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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons

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: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons