster than anyone else, Hunter begins trying to piece things together, while also juggling a potential new romantic interest. Called away to a second scene, Hunter not only discovers the body of a middle-aged woman, but a husband who seems more focussed on revenge than grief. It is here that the man, dubbed Mr. J, begins his own hunt for the killer, using his personal and work contacts to follow his own trail. While Hunter and Garcia marvel at the evil the killer is inflicting on the victims and those forced to watch, Mr. J is making headway of his own. It’s now a race to see who will find the killer first and what sort of justice will come from the apprehension. Carter stuns fans with another wonderful piece and reminds me why I enjoy his dark thrillers so much. Series fans will likely be highly impressed, alongside new readers who will be pulled in before they can turn away.

It was years ago that I stumbled upon Chris Carter and his work. I have never looked back, nor have I wanted to. Using Robert Hunter as the protagonist and weaving together his varied and quite unique backstory, Carter creates a detective who not only strives on finding the killer, but also wants to get inside his mind. No killer is too deceptive and no crime too horrible to keep Hunter from asking the tough questions, even if he is the only person interested in the discussion. From this point, it is the cast of characters that flesh out the story, with a sadistic killer, whose methods and madness make the book for me, at the centre of this game. It is the thought process, the inherent justification, that really interests me more than anything else. Some may say the story is too gruesome or that the narrative is too reliant on the weak female. To those people, I offer my raised eyebrow and surmise that they ought not to have stumbled into this genre if they wanted something prim, proper, and pitiful. The crux of these novels are their disturbing aspects and that issues pulled from the headlines or social norms can be placed under the microscope. I thoroughly enjoy them for that reason and I would encourage anyone who can relax their literary gag reflex to join the party as well. You will not be disappointed.

Kudos, Mr. Carter, for delivering another stellar novel. I am eager to see what awaits us in the coming months. By then the trolls and vapid complainers will surely have found something else to enjoy.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Malicious (Mitchum #2), by James Patterson and James O. Born

Eight stars

James O. Born returns to work alongside James Patterson again in the follow-up BookShot of the Mitchum series. Readers will likely remain impressed with this piece, as it has all the impact of a great short story without losing any of the needed character and story development. Mitchum enjoys his quiet life in upstate New York, where he can deliver his daily newspapers and run an unofficial P.I. business on the side. When his brother, Natty, calls with a problem, Mitchum seems skeptical. However, when a homicide is involved, the brothers reunite, post haste. Mitchum learns that a high school friend has been slain, potentially by a fellow drug dealer. As one who ‘enhances recreational activities’ himself, Natty can attest to the fact that there are some out there who want nothing more than to bury Peter Stahl, but not before discovering the secret he has about a new and ‘hot’ commodity for the street. As Mitchum works to iron out all the details, he learns that Natty is deeply in love with the deceased’s wife, which could prove to be a problem. Before Mitchum can learn much more, Natty been hauled away to jail, the primary suspect in the murder. It is now a race to find the true killer and clear Natty’s name, forcing Mitchum to look under every rock, where corrupt figures wait for their slice of the pie. A wonderful follow-up piece that pushes the reader into the middle of the action as Mitchum forges ahead at top speed. BookShot fans will surely enjoy this piece, both for its excitement and quick pace.

This weekend of BookShot reading has proven to be highly useful and I have come across a number of wonderful pieces. James O. Born surely has a handle on this series, which continues to build, and avid readers can only hope that Patterson will turn to him many more times in the future. While short, the story allows more character development as it relates to Robert ‘call me Mitchum’ Mitchum, both from a familial perspective and with his own personal sentiments. The reader can enjoy a dash of sarcasm and some heartfelt emotion without missing out on what ends up being something worth the hour of reading time. The story is by no means unique, but it holds the attention of the read throughout, paced with short chapters and quick development. Anyone who needs a decent filler between major reading assignments can turn to this piece and not be disappointed. I can only hope that Mitchum will be back soon, rising to the top amidst the supersaturation of BookShots in the e-book domain. Readers ought to keep an eye out for these and will surely find something to appeal to their thriller side.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Born for another great collaboration. I enjoy how the Mitchum series is shaping up and hope you have more in store in the coming months.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

Hidden (Mitchum #1), by James Patterson and James O. Born

Eight stars

James O. Born works alongside James Patterson in the first of this BookShot series that will have readers hooked and quite curious as they travel to upstate New York. Mitchum enjoys the quiet life in Marlboro, away from the fast-paced living of NYC, but still surrounded by a community that thrives on the daily bustle. When he learns that his niece, Bailey Mae, has gone missing, this unofficial P.I. takes matters into his own hands. Working with the local sheriff’s detachment and those around town, Mitchum learns that three shady individuals have been seen around town. Bailey Mae’s famous coffee cakes prove a useful trail, though when two elderly residents are found murdered in their home and a fresh cake sits on the counter, Mitchum becomes more concerned. His past training as a Navy SEAL allows him to forge headlong into the search, still trying to determine who these strangers might be and if they are involved in the kidnapping, or if Bailey Mae is somehow involved. Forced to turn to his drug-dealing brother, Mitchum uses whispers on the street to help him track down any evidence that might lead to Bailey Mae’s safe return. Time is running out, but family ties seem to be unbreakable for Mitchum, fuelling his determination to bring a happy ending to this small town. A quick and captivating story for BookShot fans and those who need a little thrill with their coffee. Patterson and Born have a recipe for success here!

I am on a roll with my current BookShots binge, having found some real winners out there. There is usually little time for character development, but the authors have been able to weave the story of Robert ‘call me Mitchum’ Mitchum into the fabric of this thriller. The small town feel to the story is not lost on the reader, as Mitchum combs through the residents to garner enough clues to help solve the case. Additionally, the vast array of characters on offer may prove useful if the series continues past the next-known published piece. The story itself is interesting and the short chapters keep the story propelling forward without the reader feeling too stuck in any single environ. Patterson and Born work well together and bring the story to life, just as I would expect with a BookShot, which leaves little time to catch one’s breath. I need to get my hands on the next story in the series, as I am still highly impressed with what I’ve read.

Kudos, Messrs. Patterson and Born for this great collaboration. Mitchum is in good hands if you two remain vigilant at keeping the stories as entertaining as this debut.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons