Private Gold (Private #13.5), by James Patterson and Jassy Mackenzie

Eight stars

I have always enjoyed the quick reading I can accomplish with the BookShot collection, developed a few years ago by James Patterson. What had me even more excited was to see that Patterson chose Jassy Mackenzie to help expand his series, tapping into another aspect of the Private collection with this accomplished South African author. With Private Johannesburg circling the drain, there is little for Joey Montague to do but close up shop after his partner’s untimely suicide. When Joey receives a call from Isobel Collins, seeking to hire Private to act as a bodyguard, he cannot decline, especially since this poor American has decided to situate herself in the roughest neighbourhood in the city. Joey rushes to meet her and they appear to hit it off immediately, though someone is lurking in the shadows, their eyes firmly focussed on Isobel. Joey soon learns that Isobel is in possession of a set of coordinates that have her truly baffled, though she is sure it ties into something having to do with her husband’s business. They trek out of town, heading in the direction of an abandoned gold mine, long since decommissioned by the government. What they discover there shocks them, both in its bone-chilling reality and potential monetary value. It also goes to substantiate something that Isobel has been wondering, based on other figures she and a friend have intercepted. Before they can alert the authorities, the shadowy figure strikes and nothing is guaranteed. Might Joey’s partner have a message from beyond the grave? Patterson and Mackenzie have shown that they are a force with whom to be reckoned as the Private series expands onto new continents. Fans of Bookshots and the Private collection may appreciate this a great deal, though anyone wanting a quick thrill ride may also find it well worth their time.

I have a love/hate relationship with James Patterson, though I can respect that he is also saddled with many writing projects, pairing up with countless co-authors. The BookShots are always hit and miss stories, for I find that it is a delicate writing chemistry that will either produce something I highly enjoy or a piece that falls flat. Jassy Mackenzie has never let me down and I am so happy to see that James Patterson took a gamble to work alongside her. The characters in this piece have little time to develop themselves, but what is offered up permits the reader to lay a solid foundation. The reader can attach themselves to Joey and Isobel with ease, as well as the less savoury person lurking in the shadows, whose mission is quite clear. The premise of the piece is also quite good and I hope to see more by this pair, as the narrative flowed well and utilised the short chapter formula that has worked so well for Patterson in the past. As this was a BookShot, developing the South African flavour was not possible and those who are not familiar with the geographic region will not be able to feel its richness in such a short time. I can only hope that readers will look into Jassy Mackenzie as a solo author and discover this wonderfully unique setting, or that Patterson will return and perhaps allow Mackenzie to utilise her skills in a full-length novel alongside his tight framework.

Kudos, Mr. Patterson and Madam Mackenzie, for such a wonderfully written short piece. I enjoyed it and would surely love to see you both team up together once again in the near future.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Filthy Rich, by James Patterson, John Connelly, and Tim Malloy

Eight stars

Needing a book to help fill a small gap before the end of the year, I turned to this James Patterson piece that has been collecting dust on my TBR shelf for a while. Patterson does not usually delve into non-fiction, but when he does, the reader can expect something of high quality (which surely begs the question, why does he torture his fiction fans with tepid writing at times?). He has teamed up here with two other authors, John Connelly and Tim Malloy, to add further depth and impact to the already troubling narrative. The brief dust cover commentary left me with some idea of what to expect as I looked into the life of Jeffrey Epstein, particularly his criminal behaviour, though nothing could have prepared me for the salacious nature of Epstein’s crimes or how money seems to have paved the way to his receiving a light slap on the wrist. Patterson et al. present the Epstein situation as one where a billionaire is able to use his financial holdings and penchant for young girls to fuel his own sexual gratification. Epstein employed an assistant and a few ‘scouts’ to bring other teenage girls (14-17) to his home in Florida, where they were told to offer him massages, clad sometimes in a pair of panties and, at other times, nothing at all. Epstein knew the girls’ ages, though he made it perfectly clear that he did not care. Sometimes a massage turned into sexual gratification for Epstein, as detailed on numerous occasions, with an outlandish recounting of events. While the police built a case and used some early girls to report on his actions, the lewd behaviour seemed to continue, where the girls were paid from $100-300, depending on what they were asked to do. Epstein seemed to be aware of the mounting case, but did not stop or seek to alter his approach. When the police acted and the Federal Government pressed charges, Epstein was able to call in favours and use his clout to defy all legal precedent, entering a plea and receiving minimal jail time (and the time he did spend was a joke). From there, the book explores the man, his far-reaching connections, and how being associated with him ruined some people. It is baffling to see this book progress, as the reader’s stomach will likely turn with each passing chapter. Wonderfully presented for such a horrid situation, it allows the reader to see that money can buy freedom and how the rich can be completely clueless about the laws the commoner must follow. I cannot think of a group of people who would ‘like’ this book, but it is a well-crafted piece that will surely blow the mind of many, without taking too long to devour its contents.

My interest in James Patterson is tepid at best, but this book has surely shown why I can sometimes applaud this author. Patterson use of Connelly and Malloy to craft this book, helping it flow and deliver a razor-sharp punch, complete with short chapters and a ‘to the point’ narrative for which Patterson is so famous. Patterson et al. push the reader into the middle of his horrific mess of sexual assault, child prostitution, and lewd pleasure-seeking, through a series of recreated interviews and conversations with victims of Epstein’s behaviour. What might be most stunning about the presentation of the book is that the victims tried to distance themselves from the acts, or even downplayed them. This emerges throughout the early part of the book, which pulls the reader in and forces them to want to know more, as if there is an addiction of sorts at play. The reader must know what happened (even if they remember the tabloid reporting) and how it all came crashing down. Interestingly enough, Patterson et al. make a point of showing that the normal course of justice seems to have been bastardised and Jeffrey Epstein was handled with kid gloves throughout. Even the required jail time left much to be desired. The evidence was there, the victims seemingly had lots to say about what happened to them, but high-priced lawyers and some glaring gaps in the legal system seem to have permitted Epstein to waltz through unscathed. This story is not one that even Patterson could dream up as he churns out pieces faster than most readers can type a review. Perfectly titled for its hideous abuse of the legal system, this book shows how money does talk and the laws are only for those who cannot circumvent them, even when children are being abused and the perpetrator does not deny it. Pardon me, as I need to vomit now that I have done my reviewing duty.

Kudos Messrs. Patterson, Connelly and Malloy. You’ve shed light on this horrendous collection of events and shown that even the likes of Donald Trump had enough sense to steer away from this man. If that doesn’t prove how awful Epstein is, nothing will!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Tell Tale: Short Stories, by Jeffrey Archer

Nine stars

It is always a pleasure to read something penned by the great Lord Jeffrey Archer, whose ideas seem never to run out as he presents them in a witty fashion. In this group of short stories, Archer presents the full gamut of his capabilities, showing that he can write something shorted than half a page, as well as a multi-part piece that spans many of the collection’s pages. Brilliant in his ideas, Archer tells tales of stamp collector, eager parking attendants, duplicitous insurance scammers, and those who want to ‘stick it to the man’. The reader will find themselves fully captivated in the stories and wishing the collection could go on forever. As intriguing as his Clifton Chronicles and some of his other epic novels, this short collection is worth every invested moment the reader takes to complete these fourteen stories.

I am filled with joy to find anything by Jeffrey Archer on my TBR shelf, especially his short stories. His list of ideas seems endless and he always finds ways to weave together masterful pieces that include a little punch at the end, as if the reader needed a jolt to end their reading experience. The vast array of characters in this collection is wonderful and Archer is able to develop those vessels of the narrative with such ease (and differentiates them so effectively). I can almost see the characters as they travel through the story, which is surely the sign of a quality writer. The stories are also wonderful for their variety as well as poignant lessons embedded in the text. Even when Archer is faced with stunning limitations (one hundred words exactly, due in 24 hours), he is able to deliver something eyebrow-raise worthy. What a master at the craft he has remained over four decades. There will be some who bemoan his legal issues, and such trolls have emerged on Goodreads. It is surely they who are the jealous folk, incapable of writing themselves out of a wet paper bag (and, trust me, their troll comments prove that point). Sit back and enjoy this collection! It will not be something you regret.

Kudos, Lord Archer, for offering your fans such a wonderful post-Clifton collection of writing. I have no doubt that you will continue to amaze us with all your ideas for years to come.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Poison: A Novel (Dismas Hardy #17), by John Lescroart

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, John Lescroart, and Atria Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

As a long-time fan of John Lescroart and his work, I was pleased to receive an early copy of his latest legal thriller, which offers series fans much to digest while being highly entertained. Dismas Hardy is still recuperating from the harrowing end of the last novel, when he was shot twice at point blank range. Vowing to scale back at the legal practice and refuse any significant criminal work, Hardy is contacted by a former client whose was arrested for the murder of her boss. Hardy is willing to at least provide some early legal advice to Abby Jarvis, though remains at least somewhat dedicated to his promise, something his wife will demand he honour. The death of Grant Wagner shocked everyone, particularly since it was originally deemed a heart attack, only to be re-examined when one of the Wagner children could not understand the finding. Further inspection reveals that Wagner was actually poisoned, paired with other interesting pieces of evidence, including that Jarvis had been skimming from the company’s profits and that she had been spending a great deal of extra time with Wagner before his death. While the legal system moves forward, it is not only Hardy who feels that his client might be innocent. The entire Wagner family seems shocked that Jarvis might have murdered their father, aware of some secrets shared between Grant and Abby. As Hardy agrees to represent Abby at her arraignment, he pulls out all the stops, upsetting his former partner and current district attorney, challenging the validity of the evidence used to arrest his client, which opens a rare bail hearing and leaves everyone watching what else Hardy might have in store for the courtroom. When Wagner’s recent love interest is shot in the face and killed, it leaves SFPD Homicide to use all their resources to see if the shooting might be tied to Wagner’s murder. Trouble is, Abby Jarvis was behind bars during the shooting and could not have committed the crime. Can the Grant Wagner murder be fuelled by financial gain or might there be something far more sinister at play here? And how does all this tie into another recent shooting that has baffled SFPD Homicide? Lescroart does a masterful job with his full collection of San Francisco characters, sure to impress series fans and those who love a well-crafted legal thriller.

It is always a pleasure to pick up a John Lescroart legal thriller, or more generally, a piece from his ever-expanding ‘San Fran crew’ as I call them. As this extended series keeps its quality throughout the twenty-plus novels, it is enjoyable to dive into Lescroart’s work and discover the legal nuances he has to offer. Lescroart’s Dismas Hardy is always an interesting character, who has evolved throughout the series. While there has been little backstory offered over the last number of novels, the ever-flourishing developments within his family and legal units keeps the reader connected to this unique man. Hints throughout leave the reader wondering if there is some major change brewing, though surely Lescroart will force everyone to wait for the next novel to unveil his plans for this central character. There are a number of strong secondary characters, both those who appear regularly (and receive their own novels in the extended series) and the one-timers who appear within this novel. All the characters mesh well and promote a multi-faceted story that keeps the reader wondering as the narrative develops nicely. Turning to the story, Lescroart delivers a strong piece that looks not only to explore the legal nuances of Abby Jarvis’ case, but also some key areas of poison, finance, and familial interactions. Lescroart never enters a topic half-assed, choosing instead to show that he has done his work to permit the reader the most detailed information as possible. The narrative is heavy with all these areas of insight, but things do not get bogged down by this. Rather, they flourish and permit the reader new areas of interest that might pique their interest for personal exploration. I would be remiss if I did not mention the quality of Lescroart’s work. The novels always flow so well and chapters seem to melt away as the reader rushes through the narrative and finds a well-crafted story throughout. I can only hope that Lescroart will stick with the San Fran gang and let those novels propel him to continued greatness.

Kudos, Mr. Lescroart, for another stellar piece of writing. I have loved this series since first I discovered it and will recommend it to anyone who has an interest in legal thrillers.

This book fulfils Topic #1 in the Equinox #2 Book Challenge, A Book in a Series (not a debut).

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Heat Storm (Nikki Heat # 9), by Richard Castle

Seven stars

Returning for another instalment of the Nikki Heat series, readers will be graced with the added bonus of a full Derrick Storm novel as well, showing the Richard Castle is able to juggle two of his protagonists in this high-flying piece of light fare. Away from the fast pace of China’s cities, Derrick Storm is in the middle of uncovering a counterfeit operation that could have significant implications in the United States. It would seem someone is laundering large amounts of US money from somewhere in China. Storm escapes with a single CD, which could hold a number of truths to bring down a group known only as the Shanghai Seven. Meanwhile, in New York, Nikki Heat is still reeling with the knowledge that her mother is alive after being presumed dead and cremated seventeen years before. However, Cynthia Heat remains on the lam, from whom, no one is quite sure. Nikki receives numerous cryptic texts from a man using the moniker, The Serpent, warning her that recent brushes with death may one day not miss their mark. As Nikki tries to work through this news, Derrick Storm appears stateside with some information that could tie Cynthia Heat to a CIA operation in China and the counterfeit operation he has been running. Storm is also being chased, presumably by the Shanghai Seven, who want their disc back. Armed with his wits and retired father, Carl, Storm seeks to battle his way to safety. Heat discovers something her mother left for her, a clue that could tie-in with the Derrick Storm fiasco. All the while, Heat’s husband and the annoying aspect of this book series, Jameson Rook, appears to woo his wife away from all the panic that is going on. While she seeks to rebuff him for a time, she cannot deny his wiles, which only makes for a cheesy collection of moments throughout the narrative. Can Nikki and Storm clear the way for a Heat reunion? Might the Shanghai Seven be topped by beheading The Serpent? All this and more awaits the reader, with a chance that this might be the swan song for Castle’s published writing career. Fans of the series and cancelled television show may like this piece, though others might want to read it to close the door once and for all.

I am not normally a bitter person when it comes to reading. I realise that sometimes books are written to entertain on a lighter level and can accept that. However, there has been something about the last few novels (and the latter seasons of the television show) that irked me enough to tune out. I want to enjoy them, from the fast pace of the storylines and the interesting character developments, but find myself feeling short-changed. It is hard to divorce the characters from the book with those I saw on the small screen, though I try by best. Nikki Heat is surely a climber within the NYPD, working hard to solve cases and putting her eventual passion for Jameson Rook to the side. The revelation about her mother being alive allowed the reader to tap into more flashback memories about Heat’s childhood, though they are muddled between trying to find The Serpent and the off-putting Jameson Rook’s reappearance to woo her between the sheets. Derrick Storm is given some wonderful development here, tapping into not only his youth, but pulling the elder Mr. Storm into the mix to offer familial comparisons. Castle does well to weave this into the story, providing some interesting banter as well as strong character development throughout the piece. Utilising a number of interesting supporting characters, Castle pushes the story forward and keeps the reader wondering what awaits. The story found herein is not weak, though there were times that I wanted things to get moving. Storm’s storyline kept things interesting, but still I found things dragged throughout. I try not to get too cynical, but I did notice I was waving my hand in a circular motion, hoping to push the narrative along so that I could reach the end. Might it have been knowing that there was little left to read in order to put this series to bed? Quite possibly, but I am not willing to waste too much of my time waiting when I have so many other books to devour. I liked the Heat series, don’t get me wrong, but there comes a time when pulling the proverbial parachute is in order. This was surely the time for Castle, as television executives did recently as well.

Kudos, Mr. Castle, for a valiant effort to tie off some loose strings. I have enjoyed the series, but am sure you, as a fictional front for a ghost writer, will now disappear into the annals of time and enjoy fictional retirement.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

House Witness (Joe DeMarco #12), by Mike Lawson

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Mike Lawson, Grove Atlantic and Atlantic Monthly Press for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

As a long-time fan of Mike Lawson’s work, I was pleased to get my hands on an advance copy of his latest Joe DeMarco novel. After House Minority Leader John Mahoney receives word that someone close to him has been murdered, his first call is to Joe DeMarco, his fixer of sorts. Understanding the nuances of the Manhattan D.A.’s Office, Mahoney insists that DeMarco offer his services to assist in any way possible. The case looks fairly cut and dry, but those are the ones that tend to be the most problematic if they reach trial. The killer comes from family money that will stop at nothing to erase events in any way possible. When the defence attorney places a call, seeking some assistance in the matter of trying to turn an easy conviction into something far less straightforward, there is hesitation. However, for the right price, things may turn their way. Enter Ella Fields, who has made it her business to work alongside her husband to help dissuade or disappear key witnesses from what they saw, thereby toppling the proverbial apple cart. As things begin to get a little shaky in Manhattan, DeMarco learns of the possibility that someone like Fields could be out destroying easy cases. He vows to track her down, travelling across the United States to learn more about a number of cases, always two steps behind. However, with the trial about ready to begin, DeMarco may have stumbled upon something, though even he is not sure if it will be enough. Lawson continues paving the way for DeMarco to remain at the top if his game, while pulling readers into the middle of this quick-paced series. Fans of Joe DeMarco and those who like crime thrillers that do not slow down will surely enjoy this piece and the entire collection.

It is hard to believe that this is the twelfth instalment of the Joe Demarco series, though Mike Lawson has a wonderful handle on things. What began as a strong political thriller has turned more into something criminal and loosely legal in nature, but the reader is not forced to compromise too much. DeMarco’s backstory is well known to series vets, but is not lost here in the crumbs left for new readers. His past comes full circle as he is forced to come to terms with the murder of his cousin, though there are even larger shocks for the attentive reader. DeMarco has grit and determination, as well as charm and some rough exterior that usually garners him the results he needs. It is some of the other characters, particularly Ella Fields, that steal the show in this novel, offering up both a thorough backstory and a wonderful collection of traits as the story’s narrative heats up. The reader is left little time to ponder what’s been read, too busy are they with trying to see where the next part of the cat and mouse game will go. The story itself is well crafted in a legal thriller genre that I felt worked more effectively as a one of the crime variety. DeMarco rushes to fill the gaps while Fields will not go down without a fight, eluding capture throughout. Newer fans of the series, or first timers in general, will not be aware of the transformation of the series. If I had to offer up one area that I disliked, it is that political intrigue and centrality are gone, as though Lawson feels that he has lost that avenue. As I read, I could not help but ask myself, ‘Will DeMarco play more than a passing role in this story?’ for much of the early narrative, though Lawson did bring things back before too long. I yearn for a political thriller, if there is someone that Lawson has left in him, though I will not complain too much, as this story was written in a masterful style and one sure to pull the reader in from the early chapters.

Kudos, Mr. Lawson, for another success. I always look forward to what you have to offer and hope that you’ll keep writing.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Beezus and Ramona (Ramona #1), by Beverly Cleary

Eight stars

Returning to my childhood, I picked up this cute piece for my current book challenge. Beatrice ‘Beezus’ and Ramona Quimby share an interesting sisterhood connection. Ramona is that annoying four year-old, seeking her own independence and annoying a much older (9-10) and mature Beezus, in this collection of short stories. Ramona finds herself fixated on a certain book, the desire to join in the fun with the older children, and even to throw herself a party. Beezus is left to process all that her sister is doing and seeks to right all the wrongs, while utilising her parents’ desire for a calm life to keep Ramona in line. However, Beezus must come to realise that even if she does not like Ramona all the time, she loves her sister with all her being. These tales pave the way for an entire collection of adventures these sisters will have, bringing a number of other friends and family members along. Sure to entertain the young person in your life, Cleary shows that sibling rivalry and love surpasses the test of time. Perfect for young readers who are learning to discover the passion of books.

I remember reading these books and watching the associated television program in my youth. While I also had a younger sister, nothing was as over the top as the antics that Ramona seems to create for those around her. This first in the series is sure to open the way for many adventures that the young reader can discover, seeing how Beezus and Ramona tackle some of the issues that seemed to face young people at the time. Without the aid of video games or hours of television on hundreds of channels, the Quimby girls had to find their own entertainment, which sometimes led to outlandish adventures. While I would not have picked these stories up on my own, doing so has allowed me to tap into my childhood again, much as devouring stories of chocolate factories or errant Christmas pageants might as well. With a young son just discovering the wonders of books, I hope to be able to pass along these types of stories to show him the wonders of books and how fun the experience can be. Books open the mind and the soul, which is something that Beverly Cleary has fostered in this wonderful series.

Kudos, Madam Cleary, for reminding me of the wonders of early independent reading. I will pass along this passion to Neo and anyone else I can.

This book fulfills Topic #5 of Equinox #2 Book Challenge: The Earliest Remembered Chapter Book Read in Childhood

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Force of Nature (Aaron Falk #2), by Jane Harper

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Jane Harper, and Flatiron Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

After devouring Jane Harper’s debut novel, I could not wait to get my hands on this sequel, which pulls Aaron Falk back into the mix. A member of the Australian Federal Police’s Finance Division, Aaron Falk is knee-deep in a case that could have many important implications. One of his sources calls him in the middle of the night and leaves a garbled voicemail, with ‘hurt her’ as the only decipherable message. It is then that Falk realises that his source, Alice Russell, has been on a team-building weekend, hiking in the Giralang Ranges outside of Melbourne. Her group, five women from the company, did not arrive for their pick-up and it was only six hours later that they emerged from the wilderness, tattered and torn, without Alice. Calling on his partner, Falk rushes to the scene and agrees to help the state police with the search, learning a little more about Alice as things progress. With no clues leading to Alice, many remember what gave the Ranges their infamous notoriety, having been the location a serial killer picked his victims, all but one of whom was discovered at some point. Two decades later, Falk wonders if there is something in the forested area who seeks to copycat that horrendous experience. However, the more he digs, the greater the information trove about Alice and her relationship with the others on the trek. Each person tells a different story about the weekend and their connection to Alice, which provides many with a reason to see her silenced. With a parallel ‘slow narrative’ of events during the trek itself, the reader can not only see the investigation as it progresses, but also the strains that befell those five women as they tried to work themselves out of many awkward situations with little but their guts to lead them. Harper has shown that she can create multiple novels of a high caliber as she delivers yet again. Fans of Aaron Falk are privy to more of his development, in a novel that proves vastly different from the debut thriller. Well-worth the time for those love a good thriller and who were highly impressed with The Dry.

While it is always easy to create a single masterpiece, it is the ability to remain at such a high standard that makes an author truly captivating. Harper has done just that, turning both the narrative and the format on its head from the opening novel. Aaron Falk’s backstory is less sketched out in this piece, but there are crumbs to give the curious reader a little more to add. It is the likes of ‘the five’ and how they pieced themselves together that proves brilliant. Harper not only sketches out a solid character for each of them, but builds on it by weaving their stories together with Alice Russell, all while keeping events that occurred in the forest a secret until the very end. Harper pulls the reader in to guess who might be responsible for the missing Alice, while arming all four with viable reasons. The story itself is wonderfully developed, positioning a current investigation alongside the events leading up to Alice’s disappearance inside the Giralang Ranges. What secrets does Alice possess and how can they unravel over the span of four days before someone takes action? Harper pushes the reader forward in such a way that they cannot help but want to learn more, forcing them to stay up late into the night just to piece things together. It is one of those novels, which is sure to prove useful when it hits book stands in early 2018. Harper has much to offer the genre and those who pay her mind will surely not be disappointed in the investment.

Kudos, Madam Harper, for this stunning follow-up piece. I know I will be keeping an eye open for your work in the years to come.

This book fulfills Topic #2 of Equinox #2 Book Challenge: A Book by an Author in Another Hemisphere.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Christmas Train, by David Baldacci

Nine stars

I love this holiday classic, even if it is totally cheesy. It is one of my annual reads at this time of year and I hope it can be added to a holiday TBR list for others as well.

Baldacci brings his readers a holiday classic sure to stoke the fires of the heart and keep the holiday season on track. Tom Langdon is on a mission, to get from New York to LA in time for Christmas. After a slightly intrusive and highly problematic search by airport security, Langdon finds himself on a red-flag list, still needing to get to the City of Angels. As a seasoned journalist, he tries to make the most of his issue and decides to take to the rails aboard Amtrak’s best and brightest, writing all about his adventures. His multi-day journey puts many interesting and unique characters in his path, as well as some highly humourous adventures and even a mystery or two. As the miles fly by, Langdon discovers that there is more to the train than a slower means of getting from A to B. When someone from his past appears on the journey alongside him, Langdon discovers true meaning of the holidays and how the heart is the best guide on any of life’s trips. A nice break for Baldacci thriller readers, the book is a wonderful addition to the annual holiday traditions.

I would be remiss if I did not agree with many that this book is not cut from the usual cloth Baldacci presents. That said, its hokey nature is offset by the wonderful story Baldacci tells and the humour he is able to weave into the larger narrative. I have read this book many time before and love it each time, finding some new aspect to cherish. Baldacci is a master at storytelling and this book is proof positive that his flexible ideas can stand the test of time and genre diversification.

Kudos, Mr. Baldacci, for this holiday treat that ranks right up there with shortbread and eggnog.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Chalk Man, by C.J. Tudor

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, C. J. Tudor, and Penguin Random House Canada for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

After being hooked my the premise of this book and noticing the extensive ARC review activity this novel received, I was drawn in to see if Tudor’s book met the hype. Eddie Adams lives what might be a typical twelve year-old life, with a number of friends who have taken it upon themselves to explore the world around them. During the summer of 1986, they attend a local fair and Eddie is witness to a horrible accident, where he meets a man who will soon become a teacher at their school, Mr. Halloran. For the rest of the summer, Eddie and his friends begin using a new form of communication, leaving messages in coloured chalk. There also seems to be someone who wants to up the ante and draws random chalk figures around town. When a number of other tragedies occur, there is always a chalk man left at the scene, or appearing soon thereafter, leaving Eddie to wonder who might be behind all this. Fast forwarding to 2016, Ed is now a grown man and have become a teacher himself. When one of his friends approaches him to write a book about the summer of ‘86, the memories begin to flood back. Threads left dangling are soon tied off as Ed is able to process some of the activities and seeks to better understand who might have been The Chalk Man. Forced to deal with his past and how the filter of adulthood synthesises events, Ed Adams comes to terms with what has happened, while finding new mysteries to leave him feeling ill at ease. Tudor does a decent job here to entice readers with the alternating chapters from 1986 and 2016, telling a dual narrative that meld together at the most opportune times. Those who like a mix of flashbacks and current day may enjoy this piece, though it did not leave me as spine-tingled as I might have suspected, based on the dust cover summary. That being said, what a great ending!

This being C.J. Tudor’s debut novel, I had little but the aforementioned hype to base my opinion on her work. Tudor has laid the groundwork for something sensational here and has moments of brilliance in the form of a creepy aspect, though I somehow felt the story fell short of being as chilling as it seeks to be. The characters found throughout develop well, using both the current and backstory building blocks that are supported with the alternating timeline chapters. Eddie Adams finds himself in the middle of the action and his coming of age occurs throughout the narrative, complemented by a cast of differentiated friends, all of whom have their own quirks. The looming Mr. Halloran and Reverend Martin characters provide additional chill factors, though the potential for true fear in the form of The Chalk Man is left too diluted or on the wayside. That is not to say the story is poor, for it definitely has some strong aspects and Tudor does her best to draw the reader in, if only to see how that summer shaped Eddie for the long-haul. Additionally, the narrative keeps the reader bouncing around, filling in gaps as the plot thickens. Mysteries left dangling find their resolution and new ones emerge, which keeps the reader on track with enjoying the book to the finish. I suppose I got caught up in the hype and the buzz of Goodreads tossing out so many stellar reviews that I feel slightly deflated. What I sought was a bone-chilling novel to keep me up well into the night. I received a decent story that develops well, though lacks the eerie quality that might have been present, given time and some slight changes to the plot’s path.

Kudos, Madam Tudor, for a great novel. Your debut piece shows me that there is potential there and I will certainly tackle another of your books, when you write your next novel.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Perfect Prey (D.I. Callanach #2), by Helen Fields

Nine stars

Helen Fields returns with an equally powerful follow-up novel that places Detective Inspector Luc Callanach in the centre of a truly baffling crime. When a murder is reported at a summer music festival in Edinburgh, D.I. Callanach is happy to take the lead in order to find the killer. However, the limited witness statements and video footage of use from the event leaves Callanach unsure of how to proceed. Soon thereafter, a piece of vandalism emerges, perhaps a reaction to the crime, as if the world needs a permanent memory of this summer crime. When a primary school teacher and librarian are murdered in short order, D.I. Callanach learns that they, too, are being listed on graffiti around town. An online journalist receives telling information that opens the investigation wide. Could these ‘tags’ have been made beforehand, as a precursor to the crimes? Also, with each crime being vastly different, might there be more than one killer on the loose, working in tandem? Callanach continues to struggle and turns to his fellow D.I., Ava Turner, whose past friendship with him seems to be clouding his judgment about what might follow for them. While Turner does not appear to feel anything romantic towards Callanach, the story’s protagonist stumbles trying to make sense of his feelings while a major murder case continues to haunt him. Turning to an unlikely source, Callanach takes to the world of coding and digital breadcrumbs, which causes many issues with other branches of Police Scotland. With the killer (or killers) continuing the rampage, Callanach must use all the resources at his disposal to stop the bloodshed, and pinpoint who might be the next victim. Fields has done it again, keeping the reader on the edge of their seat while pulling on a variety of approaches to allow the case to progress. Fans of police procedurals and crime thrillers will surely find something worthwhile in this novel, as well as the debut, which lays the groundwork for the complex life of D.I. Luc Callanach.

I recently discovered Helen Fields and am pleased to be able to promote her work here, which is a definite jolt of fresh air in a supersaturated genre. D.I. Callanach continues to present himself as a dedicated copper, though one who struggles with life outside the office. Choosing to throw himself into his work, Callanach seems keen on tracking down all the leads in his murder investigations, but is not able to pick up on the most subtle nuances in his personal life. He struggles with the stigma that chased him from INTERPOL while still trying to assert his rightful place in Police Scotland. The ongoing work and personal banter with D.I. Ava Turner takes on a new level of intrigue, something fans of the debut novel may enjoy, though it does tend to cloud the plot at times. Fields continues to use a strong cast of secondary characters to propel the story forward and uses a more veiled approach when dealing with the antagonist, the person pulling the strings on this murder spree. The story itself is strong and pulls on some genuinely intriguing technology to decipher the larger set of crimes, but also pushes the Luddite ‘tag’ system of graffiti, which caters to readers of all backgrounds. The reader can rest assured that there is not a textbook full of ‘techie’ language to cause confusion, though Fields does not dilute the form of crime fighting when necessary. I found myself unable to stop listening to the book at certain points, as the story captivated me until the very end. I will have to wait patiently until mid-January to get my hands on the third novel, but rest assured I will not let it collect much dust on by TBR list, for I am just that eager to sink my teeth into the next instalment of D.I. Luc Callanach and his unique style of crime investigation.

Kudos, Madam Fields, for keeping me hooked yet again. You are certainly one author that many should take note of and push other TBR novels aside to delve into this series.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Letters from Father Christmas, by J.R.R. Tolkien

Eight stars

From the annals of one of the 20th century’s greatest writers of fantasy comes this collection of letters, perfect for the holiday season. A collection of letters written by Nicholas Christmas to the Tolkien children, this book is filled with the Christmas spirit and all the lovely stories that take place each year at the North Pole. The letters, penned in the 1920s and 30s, introduce the children to North Polar Bear and his helpful role as Father Christmas’ assistant in the preparation for the great Christmas delivery. Annual letters talk about wandering reindeer, small polar cubs, as well as the warm weather and fiscal belt-tightening required, which serve to entertain and educate the Tolkiens. As the years progress, the recipients change, though Father Christmas is sure to remember those older Tolkiens who may choose no longer to write. Making loose references to letters written and sent to him, Father Christmas adds a secondary gift with most letters, a hand-drawn picture in ink, depicting some of the key events mentioned in the text. This wonderful set of letters is sure to make any lover of Christmas feel a little warmer during the holiday season. Fans of Christmas will enjoy this short piece, as well as those who love Tolkien’s unique style.

I was put onto this short piece by someone who shares my love of the holiday season, as well as a well-crafted piece of writing. Tolkien surely lays the foundation for both and has made this very short buddy read worthwhile. Using his wonderfully expansive mind, Tolkien surely devised the idea to communicate with his children on an annual basis. Without pulling the children into anything too time consuming, Tolkien develops a set of characters who can be revisited on an annual basis, as well as referencing the children’s letters and trying to explain how he came to choose the presents that appeared in their stockings. From the slightly grumpy North Polar Bear to the always helpful red and green elves, the letters are sure to capture the attention of the Tolkien children. The hand-drawn additions to the letters, done by Tolkien himself, add another layer of beauty to these letters, warming the hearts of the children who were sure to find them in the post close to Christmas, as well as the reader, who might marvel in the detail offered. While I listened to the audio, I made sure to borrow the hard copy from the library to marvel at the drawings. Any parent or adult with children close-by will surely think this a superb idea to bring added excitement to Christmas. I wonder if this idea might be one that I begin with Neo next year, if he is willing to write a letter to the North Pole. That said, my drawing leaves much to be desired. It’s the thought, though, right?!

Kudos, Mr. Tolkien, for helping me spark the holiday season with this piece. I will be adding this to my annual Christmas reading list and wish I had known about it years ago.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

An Engineered Injustice, by William L. Myers, Jr.

Nine stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, William L. Myers, Jr., and Thomas & Mercer for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

After his sensational debut legal thriller, William L. Myers, Jr. is back with another explosive novel that is sure to grab the attention of the reader from the opening lines. Vaughn Coburn is a young and fairly astute lawyer in Philadelphia whose meticulous work and passion for the job show on a daily basis. Arriving back at the firm one afternoon, Vaughn finds everyone glued to the television as they watch the latest developments in a fatal passenger train crash. Soon thereafter, the dreaded phone call comes, his cousin, Eddie, was the engineer and is being blamed for the entire event. As the body count mounts and media outlets are quick to point blame, Vaughn hastily accepts the request to represent Eddie. How could he not have seen the ninety-ton train car ahead of him? Might he have been distracted by his cell phone? When his blood test comes back, Eddie is clear of any narcotics or alcohol, but nothing makes sense, and the current state of amnesia is not helping Vaughn put together a reasonable case. Turning to an unlikely source, Vaughn begins to peel back the layers while two high-profile attorneys begin gathering up suits against Amtrak and Eddie. Problems only get worse when it turns out one of Philly’s finest mobsters had a relative on board and vows retribution. Vaughn can see no light at the end of the tunnel, but he will have to find something quickly, as he owes it to Eddie to clear him of this crime. A shared secret seems to cement Vaughn’s commitment to a man who has had a string of bad luck. With the country watching and the noose fit and ready, Vaughn must do the impossible and explain how Eddie Coburn could be innocent of such a straightforward crash. Might this be too much, even for a legal go-getter, to handle? Myers does a sensational job at piecing the story together, pacing the narrative in such a way that the reader will not be able to help but demand a little more with each page turn. Perfect for those who loved the debut novel and fans of a near-perfect legal thriller.

I came across Myers’ work earlier this year when I saw his novel, A Criminal Defence, receiving a great deal of hype. I loved that novel and hoped to find myself with a copy of this, the follow-up, in short order. Myers uses his knowledge of both the law and Philadelphia to pull the reader into the middle of something realistic. Using strong characters, Myers is able to offer up a wonderfully complex legal web. Vaughn Coburn is the ideal young lawyer to forge into his legal minefield. His past grit and determination paired with a desire to see justice done helps move the story forward, even when things appear bleak. Working alongside many others, both in the legal field and those who are trying to sink Eddie’s case, Vaughn is able to shape the story and keep the reader wondering. Layering much backstory into the narrative, Myers portrays both Coburn men as inseparable, though also having taken paths that could not have differed more. Pompous legal minds and gritty Amtrak employees balance the hope that Vaughn seeks to bring to Eddie’s case, leaving the reader to make the final decision as to what they will accept. Turning to the story itself, Myers offers his superior writing abilities to weave together a strong piece that has the ability to pull on the reader’s heartstrings. The horror of such an incident, a fatal train accident, adds dramatic flair to an already high-impact thriller. Myers uses not only his skill but draws on real-life events to deliver a novel that will be talked about long after it hits bookstands around the world. Mixing shoer chapters with those seen to develop the already strong foundation, Myers ensures the reader is presented with a high caliber novel that does not fade at any point. I can only hope that many others will discover Myers and increase his fan base. That said, it might leave some leery of travelling the rails for the foreseeable future.

Kudos, Mr. Myers, for such a powerful legal thriller. I will be insisting that many people rush out to get their hands on this book soon. I trust that this will get rave reviews from others who enjoy your style and delivery.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Boy Who Saw (Solomon Creed #2), by Simon Toyne

Six stars

Simon Toyne is back with the next instalment of the Solomon Creed series, picking up where the last story ended, a major cliffhanger leaving readers guessing. With Arizona in his rearview mirror, Solomon Creed has made his way to France, wondering more about himself and trying to determine if the tailor who crafted the suit he wears might know something about his past. Just as he arrives at ‘Atelier Engel’, Josef Engel has been murdered. Creed’s presence in the region tied with him being a strangler, makes him a prime suspect. Creed befriends a young boy, Leo, and his mother, Marie-Claude, relatives of Engel, and they try to piece together the man’s past for themselves. It would appear that the Engel had a past in a Nazi concentration camp, but soon became a hero during the liberation movement. However, friends of his from the movement have also been found murdered, leaving many to wonder if the killer is targeting a certain group. Meanwhile, a psychiatrist has arrived in France, following Creed and trying to return him to his maximum security facility in Mexico. The reader learns much about Creed’s background, including his true identity and why his memory is so fragmented. As the chase across France continues. Creed learns more about events seven decades in the past and how they continue to shape current events. There is something about Creed and this suit that traces back to 1944, though that is impossible, right? Still, the additional fragments he discovers about himself does not serve to complete Creed’s self-discovery, which has some startling revelations by the closing pages of this follow-up novel. Toyne offers this drawn-out second novel in the series, sure to fill some gaps for the reader. While there will be a number who enjoy the path of discovery Solomon Creed undertakes, others will be just as lost and wonder if the invested reading time could have been better spent elsewhere.

After being enthralled by Toyne’s previous series, I approached the first Solomon Creed novel with much excitement. However, things became too slow to develop and I could only hope that new series jitters kept Toyne from being on his game. However, I surmise I am just not in sync with the series, as I cannot grasp onto the story, the characters, or the overall presentation of the plot. The characters do present a number of interesting personalities, specifically Solomon Creed, whose life remains as solid as a puff of smoke. Slowly trying to grasp for pieces of himself, the reader sees slow realisations about the man. It is through the revelations of his psychiatrist that the reader garners the most information, which floods out in one giant narrative in the middle of the novel. Working on some of the other characters, Toyne reveals much, particularly about the Nazi treatment of prisoners and the Movement to quash them in the latter portion of the Second World War. While there are interesting characters who grace the pages of this novel, I felt little attachment to them, which fuelled my sense of disinterest with portion of the book. The story itself lacked much motivation for me, as I found myself stuck in the middle of the developing narrative, feeling a sense of swimming in treacle (the second such book in two days), and I pleaded to get to the end. The chase to keep Creed one step ahead of the authorities and the killer’s eventually discovery did little for me. Some will enjoy this approach, as well as the ever-revealed Jewish aspects of the story that date back to the 1940s. Toyne’s ability to write should not be lost on the reader, nor is his ability to spin an interesting tale, but I just cannot find myself enthralled with this novel.

Thank you, Mr. Toyne, for this second attempt at Solomon Creed. While your ‘boy’ can see, I seem to be blind to much of the novel’s development. Perhaps I’ll stay away and let your other fans revel in the series.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

19 Souls (A Sin City Investigations #1), by J.D. Allen

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, J.D. Allen, and Midnight Ink for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Tapping into that interesting sub-genre of private investigator thrillers, J.D. Allen offers up this interesting tale. Jim Bean enjoys his PI work in Las Vegas, though is not all that impressed with the hours or seedy aspects of the job. When Cynthia Hodge contacts Bean to assist with locating her brother, the PI is not certain if this case has legs. Learning that Daniel Hodge has absconded with his mother’s life savings and has a penchant for drugs, Bean is sure there will be nothing left, even if the man can be located. However, with his retainer paid in full, Bean agrees to help Cynthia, though makes no promises. Little does Bean know, but the woman sitting before him is actually Sophie Evers, who has recently disposed of Cynthia, as well as many others who have kept her from the boy she fell in love with all those years ago. As Bean begins his search, he bounces around from Texas and out to Utah, only to discover that Daniel is living off the beaten path. When Bean describes his distraught client, Daniel clues in that it is not Cynthia, but the foster child who lived next door during his youth, Sophie. Now, Bean sees that he’s been played and must try to keep Daniel safe while locating Sophie before she gets her hands on the prize she has been seeking for years. With the help of the LVPD and FBI, Bean works to coax Sophie out of hiding, but is unable to do so with ease. Using his tracking skills, Bean leads the investigation down the rabbit hole to piece together who Sophie Evers might be and how she’s come to fix her crosshairs on Daniel Hodge. Leaving a pile of bodies in her wake, Sophie Evers will stop at nothing to ensure Daniel is hers forever. That said, Jim Bean is not ready to walk away just yet. Not all cases close with a satisfied client. Allen offers up an interesting cat-and-mouse game with this novel. There will be some who enjoy this piece, while others will surely find it lacked the grit and punch that could have made the story far better. I find myself firmly rooted in the latter category!

Having never read J.D. Allen, I was curious to see what he had to offer, especially as he places his protagonist in the middle of Sin City. Jim Bean is an likeable character, though his no-nonsense attitude leaves him a little rough around the edges. The story suits him, as he seeks to get to the bottom of his cases without all the flair and panache that some PIs might enjoy. Paired against the likes of Sophie Evers, who is a complex character in her own right, the story offers an interesting flavour. Evers’ struggles with locating the love of her life and the voices (demons?) in her head, keep the story twisting as the narrative picks up steam. The handful of secondary characters inject some humour at times, as well as the needed depth of law enforcement to make the story the thriller it seeks to be. The characters help push the story along, though the narrative has some issues of its own as it barrels down the tracks. While the premise is there and the delivery seems to present an interesting plot and collection of ideas, I felt things limping from the get-go. It might have been that the ‘false impression’ of Sophie Evers appears so early to Jim Bean or that the chase was slow to develop and became less about the thrill and more about how to gather mundane information, but this story seemed too diluted to really capture me. Use of short chapters and degrees of humour did help, but I felt as though I could have been waving my hand to propel things forward at a quicker pace on many occasions. If one seeks a book with potential mired in treacle, they need look no further than this piece. First in the series, it could be jitters or simply a lack of connection with the intended audience, though I cannot commit to returning to see what else Bean and Sin City Investigations has to offer.

Kudos, Mr. Allen, for your attempts with this book. All the pieces are there and the intentions are good, but there’s a need for some pizzazz injections throughout to keep the reader hooked!

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Traitor, by Jonathan de Shalit

Seven stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Jonathan de Shalit, Atria, and Emily Bestler Books for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Turning to the dark and mysterious world of Israeli espionage, Jonathan de Shalit takes readers into a realm they may not know well. When Alon Regev approached the American Embassy in Rome one afternoon in 1983, he had a plan. Seeking to speak with the gentleman in charge of intelligence matters, Alon made a proposition. He currently served in the Israeli Government and would surely rise though the ranks. For a fee, he would gladly share all that he knew, including state secrets, if only to provide stability in the Middle East. Pondering this, the American consular official accepted this and submitted his plan to use Alon for the foreseeable future. However, unbeknownst to Alon, his American friend was actually a spy for the Soviets, or more specifically the Stasi. With the Soviet bloc teetering, East German espionage will soon go the way of the dodo, but with ‘Cobra’ on board, the Soviets could surely procure much needed information within the Middle East. Fast-forward thirty years, with the Stasi dead and buried, those who worked inside the organisation are quickly fading with age and not prepared to take all their secrets to the grave. There is mention of Cobra, which reaches Israeli Intelligence, who now know that they have a mole in the upper ranks of the Government. Who that person might be remains a mystery, but the hunt is on. Working both Russian and American angles, the Israelis play a game of cat and mouse, unsure whom they can trust and whether the feather ruffling will spook Cobra into deeper hiding. With extermination the only viable outcome, the Israelis begin their mission to destroy Cobra and thereby knock the Russians off their perch, once and for all. An interesting story by de Shalit, whose past has certain helped fuel the antics. Some who enjoy espionage thrillers may enjoy this one, but it seemed to lack suspense and depth for me.

Jonathan de Shalit’s real name remains hidden in the publication of this book, for security reasons, though he has been able to weave together a believable fiction based on his actual work with the Israelis. This is apparent throughout, touching on many of the interrogation techniques and sentiments to outside intelligence services. There are a handful of characters who play an important role in this book and whose appearance on the page is useful to keeping the story moving. Readers may enjoy the early Alon, as he barters away his country’s sovereignty, though once adopting the Cobra moniker, he is all but gone from the pages of the story. The agents who seek to find Cobra and sever his proverbial (or is it?) head play some interesting parts, though I felt there was too little backstory for my liking. I want to connect with characters, not be forced to watch them work and banter without knowing their roots. The story itself had much potential, but it became too much of a hunt and peck game, rather than a covert spy continuing to feed information and the world seeing action based on it, leaving the Israelis to scramble to plug the leak. The drama was gone, the more than superficial tactics were missing, and the people involved played only their part to gentle nudge information out of willing sources, save perhaps a few Russians. I like thrillers, especially those with some spying involved, but felt this one fell flat. Perhaps de Shalit was trying too hard to pull on the reins and not show readers what tactics are actually used, but the diluted result left me questioning if I will return for more by this author.

Thank you, Mr. de Shalit, for your effort. Perhaps spying is your strength and you can use a ghost writer to spice up the action. Either that, or stop worrying about pleasing the censors so much when you write the down and dirty portions.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

End Game (Will Robie #5), by David Baldacci

Seven stars

David Baldacci is back with another in his hard-hitting Will Robie series, which matches an impactful thriller with some social commentary. After a harrowing mission in London, Will Robie is summoned to see the new Director of Central Intelligence. He’s met there by his sometimes partner, Jessica Reel, who has just come off her own mission that ended quite poorly. Together, they are informed that their handler, Roger ‘Blueman’ Walton, has gone missing during his annual vacation to Colorado. Armed with respect for their superior, Robie and Reel make the trip West in hopes of piecing this mystery together in short order. When they arrive, the two find themselves in the middle of a backwoods quagmire. The town is run by a tiny police force and populated by two distinct organizations: a collective of Neo-Nazis and a New Age group who refer to themselves as the King’s Apostles. As the investigation gathers steam, it is soon discovered that Blueman was well known in these parts, though his actual work was a complete mystery to the locals. Learning of a troubled childhood, Robie and Reel discover new respect for the man who has been leading them on numerous missions. After a significant run-in with the leader of the Neo-Nazis, Robie and Reel are barely alive, but must pick up the pieces and forge onwards, trying to locate a handful of prisoners who have gone missing. Robie and Reel soon discover that there is another group who find themselves hiding out in Eastern Colorado, armed with their millions of dollars and secretive condominiums in former military outposts, awaiting the End of Days. There are more questions than answers, leaving Robie and Reel to wonder if this mission might be beyond their capabilities. With little time to ponder what the future holds, Robie and Reel must act now and sort out their past connection later. Fans of the series will surely flock to this piece, which does not let-up until the very last page. Baldacci at his best and most energetic.

I have long enjoyed Baldacci’s work, even though he seems to keep his fans dangling by creating and then shelving a series just as it gains momentum. I have often wondered if he intends to create some series that meshes some of his most beloved characters together, though I am sure trying to juggle that many plots could prove too much of a pain. For this novel, there is decent character development in the two protagonists, though their progression differs greatly. Robie, who has always been seen as a cold and calculating assassin, seems to be trying to foster something with his partner, though she is slow to pick up on his subtle hints. The rugged man who beds the helpless woman is not missing from this book, though the reader is surely wondering if Robie and Reel will ever master the art of sharpshooting Cupid’s arrows, rather than dodging them. Reel is still a slow to emerge character for me, whose past is a jumble and present seems quite focused on the mission. She has a weak side, but does not reveal it easily, though when she does, it almost seems a let-down. Together, the sexual tension seems almost unbearable, but it does not detract from the plot and cutthroat nature of the mission. The story is strong, as can be expected with Baldacci. And yet, I was not pulled to the edge of my seat through each chapter. I could see things playing out and was impressed with the pace and forward movement, but cannot say that I was kept up late into the night reading or wondering. I enjoy Baldacci and his series, but can only hope that if he is losing his passion for these two, that he will tie things off and turn his gaze onto his well-developed newer series, which also packs a punch.

Kudos, Mr. Baldacci, for keeping your readers happy by writing so well. I hope you have more magic in store, though I am never sure in which direction you will take things.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Foster Child, by Jenny Blackhurst

Eight stars

Jenny Blackhurst is back with another captivating thriller that grasps the reader’s attention from the opening pages and does not let go until the final sentence. Imogen Reid has been put through the professional wringer. As a psychologist, she was a hard-working thirtysomething toiling away in London. However, an event with one of her patients has forced her and husband, Dan, to flee to Imogen’s grandmother’s home back in the rural English town of Gaunt. Imogen is still not sure how she will be able to reinvent herself, or if there will be work to keep her occupied. Little does she know, but Gaunt is also home to young Ellie Atkinson, an eleven-year-old foster child, whose entire family died in a horrific house fire. Ellie has been vilified by the locals for reasons that Imogen cannot understand, but witnesses first-hand during her first day back. When Imogen is hired to work as a counsellor-liaison with the local school, she is asked to tend specifically to Ellie. The previous counsellor left town under a mysterious shroud of controversy (the party line being “she left to get married) and the notes related to Ellie are both scattered and incomplete. As time progresses, other strange happenings occur in town and Ellie seems loosely tied to them, though there is nothing to put her at the scene. Imogen holds out hope and a soft spot for Ellie, wishing she could understand why everyone has created a monster out of this sweet girl. That said, Ellie has begun to notice that her own thoughts and dreams are not as innocent as she might have hoped. While Imogen harbours a secret of her own, can she keep her suspicions about Ellie’s antics to herself, thereby placing the entire community of Gaunt in more danger? Blackhurst has created a wonderfully dark and captivating story here, sure to leave chills up the spines of those who venture to read it. Those who enjoy a good thriller, full of twists, will surely flock to this one, likely offering much praise for the effort.

This is my first experience with Blackhurst and her writing, leaving me unsure what I ought to expect. My current position in Child Protection left me drawn to this book, wondering how the story might depict foster children and the entire social services industry. Choosing to develop the narrative through the eyes of both Imogen and Ellie proved to be a wonderful idea. Their characters differ greatly, but are able to complement one another in ways that pull the reader deeper into the narrative. Turning first to Imogen, the reader is left with numerous threads dangling during the early portions of the story. Her unspoken childhood in Gaunt and the events in London that left her without a job are keys to keeping the thrill aspect high and the mystery sustained. Imogen’s naïveté as it relates to Ellie and her ongoing harbouring of the great secret in her life help keep the reader wondering how innocent and positive she might be. This contrasts nicely with the Ellie character, who appears innocent on the surface but whose apparent anger-fuelled antics leave the reader to wonder how she could have caused such havoc without lifting a finger. The reader must follow these two protagonists throughout to hash through the many layers of the narrative. There is a strong supporting cast who shape the flow of the story and give the reader much to consider. From a protective foster sister to the girl who vows revenge for being caught in Ellie’s crosshairs, through to the school teacher who begins to stir up trouble, there are a handful of individuals who seek to portray both Ellie and Imogen in various lights. The story itself is strong and develops at a wonderful pace. The reader can form their own opinions in regards to the events around Gaunt. The abuse that Ellie suffers throughout and the vilification for being different flows through the story, balanced only by Imogen’s attempt to justify the need to accept and understand the already difficult life of a foster child. There are many twists throughout that may leave the reader curious about where Blackhurst is taking things, but this only adds to the strength of the novel. The story’s delivery is decent and short chapters keep the reader pushing forward to reach the ultimate reveal, a shocker in an of itself. Blackhurst certainly as a wonderful handle on the story and keeps the reader enthralled through to the end.

Kudos, Madam Blackhurst, for such a great piece of writing. I am intrigued to see what else you’ve penned, hoping it is as captivating as this story.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

Crime Scene (Clay Edison #1), by Jonathan Kellerman and Jesse Kellerman

Eight stars

In another joint effort, Jonathan and Jesse Kellerman seek to hit the reset button after a miserable writing venture about monsters and other such inane topics. After taking a breather, this piece allows their true colours to shine through, crafting a superior series debut novel. Clay Edison has quite the life as a deputy sheriff with the county coroner’s office. Edison attends crime scenes to help move along the manner of death and working to notify families of loss, when appropriate. While the job has its macabre side, Edison can find small crumbs of interest, especially when a case takes on an unexpected twist. Attending the scene of an apparent fall, Edison encounters a distraught Tatiana Rennert-Delavigne, daughter of the victim, one Walter Rennert. Edison must calm Tatiana, who is sure that her father’s death was anything but accidental, citing an old murder from 1993 that bore similarities. Unable to provide any concrete answers at the scene, Edison assures the distraught woman that he will be in touch, his brain curious about the aforementioned murder from the nineties. The autopsy seems to back up the suspected accidental death from a fall, showing heart issues, but that only piques Edison’s curiosity even more. Medication prescribed to Rennert seems to have come from an unlikely source and Edison runs a little longer with this 1993 murder to see if there are truly parallels. There appears to be something, as Rennert was a psychology professor running an interesting study in years past, seeking to find a parallel between violent video games and the behaviour that came from it. When one of the test subjects, Julian Triplett, was charged and convicted with the murder of Rennert’s student assistance on the study, the academic exploration’s relevance seems to heighten. Now, all these years later, Edison must try to determine if Triplett could have something to do with Rennert’s death, while not being completely convinced that there was foul play at all. With a handful of cases cluttering up his desk and the desire not to get too involved with Tatiana, Clay Edison must remember the limits to his job and let those in a position of authority crack the case, if there is one at all. The Kellermans prove that they can work together to create a wonderful story and thriller, given the proper tools. I had written them off as a team, but must now rethink my critique, as long as they stick to series like this. Surely, crime thriller lovers will want to test the waters with this piece, which has all the ingredients for a successful novel.

I will admit to being a long-time Jesse Kellerman fan and have heard much about his father. Excitement spilt over when I heard they penned a novel together, but that turned to disappointment when I read the poorly crafted piece that significant undershorts the NYT Bestselling Author moniker both have procured. Slowly, I thawed to the idea of returning to one of their novels, seeing others praise this collaboration, and am now glad that I gave them the chance. Clay Edison proves to be an interesting character, packed full with a backstory that will lure the reader in a little further. A college basketball star who remained local, allowing is past glory envelop him for those who remember his court antics. Now, working in that job that straddles the coroner with police authority, Edison’s work pushes him to the limits and allows him a little chance to sleuth around, without the gun or cuffs. Pairing him with a few strong secondary characters, the Kellermans allow Edison’s various character flaws to come through, as well as the strength of his determination. The attentive reader will even see one of Jonathan Kellerman’s protagonists play a cameo role in part of the story, which seems to enrich at least that portion of the tale. The story itself is intriguing, though one cannot call it entirely unique. A killer potentially on the loose and seeking some form of retribution for his crime. It does have aspects of a beaten, dead horse, but it is the way the Kellermans present it that keeps the reader wanting to know more. I am curious, I will admit that, though I am still not sure how deep this series can go. I would like to see more before diving head-long into complete praise, but have seen a great deal of potential here.

Kudos, Messrs. Kellerman, as you embark on what I can only hope is a more successful and less asinine journey than Golem work. I am intrigued and hope the literary vapours that seep from your family will create more successful novels soon.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Rooster Bar, by John Grisham

Seven stars

John Grisham is back with yet another new take on the legal profession, shining lights where there has only been darkness, while entertaining readers in equal measure. Law school is a tough beast that only the fittest can survive. However, when Mark, Todd, and Zola arrived, they felt that their determination would help them sail through. Perusing the land into their last semester, all they can see are mountains of debt and a soon-to-be useless diploma from Foggy Bottom Law School, one of the lesser (lowest?) schools, located in the DC area. Armed with few paths to success and crippling financial ruin, they try to find an out. A fourth musketeer shines light on a potential grand scam, but has not taken the initiative to act on it. Tragic circumstances force Mark, Todd, and Zola to rethink their futures and the wheels begin to turn. Seeing hucksters on every corner, the three agree to create their own law firm and run it, without completing school or holding valid licenses. As long as they can stay one step ahead of the process, nothing can go wrong, right? Listing their firm out of the top floors of a bar, the three begin perusing the vulnerable at hospitals and in the courthouse. It takes guts, but there may be some return, as long as no one catches on. When a few larger cases get caught in their flimsy net, it’s time to weight the options between being caught and a massive payout. Greed trumps sense most times, but all three soon learn that legal matters can be as fragile as spun glass and lives are irreparably changed with one false move. As the cock crows on their legal (and personal) futures, The Rooster Bar may not be as fortuitous as they once hoped. Financial ruin may be the least of their worries, should all those who want their pound of flesh succeed in filing legal grievances. Grisham does a masterful job of painting an interesting legal picture while pulling on the heart strings of the reader. Fans of his work will like this one, as another one-off analyzes the wonders of the legal world, pitfalls and all.

While some feel the need to take Grisham with a grain of salt, I like his varied approaches to the legal profession and feel that he has a firm grasp on many aspects that are forgotten in the genre. Grisham’s unique approach is what makes me come back for more, though the characters and story found herein are also quite entertaining. It is a wonderful collection of personalities that make the story all the more exciting. Three core law students who are trying to dodge their creditors and attempt to see above all that is crippling them helps lay the groundwork for the great bamboozling that is this novel. Varied in their backstories, Mark, Todd, and Zola all bring a strong core belief system to the story. The past they bring helps to individualise them, as well as injects some humour into what can sometimes be a string of serious aspects. Touching not only on the law, but on the struggles of students, Grisham does not candy-coat anything and wants only to offer the reader some insight into how horrid law school can be beneath the surface, when it comes to loans and repayment. The collection of other characters remain stellar, as Grisham brings even more to the table and forces the reader to go through all the ups and downs that accompany Russian Roulette legal practice. The story itself is intriguing, even if it does not tap into the core of legal conundrums (as Grisham has done in the past). There is something here that cannot be dismissed and building on all the varied aspects of the story to create a checkerboard of drama and entertainment, Grisham keeps the reader in the middle of all the action. Between the DC issues and those across the world, there is little time for the reader to sit back and relax, though there is also little interest in remaining passive. Perhaps not his most gripping story, but Grisham is sure to pack a punch when the reader invests the needed time getting to the root of the issues here. I can only hope that there are more flashy stories like this to come.

Kudos, Mr. Grisham, for all you do. I know it must be tough, up to your twenty-fifth legal novel now, but you do it all so well.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: